Making a Bookcover, Redux

Friday, September 30, 2011

12 Chiming In
Friends do not let friends use horrible cover art.

A while back, I did a post about basic cover making because someone had asked me how I made the mock covers I used to post. I thought I'd do another, with a bit more detail, for those of you who need to make your own for uploading e-books to Kindle, nook or the like.

Most self-published covers look something like this:

They're obviously amateurish, with blocks of color that don't really match, an irritating font (Papyrus should only be used by people with "Ankh-Amun" in their family name. Bonus points if you're a king named Tut.) There's nothing visually stimulating about this cover, nor is it memorable. There's no clue about the subject matter or age group.

Perhaps, if you write a decent blurb, this is a surmountable obstacle, but why risk it? Why put the same cover on your book that thousands of others have used? You don't want people to think your book is one of the tidal wave of self-published slush, do you? Then you're going to have to put as much effort into the execution of the cover as you do the contents of your novel.

First off, book covers tell as story every bit as much as the narrative itself does. It's a one frame deal, like those comic strips that only get one little box in paper, but with some planning, you can turn that one frame into something that will make someone stop browsing and read your blurb. Maybe even check the writing sample. By that point, you've got a shot at making a sale.

This is the cover I'm using as my example. I made it this morning.

Big difference, no? Same title, same (potential) blurb, but put up against the other cover, which one do you think would get more clicks?

This cover tells us something. It sets a dark tone with shadows and highlights. We can tell that it's likely YA, with a boy protagonist.The metallic/industrial font gives a hint to genre, and while we may not know what this "cube" is, we know from the tagline that it's going to be the setting and part of the struggle. That little frame in the top left corner confirms that our protagonist will be entering something. Our journey is to follow him as he tries to get out.

Now, how does a person get from blah to something more marketable?

Much like the process of plotting a novel, you must plot your cover. Think of this as your query letter to the reader. When querying an agent, you get a tiny amount of space to pique their interest in your characters and plot - the same applies to cover art.

What's the tone? Who's important? If your book was a movie, what would be the tagline on the poster. Think about these things, and then go find photos or artwork that conveys what you want to get across. You will either do this by taking your own photos or going to a site that allows you to license their stock photos. For this particular cover, I used Shutterstock, but there are others.

DO NOT STEAL ANYONE'S PROFESSIONAL WORK. (For that matter, don't steal their amateur work, either.) They are in the same boat as you, putting their craft out there in hopes of making money from it. Don't be the jerk who decides no one will notice if you use what you haven't paid for.

For the tone, I went for something dark, and painted a blank page black to use for my base. Easy Peesey.

Then I went searching for photos on Shutterstock.

Since this was a darkish story, I used "sad teen" for my search and was rewarded with page after page of angst. From that, I chose four images that fit what I wanted. (Actually, I chose five, but one got the boot.)

I had only gone in search of faces, settling on these:

But one of them was near this image:

which fit perfectly for the idea of entering this thing called The Cube.

Now that you have your pieces, you have to decide how best to assemble them. In this case, the boy is the main character, so he gets to go in front. The girls are supporting characters, so they're used to frame the center line of the cover, keeping a potential reader's attention where it should go.

I cut each teen's face from their original photograph and pasted it as a separate object on my black background, then played with the sizing tool until I got them into the right configuration. I used the "Fade Out" brush to make the edges transparent so all three images would blend. (I've also found that if you'll set the main image transparency to something like 5%, it will make the tone and layering look better as a whole.

After I'd removed the logos from the clothes, and adjusted the lighting on the main character's face so it wasn't so stark, I was left with this:

Next, it was time to place the boy in the door. I did a bit of clone-brushing to give him a haircut, and chose the left side of the cover because of the way the boy in the photo is walking. Flipping the image or putting it on the other side would have made him look like he was going with the grain instead of against it, and this needed to look like a decision being made. I tilted the frame with a distortion tool to make him look off-kilter. If your guy's going to be headed into another world, especially a dangerous one, then things are going to be a bit off center for him.

Now I had this:

Which left things perfectly placed for the title on the right side, top.

Most people don't think about fonts, but I can guarantee you, the eye notices them. You need to choose a shape that fits your genre and a color, alignment and size that meshes with the rest of the image. I chose something high impact, with all caps, and a rusted metal finish. By coincidence, the space between the "c" and "u" fit perfectly over the point of the guy's hoodie, so I went with it. Each little detail adds up to a more complete picture.

