The Evolution of Don’t Run Away’s Cover

They say your cover is the most important part of your book. I don’t know who “they” are, or if that’s necessarily true, but your cover is important. It needs to convey your genre, it needs to be eye-catching. The font for your title and author name needs to look professional, yet suited to your genre.

This is a tall order if you want to do it yourself. Way back when I was new at this, I didn’t know as much as I do now, and I was adamant that indies could do their own covers. And you can. You should.

But let’s step back and figure out what a “good” cover is.

I wrote Don’t Run Away as a NaNoWriMo project in 2015. After I released Summer Secrets, I started editing it, I mean, really editing it, so that it was publishable. I took out all the head-hopping, the mixed up POVs, and I turned it into the book that’s going to be released on the 18th. So for the year I spent editing, I blogged about the publishing process and making your own cover. While I blogged about making your own cover, I came up with some doozies, that were, ah, well. See for yourself.

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Yeah. I blogged about creating this cover. Did I say that I liked it? No. Am I embarrassed that I put something like that on the internet? Yes. But that was naivety and inexperience. Cover design takes practice and a good eye.

Did it get better? No.

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Then I came up with this piece of crap. Yeah, it’s better than that pink monstrosity above, but I would never buy a book that had this for a cover.

Luckily for me, lots of time went by, and I took a break.

When I was nearer to publication, I came up with this:

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And that’s not so bad. I even would have maybe used this. But the problem was, or is, is that Don’t Run Away is book one of a trilogy, so not only did I need to make one cover, I needed to keep in mind that I needed two other covers, and they needed to look like they belonged together.

I came up with these two for books two and three:

I mean, as far as covers go, they aren’t that bad. But ultimately, I turned all three of them down because, in the end, I felt the couples looked fake. When you look through sites like www.canstock.com or www.dreamstime.com there are three different categories of people. Real people:

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You don’t want real people on your cover. I think this is where a lot of indies go wrong. Real people aren’t models, and the photographer didn’t touch up the photograph to make it look less real. I suppose if you found the perfect person, you could run the photo through some filters, modify it somehow so that she doesn’t look like a real person giving you a goofy look through some weeds. But you definitely have to do something to it. That’s where the pink “hell no” cover at the beginning of this post comes from. Real people don’t work.

The second category of people on stock sites are real, but they look better than real.

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She looks good, ya know? She looks like model material, but approachable. The photographer added some sunlight. Depending on your genre, these make perfect covers.

The third category of people are fakes:

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There’s a genre for actual models (erotica and porn), and I didn’t need anything like her for my covers. I needed my couples approachable. My characters aren’t billionaires, they aren’t sheiks, or princes, or even CEOs. My characters hold down-to-earth jobs and have real people problems. I needed my covers to convey that.

So I did manage to find this couple, and I was lucky to find two other couples that looked like they were taken by the same person. Two of them were, but the third was taken by someone else. I probably won’t write anymore trilogies, but if you do, or even a duet, or even more than three, make a plan for your covers because it’s a pain in the ass to change them. Not only do you have to go through the submission process again for CreateSpace, if you use IngramSpark, they charge you for every change you make. And you have to remember to change your cover on Goodreads, too. (Which isn’t the best because your old cover will always be attached to your book on the book’s page.)

Here are the three I chose for my covers:

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I also decided to make the whole picture wrap onto the spine and back cover, so the position of the couple was important too.

Here’s how Don’t Run Away turned out:

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I’m pretty proud of it. And it turned out nice in person (ignore how goofy looking he is):

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Of course, even when you find the perfect picture, you need to play with font, where everything will go, that kind of thing. At first my cover looked like this:

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And I didn’t have any qualms about it. But after the proof came in the mail, I realized the title was way too big. It didn’t need to be that large. My friend Gareth made the crack that, what, I didn’t need people be able to see it from outer space? No, I didn’t. So I fixed it, but then the spine was off:

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I was tempted to leave it, but I couldn’t. So again, I sent it in to be fixed, and it came back okay.

I guess my point is, covers go through an evolution of sorts, and it’s never too late to start playing around with fonts and photos.

Look around at other covers and see what’s popular in your genre. Maybe even see if other covers are using the same people you’re thinking about using.

I found this nice one while looking around:

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The site selling it wanted $50.00 for it. I’m sorry, but I like mine better, and it was free. Well, did pay http://www.canstock.com five credits for the picture, which turned out to be around 4 dollars. The fonts I used were all allowed for commercial use for free and I downloaded them from http://www.1001fonts.com/. Be careful if you use this site because some are for commercial use, and some are not.

