Category Archives: art

Cover Charge

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(If this sounds like a rehash of an old post, I agree with you because, gosh darn it, I feel like I’ve written a version of this post before, but I couldn’t find it. Oh well. New followers won’t know any different, so apologies to older followers. Here we go!)

Creating art is an art, but there’s the analytical aspect. There’s no point in painting a Mona Lisa or sculpting a Rodin without discipline and a self-imposed system of quality control. For me, the most difficult quality control portion writing a book was not sentence structure or character development but picking out a cover.

I’ve used 99Designs for three or four books. If you’ve never used 99Designs, the premise is straightforward: you start a contest, you outline your needs, you have X number of days to pick a set of covers that will advance to a final round, and then another set of days to pick the finalist. I’ve developed a QC system that might help you in the future:

Communication: You cannot overcommunicate, in my opinion. When you establish the contest, you provide a book outline and some details, and a list of your expectations. As the contest continues and the book cover designers post their covers, you have opportunity to provide feedback. The biggest favor you can do for the designers and for yourself is to be open and candid. Provide sample chapters and links to your web sites (social media, blog, home site) so the designers can see your public thinking.

Rating: You can rate book covers on a system of zero to five stars. For me, I use zero to three stars, reserving zeros and ones for book covers I’m never going to use. Two stars are for book covers I’m not quite sure about, and three stars are for designs that I’m certain or near certain are going to survive to the final round. When designers ask why they received their rating, answer all questions. Don’t be afraid. The designers really want to give you what you want.

Be Realistic: Don’t fall in love with the first submissions (like I always do). You’ll have a lot of great designs by the end of the first round if you have adequately communicated your needs. Be patient and stick to your rating system from the beginning of the contest to the end of the contest.

The Final Cover: I have no idea how to pick up final cover. For my latest contest, I bounced back between three or four designs because they were all great. When I narrowed it down to two designs, I couldn’t decide, so I bought them both. They each have their strengths, and I would have been happy to post either on Amazon. The final decision came down to which cover do I want to see five years from now. (The winner is here, if you’re interested.)

If you have a better methodology, please share. To paraphrase Edmund Gwynn, “Writing is easy. Book covers are hard.” Thank you.

Out of My Groove

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You ever fall out of love with a work-in-progress, even after 60+K words? That’s my current rut after applying dozens of hours on The Sheriff of Jefferson County. Getting to this point was the usual pantser rodeo, the whirlwind of character and location development on the fly, but the energy is gone now. I’ve no real emotional desire to complete the book, though Maggie and crew will be a series. I’m more fascinated with the sequels than the first book.

It’s not that I didn’t try to get back in the groove: plotted out the previous chapters, did some on-the-fly editing, added the four S’s (sights, sounds, smells, sex), and rewrote a couple of chapters so they flowed better with the rest of the book. Yeah, no love, no luck.

Though they’re no excuse, Real World events jumped onto the dog pile, not the least of which were some health scares, a flooded basement, and the fact that my country’s leadership is bat-shit crazy. I hesitate to mention the RW because writers must be stronger than the distractions around them. I’ve published several books by overcoming reality, and I will publish again.

The best thing to do is to sit my wide butt down in front of the white box and finish the damn book without thinking about the damn book. A vacant brain can be both a good and bad thing in that the book’s destination is below the horizon, therefore I can’t be intimidated by something that doesn’t exist. I might wander off the reservation a little (that being the main plot), but, hey, that’s why we edit.

Have you been challenged by your incomplete works? What did you do to kick start your ass to the finish? Any and all words of wisdom welcomed!

Cover Me

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Ah, the Information Age. Folks say they wish they were born in different times, the past or future, but this is my time. The Information Superhighway made me the professional I am, for good and bad, and I think I’ve got a fair handle on most of the IT tools handed me. Every once in a while, though, something goes akilter and I’ve no clue how to fix it. Last night, it was this blog. Everything was here for you, my loyal followers, but you had to scroll down past a hundred error messages. After an hour of dramatic angst and chest beating, the blog is working now, I hope.

These troubles were worrisome because I feared they would interfere with the overdue debut of the book cover for Saturday’s Child. Lo and behold, the dark clouds parted and the cover is posted on the internet. Give it up to my fabulous partner of thirty-plus years, Cassidy Carson, as she guided me through the creation and selection of the final version.

Loyal readers know that SC is the sequel to Hope Knocks Twice, the adventures of newbie CPS worker Emma Parks. The second cover follows the same scheme as the first, and I’m very happy with Jarmilla’s cover, the result of a book cover contest through 99designs. I recommend her professional work and invite you to visit her site.

