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Cover progression for Age of Savagery

This is the final front and back cover to the book.

With Age of Savagery due to be released in a week’s time, we thought it might be interesting to go over how we got to the final cover image. Cover design can be a tricky thing and is often best achieved through progression in steps with improvements and tweaks along the way. The cover progression of Age of Savagery led to this:

This is the final front and back cover to the book.
This is the final front and back cover to the book. (click it to see it in full view)

It didn’t always look this polished though. At first, we had an internal planning session where we tried to decide on the character and composition of the piece, as well as considering artists whose work might complement the style we were looking for. In the end we went with John Johnston.

The initial sketch:

This was the initial sketch from which the cover emerged.
This was the initial sketch from which the cover emerged.

The image we selected was one of a bloodied face to represent the harshness of the world. We hadn’t finished going through submissions at that point, but already knew there were going to be multiple stories featuring different characters in each so we wanted something that didn’t directly reference any one story but instead gave an idea about the world. We tried various colour permutations (two of which are below) as well as adding a crossed pair of weapons over or behind the face.

After considering our options we chose a blood-red background and from there we were able to start looking at title design options. We’ve found in the past that having a logo for the title allows us to use it in multiple ways (posters, advertising, different editions)… but what kind of logo did we want for Age of Savagery? David Powell, who came up with the original concept, had rejected an initial mock-up that riffed off the likes of One Million Years B.C. (1966) in favour of something a bit  sleeker.

Designing the logo

In the end, we developed and iterated through a number of options…

A and C were rejected on readability grounds. C was better but we thought it didn’t really keep with the savage nature of the theme – it was too futuristic.

D was a marked improvement over the first three – it was far easier to read and had some interesting shapes to it, but it still didn’t feel right to us. E  was an attempt to change direction and bring some different influences in. We generally liked it, but agreed within the team that it was a little plain. Eventually, we came to G. With this, we think we hit the mark. It’s bold, eye-catching, and keeps the theme we were aiming for: an idea that something noble and elegant still exists but which is now besmirched by violence.

A few minor changes to the cover image (like highlighting the face so it didn’t seem so flat) and the front cover was finished!

Onto the back cover…

From there we could focus on the back cover. By this point, the idea of the Monuments (great structures left behind by the Eldar races) had become a firm part of the project and many of the submissions referenced them in one way or another so it made sense to reflect that on the back cover. David Powell produced the art and Danny J. Weston then worked some major with colour to produce these:

Back cover options for Age of Savagery
Back cover options for Age of Savagery (click to enlarge)

Quickly, we discounted D as being uninteresting – the muted colour drained the energy out of the colour. C was similarly discounted for looking miserable. We ditched A because we felt that it took things too far in the other direction, looking too cheerful a place… but the tone of B was just right for what we were looking for. You can also see the advantage of having a logo that can be modified in size/positioning for a title as that allowed us to highlight the title on the back page.Final back cover artWith the addition of our logo and barcode, the back cover was complete. We were pleased at the contrast between front and back cover and how overall the images tied together.

Hopefully, you agree that it’s a cool looking cover and this breakdown has given you an insight into how our covers come to be. Age of Savagery is available now through our webstore – or you can pick it up at conventions, and it will be available on request from all good book and comic stores.

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Life is expensive

© Creative Commons Zero (CC0) via ID 96918400 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

I don’t think it can be denied that life is expensive – every year costs go up a little bit for this, or that, or something else. For us, unfortunately, it’s time to do the same. After 8 years in business we’re introducing our first price rise.

© Creative Commons Zero (CC0) via ID 96918400 | Dreamstime Stock Photos
© Creative Commons Zero (CC0) via ID 96918400 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

What’s changing?

When Deadstar first started in 2010 we set our prices based on what we felt was fair based on what we’d seen on the market and what we felt comfortable spending to build our own collections, so our graphic novels were set at around £10, and our single issues of comics were either £3.75 if they were in colour, or £3.00 in black and white.

Over the past few months though it’s become apparent that we can’t sustain those prices in face of rising costs – so from May 1st 2018 we will be raising prices on some of our products. An example of that is Dolphin Squad II (oops… spoilers) which will retail for £11.99 instead of the £9.99 price that we released the first book for. Likewise, our colour comics will rise from £3.75 to £4.50 and our black and white comics will go from £3.00 to £3.50 each.

Why are we telling you about this price rise now?

With our prices having stayed the same for eight years we felt our loyal customers deserved to know in advance to give you the best possible opportunity to buy any last items missing from your collection at the old price.

