Walking the tightrope

There’s a tightrope every author walks these days, whether they admit it or not. It’s not new. It is probably as old as that first storyteller sitting around the fire entertaining the family or tribe. It is that line between entertainment and message and how much of one spoils the other. It is an issue that has taken on a life of its own of late as some people tell us we have to have a checklist of characters in our work so that everyone who might read it feels included. Others tell us that if you aren’t of the same sex/race/gender identification/whatever as your main characters, you can’t write the story. Then some tell us we shouldn’t read an entire group of authors — for a year or forever — because they are male or for some other reason.

But, as I said, that’s nothing new. It has just taken on a life of its own in this day of instant communication. The internet has given us all a voice and some are more circumspect about what they say, where they say it and how it might impact not only those they are attacking but others as well.

The result of this is that the balance pole writers used to have as they crossed the crevice on the tightrope has been removed. We are being forced to do our best Wallenda Family imitation and, I’ll tell you here and now, it isn’t easy and there are times when you ask yourself if it is worth it. Fortunately, for myself at least, when I get to that point, someone shows up with a PM on Facebook or through email to ask when my next book is coming out because they enjoy my work.

And yet the uncertainty lingers.

I ran into this tightrope without knowing it when I wrote Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1). I found some of those who read the book, a very small minority, had issues with it because the main character. Not because Ashlyn Shaw was a Marine. Not even because she was female but because she was a female Marine in battle. These readers’ concerns would have had merit if the book was set today and on this planet. But the novel is set far away from Earth and at a time in the distant future. Powered battle armor assists every Marine, as do implants that enhance the Marines. But all they saw was a woman in combat and they instantly thought I was trying to signal some sort of message.

I wasn’t. Far from it, in fact. I was simply writing the story that had come to me. Fortunately, when I spoke with those who had the issue about the differences between combat now and in the book, most admitted they had not thought about the differences between combat now and combat in the future. With that in mind, they reconsidered their objections to the book.

This isn’t the fault of readers. At least not as far as I’m concerned. It is the fault of certain publishers and authors who have decided it is their job to educate the reading public by hitting them over the head with message instead of subtly weaving their message into the story. As an author, we shouldn’t have to worry about successfully completing the checklist of characters and issues covered in our books for those books to be considered readable. Yes, we can do all that and make certain people in our industry happy but, if the book doesn’t entertain, what’s the point? A boring book, a book that makes readers feel they are being lectured to, won’t sell. As an indie author, that is the curse of death. As a traditionally published author, it might take a bit longer but, sooner or later, the publisher will cut you loose because you aren’t making them money.

The fallout is that now readers flinch at the first sign of what might be a message, whether it is or not. That is a shame because they see what looks like a signal from the author and quit reading right there. How many good books are missed as a result?

Is such a response reasonable? I don’t know. I know I’ve been guilty of it and have realized it only after others I respect and who share a similar taste in reading to me have said I really needed to give a book a second chance. When I have, I’ve realized I did the author a disservice by not reading further to see if what I thought was a trigger was merely a plot device or, in one particular case, a red herring.

In another, I initially put the book down because I did think it was pushing a Feminist agenda. Then others I know read it and started talking about it in ways that made me wonder if I had misjudged. So I went back day before yesterday and started reading it again. When I did, I fully expected to react exactly as I had the first time. To my surprise, I didn’t. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe I was in a different head space than I had been the first time I tried. Maybe it was because I wasn’t in the middle of trying to write a book. Whatever it was, as I read, I knew I had been wrong.

The book wasn’t promoting some Feminist agenda. It wasn’t a “sisters, we must unite against the evil men” sort of book. It was, in fact, a Regency in space.

Oh, I can see how some people could think differently because, at first glance, I did as well. But all this book actually did was take the same basic plot elements we have seen time and time again — and there is nothing wrong with that because there are no new plots. What is new is how the author deals with those point — and switched the sexes out. It isn’t the first time it has been done, nor will it be the last.

