Asking for Advice: A How-To…Avoid Letting Advice Drive You Mad

RFortune Cookieecently, I posted two possible covers for an upcoming endeavor on Facebook, asking for, yes, you guessed it, the dreaded ADVICE.

You see, I love hearing thoughts on cover art, on manuscripts, on marketing as well as how to live a better, more productive writerly life.

Advice can be the best thing EVER.

And then again, it can make you want to rip your hair out, piece by dyed-poorly piece.

The problem for me, comes in picking through the feedback. For example, when one person chooses one cover, and the other the second one, how am I to know who’s right? Aren’t both opinions valid?

Yes, everyone’s feedback is valued and valid.

But not everyone’s advice is right for me, and my work.

Therefore, to save myself from crying (mostly because it gives me raccoon-eyes), I’ve developed some advice for advice.

Aren’t I the clever one?

* Stop sneering. I do know how lame I am.

My advice for advice is as follows:

  • Ask specific questions to get what you need
  • If you don’t understand the feedback or need more, ask
  • You don’t have to accept every bit of advice
  • Just because someone says something doesn’t make it right for you
  • Weigh the advisor’s knowledge on the content in your final decision
  • Accept the very real fact that you cannot please everyone
  • Ask for advice in the right places – know your advising audience
  • Take risks – Don’t get locked inside your worldview

Being open to advice greatly affected my cover design. I had specific advice that has transformed my thinking about the cover. I plan to use my writerly tribe next to determine the best cover blurb.

The one thing I didn’t add above, and perhaps the most important albeit intuitive advice is, be grateful for every single word. Thank you, tribe. If I don’t say it often enough, thanks to each of you. Thanks to those who helped me last week. Thanks to those who continue to beta read and critique, just not me, but our community.

RMFW writers are amazingly supportive and I appreciate all of you more than I can say.

In that vein, please tell us in the comments the best bit of writing advice you’ve received. How did it affect your work? What advice would you give a beginner or even a professional?

Covers Matter…A Lot

All day long at my job at the library I watch people pick out books. Step one: the cover or the author’s name (if they’ve read them previously or heard something about them) catches their eye. Step two: they pick up the book and read the cover blurb to find out what the book is about.

The cover blurb process is for another blog or even a workshop, but I have a few observations about book covers. With the exception of literary fiction, which always seems to have very bland covers, covers can absolutely make or break a book. And I’m observing people choosing print books, where they can pick up the book and examine it closely. When you’re talking about the thumbnail-sized e-book cover, the science/art of book covers becomes even more crucial.

The first thing a good cover does is catch the eye. It shouldn’t have too many elements because that makes it look cluttered. Colors are important, as some colors are more striking/appealing than others. Also, certain colors subconsciously signal certain moods, and having the mood match the mood of the book is essential.

We have several shelves of paperbacks that are organized by narrower genre classifications than our general fiction collection. A lot of the time I’ll order a book that could fit into any number of these genres. For example, we have thriller-type books shelved in suspense, in romance, in mystery, in adventure and in general fiction. So, how do I decide?

If I’m familiar with the author and what they usually write, that makes it easy. Otherwise I start with the blurb: Is the focus on the romance? Is there a lot of action? Is there a clear puzzle/mystery at the core? Is the focus on nail-biting suspense, but not necessarily a lot of action? Is the book about an apocalyptic battle/struggle to save the world, or a more sedate courtroom drama?

When I can’t decide for sure where a book belongs, or it could fit into two or more categories, I often go by the cover. Is it dark and moody? Probably fits better in suspense. Does it show a couple? It will probably check out better in romance. Does it show a hot, half-naked, tattooed man on the cover? We’ll call it paranormal romance and put it on the romance rack. Does it show a hot, half-naked, tattooed woman on the cover? That signals urban fantasy, so I'll put it in the sci fi/fantasy section.

Colors are almost as important as the cover content. You don’t want dark/muddy colors on a romance, unless it’s a edgy romantic suspense. You don’t want pastels on an action-oriented book, a western or even a legal thriller. For mysteries, the covers should clearly signal whether they are cozies (with lighter, brighter colors like green, yellow and pastel blue), while darker stories use dark blues, blacks, grays and maybe a touch of red.

