Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Blog Tours

by Darke Conteur

There is a pile of new authors coming out of the woodwork on a daily basism, all clawing and scratching to get your attention. Some of their self-promotion is good, and some, well, let's just say it isn't and leave it at that. Granted, what works for one person doesn't always work for another, and if you don't feel comfortable doing something others say worked for them, then fine! That's them, not you.

I can think of one good idea to promote oneself—a blog tour.

When I first started talking about it, I had a lot of people ask me what it was. Seems it's a new thing, but I'm seeing more and more authors doing it. Think of it as a virtual book tour, and I think they're great. Here are a few things I learned as I was planning mine.

1. What kind of tour do you want to do?
There are a number of ways you can go about this: author interviews, character interviews, post about what your book is about, or the genre, or a mixture of all three. I'm doing a character interview tour, but because Ebook Endeavours is about marketing, Lindsay asked me to do a post along that line. Be prepared for sudden changes in the lineup. Not everyone may want an in-depth analysis of your genre.

2. How many 'stops' should you make?
I've seen some authors talk about doing thirty to fifty posts on one tour. That's a lot! Might I suggest a number a little more manageable, say ten to twenty? Especially if this is your first tour. My only concern with doing high-number tours is that after a while you may run out of things to talk about. It's always good to have a fresh post for each blog. It entices the reader to keep an eye out for your next post, and in the end, isn't that what the tour is about? Gathering interest in our work?

3. Who should I ask?
This is completely up to you. Right now, there aren't that many people other than authors/writers who would host a blog tour. This is still a new marketing tool, but I'm sure as it gains more in popularity, more options will become available.

4. Offer to return the favour.
Karma, my friends, is a good thing. With each blog tour stop you make, you're exposing your work to new and potential followers, but this isn't just a one-way street. Offering to host blog tours will bring in more potential followers, and if they like what they see, they may stick around.

5. Keep up with comments.
If you're hosting a blog tour, might I suggest that you inform the guest blogger of any comments on their post. This will allow the guest blogger to reply in a timely fashion.

Alas, my time has come to an end. Have you done a blog tour? How did you like it? Did it work for you? I'm always looking for ways to improve and if you have a suggestion, we'd love to hear it!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Give Those Agents a Break!

by Jemi Fraser

So? Are you NaNo-did, NaNo-didn't, NaNo-done or NaNo-brain-dead?

November has been a crazy month for the many writers who participated in NaNoWriMo. A lot of bright and shiny new ideas have taken flight. A lot of shiny new ideas have dulled, dried up and jumped into the recycling box of their own volition.

If you've finished, or are about to finish, your 50k in 30 days, good for you! I'll do a happy dance for you ... once I find my energy again.

Whatever you do, for the love of all that's pure and golden in this universe, do NOT, under any circumstances query your NaNo novel yet! All great NaNo novels (yes, even yours) need to marinate. They need to sit and simmer. And you need to let them.

This is non-negotiable.

Give that novel a few weeks. Then go back. Reread. You'll be amazed at some of the things you've written. You'll find some nuggets of gold. You'll also find some nuggets of ... yeah, that.

Your NaNo needs some loving attention after November is over. Reread. Revise. Revise again. Polish. Shine it up. Then, when you're sure it's the best it can possibly be, that's when you start researching agents who are going to fight over it.

But do those lovely agents you hope to work with one day a great big favour. Don't query yet. You'll be doing yourself a favour too!

Any NaNo stories (success, horror or otherwise) to share?

Friday, November 25, 2011


By Matt Sinclair

So, was it good for you, too? No! I meant Thanksgiving. You know, the annual day in which family members believe it's fine and dandy to tell other family that they're making terrible mistakes in their life and that if they had only listened to them, their problems would have all been sorted out by now. Oh, and this wine is terrible!

What? That doesn't happen to you? No, me neither. Really.

