The Art of the Cover

Present word count of WIP:  30,230

Continuing in my rundown of Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

8. Your cover matters. Way more than you think. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t need a book… you could just email people the text.

So very true. According to an article  by Helen Rumbelow, published in the London Times seven years ago and entitled “You Can Tell a Book By Its Cover”…

“Studies show that a book on a three-for-two table has about one and a half seconds to catch a reader’s eye. If it is picked up, it is on average glanced at for only three to four seconds.”

That’s how long we have to grab a reader (1.5 seconds)… hopefully enough to pick our book up and, perhaps (if they find the back copy or the first paragraph intriguing enough), decide in 3-4 seconds to give it a shot and buy it.

I found a good blog posting about cover art here.

My own experience turned out well, I believe, mainly due to great luck. I self-published The Reckoning and, having seen so many bad self-published covers, I was determined to produce a book that wouldn’t immediately give away the fact that I’d gone with a vanity press.

First, I researched on the Internet to see what usually went into a strong, eye-catching cover. A couple of things popped out. Never feature more than 2-3 colors. Make sure the font fits the type of story you have.

Okay, my story was mainly suspense (an American journalist imprisoned in Iraq on the eve of the war, looking for any way out), with a touch of mystery and romance. I knew I wanted a strong font. As for art, I decided to go digging online for something authentic. When my family lived in Baghdad back in the 60’s, my father really got into the Modern Iraqi art scene. So, I looked up Iraqi artists and came across a terrific painter, Vian Sora. One of her pieces, in particular–“Nostalgia”–made me think of my main character sitting in her cell. The main colors–blue and orange–seemed to symbolize the two sides of her situation. The blue indicating her sad desperation and the orange the warmth of her growing attachment to one of her captors.

I decided to take a chance and I emailed the artist, introduced myself and my book, and asked for her permission to use the painting for my cover art. Fortunately, one of my dad’s good Iraqi artist friends happened to be her mentor, and she agreed. (If you’d like to check out more of her art, click here.)

I’m not sure I’ll be so lucky next time. Of course, next time I’m hoping to be published traditionally, in which case much of the decision making will be out of my hands. I can only hope the publisher shares my taste.

Originally posted 2012-02-10 22:03:11.

Whether to go “big” or “small”

Present word count:  28,073

Husband’s home, cat’s healthy, I’m writing. YAY!

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

7. Think really hard before you spend a year trying to please one person in New York to get your book published by a ‘real’ publisher. You give up a lot of time. You give up a lot of the upside. You give up control over what your book reads like and feels like and how it’s promoted. Of course, a contract from Knopf and a seat on Jon Stewart’s couch are great things, but so is being the Queen of England. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to you. Far more likely is that you discover how to efficiently publish (either electronically or using POD or a small run press) a brilliant book that spreads like wildfire among a select group of people.

Okay, I actually have to quibble with a lot of this, although I kind of agree with the gist of what he’s saying.

Actually, given such online sites as QueryTracker, you’re spending a year trying to please A LOT of different people in New York (and some in Colorado or the West Coast), hoping that AT LEAST ONE will want to represent you and get you a traditional contract. Besides, if you’re doing things right, you’re not spending ALL of that year trying to achieve that…you’re also continuing to write more stories.

I don’t think, if you do it right, you give up a lot of time. Let’s say you’ll devote a couple of hours each Friday afternoon to queries. That’s not a lot of time.

As for giving up control over what your book reads or feels like, that may be a good thing! You may really need an editor. Hopefully not, but you may. I’m just saying.

And the promotion point is kind of moot, unless you’re going to be the next J.K Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, etc. Why? Because big publishers don’t really do much promotion anymore unless they think you’re going to be that big a success. So, in 99% of the cases, the promotion’s pretty much up to you, anyway. You’re controlling it (hopefully).

I guess Jon Stewart is the new Oprah (and Godin told us not to bother with her in his last point), but, yeah, I’d take a seat in his studio any time. He is sooo funny (except when he swears or is a bit vulgar). But who says it’s great being the Queen of England? I’d rather be Oprah. Kate Middleton can have all those garden parties and laying of wreaths. I’d rather write, thank you very much.

Finally, if he means my family and close friends when he’s talking about my book spreading “like wildfire among a select group of people,” well…I can’t quibble with that.

My conclusion: if I think I have a “big” concept, I’ll go “big.” Otherwise, I’ll probably be content with a smaller press.

Originally posted 2012-02-06 17:14:24.

