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An Image is Worth . . . A LOT

15 May 2015 | 1 Comment » | Frank Morin

Picture worth 1000 wordsThey say an image is worth a thousand words, but is it worth all the hassle to find a good one? Once we find one, can we legally use it? Do we bother to find out?

We should.

Images are everywhere, and a blog post without an image is like spaghetti without the sauce. It’s edible, but who’s going to want to try it? This is the age of the internet, of micro attention spans and too much competition from pictures of cats and babies on Facebook.

So yes, we need images for blogs, for articles, for social interactions, and often for covers. There are tons of great images on the internet, but finding a fun image, although sometimes a hassle, is just the start.

Can we take any image we find on Google and slap it onto our blog, article, or cover?

Not necessarily.

There are many who would say, “Everybody’s doing it. No one’s going to care if I ‘borrow’ this cool image and use it. Even if they notice, they’ll be happy about it – free advertising.” Etc.

Those arguments can be persuasive, but they’re also false. There are ways to do reverse image searches and identify everyone who’s using your image. Sites like TinEye make this very easy.

The more I think about it, the more I realize it’s the principle even more than the fear of potentially getting ‘caught’ that should drive our decisions about the proper use of photos. I don’t want people stealing my words, so why would I steal someone else’s image?

So what do we do?

Actually there are lots of options, so no one should feel obliged to take an image that they may not actually have rights to use. Here are some suggestions.

  1. Frank in WoodsUse your own photo.

Sounds almost too easy, but why not? In today’s world, everyone’s got a phone or three handy and most of those have cameras. If you’re like me and you’re not a professional photographer, who cares? If you see a pose or an idea that you like, there’s no reason you can’t go set up a similar photo of your own. Someone else owns their photo online, but they don’t own the ‘idea’ of a photo. It’s remarkably simple to stage your own photo for use. I’ve done it quite a few times with excellent results.

Chess

A photo I took as part of a blog post.

  1. Ask permission.

This can take longer, but if you find a photo you like, feel free to contact the person who owns it if they have a web site or link. They might just say yes.

  1. Modify your search criteria.

You can actually find great photos on Google that are available for use. Most photos you find through the general search don’t clearly state if they are, but simple modifications to your search criteria can limit your search to those photos flagged as reusable.

  • On the Google page, click the “Search Tools” button
  • In the new toolbar that appears below that, click “Usage rights”
  • Select “Labeled for reuse”.

Google search tip

You will notice often that the list of photos returned is not as extensive as the wide-open search, but sometimes you can find some cool gems. It’s worth a try because it’s fast and it’s free.

  1. More on search modifications

Another major image site is Flickr. Again, you can click on the “All license” drop-down, which is the default search and select “All Creative Commons”.

Flickr search tip

  • When you find an image you like, click on it and look for the rights declaration. Quite often it will say “Some rights reserved.” If you click on that, you can see what rights can be granted. Quite often it will allow you to use the photo for free for non-commercial use (ie – blog post) as long as you give the photographer credit and link back to their site/image from the copy you use.
  1. Free image sites.

There are a lot of these. In seconds, I did a Google search and found listings and listings of sites containing free images. Some are pretty basic, but some have a lot of images and might be worth a look. Depending on what type of images you’re looking for, and with a little investment of time, you can develop a listing of your favorite go-to sites.

  1. Paid options

For some of the best images, you might just have to pay for them, although that doesn’t mean you have to pay much.

  • Saving FaceMy favorite site is Dollar Photo Club. Great high-res photos for $1. They have a huge selection and I’ve found some incredible images there. Using pieces of several photos from Dollar Photo, combined with some mad photoshopping skills, one of my cover artists designed this excellent cover for Saving Face and also the cover for the soon-to-be-released Memory Hunter. I got killer covers for a very reasonable fee.

I’ve also used Dollar Photo to grab images for my blog and to design simple covers for short stories I posted on Wattpad.