That ends my cover adventure for Don’t Run Away. If you want to know how I used the photo for the spine and back cover, let me know. It’s fun, and it solves the problem of what to put on the back. Some people don’t care about the back since you’ll sell more e-reader versions, but still. If you ever do a book signing or a giveaway, perhaps on Goodreads, you’ll need a paperback version.

Let me know your thoughts!

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To Query or Not to Query

When I talk to people about my publishing plans for my next couple of books, people ask me if I’ll ever query and try for a traditionally published deal. I always say, “No, I’m not writing anything queryable right now.”

People can take that a lot of different ways, and mostly that sounds like I don’t have faith in what I’m writing, or that my work is crap and only suited for self-publishing.

That couldn’t be further from that truth.

What I mean by that is, I know what I’m writing. I know what it’s suited for. That doesn’t mean what I’m writing isn’t being traditionally published; it just means I don’t have to find an agent to get it there. I write fluff. Maybe that’s demeaning to my genre when I say that, but I also am not pinning my work with any more importance than it deserves. Harlequin, the publisher that brings you the lines Temptation, Desire, Blaze, and the like (they’ve done some remodeling, so I don’t know what their lines are now) prints hundreds of books like that every year. In my Barnes and Noble, they take up a shelf in the corner of the building near the floor. All the shiny red spines with titles like One Night with the Billionaire or The Cowboy’s Baby. Women read these by the handfuls; a quick read you can get through in a couple hours before tossing it onto a pile and reaching for another one, like candies in a heart-shaped box. You know what you’re getting, you savor it as it melts in your mouth, but you have no problem reaching for another one when the chocolate is gone.

My books are like that. What I write in three to four months will be devoured in three to four hours, and I’m okay with that. I’m more than okay with that. Romance is a huge genre, and where there are millions of writers cranking out millions of books, there are also millions of readers. They don’t call the Romance genre the bestselling genre for nothing.

But along with pages of guidelines for how they like their books to be written and their preferred word count, Harlequin has its own dropbox on its website. I don’t need to query an agent and let my manuscript sit in a slush pile to wait for an agent’s assistant to skim my query letter. I can upload my manuscript onto Harlequin’s website myself, or to Carina Press, the digital-first arm of Harlequin, and let it rot in their slush pile without any help, thank you.

If I were to query, going back to the original question, I would query something more serious. Something I worked harder for. We all have visions of our books sitting on the display table at Barnes and Noble in the center of their main walkway. Trust me when I say Don’t Run Away would never make it there—agent or not. No, looking at the New York Times Book Review right now, I would want to write something more akin to Women’s Fiction, not Contemporary Romance. I would want my manuscript to mean something, to say something, to point out an injustice, to try to right a wrong, to help someone. I would want my manuscript to come from my brain as well as my heart.

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I’m not trying to degrade romance, not at all. But any romance writer or reader knows the difference between In the Arms of Her Boss and Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward, a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction. And let’s be clear, a reader who picks up either one of these knows what she’s getting. You have to be in the mood to read it, and a writer has to be in the mood (not to mention have the talent and skills) to write it.

I’m not in the mood to try to write something of Sing Unburied Sing’s caliber. I’m perfectly happy editing Chasing You. (You can weigh the two books by title alone, can’t you?)

If, or when, I plan to query, it will be with a book that will make it worth my time, and it will be with a book that will be worth the pain and heartache of rejection. Because I know the score. Querying is a whole lot of rejection, and I won’t put myself through that for a computer file full of fluff.

You might think that I’m too hard on myself, but I prefer to think of it as a realistic POV of my work. And, quite possibly, more indie writers should have it. Querying a story that won’t make it onto a table at the Barnes and Noble will sour you on the whole process. Traditional publishers only publish so many books per year. Why query a book that would never make it? That’s not to say your fluff isn’t good enough for Harlequin or a small press. (The back of bookstore on a shelf near the floor is better than nowhere at all, right?) It very well may be, and you should definitely go that route if you feel your book is worth it. Query to find an agent knowing/admitting where your book is going to end up, or use Harlequin’s dropbox and let your book sit in cyber purgatory for a few months while interns wade through the submissions.

But I won’t bother to try to find an agent for something that will sell just fine when I self-publish it.

