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Robert New

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A Blacker Black and Whiter White

Due a weird conflux of having two books out with editors and catching up on my day job as a teacher over the school holidays, this weekend I found myself bored and with time on my hands.

I wound up painting an artwork. This is my first time doing such a thing for myself. The artwork is straightforward a block of black 3.0 surrounded by white 2.0. That’s it. But, like most artwork, it is the story behind/about the artwork which is what brings it to life.

Background

A story I wrote for my forthcoming sequel to Colours of Death involved me researching colour, in particular Black 3.0 and White 2.0, both paints created by Stuart Semple for CultureHustle.

I was fascinated by the story behind the creation of the paints. A few years ago a blacker black was created. Known as Vantablack, it was the blackest known substance (absorbing 99.96% of light). However, Anish Kapoor bought the rights to it, thereby preventing the art world from using this incredible product. Out of spite, Stuart Semple created Black 2.0 and then Black 3.0. Black 3.0 absorbs 99% of light (regular black paint is about ~90%). It’s the blackest freely available paint on the market. What I particularly loved was that when I went to buy some I had to sign that I was not Anish Kapoor, nor associated with him in any way.*

This led me to ponder the broad intellectual debate as to whether or not a colour should be ownable. Semple refers to people/organisations which have tried to control certain colours as colour criminals*2

It’s an interesting concept. I mean if you invent a process to create a pigment then do you have the right to control that? In 2009, a new blue pigment was accidentally created as the byproduct of research into multiferroics. YInMn Blue (for yttrium, indium, manganese) is the name given to the pigment, which has at least been made available under licence. But what if someone wanted to own a specific colour? Would it be ethical for a colour to be controlled by one person or group? Given much of the fine arts are about use of colour what impact would this have on artists?

I’m not going to attempt a full argument along these lines, but I think the questions are worth thinking about. For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s ethical to control the use of colour.

Among the main protagonists, the debate is at times a heated one, but it’s not without a sense of humour. For example, Stuart Semple makes his glow-in-the-dark pigment (called LIT) available for free to Anish Kapoor, so that he can see the light.*3

*Here is the text:

Note: By adding this product to your cart you confirm that you are not Anish Kapoor, you are in no way affiliated to Anish Kapoor, you are not purchasing this item on behalf of Anish Kapoor or an associate of Anish Kapoor. To the best of your knowledge, information and belief this material will not make it’s way into the hands of Anish Kapoor. 

*2 here is the text about them:

Why are the colour criminals banned? 

  • Anish Kapoor & the creators of Vantablack for hoarding the material and for generally being rotters.
  • Dupont for the imprisonment of tech consultant Walter Liew for espionage, after he stole and sold blueprints for their secret titanium white process for over $30million.
  • T-Mobile & its parent company Deutsche Telekom for claiming magenta as their own and suing small businesses for using it.
  • Scientists at ISIS Neutron and Muon Source who are in the process of investigating polar bear fur, insect scales and fathers for industrial and commercial applications.
  • 3M for their ownership of Canary Yellow.
  • Daniel Smith, for buying up the last reserves of quinacridone Gold pigment in the world, so that only they would be able to sell it to artists.

*3 Especially Anish Kapoor. If you are Anish Kapoor, can prove you are associated with Anish Kapoor or to the best of your knowledge information and belief this substance is going to make it’s way into the hands of Anish Kapoor, your order will be free! We want you to know how lovely it feels to #shareTheLight

Some Happy News

My book Colours of Death: Sergeant Thomas’ Casebook was released just on a year ago. I’m pleased to say it has sold over 500 copies in that time. A reasonable portion of those came from my most recent 99c promotion. I used a few different promoters this time and whether it was just the fact that my book was new to their lists or that they are just better lists, it was my most successful promotion ever. I sold over 150 copies. This was enough to put me on a bestseller list. That’s me at #6, outselling Sherlock!

