Sunday, November 21, 2010

Still a Student

"The key thing to remember about me is that I'm still a student. I'm still in boot camp. If anyone is reading any of my thoughts, I'd keep that in mind. Don't take it all too seriously. If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you've done and whoever you were and throw them away. What are we, anyway? Most of what we think we are is just a collection of likes and dislikes, habits, patterns. At the core of what we are is our values, and what decisions and actions we make reflect those values. That is why it's hard ... being visible: As you are growing and changing, the more the outside world tries to reinforce an image of you that it thinks you are, the harder it is to continue to be an artist, which is why a lot of times, artists have to go, "Bye. I have to go. I'm going crazy and I'm getting out of here." And they go and hibernate somewhere. Maybe later they re-emerge a little differently."

- Steve Jobs,
February 1, 1985

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What's in an eBook Cover?

The cover for THALO BLUE, Book One
of a novel trilogy - Coming Soon!

Despite there being a lot of text on this
cover, there are only three different fonts
on here. However, colour and treatment
vary, giving it all a lot of visual interest.
I'm a writer but I'm also a graphic designer. I've been doing professional graphic design for about twelve years and have worked on everything: magazine layouts, websites, package designs, jewelry, video and advertising.

Lately, I've been doing quite a few book covers.

Huh. Go figure.

I've gotten some compliments on the book covers I've made for my own novels and short stories and have been asked to provide advice to other authors and publishers. I'm not an expert in designing covers but I believe a good cover goes a long way to help improve an author's chances of being read. There are so many great books on the web sitting behind ugly covers and for me, that does the book a disservice.  In this age, you need to either work hard on your cover or hire it to someone who can make it an effective attention grabber. Like it or lump it, we're a visual species and we may click away if the cover isn't appealing or professional looking.

Sadly, I see a lot of covers that were designed by firms or individuals calling themselves 'pro' and they still aren't very good.  If you're paying 25 dollars for a cover design, you'll probably get 25 dollars worth of work, effort and expertise. I don't say this to step on anyone's toes or to reduce the project load for anyone designing book covers for a song. There are many, many designers out there that totally know what they're doing and could run rings around lil ol' me.

Nonetheless, I thought I might take a moment to share with you some of my ideas about what makes a powerful and memorable book cover.

A cover that my readers mention.

Uses one font but the colour and
spacing vary so there's some
visual appeal.
1. Clarity // In this age of ebooks, you want a cover with very stark clarity that will look equally good when it's a teeny-tiny square on some ebook store like Amazon, but also blown up to full colour like it may be seen on an Apple iPad.

2. Colour // Bright colours but not ones that clash (unless that's what you're going for). I also like to see only one or two colours used on the text. The last thing you want to do is distract someone who might click through to the story.

3. Contrast // Related to the two above and bridging into the next item, contrast basically means having a strong difference between the background and the text in the foreground. It's nice to have a cool picture or design, but not at the expensive of readability.

3. Clear text // I don't like script-y fonts unless they are unleashed with the precision of a very experienced designer. They tend to be a little harder to read. You sometimes have only a fraction of a second to catch a reader's attention so my advice is to make your text simple. As with colour, above, I don't recommend using too many fonts on your cover unless several of them are from the same family.  My cover for THALO BLUE uses several fonts but they don't fight with each other because they each have a different purpose.

4. Design and Layout // Graphical covers that show only text and artwork are all the rage right now. These can be a good showcase for symbolism taken right out of your story (i.e. The Hunger Games covers are a good one). This is kind of a broad topic but touches on a few things.

You want to have appropriate spacing between lines of text, the author's name and the book title, but you'd probably like it to be interesting to look at. Play with different justifications of the text. Right, left, center, something that mixes it up.

Careful where you run your text -- not too close to the edges because a lot of ebook stores are now placing artwork over the outside edges of the book covers. I see that B & N is adding there "Nook Book" moniker and Amazon adds their "Kindle" artwork to the bottoms of the book covers. You don't want those to cover your name or other important info.

An alternate cover for my novel
when it had just been released.

This one's still floating around out
there and I don't mind because I
really like it.
If you have text that runs across an image, make sure it is a suitable colour or has some separation (like a shadow) to bring it out in front of it's backer. Readability is your foremost concern.

Other considerations. Don't have distracting or unusual things on your cover like borders or big chunks of white space (i.e. the cover is smaller than the image.) Some books are showing an interesting 3-D treatment where you see the book cover as though it's a real book standing there with the spine and the pages. It's a neat look and useful for other collateral (like websites and such) but not very useful for either a printed book or when submitting to one of the stores.

