Thursday, January 31, 2013

Designing covers for romance eBooks part 2

Continuing on with the theme of my last post, I thought I'd share some of the different versions of the covers I've designed, so you could get a sense of the stages behind each.  It's a lot like watching sausage get made sometimes, but like I said, it's a process.  You're going to end up creating some awful covers until you find the one you're happy with.

We'll begin with the first book in my Consortium of Chaos series, Yesterday's Heroes.  Now, the series is about superheros and super-villains, so I knew I wanted to play into that in the design for my cover.  My first thought was to give a visual representation of this dichotomy, with an outline of a hero and a villain.  This just didn't work for me though, so I tried to just show the hero, and the villains' reaction to him (I don't know where I got the idea to use the little outline of the guy from the men's room sign).  This was closer, but still not right.  I tried changing the colors around and made it look like a sign for some reason, and then liked that a lot more.  The book was actually published for several months before I realized that the spray paint outline should have been in the shape of a heart (some of you probably have the original circular version), but the good things about self-publishing is that changes like that can be made at any time.  I think the heart really adds something to the cover.



Next, the second book in my Consortium of Chaos series, The Son of Sun and Sand.  This one was always in my head pretty much the same way it turned out.  I don't know why, as it doesn't really fit in with the other covers, and doesn't really look "romance novel" to me, but that's just how I saw the design for the cover.  It makes sense in the context of the book though, and I guess you could argue it fits into the theme of iconography.  Incidentally, that's a picture of the scorpion inside a paperweight my sister got me at the Grand Canyon and a shot of our brother's hand.  

I would show Cynic's book next, The Guy Your Friends Warned You About, but the finished design for the cover was basically the first draft of it.  The only change I can remember making is that the background was originally green.  Other than that, it only took me like an hour to complete.  Maybe less.

Next, I have examples of a couple of covers from Cassandra's Elemental Phases series, first up is Warrior from the Shadowland:
You can see that it took me several different tries to come up with the final design.  I really hate some of these, but like I said, it's a process.  Incidentally, the symbol on the guy's chest is the Japanese symbol for shadow, as I recall.  You'll also notice that the alchemy symbol changed between the third and forth versions, and that's just because the symbols change depending on which ancient source you use.  The symbol is actually for "mercury" by the way, as "shadow" isn't something that alchemists used.  The cloud is from a shot I took while on vacation in North Dakota, and the background fog is from an earlier vacation to Moonstone Beach in California.

Job's book, Guardian of the Earth House, ended up exactly as planned, so we'll skip right on to Gion's, Exile in the Water Kingdom.  This one was probably the hardest of all of the covers to design for some reason.  I don't know why.  It just kept coming out looking like a postcard or something.

That's the alchemy symbol for water on top of various types of water.  The first is a shot from the Pacific Coast Highway, the next is a shot of a fountain near my house, and finally a shot of the beach.  Honestly, I'm just glad this cover is done and I don't have to mess with it any more.

Chason's book, Queen of the Magnetland, turned out basically the same as first conceived, but I thought it might be interesting to break it down into its base elements, so you can see how they can combine to form a finished cover.  The first image is the close up of a flower petal, the next is an image showing a magnetic field using iron filings.  I made this image almost entirely transparent, and then overlayed it over the flower.  The next is some iron work on a door in a local theme park, and finally I whipped up my own version of the alchemy symbol for "magnetic" since I couldn't find a clear public domain example.

So, you can see that it is possible for an independent author to create their own covers, whether for romance novel ebooks or anything else.  It doesn't take that long, and best of all, it's free.  While I can't say that my cover designs are better than ones I would have had to pay for, I can say that they are exactly what I was looking for, and I didn't have to try to explain them to a graphic artist.  Plus, designing your own cover for your book can be a lot of fun!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tips for designing your own covers for your eBook on Kindle

One of the most common things I see independent authors struggle with is a cover for their work.  That's not surprising, as graphic design isn’t their field.  Still, I've never really understood the idea of paying someone else to do the job.  I wouldn't want someone else stepping in and handling a chapter or two of my book, and I don't like the idea of someone who has probably never even read my book, designing what it is essence the book's "face." 