An Editor is a Must

Present word count of WIP:  24,186

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

3. Pay for an editor. Not just to fix the typos, but to actually make your ramblings into something that people will choose to read. I found someone I like working with at the EFA. One of the things traditional publishers used to do is provide really insightful, even brilliant editors (people like Fred Hills and Megan Casey), but alas, that doesn’t happen very often. And hiring your own editor means you’ll value the process more.

Hear, hear!!! I am reading a book right now for Whitney judging purposes that has all kinds of typos, head hopping, even whole words left out. I’m not sure if it’s because the author rushed the PDF version in order to qualify it for judging, or what, but you can be sure it won’t make my top five.

Whether you’re self-publishing (and particularly if you’re going that route) or not, you should have extra eyes on your manuscript once you think it’s in its top, finished form. I did that for my first novel (self-published) and it really paid off. Not only did the woman catch all my favorite words and phrases, but she pointed out a weakness or two in the plot or pacing.

I don’t care if you’re working on your first novel or your fifteenth. As you write, you develop what I like to call “writer’s blindness.” You are so used to the story in your head and all you have developed in terms of backstory, as well as all you know that’s coming up, that you forget to read what you’ve written as a critical reader would. I’m not sure it’s even possible for you to do so.

I have a terrific writer’s group, and while I rely on one member for the overall plot picture and pacing, another for the emotion in my scenes, another for the lilt of the language, and the last for the nuts and bolts of grammar and spelling, I still plan on running the finished version by a professional editor. Why? Because, unlike my writer’s group, he/she will read it in a more condensed time frame, not having fallen in love with it gradually as my writer friends may have. He/she will be critical, honest, thorough, and most of all–worth it!

So, plan for an editor.

Originally posted 2012-01-23 16:50:02.

Aim High or Aim Low?

Present word count of WIP: 20,552

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

1. Lower your expectations. The happiest authors are the ones that don’t expect much.

This is the kind of advice that is comforting to the writer who has received a lot of rejections, the writer who’s gotten kind of lazy, or the writer who is surrounded by other successful authors and unsure whether he/she should continue.

But is it good advice?

I suppose it depends on your goals as a writer, and this leads me to a lengthy posting by Kristine Kathryn Rusch on her blog here, in which she takes many authors to task for not being ambitious enough or not being realistic in our ambitions. Granted, she’s definitely in the self-publishing camp (which becomes obvious as you read her post), but I think her main points are well-taken and apply to any author–traditionally published or not.

It’s the rare writer who actually has ambitions—real ambitions—and stands up for them. It’s the rare writer who not only dreams of glory (bestseller lists, millions of dollars, fame, lasting acclaim, or whatever) but actually works toward those dreams.

She teaches a lot of published authors who have lost their way in their career and are trying to get back on track. Her observation:

I urge these writers to become individuals and go on their own path, and if they don’t agree with something I say, then they should do it their way and prove me wrong. Most of the students are startled that I want them to question. I want them to think.

But that’s the only way you can have a long-term career as the person in charge of any business. You have to think, and be creative, and you can’t let roadblocks stop you.

You have to find a way around them.

But most of all, you have to question accepted wisdom. Last week, a lot of people came on my blog in the comments section spouting myths that teachers, editors, agents, and other writers have pounded into them, mostly telling these poor folks how impossible it is to do well in this business.

The key, in her opinion, is thinking big.

If you look around and see a small world, filled with a few friends, professors, and local bookstores, you’ll never make the kind of decisions that you need to survive in an international business. If you believe you have to chase sales with low price points or blog tours or book signings at area bookstores, you’ll never make the kind of decisions that you need to survive in an international business.

If you strive to do the best you can, write a lot of books, and make sure your books are in as many bookstores as possible—ebookstores, audio bookstores, foreign bookstores, as well as US bookstores, in English as well as dozens if not hundreds of languages (over time)—then you will succeed in this international business. You’re looking at the big picture.

So, do we aim low, not expecting much, as Godin advised, in order to ensure our contentment and happiness…or do we aim high, shooting for the stars, as Rusch advises? Something tells me the answer lies in our own personal natures, for that is where ambition begins. Do we tend toward fear and self-doubt or faith and self-confidence?

Originally posted 2012-01-16 17:06:11.

Why Do Authors Always Do It Backwards?

Present word count of WIP:  23,516

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

2. The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later.

So, basically, he’s saying we need to think about selling long before we have a product to sell. Of course, most authors do it backwards. They build the product first and then think about how to sell it…when it’s probably too late to get the most for our efforts.

