Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Creating the Cover

Covers are important--even for e-books. It's worth knowing the kind of cover you want for your book because it tells the reader quite a lot about what they can expect. Different genres have different "looks." A book that is light and comedic will not have a cover that looks like it belongs on something dark and sinister. Often times there will be clues to the story incorporated into the artwork. It may even be metaphorical.

I know all this--have known all this and yet…I had no idea what the cover for Death By A Dark Horse should look like. I scoured the website that have downloadable photography. Beautiful photographs and art work, but nothing that looked like my book. I asked my friends and the only thing people could agree on was the presence of a horse.

Well, yeah. I got that part.

Then I remembered an email conversation I'd had months earlier with fellow Sisters in Crime Guppy Chapter member Tracy Hayes. She is not only a writer, but an artist and a horse person. I dropped her a note to see if she'd be interested in working on a cover for me and within minutes I was sending her a copy of my manuscript. She finished the book quickly and in no time we were burning up cyberspace with discussions and ideas. She sent me her initial sketch, I took a look and was amazed. 

She absolutely nailed the character of Thea, all the way down to the determined jaw line. Blackie was just right, too. In fact, he looked a lot like a cross between my Eddie, and one of my student's horses.

Then we played with color. Believe me, I made some really icky suggestions, as it turned out. But Tracy was game, and we had some good laughs over some of the combinations. What we ended up with was eye-catching, portrayed Thea and Blackie well, and is metaphorical. The cover encompasses a great deal of meaning--much of which will be understood when the reader finishes the story.  As an added touch she included a logo--the dressage horse and rider in the circle at the bottom of the cover. It will appear on every book in the series and will be easily recognizable as part of the brand.

A lot went right when I made the decision to contact Tracy. There's no way I could have done this on my own.

Death By A Dark Horse will launch on November 15, 2010 on Amazon as an e-book. It will be available shortly afterwards on Smashwords and those retailers using their catalog. "Buy" buttons will be on both my blogs and website. I loved writing it. If you have half that fun reading it, you'll have a ball!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Polishing the Manuscript -- attempt II

Last week I started talking about editing my manuscript and never got to finish what I had to say because Jonathan Woods stopped by. So, this week I'm heading back there. The process needs discussing, because there's a lot that can go wrong in the writing and rewriting of a manuscript, and fresh eyes can make the difference between a story that grips the reader and one that, well, doesn't.

By the time you get through the countless rewrites to the "final" version of your manuscript, chances are you've fixed the major gaffs like a character starting out with one name only to have another by the end, logic anomalies, and whatnot, and are left with stuff you don't notice. At this point your content editor will come in handy catching issues like information that should have made it onto the page, but never did.

You can't do it yourself--you're too close.

Your line editor is important, too. They'll catch the embarrassing stuff everyone whose concentration is elsewhere will miss. Misplaced commas can change the entire meaning of a sentence (remember "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves"?), not to mention one letter can change a word completely. I had one character referring to another not as a "good guy" but as a "good buy." Tell me you wouldn't have been rolling on the floor when you read that.

Would that have been Jonathan?

Thea! I wasn't expecting you--and it might have been.

Did Jonathan stop by here and complain to you about Juliet?

Yeah, he did.

I don't know what I'm going to do about him.

He and Juliet don't seem to get along at all.

They don't. And he's sending so many mixed signals to me I don't know what to make of him.

Can I ask you something personal? What got you two together to begin with? He doesn't seem like your type.

My friend Andrea introduced us, and he just pursued me. It was flattering. Besides, he's handsome, works out, likes to go to the theater and concerts. He always knows great places to go, and he really seems to care about me. You know; attentive, polite, relentless--oh, that sounds bad. But it's not like I've ever thought he was "the one." It's nice to have a social life. Why do you ask?

A couple of people asked me. No biggie.

Oh. Well, he really is a nice guy. Really. Just a little overbearing at times. But hey, aren't all men?

You don't have to defend him to me.

I'm not! I mean, I don't need to. It's just that Juliet and he don't get along. Honestly, I don't know what he's so worried about. She's so busy with her own social life she's hardly got time to concern herself with mine. Maybe I'd better go talk to him.

Wouldn't hurt. Then maybe I could continue on with what I started and don't seem to be able to finish because of all the interruptions--just saying. Pass that word around, would you please?

So, where was I…editors. You need them. Don't be tempted to shortcut this step, if you want readers to take you seriously.

Next week: Cover art.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Polishing the Manuscript

Is one ever done tweaking their manuscript? Probably not. But at some point one has to back away from the minutiae and let someone else have a run at it.

That was the first step to be addressed as I geared up for e-pubbing—except I let two someones have a run at it. I needed someone who hadn't seen the story before take a hard look at the content. Since I've taken classes from Mary Buckham, believe her to be genius, and know she has an editing service I contacted her. Luckily for me, she was able to fit my manuscript into her schedule.

When Mary was done with it, I passed it along to a woman I know who has spent many years as a copy editor, and—

What I want to know is if you were able to do something about Juliet.