Then last weekend I decided to google myself (not a euphemism) and stumbled upon a review for my book. The reviewer had bought it at Continuum last year. Here are some of my favourite parts:

“It’s an anthology of detective stories, following the same detective and following the theme of colours. Each story has a different colour as the title and that colour is plays a role in the mystery. It was great. I love the ingenuity of the author in figuring out some of the deaths. I’d never thought of any of those methods before so each one was a real eye-opener.”

“So, do I recommend it? Oh, definitely.”

You can read the full review here: https://www.suzs-space.com/colours-of-death-robert-new/

As of August the ebook has had a discount to US$3.95 and AUD$4.95 (Amazon US and AU respectively).

I’m pleased to report I’ve now written seven out of a planned nine stories for a sequel collection. I’m really happy with how the stories are turning out, even in first draft form. It’ll probably take me another month or two to write the last stories, but hopefully I’ll be able to get the book in ‘time for the editor’ shape by the end of the year. Who knows, maybe it’ll even be able to be out in time for the next Continuum, which I can only hope will run (& in a world which has eliminated covid).

How I Mastered Sleep

TL/DR: a prebiotic (not probiotic) called inulin can help you get more restful (and longer) sleep.


Most people will have heard the usual “rules” for getting better sleep – consistent bedtime and wake time, no devices for an hour or two before sleeping, no late snacks, no coffee after 3pm and so on. These have helped me, but other than making it easy for me to fall asleep, they haven’t improved the quality of my sleep.

Last year I caught the end of a Michael Mosley documentary The Truth About Sleep. At the end of the video (from 45.55min) he and some colleagues experiment with ways of improving sleep from meditation, warm bath, eating two kiwi fruit and taking a prebiotic.

The prebiotic was rated as 9/10 as a sleep aid. Take it an hour before going to sleep.

Don’t confuse prebiotics with probiotics which are found in yoghurts and the like. The difference is that probiotics are the good bacteria (in your gut) and prebiotics are like their food. Prebiotics, in particular, inulin, are what was being trialed (also don’t confuse it with the similarly named hormone, insulin, they are not related). Inulin is readily available from health food shops and online retailers. I was able to buy a pack by visiting the shopping centre near my work. From memory it was about AU$14 for the packet. I’ve since bought larger packs for ~AU$24 inc shipping.

The very first night I took it – I started with a third of a teaspoon – I had noticeably more dream filled sleep. Within a week I noticed I was much calmer overall and my mind didn’t race as much. I also slept longer, when sleeping past 6.30am wasn’t usually something I could do.

I finished the pack after a couple of months, and didn’t get around to replacing it as I was sleeping well (and had started long service leave which meant I was less stressed). That is until this year and all the complications it has wrought, made me need to get my sleep back under control. I ordered another pack (online) and have been back using inulin over the last month and once again I concur with Michael Mosley’s findings in his documentary. It has helped me get the mentally refreshing sleep I remember having as a child. An unexpected consequence is that I’ve stopped craving chocolate and coffee throughout the day like I used to – as though my sweet tooth has been turned off.

If I know I need to get up early for something, I stop taking inulin a two or three days beforehand and then have no trouble getting up at an earlier time. On the whole though, I find I naturally get an extra hour to ninety minutes sleep each night I take inulin.

I recently had some friends who are insomniacs try it with the same result. For them that was near miraculous.

Inulin is a cheap, readily available, safe (though like any food an allergic response is possible) and, in my opinion, an effective sleep aid. I’m not a doctor; this isn’t medical advice; see your doctor if symptoms persist.

I’ve since read some of the research on inulin (I’m a PhD student and have access to journal articles, links to research abstracts are at the end of this post).
Most studies have been done on rats, so take the following with a grain of salt.
Inulin supplementation has been found to:
– Increase the duration of sleep
– Increase the amount of REM sleep (the mentally refreshing sleep)
– Reduce sugar cravings (through improved sleep)
– Better memory of your dreams.
– Increase life expectancy (in rats when 10% of their lifelong diet is made up of it)1
– Improve cognitive performance and lower stress (in rats when taken for two weeks, at a significant dose)2
– Improve bone structure in lactating female rats3
– Improve intestinal flora with many positive consequences on things like digestion, cholesterol, bones and inflammation (many human studies)4
 
I am curious about other people’s experience supplementing with inulin. If you have tried it, please leave a comment below.
 
