Tag Archives: book covers

See Jumbo Dance

When I was a kid, one of my favorite movies was Cecil B. DeMille’s THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH. One summer, my cousins and I got to see a performance of the Ringling Brothers Circus in El Paso, Texas. Three rings going at the same time. Trapeze! Horses! Tigers riding elephants! On all sides, in every direction, there was something bright, wonderful, and spangled to catch your eye.

Same thing goes on in the world of fiction.

Writers often like to think of themselves as reclusive hermits hidden away, creating characters and special worlds all by themselves.

In fact, writers are performers. They should remember that the stories they produce for publication are being paid for by a public that wants to be entertained.

Are you a literary writer? Is your favorite novel SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS? Do you scoff at genre fiction and hold up your nose at the commercial market? Do you spend hours polishing every word, every nuance of meaning in your prose? Is your ambition to write a critically acclaimed masterpiece that even Oprah will love?

You’re still a performer, baby. Just like Kiri Te Kanawa’s soaring arias sung before a black-tie crowd. They’ve paid big money to hear the soprano sing, and they don’t want an evening of sour, off-key notes.

But maybe you’re a commercial writer instead. You write paranormal romance or maybe you love steampunk or you craft mysteries. You know that plot and characters count as much as style, and you aren’t afraid to admit that you write for money.

Dressed up or down, we put on a show. And our reader is the person strolling along the carnival midway with exactly $7.99 left in her pocket after paying admission to the fair. She can buy fried chocolate-dipped bacon and a drink or she can spin around the Ferris wheel or she can go see the bearded baby and the two-headed horse.

Hurry! Hurry! See the colossal wonder of all time!

I’ve stretched the metaphor far enough. Here’s the point: how are you going to get a reader’s attention? How do you attract an individual into plucking your book off the shelf (or clicking a Buy Now button) when there are hundreds–maybe thousands–of competitors around you?

Yes, I see a hand waving frantically for my attention.

“I know! I know!” says Hermione Student. “You attract reader attention with the book cover!”

Sure. The one aspect of your book that’s the least in your control unless you self-publish. And even then …

Let’s consider covers briefly:

In legacy publishing, the cover is designed to catch the reader’s eye. That works slightly. Everything depends on whether a bookstore clerk has faced out your pretty book so a reader will see more than the spine. 

A small percentage of the reading population will buy a book primarily because of its striking cover.

I knew someone who used to buy Signet Regency romances because she wanted to “collect all the covers.” Once Signet changed artists, this individual stopped buying the books. (Hardly the type of “reader” I want. How about you?)

An extremely effective book cover in recent years has to be THE LUXE by Anna Godbersen. This teen novel featured a girl in a splendid ball gown guaranteed to make most female hearts beat faster. Even women who didn’t buy the book recognized the cover and usually asked, “Is the story any good?”

Ah, that’s the crux of the matter. We not only want to catch the reader’s attention, but we want the reader to read what we’ve written.

The old publishing adage runs like this: the cover gets a reader to pick up the book. The back blurb gets the reader to open the book. The first page gets the reader to buy the book.

Fine. But what if you’re self-publishing instead? Determined to follow the e-reader route, you refuse to be a slave for some gigantic publishing house. You intend to blaze your own trail, establish your own destiny.

How will you attract reader attention electronically? There are ways and means by which to publicize yourself, of course. Let’s consider once again the cover. Will you choose some generic freebie that has all the appeal of a posterboard with crooked hand lettering? Or will you hire an artist? The latter course costs money, and writers usually are reluctant to shell out.

If you can work Photoshop and/or draw digitally, you can design your own cover. There’s a whole science behind the artistry–what the images convey and what attracts readers and what repels them. Go ahead and jump for it if you’re so inclined.

Electronically, you have a postage-stamp size to work with. Is it striking enough to get a potential reader to click Buy?

Once again, all it’s probably going to do for you is get a potential reader to look.

To get readers to buy, you have to close the sale.

You do that by how you open the story, by whether you hook the reader or the reader zones out.

Offer something on page 1 that’s going to convince the reader to pay for your immortal prose.

Gimmicks and publicity aside, it’s still about your performance. I’ll address that in my next post.

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Writing Ergonomics: Comfort and Ease

Once your office is functional–meaning you have a desk that’s right for you; a chair designed to hold you for hours; a good lighting system; a stout battery backup system for your computer; file, book, and supply storage; and whatever phone, printer, and computer equipment you need–the next step involves making the room attractive and pleasant to spend time in.

I have seen writer offices that looked like something from a magazine–everything organized, the desktop as clean as a banker’s desk, not a stray sheet of paper or stack of books anywhere. I have seen offices that looked like a rat heap in the corner of a spare bedroom, with the computer perched precariously on top of a sagging desk made of particle board and contact paper, wedged behind discarded exercise equipment, outgrown toys, and an ironing board.

I’ve moved a lot, so I’ve set up several offices. When I began my novelist career, I worked in a poorly lit storeroom with exposed wall studs, inadequate heat during the winter, a homemade table, and a paper grocery sack for a waste can. A loaned space heater scorched my knees and let the rest of me shiver.

When I sold my first two books, I invested in a better typewriter–yes, these were ancient days of yore–then I got different office space with finished walls, a window, and heat. I furnished it with a big mahogany desk, a secretarial chair, a sofa, built-in cupboards and bookshelves, and some framed prints. It was beautiful, spacious, and comfortable.