After I’ve grown a bit more as a writer, or maybe when I have a nice backlist I can be proud of and want to challenge myself, or when the perfect plot plops into my head, I’ll write my book and I will query it to find an agent who loves it as much as I do, and maybe one day it will end up at the Barnes and Noble on a table in their main walkway.
I’ll pass it and brush my fingers over the cover as I walk to the café for a coffee. But for now, I’ll finish writing Running Scared while chocolate melts in my mouth.

#SmutChat Self-publishing Topic Recap!

I run a Twitter chat called #smutchat. It’s geared toward more than just smut, (though I am a romance author and I like to chat about that too, from time to time) and last night we talked about self-publishing.

I said I would recap the chat for a few people who couldn’t make it, so here you go. 🙂

 

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Question one, when I was making it up, was intended to be a question about the process of self-publishing. Was it formatting your paperback book? Dealing with uploading to KDP? Maybe figuring out your book cover? Some hit the nail on the head; others went far beyond.

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To be honest, I didn’t know what I was going to get out of this one, and the answers were all over the place.

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This question brought about the answers you would expect. It’s expensive to publish a book if you hire out, and no we can’t afford it, and no again, we probably won’t see a return on that investment any time soon. Yet the people who don’t know what they’re doing and publish bad-looking books muddy the pool for the rest of us who do it right.

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ISBNs are expensive–at least, they are in the US. CreateSpace gives you one for free and if you use theirs, they are listed as your book’s publisher, not you. Kindle Direct Publishing will give you an ASIN number, but I read somewhere that selling an ebook isn’t considered publishing per se, it’s just selling a file. I use my own ISBN numbers for both my Kindle file and my paperback for CS. Here’s what others said:

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This is tough because if you don’t know you don’t know it, how will you figure it out? I researched the hell out of self-publishing, CreateSpace, and Kindle before I published On the Corner of 1700 Hamilton and I still got a lot of things wrong. When you self-publish on your own without help from someone who has done it before, you’re bound to make mistakes. I still make mistakes. I had to resubmit my cover for Don’t Run Away. CS said they “fixed” my cover, but I wanted to fix it myself. The more I know, the better off I’ll be. Here’s what other people thought:

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That wrapped up the chat about self-publishing. Though I didn’t showcase them here, there were several tweets about book marketing. I haven’t delved into marketing yet, so I don’t have anything to offer in the way of that or what works. I do know that I have been reading up on Amazon Ads, and a good book by Brian D. Meeks seems to make a lot of sense. Whether it will work for you (or me) remains to be seen, but you can find it here. I have also been reading about Facebook Ads and this is the book I’m reading.

Rachel Thompson @BadRedheadMedia  runs a book marketing chat. You should check out her chat and maybe get some tips and ideas on how to market your own book. She has also written a book about it, and you can find it here.

In some sub-tweets, I told someone to look at Author Marketing Club, run by Jim Kukral. He’s co-host of the Sell More Books Show podcast I listen to every week. He also runs Happy Book Reviews if you’re interested in finding more book reviews. I haven’t used his services so do so at your own risk. Like everything online, be careful where you throw your money. I do listen to his podcast though, and he seems to be on the up and up or I wouldn’t point them out to you.

I also tweeted some interesting facts about self-publishing:

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Anyway, thanks for reading over the recap. I apologize if I didn’t feature one of your tweets to a question. It was difficult wading through the answers, though I do appreciate everyone who participated last night! If you’re interested in all of the answers, or you want to look at the sub-tweets, please take a look at the hashtag! It was a great chat!

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Why Buy the Cow When You Get the Milk for Free? Or Something Like That.

Writers are notorious for giving their work away. “Sign up for my newsletter and receive a free book!” “My book is on Instafreebie!” “Every first book to all my series is permafree.” We hand out novellas and short stories like candy. We tweet poems. There is so much free content you could drown in words. Our Kindles are becoming black holes of free books downloaded in just a second, forever to rot in your device.

But this isn’t a post about too many books, or the quality of books, or another blog post on trad-pubbing vs. indie.

This post is about paying for services.

I was researching something a while back–I can’t remember what it was now. How to price a series, or how much to charge for something. I have no idea. But I came across an article that forever changed my way of thinking about giving my books away. I can’t refer to the author or the website because I can’t remember, but if I ever come across it again, I’ll link it up. See, the article was about . . . why writers are expected to give their work away, but no one else in a creative area is asked to do so.

