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The Making of SHIT DOESN’T JUST HAPPEN II Cover

Shit Doesn't Just HappenWhich we haven’t made a final decision on. For Shit Doesn’t Just Happen, the first book in the series, we have a final cover. The release date is 9 September 2014 and you can pre-order your copies at Amazon and iBooks (other platforms pre-order coming in the next 24 hours).

I could get into various points of what makes a good cover, but there are plenty of really good blogs and information out there about that. I could also get into various techniques I use in Photoshop. I did a short video on that when I made a cover for Mary Reed McCall. Other than this Video, which might interest you, the technical details would bore the novice to tears. Its almost as bad as listening to me when I go off on a tangent about how to create an eBook and HTML and CSS…oh no…I’m losing you.

Back to Shit Doesn’t Just Happen II Cover in the making…

Bob and I have always had a collaborative process when it comes to covers. Not just for his covers, but for all our authors as well. When doing a cover, I always try to get a feel for what the author has imagined their cover might be and try to give them concepts that fill their vision. I also do my own vision because I didn’t write the book, therefore I am not as close to it and I have a different perspective. Each author is a little different in that some have very definitive ideas of what they want or don’t want. I will always make recommendations or tell authors if I don’t think an idea is working, but the bottom line is the author gets the final say. I could go through close to 75 different covers before we land on just the right one. We will often go through 20 different fonts to get just the right one. Or make minor tweaks here in there in color or placement of extra images etc. Sometimes it has taken a couple of months to finalize a cover.

I really love the creative process and what I love the most is the input from the author. Today, Bob and I spent a good portion of our day emailing back and forth for the cover of Shit Doesn’t Just Happen II (which will be out 23 September 2014). Actually, the emailing started as I was sitting in an airport while searching various sites for images and ideas for the cover. Plus, we wanted to mirror the first book, but we wanted to make sure it was different enough that everyone would know by just looking at the cover it was not the same book.

We place a lot of importance on cover and spend a lot of time working on them. They are a very important visual marketing tool and in thumbnail, it has to reach out to the reader and say, ‘look closer’, which isn’t always an easy thing to do. One of the things we’ve always said was the cover has to say something about the book. Well, that is very true about fiction. A romance cover needs to look like a romance. A thriller has to have a darker feel to it. It’s one way the reader categorizes books in their mind. They are flipping through web pages and they see something that looks similar but different to something they read and loved, they are more likely to stop. Images trigger a visceral reaction. So, genre does play a key role in the direction we go with our covers. One series, The Duty, Honor, Country Series, we used historical images and the while the books are very much fiction, they have a non-fiction feel, which is what Bob wanted. However, non-fiction can be different. Interesting point here was that I thought Bob had totally lost his mind when he asked me to work up the covers for Duty, Honor, Country. Initially, I fought Bob on this idea. I thought we were heading in the wrong direction, but often, as the creative process works, we have to try different things and as soon as I did the layout, I knew we had a winner.

In non-fiction, it is often the title, subtitle and content of the book that triggers the reader to look closer. When readers search on-line for fiction, they often search by author name or specific genre categories. When readers are looking for non-fiction, they are more apt to search by key words and topic such as, what really happened to the Titanic? Or, The Criminal Mind. Or, The Civil War and Women. Cover is still important, especially now with the amount of on-line shopping for books.

Bob had sent an email to me about a week ago with the disasters he’d be covering in this edition and I focused on the Challenger and used an image from that disaster. It was a good cover and Bob liked it, but he thought it would give the reader a false concept of what the book was about since the image is one of those images that most of us would recognize. I agreed, but was still like, ugh, I really liked that cover. I tried various different ideas he had, and neither one of us was feeling it. Then I found this abstract image and thought, wow, that’s different. Intriguing. Which is what we wanted. But it didn’t scream disaster. So, I started playing with different ideas with that image. Which also sparked some other ideas. And that is the key.

The process in getting from an idea of a cover, to the final, OMG that is a great cover, is as frustrating and exhilarating as writing a book.

Just like writing a book, creating a cover is a process. A process of creating a world a reader can relate with and get lost in. I look at it as if I’m creating a character. Writers have always said that good characters ‘pop’ off the page. Well, we’ve also always said that covers have to ‘pop’. When a reader searches for something on any on-line retailer, or even on Google, the images that draw our attention and if one is interesting, well we click on it. Especially if we don’t know exactly what we are looking for. Pick a topic. One that interests you. Or one that you are currently writing about or researching. Go to Amazon and search that topic. What comes up? What covers draw you in? Did you look at the covers first, or read the title?

