Never Do Your Own Cover Art. Unless You Want To.

Author Pic 2016-smallerThe continuing saga of KK’s quest to conquer Kindle Scout.

Last time, I talked about Kindle Scout, a book I wrote, and my decision to see what I could accomplish by trying out the program. In order to submit your book to KS, you need to have 1. A book. 2. A cover. 3. Lots of editing and formatting shizz. This post is going to cover number 2—the cover. And my apologies in advance—it’s a long one.

FIRST: If you'd like to Scout a book, here's one from an online acquaintance of mine. Moonlight's Peril, by Ashlynn Monroe.

One of the first things self-publishing gurus tell aspiring self-publishers is, “Never make your own cover art.” This is probably a good piece of advice. Unless you want to make your own cover art, and are willing to put in the due diligence to make one that doesn’t look like you put it together in MS Paint (unless MS Paint is an important theme of the book, of course [sets aside plot bunny for another day]).

So…confession time. I do my own cover art. Some of it is stanky (and is on my list to be redone). Some of it is, in my own humble goddess-like opinion, not too damn bad. Why do I do my own art? Because I like doing my own art. I like learning about graphics and Photoshop and Canva and GIMP and whatever else. For the most part, I enjoy the challenge and the process.

I learned to use Photoshop making Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fan art. I made wallpapers with half-naked (and sometimes totes naked) David Boreanaz on them because it made me happy. And I learned a lot. When I started self-pubbing, I used those skills to start making covers. The first few I made—not so hot. But I started learning. I have a friend who works for the cover art department at one of my publishers, and she vets my work. My daughter is about to become a photography major, and has a great skill and eye for art. My college-age son has been making computer graphics for ages, and also has a great eye for art. So they give me feedback, too. Which leads to feedback like, “Mom, her face looks like it has a tumor on it,” and “No, those colors look like three-day-old poop.”

That’s the kind of feedback you need for this kind of venture.

So what do you need to make your own covers aside from somebody—preferably multiple somebodies—to tell you when your painstaking work is a piece of crap?

1. An idea of how cover art works. There’s all kinds of advice on the internet about how to improve/create cover art. My current favorite guru is Derek Murphy, from creativindiecovers.com. On his site, you can find templates, author tools, and even an online tool where you can create your own covers (I haven’t tried it, so I don’t know how well it works, but give it a go if you’re so inclined). He also has published a book on the topic, which has some interesting advice in it, much of which seems to fly in the face of the advice of other cover gurus. For example, Murphy says it’s not necessary to make the title big enough to read on a thumbnail, which you’ll find as the Number One Guideline for Proper Ebook Cover Art just about everywhere else. Since I’m super contrary, I figured this was the advice for me.

His templates are very cool, but they’re in Microsoft Word (!) and MS Word hates me, so I was unable to bend them to my will. However, I imported some graphics into one of them, got a general idea of what I wanted my cover to look like, then assembled everything in GIMP.

2. Some graphics software. I used Photoshop for a very long time, then I upgraded the OS on my computer and the old, old copy I had stopped working. This was very stressful. I swore a lot. Then I consulted my Tech Department (above-mentioned son and daughter) for recommendations. After some fiddling with various freeware packages, I ended up with GIMP. It’s free, and it does darn near everything Photoshop does, and with a similar workflow. (I still needed a tutorial from my son, who helped me with my cover for Lord of the Screaming Tower, but I’m getting the hang of it.) I recommend finding something you’re comfortable with, and then playing with it until you feel comfortable. Find online tutorials or a mentor-type to get you on your feet.

3. Some PICTURES!! Pictures are the most important part of cover art. Because cover art, duh. There are lots of places to find photos—istock photo, fotolia, bigstock, dreamstime, etc. Some pictures are pricier than others. My favorite price is free, so I’m going to talk about how to get free pictures you can use for your covers.

Firstly, though, you have to be VERY CAREFUL about this. Be absolutely sure you have the right kinds of licenses for your photos before you put them on your book cover. Some places, like morguefile.com and Wikimedia commons, are mostly public domain, but still be sure to read the fine print. Some pics at both these places require you to change the picture, or require you to credit the photographer. Don’t take shortcuts here—respect the photographers.

Anywho… Another way to get free pics, almost all of which will have the right type of licensing for book covers, is to wait for free trial memberships for major stock photo sites. I coincidentally was offered a free trial to graphicstock and bigstock within a couple of weeks of each other, and as a result ended up with close to 150 images for free. Once the trial is over, you just cancel, and then feel guilty every time they offer you another free trial (in all fairness, though, I’ve spent quite a bit of money at these sites, so I should probably chill). All the pictures I used for this cover came from the collection I downloaded during these free trials, and I have a bunch more that I grabbed with an eye toward future projects.