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Indie writers who research publishing are told from the get-go to hire out. Hire out your editing, hire out your cover design. Hire someone to format and convert your files. You can even hire someone to write your blurb for you. You want a professional looking and sounding book, don’t you? But what no one tells you that if you do, indeed, hire all that out, you’re spending thousands of dollars. Editors alone make a mint–and sometimes you need more than one. Developmental editing, line editing, proofreading. Sometimes you can find someone who does a mix of those, but that doesn’t make it cheaper. Anyway, so you hire out, do all the things you’re supposed to do. Then what do you do? You give your book away.

Why is it writers are expected to do this, but no one else? Cover designers don’t give their work away unless maybe they are part of a giveaway or something. Editors don’t edit for free unless they are donating their services for some odd reason. Even formatters want five bucks for setting up your margins and gutters in your Word document.

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I understand the backlash of indies doing things themselves. I even told a friend not long ago that if I were a reader now I would be pissed off. In one of my Facebook groups, a woman posted a lovely looking book. The cover was amazing, she had a great blurb, and the premise of the story hooked me. So I went into the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon, and the first page was riddled with head hopping. We were in the heads of at least three different people on the first page. The author obviously didn’t have her book edited. Maybe beta read by friends who didn’t want to tell her the truth, but that didn’t help. It made me wonder how many unsuspecting readers have been burned by indie books. Does buying a book now really have to feel like looking for a new car? Is the salesman going to talk you into a stinker then pop the champagne when you drive off the lot?

I don’t pay to have anything done to my books. I edit myself; I do my own covers. And I don’t give my books away, either. I’ve never used the promotions available to me on KDP Select. I enter my books a couple giveaways here and there for my paperbacks, but nothing in my library is “permafree.” Not even .99. (Except my short novelette I would feel guilty charging more for.)

So indies are expected to “invest in their futures” as the industry likes to call it, but then we’re supposed to turn around and give our books away for free. How are we supposed to have any return on that investment?

What I’m proposing is that maybe “investing in our futures” would be a lot easier to choke down if we demanded top dollar for our work the way other creatives do. Maybe it would be easier to pay out the $300 for a cover, the $500 dollars for the editing and for the other odds and ends you need to make your book look good. Maybe we would be more apt to do that if we knew it wouldn’t take 10 years to recoup those losses.

I know it’s a Catch-22. You can’t sell books if they don’t look and sound good, but you can’t afford to hire out unless you’re making money. I’m in the same boat. I can’t afford to pay $1,000+ per book to publish it. Almost no one I know can. But I’m not saying I won’t when I can afford it.

Pricing your book sucks. You want it to be cheap enough to draw people in, but you want to make money, too. You deserve to make money on something you spent so much time on. Writing is hard work, and you won’t find anyone who will tell you it’s not. You deserve to get paid.

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Stop giving your books way to people who join your newsletters. Stop posting your book on the Instafreebie site. Stop pricing your book at $0.00 on Smashwords and everywhere else. It’s not working anymore, anyway. There is too much free content. Would you rather have someone download your free book and never read it, or choose to spend the $4.99 on your e-book and actually read it and possibly review it? It’s a known fact that if someone spends money on something they put more value on it.

But it’s up to you to make your book valuable to your readers.

Trash is free; antiques are priceless.

Do you give your books away? Tell me what you think!

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#SmutChat Dialogue Giveaway

Seems like Thursdays come and go pretty fast, right? Thanks for taking the time to participate in chat tonight. I hope you had a good time. The giveaways are Dialogue for Writers: Create Powerful Dialogue in Fiction and Nonfiction by Sammie Justesen and The Cougarette by Eliza David.

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The next time on #smutchat we’re going to mix it up a little bit. We’ll have guest hosts Nadia Diament (@nadiadiament ) and Avi Ross answer your questions about writing believable law in your books.  The giveaways for that chat are super-amazing, so you’ll want to tune in on Sept 21st.  Happy fall!

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You’ve Written Your Book. Now What?

There’s a lot of talk in the publishing/writing community about what to write. Ask anyone, and the unanimous answer will be, “Write what you love and worry about the rest later.” And that’s okay; definitely write what you love because if you’re not, it will show in your writing. If you don’t love it, no one else will, either.

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But after you’ve written your book, what then? If you want to query, what you’ve written will decide almost 100% if you’ll get picked up. Agents sign books they know will sell, and they know what books will sell because they are in close contact with editors in publishing houses and know what books the editors will buy.  But what are those books?

There are books that will never go out of style because they encompass the bigger genres: romance, mystery/suspense (combine the two and you’re golden), a little science fiction, some fantasy, maybe. When you choose one of those, you’re choosing a subject or topic that will never stop selling.