Now, there are a bunch of different sites which will design a cover for your ebook on Kindle for you.  Prices can get pretty high if you want something memorable though, and I've never seen the need.  Unless you have less than no artistic talent, it actually isn't too hard to do it yourself.  I literally have <b>NO</b> artistic talent, and I'm pretty happy with the way the covers turned out and they didn't cost me a dime.  Since the profit margin on self-published books is very low, any way you can save money is a good idea.  Not to say that you should settle for something inferior, as the cover is one of the first things people look at when considering purchasing your book.  Just that if you can finish the cover you want yourself, for FREE, then it might be a good idea to consider it.
So, here's how I do it:
- A lot of places tell you to just whip something up in Word, but I've always found it difficult to create real depth in the image using Word, and even harder to edit it.  Personally, I use an old copy of Photoshop Elements 2.0 I got at a yard sale for $2.  Newer versions of the program can be purchased from any online retailer for under $100, and it works very well.  Now, if you’ve never used the program before, don’t worry, I hadn’t either.  I didn’t even bother reading the instructions before giving it a shot.  I would suggest just experimenting with the program, and testing to see what kind of things it can do.  Take some family photos and practice editing things out and adding things in.  Add some text.  Change some colors.  Just have some fun and see how it works.  Edit exes out of photos and replace them with hunky celebrities.  Invent a fabulous life for yourself and create a picture trail for all the fun adventures you’ve had.  I find that this type of thing teaches you more about something than any instructions or expensive class ever could.    
Things to remember though: Photoshop adds what it calls “layers” to your work every time you add something.  Think of every element as being on its own clear overlay sheet.  This makes it super easy to move things around if you understand this concept.  If you don’t understand the basic idea, you’ll be frustrated trying to figure out why certain things won’t erase.
- Once you’re familiar with the basic tools and options, you can start on your cover.  Amazon wants its covers at a 1000X1600 size.  So, start there.  Before you actually begin, I would suggest looking at covers in the genre you want to write for.  If your cover looks too different from them, then it won’t be identifiable by potential buyers.  I ran into this problem early on. Still, I feel that a fresh take is always a good thing.  One of the benefits of doing it yourself, is that you don’t have to worry about something generic and cookie cutter.  Make the cover that appeals to YOU.  If you like it, chances are that others will too.
I have found that I still have <b>NO</b> talent at working with human figures though.  I don’t know any professional models and am too cheap to purchase any images to use.  So, I stick mainly to images of things or simple graphics.  If you want to go this route, make sure that the images you are using are public domain for commercial use though.  You do not want to steal someone else’s work, even if it would save you time and it’s doubtful that you’d be caught.
One thing I like to do is go on photo safaris around town with a good digital camera.  I look for interesting patterns, clouds or trees.  Anything that has a strong visual appeal.  This creates a ready supply of potential images to use for the covers.  Now, which images you choose are going to depend on what type of book you are writing and what the setting is.  If you’re writing some kind of medieval romance or something, you’re not going to want to use futuristic looking stuff, for example. 
If you’re writing a series of books, another good thing to do is to give them all a common look.  Not that they should all look the same, just that they should share certain characteristics and design schemes.  For Cassandra’s Elemental Phases series, for example, I use images of whatever elemental house the character is from (shadow, earth, water, fire, etc) and then blend if together with another image in the foreground.  In the center, I use images of alchemy symbols representing that element, and tie them all together with similar font choice and layout.  This gives the series a cohesive look, in my opinion, and takes no great skill to achieve.
For my own series of books, for some reason I go with road sign iconography.  I don’t know why; it just feels right to me.  It’s taken me some time to figure it out, but again, I feel it makes the series seem cohesive.
- I make frequent use of Photoshop’s “drop shadow” option.  I find that it adds drama and depth to the image, and can really make things pop.
- If you are unhappy with the cover, think about it for a few days.  Sometimes inspiration will strike, and you’ll know just what to do to fix it.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve been stuck and then had a moment of inspiration at the oddest times.
- I prefer brighter covers, as I feel they draw the eye.  I’ve also never been a huge fan of “bodice ripper” style covers, or covers with shirtless guys on it.  Not that there’s anything wrong with them, just that they don’t really fit the style of books I write.  Plus, as I mentioned, I have no access to models or public domain pics of them to use like that anyway, so it works out.
- Sometimes I find that the problem with the image is that it’s too “real” looking.  It still looks too much like a photo.  In times like these, I find the simplest method is to either blur the image, add a foggy/blurred layer above the image to distort it slightly, or simply choose another picture. 
- I don’t like using a single image for covers.  I feel it looks cheap.  I prefer to layer multiple images together, to create the final cover.  Plus, this allows you to really create a visual record of whatever “world” you are creating.  Photoshop can allow you to bend and edit everyday objects, until they become exactly what you want them to be.  A single photo of something slapped onto a cover can’t achieve this. 
- Don’t get frustrated.  Like writing, designing covers is a process.  If it isn’t working out, take a deep breath and just do something with it that’s fun.  Even mistakes or jokes can end up teaching you a lot about both the program and about graphic design. 
So, to finish up, as an author, you have complete control over your world.  I see no need for an author to then hand over the reins to someone else, just because she (or he) might not have a degree in graphic design.  Really, a lot of it is intuitive.  Everyone knows what they think looks cool and what attracts them to a certain book.  When an author designs the cover, all it takes is to tap into that knowledge and use it.  There’s really no need to be afraid of trying to tackle it yourself.  After all, if worse comes to worse, you can always go to a cover design firm if you can’t find something you like on your own.  So, what can it hurt?    

