I’ve been recovering from a cold. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back to my cover refreshes soon.
The cover refreshes are my most popular posts—who knew? So I thought I’d do a behind the scenes on the process.
Why I’m Doing Them
The first reason is that I changed website addresses and it’s wrong in a lot of the books. I’ve been using a new template with the correct link, an updated bio, and links to my email newsletter.
I also updated the Books By with a more generous list of stories, complete with links. I learned my lesson on this one—the link has to go to Books2Read, not to a specific vendor. A book was kicked back by Apple because it mentioned Amazon.
I started just with the interiors for the first few books and then I realized the covers needed to be updated too.
Just like a traditional publisher, the covers have to be changed up every few years or they start looking tired and old. Tastes change. So did my knowledge.
The First Step
Each book is in its folder, so when I prep for publishing, I check the folder. Draft2Digital allows me to create an ebook I can post on the other three vendor sites. But in the early days, I created an Amazon document and a Smashwords document. So I’m cleaning out those old files.
Then I create folders for:
- Book Formats (for the epub, mobi and PDFs)
- Book Masters (for what I used to create the above)
- Cover Art
- Submission History
- Copy Edits
This is just to get everything consistent so I can find files. Organizing is very important in indie-dom!
Da Cover, Da Cover
Then I go hunting for a cover image. I’ve been using IStockPhoto lately since they have a huge selection of images. My focus right now is on the fantasy stories. Covers with character are trending, so that’s what I’ve been searching for.
It’s hard because I have to figure out what the right keywords are to discover the images. For the fantasies, I’ve been trying “medieval men” or medieval women.” Sometimes also “fantasy women” and “fantasy women warrior.” One story I used “princess warrior” to search.
I pass on a lot because they don’t look like they’re protaging. It’s one of the things that really starts separating one image from another. Some stories are stubborn, so I have to keep looking.
If I find something I like but it isn’t quite right, I go to images page and browse through the creator’s other images. Sometimes I can find one that’s just right.
I’m like a hoarder with the images. I’ll save a bunch of them to my board until my brain works out what it wants. Then I download the image and delete the others. Sort of like pantsing a cover!
I use Adobe PhotoShop Elements to build the cover. It’s a home use program like PhotoShop, but pared down. Works fine for book covers.
I use a template I created in the proper size (1600-2400). Guides are set up in the file for each boarder and at all the one-third points. The locations of the guides comes from DIY eBook Covers: Design Principles for Non-Designers (How to sell more books, 1). I know a lot about graphics from my day job PowerPoint days, but from this book, I learned something I did not know.
I’m a conveyor belt for the covers. It’s 30 minutes or less to build the cover. I drag the image onto the template. There’s always an adjustment to put the image in place. Sometimes I flip it. Sometimes I make it bigger. Sometimes I adjust the central image to be right on one of those one-third points (it looks so much more balanced).
Then I sample a contrasting color on the image for the text, update my name. I try to find a second color and use that for the title. Save it as a JPG, and it’s done.
This one’s also a conveyor belt on the ebook side. I have templates for fantasy and eventually science fiction, each with a different sample chapter in it.
Paste in the story. Make sure the scene breaks end correctly. Update the copyright information. Add the cover art information. And it’s done.
Print books are more complicated. I saved the temple from Amazon. Then it’s copy the story one chapter at a time. After that, I have to go through the entire book to match up the chapters and make sure I haven’t skipped any or duplicated any. It’s tedious enough that it usually takes me a few days.
I always end up putting this one off. My critical side keeps saying that’s really hard, but for the most part once I get into it, it’s about 30 minutes. I took a blurb class from Dean Wesley Smith last year—another reason for the refresh. I thought I was doing pretty good with them…and noooo. They’re so awful!
The most important thing about the blurb is getting out of fiction writer mode and into marketing mode. I think that’s why my critical side keeps stepping in. I have to reset my brain to do them. The key thing is to use the first page or first scene in a short story or first chapter in a novel—not try to summarize the whole story.