Anyway, one thing most people love about Thanksgiving is the leftovers. Personally, I'm happy there's usually a couple beers left that I can have for the long holiday weekend, but I can't say no to a turkey sandwich on Friday. Of course, for writers, every day can be a day to give thanks, and every day is a day to behold the value of leftovers.

What I'm talking are those tasty story morsels you trimmed off your 150,000 word YA novel, or the chapter that showed how your main character met his first girl friend in third grade, or the offbeat character you loved but who didn't move the story at all. Is last year's NaNo novel still eating away at your mind even though you swore you'd never look at it again after you saw all the typos, plot flops, and gross misappropriations of Twilight story lines? Take another look. There probably was something worth revising. What have you got to lose? Bring a beer with you.

Sometimes reheating an old story line is better than the whole turkey enchilada you were gnawing on the day before. What do you do with them? I like making short stories out of mine, and I've had tossed-aside characters re-emerge in other story lines that were more appropriate for them. I know of a writer who took an ancillary character from one failed plot and started a new novel with her.

The possibilities are truly endless, unlike the shelf life of what you shoved into the the fridge last night. I'll keep this post short today, because it's also Black Friday and you're either shopping or taking advantage of the long weekend to try to make up the 15,000 word shortage you have on your current NaNo. Good luck!

But one more thing: avoid the stuffing. It really won't help your story.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

This Writer Is Thankful—And Not Just for Her Book Contract Either

by Sophie Perinot

As Thanksgiving approaches (yeah, it’s the day after tomorrow so if you don’t have a turkey yet you’d better get moving) I’ve been spending a little time pondering what I am grateful for when I wear my writer’s hat.

Some things are pretty obvious. Like my book deal. This time last year I didn’t have my deal, and it represents the realization of a huge dream and a bit of validation (take that all you casual, social acquaintances who smirked when I said I was writing a novel and thought I was just some eccentric nut job) so when my family gives thanks around a table groaning with goodies I will be thankful for my deal. But I am also thankful for a number of things that might surprise you and that, I hope, will help you to view events along your personal writing road with new (slightly more grateful) eyes.

I am thankful that my first novel didn’t sell. Honestly, I am. Mind you I thought it was “shelf-worthy” and so did my agent, and when we had our last “near miss” with an editor I felt like the bottom fell out of my world. But, funny thing, I realize now that while it might make a brilliant “later work” it would have be a very challenging debut to market. Being a debut novelist is über-challenging these days. The number of books coming into the market each year is staggering. The retail outlets for those books are contracting. The time each book spends in stores seems to be getting shorter and shorter. In addition, authors are expected to do a great deal of self-promotion and marketing—something that demands a different skill set than writing a good book, a skill set an author may or may not have. Bad sales figures on a first novel can make it an only novel. So, if you are going to throw the newbie-novelist dice you want those dice loaded in your favor. That means you want your first book to be not just the BEST thing you written but also the MOST marketable. The novel I’ve got scheduled to come out in March is more marketable than my first MS was. I can see that now. I guess publishers just saw that before I did.

I am thankful for every person who said, “This isn’t working,” whether about an idea, a character, a sentence, a paragraph, or a chapter in any of my manuscripts. I am thankful for the critique partners who held my feet to the fire and said, “Really? Come on you can do better than that.” I am even grateful for the time my own mother told me that one of my projects just wasn’t that great. It is A LOT easier for beta readers to pat you on the back and croon “good job.” Really critiquing a manuscript (or a query letter) takes time and energy. It also takes guts. So tough, honest, critique partners and editors who send highly detailed editorial letters are high on my list of things I am thankful for and they should be on yours too (maybe you have a slice of homemade pumpkin pie you’d like to share with them this week?).