Then, again, we don’t pick up pen and paper (or type away at a keyboard) in the first place to make money. We do it for the love of writing and storytelling. But if you’re in this business to make a lot of sales, then it might be best to heed his advice.

With rare exceptions (like J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer), it takes most authors a good 5-6 books to begin to have a real following. Why? Because it simply takes that long. Not only is each novel generally improving in quality, but over time more readers are added to their fan base as word spreads from friend to friend.

You might argue that Godin writes nonfiction, and for the nonfiction writer, platform is everything. These days, however, I’d argue that platform is becoming just as important for the fiction writer.

That’s why I’m going to keep blogging away, friending on FB, tweeting (though I need to get a lot more consistent there), writing reviews on Goodreads, Amazon and other places online, and taking every possible opportunity to attend/present at conferences and retreats (as long as I can afford it, that is).

If Godin’s right, then I can expect to be published by 2015 (traditionally, that is…of course, I’m actually hoping for some time this year with Laps). And by then, I should have at least three more manuscripts ready and available for the audience I will have built.

But, then, by 2015 who knows what publishing will look like in America? And on that note, what do you think of the new iBooks Author?

Originally posted 2012-01-20 17:07:18.

Sharing Some Advice for Writers

Present word count of WIP:  19,405

I’m a bit miffed that, after such a good start, my son’s sudden end-of-semester homework requirements took me off-track. After four days in a row of knocking off 1,000+ words a day, I was only able to write 265 words on Wednesday. Thursday and today were even worse. I’m hoping that, after dinner tonight, I can knock out 1,000+ words and update my word count. The bad news is, he’s got another big assignment due next week. I’ll work around it somehow.

In the meantime, I promised to share some advice for writers received in an email from Seth Godin at the Domino Project.

He sent it in two batches. The first was written by him six years ago and basically consists of these five ideas about the state of publishing: (My comments follow in blue)

1) “Book publishing is an organized hobby, not a business.”

His point was that authors and publishers, alike, don’t get much for all their efforts…they’re doing it for love more than money. But there is a certain cachet attached to having written a book or being in the publishing industry. He also noted that writers have an opportunity to “spread an idea and a brand far and wide.” So, if you want to write a book, you need to think long and hard about your true motivations.

2) “The timeframe for the launch of books has gone from silly to unrealistic.”

I agree that a world that once moved slowly now changes from day to day, so I can see his point that we have to consider carefully the “shelf life” of our ideas or stories. (He writes nonfiction, so this is more pertinent to him than to me.) Still, it’s a bad idea to try and write what’s currently popular because, if you’re lucky and it gets published three years later, its popularity will most certainly have waned. Write what you feel like writing regardless!

3) “There is no such thing as effective book promotion by a book publisher.”

He immediately adds that, of course, this isn’t true. Look at Harry Potter or Freakonomics. His point, though, is that out of 75,000 titles published six or seven years ago, only about a hundred were effectively promoted. This, of course, is not news to authors. They expect to have to do the lion’s share of their own marketing these days…most of it online. He also points out that blurbs don’t sell books in and of themselves. What is most effective is to have a platform already–with thousands or tens of thousands of people who care about what you have to say. That platform can be a popular blog, celebrity status, lots of employees, or a personal relationship with someone who has a huge platform and believes in you.

4) “Books cost money and require the user to read them for the idea to spread.”

His point here is that people hate to part with their money and less and less people, apparently, enjoy reading. So we have two obstacles to overcome. I, personally, am not convinced of the latter. Back in November the president of Goodreads did an interview in which he said they then had grown to 6,000,000 members. That said, I think the REAL challenge is finding a way to get your book to stick out among the hundreds of thousands now being published and self-published each year. Now, that’s hard!

5) “Publishing is like venture capital, not like printing.”

It’s true. Anyone can print a book today. That’s why so many books are being self-published. The big traditional publishers, however, are taking a risk when they sign an author to a contract. They’re investing in that writer. As he puts it, “They invest cash in an advance. They invest time in creating the book itself and selling it…and they invest more cash in printing books.” So, you have to decide: Do you want their advance and expertise (I do)…or do you want total control of your printing?

After sharing these five ideas, Mr. Godin gives this advice:

“Build an asset. Large numbers of influential people who read your blog or read your emails or watch your TV show or love your restaurant or or or…

“Then, put your idea into a format where it will spread fast. That could be an ebook (a free one) or a pamphlet (a cheap one–the Joy of Jello sold millions and millions of copies at a collar or less).