4. Fonts!! Never underestimate the power of a flippin’ awesome font. You’re probably good with two for a book cover—one for the title and one for your author name, possibly with an eye toward future branding. You can spend as little or as much as you like for fonts, from what I’ve seen. Again, I like free. My current site of choice is fonts101.com. They have a gajillion fonts, and they have a Font O’ the Day mailing list, and how cool is that?

You also have to look at licensing with fonts, so keep that in mind. If it says only for personal use, I’d suggest not putting it on a book cover. Look for fonts that are free for any usage or that specifically say free for commercial use. Or, of course, pay for the commercial upgrade if you really like the font.

That’s my basic how-to when it comes to covers. If you’re comfortable doing it, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t. If you’re not comfortable doing it, it’s probably better to outsource it.

So here’s my cover, if you’re interested in having a look-see. I’m fiddling with the eye/font color. If you want to weigh in with your favorite, feel free.

Call Me Zhenya-goldCall Me Zhenya-redCall Me Zhenya2

 

Which is Stranger—Truth or Fiction? … by Margaret Mizushima

“Humankind cannot take too much reality.” ~T.S. Elliott

Margaret MizushimaI love it when a grizzled detective on Dateline or 48 Hours shakes his head in amazement and says to the interviewer, “This crime is so twisted. You can’t make this kind of stuff up.” As a mystery writer, I can’t help but think, Oh, but we do.

Crime fiction writers spend countless hours researching their novels—the law, law enforcement, crime scene investigation and technology, the elements of their crime, you name it—but we still rely on our imaginations to utilize the information and create scenes from what we’ve learned. And you know what happens when a writer’s imagination kicks into gear? Mighty chaos can break loose. We try to “stick to the facts, ma’am,” but it doesn’t always work out that way. The truth might get tweaked or facts might be dramatized for fictional purposes.

Still, facts and fiction intermingle. I’d like to give you a few examples from my debut, Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery. Prior to writing the book, I was fortunate to shadow two skilled police dog trainers and watch them work with dogs and handlers. These professionals told me stories about the amazing things their dogs accomplished on the job. The crime fighting duo in my Timber Creek mystery series are Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo, a dog cross-trained in narcotics detection and patrol. So when I sat down to write, what does Robo do? He finds the body of teenage girl!

This discouraged me, because patrol dogs are typically trained in cadaver work or narcotics detection but not both. A phone call to one of my consultants solved my dilemma. “The trainer could have tested the dog for cadaver work when he was young but ultimately decided to go with narcotics detection training,” she said. “Some of these dogs remember everything.” Ah…okay then. Keep writing.

Mizushima_Killing TrailHere’s another example: My husband is a veterinarian and he helps me plot my stories. Before I wrote Killing Trail we brainstormed elements of the crime and came up with the idea that drug traffickers would use large dogs as mules by force-feeding them balloons filled with cocaine. Several months later, I was walking the treadmill while watching television and saw a news clip on drug traffickers in Columbia who used greyhounds as mules by surgically implanting bags of heroin under their skin. This example of how reality followed fiction told me a couple things—one, our idea wasn’t too far-fetched, and two, these crooks can be more cruel and inhumane than my husband and I can imagine.

And one more: In my series, ranchers and merchants of Timber Creek are concerned about drug traffic through their community, so they donate money for the sheriff’s department to buy a narcotics detection dog. After the book was written, a friend of mine sent an article from a small town newspaper about townspeople organizing a committee to raise money for a narcotics detection dog for their police department. The town council nixed the concept. Some speculated it was turned down because several council members were participants in the local drug traffic problem. Hmm…fact or fiction?

Don’t you think T.S. Elliott would be shocked by the reality television shows we have in our world today? I know I am at times, and I agree that it’s debatable whether or not some of these shows are scripted. But I’ve come to believe that both fiction and reality can startle, shock, and sometimes be downright unbelievable. And as to which one is stranger—I think it’s a toss up.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Margaret Mizushima has a background in speech pathology and practiced in an acute care hospital before establishing her own rehabilitation agency. Currently, she balances writing with assisting her husband with their veterinary clinic and Angus cattle herd. Her fiction has won contest awards, and her short story “Hay Hook” was published in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2014 anthology, Crossing Colfax. She enjoys reading and hiking, and she lives with her husband on a small ranch in Colorado where they raised two daughters and a multitude of animals. She can be found on Facebook/Author Margaret Mizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, and on her website.

This post was previously published in December 2015 at Patricia Stoltey's blog.

Backstory Feeds Frontstory

Whack me upside the head – go ahead.

I was putting together a presentation recently for a workshop about writing mysteries and I wanted to make the point that the variety of ideas for mysteries—setting, characters, plots and themes—is endless.

