Behind the Scenes of the Book Refreshes


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.

The fantasy template has a sample chapter of Rogue God.  The science fiction one will have Crying Planet.  The only person who’s going to toot my horn is me, so I’d better do it!

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.

Book Interior

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.

The Blurb

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.

Keywords

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.

Publishing

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.

Then it’s off to BundleRabbit, then Amazon, then PublishDrive (thanks for that site, Harvey!), and Smashwords.  I have a list of what D2D and Smashwords publishes to so I don’t duplicate it.

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!

Cover Refresh #5


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.

Cover for River Flight, showing a woman warrior standing on a cliff overlooking water.

First Cover

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.

 

 

 

Cover for River Flight

Second Cover

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.

 

 

 

Princess holding a sword, alone in the dark woods, and facing danger

Third Cover

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.

5 Writing Tidbits


1

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.

2

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.

3

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).

4

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.

5

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.

 

 

Cover Refresh #4


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.

Cover - Booby-Trap - May 2015

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.

 

Cover for Booby-Trap at Beaver River showing a woman standing on a cliff

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.

 

Woman solider with bow, mountains in bckground

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!

5 Writing Tidbits


1

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.

2

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…

3

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?!

4

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).

5

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.

 

 

Cover Refresh #3


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.

Original Cover

Cover art for Curseo of the Cat

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.

 

New Cover

Woman in 1800s dress burning a paper next to a window

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

Woman walking through tunnel

 

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.

Book Cover Refresh #2


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.

Original Cover

Spaceship orbiting a planet, sun in the background

 

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.

 

New Cover

A spaceship wrecked on a planet

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.

Book Cover Refresh #1


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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Cover for Foggy Paws showing a girl and a dog
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

Woman seated on a rock on the beach, looking out at the water

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.

Blurb:

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!

 

New Release for April


A tall ship on the water

Ambush Cargo

Ariah’s touch tells her stories.  About objects, about people, about death.

A tall ship arrives in port, carrying a story that no one wants to hear.  Legacy of war?  Or worse?

Ariah must confront dark secrets to investigate.  The answers may be deadly.

A twisted fantasy short story of growing evil that keeps you turning pages.

Available from your favorite booksellers.

Available on BundleRabbit.

 

Still available from RabbitBundle

A mermaid by a coral reef

Here Be Merfolk

The call of the deep rings ever in our ears, from myth and legend to crime and mystery. Sea-people, mer and monster, immortals and reluctant heroes feature in this sea-worthy bundle.

This a bundle featuring novels and short stories by such writers as Alan Dean Foster, Debbie Mumford, and of course me.  My story is Dark, From the Sea.

Available from your favorite booksellers.

Character Flaws and Other Things


This post is because of an interesting discussion in my writing group.  Most of the time when discussing characters, writers will say:

“What’s your character’s flaw?”

It’s a question that’s always mystified me.  The first thing I imagine is a checklist with flaw as a to-do item.

My answer, by the way, is “Not a clue.  I trust it’s in there.”

At least in my thinking, identifying a flaw is probably like hammering a nail on top of another nail (which is about as useless as it sounds).  Human beings do not have a problem with not having flaws.  Something is going to filter into that character.  It just might a subtle flaw.

Just searching for character flaws, I found sites that collected them–one had over 100!

The reasoning behind it is that a flaw ensures a well-rounded character.  But I think some of it originates with English classes.  We study one of Shakespeare’s characters to identify the flaws.  Critical analysis, and important critical analysis (probably missing from schools today) to understanding human nature.  Though I’m sure the writers of the books studied were just telling a story and not thinking “I have to make this character flawed.”

The danger of identifying a flaw as a major part of the characterization is that it makes it really hard for the character to grow and change.  The example we used was the TV series House.  The title character is a guy who doesn’t get along with anyone, yet is a brilliant physician.  Since that flaw was the mainstay of the show, it couldn’t change so it caused things around it to change instead.  It felt like the show lost its way after the first few years and self-destructed in its final seasons.

On the other hand, NCIS started out focusing on the positive traits of the characters.  They were identified early on and the show the stuck to them.  The positive traits allowed the characters to evolve and change over the course of the series, and yet, remain the characters that the viewers want to see.  One of the best episodes was when DiNozzo left, and it was such a perfect fit to the character that it felt very satisfying.

At the same time, not sticking to the core positive traits can feel like a betrayal to the reader.  There’s a writer I very much enjoyed at one time.  Character had a very strong moral sense of right and wrong.  Even though the Catholic Church had excommunicated the character, she still worked at being a good Catholic, questioning when her job pushed those boundaries.  Those were positive traits that really made the character come to life for me.

Until one book where the character was up against a wall for a ticking time bomb.  The only way she thought she could get information from another character was torture, and it was a particularly violent torture.  It really ruined the character for me.

If I had Gibbs Rule, Rule #1 would be: Don’t disappoint the reader by screwing up the characters!

My wanderings on my mystery novel have lead me to start a reverse outline to identify what day the scenes happen on.  I discovered I blew past the weekend like it wasn’t there. Since the story is set in 1947, the characters would have definitely stopped for the weekend…church, Sunday dinner.  It also identified some holes I’m working through.  Most of my other stories are pretty compressed–a lot of action occurs in a few days. This one is going to be at a more leisurely pace for me.  Meanwhile, creative brain was going, “I need action scenes,” and critical brain was going, “It’s too slow!”  Sometimes they both need a Gibbs head slap!