If the book at been about the male spacer who had been estranged from his family for years being called home by the dowager mother to do his duty and rescue the ditzy younger sister who had wound up getting herself kidnapped, I wouldn’t have blinked twice the first time I tried to read the book. After all, I’ve read that sort of plot time and time and time again. But this time, it was the daughter who was the spacer and estranged from her family. Her proud father — is he sexist? Probably, but he read more as someone used to being in control and now isn’t and he is reacting badly to his new situation. — calls her home and has to admit, much to his chagrin, that her brother is not only a fool but has managed to get himself kidnapped and now daddy dearest needs the renegade daughter to do her duty to her family and try to rescue her brother.

Same plot, just different genders.

And, again, not new.

It is just that, in this day and age when we are being hit over the head with message fiction and being told we need it so we will learn to be better people, a lot of readers are gun shy. They see something that might not be there simply because they have been hit in the head too many times. As I said, I’ve been guilty of it. Now I need to remember what that feels like as a writer and try to give the author a chance, especially if that author is being published by a house I trust.

I’ve been thinking about this a great deal the last 24 hours or so. How do we avoid this pitfall some in traditional publishing have put in our path? I’m not sure. All I do know is I have to remember that it is a tightrope but there is solid land on the other side of crevice and I can and will make it there. So, too, will I as a reader. I just have to step carefully, keep my eyes and ears open and remember not to close my mind.

And hope a great big gust of wind doesn’t come along and blow me off.

To help anchor against that wind, I will keep writing and, sigh, keep promoting my work. Yes, sigh. I suck at the self-promotion bit. But Sarah and the others tell me I have to do it so, here it is.

Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) is currently available for pre-order. Publication date is April 18th.

War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.

Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.

 Nocturnal Challenge (Nocturnal Lives Book 4).

The one thing Lt. Mackenzie Santos had always been able to count on was the law. But that was before she started turning furry. Now she finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy to keep the truth from the public-at-large. She knows they aren’t ready to learn that monsters are real and they might be living next door.

If that isn’t enough, trouble is brewing among the shapeshifters. The power struggle has already resulted in the kidnapping and near fatal injury of several of Mac’s closest friends. She is now in the middle of what could quickly turn into a civil war, one that would be disastrous for all of them.

What she wouldn’t give to have a simple murder case to investigate and a life that didn’t include people who wanted nothing more than to add her death to the many they were already responsible for.

For a change of pace, if you enjoy a little bit of romance with your suspense, or a little bit of suspense with your romance, check it outSlay Bells Ring.

Fifteen years ago, Juliana Grissom left Mossy Creek in her rear view mirror. She swore then she would never return for more than a day or two at a time. But even the best laid plans can go awry, something she knew all too well, especially when her family was involved.

Now she’s back and her family expects her to find some way to clear her mother of murder charges. Complicating her life even further is Sam Caldwell, the man she never got over. Now it seems everyone in town is determined to find a way to keep her there, whether she wants to stay or not.

Bodies are dropping. Gossip is flying and Juliana knows time is running out. After all, holidays can be murder in Mossy Creek.




So long…

“He told me how long it was, but honestly it didn’t feel half as long as he’d claimed.”

“Too much of a good thing can drive you crazy.”

“There’s no such thing as too much.”

Perhaps the last is true of chocolate. Or bacon. These are experiments I am willing (for science, of course) to try. Too much money, is at least for me, an impossible paradox. Give me as much as the whole US national debt this morning and I could still ride a camel through the eye of a needle by tonight. Or at least, by next week. I am a sort anti-financial genius. I have volunteered my services (for a fee, natch) to various financial institutions. But no, instead of paying me a mere pittance and profiting and growing rich by doing the opposite of what I tell ‘em, they continue blindly on their disastrous course.

But of course, what I am talking about is books. How could you possibly have thought otherwise?

Now, I am not the only reader out there who has read the appendix and checked earnestly to see if perhaps one page at the end has stuck to another.

I’m probably not the only reader here who has read till 4 AM to finish a book he just couldn’t put down (if I am, what the hell are you all doing here? This is a writer’s site. If you’ve never loved a book that much, you shouldn’t be wanting to write one.).

The issue, from, a writer’s perspective, is just how long should a book be?

