Working with a New Cover Artist

Hello lovelies, today, I deliver my experience working with a new cover artist.

I worked with a cover artist when I first published Catching the Rose in high school (far left). It’s a sweet cover, however, it was too pink and it didn’t feel very modern. Plus, I changed my author brand and wanted to resubmit under the name Belinda Kroll.

When I republished Catching the Rose (middle), I did the new cover work. I also did the original cover for Haunting Miss Trentwood (right). At the time, I thought I was catering to women who preferred sweet romances… Not that you could tell by the covers I created! The original for Catching the Rose was more accurate, but I didn’t have rights to the image for re-publication, unfortunately.

Haunting Miss Trentwood

I’ve known for some time that the covers I created wasn’t getting to my desired audience. I knew this because the Amazon “Customers who bought this item also bought” did not match my expectations. Readers seem to get the gothic part, but not the comedy or light-heartedness of what could have been a very sad, morbid tale.

So here are my tips regarding cover artists…

Know What You Want

Find Examples

Seriously. Don’t commission a cover artist until you have a solid understanding of your genre and audience. Read a lot of books. Collect covers of the books you want to emulate or compete against. I had a secret Pinterest board just for cover art.

Write Good Content

Know how to write compelling back cover copy. I scoured Amazon looking for good descriptions that made me want to read the book. I keep a file of good descriptions. I spent an entire afternoon picking the structure apart so I could replicate the recipe.

Determine Your Distribution

Know where you want to publish your book. If you’re working with print, Amazon’s CreateSpace has different standards than Lightning Source’s IngramSpark. If you’re working with eBook only, that is an important distinction as well.

Find a Cover Artist

Believe it or not, I found my cover artist by looking on the back cover of a book released by a newer member of my writer’s group. I visited her website and looked at every cover she had created. I confirmed she followed the young adult historical trend, but not in a derivative way. I confirmed she understood the genre, young adult historical comedic gothic (say that three times fast). I confirmed she had an online presence (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, any would have worked for me) so I could determine her responsiveness.

Plus, I read in her bio that she lives in my city. I love that! I was so excited to support a local artist. Things you should keep in mind when choosing your cover artist:

  1. Are they design savvy?
  2. Do they understand your genre?
  3. Do they understand your audience?
  4. Are they responsive?
  5. Are they in your budget?

Contact/Commission a Cover Artist

Once I was convinced, I contacted her through her website. This was her preferred method of communication. For the love of all that is efficient, don’t contact your desired cover artist through your preferred contact method. You’ll never get a response and you’ll lose the opportunity. This is a time for the two of you to interview one another. You’re looking for a solid professional relationship, where both parties can commit to a timeline and have explicit expectations about what is required to complete the task.

A professional cover artist, no matter how much they charge for their services, will have a design brief/form for you to fill out. On this form, you will (should) be required to provide:

  • Title / subtitle
  • Author name
  • Tagline
  • Back cover copy
  • Author bio

My cover artist also asked for content ideas. She wanted to know the theme of the story, who the main characters were with generic physical descriptions, any important scenery details*, and any important relationships.

* Haunting Miss Trentwood is an English manor story; we don’t leave the house so it became a feature of the cover.

A professional cover artist will also have a contract for you to sign. This should include all the details of your agreement, including:

  • Deposit/retainer for services
  • Estimated total fee
  • Timeline
  • Who covers cost for stock art
  • How many design hours are included in the base price
  • How many revisions are included
  • What happens if a change request occurs (what constitutes a change request? are there fees associated?)
  • What are the final file formats
  • When/How are the files delivered

Collaborate with Your Cover Artist i.e. Let Them Do Their Job

Now, my cover artist was super fun to work with. I had this idea in my head, and I felt pretty strongly about it. However, I’m a software designer by trade and I know when my client thinks they know what is best… they usually don’t. So I gave her exactly what I thought I wanted, I gave details about wanting silhouettes, a bright cover, a bit of mystery, and some color suggestions. I gave her access to my secret Pinterest board. And then I sat back and waited. Anxiously, like a kid at Christmas told not to touch any of the presents.

She blew me away with her collaboration skills. I approved all silhouettes before they were composed together in the final cover art. I approved the fonts. I approved the color scheme. Then I sat back and waited again for the first draft composition. I basically went with her design with minor tweaks.