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Thoughts on Queen of the Magnetland by its author Cassandra Gannon

Chason is a really special character to me, but I wasn’t always sure about his story.  In my earliest drafts of the first book in the series (Warrior from the Shadowland), I had thought Chason and Ty could be a couple.  My thinking was the two of them had been directly hurt by Parald and that they could help each other heal.  I didn’t get very far with this idea.
In my head, the books are usually different than they eventually turn out.  A lot of this is because the characters themselves evolve and react in ways that I don’t initially expect.  I begin with a set of ideas, but the characters don’t care about them.  They just want to do what they want to do.  So, two problems quickly developed in the Ty/Chason pairing as I started writing:
Problem One) Gion showed up.  I hadn’t really planned to introduce Gion as a long term character so much as he simply appeared on canvas and stayed.  Some characters just takeover and do their own thing, ignoring my best efforts to stop them.  Gion is one of those characters.  (Kingu is another, but that’s another post.)  Anyway, within two pages of Gion and Ty interacting, I’d realized that he was completely in love with her.  This meant that the Chason/Ty pairing was never going to happen.  By which I mean, Gion wouldn’t let it happen.
Problem Two) Chason was never going to be happy with anyone but Mara.  As soon I realized that Gion had ruined my Ty/Chason plan, I turned my attention to making Chason the villain of the book.  Like many of my characters, he always straddles the line between good and bad, so backtracked in my writing and added a chapter explaining that Chason was out to wreck some destruction.  I was happy with this compromise, but then a new problem started.  Chason was so sad and grief-stricken that it was impossible for me to see him as a full-on villain.  In fact, when I showed the manuscript to Liz, she informed me that Chason was her favorite character.
So, the next question was how I could give Chase a HEA when the only woman he wanted was dead.  I tried to think of a way I could convincingly introduce a new love interest for him, but when a guy has vowed to destroy the universe over his lost love, it’s kinda hard for another girl to compete.  So fine.  The only solution was to bring Mara back.  Yes, you read that right.  Raising the dead was actually easier than finding Chason a new Match.  THAT’S how difficult this man can be to write for.
The exact “How do I get Mara back?” dilemma took a very long time to figure out.  Poor Lizzy had to hear many, many, many conversations that went something like, “Wellllll...... this happen and then this would happen and then… Oh, wait that won’t work.”  Liz would stare at me and pretend to care.  Eventually, I figure it out what was supposed to happen, but it was a loooong road.
The most important thing for me is to make the story right.  Following the characters is the best way to do that.  If I trust in them, the plot usually drives itself.  But, if I fight against them or try and make them do what they don’t want to do, I always end up with a blank page and a blinking curser.  In the end, Chason pretty much wrote his story for me, because I just listened to what he wanted to do.  Picturing him with Ty now just makes me chuckle.  What was I thinking?
- Cassandra