We selected the new prices based on the same criteria we looked at in 2010: what other people in the community are charging, and what we’re happy to spend on similar products. We hope that despite this price rise you’ll feel our titles are still good value for money.

Is there anything that won’t be affected?

As things stand, we aren’t looking to increase the cost of our ebooks. Some publishers price their ebooks at the same rate as their physical releases on the basis that the same amount of work went into their production… while we feel that’s true, there’s no stock costs associated with ebooks. Once they exist, they will always be there and there’s no need to manage print costs, postage, table hire and travel to sell them… so we prefer to keep our ebook prices as low as possible.

If our rising costs have put you off buying a physical book or comic from us, at least take solace from the thought that, comparatively, it will now be cheaper than ever to start that ebook collection!

Hopefully, we won’t have to make another announcement like this until 2026!

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Deadstar’s Expo List 2018

2018 is promising to be a big year for Deadstar. We have Age of Savagery, Dolphin Squad volume 2, Dexter’s Half Dozen issue 10 and more releasing over the next few months.

This list will continue to grow as we confirm more dates. For now, you can find us at the following:

February 3rd – True Believers Comic Festival, Cheltenham
May 5th – Swansea Comic and Gaming Convention, Swansea
May 12th-13th – Cardiff Film and Comic Con, Cardiff
May 25th-27th – MCM London, London
June 2nd – Cardiff Independent Comic Expo, Cardiff
June 9th – Caerphilly Comic Con, Caerphilly
July 27th-29th – London Film and Comic Con, London
August 5th – True Believers Summer Variant, Gloucester
August 12th – Frome Comic Con, Frome *Unable to attend*
August 18th – Manchester Comics and Reading Festival, Manchester
September 15th – ICE, Birmingham
September 22nd-23rd – Cardiff Film and Comic Con, Cardiff
September 22nd-23rd – Thought Bubble Festival, Leeds
October 6th – DragonDaze, Newport
October 26th-28th – MCM London, London
November 10th – Bristol Horror Con, Bristol *Show cancelled*
November 24th-25th – MCM Birmingham, Birmingham *Unable to attend*
December 1st – Turn Left, Cardiff


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Talking about BitCoin

BitCoin doesn't really look like this... but it's a cool visual.

I know what you might be thinking, “BitCoin? I thought you were a publisher?!”

We are. Our focus is on producing (and selling) the best books, comics and graphic novels we can.

“Right… and how’s that related to BitCoin?”

BitCoin doesn't really look like this... but it's a cool visual.
BitCoin doesn’t really look like this… but it’s a cool visual.

We’ve found over the years that our audience tends to fall towards the geekier side of things. When you’re selling titles about sentient zombies, second world war occult terrors and crime-fighting dolphins that’s not too much of a surprise. Along with that, we like exploring new things and trying innovative technologies.

A few years ago we experimented with a service called Pay With A Tweet; its purpose was fairly simple: to increase visibility of a product through social sharing. We decided to trial it because at the time we were giving away a free sample of an upcoming title as a way of promoting the finished product – but that alone doesn’t bring much traffic to a website. If nobody knows you have something cool available then no one will come seeking it out. What we liked about Pay With A Tweet was that we still got to give away that free sample, but in return each person that downloaded it was prompted to share a message to their followers on Twitter letting them know that they too could see the freebie.

Trying new things

Our hope with it was that – like today’s viral marketing – it would lead to huge amounts of organic traffic (for those of you that don’t read advertising blogs… that means getting visitors to your site without having to pay for advertising). To an extent, it worked. We didn’t get tens of millions of people downloading the freebie sample… but enough saw it that when the book came out we were more than happy with how it sold.

Bringing things back to BitCoin… it’s a technology that we’ve followed on and off for a few years, and which has recently exploded into the mainstream. BitCoin is a “decentralised virtual currency”; it has no tangible representation like pound coins or dollar bills, and isn’t issued by any one nation. Think of it as being a bit like money in a PayPal account – you can still earn it, spend it, exchange it for other currencies etc. And by now you might be guessing where we’re going with this…

That’s right: Deadstar Publishing can now accept payment in BitCoins using BitPay as a payment processor. It’s something we considered as far back as 2015, but our old e-commerce setup didn’t support it, and at the time it was possibly too niche an idea for even our geeky (and non-geeky) fans to use over other choices. Now though, it’s widely enough used that it would be foolish not to try it out.

Is BitCoin the future?

On that front, we have no idea. At the moment though, BitCoin is growing in popularity (and with that, it’s growing in value) and – as you might expect – we want to make it as easy as possible for people to buy cool things from us. To that end, you can consider this our next experiment!