“Then, if your idea catches on, you can sell the souvenir edition. The book. The thing people keep on their shelf or lend out or get from the library. Books are wonderful (I own too many!) but they’re not necessarily the best vessel for spreading your idea.

“And the punchline, of course, is that if you do all these things, you won’t need a publisher. And that’s exactly when a publisher will want you! That’s the sort of author publishers do the best with.”

He’s right, of course, but that’s not to say that publishers only publish authors with large platforms. That’s simply not true. Why? Because they love a good story as much as the writer does, and if it’s good enough, they’ll publish it. Oh, you’ll still have to do the lion’s share of the marketing, but I think it will be a good bit easier if you’re traditionally published.

That was only his first batch of advice and it was six years old! His second batch was from five years ago and consists of 19 different points. I think I’ll post about each in turn every Friday over the next several months.

 

 

Originally posted 2012-01-13 17:06:45.

Back in the Saddle

Present Word Count of WIP: 13,901

After two days and more than 3,500 words written, I can officially announce that I’m back to my writing. What a relief! I was beginning to suspect that the holidays had completely upended my routine.

It’s always difficult for me to write when my daughter comes home for a visit because she’s about ready to graduate from college and her visits home come so seldom these days. As much as I see myself as a writer, I’m a wife and mother first, so I’m still having to fight off the guilt for carving out periods of the day to shut myself off from those responsibilities. It’s easier with my son (who’s about to graduate from high school) because he still lives here and, like me, he tends to shut himself into his cave every day, not craving company. But Allison is very social. Obviously, I wasn’t very successful from Thanksgiving through Christmas.

It’s a good thing we have New Year’s Resolutions. In fact, that’s probably the only thing I like about New Year’s Eve as a holiday. This time, I’ve set myself 5 “SMART” goals, 4 of which involve writing. That’s “SMART,” as in Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic/Relevant, and Time-Specific (something I picked up from a recent QueryTracker Newsletter).

I’ll post the writing goals here so that you can all hold me accountable:

1) Write every day for at least two hours.

2) Finish first draft of SOG by February 20, 2012 (so it’s somewhat ready to pitch at the ANWA Conference). Finish final draft by April 30, 2012 (for pitching at the LDStorymakers Conference).

3) Find 20 agents who rep my kind of YA Fantasy and organize them from most to least appealing. Query top 7 by May 15, 2012.

4) Blog twice a week (usually Mondays and Fridays), once on each blog.

So, yes, I decided not to wait until Friday this week because I couldn’t stand seeing my website go unchanged another day. Tomorrow, I’ll probably post on my other blog here. As for the daily writing goal, I’ve completed ten chapters now of my WIP. I’ll try and keep a running count of words written each week here, to keep myself on task.

So, what are your goals for the new year? I have a feeling that, despite the dire predictions of the Mayans, 2012 is going to be a terrific year!

Originally posted 2012-01-05 12:17:17.

I didn’t win, but…

While I may not have won the “Can You Hook ‘Em” contest last month, I did get mentioned by one of the two judges as having hooked her, so I’m encouraged. I’ve written four chapters now and am steadily moving on. I’m also gearing up for a trip to England next summer (no, not for the Olympics) so that I can do a bit of research and treat my daughter to a well-deserved break!

By way of other news, my manuscript of “Laps” is currently under review by a publisher. I’ll keep you posted!

Originally posted 2011-10-14 10:01:16.

The Situation

It rained today. About an hour after we’d told our 17-year-old son it wouldn’t, and he walked out the door without a jacket. What’s the big deal? One of my son’s manifestations of his Asperger’s is the way he reacts to rain. He can’t stand it! If he feels one drop on his shirt, he needs to change the shirt. So, after fretting half of the morning, my husband finally drove down to the school to take him a jacket. Just in time, too, because by then it was beginning to pour.

As he got out of the car, he saw my son begin to emerge from one of the classroom buildings but the rain pulled him up short. For a second he looked panicked, until he caught sight of his father, running over to hand him the jacket.

His relieved response? “Thanks for appreciating the situation.” (Doesn’t that sound just like a kid with AS?) Then he put the hood up and ran off to his next class.

How often do I, as a writer, fail to appreciate the situation? By “situation,” I mean anything from misreading the weather patterns in my own querying process to ignoring the dreary rain of rejections or drought of fresh ideas a fellow writer might be experiencing.