Another idea. You probably have beta readers to read over and edit your manuscript, right? Why not share your cover and get feedback on it before calling it the "official" cover?

Lastly. Once you've created something you're happy with, I would recommend NOT compressing your cover image using Photoshop or other design software. The ebook websites will do that all on their own and two compressions on the same image will end up making it look pixelated and choppy. Most sites have a maximum file size they'll allow. Stay under that and you're good. No need to go way under.

Anybody have a design horror story? Or a design angel story? What do you like in a book cover?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Brenda Sedore, Author of "A Snake In Paradise"

My guest today is author Brenda Sedore, whose book, A Snake in Paradise, was released this week. It's the story of Aja, a twenty-something woman who goes on an Italian adventure after a media frenzy engulfs her family. Why does the media storm her family's castle? Because Aja just had a run-in with her boyfriend resulting in a near catastrophe with said boyfriend's man parts and a sharp, gleaming knife.

It's a striking premise for a women's lit book and one that drew me in right away. I count myself as a friend of Ms. Sedore's because, for one thing, this busy writer always has time for her readers, other authors and me.  Despite the pressures and committments of her launch week, Brenda was gracious enough to find a moment and we chatted about, well, everything. Take a look:

Jason: A Snake in Paradise shows off some interesting, ahem, scenery in Italy. Clearly, you've been. Can you tell us about your travels there?

Brenda: It's interesting you would think I'd been there after reading the book. In fact, I've never been to Italy. It's been a life-long dream and I hope to go soon (we have plans to visit in 2011), but nope, never been. I used my friend, Google Earth and read extensively.

That's surprising! Is there another intriguing story about how you came upon the idea of igniting your novel with the near-castration of your antagonist?

There's no really crazy reason I decided to write a novel about my main character nearly castrating her boyfriend. Maybe it was just that I was in the middle of leaving my ex-husband...nah, just kidding.

The idea came to me as I was considering what to write for NaNoWriMo 2007. I wanted to write something different and fun as I had just finished writing a deep heart-wrenching literary novel. I wanted to try my hand at humour. Who would have known that it was my natural voice? I enjoyed the process of writing A Snake in Paradise and discovered my genre or "voice" at the same time.

Following you and getting to know you over the last half year, plus from reading about wineries in the novel, I know that you enjoy a good glass (bottle?) of wine every now and again. What should I serve with a meal of Chicken Marsala with Pancatta and cream? Kidding. Well, sort of. What would be your favourite red and white wines at present?

Definitely a white would go with the Marsala (although I'm usually a red drinker). My wine of choice would be Latitude 50 from the Gray Monk winery here in Kelowna. Yummy! Or Hardy's Reisling would be another great choice. Those two are my favourite whites. My favourite red, well, that's like asking me what my favourite book is, or my favourite child! Some of my favourites are The Prisoner from California, and Black, an Australian Shiraz.

Does your author husband, Daryl Sedore, also share a love of the grape?

Daryl's favourite saying is that he's a drinker with a writing problem. So, yah, he definitely shares my love of the grape.

I know that this is not likely the last we've seen of Aja and her troop. Did you set out to write a sequel? Or did you get to the end of "Snake" and discover you had more worlds for your characters to discover?

The second one. The cast of characters in A Snake in Paradise ended up being such a fun lot that I couldn’t bear to say goodbye. The sequel, however, will not be Marco and Aja as the main characters. I think there’s another pair who’d like to take the stage this time.

Interesting tease, I wonder which pair you have in mind!

In another interview, I read that you greatly admire Diana Gabaldon. My first exposure to her work was a book called Dragonfly in Amber. It was highly commercial and a great read. What would you do if sales of your novels spiked like hers and you were suddenly wealthy enough to quit your day job and focus on travel, writing and your other interests? Do you think not having to work and struggle to get your voice out there would help your creative muse or hinder it?

Yes, Gabaldon is one of my favourite authors. I believe that it would take a little time to adjust of course, but I spent 2008 – 09 not working, so I’m fairly used to it. Travel would greatly help my creativity as one of my next books is a travel book. I’m looking forward to working on that one.

Your son is a musician and music is certainly a very big part of my life. Do you listen to music while you write or do you have more success in absolute silence?

Yes, my son is Dan Oig, a talented young musician. I usually listen to classical or instrumental jazz while I write. I find it nearly impossible to write in silence, probably years of conditioning. I started writing when my kids were quite young and noisy. As there were four of them, I learned to write despite noise. I quite enjoy the quiet of our home now.

