Monday, January 30, 2017

Cover for upcoming Marshall House Book #6

It's finally here, the last cover for the Marshall House mystery series.

SHADOWS OF MADNESS will be ready for devouring in a few short weeks, but in the meantime you can feast away on this gorgeous cover designed by Jessica Allain at EnchatedWhispers. A fellow Canadian, Jessica is an amazingly talented digital artist who took my rambling word-image and made it into something that surpassed all my expectations. I am deeply indebted to her and her creative eye.

You really can judge a book by it's cover and this cover clearly says "This book is AMAZING!"

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Choosing & Working with a Cover Artist

It's that time of the process again. I've nearly signed off on the final proof of my cover for SHADOWS OF MADNESS, the sixth and last book of the Marshall House Mysteries. As a self published author I have final say in how my covers will look. That can bring about great excitement but also great trepidation.

It's often said, you can't judge a book by it's cover, but I could argue, that's not true, at least not when it comes to actual books. Readers do judge books by their covers and that's why it behoves any author to ensure they've put their best cover forward.

A cover is a book's most valuable advertising piece. It sets a tone for the story and gives readers a sneak peak into what they can expect. A bad cover can cause an otherwise brilliant book to sit on a shelf unread. When it's time for me to acquire another cover, I remind myself of a few simple rules for choosing a cover and working with my designer.

1) Before you start, look online at other published books in your genre. See what covers look like for books that are performing well. Obviously, it's performance is relative to how well the story is written but sales can also be indicative of how eye-catching the cover is. Make a note of elements you like on certain covers. Create a Pinterest board to keep notes and keep all your favourite cover styles in one easy to view place.

2) If you don't have a regular go-to designer yet, scope out the internet for premade covers. Premade covers are (sometimes) less expensive and are easy to evaluate. Signing on with an untested artist for a cover may turn out disastrous (as it did for me once) and you could end up losing a lot of money if the proofs they provide are horrible. Avoid signing any contracts for a custom cover with a artist you haven't worked with before. Instead chose a premade cover where all the design elements are visible and rest assured that the cover you have selected is what you will get. Self publishing is a big money maker for those looking to cash in and unscrupulous people often advertise themselves as having more skills than they actually do (this goes for editing as well). If you've signed a contract and provided a down payment/deposit you may be out of luck when the proofs they provide are not AT ALL what you were expecting. Buyer beware.

3) When evaluating a cover check for these things:

use of colour (are the colours used pleasing to the eye. Look for complementary colours -red/green, blue/orange. yellow/purple. Remember, if a colour is used on one part of the cover, such as in a title or even a small detail, that same colour must appear somewhere else as well. Otherwise that element will stick out and look like it doesn't belong)

use of composition and balance (watch where your eyes go. It should flow across the image like a backwards S, starting at the top left hand side, your eye should move down into the centre of the page, circle around and stay there. It doesn't matter if the title and author name are on the top or at the bottom of the page but the image should look balanced. I would also advise against using any model who has their back to the reader unless there is something else interesting to look at like a detailed dress/corset, extravagant hair style or complicated weaponry.

4) If you decide your ready for a custom cover with a trusted, proven artist, remember communication is key to a happy transaction. Show them your Pinterest boards, give them ideas but allow them to chose what works best visually. If you don't like something say so. It's your cover after all but remember working with artists can be emotional (I should know, I'm an artist myself) so make sure you praise your designer sometimes. Tell them what elements you like before asking for changes or tweaks. Always keep the communication professional and respectful.

5) Pay them on time! Some contracts require all up front, others are good when half and half while others are cool to accept it all in one instalment at the end. The process you both decide on doesn't matter (though I would caution you to never pay all up front) as long as you respect their time and talents. Just like you like to be paid promptly so do they, especially when they've already committed a substantial amount of time to your project.

6) Make sure you give yourself lots of time to find and/or design your cover, especially if you intend to offer your book up for preorders. It's not your artist's fault if you are under pressure. This is not something you want your designer (or editor) to rush on. By the time you are nearing the end of the first draft you should have an idea what you want for your cover, if not then you are already behind.

