Indie Author Gets a Book Cover Designed

Eight months ago I had the cover designed for my as-yet-unpublished novel, Compromise With Sin. As an indie author it was my responsibility, not that of an editor and publishing house, to produce a cover. The upside is I got a cover I want. The downside is I paid for it, but it was well worth it.

For starters, I did a Google search for historical novel book covers and selected the “Images” tab. One of the first things I noticed was a trend to feature a woman’s body without the head, not something I wanted to emulate.

By looking at pages of thumbnails, I could tell which covers and titles stood out. I’ve seen too many covers with unreadable titles on Amazon.

Another Google search, this one for book designers, led me to 99Designs. Here’s where I entered a whole new world. 99designs has a worldwide stable of graphic designers who vie for jobs in what are called “Contests.” I signed up at the $300 Bronze level (the lowest). I was guaranteed a cover I’d like or it wouldn’t cost me anything.

Writer friend Brad Whittington advised me to be very clear about describing what I wanted, so I wrote up instructions with photographs: Cover Concept submit to 99Designs

Nineteen graphic designers submitted drafts at the start of my seven-day contest. I was able to write messages to the group or individuals. A few dropped out. Most submitted revisions. One message I sent to the group said, “You’re a talented designer, so surprise me,” but no one did. They stuck to my concept. The process of tweaking continued. At one point I was so over-stimulated I couldn’t sleep.

Once I narrowed the field to six, I held a Poll, inviting about 20 friends to weigh in. As it turned out, the cover I selected was not the most popular one. I made my choice for two reasons: 1) I was having problems due to a language barrier between me and the designer of the popular image, and 2) I decided I liked the portrayal of a woman who looked like she could be trouble.

My chosen designer was Kristin Bryant. We did some tweaking after I selected her design. I wanted the woman’s jaw and eyebrows softened.

One thing that amazed me is the designers’ ability to achieve a painted effect with stock photos. Kristin did add a few original elements, including the people in  the car.

Since the contest ended she has continued to work with me on details, such as adding my author photo to the back cover.

Before getting the cover designed, I saw my story in terms of a manuscript. The cover brought it closer to becoming a real book.

Novelist Takes on Publisher Over Deal With Hate-Monger

“I guess I’m putting my money where my mouth is,” a feminist novelist told BuzzFeed. Roxann Gay withdrew her latest novel from publication by Simon & Schuster after the publisher signed a six-figure deal with Breitbart editor and hate-monger Milo Yiannopoulos.

Saying she was taking a stand against normalizing racism, Gay said, “. . . this isn’t about censorship. . . . Milo has every right to say what he wants . . . I’m not interested in doing business with a publisher who gives him that privilege [of publication].”

Read more on NPR. 

 

 

Don’t Read This Book Like a Writer

I recently read a novel that challenges some of the important lessons I’ve learned about writing. I wanted to dislike the book because it is so flawed. But the fact is I’ll probably read it again because the author 1) pairs two unforgettable characters in an improbable relationship, & 2) tells a darn good story.

The novel is Paulette Jiles’ News of the World, a National Book Award finalist. Here are my problems, which I’ll describe in mostly general terms so as not to include spoilers:

  • The author writes dialogue without quotation marks. Most of the time it was clear who was speaking, but there were times I had to back up and re-read a passage. In John Gardner’s book On Becoming a Novelist, he extolls “the fictive dream,” a state that writers like me labor to achieve so that the reader gets so caught up in the story as to suspend disbelief. Writing that causes the reader to check back for clarification breaks that fictive dream.
  • More troubling for me is the jerkiness that occurs when Jiles “moves the camera,” so to speak, i.e., we’re seeing something through the eyes of the Captain & then she describes the expression on his face, something he cannot see. Even more egregious is a gunfight presumably viewed through the Captain’s eyes. His adversary is approaching from two hundred yards when the Captain fires after which we see his adversary’s forehead looking “as if his head had been suddenly printed with hyphens.” This & other occurances of improbable camera movement jerked me out of the fictive dream during one of the best scenes in the novel.
  • Another problem writers usually try to avoid is shifting point of view (POV) in a scene. In most novels, one or several characters have POV so that the reader gets to know their internal thoughts, opinions, feelings, etc. As a rule, in any given scene the writer gives POV to just one character, the person who has the most at stake. This keeps the reader engaged with that character. POV shifts are to be avoided, but not in Jiles’ world. And to tell you the truth, it doesn’t bother me much. I’ve long suspected that readers don’t care that much about shifting POV. (I’ll hear about this in my writing group.) Continue reading Don’t Read This Book Like a Writer

What’s the True Meaning of “America First?”