Monday, January 14, 2013

New Supernatural romance novel: Queen of the Magnetland

Cassandra published a new book today, Queen of the Magnetland .  It's Chason's book. 

I designed the cover for this one (I actually do all the Star Turtle Publishing covers), and it took a little longer than some of the others.  I'm fairly happy with the way it turned out though.  It's actually a close-up of a purple flower pedal, then a semi-transparent layer of metal filings showing the outline of a magnetic field, then a door knocker plaque from a building found in a local theme park, and finally the alchemy symbol for magnetic (all of the Elemental Phases books use alchemy symbols on their covers, incidentally.)  We tried a bunch of different arrangements, and this was the one which looked the best.

Romance novel December Sales Figures

Okay, time to introduce a new feature... well, the blog is only a day old, so everything is new at this point, but you get the idea... we here at Star Turtle Publishing thought it'd be interesting to open up the books and share the sales figures.

So, of the books we publish, the leader by a mile was Treasure of the Fire Kingdom. In fact, Kingu has now outsold book three of the Elemental Phases series, Exile in the Water Kingdom in overall sales. Personally, I don't understand why anyone would read book 4 without book 3, but I'd never tell anyone how they should enjoy their book.

In any case, here's the rundown in case anyone was interested:

Highest sales for Dec 2012

1. Treasure of the Fire Kingdom
2 and 3 (tie): Guardian of the Earth House and Exile in the Water Kingdom
4. Not another vampire book
5. Warrior from the Shadowland
6. The Son of Sun and Sand
7. Yesterday's Heroes

Careful observation will reveal that all of Cassandra's books outsold mine last month. This cannot continue people. Let's try to reverse the list this month, okay? ;-

New supernatural romance / urban fantasy / superhero romance novel: The Guy Your Friends Warned You About

 Published the 3rd book in the Consortium of Chaos series the other day, The Guy Your Friends Warned You ABout It's Cynic's book, and it and I have a bit of a complicated history.

I have a tendency to write books out of order. Cassandra (Cassandra Gannon) thinks I'm odd as she writes hers in order, but generally, I skip around. So, I might write the second chapter, then the last one, then chapter 10, etc. I have no idea why. That's just the way my brain works sometimes. I'll even write a random chapter from another book. For example, I have several chapters for book 5 done already.

Anyway, this book was actually at publishable length before Yesterday's Heroes (book one in the C of C series) was even completed. The problem was I wasn't happy with it. Also, you can't have a book 2 without book one, but that's beside the point. So, I shelved the book and decided to write Tyrant's book (The Son of Sun and Sand) as book 2 instead, and the time off from it allowed me to get some distance and re-examine some of the decisions I made. In other words, I had to toss a lot of it out and built again. In the end though, I took the parts from the first draft I liked and reimagined them into a better story. I hate it when writers rush a book, just to get it to market sooner, and the story suffers as a result. Personally, I'd rather wait an extra month or two and make sure the story is the one the characters want to tell. If I had any advice to give to another author, it would be that you should never be afraid to wait until the story is right. Start over if you have to, but never release something you're unhappy with. Because chances are, the readers won't be happy with it either. Or you.