We writers also often use beta readers to get feedback. Covers can be treated the same way.

We have a pretty good idea of which cover we’re leaning toward. But here are a bunch of different covers (in random order). Please, let us know your thoughts, comments, opinions. We really appreciate all the feedback.

Cover Concept One

ShitDoesntJust2_(Grey2)Cover Concept Two

ShitDoesntJust2_(B)Cover Concept Three

ShitDoesntJust2_(6b)Cover Concept Four

ShitDoesntJust2_(6a)

Cover Concept Five

ShitDoesntJust2_(6)

Which cover do you like the best and why?

Nothing but good times ahead…

Question from Romantic Times directed toward Jen: What exactly is your work day like?

IMG_1339Lets take a step back. Bob and I were at Romantic Times last week and on Wednesday we did a workshop together titled: What a Publishing Partnership Does. Right before the workshop, Jon Fine stopped by. While we were chatting, Jon said something interesting to us when we told him what our workshop was about. “That’s interesting because I don’t really understand your partnership. I mean I do get it, but I don’t, but it works.”

Halfway through our workshop someone asked me what my work day was like. Basically, “what exactly do you do?” My knee jerk answer was, “whatever our authors need.” But I realize that’s too generic to help authors understand our partnership and why it works so well not just for Bob and I, but for Bob and I AND our authors.

I’m going to do a series of blog posts that show various aspects of what I do and how we work with our authors. Every author is in a unique position and has their own specific personal career goals. This really is key to helping any author on the THEIR personal yellow brick road to their personal OZ.

There is an enormous amount of information out there on all aspects of publishing. All of it needs to be taken with a grain of salt, including what you read here. What works for one, won’t work for someone else and everything is changing quickly its often difficult to keep up with it all. And more importantly, we can’t be experts in EVERYTHING. Not possible.

Two minds are better than one.

The Bob Mayer SamplerWhile I’m writing this, I’m also communicating with our author Janice Maynard who is working on a Janice Maynard Sampler. I’m compiling the excerpts and doing the formatting while she’s writing a personal note about each series for the reader. Once I have that, I’ll put it together and offer it free. We first tried it with the free Bob Mayer Sampler and its gotten great feedback from both people in the industry and readers. It gives readers a way to flip through an author’s entire catalog. This is a great tool, especially for someone with an extensive back and front list like Bob, Janice and Colin Falconer (I’m working on his too while he’s off researching his next Shakespearian Detective story). And that right there is the key. A writer’s job is to write. To create story. Readers consumer story.

Another thing I’m working on with Janice is her personal branding. I helped her create her website and worked with her on her “branding” plan. We’re also paying close attention to what her other publisher is doing and working on coordinating our efforts with both promotion and discoverability. While doing that, I’m working on keywords and categories with her books, matching some to her Harlequin novels and getting her in other ones. I actually spend a good hour each day just looking at keywords and categories. Because everything changes so quickly and there is less of a “standardized” system these day, it’s my job to “milk” the system, so to speak. Though you can’t really milk it, but you can play on the playground.

I’m also making a “digital” catalog of all of our titles to bring to BEA. We’ll be putting them on thumb drives along with our authors samplers, videos, slideshares, as well as some information on Cool Gus.

I then scheduled a special promo for 4 of our audio titles with a new company. What’s funny about this one is that as Bob and I went back and forth about the ads, about 4 emails into I received from him: “this is why you do this. Do what you think is best.” And I did, but honestly it took a good hour to read through the options, and because what works for one author, one genre, isn’t going to work for another, I picked different options for different audio books

I updated our Kindle Countdown Schedule and sent the information on to my team at KDP. I’m also sending them an accounting of how each countdown worked and what other promotion we scheduled.

I scheduled some promotion for our FREE sampler for Bob.

I’m uploading all our books to Google.

I’m also updated end matter for Bob as we’re going to be relaunching the Green Beret Series on all platforms soon. It’s 8 books, so really, not our entire catalog, but I create a file specific for each platform. That would take Bob a long time and he’s under deadline, so.