This is an area where I’ve learned a lot just since February. Which was when I went to Superstars. One of the writers there, James Hunter, introduced me to the concept of keyword stacking Basically, you’re on Amazon, filling out the keyword field. Type keywords until you run out of space. Then go to the next one.
I also hit Amazon for search terms. That’s how I came up with the title for the Digital Minimalism book.
And I was still finding two of the 7 categories were too generic. So I hit the thesaurus for some of the words and add those as well. That causes me to discover a common theme I have so far: Ambushes.
The blurb and the keywords are saved in the same file.
The story goes to Draft2Digital first. They allow me to create an ebook that I can upload on the other four sites.
Conveyor belt here, too. Copy/paste the blurb. Then the keyword strings. Upload the cover and the Word file. Save the three flavors of ebooks and publish.
Everything gets recorded on an inventory sheet. I mark off each book title as I get it up on each of the sites and when I refreshed it.
The most important thing about these refreshes is to keep things as simple as possible. Finish one and then move on to the next. With some 40 titles that need to be updated, it’s easy to get overwhelmed!
This cover refresh is from one of the first three stories I put up. I renamed the story when I indie-published it. The story was originally called Six Bullets. It is a fantasy, but with guns like from the Civil War (a repeating rifle with six bullets). But I figured that people might think it was a Western with the title. So River Flight it became.
The story was published in anthology where I had to use a princess, a boatman, and a lizard. So I made the princess a boatman (soldier rank), and the lizard was the nickname of bunch of bad guys hunting her.
Like with the previous one, I had a hard time finding good images of women in a fantasy world. I also tried hunting for setting images in lieu of people–but there were not many images of water that would have fit the story. I finally found this one and went with it.
While looking for a different image for another cover and ran across this one. “That’s River Flight!” I said. So I made the cover. It’s still a good image, but in a way, the image is a little dark in content for where I’m at now. The story itself is not dark.
This time, I searched images for “princess warrior” because the character is a princess-turned-soldier. The hard part was my head going, “But she’s not dressed like that.” Yeah, but if she’s dressed like a warrior on the cover, then it’s not obvious she’s a princess. Being a princess is a big part of the story, so I hung a lantern on it.
The image itself is much larger. You can see the original here. I flipped it and then adjusted where she’s standing to be at one of the one third points to balance it on the cover. Colors for the sample text are all from her dress.
This one also needed a keyword update, though I had done that back in February with a blurb update. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned about them in the last few months just doing these refreshes.
Link to where the book can be bought.
When I build a print book, I go through all the chapters and add a drop cap. Some of my earliest reading memories is seeing books with illustrated drop caps to start a chapter. This adds a level of professionalism in the formatting, because not everyone does it. Here’s how to create one in Word, along with an example of what one is.
If you’re traveling for research on a book (or vacation, given it’s summer and time to head for the beach! Yay!), there’s a great tool for estimating the cost of your food. It’s GSA per diem rates. This is what the government uses to determine what to pay their TDY travelers. The government did a survey a number of years ago to figure out the average cost in all these cities, and that’s the per diem rate.
Every time I have to go into my deleted emails to find one, I can’t believe the number I’ve received in the last week. They seem to be breeding on their own! So I use a tool called SaneBox. It sorts the emails into a folder and then gives you a list to go through. You use the list for a quick review and delete some. This works great for emails like from CVS Pharmacy where you want to use a sale if you have to make a purchase, but you don’t want to look at each and every one. I also use the SaneBlackHole because there’s this woman who used my email address for her bank. It’s been like that for years, so I just send all those into the black hole. This link will give you a discount and me a discount on my renewal. (Note: If you’ve seen a different product that’s free, stay away. They’re selling everyone’s name to another company).
No…more…adverbs! Every time I hear someone saying “Avoid adverbs” or “use them sparingly,” I think of Faye Dunaway spouting “No…more…wire…hangers!” It’s such an overreaction. I suppose it’s because it’s easy to go through and look for all the ly words, but still… A writer friend had a zero tolerance policy for them and brought his three chapters in for critique. He was beaming because he’d followed the rules! And his writing was terrible. Removing all the adverbs sucked the life out of the story and out of the characters. Adverbs are just another piece of the story.