I thought it might be insightful and instructive (maybe even interesting) to look at recent Edgar Award Winners.

So I made up a nifty PowerPoint slide for three books and included, verbatim, the description of each story.

JuneBlog2016LouBerneyThe first was Lou Berney’s The Long and Far Away Gone, winner of the Edgar Award for best paperback original.

(What a great title.)

Summary: In the summer of 1986, two tragedies rocked Oklahoma City. Six movie-theater employees were killed in an armed robbery, while one inexplicably survived. Then, a teenage girl vanished from the annual State Fair. Neither crime was ever solved. Twenty-five years later, the reverberations of those unsolved cases quietly echo through survivors’ lives. A private investigator in Vegas, Wyatt’s latest inquiry takes him back to a past he’s tried to escape—and drags him deeper into the harrowing mystery of the movie house robbery that left six of his friends dead.

 

JuneBlog2016LoriRoyThe second was for Lori Roy’s Let Me Dies in His Footsteps, winner of the Edgar Award for best novel. (Best novel!)

Summary: On a dark Kentucky night in 1952 exactly halfway between her fifteenth and sixteenth birthdays, Annie Holleran crosses into forbidden territory. Everyone knows Hollerans don’t go near Baines, not since Joseph Carl was buried two decades before, but, armed with a silver-handled flashlight, Annie runs through her family’s lavender fields toward the well on the Baines’ place. At the stroke of midnight, she gazes into the water in search of her future. Not finding what she had hoped for, she turns from the well and when the body she sees there in the moonlight is discovered come morning, Annie will have much to explain and a past to account for.

 

JuneBlog2016LoriRaderDayThe third was Lori Rader-Day’s Little Pretty Things, winner of the Mary Higgins Clark Award. (Love this title, too.)

Juliet Townsend is used to losing. Back in high school, she lost every track team race to her best friend, Madeleine Bell. Ten years later, she’s still running behind, stuck in a dead-end job cleaning rooms at the Mid-Night Inn, a one-star motel that attracts only the cheap or the desperate. But what life won’t provide, Juliet takes. Then one night, Maddy checks in. Well-dressed, flashing a huge diamond ring, and as beautiful as ever, Maddy has it all. By the next morning, though, Juliet is no longer jealous of Maddy—she’s the chief suspect in her murder. To protect herself, Juliet investigates the circumstances of her friend’s death. But what she learns about Maddy’s life might cost Juliet everything she didn’t realize she had.

I haven’t read any of these books—but I want to read them all!

Right?

In putting together the presentation, it was easy to spot the fuel for each fire.

Berney: Twenty-five years later…

Roy: Two decades before…

Rader-Day: Back in high school…

I know it’s obvious.

It’s a simple point.

But characters are nothing if not for their backstory.

Brighton - Michael HarveyCharacters don’t walk onto the page without having been bruised or beaten or worse. They have had a life.

If your character’s past is dull, gray, bland, flat, flavorless, vanilla, and drama-free, you may not have a character. Or much of a story.  Sure, it’s what happened to your character but it’s also how your character responded to those key moments. That’s where character—and your story—is forged.

Now I see backstory everywhere I look. “Happy Valley”—the best Netflix thing I’ve seen in a long, long time. The writers backed up a dump truck full of backstory and piled it on West Yorkshire sergeant Catherine Cawood. (The "happy" in Happy Valley isn't so happy.) And I just read a taut novel called Brighton, by Michael Harvey, and backstory drives “front” story like a seamless Mobius strip of tension and action.

As I said, an obvious point.

But if you’re struggling with a plot or the “now,” you might take a look at the past.

Shining the RMFW Spotlight on Kevin Paul Tracy

KevinPaulTracy HeadShot1. Kevin, tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I am a regular contributor to the RMFW Blog and I host a critique group called Dynamic Critique which isn't exactly RMFW sanctioned, but we are all RMFW members. At one time or another I have been Critique Chair, Webmaster, Anthology Chair ("Tales From Mistwillow",) Gold Contest judge, and critique group moderator. It's entirely likely I've forgotten one. Sometimes I held these positions simultaneously.

I've been actively involved in RMFW for a couple of reasons. First, I am a steadfast advocate of the truism, "You get out of it what you put in." That applies to everything, especially life in general, but for our discussion here, particularly to RMFW. I have learned more by being an active volunteer for the organization than I would ever have learned merely attending workshops and conferences. I've met more people and made more friends, and I've gotten more personal and professional exposure, too.

The other reason is that, as a near-charter member of RMFW, I love the organization like family. I have a vested interest in seeing it continue to thrive and provide its unique services to the local writing community.