I am thankful that I have an agent who has strong opinions about which project I should write next. Lots of writers seem to chafe at the idea that once they are represented their agents might want to “vote” on which projects they pursue or even (*gasp*) veto some of those projects. Why? If you are writing just to pursue your creative passion then by all means write that book about a man who falls in love with his goldfish only to eat it in a fit of pique, told in the first person from the POV of the goldfish. But if you want writing to be your career (hopefully a money making career) then shouldn’t you want your market-savvy, experienced agent to guide you (e.g. “you know books with fish protagonists that run 200k are not particularly marketable”)? I had a project planned (research in the can, all ready to write) before starting the manuscript that became The Sister Queens. I shared that idea with my agent and he, politely, pointed out that it was incredibly and relentlessly depressing—quite possibly too depressing to be marketable. Believe it or not, I hadn’t noticed this (my dear husband had, but I, or so he now claims, completely ignored him when he made the point). Of course a writer’s vote counts too and sometimes we have to go with our gut, but if I am going to put months of my life into writing a new book I’d rather have a candid assessment from my agent up front as to whether or not he thinks he will be able to sell it.

I am thankful for the few (see next paragraph for a discussion of the majority) established authors I’ve met who were unkind, and the few fellow writers I’ve met who, imo, were incredibly unprofessional. Watching writers behave badly is a valuable cautionary tale. For example listening to certain writers scream (or tweet) “buy my book, buy my book, buy my book” has shown me how ineffective and irritating that behavior is (and as writers we know that SHOW is always better than TELL). Writers who were snippy, catty, or hyper-competitive illustrated just how ugly that behavior is, and reminded me that being nice to others doesn’t take any longer than being unpleasant.

Perhaps most of all I am thankful for the dozens and dozens of fellow writers who have overwhelmed me with support, generous advice and random acts of kindness. These are the folks who’ve realized that a rising tide of high-quality reading materials—and, correspondingly, of avid readers—lifts all authorial boats. The people I complained about in the last paragraph will be forgotten tomorrow. But I will always remember the folks at AgentQuery Connect who held my hand and covered my back during the query and submission processes; the established historical fiction authors who sat down with me at writing conferences and corresponded with me on-line offering useful tips on everything from participating in the cover process to marketing and planning for the next book; and the advanced readers who have taken the time to endorse my novel, to put it on their “to review” list, or simply to tell me they enjoyed it.

As you walk the “writers’ path” this November what are you most thankful for? Did any of the things you are now grateful for look like bumps in the road when you saw them first?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Writing Lessons from a Mannequin: Building Character

by Cat Woods

While in Chicago last fall, Dear Hubby and I awoke one night to a very loud and still-unidentified vibration. It was 4:30 in the morning. My courageous DH braved the boogey man and opened our hotel door.

"You have to see this."

I headed into the hall in my nightie only to be confronted by a slim porcelain leg. Actually four legs. 

Needless to say, we giggled ourselves back to sleep, and over the  next few days, shared the hysterical pictures of the motionless mannequins as they made their way around the 17th floor.

Incidentally, their antics got me thinking about characters.

To me, characters are the essence of a great book. I would rather read a dull plot with exciting characters than an inspiring plot with motionless mannequins.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Mister and Missus Mann E. Quin's Chicago antics. I just don't want to read about them for an entire novel. In fact, following lifeless, expressionless characters through the twists and turns of a riveting story is the fastest way for a book to get dropped from my reading list into the nearest dumpster.

And so I bring you:

Writing Lessons from a Mannequin
  1. Give your characters a head. Seriously, Mister and Missus were headless wonders. I suppose it's so we don't freak out by finding our neighbor's mug on an overgrown doll, but still.  Characters in novels need a good head on their shoulders.  Don't get me wrong, they don't need a high IQ, they just need to have motive and reason.  They can't simply bumble around and stumble upon the murderer's identity.  They cannot spend an entire novel ducking at all the right times so as not to get shot.  This ploy only works in picture books and slap stick comedy.  So unless that's what you're writing, give your character a head and some brains to go along with it.
  2. But if you choose to stick with brawn, please give your characters some flaws. The perfectly sculpted creatures in the hall were a bit unnerving. I mean who wants to gaze at flawless wonders? No scars marred their porcelain skin. No wrinkles or stretch marks or love handles could be found. Not a single mole or ingrown toenail existed between the lovely couple. Ugh. Make your MCs real.  Give us something to love and hate, to laugh at and laugh with.  Make them human, or we--your naturally flawed readers--will never relate to them.
  3. And don't forget the details that make your MCs unique. Mister and Missus Mann E. Quin were barely distinguishable from each other. Granted Mister had more muscle tone and Missus had larger...pecs. But all in all, a slimmer build doth not set characters apart. Nothing about Mister's physique indicated his penchant for scotch and water, and we had no clue from Missus' calves that she was a bit capricious with a loyalty stronger than our aging black lab's. All we really knew was that they enjoyed frolicking nekkid in the halls of a very prestigious hotel.  They could have been any number of mannequins roaming the streets of Chicago.  A fate not good enough for your novels.
  4. And lastly, throw in a little intrigue. Aside from obvious character traits, it's fun to give your MC a bit of mystery. Provide a quirk of some kind that plays into the larger picture. One that subtly speaks of the past and promises interest in the future. Yep, our otherwise silent friends did have one quirk that made DH and I scratch our heads in wonder. Mann E. wore a hard hat. One day it was yellow. Another day it was white. Sometimes there was writing on it and other times it was blank. He often shared it with Missus.  Intriguing to say the least, and a quirk that begged an answer: Why? 

Which brings me full-circle to Lesson One. Characters in novels need to be fully fleshed out and have the tools they need to succeed. Consider the MC's obsessive fascination with insects who solves the murder-by-poison mystery or the physically outmatched parkour nerd who outruns the bad guys in a maze-like trap. Often, it's these quirky personality traits, latent abilities, obsessive passions and physical flaws that save the day. 

They must be in our writing before they are needed so as to feel organic to the characters and the story.  They are the clues and red herrings we use as building blocks for the characters populating our novels.  They are pieces of the whole our readers will fall in love with.

Without an MC who leaps off the page and feels real--who makes us care enough to keep reading--we might as well knock around town with a headless doll in tow.  While this might be fun for a little while, eventually the weight will drag us down and we'll be tempted to ditch Mann E. in the nearest dumpster along with those nasty, characterless books.

How about you?  Do you like your characters perfect or do strive for realism?  Can a character be too realistic as to be fake?  If so, where is that line and how do we balance it as writers?  What tips do you have for building strong characters? 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Five Rules For Writing Sci-Fi

by R.S. Mellette

First of all, let me state where I come down on the Sci-Fi/Science Fiction debate.

For those who aren't into the genre, several years ago a movement headed by Science Fiction author Harlan Ellison, took issue with the classification of Sci-Fi. They felt it excluded them from consideration as literature. Fine. Point taken. I'm a firm believer that the X-Men series is one of the greatest examples of pure American Literature you can find. A Connecticut Yankee In King Author's Court is clearly Science Fiction, and no one would ever question the literary worth of Mark Twain.

With respect to the genre of Science Fiction, I proudly state that I write Sci-Fi. Literature be damned. I'd rather write a book that kids sneak into bed at night than one that teachers assign. Given a choice between literary success and sales, I'll take sales every time. Why?—besides, you know, me being able to pay my bills? There is no better review than a working person plunking down their hard-earned cash—or a kid spending his/her allowance—to read my stories.

And Time decides what is and is not literature, not professors, critics, or authors.

So, given that I'm a hack wannabe, let's look at a few rules that apply to Sci-Fi, or Science Fiction even, that might not be an issue with other genres.