It’s unimportant to this post as to why I left that second office behind, but I still miss it. In the years since then, I’ve had big offices and tiny, cramped ones. I’ve had pretty ones and rooms that I didn’t bother with. And I’ve even tried arranging my space according to the ancient Chinese principles of feng shui. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned along the way:

Beyond function and efficiency, a workspace should

1. Inspire you

2. Showcase your success

3. Be a pleasant, attractive room

4. Validate what you’re doing

5. Avoid excessive clutter

What inspires you to write? What keeps you charged and ready to work at the keyboard? What fuels your dreams and imagination? To the best of your ability, surround yourself with those things in your work space. Make your writing environment a creatively supportive one.

I was given that advice very early in my career by my then-agent in London. He sat me down in his big office and told me that as soon as I began to make money as a writer to buy myself the view that would most inspire me to write. I’ve yet to buy that view, but I understand the principle behind his suggestion. How can I make my surroundings appealing?

I’ve chosen a beautiful shade of red that I want for my office walls. Right now they’re a dreary brownish faux treatment that doesn’t do a thing for me. However, although paint’s relatively inexpensive, I keep putting off the chore because I don’t want to spend an entire weekend moving furniture and doing the necessary prep while I’m under a book deadline. So I continue to procrastinate, despite the fact that a more attractive color would probably do wonders for my morale.

A brag wall or shelf isn’t to feed your conceit. It’s to help you sustain your confidence. We writers can be a little delicate. It doesn’t take much beyond a sharp remark from an editor or a barbed reader review on amazon.com to knock our feet out from under us. Our sensitivity is necessary for the kind of work we do, but if we aren’t careful we can start to brood too much over weak sales or a project that’s not going smoothly. Several years ago, I started framing covers of my books and hanging them up. It gave me a boost every time I saw what I’d accomplished. You don’t have to paper your walls with your achievements, but by all means display the ones that mean the most to you. And spend the money to have your diploma or book cover framed professionally. In a former home, I hung all those bookcovers on my staircase wall. Now, I have a couple that I think are really special. They’re blown up to poster size and mounted in brushed-metallic frames so they’re quite eye-catching.

As for the furniture arrangement, what do you have? What do you face when you sit down to work? Your window? Your brag wall? Is your back to the door so you always feel a little uneasy? Can you switch your desk around to fix that? My present arrangement gives me no view, which I dislike very much. My back’s to the door, and I don’t like that either. Worst of all, when I sit down I feel like towering stacks of furniture might fall on me. I have very tall bookcases in the room, plus an antique paper cabinet that sits on my desk behind my computer monitor and looms over me. None of this makes me comfortable or relaxed. I need to change it.

Do your furnishings look like worn-out hand-me-downs? Do you have a new flat-screen TV in the living room, but you write at a chipped desk with a short leg propped on some old encyclopedias? What might that say about your priorities?

Where you write, whether it’s an actual office or simply a corner of a room, should reflect the value of your creative work. It should be furnished with the best you can afford. It should be worthy of the stories you write. If you like flea-market style, it can be funky and second-hand, but it should never be second-rate.

As for clutter … it takes over my office the way Tribbles overtook the USS Starship Enterprise. Because I’m more of a “piler” than a “filer,” I tend to lose documents pretty easily, and I waste a great deal of time hunting for that folder or chapter or contract that I can’t locate. Believe me, I’ve read several books on clutter management, and it remains a problem. I think the solution has to do with simple discipline. Once the room is cleaned and organized, it’s about keeping it that way through sheer willpower.

In the past, I’ve justified my messiness with the excuse that cleaning up clutter takes too much time. That’s nonsense, and I should know better.

Now, I don’t intend to shift myself to a sterile environment. I like books around me. I want that falcon statue from the Ramses II exhibit that I bought years ago. I keep that rock from New Mexico on my desk for a good reason. And I will continue to stick Post-Its on my computer monitor as needed. I still wince from watching an episode on HGTV where the designer told her clients that all the books on their shelves were clutter and to clear them away. But I don’t have to save every scrap of paper and it doesn’t all have to be stacked in precarious piles to the point where my desktop isn’t visible.

I’m resolved to do better.

Are you?

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The New Book’s Coming!

For the past two weeks I’ve been working like a fury on book revisions, doing those last tweaks and polishes in an effort to get the story and characters exactly right.  And the dialogue … pesky qualifiers begone!  My latest deadline is the end of this month — eek! — and next week I resume teaching at the university — double eek! — so I’m juggling a lot at the moment.

Unpacking after the Great Move continues to wait, although I have to say I’m growing just a tad weary of Braum’s cheeseburgers and have gone as far as locating the box labeled “forks.”  That box, however, isn’t yet opened because the book comes first. 

But to get back to book information:  the title is now official.  It’s CRYSTAL BONES.  I’ve seen an early scan of the book cover, and it’s going to be eye-catching.  My twin protagonists, Diello and Cynthe, are featured in profile on a burgundy background.  The title is done in ornate letters that shine like crystal — lovely!  I can’t wait until I’m able to show it to you.

Yesterday I let the computer run word searches through the manuscript while I combed my mind for better synonyms.  It’s easy to grow careless as a writer, to fall into bad habits of weak sentence structure or overused vocabulary.  Just as I can indulge in too many cheeseburgers and chocolate milkshakes to the detriment of my waistline, so can I let my prose become flabby.  And all my whining and moaning and complaining this year about revisions means nothing now, because I’m proud of where the manuscript stands at this point.  Proud and grateful to my editor who has prodded me into creating a story that’s toned and sleek.

If only I could say the same thing about my figure!


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