The length of itself, naturally (and the tears of it are wet). Seriously, that actually is the right answer: different stories take… as long as they take to tell, well. They are what they are. Stretching them or shrinking them is always at a cost. Sometimes that is a price the writer has to pay (there are better and worse ways of doing both but that’s a topic for another post. There’s a definite connection between the skill of the author and their ability to sustain an audience for very long books. Aside from anthing else, they get confusing. Very short, on the other hand, requires even more skill if anything. That’s why short stories are hard – you’re often trying to do what would be done across a whole novel, setting, character development, plot, action in a few thousand words. Most shorts don’t really succeed that well at all of the above, because it is a tough task. If the author has a choice, I’d plump for somewhere in the middle, myself. The sweet spot… from 40K to around 120K (as the actress said to the bishop, I have big sweet spot).

Historically, of course, things were considerably more constrained, in paper, than they are as e-books. Firstly, there was literally the cost of the paper, and shipping. On a 1500 page goat-gagger that could add up. And secondly… which I know all too well about, the mental toll for a 300K book is far higher than for three 100K books. They are harder to write well. That’s a lot of time, and lot of focus and a lot to keep in the little furry monkey’s wooly pate at the same time. And, to add insult to injury, they pay pretty much what one 100K book does.

Still: some stories demand a long book – or series of books. They have their fans. Many of us, myself included, like going back to a universe and story that we loved. This may be very different as a writer. The reader spends days, at most, in the books – the writer may well have spent years. I’m pretty sure there are a lot of polite authors out there when asked when they’ll be writing the next XYZ… will manage not to say ‘when hell freezes over’ (is hell exothermic or endothermic?) – but you can judge by the non-appearance of the sequel…

However, there is something which needs be seriously considered here: and that is the price. With a big fat book, or series telling the same story, in paper, well, there was something of a perception of value, especially for voracious readers. A _little_ extra could be got away with. Too short and too thin would be ‘punished’ by buyers. For some time quick buck artists made some extra on e-books – particularly scamming the KU system, by basically publishing chapters as serial-books, but now that that has been fixed – it’s kind of back down to perceived value.

It’s quite hard for the reader to perceive a difference in value of a download… be it 1000K or 50K. Yes, on reading it, they may discover that was great value for money (or berate you because they think it wasn’t. I’ve had that for $2.99 novella.) Yes, there is a size estimate. But in real terms, buyers don’t notice this.

So how much price elasticity is there on size? Is it: (as the bishop said to the actress) worth more if is a bit bigger. Or (as actress said to the bishop) are they all pretty much the same? Is there a ‘sweet spot’ for readers? Does it intersect with the one for writers? Do readers even consider length when looking at price?

Numbers I wish someone would do. Perhaps Natalie Luhrs – who seems to have ample free time — could do it. She’s copped some stick for doing a spreadsheet on their annual Hugo slate…. Sorry, recommended reading list from Locust… uh Locus. Personally I think doing numbers is a great idea, but then, I am biased. I’m not interested enough to comment, or comment on ‘all the usual suspects’ on Locus, but I will point out that she is missing the crucial data – what is the actual make-up of the readership? Without knowing that, the writers may realistically represent the demographic of readers – or may be far more skewed.

Now, there is no reason why the demographics of English sf/fantasy readers (and therefore writers, and therefore recommended books in a fair listing) in the US should not broadly reflect the demographics of literate English reading Americans. That would apply to race AND religion AND sex AND politics AND orientation (not just what was convenient to your argument). It would logically be different in smaller ‘specialist’ sub-genres – you would expect a different demographic from say Military sf or Gay Paranormal Romance (and yes, such sub-genre ID is valuable if it helps match readers to books.) Of course we have no real idea if it does, which renders her work rather futile.

I suspect that there are historical factors and perceptions to be dealt with, and the key is building additional readership in underserved areas, instead of losing it in successful areas, in the hope of gaining something else. FWIW, I would guess that women buy more traditionally published fantasy (which outsells sf) and men more sf. On current readership, my feeling is that yes, women are probably under-represented in the Locus list. I’m not sure why, although one cannot rule out historical cohorts or the Bumiputera effect, as well as simple bias. Last time I looked there were substantively more new female entrants to the traditional publishing fold, than male.