  •      Rule Number One: Don't break your own rules. The world that you create will have its own logic and psycho-logic. These may not be as rigid as a map at the beginning of fantasy epics, but once you establish a parameter for your world, you'd best stick to it—or present a plausible, logical, way around the rules. That leads us to:
  •      Rule Number Two: Never invent a gadget or technology that can solve every problem. Sure, Dr. Who's sonic screwdriver can do nearly anything he wants done when he wants it. That "nearly" makes all the difference in the world. Your job as a writer is to create problems for your heroes that are insurmountable. We, the readers, then have the pleasure of seeing how they surmount them. If the heroes have an everything-proof impossible-problem-solver-gadget, then we don't have any fun. Unless the author is Douglas Adams.
  •      Rule Number Three: Escalation of powers. This is a big issue in series writing—be it TV, novels, movies, comics, etc. If, in one episode, your hero fights off a hundred villains singlehandedly, what are you going to do when you need him/her to be captured by a single villain in the next? The answer can be found in:
  •      Rule Number Four: Always have Kryptonite. Your superhero can't be TOO super or s/he becomes an everything-proof impossible-problem-solver. There must be a weakness, and the best of these (I think) are internal, emotional, soft spots.
  •      Rule Number Five: Make it personal. Don't fall into the 1990's Hollywood trap of thinking that special effects and cool stuff is all you need to entertain an audience. Healthy heart scenes beat out eye-candy every time. James Bond's toys are fun, but never as much fun as the way the character uses them. He is cool. His stuff is just stuff.

That should be enough to get the conversation started. What have I left out? What rules apply no matter the genre?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Crossing the Bridge: Song Structure and Plot

by J. Lea Lopez

I was marveling the other day about how some of my favorite singer-songwriters can really tell a whole story in a four-minute song. I love a good ballad, especially. The music, lyrics, the singer's voice, everything works together to take you on a roller coaster ride of emotion. I tend to write character-driven stories, and it's that same gut-wrenching ride that I strive to impart to my reader. This got me thinking. What can fiction writers learn from songwriters? The answer, I believe, lies in structure.

Thinking back to your elementary and middle school English classes, you may remember charting the plot of a book using something like this:

Look familiar? Was I the only one who felt constricted by this particular diagram? Exposition and rising action were no problem. For the most part, falling action was a no-brainer, and denouement was easy peasy. But I often faltered around the climax. (Please, no psychoanalysis of that statement is necessary.) In many books, the climax felt more like a series of events—a plateau, if you will. And that straight line of rising action is really more of a procession of peaks and valleys. When you break it down, it looks a bit like a song. (For these purposes, "song" refers mainly to current popular music. Song structure varies greatly, not only within but across genres as well.)

The exposition is your basic intro, and the rising action starts with the first verse, followed by the chorus. The verse tells the story, and the chorus gives you the overall theme of the song. (Don't ask me why, but I'd never realized this basic premise of storytelling vs. theme until I read it in those concrete terms, and then I thought of just about every song I'd ever heard and—whaddya know? It's true!) Many songs also have a bridge, which I have come to realize is my favorite part.

Let's take a listen to one of my recent favorites, Take it All, by Adele.

The verse does indeed tell you the story, and the chorus gives you the theme. When the chorus comes in for the first time, there's a burst of new emotion, like a mini-climax, before we come back down a notch for another verse. The bridge starts around 2:08—this is where you hear things change, and instead of coming back down to the emotional/dynamic level of the verse again, we start another build of emotion. It's not a one-note type of climax, it's a gradual build toward and satisfying release from the point of highest emotional impact. The repetition of the chorus closes the song and drives home the general theme again. Was it as good for you as it was for me? A great song has you yearning for that bridge, for those few bars where it all comes together and makes the hair on your arms stand up.

So let's go one more time. Gravity, by Sara Bareilles, is another song that gives you the same ebb and flow of tension in the alternation of verse and chorus, then knocks your socks off with a great bridge (which starts at 2:25). I dare you to try not to get swept up in the tension. I've listened to this song hundreds of times, and I still take a deep breath at the peak of the bridge, when she sings the word "down," and hold it until she releases. Exquisite.