I said earlier that the cover shouldn’t be cluttered, and one of the most common mistakes I see is that the author will try to have the cover accurately reflect the plot, and hence include a lot of elements. They want to show it’s a romance and a time travel and so they show the couple and the elements that make the setting in the past clear. Or they show too many characters and images. Sometimes it works, but usually not. Simpler and subtler is almost always better.

Ultimately, you should rely on the experts. Which is the art department of your publisher, or your cover artist, if you are indie-publishing. And most important, remember that your vision of the book cover may be all wrong. I loved the cover of my first book designed by my current small publisher. It had all the elements I thought should be in my story: handsome, bare-chested barbarian type hero with a modern skyline in the background, perfectly capturing the time travel/fantasy romance plot.

But the book sold dismally, and I’m sure a lot of it was because of the cover. It didn’t reduce down well to a thumbnail, and it was too dark, much darker than mood of the story. And the bare-chested guy who I thought captured the look of the dark-age Irish prince didn’t seem to do anything for readers. He looked more scary than hot, and that’s the opposite of his persona in the book. There were other things wrong with the book and they way it was marketed, but I’m still pretty certain the cover was in large share to blame for the poor sales.

The final thing is the cover should not look amateurish. Which is to say that the art isn’t interesting, or of good quality and/or the elements don’t flow well together. I meet a lot of indie-published authors who want me to add their book to the library's collection. (And we’re talking free here, not books I’m spending library funds on.) If the cover looks amateurish, I’m probably going to say no right away. Because even if I put that book on the new book shelf, which gets a lot of traffic, no one’s going to pick it up. It might be a great novel, but it’s never going to have a chance with a bad cover.

There are lots of blogs and articles on the internet regarding the "science" of book covers. It’s probably worth your time to do some research. Maybe a lot of research. After all, this is your baby, and if nobody notices it, your baby is never going to get the love it deserves.

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

 

Adventures in Cover Art for Traditionally, Hybrid, and Self-Published Authors by Theresa Alan

You finally finished your one-hundred-thousand word masterpiece after tireless effort, and, if your writing process is like mine, much metaphorical head bashing against your laptop. You think the hard part is done. You are wrong.

Whether you’re traditionally published, self-published, or choose a hybrid publisher (you’ll get a small or no advance, an editor, a publicist, and higher percentage of royalties than traditional offers but maybe not the reviewers and other perks), one of the first steps in marketing your book—the cover—presents myriad challenges.

One of the benefits of being traditionally published is that you’ll get help with marketing. Depending on the size of your publisher, their assistance could be significant. There is a lot to be said about having a traditional publisher’s marketing contacts and dollars go toward helping your sales, but the trade-off is that, generally, you don’t have much say in the cover, cover copy, or the title, especially at the larger publishing houses.

My first seven novels were all traditionally published. My second novel, which is about six improv comedians, was translated into, among other languages, Portuguese, and the cover featured a swarthy construction worker wearing a tool belt in front of a half-finished house. All of the comedians in my book have day jobs, however, none of their day jobs has anything to do with construction. In fact, at no point in the book is any construction work or handsome construction worker involved. Obviously whoever picked out the stock photography either didn’t get the blurb, didn’t read the blurb, or couldn’t have possibly cared less about truth in advertising.

Of course a cover is important to sales, but you want to sell a book with a cover that doesn’t mislead readers. If they are in the mood for a light read and they buy a book with a cover that looks frothy and then get a dark, moody novel, they are more likely to review your book harshly even if it’s brilliantly written. As writers and readers, those reviews can make or break sales.

The cover to my third novel, The Girls’ Global Guide to Guys, is cute and does get the tone right. The book is about two girlfriends backpacking through Europe. The cover my publisher created has a woman wearing high heels and a flouncy skirt, and she’s carrying a tote bag. Have you ever back-packed great distances or known someone who has? If so, than you know no heels were worn and no adorable tote bags were toted because it’s rugged and challenging and hence called “backpacking,” not “tote-bagging with one mint and a single change of thong.” At least readers know from the cover that Girls’ Guide will be a fun book, and it’s not a how-to guide for backpacking through Europe.