Both sf and fantasy, in traditional publishing, are in a steep decline and have been on a downhill curve for quite some time. One of the sensible measures (if I was in Traditional publishing) I would to start looking at is who buys what – and who doesn’t (which I think would be a cheap survey to run, really), and who in that English reading, literate demographic, and is missing across all the fields that I mentioned above.

But I don’t think they – or Natalie, would enjoy the answer.

However, if not asked, it’s one of those questions that will answer itself in Indy.

It’s not always the medicine that tastes great that’s good for you.  Facts are worth exploring even if they don’t appeal.


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Clutter and Creativity

Habits normally take about two weeks of constant doing to form. Unfortunately, they don’t take that long to break… including writing every day. This house-buying and move has given me a valuable opportunity to experience that from the inside…

How many of you need a level of cleanliness, or for the clutter to be below a dull roar, in order to create? I was rather disconcerted (okay, I was flat out frustrated) to find I could not cook in the kitchen once it achieved a certain level of clutter. None of the individual elements were insurmountable – stacks of moving boxes on their side, leaning in the way, half-packed box on the table, everything out of a closet and piled on the floor, stacks of packed boxes blocking the deep freezer door. But I walked into the kitchen, past a certain point, and my brain went “Augh! No! Cannot work here!” If I wanted to cook, I had to clean and move things until my elbows did not hit not-kitchen objects when turning around.

Similarly, once the office devolved into a staging area, all my writing stopped. Moving into the new house, until the office actually began to resemble an office, It felt like I was trying to pull out fingernails as well as fiction.

My darling husband, on the other hand, has no stress about the clutter at all. He’s been rather bemused at my reaction, then took it with a shrug. “When you work in refugee camps, you can’t afford to let the external chaos swamp you.” Though, once the living room had four bookcases filled with books, neatly alphabetized, and the couch and recliner arranged around them and the fireplace, he did walk in the door, smile, and say “It looks like home!”

It’s not just me: J.L. Curtis, of the Grey Man series, also moved recently, and once everything was unboxed and in its place, the pictures were hung, and the paperwork sorted, he started writing again. Or, ah, “Sorry I never turned up for coffee. I got sidetracked by writing!” (Always the perfect writer excuse.)

There’s a happy medium. The beautiful Mrs. Correia warned me years ago that once my writer was happy enough to create, I was going to be lucky to get two weeks between books to work on the last of the moving boxes.

How much clutter can you stand before you can’t create?

And more importantly, how do you deal with it and restart?


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The Art of Design, Part II

I started this last week as a way of passing on the material I’d recently learned in a design class. Although much of this is quite broadly applicable, we indie authors can take it and use it for book covers, promotional materials, ads, and more. Even if we’re not doing the design work, the principles here will help us better understand how to ask someone else to make magic happen.

The Rule of Thirds is usually applied to photography, but it works with any visual image. If you want to add interest to your layout, don’t center the main focal point. By offsetting the focus, you draw the attention more naturally to the main object of the picture. “Two distinct, equal lights, should never appear in the same picture : One should be principal, and the rest sub-ordinate, both in dimension and degree : Unequal parts and gradations lead the attention easily from part to part, while parts of equal appearance hold it awkwardly suspended, as if unable to determine which of those parts is to be considered as the subordinate.” John Thomas Smith, writing in 1797 to first enunciate the concept. It’s been around for a while.

One of important rule of composition in photography is 'Third Rule'.

One of important rule of composition in photography is ‘Third Rule’.

The Gutenberg Diagram does a similar thing, but with text. The concept is to describe the pattern a reader’s eyes take when presented with evenly distributed information. If you divide your page into four imaginary quarters, the eye will begin at the top left, drift across the page, diagonally back to the left, and finally to the bottom corner. If you’re laying out, say, the back cover of a book, or a postcard, this can be very useful in telling you where to put the vital pieces of information, and which areas are less likely to be noted by the reader. gutenbergdiagram

When you’re putting text elements on a cover, in addition to the rule of thirds and Gutenberg diagram, you want to keep Proximity in mind. It seems obvious – the closer two things are spatially, the more they are related – but it makes a difference. If I’m going to have a title, my name, and ‘author of Pixie Noir’ on a cover, where do I put that last element? What about “Five Space Opera Tales”? If I reversed those and put the ‘author of Pixie Noir’ next to the title instead of my name, it could be confusing. warp resonance cover

This handsome cover (Ok, OK, I’m biased. But it’s a handy prop) also shows propositional density. Propositional density is the amount of data a design is conveying. Designs which have more density are more interesting than designs which are very simple. There’s a fine line here, you don’t want it to become cluttered. But you can say a lot with iconic representation – I have a space ship, so that’s science fiction, and the red white and blue seems obvious (although it’s not actually part of the stories in an implicit way). The art doesn’t have to be highly detailed, relatively simple elements can be rich with meaning on a subconscious level.