In light of Trump’s latest assault on innocent human beings & on values decent Americans hold dear, I’m departing from my planned post & posting a day early. “America First” is hardly a new idea, as this 1941 political cartoon by Dr. Seuss illustrates. It was an ugly sentiment then, & it’s ugly now.

Dr. Seuss, PM Magazine, October 1, 1941

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Not Become a Beta Reader?

Woman Reading in Garden, 1912, unidentified photographer

Ever been reading a novel & wished the author had asked for your input prior to publication? In the world of indie publishing, many authors seek critiques from readers. In my own experience, after having my as-yet-unpublished novel, Compromise With Sin, professionally edited, I submitted it to three beta readers seeking their feedback on a variety of issues, such as:

  • “Note any place where you’d stop reading to go floss your teeth.” Happily no one found places where the story stalled to that extent.
  • “Note any inconsistencies or contradictions.” Several things were mentioned. One reader found that dates on a tombstone didn’t jibe with the text.
  • “Are there instances in which you want to see more or less of Louise’s emotional response?” I got a great deal of help here.
  • “I welcome any other observations.” I discovered that sometimes what I thought I was communicating wasn’t what the reader was getting.

Become a Beta Reader

Whatever your taste in reading–thrillers, romance, mainstream, etc.–there are plenty of opportunities to become a beta reader. Here’s my advice:

  • Shop carefully & find a book you’ll enjoy before signing up to read.
  • Don’t like books loaded with F-bombs? Inquire as to levels of profanity, sex or violence if these are issues for you.
  • Ask to see the first chapter before you commit. You can always say, “Thank you for the opportunity, but this project just isn’t right for me.”
  • The author should provide you with a list of things he or she wants you to provide feedback on.
  • Decide on the format you’d like. Email attachment? eBook? Hard copy?
  • You should get a polished manuscript, one that’s been edited & proofread & nearly ready for publication, not an early draft. If you come across an occasional misspelling or typo, note it. The author will be grateful.
  • At the very least, you should be listed in the book’s Acknowledgments. You might get a signed print copy as well.

Find Authors Seeking Beta Readers

I recommend joining the Goodreads Beta Reader Group where you’ll find posts by authors who need your help. Typically an author’s post will state the genre & provide a blurb, & if you’re interested you can make contact.

What Do You Like or Dislike in a Book Blurb?

I’m a student of blurbs these days, those teasers that appear on the book jacket or on Amazon. I listened to a useful podcast, “How To Write Your Book Sales Description,” in which Joanna Penn interviewed Byron Cohen. (The full transcript is available on the site.) He makes the point that 99% of authors provide a synopsis in their blurbs & says, “That won’t sell.” He then puts forth the elements of a successful blurb.

I’ve started collecting blurbs from Amazon, mostly for historical novels. They range from the very lean blurb for Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry, to those that virtually give away the story, as in The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd, & News of the World, by Paulette Jiles. I hate that. (Guess I shouldn’t click on “Read more.”)

My favorite blurb is for Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen:

Blurb: Jacob Janowski’s luck had run out—orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was the Great Depression and for Jacob the circus was both his salvation and a living hell. There he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but brutal animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this group of misfits was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

My Take-away:
This description says enough to pique my interest, although to call Jacob “orphaned” is misleading because it suggests he’s a boy or teen.

I’ve struggled with the writing of a blurb for my not-yet-published novel Compromise With Sin. Here’s draft #144. OK maybe I exaggerate.

Compromise With Sin blurb: 

She stops at nothing to maintain a veneer of Victorian respectability, but the consequences of infidelity prove far worse than mere exposure. 