For us indie publishing, our books can appear on multiple platforms…Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, take your pick. You can either look your book up on each one, which would be a lot of work, or you can use Books2Read. It creates a nifty universal link that you can use instead.
Hmm. Terribly odd that Cover Refresh #4 had four versions of covers. This book was a hard one to do. It was one of the earliest I did–one of the first three I believe. I was still figuring out how to look for images and what would actually work.
The first cover did not make it to publication status. I don’t have it any more–looks like it got lost between two computer replacements. I observed at cons that a lot of the covers for fantasy books were of the character. But I quickly found that fantasy images of women are very difficult to search for. In many of them, the women are wearing essentially gravity defying strips of cloth.
So I went for setting with the first cover. And that’s when I learned the hard way about colors in the image. When I tried to sample a color for the titles, I couldn’t put the text anywhere and have it be readable. So it was a pass on the image and onto the next one.
This is the second cover. The short story has steampunk elements (the booby-trap), so I was trying to find a cover that reflected that. Pretty much, I put my wanderings around Northern Virginia’s Civil War sites into a story. It has guns rather than swords.
But I was never really happy with the choice, so off to the second update…
This image came from Dreamstime.
This was the third version of the cover, and it looks like a title change. I’m not sure why I changed it at this point. It might be that I thought Booby-Trap would make it harder to find. When I updated the interior a few months back, the title was hard to type.
This one, I think, was a bit dark for where I’m at now. When I originally published this, I was still veering to dark (a legacy of Desert Storm).
The image came from Dreamstime.
Here’s the new version with a title change (realizing now that I have two collections I have to hit up to change the title of this story…grr…).
Again, I had a lot of problems finding any suitable images. I ended up choosing between this one and a purple one from the same artist. I blew up the purple one to have a better look at it and passed on it because of the placement of all the contrasting colors. I would have had similar problems to the first version of this cover.
So the one I choose was this horizontal one. I normally go with vertical because the image fits the book better. Doesn’t do if you have to cut off the primary image because it’s too big.
For my cover, she was facing the wrong way–I wanted her to be looking at the part where you “open” the book. So flipped the image.
Because the image was larger than the book cover size, I dragged it to fit the cover, and then moved around to one third points. You can see one of them right were her face is. After that, I tried samples from her ring, her earrings, her eyeballs and finally settled on the sky for what I used in the text.
I’ve also learned a lot about keywords on these refreshes. This was one of the books I did a refresh on back in February. Now I looked at the keywords and thought two sets of them were too generic. So I went to Google and looked for other words for trapped and booby trap and added those. I also made a typo putting one in and left the typo in case anyone else does the same thing–and put in the correct spelling, too.
Link to the booksellers for the story.
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Sign up for Superstars Writing Seminars for 2020. This a workshop for professional writers and a very different environment than a standard writing conference. I had been planning to attend a marketing conference in November…until I went to the 2019 Superstars. In just two one hour panels there I got more about marketing than I did in TWO marketing conferences.
My recommendation is that you take the craft portion as well–it is extra, and also to sign up for the VIP seating and the dinner. The overall conference is about the business side, so the craft portion will give you professional level craft advice. VIP seating puts you in the front row (two hundred people attended, so this is going to be a benefit for you). At the dinner, you pick from a list of guests and eat with them. You may get something from the guest that will help you out. Last time, my table was a ghost-loving crowd, which I really enjoyed.
Sign up here and use the coupon code LADAMS. Gets you $100 off, and if I get five, I get in for free, so everyone wins. There is a payment plan and also discounts for veterans and students. If you want to go, get in now because the rates go up in September!
Everyone always says that you have no control over your cover if you go traditionally published. But you do–and this is something that can be done with indie as well. Most scenes don’t lend themselves visually. So when you write your story, include 3-4 scenes that are visual. This comes from one of Dave Farland’s workshops at Writing Superstars.