So what can we take away from this (besides learning of my penchant for soulful female singer-songwriters)?

Instead of a three-act structure, or the linear rise and fall in those old plot charts that seem to turn on a dime at the apex, think of your story as a song, or a series of songs. Tell your story in the verses, intertwined with conflicts that help us understand the overarching themes of your novel (the chorus). Build toward that spine-tingling climax. I want you to take me over the bridge. Give me a few moments to savor the dizzying heights before you wrap me up in another cozy chorus and send me on my way.

You can use this structure on both a micro and macro level to weave a story rich with tension and emotion that reaches nearly addictive highs. If you can do that, you'll have me coming back for more of your product again, and again, and again...

What other aspects of songwriting can you apply to fiction? What songs intoxicate YOU with their emotion and powerful storytelling?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Confessions of a NaNo Newbie

by R.C. Lewis

Okay, I admit it. I've never done NaNoWriMo before, and I never thought I would. I have reasons, though.

November 2009: I joined my first online writers' community on November 1st. I'm sure I heard about it at some point that month, but I was still getting my bearings and trying to figure out what to do with my one finished manuscript.

November 2010: When the month came around, I was on the homestretch of the third novel in my little trilogy, and my goal was to finish the draft before Thanksgiving. (I met that goal with days to spare—go, me!) I also started drafting snippets of my next project near the beginning of the month. I figured I was busy and motivated enough without official NaNo-ness.

October 2011: I registered an account on the NaNo website. Why now?

Confession #1: So far, I'm finding it's pretty much the same as my usual writing pace. I'm even ahead of the curve right now. (I know! It's only the second week—still plenty of time for me to crash.) So it's not the "fire under the butt" aspect that made me join up this year.

Confession #2: When I saw the ready-made stats and graph provided on the website, I had to say, "Be still, my math-geeking heart!" But if I wanted to, I could set the same thing up in Excel. In fact, I probably will. So it's not that.

Confession #3: It's not even the much-reputed camaraderie. I'm reasonably social in small-to-medium groups, whether in real life or online. I only get into something involving a really large group for specific reasons. My existing writerly support systems (ahem—AgentQuery Connect) are comfortable and sufficient. When I'm really rolling on a writing project, I just want to roll.

All right, already—so why did I give into peer pressure and join NaNo this year?

License to experiment.

This annual "special occasion" for writerdom let me give myself permission to take one month off from my usual fare and try something different—in my case, YA Contemporary rather than something in the speculative fiction realm. Is it something I would ever want to query and/or publish? Maybe not. (Of course, you never know.) But I'm stretching myself in a different direction, playing with new elements, which is a lot of fun.

Maybe during another year's NaNo, I'll try writing a non-YA novel. Maybe a mystery. Maybe I'll dive into a more complicated narrative structure. Maybe something that hasn't occurred to me as any kind of possibility yet.

What drew you to NaNoWriMo? If you're not into NaNo, what kinds of out-of-the-box experimentation do you hope to have the guts to try someday?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Listmaker, Listmaker, Make Me A List

by Mindy McGinnis

I’m slightly OCD. It’s one of the qualifications for librarianship.

OK, not really, but I find that the hyper-responsibility side effects are valuable in all three venues of my life—home, work, and writing career.

I could spend every hour of each day on one of these aspects, but that would mean the other two falter and die. The first type of death means that no one in my household eats or has clean clothes. The second would translate into a pile of books on the bookcart and hundreds of cranky, panicked teenagers. The third means no forward motion towards my goal of publication. None. No new blog posts, no networking tweets, no AQC downtime, and definitely no additional word count on the WIP.

None of these things are acceptable.

So I give a little to all three each day, and the only way to keep myself straight on what needs to be done is by taking a very simple, yet highly effective time-management step. I make lists.