The next principle I’m going to talk about is somewhat tricky. It’s related to branding, which you should be doing for yourself and your books, and it’s called the Exposure effect. The idea here is that a concept people are neutral on, or even lightly negative toward – will through repeated exposure become more likeable. The reason it’s tricky for Indie Authors is that we all know that one person who never does anything except blare ‘buy my book!’ on social media. Instead, this is about making people familiar with you in positive ways. The strongest effects are seen with pictures, meaningful words (buy my book would not seem to be the right ones here), names (you! and not Author Jane Doe, no, make YOUR name the one people recognize), and logos. How many of us can instantly recognize a Baen Rocket on a shelf full of spines and gravitate toward that book? However, be aware that the exposure effect can be overdone and it will bore people and weaken if it is repeated too often. Which means you need fresh material to put in front of the readers, whether it’s new promo, ads, books, or just blog posts.

While you are exposing yourself (heh! No, not like that!) you should keep the performance load in mind. “The greater the effort to accomplish a task, the less likely the task will be accomplished successfully.” (Universal Principles of Design) In other words, people are seeing your stuff and they like it. How easy is it for them to actually give you money? Do you have a clickable link that takes them to a buy button? Are there clear places on your blog where folks can select and purchase your work? If they look for you on Amazon, is all your work in one place with a clearly recognizable you in the Author Page? You wouldn’t believe how difficult it can be to make sure you’re tracking down the right person, with the right books, from people who really ought to know better. Keep in mind that humans, like water and electricity, follow the path of least resistance. Make it easy, or leave money on the table.

Oh, and don’t forget that the picture really is worth a thousand words. I know it sounds trite. But the Picture Superiority Effect is well documented, and it makes a big difference when people are looking for you. People remember that logo, or photo, or book cover, when the words that accompanied it have long faded from memory.

And finally, since I promised, homework.

I’ve been debating what to give you all that isn’t too terribly hard, doesn’t require website design (not for the faint of heart) and will be immediately useful.


So here’s what I want you to do. In the program you’re most comfortable with, be it GIMP, Photoshop, or what-have-you, lay out a 4×6″ postcard. You should use book covers for the graphics, a logo if you have one, and just enough words to ease the performance load. Keep the visual principles, and the Gutenberg diagram, in mind. Also, you want to keep your legibility of any text high, and the signal-to-noise ratio low. I’m going to suggest you create and add a QR code to the postcard as well. It’s your choice if you want to do front and back, or just front. Save it as a jpg or png file, and if you want to send it to me, I’ll put them up next week for open critique (and not coincidentally, promote you as well). If you don’t feel like public critique, don’t send them! But do follow along to learn how to make yours better.

The last postcard I did, a quick piece to promote my best selling series. There's nothing on the back of this one, it was only intended to be handed out at cons.

The last postcard I did, a quick piece to promote my best selling series. There’s nothing on the back of this one, it was only intended to be handed out at cons.




You know, a lot of people talk about the pains of writing a book. The hours of hammering away on the keyboard, the plotting of the world, the developing subplot buried in the plot that you really didn’t mean to have happen but oh it’s so nice to see it work… writing is a challenge, and it’s why events of NaNoWriMo are lauded as a good “check” for aspiring authors. It keeps them writing, which is muy importante.

You know what else is just as important, but not nearly as “cheered on” by the masses? Editing. Yes, that soul-sucking, life crushing time after you’ve completed the novel and you have to go back to the very beginning and ensure that, not only are character names spelled correctly, but also that you have the right characters staying true to their nature. Continuity errors, incorrect phrasings, or just plain old bad English (‘murica) seem to plague your novel. Nobody celebrates that time when the writer begins to edit. More often than not, other writers shake their heads and say “Oh, that sucks.”