The tagline should be smaller than the title, but you can use the same font (make sure it shows up when placed). Try and locate a simple, punchy sentence that encapsulates your story or the struggle your characters will face in it. It doesn't need to be complicated. "Getting in is the easy part." is fairly straightforward, and that's what you want. Intrigue without confusion.

Ideally, your cover will generate good questions along the lines of "I wonder what happens." rather than "What was he/she thinking, and why should I care?"

So there you go. How to create a book cover in a few simple steps, and one really long blog post. There are, of course, dozens, if not hundreds, of options for every book's cover, and you may even think I've blown it with this one because the process is highly subjective. But, if you're set on going it alone, then you're going to have to find a way to pick the ones that work best for you.

So THAT's What an Editorial Letter looks like...

Monday, September 26, 2011

10 Chiming In
As my camera is dead, I can't make like Natalie Whipple and show you a photo of the editorial letter that just arrived by UPS. (The guy drove right past my house and had to come back. I knew he would!) Instead, you'll have to settle for a description.

First, if you're like me, you may have assumed that an editorial letter was a letter. (Crazy, right?) This letter, I assumed, would give suggestions on things to move, change, add, cut, etc. There actually is a 3 page letter like this in the envelope, so I wasn't completely off base, but the bulk (and I *mean* bulk) of this "letter" is something else entirely.

Do you remember sitting in high school English and getting back a four page term paper with red marks all over it showing you, in detail, everything you did wrong? Well, multiply that by 100 and you'll have an idea of what an editorial letter entails. It's the full manuscript, printed out, and marked up - by hand.

I'm beginning to understand why Natalie separated hers into folders so she could tackle a chunk at a time. Taken all at once, it's daunting and terrifying, and makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. But, it's also exciting. These are the trenches, where the book gets whipped into publishing shape so that it comes out all shiny and fit on the other side.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go find folders before I go crazy looking at this huge stack of paper.

Average is an Illusion

Friday, September 23, 2011

5 Chiming In
The average child can...

The average teen plays...

The average girl wears...

The average boy reads...

We get tons of information in tidbits like this. For those of us who write for people not in our own age group, we rely on it. But the secret is... it's not accurate. I'd never given much thought to this until McNish made a comment on another post, but he's right.

Averages of any kind are heavily reliant on variables that can change from person to person or hour to hour. Just because the sixteen-year-old boy down the street wears baggy jeans and likes to shock the little old lady next door with his four-letter vocabulary, that doesn't mean that the sixteen-year-old boy at the supermarket is the same. Just because your daughter likes perfume and pink doesn't mean someone else's loathes them.

Some kids squeal in delight over the idea of spiders; others run screaming (and have to beat their parents to their hiding spot).

Some kids embrace the giant, costumed cast members at Disney World, others freak out when the character that used to be two inches tall and stuck in their TV is now a foot-and-a-half taller than their dad.

Some teens like gore, others go nearly catatonic inside a G-rated haunted house.

The point is, personality and experience are things you can't plan for when you're trying to hit the right notes with a given pool of people. They might love you or loathe you, and that opinion might change over the course of the day.

Write your characters the way they need to be written, not because you "know" that's how a kid/teen/girl/boy would react, because when it comes to it, you don't know as much as you think you do.

Wherein I Answer Much Less Awkward Questions

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

4 Chiming In
First off, if you'll look to the right, and my "What I'm Working On" list, you'll notice a lovely blue "DONE" beside WIP #1. This means: PREMEDITATED IS DONE!


Now, of course, that's "Done: Level 1", meaning the novel is with my agent, and she's using her super sekrit spidey-senses to make it as strong as possible, but IT'S DONE, PEOPLE.

Now, on to the actual blog post. I have a few questions to answer, so I thought I'd do them here (anonymous as always).

Q: Where can I buy your book?

A: You're jumping the gun by more than a year. Print publishing through a commercial house takes time and many steps.

Q: Do you ever "cast" your characters when you write?

A: I assume this means do I picture actors/actresses/etc. as the characters. Yes, of course. I think most writers do this; it makes it easier to visualize the character if you have a solid image of someone in their role. (But, that doesn't mean I'll fess up to who I see in my head when I'm writing a particular character.)

Q: Why don't you write about puppies and happy children and rainbows?

A: Mom, we've been over this...

Q: Do you have a favorite character?

A: Yes and no. I have characters I love to write, but others that are less pleasant to write are also essential to the story. I love all the characters for different reason.