I also have to do that with 5 of Colin’s books. Again, not a lot of time necessarily, but he’s on deadline both with Cool Gus and with his UK publisher.

The other thing I worked on today was a proposal for Jennifer Probst and our upcoming new releases later this year. I talked with my assistant today about Jennifer’s booktrailer and slideshare that we’re doing for Beyond Me.

That’s just what I’ve done today so far. Oh wait, I sent emails from Bob and I from our meetings at RT and I’m sending emails for our meetings at BEA.

As I write this it occurs to me that some might be thinking, well, you have all that because you have a company with Authors. True. But we don’t have 100 authors with a couple of titles. We have over 100 titles with a couple of authors. Our goal to support an author’s career. To support their goals. Our goal as a company, or our mission statement, so to speak, is to help authors reach their OZ. Many yellow brick roads out there. Watch out for flying monkeys and witches who want your shoes.

Jen on: What Should You Expect Going to a Writers Conference #RWA13

What Should You Expect?

Every conference is a little different and every writer is going to approach their conference strategies differently based on their personal goals. The quality of your conference experience is in your hands, not the speakers, conference organizers, or other attendees. It’s important to go into each conference with a positive attitude and an open mind. Understand that your needs, desires and expectations will be different from every other professional attending the conference.

If you’re new to the conference circuit, expect to be overwhelmed. No matter how well you planned and prepared for the conference, the moment you step foot into the conference center or hotel, the energy transmitted by that many creative souls is powerful and overwhelming. You will need to go to the registration desk and sign in when you first arrive. The lobby is generally packed with other writers. The excitement is palpable. It can also be intimidating to the newbie conference goer.

Remember to take a breath and understand everyone else there is feeling or has felt exactly the same way.

The best way to combat this feeling is to take things slowly. Don’t rush the registration process. If you’re concerned about the information you are getting, or don’t understand the process for editor and agent appointments, or anything, ask. That is what the volunteers are there for. Also, remember volunteers often volunteer so that they can meet other writers. They really want to help you.

Expect to feel out of place. This seems like an odd expectation when you will be in the company of other writers, but often we all feel like a fish out of water when we are either stepping outside of our comfort zone (being social when we are introverted) or doing something new for the very first time. This is normal and will soon fade away the moment you say hello to the person either standing in front of you or behind you in line at the Registration desk.

Again, remember to breathe and to take things slowly. The best thing you can do is linger in the lobby for a moment. Make a new friend. Sit down in one of the chairs and go through your packet.  The only way to feel comfortable is to stay in the environment. Eventually, you will feel right at home.

Expect to be both energized and exhausted. Extroverted people tend to get their energy from crowds. Introverted people tend to be exhausted by crowds. If you’re an extrovert, you will assimilate into this environment quickly. If you are an introvert, it’s important to push yourself to say hello to every conference person you sit or stand next to. You will be amazed at how invigorating this can be. A major part of conferences is networking with other authors. You can’t do this if you don’t put out the effort. Remember, most people have felt exactly the way you do.

In order to help with the exhaustion, drink plenty of water. Often we aren’t as tired as we think, but are dehydrated.

If you’re pitching, really try not to focus on the pitch. Stress won’t help with the feelings of exhaustion and being overwhelmed. We discuss pitching in another section, but remember editors and agents are people just like you and they are there for one reason…to hear about your story. The more relaxed you are, the more energy you will have, the better the experience.

Expect to learn. A big mistake many writers make is to focus on the editor or agent pitch and not the valuable information you can get from a conference. While networking is crucial, attending the workshops helps make for an invaluable experience. We’ve often see writers not attend workshops. They either spend all their time in their room writing or in the hallways practicing their pitches or just hanging out with friends. All of these aspects are important, but you’re missing out a wealth of information that could give help you move your career to the next level.

Later we’ll discuss how to pick the workshops you’ll attend, but remember it’s important to attend them, both craft and industry. The conference isn’t all about pitching, or all about networking, but a combination of elements that make up your future as a professional author. The moment you begin to think there is nothing left for you to learn is the moment your career and your writing become stagnant.

Every workshop is a chance to learn. A chance to meet someone who either you can help, or can help you. And it’s an opportunity to make long term connections.