  • Istockphoto is a well-known site where you can find royalty free images, but often you pay up to $12 per image. That’s a bit pricey for my wallet, unless it’s for a cover or other high-value use.
  • Deposit Photos is a site I haven’t used, and it also uses a subscription model like other pay photo sites, but if you use a lot of images, you can get a plan that drops the price to $0.33 per image.
  • ShutterStock is another well-known image site where you have to pay about $10 or so for most images. If you’re looking for a high-quality image to include in a book cover, it might be worth it.
  • You might also try a place like Fiverr where you can get a lot of creative work done cheap. As always, verify the source of any images you get.

There are lots of other image sites out there. I barely scratched the surface. The bottom line is, know what license restrictions your image brings with it and stay on the right side of the question. It’s not worth the hassle (and likely cost) associated with misusing someone else’s property.

Where do you get your images?

 

Celebrating a Launch

9 May 2015 | No Comments » | Frank Morin

Set in Stone CoverBig magic.

Big adventure.

Lots of humor.

May 1st saw the release of Set in Stone in both hardcover and ebook format!

The release of Set in Stone was a long time in coming and a huge milestone. It kicked off the 8 books in 8 months publishing blitz I’m trying to do this year, and launched the Petralist series, a YA fantasy series that’s already being enjoyed by a wide audience, from middle-schoolers to adults.

Tomorrow, at sixteen, Connor will reveal his secret curse to the world and take his place as a guardian.

If he survives today.

When armies descend upon his peaceful village, led by superhuman Petralists and clever Builders, most people run and hide. Connor’s not that smart. He manages to get caught in the middle of the escalating conflict. Worse, he learns his curse is the rarest of powers, and both sides will do anything to control it and secure his loyalty. Connor is fast, but even he can’t outrun this avalanche.

Truths are sacrificed, loyalties are sundered, and dangerous girls twist his heart into knots.

That’s when things get complicated.

While his friends try to free the village under siege, Connor peels back layers of intrigue and half-truths to find secrets neither side wants him to know. Surrounded by deadly enemies that all claim to be his friends, Connor must choose a course with the lives of everyone he loves hanging in the balance.

His only hope is to gamble everything on a curse that could destroy them all unless his final choice is Set in Stone.

The book launch was a great experience. In fact, I blogged about it here.

You can find Set in Stone at every ebook retailer. Hardcovers are available online as well, or you can order signed copies directly from me. I’ll have my website (www.frankmorin.org) updated soon with the shopping cart. Until then, feel free to contact with requests.

The sequel, No Stone Unturned, is expected to be released in August.

#8books8months #SetinStone

Building Your Writing Tool Belt

1 May 2015 | No Comments » | Frank Morin

ToolbeltNow that we know how to get our heroes into all sorts of trouble and torture them in ways both subtle and extreme, we face the next challenge. How exactly are we going to craft these awesome stories and package them in ways that leave readers begging us to take their money?

I’m not talking about the process of writing the scenes. I’m talking about what platform do we work on and what tools do we employ to write, edit, polish, and publish our stories? Imagine the story like a house want to build and list on the market. Do we use hand saws and wooden pegs, or power tools? Not every new tool on the market’s worth the time and effort to master, but some of them are. How do we decide?

Gone are the days when a writer banged away at a typewriter one sheet at a time. The advent of word processing software like Microsoft Word revolutionized the process. It was like replacing that hand saw with a skill saw. The process of publishing that manuscript has changed even more dramatically.

The revolution continues, and it’s never been a better time to be a writer. We have choices, options, and tools available now that no one has ever had before. We can craft our own writing and publishing toolbelt from an astonishing array of software and tools.

In May we’re going to explore some of those tools and software for writers and share experiences and advice that might offer better ways to do things. Some examples may include:

  • I wrote my first couple of novels as single, huge Word documents. Now I use Scrivener. How or why is that a better tool? Is there something even better available now?
  • What about editing? Are there tools more effective than the built-in spell check?
  • How about when we blog. Where can we best find cheap or free images to include without infringing on copyright?
  • Are there better ways to reach our readers than we have in the past?
  • When indie publishing, what’s the best tool for prepping our manuscripts to meet the myriad requirements of different vendors, and is it easy for authors with little technical skill to do this on their own?