Uh, hi, Jonathan. Folks, this is Jonathan Woods—Thea's boyfriend. I didn't know you were going to stop by.

I had some time in my schedule and need to talk to you.

I'm kind of busy right now explaining the self-publishing process to these nice people.

This is important. Juliet is creating potential problems for Thea. I need you to write her out of the story.

Sorry, no can do. She's important, and she's Thea's sister. Besides, the manuscript has already been to the editors. What's the problem, anyway?

I'm certain Juliet has been trying to get Thea to break up with me. Thea's been arguing, uncharacteristically, with my decisions lately.  I have plans, Susan, and Juliet is getting in the way.

I'm not so sure Juliet has that much influence—

She does. She fabricates stories, she's disrespectful, and she interferes. There's something going on, and as I stated, I have plans.

What plans?

I won't divulge them. Suffice it to say Thea will be delighted. I have a certain influence, shall we say?

You sound awfully sure of yourself.

Just make sure Juliet is out of the way.

Now, Jonath—dang. The guy pops in, issues orders and pops out. Characters do tend to do what they want, and generally I don't worry, but he seems a bit like he's on a mission and I can't help but think there's going to be trouble. Phooey. I'm going to need to find out what he's up to. We'll continue the self-pub thing next week. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Step By Step, Inch By Inch--Putting the plan together

As promised, I'm back to chronicling my journey into self-publishing. The decision was in place in August—ahead of my self imposed drop-dead-date. Now what? Obviously, I was going to need to let people know when my book would be out, set up a list of tasks necessary to turn out the best product I could, and set the marketing and promotion machinery into motion.

I decided to approach the process like other (traditionally published) authors approach the release of their books—with an eye to what tasks would fall on my shoulders.

First task: Polish the manuscript…again.

I'd already worked with critique partners, an editor, taken classes to address the areas of my craft that needed work, received input from industry professionals, and rewritten countless times. I was well aware of my weakest points and I needed fresh eyes with proven expertise. I contacted two editors—one for content and the other for mechanics. Yes, I agreed to pay them. After all, this is a business.

Second task: Cover art.

Covers are important. They attract attention and they give clues as to the type of book one can expect to find beneath it. I have a background in art and I made numerous attempts to produce something I was happy with, but nothing was right. I had no vision, and the learning curve for the technical aspects of the job was more than I was willing to take on. After looking around I found fellow Sisters in Crime member Tracy Hayes. She is a graphic artist as well as a writer and her website for her Pastiche Studio showed off her range of talent. I contacted her about doing the cover art and she agreed to read my manuscript and see if she could come up with something appropriate. Yes, I'm paying her, too. After all, this is a business.

Third task: The launch date.

Because I had no idea how long this process would take, I decided to give myself 5 months from announcement to launch. This was totally me playing head games with myself. Too little time, and I'd drive myself and everyone around me crazy, too much time and I'd lose that feel of upcoming excitement. I also promised myself I could be flexible in case something went horribly wrong—or right! This is a business. I have to be adaptable.

Fourth task: The announcement.

I needed a vehicle to announce my forthcoming book. Single announcements on the social networking sites and groups I belong to were just that: single announcements. Too much me me me, and I'd become a pariah. I needed a blog where I could talk about all the things I wanted in regards to my book and people could come and visit when they wanted without feeling like I was shoving myself and my book down their throats. "Things I Learned From My Horse" was doing well, but I'd dedicated it to my horse-oriented audience to whom I'd made an implicit promise. On that blog they would read about the animals they love and how they insinuate themselves into our daily lives, not about my life as a writer. The only thing that made sense, then, was to create another blog. You're reading it now.

Announcing the publication of my book would be the start of the next step: Marketing and promotion. We all know that one announcement simply isn't going to do the job—it's simply the kick-off to a more complex game. After all, this is a business.

Fifth Task: Marketing and promotion.

This is where the learning curve would be steep. I've had some experience in real-world business marketing—enough to know I don't know enough. To give myself credit, however, I have been paying attention to other authors and the things they've been saying about their own processes of dealing with the marketing and promotion burden the publishing industry has pushed off onto them in these tough economic times.

My plan was to immerse myself in marketing and promotion strategies. Yes, I know my audience and had already created a blog, but that wasn't going to be enough. I gave myself permission to take a break from writing to do research. I would read everything I could, listen to what people had to say, ask questions, and seek out experts. In essence, I'd let it wash over me until things started to stick and a plan began to form. At some point I would need to get back to writing so without a marketing plan there was too much of a risk that I'd fritter away the 24 hours in each day, duplicating my own efforts and chasing down non-productive avenues. Essentially, I needed to learn how to be efficient. After all, this is a business.

How it plays out.

In the coming weeks, in between the fun of character interviews and guests, I'll be posting more information about how each of these steps is playing out in real life. After all, this is a business, not a mandate handed down from above. There's bound to be some mistakes, unexpected successes and a few ah-ha moments. Join me!