6 Business Writing Tips From Pro Fiction Writers

Cute little kitten crowned with a chaplet of dandelion in female hands
Because we all need kitten photos now. A great photo from IStockPhoto, by vvvita

The business side always gets neglected by writers.  A lot of people tend to think that all they need to do is write the book and somehow the rest will magically happen.  Even in the writing of the book, there are choices you can make that may help with the business side if you know them.  Onward!

  1. Control what cover you get.  While it’s true that the publisher won’t give you any say when they create the cover, you have other options available.  When you write the book, include 3-4 more visual scenes.  That way, they can be used for the cover. (Dave Farland, Superstars)

  2. Entice Hollywood to option your book.  Hollywood likes visual, so following tip #1 may also get some movie interest as well. (also David Farland, Superstars)

  3. Include your address, phone number, and email on e-manuscripts you submit.  It’s easy to leave this off when you’re sending a manuscript as an email.  Why would an editor need the address when they’re simply emailing you?  Because the editor copies and pastes the address into the contract. (Kevin J. Anderson, from the Monsters, Movies, and Mayhem submission call)

  4. Write short stories for anthology calls.  Even if you’re not published or don’t have much published, you can land in an anthology with big names.  Readers will come to the anthology to read David Gerrold and then see your story (Jonathan Maberry, Superstars).  Side note: I’m in an anthology with both of these writers!

  5. Reread the magazine guidelines before starting a project, and reread them before submitting.  The first part is to make sure you don’t have it wrong in your head and end up wasting time on the story.  The second part is to double-check yourself on the little details. (Sheila Chandra, Linda Adams)

  6. Schools love having writers talk to middle grade.  Start local and talk to the local librarians and then you can expand nationwide.  The schools may even pay a stipend to bring you out.  (From Superstars…did not write the writer’s name down).

Got any business tips you can share?

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The Art of Science Fiction Book Covers

This is a fascinating look at the old pulp covers of year’s past.

Covers, Covers, and More Covers

It’s a lot of fun putting together the covers.  I like hunting down the images and playing around with them.  The only danger is that I have to be careful not spending too much time working on them (like research disease, only graphics disease).

My first cover for June is for a steampunk short story called “Curse of the Cat” (coming out in July).  The was inspired by a very old story I ran across about a painting of a cat that caused men to commit suicide.

Cover art for Curseo of the CatA Writer’s Guide to Military Culture started life as a workshop I did on Forward Motion about three years ago (yes, I like color!).  That’s on tap for the next copy edit, so it’ll be out later in June.

Writer's Guide to Military Culture


The Start Point of a Book Cover

I started this one the other day, went “Meh,” and tossed it.  So I’m trying to wander into it with a different perspective, courtesy of The Daily Post Prompt of Leftover Sandwich.  I’m going indie next year, with the 25th Anniversary of Desert Storm (no, that isn’t a coincidence.  There will be Desert Storm writing involved.  But that was a given, right?).

One part of that is creating the book covers.  I’ve done graphics in a past job, so I’m going to do the covers myself.  It’s on the cheap, so the program will probably be Gimp, though I may get a version of PhotoShop that’s for the home user.  I had that program previously, but when I switched computers, it didn’t work with the new operating system.  It doesn’t have everything that PhotoShop has, but it has the things I need for covers.

I’d frequently message boards for years, and covers were always a topic that came up.  Writers wanted control, or at least a say, in what went into their New York publishing house covers.  That’s not always a good thing to start with.  Some people don’t have a good sense of graphics, and in fact, are the opposite — they will gravitate straight to the worst of the bunch.  I remember seeing an early indie writer.  She’d done a thriller, but if you looked at the cover, you wouldn’t know it.  A pretty snowy scene.

It’s not as simple as slapping any image on the cover.  It’s got to say something about the genre, and every genre has different requirements for what that means.  It’s also got to look like what’s coming out from New York.  So I can say that I’d like to do a scene from the story, but if that’s not what readers expect, they’ll pass it by.  I like thrillers, but I sure wasn’t drawn into the book with the peaceful snowy scene that suggested insprirational story, not exciting thriller.

My first cover will be for a science fiction short story called New Robot Smell.  I have many different short stories and a contemporary fantasy novel I just finished; I have no idea why I gravitated to that particular story to build a cover, but I’m following where the creativity goes.

I’m thinking technology theme for the cover, since it does involve robots of a military flavor.  Originally when I wrote the story, I was envisioning a cover with a half woman soldier, half robot (by the way, do you know how hard that would be?  Most of the graphics involving women soldiers are not representative of women in the military).  So one of the expectations I had to set aside was looking for graphics to fit an image I had in mind, because I was going to spend a long time looking and probably not find it.  At least not unless people were reading my mind!