Publication follows the book cover reveal, so this weekend will be spent doing one last manuscript edit. The book will then be formatted for Kindle and posted to Amazon this Sunday or Monday. If you have not yet read the free book on my site, time is running out!

For now, please hop over to Facebook and drop some love (or hate) in comments. All feedback welcome!

Chapter 16

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Saturday’s Child is winding down, and this particular chapter is poignant to me as it deals with the complex relationships between parents and children. If you sense any emotion within the words, it’s because they came from the heart. And we should always write what we know, right? In any case, I’ve been mulling a blog post on the gossamer strings that bind families. Maybe Monday.

On the writing front, I was fortunate enough to join my first Twitter-based authors chat tonight, and it was a positive experience. Writing can be a lonesome vocation, almost like a Texas lawman on a lone prairie. The days are long, the human interaction is minimal, and sometimes you wonder if anyone even notices what you’re doing out there. A little person-to-person interaction goes a long way. My gratitude to Tui Snider for the invitation.

I’ve blabbered on long enough. Head on over to my site and read the next one. Thanks!

“Dying”

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“Dying is easy, comedy is hard” was reputedly the last words of Edmund Kean, a British Shakespearean stage actor from days long past. If Monsieur Kean will forgive, my version would be, “writing is easy, publishing is hard.” This is certainly true as the latest WIP is reaching the point of becoming a Kindle book like its predecessor.

The act of writing is an extension of my imagination, always active, and the stories flow like a smooth river from the cerebrum to the keyboard. The act of preparing the book for the public ties me up in knots, like creating a Rube Goldburg machine (that graphic at the top). Each step is essential and, to me, complicated: editing, social media, marketing, converting text to Kindle, and so on. These are technical skills that I’d hire other people to perform if I were Stephen King or James Patterson.

It can be fun, too, like when creating a book cover that’ll catch the eye. I’ve used a couple of methods, from one designer (Humble Nations) to a book cover contest on 99designs. Each have their strengths, and I recommend both. Don’t let the above cover guide your decision. It was a random submission and entirely useless, as my book contains neither blazing guns or hot chicks in leather (but Kate Beckinsale from Underworld, ftw).

The actual act of pushing the “Publish It” button on Amazon brings both feelings of accomplishment and panic. One is the culmination of months, sometimes years, of planning and hard work; the other is the certainty that you’ve forgotten an important part or screwed something up. Four or five publishable books later, I’m learning those feelings never go away.

The hardest thing about pushing the button is training myself to sort of forget about the book after that. Sales never, ever meet expectations, and money is not the reason why I write in the first place. If it was, I’d be eating ramen in a cardboard box. Realistically, it’s eyes forward to the next WIP (58,990 words so far), and The Bride already asked for a third Emma Parks book for Christmas. The second book was a Christmas 2015 present.

This will be the year of publishing, with the roller coast emotions and such as companions. Some writers measure success by sales, but I go much simpler: just get the damn thing out the door. With that goal in mind, 2017 will already be a winner by the end of January.

[Postscript: the third paragraph of this blog post was changed from the original to correct grammar errors.]

No Final Resolution

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Welp, there goes 2016, and I promised there would be a published book this year. In the loosest of definitions, someone could say my free book meets that goal, but I’m not that loose (sounded better in my head). I made and publicized a resolution, and I did not follow through, not for the first time.

It seems resolutions fail for one of two reasons: we put a timeframe on complex resolutions, and we fail to make simple ones. For instance, The Bride and I were in our twenties during the Flintstone Age when I promised to take her to Ireland, and I remade that promise every December for thirty-something years, if only in my mind. It did happen, but holy moly, I put myself through some emotion contortions every year we didn’t go.

There’s also the traditional resolution to look less like that portly fellow at the top of the post, but food and me have an intimate relationship. It’s been places inside me that make me feel better than I deserve (again, sounded better in my head). Weight loss would be easier if I resolved to lose five pounds instead of twenty or thirty (or fifty). Baby steps are smarter than pushing a boulder up the hill.

So 2016 closes without an online book because I couldn’t get out of my own way. Again. Dare I make the same promise as twelve months ago? Seems like a safe bet since I actually have a book in hand, edited and publishable, but I won’t make this promise until I hit the Amazon “publish” button. I’m getting conservative in my older age, that’s for sure.