The back cover was easier since it’s simpler. I submitted my publisher logo (Bright Bird Press), my author bio and author photo. I like to include my author photo because I write under a pen name and it’s nice to confirm with family and friends that I did, in fact, just publish a book.

You can tell from the before and after that hiring a cover designer is definitely worth it…

If you’ve been on the fence about hiring a cover artist, I encourage you to do your research. Hire someone you can trust. Someone you can collaborate with. Someone who makes you dance with joy when you receive your new cover art!

8 Writing Truths I Learned from the Berenstain Bears

Berenstain_Bears_logo

Apartment Therapy wrote this great blog post about home organization using the Berenstain Bears, which inspired me to write a similar post, but about writing. First off, the Berenstain Bears was a favorite of mine. I loved that the little sister got to do everything the little brother did, and listening to my mother read about the spooky old tree. Let’s take a look at the eight things Apartment Therapy mentioned and see how they apply to writing.

  1. “You really can’t have fun or relax in a room that’s such a terrible mess.” No one likes a messy story. No one can understand a messy story. Take time to put your ducks in a row; know who the characters are, their motivations, and how these motivations conflict against each other to create the plot. Make sure to tie up those loose ends at the end (something I need to work on), and your readers will walk away feeling at peace with your work.
  2. Sometimes, it’s good to get rid of things. Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck had a good thing going for them: they believed in “less is more.” Now, as a historical fiction writer, I do need to go into detail about clothing, furniture, food, etc, to help my reader lose themselves in the era. What’s important about this is knowing which detail is important enough to capture. And when capturing, I need to make certain I’m using the exact descriptive word, rather than relying on weak adverbs.
  3. A place for everything… Don’t throw out a coincidental event simply because the writing is excellent and so you want to keep it in the work. This works in conjunction with #2… it might be a lovely paragraph, but if it’s a deus ex machina, or just doesn’t fit in, then make the tough call and get rid of it. Or save it for another piece.
  4. Make it pretty. This is in regards to self-publishing. Make that interior layout look like the Big-6-published books. Hire a cover designer who takes your work seriously and gives you something that markets your work properly.
  5. Label everything. It drives me nuts when people don’t label who is speaking, and if they do, use descriptors every time. Sometimes, people just say things. “Blah blah blah,” my character said. The word “said” is practically invisible to readers, just like the word “the.” It is appropriate to use and should be used unless it is necessary to point out the character is whispering, crying, or something else.
  6. Pegboards are totally boss. Well, pegboards, pin boards, folders, binders, whatever you use to collect your inspiration. The point is to keep an inspiration file so when you get burned out, or are lost in the weeds, you have something to refresh you and get you back on track.
  7. Have a ‘stuff’ box. I like to keep a file of paragraph snippets that have been cut across my different works. Sometimes I’ll read through it and realize a particular paragraph can be repurposed in a different story. I’ve just cut my work in half!
  8. “A little organization, and a few rules.” When you write a story, you are creating a microcosm that has rules. Stick to them! Don’t let your reader stop and wonder what century they are in by using a modern word when your story is set in 1867 (also guilty of this at times).

That is what I learned from the Berenstain Bears. Do you have any children’s books that inspire you to think again about your writing and publishing process?

Best, Belinda

P.S. Don’t forget about the Belinda’s Birthday Giveaway! 27 free ebooks and audio books as prizes to celebrate my 27th birthday. Not interested? That’s all right, we here at Worderella would appreciate you spreading the word for us. Deadline is midnight on my birthday, August 10.

Indie Methodology

Dear Reader,

Let’s talk about the indie methodology. That is, the method in which an author decides to indie publish. This is largely inspired by Kait Nolan’s recent post about Kickstarter (I’ll admit, my heckles were raised), but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

I realize I am taking a very different path along my indie publishing journey. Let me break down the “traditional indie method” for you, as I understand it.

Author wants to self-publish. Author has little-to-no money, and no followers. Author decides they need to cut corners in self-publishing. How? By releasing to eBook first (or only). Maybe hire an editor. Maybe hire a cover artist. Use free services like Amazon DTP, Smashwords, PubIt. Send out coupons and giveaways to attract readers. Solicit reviews. Attract followers through social networking. Earn money from purchases. Save up to maybe release a print book, set up a micropress, etc. Or not.