Research for your local area is easy. Start by looking at the street names. Unless you’re driving through one of the urban cul-de-sacs developers really like, many of the streets will reflect the history of landowners and famous people. My hometown was named Roscoe (later renamed), supposedly to get Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle on a real estate deal. The city says that’s unconfirmed. But there is a street with a name very similar to Arbuckle’s wife…
I’m never going to be able to break the habit of typing two spaces after a period. When I learned to type that was standard and it’s ingrained deeply in habit. So the easy fix is to run a search for two spaces and replace it with one. Then repeat the search. I’m always shocked to find a few that must have had four spaces! How’d that happen?!
This one’s a pet peeve, especially for writers because our stock and trade is in the black marks on the page. When you talk about revising, call it revising, not editing. Many, many writers inexplicably use the terms as they were interchangeable when they’re two different processes. There’s a really good class called Keys to Editing that gives a good general idea of the different parts of editing (I think it would be superficial if you were starting a business as an editor though).
One piece of advice I heard over the years had me really confused:
Q: How long is a scene?
A: How long is a piece of string?
Enough to make my eyes cross. I ended up with scenes that were 3,000 words long because I couldn’t figure out when to stop. The result was that the scenes rambled and were unfocused. Turns out there is an answer more specific that that string theory (which came from a traditionally published writer. He must have been messing with us!). The pulps had it down: 300-1500 words. Check out Lester Dent’s Master Plot Formula. If you pick up a best selling writer and type the first scene out, you’re most likely to find that it falls within this 1500 word limit, even though it won’t look like it does. It’s a nice length because it ends before the reader starts fidgeting.
The New Books!
Ghostly Tales I
Three chilling fantasy tales of ghosts…
CURSE OF THE CAT
THE AUGUST GHOST
STAIN OF GHOST
(This is an abbreviated blurb because all of the individual stories are below)
Available from your favorite booksellers. Is this an awesome cover? I liked this image so much I’m getting a second by the same artist.
Stain of Ghost
Stone mage Margaret Day thought the faces of the automatons gave her nightmares.
But what the Know-Nothings did to the construction of the Washington Monument makes the nightmares seem tame.
A haunted stone, deep within the monument, tainted with evil. Can she fight the evil?
A page-turning story of dark secrets.
Available from your favorite booksellers. (This is still publishing and may take a day or so.)
Curse of the Cat
The nightmares never stop. Not since Edward Wight purchased the painting haunted by the artist.
It watches. It intrudes on his dreams. It tells him to die.
His only chance? Maz, a sculpturer with crazy inventions. Can she help him before time runs out?
A twisted tale of dark secrets and growing evil.
Available from your favorite booksellers.
The August Ghost
Sometimes ghosts can be too helpful. But Private Investigator Tibby Clarke just wants respect from her grandfather ghost.
A routine case takes Tibby into the Washington DC suburbs…a strange place for a ghost partner with nineteenth century sensibilities.
But when the case turns deadly, her ghostly grandfather may be the only person standing between her and life and death.
A twisted fantasy tale with a terrifying secret.
Available from your favorite booksellers.
On the journey to adulthood, Lily Chun left herself behind. Does the child who set out boxes to trap aliens exist anymore?
A dream of aliens draws Lily Chu to the California desert. Hoping to see a UFO.
Plain silliness, her family says. So she must take a leap of faith.
Then another woman arrives. Like her. Looking for aliens.
A heartwarming science fiction short story.
Available from your favorite booksellers.
Another refresh for your viewing pleasure. I’m still working through the update for the short story itself, so that’ll be out next week with the updated cover.
The software tool I use to build the covers is Adobe PhotoShop Elements. That’s a $120 program with some of the tools of PhotoShop. Works pretty well for ebook covers.
This cover was created in 2015 from a Dreamstime image. At the time, it was difficult finding a image. I had a lot of trouble figuring out keywords to find the images. That simply has taken practice, and sometimes even that still doesn’t help!