Q: Will you post your favorite scene from your book?"

A: No, but I'll tell you what it is... sort of. It's a traveling scene starring the book's main character and one of the main male characters. The location mirrors the heroine's feeling of helplessness and chaos pretty well, but the real reason I love the scene is because I've tried working that scene into at least four projects over the years. I was happy to find a place it actually belonged.

Q: Shouldn't you put a disclaimer at the front of your book to remind people it's not real?

A: Mom...

Q: Can you send me your book? I won't share it with anyone. (Or, the other variation: I have a book blog and would like to review your book, please.)

A: Sorry guys, can't do it.
  1. The book's not "done", meaning it's still going through edits with my editor at Greenwillow.
  2. I can't just send copies to whoever I want; it's too big a risk. (To be honest, I haven't even let my family read the book, yet.)
  3. WAY too early. Even if you're a legitimate book blogger, you wouldn't get a copy to read for review until much closer to the book's release date.

The Business of Art

Friday, September 16, 2011

6 Chiming In
Over on agent Jennifer Laughran's blog, she discussed a tweet she had received decrying the idea that publishing was more about money than art. The Tweeter was hoping this wasn't true, Ms. Laughran said it was, then went on to say why that's the way it should be.

I have to agree with what she said, namely that the arrangement between writer and agent is a business one, and therefore money is part of it. I'd also like to add something to it

I think when people start on the money vs. art debate, it's easy to slip into the same mindset that by virtue of being a business, you must sacrifice, or at least, skimp on artistic nature. It's faulty logic. Just because there's a business component doesn't mean the artistic one has to suffer or diminish. Create your art, and value it for what it is. (Art DOES have value, yes?)

Selling a piece of art occurs independent of the act which created it. It's nothing but a distribution method to make sure others can enjoy said art as they were meant to, and it doesn't cheapen whatever the creator went through to create.

You're under contract and writing to put food on your table, so what? That doesn't mean you can't write with passion or vision. It doesn't mean that you can't pour heart and soul into your next novel.

Art and business aren't matter and anti-matter. They don't cancel each other out, nor do they create an explosion when they meet. They're partners, and by treating them as partners where both halves give everything they have to the betterment of both, then you end up in a place where you're enjoying the art of business while reaping the benefits of the business of art.

Bunny Juice (AKA - How Kids See the World)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

2 Chiming In
I write YA (This will not be a surprise to anyone who reads this blog.)

I also write MG. (Also, not likely a surprise.)

Voice is important in both of these age groups because no one (kids especially) wants to be talked down to. And kids are experts at detecting fakers. (Those who toss a few text phrases into what could otherwise be the narration of a 36 year-old divorcee.. LoL!) But as important as it is, voice is also extremely tricky in these instances.

Adults don't think like kids. Adults don't speak like kids. Adults filter the world through a layer of experience that kids haven't lived long enough to experience, and there are serious chemical changes that happen during childhood and adolescence that separate the reasoning capacity of those who are and aren't biologically mature, and sadly, too many adults forget this the second they turn 22. (Most neurologists say that emotional maturity kicks in when a person is in their 20's.)

An adult writing for children or teens is essentially an exercise in translation. It doesn't matter that you speak the same regional dialect as those younger than you, you're still not speaking the same language, and if you want to succeed in writing something a kid of any age won't roll their eyes at, then you have to learn the dialect.

By this point, you're probably wondering what any of this has to do with the Bunny or Juice referenced in the post title. Well, it's a case in point.

I was at the supermarket and there was a harried mother pushing a cart with a girl in it who I'm going to guess was in the 3-4 year-old range. This little girl was being very well behaved, and at one point, she stopped chattering and playing with her doll to ask: "Mommy, can we get some Bunny Juice?"

The mother gave her an instant 'yes' and kept going. It was a cute moment.

Later, I saw this same mother and girl in the dairy section. Mom was still shopping; the girl was still behaving herself, and once again, she asked "Mommy, can we get some Bunny Juice?"

Again, Mom said 'yes', but this time, you could tell, Mom was getting frantic. You see, she'd promised the girl some Bunny Juice, but had no idea what it was. She scanned the milk cartons and juice jugs, searching for any clue as to what Bunny Juice might be. Maybe carrot or some brand the girl had tried at day care that had a rabbit on the label, but she couldn't find anything.

As I went on, there was another request from the girl, and another assurance that Mom would find this elusive drink.