 

Chapter 13

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The continuing adventures of Emma Parks…uh…continue this week with another free chapter, and let’s talk about that word for a minute. This book is a continuation of Hope Knocks Twice, which is usually posted on Kindle for less than a sawbuck. For today, and tomorrow, it’s completely free. Knock yourself out and get a copy, if you don’t mind.

I have slowly…very slowly…come to the epiphany that writing will be nothing more than a hobby for me and never a career. There’s too many good books written by far more talented and well known authors, so a hobby it is.  I won’t collect stamps or guns, nor will I count the feathers on the bird on that there branch up in the sky. I’ll just write and write and write to my heart’s content.

Longtime followers and The Bride have heard this lament before, but this time, it sticks. I am content. Nothing wrong with a hobby that doesn’t clutter the sea with fishhooks or ruins windshields with my errant golf balls. And who knows? Maybe my grandkids will point as this mess on the web and proudly say, “I didn’t know Grampa knew how to do that.” There’s worse things that could happen.

Chapter 12

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quasi

If you were ever unfortunate to meet me in a cold, dark moment like the one covering our house tonight, many words would come to mind. “Hulk,” “bulk,” “goliath,” and so on, as I am not a small person. My face and body have not borne well those scars and savages of life. ‘Tis the injustice of art that someone with the soul of a romantic has the chassis of an erect Quasimodo.

I am a romantic. I truly believe there is someone for everyone. There are days when I sit at the bench of the local Wal-Mart, and revel in the hopes and dreams shared between couples of all makes and models, bonded by something powerful. When the news is filled with hopeless perils and predictions, these couples and families help me believe in tomorrow.

Writing about love is almost as much fun, as you’ll find in this latest chapter. In a heartbeat, over a trash bag of full of dirty clothes, an adamantium bond can formed for an eternity. All you have to do is believe, for one second, that love is possible for everyone. Once you do, tomorrow is not such a bad thing.

Edit: Might help if you had a link to my web site, huh?

Control

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beethoven

Consider, if you would, the sheer amount of work it takes to become a member of a famous symphony orchestra, say, like one in London or New York City. There’s the talent to play a complex instrument and the means given to play that instrument, to be sure, plus the luck of finding the perfect teachers, along with thousands of hours of musical repetition to play the notes and musical pieces just right. The artist must somehow survive and pass numerous auditions, while along the way trying to live a life.

The reward? To sit beside hundreds of fellow professionals who survived their own crucibles to produce the world’s greatest music. They’re in their formal clothes, wetting the reeds, tuning the strings, clearing the valves, all working as one to produce something amazing for us mere mortals who only look upon in wonder. We accept this performance as part of the soundtrack of our life, something we love, but sometimes take for granted from time to time. After all, what is Star Wars or a Steven Spielberg movie without an orchestra?

The ironic thing about being a musician is who is in charge. The easy answer is the conductor for he or she sets the tone and cadence of the music, but the conductor has less control that you may believe. The other answer might be the orchestra company or even the patrons, both of whom work together to the company profitable or at least the head above water.

Try this on for size: it is the composer of the music who wields the ultimate power over the orchestra, more so if the composer is a Mozart or Beethoven. The orchestra, with the conductor leading, must play every note in the manner the Master intended, as orchestras have done for hundreds of years. To do otherwise could be catastrophic: musicians failing to toe the party line will lose their jobs, patrons will stop buying ticket, and music halls doors will close and not reopen.

Hundreds of musicians, thousands of hours of practice, millions in dollars in equipment and tickets sales, all to play an old tune from the Eighteenth or Nineteenth Centuries. It’s not hard to imagine Ludwig or Wolfgang chuckling in their graves.

Consider this, if you would, when you think about how much control you have in your life. Are you locked too much into custom and habit? Are you going exactly what others expect or do you live to the beat of your own drummer? The answer could be reflected in your writing. You are creating your world in your book. Don’t follow the rules. Be in control because if you’re not in control and not breaking the rules, then why in the heck are you doing what you’re doing?

End of Nano

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winner

And Nano is done for another year. I’m coming down from the creative high, having written 50K words in three weeks. The brain is tired.

The point of this annual exercise is to to develop a good-sized draft and pick up good writing habits. What did I learn this year? First and foremost, I discarded any idea that the book had to end at fifty thousand words, and that it is okay to take a while to flesh out a character or set up a scene. What I haven’t learned is how to sleep during key moments in the book. The brain keeps typing, even when the computer is off.

The immediate writing plan to finish this draft and maybe publish it in 2017. Or not. In any case, I hope you are having a good writing experience, too, and that you’ve got something you can share with us down the road. Take care.