Once I found this image, I ended up changing the story title so it would fit on the cover. 🙂 It was originally called Cursed Painting.
Like some of the other covers, I found this image while looking for one for a different story. I preferred a period one with a male main character, but women are in and there is a woman character who plays a major role in the story.
The image conveys a sense of the time of the story, which is the late 1800s, San Francisco. The colors are also brighter than the original one. I enjoyed what I was seeing from this artist and picked up an additional one for a new release.
The New Release
I’ve actually been putting off the release of this story for a long time because I thought the cover was going to be really hard. It’s a story set during the construction of the Washington Monument, which has quite a bit of interesting history. This reminded me of the main character going inside the base of the monument. This one of the few times I got a horizontal image, so I had to make sure this one was big enough for me to enlarge it to fit vertically.
My next book refresh was for book length fiction. Because my day job is so chaotic, it was very hard for me to spend the mental energy to figure out how to set up a print cover. If you don’t have a Mac, Vellum’s out of the picture, and the software on the PC side is very complicated. Since I wanted to get my GALCOM Universe series into paper, I had it designed by Cover Mint.
This book had a problem with it: The title.
I love the title. It fits the book.
It’s the name of a popular travel series. Means that no one’s going to find the book if they search on the title. So with the cover change, I decided it was a good time to change the title.
The image came from Dreamstime.
This is the cover designed by Dan Von Oss at Cover Mint. Dan’s very good at science fiction and action (which will be of big use for book 4 in my series, Last Stand). I told him I didn’t want dark covers. How my name appears on the cover was the only other requirement, and everything else was the artist.
The text at the top is from my blurb. I was very glad I took the blurb class over on Dean Wesley Smith’s site because it’s been very useful for even the cover designs.
There’s something really exciting about seeing a cover designed by someone else for one of your books. One of the things I will be doing in the next few weeks for this is print version and a large type print version.
Available from your favorite booksellers.
I’ve been doing some book refreshes–updating the bio, the blurb, and the keywords. I’ve learned a lot about blurbs and most of my old ones need the update. But I noticed that some of the covers felt a little dated. So I’ve been doing cover refreshes as well.
Selecting the images is tricky. I’m visual spatial, so images always appeal to me. That also doesn’t mean they necessarily make good covers. My criteria for selecting them:
- I like artwork rather than photos. As a reader, I won’t pick a cover because of a photo image but I will because of artwork. There’s just something more magical about artwork.
- The image shouldn’t be too dark, and I mean that in both senses of the word. I don’t want gritty. That doesn’t fit me or my writing. But I also don’t want images that are overall all too dark. It makes it harder to get color sampling that can be used on the title and my name.
- It should fit the genre and the sense of the story. In the early days of indie, I ran across a writer who had written a thriller set in on a snow-covered mountain. So she slapped on a photo of a peaceful snowy field. No. Seriously, no.
The Old Cover
This is the original cover I did back in 2016. It wasn’t quite one of the first covers I did, but it was in the first five. The story has a dog in it, so I wanted a dog image. At the time, it was a challenge because most of the dog images are photos. At the time, I was willing to do a photo, but they didn’t feel like images for a book cover. Then I found this one. I liked the colors and I went with it
The image comes from Dreamstime.
The New Cover
I started out looking for a cover for an entirely different book. I was having a lot of trouble finding an image (darn it!), but then I saw this one. Bang. That’s Foggy Paws. It conveys the feeling of the story far better than the original image.
For this one, I used my newer template for the covers, which has guides all around the outside edges. You can tell where some of the guides are…under the y at the bottom and right along the woman’s back. Since this book is a general fiction story, I thought the script font would be nice and it fits the image.
The image comes from IStockPhotos.
Dogs always know.
Deep in grief over her grandfather’s death, Jennifer Day finds a friend in a black Labrador named Candy Cane.
Candy Cane gives her courage when she needs it and it transforms her life.
A heartwarming story of grief and loss.
For the book itself, you can find it here.
Off to the next one!