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Brand new website

A new site for 2017

Yesterday marked the debut of our brand new website. This is the third complete iteration of our site – and hopefully the best so far.

We originally decided back in 2015 that our old site, which we’d built in-house in 2011 first as a collection of static HTML pages then in 2013 rewrote into a semi-modular php template system, wasn’t up to scratch anymore. At the time, we’d looked to outsource the design and implementation of the site so that we could focus on what we do best: publishing great books and comics. Alas, it wasn’t to be, and by the end of 2016 we’d decided to bring development in-house again. As it was a task that would require quite a bit of time for us to complete we put it on the back burner until August this year when we were able to lock in many of the features and design choices that we wanted to implement.

Our 2011-2015 website design
Our 2011-2015 website design

Above, you can see our old design… and it’s one that we really liked at the time. It had a lot of issues though – firstly, the homepage was information about us… which is great… but from looking at our site analytics we found that most people who entered the site via the homepage would read it then leave. However, if they entered the site from our Submissions page or our Store then they were much more likely to either contact us, or buy something from us. With that in mind, we’ve changed the homepage into the store so that more people can see our products.

Another issue we had was that there were too many options for pages within the site… and a lot of the pages either contained duplicate information… or it was out of date. On the top menu alone there were 9 options to choose from (and there were buttons on the left and right of the screen as well as a second menu at the bottom of the screen. Far too many options!). We’ve now reduced that to 5 (plus your account, basket and checkout buttons) which means the site is easier to navigate.

On top of that, when the old site was written, phones and tablets were used far less for internet browsing so we never really optimised our site for mobile web users. That has changed and our site is now responsive based on your connection and screen size.

We’ve also taken the opportunity to update our logo. Danny did a fantastic job when he designed the Deadstar Publishing nameplate in 2010… but over time we’ve begun to see its limitations – the transparent eroded and damaged letters don’t always hold up well against different colours so we came up with the slightly simplified two-tone version that we’re using across all of our titles from now on.

All of that has lead to the following:

A new site for 2017
A new look for 2017

I hope you’ll agree that the new site looks a lot cleaner than the old one. It’s easier to navigate and more clearly displays our products and their categories. It also does two other things that the older version never did: we’re now compliant with recent EU and UK legislation requiring websites to advise their customers about the use of cookies. Another detail is that we’ve moved over to SSL technology to secure your information even more.

It hasn’t been the smoothest of moves though – originally we had planned to make the new site live on Tuesday 19th September… and when we started the process of migrating data from our test server… something went wrong. Fortunately, we have some very good, clever and nice friends, and Mark Chatterley, the big cheese behind In Ear Entertainment (who incidentally produced and sell our audiobook for Not as Pointless as You Think) was able to help us recover and ensure our work over the past few months didn’t go to waste.

Now that our new site is up and running, there’s still a bit of tinkering to do… but for now, happy browsing!

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Deadstar’s Expo List 2016

2015 flew by and we had a blast meeting you all at expos and conventions around the country. 2016 is already shaping up to by a busy year for us.

January 16th-17th – Comic Con Cymru, Cardiff
Febuary 6th – True Believers Comic Festival, Cheltenham
February 20th – Nerdvana, Camarthen
March 5th-6th – Cardiff Film and Comic Con, Cardiff
April 9th-10th – Optimus: Bristol Comic Con, Bristol (not confirmed)
May 28th – Swansea Comic and Gaming Convention, Swansea
June 25th – Cardiff Independent Comic Expo, Cardiff
August 6th – Bristol Comic Expo, Bristol
September 17th – Dragondaze, Newport
October 29th-30th – Cardiff Film and Comic Con, Cardiff

It’s still early in the year so more dates will be added as we confirm them!

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Website redesign in progress

Working from a small team can be tough at times – critical tasks with impending deadlines get prioritised over everything else… and once in a while you get a break where you sit down and realise, “That thing I meant to do… I meant to do it three years ago.”

We had one of those moments recently in regards to this website. Our website has grown over time, with bits being added as we had time to work on them but it’s never really felt ‘complete’. Looking at the internal files, we’re on version 0.18 of the website since we swapped over from the Wix hosted flash site in 2011 and most of the updates since 2013 have been bugfixes. The site hasn’t really had a proper overhaul in a very long time. As a result, bits have been tinkered with but never fully implemented… and other bits have been broken along the way (like the theme for the blog and shop) – not to mention, some of the information is now long out of date.