Other Notes
– Start with a small dose. The pack might say to work up to full teaspoons or even several teaspoons. I’ve never needed to use more than half a teaspoon. Using more just makes me gassy upon waking up and didn’t have any additional benefit in terms of sleep quality.
– This doesn’t help you get to sleep as it doesn’t make you drowsy, however, it will make you sleep longer and get more mentally refreshing sleep.
– It tastes good. It’s about one tenth to one third the sweetness of sugar. You can mix it with water, juice, milk or other drinks.
– It can cause intense dreams. If you have nightmares, it can make them worse (also worth noting if you’re going to give it to children). On the plus side, there is research evidence you will have better memory of your dreams while taking inulin.
– Commercial inulin is usually extracted from chicory or artichoke. I’ve only used ones extracted from artichoke.
– I found the zip pack started clumping due to the zip never quite working properly. I’ve since bought a small tub and that’s remained powdery, so I recommend that if possible.
– It helps my kids sleep in on the weekend, so we can too. 🙂

References
1Effects of lifelong intervention with an oligofructose-enriched inulin in rats on general health and lifespan
Rozan, Pascale ; Nejdi, Amine ; Hidalgo, Sophie ; Bisson, Jean-françois ; Desor, Didier ; Messaoudi, Michaël
British Journal of Nutrition, 2008, Vol.100(6), pp.1192-1199
DOI: 10.1017/S0007114508975607
https://monash.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/113cqvi/TN_cambridgeS0007114508975607

2Behavioural and cognitive effects of oligofructose-enriched inulin in rats
Messaoudi, Micha??l ; Rozan, Pascale ; Nejdi, Amine ; Hidalgo, Sophie ; Desor, Didier
British Journal of Nutrition, 2005, Vol.93(S1), pp.S27-S30
DOI: 10.1079/BJN20041348
https://monash.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/113cqvi/TN_cambridgeS0007114505000760

3Maternal Dietary Supplementation with Oligofructose-Enriched Inulin in Gestating/Lactating Rats Preserves Maternal Bone and Improves Bone Microarchitecture in Their Offspring.
Bueno-Vargas, Pilar ; Manzano, Manuel ; Diaz-Castro, Javier ; Lopez-Aliaga, Inmaculada ; Rueda, Ricardo ; Lopez-Pedrosa, Jose Maria
PLoS ONE, April 26, 2016, Vol.11(4)
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0154120
https://monash.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/113cqvi/TN_gale_ofa453426509

4Significance of Inulin Fructans in the Human Diet
Schaafsma, Gertjan ; Slavin, Joanne L.
Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, January 2015, Vol.14(1), pp.37-47
DOI: 10.1111/1541-4337.12119
https://monash.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/113cqvi/TN_wj10.1111/1541-4337.12119

My most important book

My son, Michael and I wrote a book together. It’s available for sale as of today. This is my most important book, because of what it meant to produce something like that with Michael. It was a fun project to work on together. I’ve recently written a post on how you can do this too. The book can be purchased from most online retailers, including Amazon (US, AU, UK), Readings and Book Depository

Here we are seeing it for the first time. The eagle-eyed among you will notice in this proof copy Michael’s name isn’t on the cover. That’s because he insisted I leave it off as “Daddy had done all the hard work putting it together.” However, his Mum and I were eventually able to convince him his name belonged on there and this remains the only copy without it! Here’s the real cover:

Michael worked with me on the story, storyboard and feedback for the illustrator. He also chose the landscape design. Michael was so enthused when we received the proof copy that he spontaneously started reading it to his sister. The story is about Eddy the echidna who digs up a treasure chest and tries to get it open with his friends from the Australian bush. We set the book at Michael’s grandmother’s house in Peterborough, Victoria. We often go there for holidays and have seen all the animals in the book there at one time or another.