Why is that, though? Why do we get to have a NaNoWriMo and not a NaDecEdMo? Because NOBODY wants to be that butthead who is celebrating an author who is gutting their baby.

That’s what editing is, in a nutshell. It’s taking out that precious baby of yours and changing it, ruthlessly making it better. It’s a rough, rough time for an author when this is going on. The author is feeling insecure about their novel as is, and now they have to look at it with a critical eye. That cute scene that you really liked but now doesn’t really fit into the story as much? Gutted like a day old fish on Market Street. The romance you thought was budding and subtle? Ei! Hakkaa päälle!

I’m in the middle of editing Kraken Mare right now, and it’s rough. My coauthor and I wrapped up the novel just the other day and, instead of my usual waiting period of two weeks to begin the painful editing process, I decided to jump right into it. And right off the bat I’m finding stuff that is causing me to roll my eyes. It’s hard to admit, but some things in the beginning just don’t work. So… snip snip, as the doctor says to the new parents.

…I really need to work on my metaphors some more. Ouch.

There is a reason the author edits, though, instead of relying solely on that overworked and underpaid editor at the publisher’s office. One, it’s rather rude to try and force someone to decipher precisely what you were trying to say and do. Two, the editor doesn’t always know which direction the story is going while they’re trying to match the flow of it with the necessary continuity changes. I can see some poor editor banging their head on the desk, muttering “Jupiter or Saturn, you schmuck… Argh!”

In hindsight, I now understand why most editors who have been in the business for more than fifteen years are oftentimes hard drinkers.


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Hugo Category Highlight: Best Graphic Story


Best Graphic Story A science fiction or fantasy story told in graphic form, such as a comic book, graphic novel, or webcomic.

This one is nice and simple as a category. The problem here is the spoiled for choice issue. There are so many good options. This is one of the reasons I’ve largely not added much to the list in any categories.

Seriously, how do you pick the best from this lot? There’s the consistently brilliant:

  • Schlock Mercenary
  • Girl Genius (I gather the creators have more or less permanently withdrawn themselves from consideration so someone else can win it, they’re that good)
  • Freefall

The intermittently wonderful:

  • Sluggy Freelance (Sluggy depends a lot on which plot arc you’re dealing with – and honestly, I don’t think any of the 2015 arcs were particularly outstanding. I still haven’t recovered from the magnificence that was the Dimension of Pain invasion of the Dimension of Lame.)
  • Evil Inc (although I’m not a fan of any of the 2015 arcs)

The moments of genius:

  • Doc Rat (often descends into really bad puns but then there are arcs that are just… brilliant)
  • Earthsong (which has a unique concept and has so far pulled out several twists I didn’t see coming)
  • The Zombie Hunters (again, has had a number of very good arcs including at least one in 2015)

And that’s just a short list from some of the webcomics I follow. It doesn’t touch manga or comic books or graphic novels or… Yeah. There’s a ton of it out there, a huge collection of it independent or non-traditional. I also didn’t mention the utterly weird but often brilliant webcomics I follow because most of those are the kind of thing you either fall for or loathe on sight.

I’m sure for the Retros there are some classic DC, Marvel, Disney and other comics that would hit the eligibility period (and probably even more that are pure unadulterated crappy propaganda. I have standards damn it. If I’m going to be fed propaganda, I want good propaganda. Well-written, with messages that don’t smack me around the head but creep in under the skin. How hard is… Oh, nevermind.)

If you haven’t already, or if you have and have more to add, drop your recommendations in here

Obligatory warning message: I will be closing the site to recommendations at the end of February. Don’t be left out!

Obligatory warning message 2: It might be too late to sign up to nominate, but you can still sign up to vote!

Obligatory warning message 3: kjmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmjhuuuuuuuuuuu (Beware the kitten-berserker whowq2 mmmmmmmmmm walks on keyboards)


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Steal It Like It’s Hot

I have a confession to make.  I do art like I write.  Mostly by my toes or something.  It’s not an entirely rational process, and the advantages of doing it electronic is that I can move things around until it “clicks” and this process sometimes takes years.