Oh, and the Golden Nugget awards are neat, too.

2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

I have three current works in progress. By the time this article posts my latest thriller, Presence of Malice, will have dropped and will have made quite a splash. It's about a hired killer, an ex-Navy SEAL who may or may not have been driven mad by eight years of torture in a Chinese prison; two plastic surgeons who used to be friends and partners now at each other's throats; and an unlikely romance between an earnest young woman and a paraplegic hacker, both caught in the cross fire of a conflict turned bloody

I'm also currently working on a sequel to my most popular Thriller, Rogue Agenda, and a third in my Kathryn Desmarais vampire decology (10 books.) All of these books are/will be available anywhere books are sold, or you can email me for a signed copy.

3. We've all heard of bucket lists -- you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish-- what's one of yours?

I'd love to see one of my books made into a movie. I just think that'd be so cool!

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what's yours?

That's a hard one. I would say it's that I love happy endings, except not all my books have one, not to mention that I know many who don't view that as a flaw. I might also say that I love over-the-top action which many people think stretches credulity, but I'm told by readers that's one of the things they like most about my books.

I supposed my great vulnerability as a writer is my self-confidence. I've already written about how I grew up being told I could never make it as a writer. My self-confidence is way too fragile. An editor's rejection, a bad review on Amazon or GoodReads, these things can send me into a tailspin of self-doubt that can actually make it hard to keep writing. But I've powered through and I must say the success I've experienced has gone a long way toward shoring up my confidence against future pokes and jabs.

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

In writing, I can make reality work the way I think it should. In a thriller, you can't change the laws of physics, and if you introduce a little fringe science it better be rooted in enough actual science to not totally insult your readers. But what I mean is, in the world I write in, bad guys lose and good guys win. Maybe not right away, certainly not without plenty of obstacles and setbacks along the way. And victory may even cost the good guy something by the end, sometimes something dear enough to leave the reader wondering if that sacrifice was worth it. Still, I get to leave readers with a fulfilling and satisfying end to a story, the kind of closure we almost never get in real life.

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

Easy: Never give up. Write and write and write, and completely shut out the doubts and the setbacks. In my opinion the only difference between success and failure is where you give up. If you give up after a setback, then you failed at being a writer. But if you never give up, then you never fail, you only continue to grow and learn. And when has personal growth and acquired knowledge not led to success, eventually?

Kevin Paul Tracy workspace7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

Right now my work area is constrained by space - I am taking my familial turn caring for a disabled relative. My computer occupies a folding TV tray in a bedroom not much larger than most storage sheds. I have all my reference materials close at hand, but none of my usual inspirations or comfort items. Usually (and again very soon) my desk is designed to fit facing into a corner, to shut out distractions. I have paintings and posters on the wall I find inspiring, some of which might seem rather non-sequitur to an outsider. For example the picture of a beautiful woman, bare leg exposed through a hip-length tear in her long skirt, hand out as a majestic white unicorn eats from it. Why does a thriller writer find inspiration from a page torn from a fantasy calendar? It's hard to describe, but I love how real the painter makes a scene of pure fantasy look and feel. It reminds me that a writer's job is to make a story about something that never happened feel real to readers.

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

Most recently, out of some sudden nostalgic impulse, I've gone back to reread some of the books and novels that inspired me as a young writer: Lord of The Rings, Dracula, anything by Stephen King. Right now I'm rereading Ian Fleming's James Bond series. They are flawed and dated, but fun to revisit.

Getting to Know You…Or Not…

rmfw-logoHave you noticed the excellent newsletter series introducing IPAL members?

And the RMFW member guests we feature here each month?

I'd like to expand our "getting to know you" efforts to include a series of mini-introductions featuring RMFW members whether they're unpublished, indie published, or traditionally published. I'd especially like to include those folks who haven't already been featured on the RMFW Spotlight.

I threw this idea out to six members by email and included the invitation to participate, three questions to answer, and the request to include an author or candid photo suitable for thumbnail size (150x150 pixels).

No response.

So far I have one volunteer who said she'd love to be included. One.

The RMFW membership is huge. What good does it do to belong to the organization but remain anonymous. Don't you want to reach out and make new writerly friends? Get people to follow you on Twitter or friend you on Facebook? Encourage them to visit your website or blog?

I'll give this "getting to know you" project one more shot before tossing it in my huge barrel of Great Ideas That Went Nowhere.

If you're willing to answer three easy questions (nothing too personal) and provide a photo, please email me at blog@rmfw.org

The Fruit of Your Labor

fruitGo buy a piece of fruit you haven't had in a while: a peach, a plum, a pear, a mango, even a carambola (starfruit, though they're not as good here on the mainland as they are in the islands.) Find a place to sit alone and close your eyes. Try to imagine you're a primitive human. Game is scarce, you've been living on insects and grubs, or bland roots. You're always on the verge of starvation, though never quite starved - a terrible state if you've ever lived through it.

