Gavin E Parker: Interview 2018

We caught up with Gavin E Parker on 27 August, 2018, almost eighteen months after we last got together. Here’s how it went down.

It’s been about eighteen months since we last spoke. What have you been up to since then?

Oh, this and that. I published The Ephialtes Shorts Collection and Phobos Rising, the second novel of the Ephialtes trilogy.

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The Ephialtes Shorts Collection

TESC eBook Cover epub v2


Between writing books one and two of the Ephialtes Trilogy I wrote a series of shorter pieces (most of them quite a bit longer than a standard short story) and have been gradually putting them out over the last eighteen months or so. They’re set in the same fictional universe and sit somewhere between the two books. They feature characters and incidents from both books and expand on them or come at them from new angles.

I’ve compiled them into book called The Ephialtes Shorts Collection which will be released on 16 May. It will be available from Amazon in both paperback and eBook formats. The eBook is available to pre-order now – just click on the link above.

The first book of the trilogy, Ephialtes, remains permanently free so if you haven’t got round to checking it out yet there’s nothing to stop you getting up to speed before The Ephialtes Shorts Collection comes out!


Where’ve you been?

Where have I been? Where have you been?

Truth is that I got a little bored with writing for an audience of approximately no one (I know, I know; I’m getting into self-publishing, I should get used to it).

I wondered what would happen if I left it alone for a week or so. And that got me thinking: maybe I should stop writing the blog for a while, too.

What happened was this: zip. No people stumbling across old posts, delighted at what they found. No new ‘followers,’ no ‘likes.’

So here’s a new experiment – what happens if you don’t blog for a week, and then you do?

I can hardly wait to find out, but I think I have a pretty good guess.

What are you reading?

Weird thing: reading a book once it’s book-shaped is different to reading it as a manuscript. Why? No idea, but it certainly seems to be true.

I’ve spent some time today reading a paperback proof of Ephialtes. Despite the strong story, great writing and terrific characters, I had become weary of reading through it in draft form. But now it’s book-shaped, it’s like reading it for the first time.

What does that mean for ebooks? Again, no idea. They aren’t particular booky, but seem to do okay. I guess it means there is something you don’t quite get from that experience that you do from reading a physical book.

This seems a shame to me, because CreateSpace have a minimum price for physical books they produce, based on size and length. In the case of Ephialtes, that minimum price is seventeen dollars (roughly eleven pounds), which is prohibitively steep for a paperback by an unknown author. It’s too bad, because as I’ve been discovering, the essential ‘booky’-ness adds to the reading experience.

I’d love to be able to get the price of the paperback version down to something realistic, as it’s my preferred version. I recommend this to you: if, come September, you download and enjoy the ebook of Ephialtes, treat yourself to a copy of the paperback.

Go on. You’re worth it.

Proofs at last

I now have proofs of two versions of the Ephialtes paperback. One has dodgy margins, both have dodgy covers. The cover image is a spacescape. When printed, most of the stars are too small to be visible. Also, the deep blue is very deep, and some details are lost. I can live with that, but I need those stars so I spent some time last night making them bigger.

This is the first time I’ve had a proof of a book to peruse. Somehow the book seems more like a book now it is a book, if you can follow that. Now its compact, laid out in Garamond with proper covers and feels slightly heavy in the hand, it is somehow very ‘book.’

My next task (having fixed the cover) is to laboriously check the formatting, page by page. I’ve had a glance through and have already noticed some typos (particularly annoying as the formatting seems pretty good). Don’t those things ever give up? It seems somehow miraculous to me that there are any left, but they still keep coming. I’ve read that thing over and over again, sometimes literally one word at a time. Many times I’ve thought, ‘That’s it, done. There may be one or two sneaky typos hidden in there somewhere, but I’ve got most of them,’ only to come across a glaring error moments later. For instance, I have ‘one hundred thousandth’ hyphenated. How did I miss it? Moreover, how did I miss it ten or fifteen times? What other howlers are sat there, hiding amongst the text, ready to mock me in their simple discovery?

I guess at some point you just have to let your manuscript go. Sure, there will still be errors in there, but I’ll collate them and create a ‘revised edition’ somewhere down the line.

