I’m working on my new book, with the current working title of Cosmic Girl. This is a title that has been used before… many, many times. According to Wikipedia it has been used as the title of a single by British funk/acid jazz band Jamiroquai, as the name of a Boeing 747 owned by Virgin Galactic, as the name of a single by German europop duo Modern Talking, and as the name of a 13-member South Korean girl group, among other things.

I’m having doubts about whether such a well used title will actually make it onto the cover of my book, but it will do for now as a working title. Working titles have a long tradition, as Den of Geek notes, back in 2009, the secretive Christopher Nolan began filming something called Oliver’s Arrow, and that turned out to be Inception. Working titles are applied for all kinds of reasons. Some are due to secrecy, as was the case with Inception, but in most cases a working title is used because an appropriate name hasn’t yet been chosen. Ridley Scott’s Alien, for example, was referred to as Star Beast for several months before the final name was ultimately chosen. How The Solar System Was Won became 2001: A Space Odyssey. The actual title of what eventually became 2001 changed multiple times, including Journey Beyond The Stars, Universe, Tunnel to the Stars, and Planetfall, before a name was finally chosen.

Anyway, apart from coming up with the final title, whether that turns out to be Cosmic Girl or not, I am still going to have to write the actual book, too. Part of my process for this daunting task is to mock up a cover for the nascent sci-fi novel at the earliest possible point. Having a cover mocked up makes the book feel more real to me and helps keep my motivation high and also keeps writer’s block at bay.

My main distributor is Draft 2 Digital, who are an aggregator, which is a kind of self-publishing service that sends my books to retailers including Amazon, Apple, Kobo and B&N. All I have to do is upload a text file of the book’s innards to them and an image file for the cover. For best results their cover art requirements are a JPEG at 1600x2400 resolution.

I want the Cosmic Girl cover to look a little like the cover of the Hunger Games, with an enigmatic symbol as the only clue to what lies within the book, along with the blurb or course. The symbol used on the hunger games cover looks like a painting, but I’m planning to do mine as a 3D model.

As a 3D model, I can use the symbol as the graphic on the cover of Cosmic Girl, but it can also be uploaded to Shapeways, to be sold as merch. What is Shapeways? I hear you cry. The Shapeways article on Wikipedia is pretty good, as it happens. But in essence, Shapeways is a New York-based 3D printing marketplace and service. Users design and upload 3D printable files, and Shapeways prints the objects for them or their customers directly. In July 2014, for example, Shapeways announced a partnership program with Hasbro, Inc. to produce 3D printed models of characters from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.

My idea is that the symbol pendant can be printed out by the 3D printers at Shapeways and worn as a necklace by fans, just the way Cosmic Girl wears it. In my mind at least, this is a pretty good idea for merch. I’m creating the 3D model I’ll need for the symbol in Blender, because Blender is cool, and free.

Primarily the model will due duty as the graphic on the cover of the novel, though, so that’s where I started. This is the first render of the 3D model for the symbol on the mock up of the cover for Cosmic Girl. Everything is in the default gray used by Blender if you don’t select something more exciting, but the gray is pretty good. I’ll have to be careful adding color, so I don’t lose the sci-fi austerity of this design. After rendering a cover I’m happy with, for now at least, I turned my attention to the pendant.

There are some differences between 2D book cover rendering and 3D merch printing that mean the model created in Blender has to be tweaked before it can be used to print a pendant. Usually for rendering as a 2D image, such as the book cover, I make the faces of the model nice and smooth at the simple click of a button. (Smoothing is necessary because 3D objects in Blender are created from virtual abstract shapes, a little like high-tech Lego bricks made of pixels. Like Lego they have a tendency to look blocky if you don’t do something to smooth them off.)

Unfortunately, this “smooth” button won’t work for 3D printing. If you want merch printed out at Shapeways to look smooth, you have to add more geometry. This is called subdivision, and I guess it’s a bit like adding pixels to a jpg. The lines don’t get less blocky, but because the blocks are smaller, you don’t notice them so much.

It took longer to smooth the model for Shapeways than it did to construct it in the first place, but it’ll be worth it if anyone ever does buy the symbol as an actual necklace. When I had a mesh that looked pretty smooth to me, I exported it from Blender as an STL file and uploaded it to Shapeways. Shapeways has systems that then checked it to see if it would print, but this autocheck stage found some problems.

Luckily, a Blender user named Jeff LaMarche has written a page on solving Blender mesh problems on Shapeways.

It turns out my mesh had some non-manifold faces, which means the shape wasn’t water tight. You can tell by going into edit mode in Blender and pressing ctrl-alt-shift-M. This reveals non-manifold vertices that have to be fixed. All I had to do was create new faces (using the F key) to fix the problem. I re-uploded my model to Shapeways, but again it failed the checks. So what was the problem this time?

My mesh was made of three different shapes, a loop for hanging the pendant on a chain, a planet, and a ring. I had to laboriously stitch the three shapes together into one block of geometry before Shapeways was finally happy with it. It still didn’t like some pointy edges, which it said might break off during the manufacturing process, but they were easy to make less pointy.

A prototype of the Cosmic Girl pendant is available to buy from Shapeways already. Ah… if only a book could be taken from idea to completion equally quickly.

While you are waiting for me to stop messing around with Blender and get on with writing Cosmic Girl, you can check out one of my other books, such as Galaxy Dog.

Galaxy Dog (Dark Galaxy) Start Reading the Dark Galaxy Trilogy

The first book in the Dark Galaxy Trilogy, always the best place to start, is Galaxy Dog. It’s a little more old-school and fun than a lot of the sci-fi that is around at the moment. It has spaceships, robots, battles, and brave warriors rebelling against an evil empire. Click the book cover and go to the storefront you prefer to buy it now, or follow this link.

This is a universal book link (UBL) and you will be greeted with a page displaying all the places the book is available online. Just select the storefront you prefer and, if you want, also make this your default bookseller. From then on, every time you click a UBL you will be taken directly to the book you are interested in, on the storefront you prefer. The UBL even allows you to go to the Amazon store that matches your region.