I use a Stickies program on my laptop to manage my three-ring circus. The yellow sticky lists my household duties for the day, which I try to manage one thing at a time. Monday is vacuuming, Tuesday dusting, dishes are done every other day and laundry waits for the weekend. The pink sticky directs my attention to the most pressing needs in the workplace, listed by priority. The wall above my desk serves as a big-picture amalgamation of stickies telling me what needs to be accomplished long term.

Interesting genetic factoid: my sister (also a co-worker) pointed out that the wall above our Dad’s desk at the homestead looks exactly the same.

And lastly, my green sticky tells me what I need to be doing in writing-career land. And it doesn’t say—HEY YOU! WRITE A BOOK! There are many ways to keep the literary brain cranking, and I need quiet and uninterrupted stretches of time to nail down that WIP.

So what does the green sticky say?

It has links to various web pages that are helping me out with my research, so that I can easily hit up information during short downtimes. There are reminders about critiques that I need to get back to betas, ideas for blog posts, names of people I want to contact for interviews, and titles of books that I want to read and review.

Sounds like a lot, but all of those little steps are furthering me down the path of my writing career, and they can be addressed during the brief moments during the day that chance sometimes allots to me. I guess in the end that’s the secret to my time-management; knowing to address the little goals during little moments, and constantly reminding myself that the big goal for the evening is to crack out another 1k.

The other secret isn’t such a secret—don’t be lazy.

Sure, I’d rather watch Firefly reruns sometimes, but I’m reminded of a sports t-shirt I had in high school that read—“Whenever you are not practicing, somewhere, your opponent is, and when you meet, s/he will win.”

I might not actually wear a t-shirt that says, “Somewhere another writer wants to watch Firefly too, but they’re writing instead. And they’re published.”

But you get the idea.

Friday, November 4, 2011

eBook Cover Design

by Calista Taylor

More and more authors are turning to e-publishing as a way to build a platform and get their works read. Whether you're publishing a short story or a full length novel, your cover will often make or break you.

A graphic artist can certainly help you get a great cover, but if it's not in your budget, then you can always make your own. There are a few basics which can help you make an awesome cover, but the most important will be a sense of adventure—that means you can't be scared to experiment.

Here are a few tips to get you started. Remember, these are the basics for an eBook cover, not a print cover. Also ... a bit of a disclaimer. I've learned how to make eBook covers by experimenting, and am completely self-taught. But hey, if I can do it, then so can you!