When I was leaving, I spotted them again, in the checkout line. The girl had a container of Nestle Quik. She didn't know what it was called, only that it was a drink, which in her mind made it 'juice' and there was a bunny on the carton. Bunny Juice, simplified. (I'm sure I've missed a few things in this little story, but this is the basic version.)

This is the thing with a 'real' kids' voice. An adult would put something like that in the context of "Mom, can I have some of that chocolate milk you make with the powder? The one with the rabbit on it." if they didn't know the name of something.

A kid distills that into 'Bunny Juice'.

You can't force voice to sound right in a story any more than you can speak a foreign language and not have an accent at first. You have to work at it; you have to practice. And to do that, you need to listen. Listen to the people who are in your target readership and get a feel for how they say things and how they interact with others. (*note*If you are writing for kids, this does NOT mean you should stare at or follow random children. Their mothers will report you as the 'creepy' man/woman to security.)

Read novels others have written. Watch the television shows geared toward that age group. If you can nail the voice, the rest of the story will be a whole lot easier to get across.

Arclight UK

Monday, September 12, 2011

13 Chiming In
So I got some good news last week, and I can share it now. Not only is Arclight going to have a German edition, but it was picked up by Egmont UK, as well. So there are going to be two English versions of the novel: one for North America and one for the UK! And the best part is, the UK publishers want THREE books.


Arclight in der Deutschen

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

11 Chiming In
(If that header doesn't say "Arclight in German" blame the babelfish. It was an auto-translation, so any insults to one's mother, sister and/or puppy dogs is unintentional.)

It looks like Arclight's going international! It will be published in Germany through Ink, an imprint of German Egmont!


An Addendum to the Awkward Question

Thursday, September 1, 2011

4 Chiming In

^ This is me taking a deep breath.

The first thing I want to say here is that nothing I've said is privileged information; it's not even hard to find. I don't have special sources or resources, just Google. I'm not a publishing professional. To find those, I'd suggest going to Writer Beware, Absolute Write, or a blog called How Publishing Really Works. If you want to go the self-publishing route, then again check out AW, or look up Joe Konrath's blog or Amanda Hocking's blog. There's Nathan Bransford's blog archives and Query Shark and Pub Rants and on and on. All of these are awesome for gathering information.

I'm saying all of that to mean this -- No, I will not take the name of a supplied press and find out for you if it's legitimate or not. If you can email me or message me, you have access to a computer. If you have access to a computer, you can do a simple search yourself. I am not a counselor; I don't give career advice.

Don't make me make the 'mean face', it gives me wrinkles. *GRRR* (are you scared yet?)

START WITH GOOGLE. If that's not enough, then go to Preditors & Editors and look the press up there. Go to Absolute Write and check their Recommendations, Bewares, and Background checks sub-forum. You don't even have to be a member to use it.

If you're serious about writing as a career, then you have to do your own research and your own leg work, and you have to take your own chances.

Now that that's out of the way, I'll get into this, which is an offshoot of the "awkward question" post.

P.O.D. IS NOT EVIL. It's a technology, not code for "I am scamming you." Very large and very legitimate publishing houses use this technology. There's a very cool machine called an Espresso book machine that uses this technology to print you a personal copy of a book in 3 minutes while you watch.

All P.O.D means is "Print on Demand". (It can also be "Publish on Demand". If anyone tells you these are different, they are either misinformed or lying.) And all THAT means is that a copy of a given book is ONLY printed when it's ordered.

Normally, if you're with a commercial publisher, they decide how many copies of a book to publish when a book is put out. Let's say 5,000 for an example. Those 5,000 books are all printed at once, then stored in a warehouse until they can be shipped to the stores which are showcasing the book, or, in the case of Amazon, until someone orders a copy on-line.

With POD, this doesn't happen. A single copy of a book is printed when a single order comes in. (The lack of bulk printing is why most POD tiles are priced higher than mass produced books.) These books don't have a "stock" kept in warehouses, therefore if someone checks, they're "out of stock", but they can be ordered. When a press says a book is available "through major chains" or "through stores" as opposed to "in" them, this is what they're talking about. You can walk up to a counter, ask the clerk to order "Book Title" and they will send it to you.

POD is used for many reasons, out of print or niche titles among them. Don't freak out just because you see that Press X uses POD.

Yes, it can be confusing. Yes, it can be complicated. But, thankfully there's a ton of information out there that will help you find real answers.