Later that night, instead of the usual reading we do, he wanted to write a sequel and began talking about writing a series of adventures starring the animal characters we’d created.

I’ve never seen my son write a story. I knew he could type a little bit from watching him put commands into Minecraft. However, this was the first time I’d seen him write imaginatively. To say it warmed my heart is an understatement. Writing is something I’m passionate about, and to see Michael enjoying something I love was one of those moments I dreamed I would have from the moment I knew I was going to be a parent. That’s why this book means so much to me.

Upcoming Promotion and Give-Aways.

In celebration of my son and my upcoming birthdays (we’re two days apart), and to celebrate the April 6th launch of Eddy’s Treasure which we wrote together, I am making my other titles e-books either free or super-cheap ($0.99) over the next couple of weeks.

The bonanza commences tomorrow on the 2nd of April when my best-selling book Incite Insight becomes free for five days (until April 6th). (AU, UK, US)


My most recent book, Colours of Death: Sergeant Thomas Casebook gets an 80% discount to $0.99 or €0.99 from the 3rd April to the 10th April. (US, UK),


My speculative short story collection, Movemind, is free from the 10th April to the 14th. (AU, US, UK)

How you can create your own childrens book: A great “at-home” activity for these times.

In chatting to a few people it seems there are quite a few who have children’s stories or who would love to write one with their child or children.

From the experience writing Eddy’s Treasure (US, AU, UK) with my son, Michael, I can say it is a very worthwhile thing to do and you wind up with a pretty awesome keepsake. I’ll say more on that front in a few days time as it goes on sale on April 6th. Suffice to say, Michael and I have gained a lot from this and think others would too. So here’s how you can achieve the same for under A$200:

If you haven’t seen the sneak peek of the book, here it is again (provided by the artist):

It may surprise people to learn all the artwork for the book (ten illustrations plus cover) cost A$150. This was the main expense. If you create all the images and text yourself your cost to produce a book would be under A$50.

Our overall book length is 24 pages and in hardcover form it costs about $18 per copy (it would be $9 for paperback) for you to purchase as print on demand (ie: you can order from a single copy to thousands). The only reason ours is this expensive is because Michael insisted we make the book landscape. Had we chosen a portrait or square book, these print costs would be halved. We chose hardcover because the aim was to create a memento we could give to family and friends and that seemed appropriate… and more hard-wearing (good for my kids).

The steps are quite simple:

  1. Write the story. Eddy’s Treasure is only ~300 words. Stories don’t have to be long.

If your book is for you and your family, why not make it about something related to you? Eddy’s Treasure is set at Michael’s grandmother’s house and I used photos taken there to give the illustrator an indication of how we wanted the illustrations to look. You could write a story about getting a puppy, new sibling, or anything which your family has experienced or wants to.