Getting Started
  • You'll need a graphic design program. There are several free programs available, such as Gimp and I personally like using Photoshop, but it's an expensive program, though it will offer you the most options, especially regarding brushes (kind of like a stencil). One option is to pick up a used copy via Craigslist or eBay (I know I've seen them there, though I'm not sure of the legality of reselling the software), and there are also student versions of the program available. One more thing ... there are often 30-90 day trials of software.
  • Determine the "feel" you want for your cover—does it feel modern, edgy, romantic, sweet, dark, etc. It will be a lot easier to find images with the right feel versus trying to find the exact image that you have in mind.
  • You'll need to find some stock photos. Make sure you check the copyright regulations of the image you plan on using. There are stock photo sites, but prices can vary. I've found BigStockPhoto to be very reasonable. Also DeviantArt has a stock photo section (be sure to check each artist's rules for use), and some artists have pre-made backgrounds available for use (search pre-made background). Flickr is another great option, and has an advance search option for photos that are part of Creative Commons.
  • Pinpoint your genre and then investigate what the covers for that genre look like. Your cover should immediately bring to mind your genre. It's not that you can't stray from the norm, since you obviously want your cover to stand out, but readers need to easily identify the genre of your book at a quick glance.
  • Take the time to look at covers and see what works and what doesn't. When looking at these covers, really look. Look at the font, the position of the various elements, any effects used, the perspective of the images and how they relate to each other.
  • Play around with the program you'll be using to familiarize yourself with the basics. If you're not sure how to do something, use the help feature. YouTube also has some excellent tutorials. And don't forget to right click on items, since they will often bring up a completely different menu option, depending on the program.
  • Remember, any images, fonts, etc. will need to translate when viewed as a thumbnail, and will also need to look good when viewed in grey scale (for e-ink readers).
The Basics
  • Your image size can vary a bit, but I usually set my size to 6.6" x 9.5" and my resolution to 300 pixels/inch. As a side note, many like to use the size best suited to an iPad screen, which is 768 x 1024 ppi. To me it feels a bit narrow, and I like having the extra space my size gives me.
  • "Cut out" whatever images you will be using. These can be saved as a .png in order to give them a transparent background. When using an image, make sure the image size isn't too small, since that can lead to fuzzy and pixelated images (usually anything over 800x800 is ok).
  • Start to layer your images. Each image or effect should be on a different layer so that you can adjust the opacity (and/or fill) of each layer. By varying the opacity, you can start to blend the images so that they don't feel like they're sitting there separate from each other.
  • Pick a font (copyright free) that will once again give you a sense of the genre or story. This font will also need to easy to read in a thumbnail. To make the letters "pop" and standout against the background, use the drop shadow option, and adjust it so that it spreads behind the letters to give them a backdrop.
  • When layering and picking images, keep in mind the perspective of the images in relation to each other. It's too easy to have people floating around a cover.
  • Draw a reader's attention by using a bold graphic or a bright color.
  • If available to you, use brushes (they act like stencils) to add little details to your cover. These little details will help your cover look more polished. A variety of free brushes can be found once again at DeviantArt.
  • Once you're ready to upload your completed book cover, save it one last time (under a different file name) and change the ppi to 75. This will ensure that your file isn't too large for uploads and downloads. The reason to work in the higher ppi is because you'll retain a clear image if you're decreasing the ppi, where as if you ever need a higher ppi, you will not get a clear image if you try to increase the ppi from a smaller number.
  • As a side note, I also like to add the book cover as the first page of my manuscript before I save, format and convert it for uploading. Since some e-readers don't show the book cover, posting your book cover image as the first page gives the reader the chance to visually remember your cover and story.
I do hope you'll give it a try. Like most things, it'll take a bit of experimenting and even some not quite so successful attempts before you get the hang of it, but I promise, once you start to get comfortable with the programs and techniques, you'll be amazed at what you can do.

Have you tried to make your own eBook cover? Do you have any tips or recommendations?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

By Darke Conteur

Ever had that dream where you're late for your exam and you jump out of bed, run to school, only to arrive within the last few minutes? Then the bell goes off and everyone looks back at you. It's then, you look down and realize you forgot to get dressed and you're butt naked?

Yeah, we've all had that dream. It alerts us to something in our lives that we're stressing on. Most of the time it's something small, but even the smallest of problems can feel like a great weight on our shoulders.

Writing comes with its fair share of anxiety. From the moment we decide to write that novel, we're bombarded with self-doubt about or skill, the story, or how it will be received. Sometimes before we've written the first word! It's human nature to have these doubts, but it's how we deal with them that's the real test. Every writer has had moments when they feel their world has crashed down around them. Something's gone wrong, and it feels like your career has ended before it's begun. Before you throw in the towel and declare you passion dead, take a deep breath. It may not be as bad as you think.

We strive so hard to put out a perfect product, and when we see a flaw in our work—no matter how small—we take it as a black mark on our accomplishments, but is it really? Some problems can be fixed, so swallow your embarrassment and fix them. Having a 'do-over' is nothing to be ashamed about. People will not think any less of you. Just the opposite. Seeing the mistakes and correcting them means you take pride in your work, and there's nothing wrong with that. Other things may be out of your control, leaving you to do nothing more but chalk them up as a life-lesson and move on. You've done your best and that's what matters.

Sweating the small stuff only causes embarrassing underarm stains and wrinkles.