Which is fine, except of course in covers I don’t have years.  I don’t have years when doing a cover for a client (look, at least I don’t make their books look literary) and even when I start the cover for myself when I first write the book, it’s not that long till I need a DECENT cover either.


So I remembered an adage from when I was first learning to write and plot was a foreign concept.  (Things happened, mind.  Or as a friend writing his first book put it “when I don’t know what they should do I take them shopping or get them drunk.”  Which is fine, but is not a plot.  In my case my characters took a lot of strolls through the woods and cooked a lot.  And there was the book (never to be published) in which the characters drank so many cups of coffee that the entire book should take place in the bathroom.)

The adage is “steal the element you don’t have naturally.”  Because at the time I couldn’t even “see” plot, the best I could do was diagram a book’s plot and then replace the “hits” of that plot with mine.  It worked, and we call it my first published novel.  (Ill Met By Moonlight.)

So, faced with the bewildering array of cover possibilities and the fact that they signal genre and subgener and sometimes I don’t even know the genre or subgenre or if I do I don’t pick up all the signals (fact.  Bought three books this week without glancing at the cover.  Bought on title, author name and blurb.  (Well, in two cases, in the third I didn’t know the author.  I’m halfway through the book — have been reading in five minute segments, or so — and it’s d*mn good.)

When Amanda asked me to redo the covers for her Nocturnal series because the signaling has changed (and everyone has gotten better at covers, upping everyone’s game) I was a little flummoxed because I only read Urban Fantasy occasionally and it can be years between a bout of binge UF reading.  (I’m actually like that with everything.  I read all genres, but not at the same time.)

So I hadn’t looked at any new covers.  I asked her what series was most like hers, out today.

She gave me three series and I looked at the covers.  Since I was also looking at images she’d selected, I had to figure out how I was going to process the image (I have filter forge.  Buy it.  Best thing evah.  I can, if you wish, next week, do a post just showing transformations.)

I don’t remember why now (it’s been months.  I’ve slept since then) but at the time I eliminated two of the series’ covers.  Either because there was no way I could make her images work, or because I didn’t have fonts I could approximate to theirs.  (I am not allowed to have Adobe products on my system, and I actually agree with it, since they gum up everything.  And their new “rental” system is a pain because if you stop subscribing, you stop having the right to the fonts you already used in covers.  Realistically this means I can’t use the same fonts as publishers, who use Adobe.  At best I can approximate it.)  I have bought a package of something like 1001 fonts.  They’re mostly public domain and/or retired fonts, but they are very useful.  Yeah, I could have got similar with dafont, but think of the time it would take me, and this only cost like $30 to have all of them at my fingertips.  Periodically if I need something very specialized I go to dafont and others and get one or two for a job.

So the covers I settled on “stealing” were the Jane Yellowrock series covers.  And before you say “Ah, you stole them!” — not in any copyrightable way.  Only insofar as it has the same general design “touch/feel.”

Jane Yellow Rock

Note the not quite but almost monochromatic feel of the book — the pictures Amanda had sent me (which she’d bought) were not that monochromatic but more realistic.  (And btw, they’re not scenes from the book, just an attractive model with several poses.  Back when she and I were trying to be a lot more realistic, we spent a lot of time trying to find stock photos of policewomen.  Don’t.  JUST DON’T.  Apparently to some people “policewoman” means open top and sexy lingerie, and that’s the BEST we found.)

I actually had to go in search of a filter to give the photo a similar look, but that was fairly well accomplished:


My least satisfactory thing was the font for the author’s name.  It should be blockier.  But it was the only semi-leggy font I had, so it had to do.  It’s “fluffier” than the original and if I stumble on a better font, I might change it (and drive Amanda insane having to put it in again.)  But the rest I more or less stole, and it comes closest to signaling the genre, etc. than anything else I’ve done.

So, if you don’t know how to do it, steal it like it’s hot.

And if someone can identify a look for “historical” and one for “High brow vampire historical semi-erotica” I can stop redoing the covers for the musketeers mysteries and the vampire musketeers.  The second is not up yet and is already giving me cold sweats  And the first has had about five covers and the current ones suck.  (I have new ones ready to go up, but it’s low priority and waiting till I have time to finish the sixth book.)


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