This works for many indie publishers like Kait Nolan, Zoe Winters, Susan Bischoff, Amanda Hocking, etc.

It doesn’t work for me. Why? Because I published in high school and made a profit even though I used a vanity service. I continued to write for the next seven years, but put schooling first and didn’t publish.

Now I’m back. I’ve been at this for three concentrated months, and I decided to use Kickstarter to build up venture capital because I intend to indie publish a little differently.

Author wants to self-publish. Author has little-to-no money, and a number of followers. Author has a print book out, and short stories on Scribd. Author wants a micro-press and to dual-release the eBook and print versions. Author needs venture capital. Author applies to Kickstarter to reach new readers, gain support and excitement for new book. Buy ISBNs. Design cover and interior layout. Register micro-press. Use services like Amazon DTP, Smashwords, PubIt, CreateSpace. Send out coupons and giveaways to attract readers. Solicit reviews. Attract followers through social networking. Earn money from purchases.

The process is very similar. But the reason why I’m talking about this is because there was a lot of questions, even negativity, about authors using Kickstarter, as if they were trying to cheat the system. As if they’re clinging to the traditional method of getting an advance and then receiving royalties, etc.

Independent, as I understand it, means to go your own way. Do your own thing. March to the beat of your own drummer. Who cares if I’m using Kickstarter to raise money? Who cares if I decide to go print and eBook, rather than just eBook? As long as I follow through with my promises, it should be all gravy.

I admire and respect Kait, Zoe, Amanda, and Susan. I love what they’re doing for the indie publisher reputation. I’m taking my own spin on the indie publisher’s path, though, because that’s what an independent thinker does.

What am I trying to say? I guess all I’m trying to say is that if you’re deciding to go indie, read up on it. Learn who the big names are, and study how they are doing it. Make note of the methods that will work for you in your situation, and throw the other methods away. The indie world is too small for negativity about how you’re doing things if you’re producing quality work.

All the best,

Belinda

P.S. We made the Kickstarter goal! Huzzah! We’re still accepting pre-orders for Haunting Miss Trentwood through Thursday Oct 14.

Self-Publishers Unite!

As a published author determined to self-publish all future works, I always find it fascinating to read about others’ adventures in the self-publishing world. More people are doing it these days with the help of digital processing, but that doesn’t mean it’s a new trend. Many “established” authors self-published, such as Virginia Woolf.

Where do I begin?

Jumping into the self-publishing realm is not for the faint of heart. In fact, I would do a subsidy/vanity publisher first, just to get your feet wet. Something like Lulu would be a nice start as well, because they walk you through the process.

Once you’re certain you want to self-publish, subscribe to Publetariat. This is a blog peopled by a collection of self-publishers who write about everything, from hand selling your work to finding a good copy editor. They discuss the highs and lows, and provide resources to learn more about self publishing.

Then I would hop over to Dan Poynter’s website, which is chock full of free online resources for publishers.

Start watching Self-Publishing Review to get an idea of the quality people are looking for in terms of good self-published fare.

Listen to The Creative Pen podcasts on “writing, publishing options, internet sales and promotion – for your book.”

Most importantly, keep writing! If you don’t have anything to sell, what’s the point?

How are your projects going?

Have you decided if you want to self-publish, subsidy publish, or go the traditional route? Now that I’ve returned to the blogosphere, what would you like to see me write about?

Lightening Source Publishing

Just for the record, I’m switching my posting schedule to once every two weeks. Hopefully I can keep up with this schedule once school starts again.

I’m getting into the self-publishing gig again, and I’m liking it. Last week, Zoe wrote an article about Lightening Source, which is the best-kept secret in the self-publishing industry, methinks. Zoe has written about this before, but in case you know nothing about Lightening Source, read the article linked at the beginning of this paragraph.

The main points are as follows:

  1. Lightening Source is a print-on-demand printer, not publisher. You maintain all rights, etc, as they only print for you. This is what you think you’re doing with Lulu, right?
  2. Publishing through Lulu is a nice alternative to creating a micro-press, but when it comes down to it, Lulu is using Lightening Source.
  3. All the major publishers use Lightening Source for their back-end printing, why not you?
  4. Lightening Source is cheaper than offset printing.
  5. Lightening Source already has an in with many of the book distributors, so half of your work is done for you!