These and many other options will be explored this month. None of us can keep up with all of the new tools available across this rapidly changing industry, but together we can explore many of them. By the end of the month, we hope everyone walks away with at least a couple of new tools in their toolbelt.

Macro vs Micro Conflict

20 April 2015 | 1 Comment » | Frank Morin

big dragon little knightLife is conflict. Story is conflict. One of the reasons we seek out great stories is for help dealing with conflict in our lives. We learn lessons from our characters, look for inspiration from heroes that have to risk everything to achieve their goals. After experiencing that level of conflict, sometimes our own are easier to keep in proper perspective. If they can make sense of their crazy worlds, we should be able to make sense of our own.

Frank’s rule on conflict: Rarely is a story with a single conflict interesting enough to hold a reader’s attention for long.

  • A corrolary to that rule is: the more personal a conflict, the more interesting it is.

Let’s start with the biggest conflicts: War. One might think those would be the most interesting stories because entire nations are at conflict with each other. Problem is, I as a reader cannot relate to a nation very easily.

Consider a few highly rated war movies:

What makes these movies stand above the rest in large part is that they have powerful personal conflicts. War is the setting, and battle sequences provide ample fodder for physical and psychological danger. However, it’s the deeply personal conflicts of the combatants, their personal lives outside of the battlefield, that draw in viewers and make them care.

There were war movies made that dealt only with the macro issues of conflict between nations. Those tend to be drier and inherently less interesting outside of a pure historical, strategic, or academic perspective. Because there’s not much story there. It’s hard for people to relate.

But if we take a major conflict like that and populate the setting with interesting characters who have challenges similar to our own in addition to the macro issues of life and death conflict on the battlefield, that’s when we get sucked in. We want our heroes to survive the battle, but what we’re most rooting for are their victories over their inner struggles, their fear. We want them to survive to find a normal life, fall in love, prove there can be some kind of happily ever after.

Let’s look at some other types of stories.

Would we care so much if Luke Skywalker defeated Darth Vader if Vader wasn’t Luke’s father? The Luke vs Vaderlightsaber duels were awesome, and the conflict between the good young jedi and the evil old killer was epic. However, our interest was locked in and set to boiling when the story became one of redemption. We wanted Luke to not only defeat evil, but help his father return to the light.

Titanic was such a successful movie because we cared for the primary characters. The setting was one of a famous disaster where fifteen hundred people died. Yet that wasn’t the main story because major disasters are not relatable at a deep, personal level. It worked because it was a love story between a doomed couple.

The Princess Bride is a completely different type of story. Funny, engaging, filled with epic duels and memorable characters. But the heart of the story is true love. Very little is more relatable than that.

Let’s shift gears again. Rocky. Great movie. Classic story of a man committing his all in a bid to overcome incredible obstacles and break out of the life he’s locked into. The fight scenes are superb, but we’re rooting for him because we relate to him. We want him to prove it’s possible to reach our dreams, no matter how high we’ve set our sights, as long as we’re willing to throw everything we are into the struggle.

Another favorite story of mine is Knight’s Tale. The jousting is awesome, the cinematography is often fantastic, and the setting is very interesting. We root for William, the young knight, because again he’s trying to change his stars, change his life, and find love. If he can do it, we can do it (hopefully with less physical pain involved).

Pride and PrejudiceLet’s consider a final example. Pride & Prejudice. I love to tease my wife about this and other similar stories because the level of conflict is so subdued. There are no knights, there’s no war, there’s no desperate run through traffic to stop the wedding before the true love makes the wrong choice. And yet, this story has held readers for a very long time and most women I know are rabid fans. Why is that?

Because the conflict is relatable. The conflicts are simple, yet powerful. Everyone has to wonder about relationships, their place in the world, and what kind of life they’re going to manage to build for themselves. Add in the romantic Elizabethan era with beautiful costumes, formal settings, and a social code that threatens to keep the characters down, and it’s a winner for the ages.

So as we build stories, make sure at their root there’s a deep, personal conflict that our readers can relate to. Then layer onto that larger challenges with family, society, or culture. Those macro conflicts and opposing pressures can ratchet up tension and stakes, making the personal conflict that much more powerful.

If you can do that, you’ve got a winner for the ages.

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