After straying into the arms of Doc Foster and becoming pregnant, small-town civic leader Louise Morrissey faces ruin if anyone─especially her husband─finds out. 

When infection steals the eyesight of her newborn baby, Louise knows it is punishment for her infidelity. What she doesn’t know is that the web of deceit she weaves to safeguard her marriage and reputation will eventually ensnare her husband and daughter with tragic consequences.

Guilt-ridden and seeking redemption, Louise risks revelation of her secrets as she joins Helen Keller in a grassroots movement to end the blinding scourge known as “babies’ sore eyes.”

In a confessional moment, Louise signs in Helen’s hand: “When you wrote ‘they enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin,’ you were writing about me.”

A fictional version of real events, the story pits Louise, Helen, and others against society’s taboos as they champion what would become one of the greatest public health triumphs of the 20th century.

I’d welcome your feedback on my blurb or any opinion you have about blurbs. Leave a comment.

Banished Words List–What Would You Add?

Photo source: Weird Tales
Get your dandruff up?

We all have them: words & phrases that make us wince or groan whenever we hear them. Mine include “snuck,” “anyways,” & “on a daily (hourly, weekly, whatever) basis.” Isn’t it almost a bonding experience when you discover someone shares your bias?

 

Enter the Banished Words List. The 2017 list, released on  New Year’s Day, includes these words along with comments by the committee that selected them from thousands of nominations:

  • “Get your dandruff up”–The Committee is not sure why this malapropism got nominators’ dander up in 2016.
  • Frankenfruit–another food group co-opted by “frankenfood.” Not to be confused with other forms of genetically modified language.
  • Dadbod–The flabby opposite of a chiseled body male ideal. Should not empower dads to pursue a sedentary lifestyle.
  • 831–A texting encryption of I love you: 8 letters, 3 words, 1 meaning. Never encrypt or abbreviate one’s love.

I can’t say I’ve heard of any of these words, but the list is enlightening.

The Banished Words List began as a publicity gimmick on New Year’s Day 1976. The late W. T. “Bill” Rabe, then publicity director for Lake Superior State University in Michigan, thought the list would help put the little-known school on the map. New Year’s Day made sense as a time to reflect on the past year. Besides it was typically a slow news day.

Of course banishing words is an exercise in futility. Take a look at lists for bygone years, e.g., 2010, which included

  • app
  • sexting
  • tweet
  • friend, as a verb

So what words would you like to add to the Banished Words List? Leave a comment.

 

Photo source: Weird Tales magazine, September 1941. Photo is adapted from an ad for a Listerine dandruff treatment.

 

The Promise of a Strong Beginning

Tracy Chevalier has penned an intriguing opening for her latest novel, At the Edge of the Orchard, a book whose subject—Johnny Appleseed and a family of apple growers—might seem less than compelling:

Excerpt: They were fighting over apples again. He wanted to grow more eaters, to eat. She wanted more spitters, to drink. It was an argument rehearsed so often that by now they both played their parts perfectly, their words flowing smooth and monotonous around each other since they had heard them enough times not to have to listen anymore.

What made the fight between sweet and sour different this time was not that James Goodenough was tired; he was always tired. It wore a man down, carving a life from the Black Swamp. It was not that Sadie Goodenough was hung over; she was often hung over. The difference was that John Chapman had been with them the night before. Of all the Goodenoughs, only Sadie stayed up and listened to him talk late into the night, occasionally throwing pinecones onto the fire to make it flare. The spark in his eyes and belly and God knows where else had leapt over to her like a flame finding its true path from one curled wood shaving to another. She was always happier, sassier, and surer of herself after John Chapman visited.

 My take-away: Two people in conflict from the get-go, always a good start. But what lifts this to a masterful level is the language, the metaphor of the fire, and the description of relationships headed for a blow-up.

In the first paragraph, we learn the argument is an old one and in the second what makes the argument different this time. Now jealousy enters the picture. And the last line of that paragraph is a lesson in itself: how to convey that Sadie was attracted to John without using words like “feelings” or a cliché like “she was walking on air.”