You see this thing hanging from a tree. You've never considered eating it before because, well, it's on a tree. What part of a tree ever tasted good? Wood, bark, leaves... Still, finally hungry enough, you climb up, pull this thing down, you bite into it (bite into the fruit you bought now.) Try to experience what that starving primitive experienced as glorious sweetness and a flavor you've never imagined could ever exist floods your mouth and your soul soars.

Write that.

Many times I read work from writers who, in their jaded experience, seem to have forgotten that not all of their readers have read the same old tropes and traditions a thousand times. They sometimes neglect details that could enrich their story. How many times has a gun been fired in a thriller or mystery? So many times it is just accepted that readers know what it means to fire a gun, or have one fired at you. So why describe the way your nerves jolt at the sudden blast, the sound waves stinging your skin like electricity, the smell of expended gunpowder, the intense silence following the explosion, the heat you feel from the bullet as it leaves the barrel...or as it tears into your flesh?

Never forget some of your readers may be reading your genre for the first time, and you are their sponsor. Even if not, being reminded of details that often get glossed over or skipped because they are rote or common, can electrify some long-steeped and jaded readers, too. As you write such things, take a moment and close your eyes, try to experience the thing as your character would experience it (whatever it is, whether firing a gun, stealing a candy bar from a store, having sex). Is it their first time or they are old pros? How would that affect the experience.

Never let such things become rote or old hat in your stories. Always remember while you may have written/read similar scenes a million times, your character has not, and your reader is identifying with them. Always keep it fresh, as if this is the first time anyone ever wrote a scene like this. Never let the jade show under your skin.

Editorial love and the question of who hires whom … by Laura Lis Scott

So infinity scientists walk into a bar.

Editor—This is very unbelievable. Infinity isn't a real number. Nobody will believe this. And what does the bar look like? What kind of bar? Irish bar? Modern slick bar? Dive bar? Give us some details!

Version 2Are you traditionally published? Are you indie? In many ways, it doesn't matter, does it? A book is a book, isn't it? The process is essentially the same, isn't it? Well, except for the marketing budget.

I submit that there also is a difference when it comes to the editing phase. Let me explain.

In traditional publishing...

...the author-editor relationship is defined by the editor's (presumed) interest in the author's manuscript. Why else would they be working together? The relationship begins when the editor likes the author's submitted manuscript enough to deem it good enough (or salvageable enough) to potentially appeal to readers.

Under this dynamic, where the editor initiates the relationship, the author can proceed under the following assumptions:

  1. The editor is interested in her work.
  2. The notes the author gets from the editor can be read with the belief that the editor likes her work.
  3. The editor holds the keys to publication. In the case of differences of opinion, the weight of the author's opinion (right or wrong) depends on the editor's judgment, ethics, mores, and clout within the publishing organization — not to mention any policies the publisher itself may have in place (e.g., no characters who own ferrets, no portrayals of cigarette smoking).

The first scientist says, "I'll have a beer."

The second scientist says, "I'll have half a beer."

Editor—Is it possible to order half a beer? I've never heard of this. What if the second scientist orders a small beer?

In independent publishing (or self-publishing)...

...the author has the initiative. The (smart) author seeks out and selects an editor. She may or may not know the editor's work very well, aside from what it might say on the editor's website. The editor's decision to work on the book might be driven in part by schedule and financial imperatives. After all, who wants to turn away paying work? In this case, the author must operate under different assumptions:

  1. There is no reason to assume that the editor even likes the manuscript. The editor may actually hate the manuscript. Or the author's style. Or where the story goes.
  2. The notes the author gets from the editor must be read with that caveat.
  3. For better or worse, the author holds the keys, and makes the ultimate decision as to what ends up in the final published book.

A third scientist says, "I'll have a quarter beer."

A fourth scientist says, "I'll have an eighth of a beer."

Editor—Nobody is going to believe this. What is the point of this scene? Things are happening very easily? Where is the obstacle? Squeeze some juice out of this scenario. Are we going to see ANY of these scientists later in the story? What do they look like? Are they male? Female? What ethnicity? Are they old? Young?

2016_Scott_cover art1Disclaimer

I expect many will object to this assessment. Generalizations are not generals. Any traditionally published author can end up with an editor who doesn't like her book. And any indie author can randomly end up with an editor who loves her book. My hope is that every author can and does find the ideal editor for her book.

But consider that in traditional publishing the vast majority of books are rejected many many times by many many editors before they finally find a home. Most editors are not likely to like any given book. That's only natural. Think about it. If you were handed a published book chosen randomly from a bookstore, how likely are you to like it?