While we could recode the site from scratch using skills from within the team that’s not really the best use of our time and resources right now… and it doesn’t play to our strengths either. Instead, we’ve asked a third party to take a look for us and preliminary design work has already started. Some of the improvements we expect to see include reduced page load times, easier ways to update information on different pages (and even the ability to easily add new pages!), as well as a complete overhaul of site content bringing everything up to date and ensuring consistency throughout.

We’re quite excited by all this as it means we’ll be able to give you more access to better information in a clearer fashion and will open the way for us to expand our web presence – this is where your feedback comes in; if there’s something you’d like to see on our site, now’s the time to email us and let us know.

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Dexter’s Half Dozen #9

Yesterday marked the release of the latest issue in Jamie Lambert and Dave Clifford’s highly praised WWII comic with a supernatural slant. It’s available now from our shop and all good retailers.

Dexter's Half Dozen #9 - The Abberrant
Front cover for Jamie Lambert and Dave Clifford’s Dexter’s Half Dozen #9 – out now from Deadstar Publishing,

Over the next few weeks we will link to reviews as we become aware of them. If you want to review the comic yourself, email us with your details and we’ll send you an ebook version. Alternatively, you can sign up for our reviewer programme and be notified in advance when new titles will be released to reviewers.

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Deadstar’s Expo List 2015

We didn’t make it to many expos last year – which was a shame as we love meeting you guys and seeing in person what you think of what we do.

This year we’re trying to get out there again so are lined up for:

Febuary 7th – True Believers Comic Festival, Cheltenham
March 14th – Nerdvana, Camarthen
March 21st-22nd – Cardiff Film and Comic Con, Cardiff
April 18th – Birmingham Comics Festival, Birmingham
May 23rd – Cardiff Mini Con, Cardiff
May 25th – LawGiver MkII, Bristol
June 27th – Cardiff Independent Comics Expo, Cardiff
August 8th-9th – GeekedFest, Newport
August 29th-30th – Melksham Comic Con, Melksham
September 19th – Dragondaze, Newport
September 26th – Valley Con: 15, Pontypridd
October 17th – Bristol Horror Con, Bristol
November 7th-8th – Cardiff Film and Comic Con, Cardiff
November 14th-15th – Thought Bubble, Leeds

There are more that we are debating and costing up and as the list changes we’ll keep this post updated. If there’s somewhere you’d like to see us, get in touch and let us know!

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Upcoming VAT changes – what they mean for YOU

This weekend, when we should have been planning for the new year we were made aware of something that will massively impact how Deadstar does business – and if you’re a small business in the creative field, or a client of one, it will likely affect you too.

Come January 1st 2015 a change to VAT regulations is going to make life very difficult for small businesses. Now, that might not sound like it affects you but it probably will. The change relates to where VAT is due – currently VAT is paid to the country that the seller is in. From now on, it will be due in the country that the purchaser buys in. The intention is to catch large businesses that take advantage of international tax law by basing themselves in nations with low VAT rates – now they will pay VAT at point of purchase, thus paying more VAT. Our prediction is that the long-term effect of these changes are that such businesses are likely to profit more… and small to micro-businesses will be driven out of operation.

That sounds like a bold claim, so I’ll explain: right now businesses in the UK don’t have to register to pay VAT if their turnover is below £82,000. Below this threshold, they can register if they wish but it isn’t mandatory. If you sell goods to another country then you may have to pay VAT to them if your sales in that country exceed that country’s threshold. The lowest of these within the EU is about €30,000 a year – so if you exceed that threshold you are likely already at or near the UK threshold and will be registered to pay VAT in Britain too. Below that, there’s no requirement to pay. As such, many small businesses pay no VAT, which allows them to keep prices low and be competitive.

The impending changes will wreak havoc on that balance. From 1st January 2015 anyone selling digital content automatically through a platform they control (most definitely your own website, but several third-party platforms like Craftsy and Bandcamp suggest that their arrangement with sellers will land sellers in this position as well) will need to comply with new regulations or face “an unlimited fine”.

To comply with the new regulations sellers must:

  • Obtain a minimum of two non-conflicting pieces of location data identifying the buyer’s location.
  • Keep this data for a minimum of ten years following sale on an EU-based server.
  • If you have sold to a buyer within the EU then you have a choice:
    • Register for VAT in the UK and use the Mini-One-Stop-Shop to make appropriate VAT payments to each country where a sale was made four times a year.
    • Register for VAT directly with the tax authority in each country you make a sale to.
  • Depending on the country you may have to send them a VAT invoice as well as their usual receipt.