Also Chevalier sneaks in back story that manages to keep our focus on the present because her primary purpose in presenting the couple’s history is to sharpen the significance of what’s happening now.

I’ve only started reading this novel so I don’t know how well it fulfills the promise of this powerful beginning. If you’ve read it, please leave a comment.

What Oft Was Thought

“What oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed” is how nineteenth-century poet Alexander Pope described “true wit” in “An Essay on Criticism.” So poets & authors strive for the fresh rendering of ideas.

Nothing wads a writer’s undies faster than trying to express  the concept of “romantic love.” One of my favorites is from the song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” featured in the movie The Lion King. Elton John wrote the music & Tim Rice, the lyrics.

Excerpt: It’s enough to make kings & vagabonds believe the very best.

My Take-away: I think volumes could be written about this sentence. First, consider the power in what’s left out. Rice could have preceded it with something like “Love is universal” or “Love is a feeling shared by all.” But simply making “kings & vagabonds” equals in the same sentence, wow! Second, what if he’d said, “. . . everyone from kings to vagabonds . . .?” Wouldn’t that just sap the power of the phrase?

I’m reminded, too, that we enjoy unexpected word pairings. So “cheeseburgers & champagne” tickle our imaginations while “cheeseburgers & Cokes” do not. OK, it’s not the level of “kings & vagabonds,” but you get the idea.

What’s your take-away? Leave a comment.

Hero of Your Own Life?

In response to last week’s post “Memorable Words,” Nancy commented with this quote from David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens: “Whether I will be the hero of my own life or whether that station will be held by anyone else, these pages must show.”

My curiosity piqued, I googled & found an enlightening blog called Quote Investigator whose author, Garson O’Toole, has traced the quote’s pedigree.

The first mention is in 1812 (Copperfield was published in 1850) in “Voyages and Travels in 1809, 1810, and 1811,” by John Galt. “Every traveller is necessarily the hero of his own story, especially if he travels alone. If he has the felicity of a companion the unavoidable egotism is obscured by the use of the social pronoun.”

John Barth used the “hero” concept as the basis of “mythotherapy” in his short story, “The Remobilization of Jacob Horner,” & novel, End of the Road, both published in 1958. The doctor explains: “‘In life,’ he said, ‘there are no essentially major or minor characters. To that extent all fiction and biography and most historiography is a lie. Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story.'”

My favorite example is from a 1920 editorial about a man accused of one murder confessing to seven. “Whatever we may say, whatever we may think we think, down at the bottom is the fundamental craving that each man must in some way satisfy–the craving to be the hero of his own story. And so, some of us die at the stake for a holy principle and others of us confess to seven murders and 1000 burglaries, and the rest of us find ways equally satisfactory, if less sensational, of making ourselves heroes in our own eyes.”

Speaking of murders, I could easily kill a few hours wandering about the Quote Investigator site. I may need to buy O’Toole’s book: Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations.

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.

 

 

 

 

Memorable Words

old-people-a

Once in a while a passage grabs you and won’t let go. It’s been 20 or more years since I read Harlan Ellison’s short story about the discovery of a one-eyed giant’s body buried in a field. The creature was put on display, & Ellison describes the line of curiosity seekers. Recently I did a quick Google search & found the story,“On the Slab,” which was first published in the October 1981 issue of Omni magazine.

Excerpt: The lines never seemed to grow shorter. The crowds came by the busloads, renting cassette players with background information spoken by a man who had played the lead in a television series dealing with the occult. Schoolchildren were herded past the staring green eye in gaggles; teenagers whose senses had been dulled by horror movies came in knots of five and ten; young lovers needing to share stopped and wondered; elderly citizens from whose lives had been leached all wonder smiled and pointed and clucked their tongues; skeptics and cynics and professional debunkers stood frozen in disbelief and came away bewildered.

My Take-away: The phrase that stuck with me is “. . . elderly citizens from whose lives had been leached all wonder . . .” I shudder to imagine life beyond wonder, but I’ve observed it in eyes that have nothing more they want to see. Ellison’s line made me sad when I first read it, & it still makes me sad.

I’d like to know what lines you find memorable. Leave a comment.