Did I miss anything? Any tips you'd like to offer your fellow writers? Leave a comment below.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Experience: the best way to learn to write

Are you squeamish?

I'm not. I once watched (perhaps a little too intensely) as an emergency room doctor stitched an inch deep gash on my daughter's thumb. Before he started he told me I could wait in the hall if I'd be more comfortable and I laughed and laughed (not out loud though).

You're probably not squeamish if you're a fan of my Marshall House books. I tend to write certain autopsy scenes in great, unforgiving details. A professional reviewer once called my style "unsympathetic". It can be quite a shock for any readers who are used to Agatha Christie or other mild whodunit writers. I've received a few negative comments regarding this particular style, enough to make me question whether I should tone it down. In the end, after reflection, I don't concede. I merely tell the story as it wants to be told.

 I don't set out to make things extra gruesome and I certainly wouldn't want my books to be fluffed up. I like to think my style represents the Victorian culture in that death was all around them and they didn't shy away from it. Some loved it and all it's salacious details. Others dealt with it and moved on, knowing they could not run from it. Death made an impression on every parlour (where the dead where laid prior to burial) and in every dark corner in every back alley. In an age when germ theory was still in it's infancy death came to everyone; young, old, sick and healthy. It did not discriminate.

I learned how close death was to us all as a 22 year-old newly married mother of one with another on the way. As the result of a car accident on a wintry road every single member of my family looked death in the eyes. I nearly lost my baby and my husband in that horrific crash and I am forever changed by it... but that is a story for another day.

Today I want to speak about an experience I had last night that presented itself as a responsibility to another family member but ended up being an opportunity to better myself and my writing. My daughter needed to complete an assignment for a senior high school chemistry class. Students were required to interview someone who works in the field of science. While most students chose to interview relatives, nurses, engineers and the like, my daughter wanted to give herself a bit of a challenge and chose to interview a funeral director.

I was asked to come along to film her while she asked her questions. It was a mundane task that I thought would at least get me a ballot for the "Mom of the Year" award. Never in a million years did I expect her interview subject to take us in the room where three bodies lay ready for their funerals. His intention was to show us the chemicals he uses and some of the devices at his disposal. It was a highly educational experience in more than just chemistry.

I had never seen a dead body other than relatives and I will admit I was taken aback. I repeat, I am not squeamish. The sight of the dead bodies did not affect me. My shock came more from the fact it had never occurred to me that we would be permitted in that space, that sacred space for the dead. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized how many others interact with the dead on a daily basis; doctors, nurses, police officers, medics, soldiers, anyone in funeral services, pathologists, medical examiners, archaeologists. I mean, death is all around us, and I, a full time author who writes about murder and death on a daily basis, have been so sheltered from it.

I write my stories, and conduct my research without ever having to witness it or touch it. My books seem so sterile now, so abstract. The Victorians knew death. Infant death was common, diseases had no cures. Daily life was one big gamble. Anything could take you out.

So what exactly has changed? We have medicines now, vaccines. We have experienced leaps and bounds in the medical field. We understand the impact of diet like no generation before us, as well as environmental impacts (smoking and work environments). We have instituted seat belts, helmets, air bags, and any number of other safety protocols, but even with all that there are no guarantees. Daily life is one big gamble. Anything can take us out.

Like I said, I'm not squeamish. The room did not jar me because of the bodies in it. The longer we stood there, talking and asking questions, the more I understood what had been missing from my writing. (There's a circle of life analogy somewhere here, but I'm purposely avoiding it.) We spent the better part of twenty minutes in that room which was only a quarter of the time we spent at the funeral home. We were given a tour of the offices, the casket showroom, the consultation rooms and the chapel. So many questions were answered and at times our guide must have wondered who the student actually was (guilty).

All in all, I am grateful for this experience and the time our host granted us. I think  my views on death, and my manner in writing about it, will change going forward. But I have no intentions of changing the tone of my books, not unless I decide to write a romance. In that case the gothic, murderous undertones might be a bit too much.