  1. Storyboard the story – ie separate the text into the paragraphs you want on each page. Add a description of what image you’d like to accompany each piece of text. There are many ways of doing this. Some children’s books have the text on a blank page opposite the picture (saves on illustration costs), some have text and images on every page. I chose to put a faded out copy of the image with the text over the top on my pages with writing. I did this because I think it looks better than plain white. It doesn’t cost any more to do it this way, you pay as though every page is full colour, so it seemed like that was making better use of it. Curiously, it’s often the first thing people comment on when they read the book. So far everyone has liked this design choice. Many have commented on what a great idea it was to do it that way.
  2. Sketch images of your scenes. Stick figures or photos of similar scenes are fine (this can be a good activity to occupy your child in these home-bound times). The artist just needs a guide to work from. If you ask the artist to only imagine something from the text, you might be disappointed. You can see the first few pages of what we sent to our illustrator HERE.
  3. Sign up with your printer, so you can download free templates to send the artist. There are numerous square or portrait sizes to choose from, but only one landscape size (if you use the same printer as me, which was IngramSpark, see their paper sizes and costs here). However, the cover size will vary depending on whether you’re going to have a hardcover or paperback. Knowing the dimensions required beforehand will save much angst later.
  4. Contact an illustrator (there’s a link to ours at the end of this post). Obtain quote and discuss needs. Make sure you specify what size you want the images and cover to be. If you’re illustrating your book yourselves, then skip steps 6-8.
  5. Illustrator will provide some sketches.
  6. Check them over and discuss required changes. Repeat steps 6 & 7 until you’re happy.
  7. Receive final sketches. Approve them to receive images.
  8. Layout book. You can use something as straightforward as MS Word (just format page to the size of your book), when complete use the save as pdf function if you don’t have adobe (there may be some settings to change to make everything work such as turning off image compression and embedding fonts, these setting are in a sub-menu of the save dialogue box).
  9. Upload files – I use Ingram Spark. Registration is free and they are pretty simple to use. There are codes available that give you free setup and revisions to your books, this will save you $50, so it’s worth googling (and if you find the right one, free revisions). This, effectively means the only costs you’ll have are the illustrations & an ISBN (You’ll need one if you want distribution to online bookshops, if it’s just for you, family and friends, you can get a non-distributable SKU instead. These are free.)
  10. When Ingram (or whoever you use) approve the book (usually takes a couple of days), place an order for a proof copy. (depending on your chosen book size, paper and colour choice this will cost between $13-$25).
  11. Receive and review proof. Even with a three hundred word story, there may be typos which don’t get noticed until you see it in print. Things may be slightly out of place which will need tweaking. Do not skip this step.
  12. Upload revised files if needed. Order another proof if needed.
  13. Order as many copies as you want. Enable distribution if you want (this will get your book into all the online retailers).

Costs:

Illustrations: $150 + Proof copy ~$16 + Final copy ~$16 + You locate a code for free setup = $182 (Assuming you choose a non-landscape design). Non-distributable SKU (only you can order).

For us: Illustrations $150 + Extra rights $20** + Proof copy $26 + Final copy $26 + ISBN $10 + Distribution & setup $FREE (We had a code) = $232.

Other things to note:

If you go the ISBN route and you’re Australian, you will need to send “legal deposit” copies to the national and your state library. (search “legal deposit australia” for details)

Minimum page count is 18 pages. Don’t forget to allow for a title page. Look at some existing books for layout ideas.

Hardcover books cost roughly twice as much as paperback to produce. You can easily go for both (they use the same interior, it’s just the cover which needs resizing as hardback covers ‘wrap around’ the book, so you need to crop or resize your cover image).

Think about your RRP if distributing it. For Eddy’s Treasure we set it at A$34.95 (US$19.95). This is high and we don’t expect to sell many, but at that price we make under $3 profit. It’s worth mentioning we could have had an RRP of A$9.95 if we’d gone for a square shaped paperback, but a low RRP wasn’t our goal in producing the book. The good thing is that you don’t have to pay for distribution, nor “stock” since it is all print on demand. It is awesome to be able to show people your book for sale online at Amazon, Book Depository, Readings, Dymocks and thousands of other retailers.

If there are other details you’d like to know, please leave a comment below.

-Robert

* I used https://www.freelancer.com/u/lalaalmero73 for the artwork, as I’d published Horizons by Henry Grossek, which used her illustrations, and I liked her work. If you want to use her services on Freelancer, please sign up using this link as it means I get a referral credit. https://www.freelancer.com/get/robert318?f=give

**Cost for the illustrations was A$150. I chose to spend an extra $20 to purchase all the rights of the illustrations. This wasn’t necessary, but does mean I can use them in other ways in the future.

Sneak Peek

Over three years ago, I posted about writing a children’s book with my son, Michael. Now, I’ve finally had it illustrated. Here’s a sneak peek, provided by the artist, of the work she did.

How I sold a thousand copies of my book.