A plus-side of being self-published is that you can be sure that your cover reflects both the tone and the plot of your book. However, getting a cover as a self-published author isn’t necessarily all rainbows. Having original artwork created for you can be a big investment, or combing through stock photography can be time-consuming and frustrating. As writers, we want to spend our available hours, you know, writing, not whiling away in a Photoshop time-suck. I looked in to self-publishing, and the process made me appreciate the challenges my publisher went through to try to communicate that I write humor, although some of my books are deal with more serious issues than others. (Although there is no excuse to have a construction worker represent a book about six people trying to make it as improv comedians/actors/performers. Seriously.)

With hybrid presses, I’ve heard from author friends that it’s the luck of the draw. You have an editor and publicist who are more your teammates than your directors, so they’re often more open to input. But most indie or hybrid presses tend to have a “look” to their whole imprint, so study the covers on their website and decide if it’s a match for your work, and ask a lot of questions before signing the dotted line.

If you do find success with a traditional publishing house, kudos! Know in advance however, that, at least at the larger houses, you won’t get much say in your cover or blurb on the back and, while your publishing house might ask for input on what you might like for the title, odds are, they ultimately don’t care much what you think. There are many stories I’ve heard of authors doing well self-publishing (sometimes while also writing for traditional publishing houses) and many cover artists charge reasonable prices, so this is a definite consideration.

Whether you land a big publisher, go with an indie publisher, or do it entirely on your own terms, CONGRATS! You are doing it. Just go into this next stage of publishing and marketing knowing the right questions to ask, what to expect, and what is going to feel right for you. Of course, then, if you do get the cover of your dreams and still get negative reviews, you’ll know it’s either because that reader just didn’t connect with your writing . . . or that you suck. (Or maybe you just need to do more polishing on your work and hit some more critique groups to get feedback for how to improve.)

In any case, happy writing!

 

Theresa Alan became a bestselling author with her first novel, Who You Know (2003), and her novella Santa Unwrapped was in the New York Times bestseller Jingle All the Way (2004). She is the author of six additional Kensington novels, including Spur of the Moment, The Girls’ Global Guide to Guys, Girls Who Gossip, Getting Married, Spa Vacation, and The Dangers of Mistletoe. Her work has also appeared in the anthologies I Shaved My Legs for This?! and Sex and the Single Witch. Theresa was named the Colorado Romance Writer of the Year in 2004.

A graduate of the University of Iowa and the University of Colorado at Boulder, Theresa lives in Denver, Colorado.

You may connect with her on Twitter @Theresa_Author or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/theresa.alan

 

 

Never Let Them See You Sweat: Hot Chicks in Leather

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

According to The Wall Street Journal (my go to for all bookie news. No, really. I only look at the pictures), “On the average, a book store browser spends eight seconds looking at the front cover and 15 seconds looking at the back cover.”

What does that mean for an author?  Well, chances are if you are an urban fantasy or paranormal romance writer, your book cover will feature a chick dressed in black leather, even if your story takes place in the middle of the desert.

Don’t get me wrong. Like any girl I love tight black leather and heels. I often spend my nights dressed in the form fitting stuff and carrying extremely heavy weapons halfway tucked in my pants.

What girl doesn’t?

And we're not even discussing how one washes black leather catsuits. A secret only a dry cleaner knows.

But I digress (something I seem to do a lot around you people), my point is do these dark, sexy covers do more harm than good for authors and readers alike.

As a reader have you ever hid the cover of the book you were currently enjoying?

Ever felt ashamed of a book because of the hot chick in leather on the cover or the muscle bound hunk smeared in oil (baby not olive, I assume)?

Or have you ever picked up a book strictly because of the hot chick on the cover? Did the tale live up to the artwork?

Authors complain a lot about their covers, from little things like my main character has red hair and the woman on the cover is a blonde, to a publisher actually changing the race of the character on a cover in order to sell books to a wider demographic, a disgusting practice, but one done more often than we know.

So my question to you, my writer/readers is, do hot chicks in leather sell books? And what are some of your cover art experiences, both good and bad?

 

Want a free ebook? Visit me at jakazimer.com. Want to send me graphic pics and talk trash on social media? Friend me on Facebook or tweet me on twitter.  Please. Pretty please.