More about the creative process: you've mentioned that you let your story carry you and have little idea where it will go when you begin. However, have you ever gotten to a point in writing a tale and been genuinely disappointed in what you've discovered? Maybe a character has turned out to be less endearing. Maybe the twist you had planned wasn't as thrilling as you wanted it to be. Do you scrap it and begin again or try to work with it and discover the gems or hidden positives it may have on the overall landscape?

That’s a good question. I’ve had a few stories I started and abandoned, but not because I was disappointed in them. More because I discovered my voice was moving in a different direction. They were more serious and some were historical. I have such eclectic taste in books that it took me a while to figure out what I was going to enjoy writing. I’m still trying to figure out how to make those characters and stories work with my current style.

Are you an early riser? Do you like mornings? Or are you like me, a night owl with no interest
in 'getting to it' right away come first light?

No, no and yes. I don’t dislike mornings, but they aren’t my best time to work. I prefer to move slowly into the day and work best in the evenings. It probably doesn’t help that I have to get up at 4:30 to get ready for work and I’m usually in bed by 9:30. Not the best schedule for a night owl like me. Happily I’m very adaptable.

Imagine this. It's your day off. You don't have any dishes to wash, no blog post to write and your
latest novel is in the hands of beta readers so all you have to do is wait for some feedback. (I
know this is a ludicrous fantasy as there's alway more to be done, but go with me for a sec).
What's your ideal way to spend this free moment in time?

Sitting with Daryl, both of us reading a book with a couple of bottles glasses of wine beside us. We have spent many happy hours this way. I know, it’s sappy, but sometimes we look up at each other and smile, finding such pleasure in such moments. We’re very compatible that way.

Sappy, sure, but I like a good dose of sap. Can you think of one major thing you've learned about self-publishing since you started on this journey?

Yes. It’s hard work, but there are a lot, and I mean a lot, of rewards. One unexpected pleasure has been in meeting so many other Indie authors such as you.

Nice of you to say! If you could have a do-over in the process, what might that be?

I honestly don’t think there’s anything I would do over. I believe in the importance of learning from every experience. If I hadn’t gone through this, I wouldn’t have learned as much as I have. It has been challenging, but fun. I’m looking forward to all the new experiences and each new milestone as an author. The reviews have been one of the greatest parts so far. There’s nothing more rewarding for an author than when a reader gets excited about your book.

Brenda, I completely agree and on behalf of your readers, I want to thank you for talking with me!

You can connect with Brenda at her website,  A Snake In Paradise is Brenda Sedore's debut novel and you can pick it up everywhere including Amazon.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What the %$#! is 'genre' anyway?

I'm taking part in a fun writing exercise with independent author and all round fantastic woman, Maria Savva. She's the author of Second Chances and, clearly, from our project, she's one prolific writer.

We're over at and getting a number of hits from people following along as we build a story together. It's been a blast: on a whim, Darcia Helle (another talented scribe) suggested we write a story about a nasty book reviewer who gets what's coming to him by way of the authors tarnished by his powerful, widely-read reviews.

Maria and I took up the challenge and have been writing for a little over a week. An interesting point to note is that we have had only had a handful of conversations via email and none of them are about the story. We didn't make a pact or anything but I think we're both having fun just getting out of the way when the other gets a turn.

The story has come through some interesting twists to where it is today. The pattern emerged that Maria would write a chapter and leave it open and then I would return when I had some time and write the next chapter. Sometimes we try to stump the other but, so far, no one has dropped the ball on any of the twists or surprises.  Visitors and members seem to be enjoying it and that's a great feeling for anyone who produces anything meant to be shared.

Another interesting thing (among many) comes from the fact that Maria and I are much different writers. You can tell from the different way we approach this story that we probably read different kinds of books and, therefore, are pulled to different characters, events and styles. One of us might write a very exciting scene where the characters are doing all kinds of scheming and then the other might change gears entirely and throw some sad and poignant backstory at the reader to mix it up. It's not unlike the manic right-and-left brain battles one writer will have on his own project, but it's so extreme here because there's more than one mind doing the heavy lifting.

I think one of the most telling things is if you look at our story in terms of genre. There's some romance, some noir, doses of black comedy, crime drama, some interesting dramatic tension, some harsh reality, and (lately!) some almost bizarro comic stuff.

What surfaces is an interesting melting pot. We move from genre to genre in what appears to be a smooth fashion, but really, it's likely that only our subconscious writing instincts are guiding us -- it should be noted that we are not editing as we go. This is entirely first draft stuff. I've headed back in to change two or three glaring type-os but other than that we are not skating backwards. Only forwards, towards the net.

It starts me thinking that the idea of genre really is getting blurred, particularly among the independent e-book authors out there. Why would any of us strive to have our stories in one genre when it is so accessible to borrow from everything?
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