A fifth scientist steps up, but the bartender raises his hand and says, "I understand."

Editor—This is wonderful. It builds anticipation. I am wondering what he understands!

2016_Scott-cover artWhat is an indie author to do?

First, understand that good editors are professionals. On one level, any good professional editor is going to help you by catching plot holes, grammatical errors, continuity errors, consistency problems, etc. And if she knows your genre, she will also be able to catch issues that might trip up your genre's readers.

But let's face it, readers read books for love and enjoyment. On some level, the ideal situation is to have an editor who loves your book like you do, like a reader would — not so that the editor will kiss your butt but so that she'll be able to bring an emotional dimension to her helping you, the author, achieve what you're trying to achieve.

If you're an indie writer who has hired an editor, your challenge then is to parse out the valid critiques of your own writing from the notes that might, just might, reflect only the editor's dislike of your voice, or ignorance of your story's milieu, or inability to grok your sense of humor.

The bartender pours two beers.

Editor—I don't understand this. Why is the bartender pouring two beers? Who ordered two beers?

Personally...

...I think this is a difference in the relationship, but it doesn't have to lead to a disadvantage (either way) in the outcome. It's just something to keep in mind.

As a writer, as it turns out, I'm blessed to be working with a wonderful editor who is a huge believer in my work.

As an editor, this paradigm is humbling. I feel fortunate to have edited mostly stories and novels I've chosen. My days going through the "slush pile" were only as a reader. My respect for freelance editors braving this world rises every day.

Editor—Suggest this rewrite:

Two scientists walk into a shadowy Irish pub with sawdust on the floor and dart boards across the back wall. The two well-groomed women, who wear lab coats over business suits, approach bar. The taller woman says, "I would like to have beer!"

Her friend says, "I'll have the same."

With a friendly grin, the bartender pours two tall, frothy dark ales.

Editor—Now we can get on with the story!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Laura Lis Scott is author of the feminist political satires A Spy in Stilettos and The Colonel's Secret Service. She is editor, designer, and co-founder of Toot Sweet Ink, a new indie publisher of science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, magical realism, and contemporary fiction. Lis Scott has waited tables, delivered campus mail, driven a truck (more like a van), wordprocessed business and legal documents, written and produced videos, produced B-movie trailers, directed television, designed and developed websites, edited magazine articles, blogged professionally (and amateurishly), served on non-profit boards, co-founded a web development company, raced cars (on actual racetracks — street racing is dumb), and written a handful of stories. She has lived in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles; now she lives in Colorado, where the sun always shines, even on the cloudy days. Laura has BA from The University of Chicago and an MFA from Columbia University of New York. She can be found on Twitter @lauras. Her website is lauralisscott.com.

 

On Writing by Virginia Rose Richter

The most important book on writing that I have ever read is by Stephen King, aptly entitled, On Writing. At times hilariously funny, King describes years spent typing, while bundled up, in his unheated freezing attic in Maine. Large nails were driven into the bare walls and onto these nails were pierced an untold number of rejection letters from publishers and agents stating their disinterest in his work. Then one frigid night he and his wife returned home with their two small children who were feverish with colds and found in the mail among the pile of unpaid bills a letter from his agent stating that his manuscript had been sold. The title of the manuscript: CARRIE. Thrilling!

After raising my family and having a career as an audiologist, I had a chance to explore two life-long goals. One, learn to play the piano. Two, write a mystery. With a degree in Music under my belt, I couldn’t bear to leave the campus of Metropolitan State College of Denver. In the English Department, I signed on for a beginning class in creative writing.

In a genuine stroke of luck, I discovered that the person teaching the class was Larry Bograd. Larry was a published writer of both plays and fiction. With a dry self-deprecating wit, Larry kept us laughing. But, about writing, he was very serious. His opening salvo was: “I’ve had hundreds of people go through this class. Only two of them were ‘natural writers’. Before you start writing, you have to learn the craft.” Rules? This was beginning to look like work.

And so it began. Action moves the plot. Don’t be obscure when you can be clear. Reveal descriptions through dialogue. Avoid back-stories, information dumps, coincidences and duplicate words in the same paragraph.  BEGIN with a question that needs to be answered. The MIDDLE shows a complication. The END is a result of what happened in the Middle. Strong plots result from a character’s flaws (jealousy, temper etc.)In life-psychology defines actions. In writing-actions define psychology. And of course, POV, POV, POV! Best of all: “If there’s a shotgun over the fireplace in the opening, it better have been fired by the end of the scene.” (Larry was a playwright at heart.)