But indie authors rarely go generic, and that’s a lot of the problem. Say I’ve written this wonderful story about a fairy princess set in modern times who is a pediatrician and she’s in love with the warlock neuro surgeon down the hall. Her father demands she go home to the fairy world to claim the throne and she’s torn away from her warlock lover. After she’s home and takes up her duties as royalty, she finds out she’s pregnant with her warlock lover’s baby. Now what?

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This story is near and dear to my heart, maybe. It’s all written out, all 99,000 words of magical goodness. I have plans to turn this into a trilogy.

Excitedly, I shop it around.

Agents pass, editors at publishing houses pass. A kind agent takes the time to email me and says, “This is great, the writing is solid. But fairies in adult fiction aren’t selling right now, and I don’t know when they will. I can sell it if you turn the fairy and warlock into humans.”

What she did was make my story generic. She turned it into a simple romance she’d probably sell to Avon.

But that’s not what I want, so she offers me, “I’ll sign you and keep it in my drawer. When fairies come around again, I’ll try to sell it.” This isn’t exactly what I want, either, and I wonder if I want to take her offer because how long do I want to wait, exactly? Selling my book could take years, or she could never do it. It doesn’t mean my book or writing is bad, it just means the publishing industry isn’t selling that kind of book right now.

We can all think of books that have had their day: vampires/werewolves (Twilight), dystopian societies (The Hunger Games), mommy porn (Fifty Shades of Grey).

But look on the NYT Bestseller list and we can see what’s hot right now: mysteries, The Woman in Cabin 10 (Ruth Ware), The Couple Next Door (Shari Lapena), Seeing Red (Sandra Brown), The Store (James Patterson). Simple romance, Two by Two (Nicholas Sparks). General Fiction, Before We Were Yours (Lisa Wingate), Exposed (Lisa Scottoline).

 

There isn’t a fairy, vampire, or elf on the whole list. Even Young Adult has is having a grown up moment: The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas), One of Us is Lying (Karen M. McManus). Third on the list is about faeries, but it’s part of a series by Cassandra Clare. She has her name and history behind that book, something you wouldn’t have. (Just sayin’.)

The reason I’m writing this blog post isn’t to tell you to write boring—write what you want to write. But I am saying that there may not be room for your book when you’re done with it depending on the climate of the industry.

#PitchWars just ended on Twitter. It’s a program (for lack of a better term) created by agent Brenda Drake. A writer submits their manuscript and hopes a “mentor” will take them on and help make their manuscript queryable.

The problem is, these mentors know what is selling and will choose manuscripts that have the best chance at being picked up. If that happens, everyone looks good; that’s the goal.

There have been a lot of hurt feelings because manuscripts haven’t been picked up by mentors, and I’m willing to bet it’s not the writing but the genre and plot that made a mentor decline a book. Vampires, out. A teen learning what her true gifts are just in time to save the world, out. Clumsy girls who fall in love with billionaires, out.

The stars have to align for a book to be published these days. Your book has to be on target with the plot, the characters, and the trends at the time. It has to resonate with an agent, who has to find the perfect editor who wants to take it on.

I would never feel bad if my book didn’t get picked up. There are so many things that have to go right for that to happen; I would never take it personally.

But lots of people do.

Let me know what you’re writing. Do you think your book would get picked up after seeing what’s being published right now?

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(Book and Fairy taken from pixabay.com. Thanks to Amazon for the book cover pics.)

CreateSpace Adventures Continue

Monday I received my proofs from CreateSpace. For the past week I’ve been going through the first one (Novellas 1 – 3) editing them, looking for typos, and checking formatting. It’s taking a long time, and today I resubmitted the first one again. I found some typos (probably not all of them, but c’est la vie) found where some ellipses marks were broken, a fragment that should have been deleted. That kind of thing. There was also a novella that was spaced at 1.5 when the rest was single spaced, so I fixed that and lost about ten pages. I had to redo the page setup and adjust the spine to reflect the page loss. girl-792039_1920

But I am making progress, and I’ll be very excited when I’m finished reading these and submitting these for the last time.

It does make me wonder if I’ll ever get faster. If I’ll ever be able to write a book, read through it once, submit it, give the proof a quick once-over, and hit approve. This is only my second go-around so I shouldn’t be too hard on myself.

And I’m proud of myself that I’m not rushing through this. It’s cool to hold my books, but when someone else holds them, I want them to be as perfect as I can make them.

The month is slipping away and I was hoping for an August 1st release. If the proofs can come back without needing any tweaks, I might be able to do it.

Wish me luck.