If this sounds like a headache to you, how do you think it sounds to self-published authors, small presses, musicians, programmers, life coaches etc selling digital products through their own stores? Whereas with physical products there is a minimum threshold below which no VAT is due, if you now sell an ebook or a song to somebody in Germany you must either register for VAT within the UK (giving up 20% of your business income, less any VAT deductible expenses you are able to reclaim and pay 19% of the value of the sale through MOSS to Germany. Alternatively, you can register direct with Germany for VAT and hope you can navigate their financial rules.

The easy alternative is to sell exclusively through third party platforms (Amazon being a prime one) and accept losing up to 70% of revenue on products. There are less-easy alternatives but they all require dramatic changes in operation for most businesses:

  • Cease trading digital goods directly to customers. Continue to use third party sites (with the accompanying significant drop in turnover and net profit due to their sellers’ fees). This incurs no change to small businesses’ VAT reporting practices.
  • Continue trading digital goods directly to customers in addition to using third party sites – but block sales to all EU countries.
    • This is not practical on a technical level as it is not 100% reliable and seller is culpable if buyer masks their location when buying, and seller must still follow the recording process (see above) to prove that they have not sold to any EU locations. HMRC advice issued during a Q&A session on 27th November 2014 suggests that this will comply with VAT legislation but may breach anti-discrimination laws.
  • Do not register for VAT in the UK, but register for VAT in each European nation that a business may trade to.
    • As an addition to this businesses must then record a minimum of two location-identifying pieces of data for every digital transaction, keeping that information (which may require registering with Data Protection Agencies in up to 28 countries) on an EU-based server for a minimum of ten years in order to accurately assess how much VAT is due to each country every three months.
    • During the three monthly VAT return to each applicable country sellers must accurately navigate up to 28 countries’ tax codes to determine how much VAT is due even though their turnover is too low to warrant paying VAT in Britain.
  • Register for VAT in the UK and use the MOSS system to pay VAT owed to other countries.
    • This is the suggested method for compliance – however many small businesses operate on very tight margins already; paying UK VAT rates could effectively force businesses into closure. They would still need to record all location data and navigate appropriate payments through MOSS as well as paying UK VAT on all applicable income.
  • HMRC has stated that it is permissible to give a free digital copy of a physical product alongside the purchase of a physical product, so businesses could legitimately sell ebooks on a CD to be posted to the buyer regardless of their location without being required to record and retain location data.
    • This would fall under the VAT category for distance selling VAT thresholds – but if reached that for any specific country then businesses would almost certainly be operating on a scale where VAT registration was no longer a problem.
    • This also takes the sale of digital products back twenty years to a time before broadband and internet access was widespread – hardly appropriate for a first world nation.
  • HMRC has stated that the new regulations only apply to business to customer sales conducted automatically and that “minimal human intervention” in the sales process stops a transaction from counting for these purposes – so instead of a customer being able to pay for their digital product (ebook) and then being automatically able to download it from a website businesses could send customers a human-typed email at a later point with their purchased digital file attached and this would not require recording and retaining location information or reporting for VAT purposes.
    • We’re still seeking professional advice to confirm this will be a legal act and if so then for the time being this is the approach that we intend to take with Deadstar Publishing. It will mean additional work and ignoring a functional automated system purpose-built for ease of convenience to the consumer but it apparently complies with the law and introduces the least additional work for the business.

The reason this has become such a nightmare is because the EU member states have not agreed a minimum threshold for VAT liability on digital products sold cross-border and delivered automatically. There is currently a petition here: asking Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Vince Cable MP to urgently reassess this situation in light of the damage it will cause to small businesses in terms of massively increased administrative workload and potential for tax burden and for him to implement a minimum threshold similar to that which already exists for physical products sold at a distance before which VAT registration is optional, not mandatory.

If this comes in as intended it is going to cause chaos. Over the past twenty-four hours we’ve spoken with a number of businesses globally that would otherwise be too small to pay VAT based on income and who are now looking at whether it is feasible to even continue trading. The upshot of this is that even if you are not an affected business you a probably a customer of a business that will be affected. With businesses already considering closing digital sales or conducting transactions manually, think about the impact that this will have on you as a consumer as well as the business side of things. Would you be happy to buy an ebook or a music download that you then had to wait to be manually emailed to you?  Please make others aware of this situation as there is still time to show those in power how much of an impact this change will have.

There’s a lot more that could be said about this topic, but for now here are a selection of background links and research materials for you to use. Please share widely. The more people are told about this, the better chance small businesses have of obtaining the exemption to these new rules that are so desperately needed.