In Larry’s next class, ‘Writing for Children’, I found my niche. Our assignment was to read currently popular Middle Grade works. I could not believe the intense sibling rivalry and even hatred portrayed in these books. I wrote a scathing critique of one and, with a sly smile, Larry read it to the class. I was basically set-upon by my classmates, many of whom were elementary school teachers. “Why, Virginia,” they chorused, “children love these books.”

That did it. I decided to write in this genre and create a mystery within a less dysfunctional family where my central character might not need a live-in psychiatrist by the time she was fifteen years old. Thus began ‘The Willow Lane Mysteries’ series.

I didn’t have nails on my walls but I did have a large accordion file to hold the rejection slips. By the time I’d completed the second book, I decided I would never be published so my writing changed. Now I included events that I hadn’t considered before. My main character began piano lessons with all classical pieces, which I named. She fell for a new neighbor, a handsome boy who was an accomplished violinist and wasn’t embarrassed to show it.

Then, in an experiment, I had the first book set up as an eBook with an attractive cover. I compiled a list of relevant agents and publishers and my clever daughter sent out a release, via ICONTACT, of the cover with excerpts from the book. Several fellow writers let me know that this was not the way to go. I should keep sending standard submission letters, they cautioned.

Two publishers contacted me, one traditional, representing print works and one larger and strictly an eBook publisher. EBooks were suddenly everywhere. I signed on with the eBook publisher and this wonderful team gently eased me through the intricacies of publishing. Thanks to OverDrive, my ebooks are in libraries all over the world. Last year the publisher expanded to print. Now the series of four books (going on five) is available in that format. It isn’t Stephen King or Carrie. But it’s pretty thrilling all the same.

 

ginnyVirginia Rose Richter grew up in Central Nebraska. Inspired by rippling wheat fields, golden wildflowers and endless bright blue skies, Ms. Richter has written the Willow Lane Mysteries for middle grade and early-teen readers of suspense. Ms. Richter attended the University of Colorado and received a MA degree from the University of Denver and a BA degree in music from Metropolitan State College of Denver. Presently, she resides in Loveland, Colorado

 

 

Judging Books By Their Covers by Joshua Viola

2016_Joshua ViolaThey say you should never judge a book by its cover. But we all do. And you should -- especially when you're in the business of selling fiction.

All marketing techniques begin with the visual presentation. The most aggressive campaign will fail if the product lacks the right aesthetic. In fact, beautiful covers can give otherwise inferior books a marketing edge over better-written novels with mediocre exteriors.

A good cover should hint at the story within. That doesn't necessarily mean lots of details. Sometimes the simplest design is the most effective. A professional cover artist should be able to capture the book’s mood in a single frame while employing intriguing design elements.

The Internet makes the task of locating an artist easy. You can find websites with affordable options like Fiverr and those with a huge list of portfolios, such as DeviantArt. They’re both great places to start, but you’ll likely find more amateurs than top-level professionals.

If you don't want to sort through digital portfolio after digital portfolio, consider attending an art convention. Denver hosts a number of them -- many of which are comic book-related. We have the Denver Comic Con, D!NK, and Comic Fest. Comic book artists have a great sense of visual storytelling and presentation. If you do go with a comic book artist, make sure they have the ability to jump between art styles. You don’t want your new literary novel to look like the latest issue of The Amazing Spider-Man.

If conventions aren't for you, visit an art gallery or attend the First Friday Art Walk.

When you do find an artist you’re interested in working with, research their portfolio and résumé to determine their level of expertise. It’s easy to fall in love with a single piece, but it’s important that the rest of their work also hits the mark. If it doesn’t, keep looking.

Once you’ve found a prospective artist, send them samples of other book covers you like and decide whether or not they can provide something comparable to the look, feel and genre you’re going for. Then have the artist provide some basic mockups (this may not be an option until a contract is signed).

Before you sign a contract, find out what rights you'll be purchasing. Much like writers, artists are hesitant to give up the rights to their creations. Oftentimes they’ll license the work for use as your cover, but keep the rights.

Given the subjective nature of art, the artist determines the work’s value. There is no set rate. Typically, quality covers will cost between $300 and $1,000.

If you don't have the money for original art, you might find something worthwhile in the public domain. For those unfamiliar, public domain refers to content that is not subject to copyright and is legally accessible to everyone. Art typically falls into this category 120 years from the date of creation, but you’ll need to do your homework before slapping something on your book.

Public domain artwork is becoming a popular trend in publishing. For example, Tracy Chevalier's book, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, uses Johannes Vermeer’s famous painting of the same name for its cover. It’s standard practice nowadays and costs the author absolutely nothing. The New York Public Library recently added 180,000 images into the mix. If you have financial constraints, give this option some real consideration.