The first step, the start point, is just searching through the images see what was there.  Illustrations, rather than photos.  I’m also thinking that I will merge two images.  That’s going to give me a lot more flexibility  in building the cover because it gives me more opportunities.

The first requirement is that the image has to shrink down to a thumbnail and still be clear what it is.  I’ve seen some covers where I couldn’t tell what it was in thumbnail.  That means simple images with a lot of contrast.  So maybe a primary image with the theme and a background.  We shall see as I continue my search.

How to Pick an Image for a Book Cover

What’s the first thing you see when you scan the bookshelves, or when you look at Amazon? The cover! With indie authors, it’s more of a challenge because we have to look like what’s in the bookstore, and we don’t have an art department like a publisher.

But if you don’t have know anything about graphics or how to put them together, you’ll end up with something like the photo below:

Waves wash up against a California beach shore.

Yeah, it’s pretty, but what does it say about what’s in the book?

People often make awful choices picking images.  If you don’t know anything about graphics, spend the money on a cover designer.   This is not a place to go cheap.

If you want to do it yourself, thoughtfully choose your images.   You may have to go through many photos to find the right one.  If you aren’t, then you’re not doing it right.  For example, to get the beach photo, I had to spend 15 minutes looking for one to illustrate what I wanted to say here.


You’re probably a genre reader, so you know each one has cover conventions that are part of selling the book.  But it’s not as easy as it looks to come up with images.  For example, as I considered what my future cover would be, I realized I needed an image representing fantasy, but also had danger for thriller.  The result is I’m revising the book for the cover.   My story originally had an amulet, but this was the best “amulet” I could find:

Front view of a tiki god idol.

I have tikis in my book, but this doesn’t convey thriller or fantasy.  So my amulet became a dagger, and I was able to find an image that played up on the name of the place everyone is fighting over.  Even if you’re in revision like me, you can still look for potential images.


  • Simple: Find images to tell everything at a 5-second glance.   For example, when I was at Ravencon, they had a literature rack for all the book postcards.  Half or less of the cover might be visible.  The ones that stood out to me were always the simple ones.  Simple can come in the form of a single image, or one that you can crop from a busier image.
  • Thumbnails: Images need convert to thumbnail size and still get the reader’s attention with the 5-second glance.  With eBooks, everyone will decide to look further based on a thumbnail of the cover.
  • Black and White: The image has to look good in black and white because of eReaders.

For you:  What kind of covers draw you in to look at a book further?  What covers will make you pass and why?  Post links to your favorite covers, or even to your own cover!

Is There a Strong Woman Character or Are We Being Fooled?

Did urban fantasy excite you when it first came out because it was about women in something other than romantic roles?  I found one of Laurell K. Hamilton’s early books, and it was the greatest, marvelous thing.  This was a woman who knew her strengths and weaknesses, and better still, actively participated in the action scenes.

Woman in ghi uses her hands to defend herself from a high kick from another woman.

But something changed.  We have more women characters in books now, and especially as lead characters, and it still doesn’t feel like we’ve made progress.  I think that’s because of three reasons:

Heeelllppp meee!

Maybe you’ve read a few books with women protagonists — main characters — and yet been vaguely dissatisfied, though aren’t sure why.  I’ve found this consistently with thrillers.  Women protagonists are “in” now.  The writer gives her the starring role but doesn’t make her a star.  She’s smart enough to get into trouble, but not smart enough to try to figure out a way to get out of trouble so the male detective has to come to the rescue.  Yet, I can read a Clive Cussler book, and his male lead doesn’t have to be rescued by someone else.

Urban fantasy seems better with the kick-ass heroines, but when they get into real trouble, they still fall into the same pattern of needing the male sidekick to come to the rescue.   I think the most problematic part about this is that these books are being written by women.

Lone Woman

This one’s so insidious it’s hard to see because it’s common.  It’s in the movies, it’s on TV, and it’s in books.  The woman character might be the protagonist, but she’s often the only woman.   How many women do you work with?  Probably more than one.  I was in the army, a male-dominated place, and there were still more women than there was in the last book I read.


Do the way the women look on the covers reflect the women you see every day?  They sure don’t for me.  I don’t know anyone who dresses in such skin tight clothes that they need perfect proportions or serious airbrushing help.  Yet, it’s common on covers. The publishers are appealing to the men because they know the women will buy the book anyway.  But the message it sends is: “Women are objects.  Look.  Enjoy.”  Coupled with the other elements above, one more disturbing element gets added: “They can’t do anything by themselves.”

I think indie books are going to offer a big opportunity for women readers who want to see better roles that reflect who we are and not what everyone wants us to be.