Here’s my situation: I got yet another rejection from an agent. Yes, it was from the one I’d mentioned toward the end of my last post. As far as I can tell, I can do one of three things, besides getting on with my WIP, as well as the promised edit of a friend’s manuscript.

1) Send out more queries

2) Try a small publisher

3) Put it in a drawer (so-to-speak) since I refuse to self-publish this one

4) Do a combination of #1 and #2

I’m leaning toward the combination. Now, what’s your situation? I’m sure I’d better appreciate it (and be able to lend a figurative jacket) if I only knew about it.

Originally posted 2011-05-23 17:48:04.

What a Trip! What a Conference!

I’m ready for human cloning (on a temporary basis, that is). I think writers need to have clones so that their writer self can remain at the keyboard creating while their marketing and student selves go off to conferences to learn, network, and pitch to agents and editors. (If you’re a writer, I know you agree with this.) The only drawback to the 2011 LDStorymakers Conference was that I couldn’t be in several places at the same time.

But first, the trip. Actually, it wasn’t too bad. Sure, I could have used a clone or two to help me drive for 9.5 hours straight (other than gas, food and potty stops). Still, it was great weather and at the end of the day I got to meet up with three old friends from my junior high days and compare notes over dinner. I hadn’t seen one of them since 10th grade. It was amazing to see how our lives had turned out thus far. Good fodder for a novel…but not right away or they’d get mad.

I roomed with the fabulous Liz Adair and Thursday morning was spent assembling folders and binders for the conference. Then, while everyone spent much of the day in Boot Camp, I got to drive down to Provo and have lunch with my beautiful daughter, Allison. Afterward, we lucked out and got into the Carl Bloch exhibit at BYU’s Museum of Art. He could tell an entire story with one painting or even one etching. I think my favorite altar pieces were those of Christ with the child and Christ at the Pool of Bethesda (particularly since it relates to my newest novel that I’m pitching). I arrived back in SLC that evening in time for a quick dinner and then a fun “Meet and Greet” with fellow Storymakers. The interviews conducted by Tristi Pinkston, Frank Cole, and Terri Ferran had me wiping tears from my eyes because I was laughing so much and I can’t wait to upload them to the new website. (I’ll keep you posted on that.) Stephanie Fowers and her sister were invaluable in taping the interviews. Warning: they’re in high def, so don’t be too judgmental on appearances. After all, some of these interviews were done at 10 pm after a full day of Boot Camp!

Friday and Saturday were a blur. This is when I really could have used a few clones. In between helping Liz with door prize giveaways several times each day and grabbing meals here and there, I attended great presentations by Becca Stumpf (on pitching), Marion Jensen (on Social Media…but I missed the last half because I was scheduled to pitch to Sara Megibow, a terrific agent–I don’t know how she did it, but I wasn’t nervous at all; I felt so at ease talking with her and she expressed interest in Laps), Sara Crowe (on synopsis writing, which turned out to be the pitch portion of your query letter rather than a full synopsis…not what I was expecting but still helpful), Josi Kilpack (on launching your book), Dave Wolverton twice (on habits of successful writers and on using resonance to make your writing sell), Bob Conder (on Screenwriting), and the energetic and funny Sara Megibow (on acquiring a literary agent). I also attended a speculative fiction panel featuring James Dashner, Rob Wells, Dave Wolverton, Julie Wright, and Howard Taylor. You might wonder why since my fiction thus far has been solidly grounded in reality, but about two weeks ago three fascinating ideas for novels hit me–all speculative (one YA semi-historical, and two dystopian). I know. I should have attended Rob’s on Dystopian Fiction, but hey–that would have required clones.

Anyway, the Whitney Awards Gala Dinner was terrific as always and some of my favorite people won, besides. I’d invited my daughter and a guy she’s dating, Bryan Beus, to join me since he’s an illustrator (he did the covers and illustrations for James Dashner’s first two installments in the 13th Reality series) and a soon-to-be-published author. He ended up knowing as many people there as I did!

My last comment on cloning: it might help de-stress your pet cats. Every time I go away for a short trip and then return, Peach and Anastasia have to get re-introduced to me. It’s as if they can’t believe it’s really me walking in the door. Of course, if they were to encounter more than one of me at a time, they’d probably go nuts, so that alternative won’t work…for them, anyway.

If we can’t have cloning at next year’s conference, maybe we can at least have an option to buy DVDs or CDs of the presentations we missed. What do you think?

Originally posted 2011-05-09 12:47:24.