 

Earlier this year, I was very excited to achieve a goal I set myself when launching Incite Insight— my first real novel.* The goal was to sell a thousand copies and I did it! I’d been laughed at when I told people this was my goal when launching it. But those people must not have realised how stubborn I am. 😊

Importantly, I never set a time-frame in which to achieve the goal. 1000 copies in my first month? Totally unrealistic. But, 1000 copies in less than four years, it seems, was achievable.

So how many have I really sold? Well at the time of writing: 1005** (this excludes a further 55 e-book review copies given away via an online e-book mailing list).

The 1005 copies are made up of:
218      Paperbacks (including 8 by distributor, 11 in libraries)
38      e-books (full-price)
105      Kindle Unlimited
644      Promo e-book sales (at 99c/99p).

Most authors will say their sales are usually 80% paperback and 20% e-book. Mine are reversed since I’ve focused on selling e-books, since they are very easy to market. I’ve paid to promote my book when it’s discounted (on a Kindle Countdown deal) and used pretty much all the major mailing-list based promotional services that are out there. My favourite ones (in no particular order) are: Book Gorilla, Bargain Booksy, Book Barbarian, Fussy Librarian, Robin Reads and FKBT.

Other promotional things I’ve done: presented at sci-fi conventions and libraries, been interviewed on the radio and online, had a book launch and used social media. I’ve also done some pretty unconventional marketing at times.

The most effective thing has been to simply tell people I’d written a book. To not be shy about admitting it, and then following up if someone showed interest. The goal, in this regard, is to be tolerably persistent to get the sale. This is often the hardest thing for authors, who, it seems, aren’t big on self-promotion. You don’t want to pester too much (ie. become intolerable), as this will cause you to lose a sale (and potential sales of your next book), so learning to recognise when someone is just being polite vs showing a genuine interest is a skill authors need to learn. Unfortunately, some people are very good a making politeness seem like genuine interest. If you haven’t converted someone’s interest into a sale after three attempts, then it isn’t going to happen, and any further attempts will get you into intolerable territory.

If I count the free e-books I’ve given away (ie. review copies and via a free promotion on Amazon), there are about 2700 copies of Incite Insight out there. I know many authors who’d scoff at such numbers and say they’d sell that many in a month, but I’m still excited by what my book has achieved and that’s what’s important.

I’ve published two books since Incite Insight, but never felt the need to set a sales target for them, so, we’ll have to see how they go. While I’d love for them to reach the same sales target, I’m kind of content with what I’ve already achieved. I’ll still chase every sale and keep writing, but will try to ration my promotional budget a bit more as my cost of acquiring readers has far exceeded my return on investment.

 

*I’d self-published The Conversationist before this, but that book barely had a plot and was a more a series of musings between characters and, thankfully only 98 copies of that exist (and only 32 in print).

** For the purposes of this statistic I’m counting the 79 hardcopies I’ve given away to people since I usually managed to get at least a coffee out of them. When I ran a free promotion over 1600 people got a free e-book copy of the book but I’m not counting those as sales.

Movemind on Sale

My speculative short story collection, Movemind, is on sale until 11.59pm on the 10th May. Normally $5.95, it’s a bargain at 99c.

This twelve story collection is centred around the theme of being altered by a situation. In the acclaimed ‘How to Win a War,’ a soldier experiences a strategy for ending wars which might just work. In ‘The Patriotic Amnesiac,’ a mother voluntarily gives up her ability to form new memories with far-reaching consequences. A Queen and a Prime Minister plot against a President in the Wordfest ‘Highly Commended” story, ‘Sever-Reign’. In the dystopian ‘The Second Fear,’ a ministry attempts to produce fear in someone who is incapable of feeling it. In the closing story, ‘Devilish Tricks,’ a deal with the Devil changes Casimir Hendrix’ life, but is it for the better?

The collection has been praised by Sarah Stuart (author of the Royal Command series) for its “wicked twists” and “grippingly readable” stories.

Here’s the video trailer for the book:

 

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