Has anyone had experience with Lightening Source? My Worderella on Writing book is through Lulu, and while the quality is nice and I was pleased with how easy it was to create, I have to admit I want more control. May stick to using Lulu for small projects, and then use Lightening Source for actual novels.

For those of you not interested in self-publishing, what do you think about this?

Contest Winner

Don’t think I’d forgotten! The winner of the autographed Worderella on Writing is Kait Nolan! Use the contact form on my website to send your address and I’ll ship it ASAP. Congratulations!

Indie-Publishing Extravaganza

I am a fan of the indie-publisher in the same way that I’m a fan of a lot of indie musicians. It’s a scary thing to put your work out there for others to judge. And as there will always be artists that maybe shouldn’t have released their work, there are authors that shouldn’t release theirs.

But that goes vice-versa, too. There are indie artists who are so good at what they do that they gain fans, word-of-mouth publicity, and possibly even a big label contract, which may or may not be their end goal. Lucky for us, the same thing goes for authors… except there is still a stigma behind “self-publishing.”

Today, I’m listing some useful websites that will help you decide if you want to take that leap into the unknown and become an independently published author.

Indie Publishing Revolution
Maintained by Zoe Winters, a frequent commenter and even a guest blogger here at Worderella Writes. She’s an intense supporter of independent publishing and is doing her best to make sure that you know what you’re getting into if you’re interested in doing the same.

Publetariat
Self-described as an “online community and news hub for the independent author.” The people behind it claim to be experts in editing, marketing, journalism, etc, and are determined to help you make the best product you can. It’s not that you’re “resorting” to independent publishing, it’s that you “choose” to independently publish.

Selling Novels on the Amazon Kindle
A first-hand account from an author who experimented with selling a draft version of his novel on the Amazon Kindle and in e-book format. Very interesting and useful; read the comments to gain more insight as to whether you want to follow a similar path.

CNet’s 25 Things You Should Know About Self-Publishing
An honest assessment of what you need to know about self-publishing from a man who had to struggle through it the hard way by himself. Read it, learn it, love it.

Book Cover Archive
Not actually a publishing website, but an excellent resource for those of you needing inspiration for your book covers.

The Benefits of Free

I’ve been reading a lot, recently, about how authors are trying to to convert those “early adopters” over to their writing. Early adopters, if you don’t recognize the term, comes from the early adopters of software. That is, software users who grab the newest version first, decide if they like it, and then tell everyone else how great the software is. Early adopters have a lot of clout in their circles. Get an early adopter on your side, and they will do the majority of your word-of-mouth marketing for you.

As authors, we should aim for the early adopters. But how do we do that?

Well, you can always go to their blogs, websites, etc, and build up a relationship with them. This is the nicest way to go about it, and takes the most time. You can visit their blogs and ask them, without knowing them, to review your work… and I wish you good luck with that one.

It seems to me that free things seem to work, most of the time. But what can authors give for free?

We can give away what we do best: our work. MJ Rose is a huge proponent of giving away our work to gain new readers. And she would know, having left advertising to write full time. This is one of those things were you really need to worry about copyright infringement, though. If you’re published by someone else, you need to read your contract carefully and make sure you can give away a portion of the work.

So why give things away for free? Because people love free things! It spreads a sense of goodwill. It gives your reader a taste test so they can get a feel for your style. And, if they really like your work, they’ll buy your book, whether you give it away for free or not.

MJ Rose definitely got me with The Reincarnationist. I began the book by reading the free download she offered a month ago. But honestly, I hate reading on a computer, even while I loved reading her book. So… I bought the book. I knew I was loving it, so why not go for the investment?

You can use this to your advantage, as well…

  • Have a contest on your blog where your top commenters can read an advance copy of your work.Your blog commenters/readers are your early adopters, and if they have blogs of their own, they will be the first to spread the good news of your newest work.
  • Or perhaps have your top commenters act as your beta readers. I did this with my first two chapters for an assignment in my graduate program. Not only did I get wonderful feedback, but it seemed like everyone involved really enjoyed it.
  • Offer the first couple of chapters of your book as a free download on your website once it’s released. In this day and age, everyone wants a taste test, and this is your opportunity to give it to them.
  • Offer a discount to your blog commenters. Reward your friends for sticking with you through the hard times!

What other things can you think of to give away for free that you think would really snag those hard-to-reach readers?