Expect to be disappointed. But then turn it around. How many times have you attended a class or workshop only to be disappointed it wasn’t what you expected? Before you get up and leave, try to change your mindset. You expected A, but your getting B. Can B help you? And did you say hello to the person sitting next to you? Sometimes our expectations get in the way of having a great conference experience. We need to learn to adapt and change to our surroundings in order to get the most out of it. When you’re feeling disappointed in a workshop, ask yourself what it is that is really bothering you. Often it is those things we need to focus on.

Sometimes we hear one simple sentence and it changes our world. Be open to new and different ways of looking at things. Focus on what the speaker is saying, not what you wanted to hear. The hardest part about being disappointed is often it isn’t because of the speaker or topic, but because of our own preconceived notions.

Perhaps the best thing to do when walking into a workshop is to have no expectations and open your mind to something new.

Expect to be confused. We’ve often gone to one workshop and then an hour later go to one where the information given is in conflict with what we just heard. Whether this be in a craft workshop or an industry workshop it is often a source of stress for the new writer or newly published author. Whom do you believe? It’s difficult to decide right then and there when perhaps both make sense.

We suggest you take notes during every workshop. Put a check mark next to those things that make you feel strongly one way or the other. If you are hearing conflicting information, write down the opposing points of view. Ask for clarification, without being snarky. You don’t have to say so and so said this and now you’re saying that.

You can also use the conflicting information as a way to strike up conversations with other writers either at the conference, or back home as long as it is done positively and isn’t putting down the speaker.

When it comes to craft workshops, every writer has his or her own process. Some are plot driven, others character driven. There are plotters and there are pantsers. There really is no right or wrong way to write a book. There is also no right or wrong way to get published, to promote, or anything in between. Your path as a writer is different from everyone else’s. What works for one writer in promotion might not fit your niche or even your goals. Hearing two different points of view can help you understand your path, your goals, your needs and ultimately lead you down the path of success.

Expect the big name speakers to be busy. At every conference, there are the big name speakers, keynote presenters and NY Times Best-Selling Authors that are the “draw”. While we are often star stuck by those writers we aspire to be like, many other writers wanting to get their picture taken, etc often surround them. These presenters enjoy being at the conference and appreciate you taking the time to be there, listen to them, support them and they in return enjoy sharing their experience and expertise so that you can achieve your goals.

One thing to remember is that there is a wealth of experience at conferences and the newly published author is the next best-seller. I’m not suggesting ignoring the bigger names, what I’m saying is there is talent all around you. Take advantage of the fountain of knowledge that you are being presented with. Don’t think a workshop given by a new author on promotion has nothing to offer you. If you want to know about promotion, hearing how a newly published author does it over an author who has the backing and powerhouse of a marketing team from a major publisher might be a better fit. Hearing how to revise from someone who just went through their first revision for their first contact might be a better fit than someone who can do it in their sleep.

Expect to make connections. Not all writers are introverts, but many of us are, therefore we tend to keep to ourselves. If we go in with the mindset that we are there to network and meet other authors, editors and agents, then often we will. The conference is about the business of writing on all levels. You are a part of that business. Make yourself known.

The key with making connections is the follow up after the conference.

Expect to have a good conference. Attitude is everything. If you walk into a conference thinking it’s going to suck, then it will suck. Have a positive attitude and present yourself positively. A good vibe from a person goes a long way. Make yourself available. Do everything in your power to meet all of your conference goals.

In the end, the conference is all about you and your career. These are basic expectations and as you become a conference expert, your expectations will grow and change as you grow and change. It is good to write out expectations before you go to the conference with the understanding that the overall experience is totally up to you.

Expect to have a good time. That goes without any explanation.

Overall preparation.

Make sure your travel plans are set and you have copies of everything.  Again, a checklist helps.  We have a travel checklist in Appendix C.

Make sure you know how you are getting from the airport to the conference.  If the conference has a venue away from the hotel you will be staying at, coordinate transportation.  Again, conferences often have boards or loops where you can find others in the same situation.

Going down the list of speakers, pick the primary ones you’d like to network with.  Read some of their books so you can approach with a question about them, rather than pitching yourself.  Often, you’ll be surprised to learn that you’ll know more about their book than they remember.  Authors are usually focused on the book they’re writing, not the ones they’ve written.  Such as an approach shows a level of professionalism that most people don’t achieve.