Remember, never underestimate the importance of a compelling presentation. It's your first and (oftentimes) last chance to reel an audience in. A professional cover will make the difference when you’re trying to convince those who don't know who you are to give your work a shot.

Now cross your fingers and hope they like your writing as much as they do your cover.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Joshua Viola is an author, artist, and former video game developer (Pirates of the Caribbean, Smurfs, TARGET: Terror). In addition to creating a transmedia franchise around The Bane of Yoto, honored with more than a dozen awards, he is the author of Blackstar, a tie-in novel based on the discography of Celldweller. Viola is the editor of the Denver Post number one bestselling horror anthology, Nightmares Unhinged, and has published Bram Stoker, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning writers. His next anthology, Cyber World, co-edited by Jason Heller, will be available this November. Blood Business, co-edited by Mario Acevedo, will be available in 2017. He lives in Denver, Colorado where he is chief editor of Hex Publishers and vice president of Frontiere Natural Meats. He can be found on the web at www.joshuaviola.com

Cybernetics. Neuroscience. Nanotechnology. Genetic engineering. Hacktivism. Transhumanism. The world of tomorrow is already here, and the technological changes we all face have inspired a new wave of stories to address our fears, hopes, dreams, and desires as Homo sapiens evolve—or not—into their next incarnation. Cyber World presents twenty diverse tales of humanity’s tomorrow, as told by some of today’s most gripping science fiction visionaries.

“Cyber World gives the cyberpunk genre a much-needed reboot.”
—Chuck Wendig, New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Aftermath and Zer0es
Featuring stories by Mario Acevedo, Paolo Bacigalupi, Warren Hammond, Angie Hodapp, Stephen Graham Jones, Cat Rambo, Alyssa Wong, E. Lily Yu, and many others.

Edited by Hugo Award winner Jason Heller and Joshua Viola. Foreword by Richard Kadrey.

Soundtrack of Humanity's Tomorrow featuring Celldweller, Circle of Dust, Mega Drive and Scandroid.

Available this November from Hex Publishers.

The Freedom to Write

Happy Memorial Weekend!  So many things to celebrate—the beginning of summer, the joy of family, our gratitude to veterans and those who lost their lives in war.

Like most of us, I hate the idea of war.  I know what it’s like to lose a loved one suddenly, and to have my child killed in action in a place far away under conditions I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy would be a trauma I don’t think I could endure.  It all seems so senseless. But wars have been fought since humankind first began to gather in tribes across our world. We are a violent species, and our children of 18, 19, 20 years pay the price for this.

Photo for the freedom to write.
Thank you to all our service personnel who protect our right to write.

What soldiers do, though, is bring you and I as writers a solemn and precious gift—the gift of a free press. The gift of being able to say and write what we feel is important.  The US Constitution in the first amendment recorded under our Bill of Rights guarantees our freedom of expression.  Our military personnel protect that freedom in a very real way.

I don’t know if my uncle worried about the specifics of a free press when he went to war in the 1940s, or when he had to shoot or be shot in the South Pacific.  He was just a kid who did what he was told. In all the years I “knew” him, Uncle Jack only talked of his military service once. That was just a year or two before he died, but the stories he told were frighteningly vivid even after almost 70 years had passed.  Uncle Jack’s service and the service of his buddies in WWII guaranteed that a book like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible would be published and not burned as so many books were by the Nazis. Thank you, Uncle Jack.

And even when journalists and soldiers come in principled conflict as happened in the 1960’s, our freedom to write, to challenge our mores and common thinking are protected.  While young men and women sailed across to Vietnam to, as the posters said at the time, “meet new people – and then shoot them,” our journalists at home and in the rice paddies far away were protected and even encouraged to write, to discover, to unearth the important stories.  That’s how we ended up with such classic writing as the Watergate investigations by Woodward and Bernstein, published in the Washington Post, Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, and the television show, M.A.S.H. that criticized American involvement in foreign wars.

Today, journalists travel with armies, report in countries about political and human rights violations, cover our world with information.  According to the website cpj.org (Committee to Protect Journalists), there were 73 journalists killed in 2015, and so far in 2016 there have been 10 killed as they did their jobs of writing.  Today, people still sacrifice their lives so that crucial truths have the chance to thrive.

This leaves you and me with an important role in the story of human history.  If we have the freedom to write whatever we want, we have the obligation to write and reflect our world passionately in our stories.  Whether we write romance, or crime, fantasy or creative non-fiction, let our writing be from our hearts, and be as honest as possible.

This Memorial weekend, as we acknowledge our fallen soldiers who protect our freedom of expression, perhaps we can also spare a moment for the journalists who exercise that protected freedom. And in the process of remembrance and gratitude we can encourage our own growth as humans and writers.