The title was originally going to be "Reality's Orphan," which is a line from the book, but then Cynic called himself "the guy your friends warn you about," and I knew he was onto something with it. I liked that title more, so I immediately edited the already completed cover.

All in all, I think it turned out very well. That my sound braggy, but if I were unhappy with the story in some way, I'd change it. ...Which also sounds braggy, but if I were unhappy with the stuff I say in my blog posts, I'd change that too... ;- )

- Lizzy

Superhero romance: "The Consortium of Chaos"

My series of superhero / supernatural / urban fantasy romance novels follows around a group of people called the Consortium of Chaos. They're super-villains, only they're currently trying to do good things. Unfortunately, they're not very good at it.

Yesterday's Heroes

Why write a series of books about bad guys finding love?

I'm one of those people who always votes for the bad guy. Well, almost always, anyway. The point is that I'm not a huge fan of perfect heroes doing perfect things, be they superheroes or not. Someone who always does the right thing is boring. I think most of us try to take the "right" path in life, and we already know what that looks like. Personally, I'd much rather read about someone who chooses the other road, because I've never seen it. Someone who does things that I would never do. Says things that I would never say. Thinks things that I would never think. With that in mind, I decided to write about super-villains.

It's actually bigger than just comics, and applies to all books though. I've always been fascinated by the interplay of the extraordinary and the banal. I mean, when you stop and think about it, just what do the villains of books do all day when they're not attacking the heroes? How do they organize their evil bases? What does their lunchroom serve? Do they have girlfriends/boyfriends when they're not on screen in the hero's book? I can't count the number of times I've read a book and thought, "Why am I following this stupid boring guy around? I'd much rather go see what the villain is doing. He's much more interesting."

Why comic book super-villains instead of a more conventional villain?

I've always liked comic books. They're like soap opera, only in capes and tights. They can easily create entire worlds, which have their own rules and concepts. They can be as "real" or as "fantasy" as you would like. Plus, the hero genre is so filled with ideas and clichés which are a lot of fun to play with. There are just a TON of different character tropes and silly concepts which lend themselves beautifully to the romantic genre.

So, that's a little of the thought process behind why I chose to go the route I did. I find the idea interesting, I find the classic clichés of the comic book genre very able to be applied to a new genre in a new way, and from a writing standpoint, I don't think any concept allows you greater freedom than a comic book world. I mean, it's pretty much the only type of fiction I can think of where there are literally no rules except the ones you write yourself. Any of your characters can have any power you want, and you don't need to explain it. They can be aliens or gods or time-travelers, anything. You can be dramatic or funny or romantic. The tone can be silly or serious. And best of all, if you DON'T feel like inventing some new thing, you don't have to worry about losing the "fantasy" or "sci-fi" feeling of your work, because the comic book world is basically ours. You don't have to worry about exposition to random background characters about how there are people with super-powers running around, because they're PART of the comic book world and already know all about it. Thus, the suspencion of disbelief by the reader is never threatened. All of the characters in the world know there are super-villains running around; it's a fact of their lives, and thus, you don't have to waste time (both yours and the reader's) explaining it to them. And if for some reason you WANT to have a scene where a character is explaining their powers, you can still do it, because there are literally no end to the variety of powers you can give them. As awe-inspiring or as stupid as you want. You can literally do anything you want, and the genre seamlessly allows for it.

All in all, I can't imagine writing anything which could be more fun than bad guys looking for love in a world where anything can happen.

FIrst Post!

So, I guess I should begin the Star Turtle Publishing Blog with a description of us. We're an independent publisher of eBooks, specializing in romance novels. Our books tend to be a little different than the more mainstream publishers. They have touching stories of single mothers finding love with the mysterious stranger who moves into their quiet New England town. OUR books tend to involve things like finding love during a zombie invasion, or while dedicating your life to super-villainy. It's a subtle distinction.

Anyway, we look forward to building and sharing with the community! We love to hear from fans, so if anyone has any questions, comments or concerns, please feel to shout them out.