Print out beforehand the list of presenters with their photos.  Even though people wear nametags, it’s good to have this handy.  Highlight the people you’d like to talk to.  Go to their web pages and note their bios.  Google them.  Know more about them than is in the conference handout.  Know where they just were and where they might be going.  All of these can be ice-breakers in starting a conversation.

If you’ve participated on social media with other people going to the same conference, make a plan to have a time and a place to physically meet these people and get to know each other.

Volunteer.  Most conferences need lots of volunteers to run the conference.  Being a volunteer is a great way to get on the inside  You might also get a discount on registration.  If you have a car, volunteer to pick up and drop off presenters at the airport.  It might seem like a pain, but it’s a great way to get some face time with them.

Your Elevator Pitch

Be prepared to say what your book is about in one sentence.  And make it an interesting sentence that would lead whoever you give it to, to ask questions about your project. Don’t overwhelm them with too much information.  That one sentence is called the elevator pitch because people literally end up doing this in the time it takes to make it from the third floor to the first floor.  You get on, you see the agent of your dreams there, the doors close, and they glance at your nametag and ask you: “What’s your book about?”  Are you ready?  We’ve seen people asked about their books during lunch, on elevators, at the bar, and the vast majority are not prepared and end up boring the agent/editor/writer and most importantly, a potential reader.  You’ve got less than 15 seconds to make an impression.

TNWIFConference(6)The key is you want whoever you are telling this to become EXCITED.  To want to know more.

(Excerpted from the Writers Conference Guide: Getting the Most of Your Time and Money)

Covers, covers, covers and more covers—how do covers for a series work?

As an indie publishing house, we’re able to move quickly at Cool Gus Publishing (yes, the official change-over will occur later this week as our web site shifts to CoolGus.com).  We track our sales and our metadata, always looking for ways to improve sales and our brand.  I’ll blog more about the Cool Gus brand in future posts, but today I want to focus on covers.

The Atlantis series was the first of my backlist that we published.  We learned a lot doing that.  We learned scanning was very imperfect and copy-editing was essential (we still have those early reviews on the Amazon page and that was the price of ignorance).  We learned how to do covers, by starting with some pretty bad ones.

I think we hit our stride with my new Area 51 covers, Duty, Honor, Country and I love our cover for the upcoming release (11 June) of I, Judas: The 5th Gospel.

Having cycled through over 70 titles in back and front list for our authors, we felt it was time to revisit our beginning.  We decided it was time to redo the Atlantis covers in order to make the six books seem more like a series and also so that they “popped” more.  That’s the word we use for a cover that really stands out in thumbnail.

Jen came up with a cover for the first book I really loved.  So then we had to figure out a way to make the next five books align, yet be different.  We decided to us the same base concept but with different colors and a different image on each one that represented something key from the story.

We spent days emailing back and forth as Jen tried concept after concept and I dove back into the books, trying to determine what images would be key.  So we’re putting this out there for your input.

Here were the concepts:

Atlantis—just the gate opening.  A gate to where?  By who?  That’s the story.

Atlantis Bermuda Triangle:  Opens with a ballistic nuclear submarine doing . . .  So we wanted a sub theme.  Here are two choices.

Atlantis Devil’s Sea:  Amelia Earhart plays a role in this book (and in subsequent books).  So first we tried the plane image.  But a gladiator in 79 AD also plays a role as Mount Vesuvius is erupting, so we had that image.  Then we also went with just the gate, but in red.  Here are three choices.

Atlantis Gate popped right away as the Battle of Thermopylae plays a key role in the past tale (the last 5 books have dual storylines from past and present).  I liked the helmeted image right away (although Jen did have one with the face in a shadow and glowing eyes).  I’ll show you that one here.

For Assault, I wanted the image of Crazy Horse, but in a statue (better than Custer with a few arrows in him).  They’re building a huge one near Mount Rushmore and I found these images.  We asked the photographer’s permission, Mike Tigas, and he graciously gave it.  Then Jen presented it in three different ways.

And for the final book, while the past storyline included Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, the present storyline featured an assault by Special Operations Forces against the Shadow and an advanced version of the Osprey figured in the storyline.  So we’ve got two options.

Feel free to weigh in.  Also, is it important that the covers in a series look alike?  Because the reality is, you’re never really going to see them like this, are you:

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