Funny thing is, even knowing as I do how hard it is to eradicate these bastards, I still can’t help thinking badly of other people’s typos. ‘Couldn’t you even be bothered to check’ I will loftily think, sneering as I wrap my cape about me. I know, from bitter personal experience, that that is not a justifiable position, but it is how I feel in my gut. I can switch in my manual override (‘I know that seems lame, but I bet that person had as much trouble as I did trying to stamp those out’) but deep down my animal brain will be thinking, ‘Look at that typo. Twat.’

As a self-publisher you don’t get an editor. If I had one I could blame them for any errors. In fact, I’d turn that magnanimous, ‘of course, the errors are all mine,’ thing on its head. ‘Any errors are my editor’s fault. Blame them. What am I paying them for, anyway?’ I would say in my gracious preface.

But I don’t have an editor, so what am I going to do? Well, try my hardest to chase the little blighters down and otherwise just take it on the chin. It would all be my editor’s fault, if I had one, but don’t, so I’ll have to grudgingly concede that all the sloppy errors in Ephialtes belong to me, and me alone.

Also, in accordance with Murphry’s Law, there will be a typo in this piece itself. Twat!

Don’t judge a book by its cover

Maybe you’ve been here yourself. You spend the better part of eighteen months – perhaps even longer – writing, rewriting and honing your book. Somewhere near the end of that process you start thinking about a cover. ‘I know about as much about designing book covers as I know about writing books,’ you think to yourself. Then you think, ‘Bollocks, I’ll have a crack at it.’ The fun begins.

I had an idea for the cover of Ephialtes quite a while back. I knew I’d have to go for something stark and bold, as I don’t have any drawing or 3D design skills. I had an idea I thought was pretty good. It was a black background with a fraction of yellow circle on the left and a fraction of a pink circle on the right, each spilling off the edge of the cover. In between, equally spaced on an invisible straight line are four more circles, coloured appropriately so they represent Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. The yellow and pink partials are the Sun and Jupiter – it’s easier to figure it out when you can see it. Above the red Mars circle I had an oblong which, together with the Mars underneath it, combines to form an exclamation mark.

I thought it was quite a strong graphic. It was direct, required a little bit of thinking (crucially, not too much) to ‘get’, and it suggested an issue with Mars, which is what the book is all about.

In the end, I decided to not go with it. Even a pared down graphic like that needs precise execution to pull it off, and I thought I couldn’t do it justice. So I went looking for alternatives.

My first thought was to look at other book covers. When I did that I came across this startling fact: book covers are universally awful.

I hadn’t really given it much consideration before. I usually select the books I buy based on newspaper or magazine articles, so I don’t pay much attention to the covers. And I’m glad I don’t, because so many of them are just terrible.

The guy at Smashwords (why should you pay any attention to someone who can’t get their formatting guide below a hundred and twenty pages?) advises that the cover image should be strong enough to work without any text. That’s an interesting position, given that most modern covers a) have text all over them; title, author’s name, review quotes, tag lines etc, and b) have dreadful, bland, generic images under the text.

In the end I used a piece of free software to generate a spacescape. On my front cover are the title of the book and my name over the spacescape image – nothing else. I worried that this made my cover look ‘wrong’ – where’s the text all over the place, like all the other books have? – but I decided that it might make my cover stand out. Of course, there’s a problem with that, too, because you want your book to look like the others – like a book – but you also want it to look different. Go too far either way and you’re in trouble.

The other issued I had was with the back cover. I put a headline and a brief description, and under that I had some made-up quotes. It all looked ‘right’ when I roughed it out a month or two ago, but when it came down to submitting it for the final print version of the book over the weekend I had to take the fake quotes off, and then it just looked wrong. There’s a place on the back of a paperback book that somehow should have positive quotes on it. That’s just how it is, but no one has said anything quotable about my book. ‘Oh, you wrote a book?’ isn’t going to cut it for a compelling cover quote.

In the end I fudged a couple of my dummy quotes so they looked more like statements of fact, and, of course, I had to remove the quotation marks. It looks sort of okay, but should anyone ever say anything vaguely positive in the future – ‘Yeah, that wasn’t too bad,’ – I’m firing up InDesign immediately and that quote is going on there.

I’m happy with what I came up with, in the end. It looks a bit old fashioned, but I think my story telling is a bit old fashioned, too, so that’s cool.

If you’d like to see it it’s on my Amazon page.