Covers and Branding

September 11th, 2014

I’ve been working toward getting new covers for my books, with the idea that they would essentially be branded, that is, they’d have a recognizable look and feel.

I uploaded the ones that are final to my Pinterest Board. You can see, I hope, the developing look and feel. I haven’t finished updating everything on my website yet. Soon. Very soon.

Challenges

There were two major challenges. Good artwork and the fact that I write historical and paranormal under the same name. Cost was another. Setting up a custom shoot with professional models is more or less far outside my budget. Otherwise, I’d be taking to John Marron and guys like that.

That cost issue : with sufficient budget, I could get the models I want and the clothing required, and the models would know how sell the poses. ::dreaming:: I’ll circle back to that.

Regarding covers and design, first, I recognize my lack of design talent. I do understand the principles of typography and design, since in my web development days I worked closely with the graphic designers. It was in their interest to educate me since I was more or less in charge of the website. Having been schooled, I am very very aware of my shortcomings. That is why I don’t do my own covers.

Why our Gender Problem Makes The image Challenge Worse

At the moment, we live in a culture that uses women’s bodies to sell products. The female body is sexual (as if a man’s isn’t, too.) The cliche is “Sex Sells” But what they really mean is “Women Imaged as Sexually Available Sell.”

And that is a problem because, contrary to popular notions about Romance, A romance novel cover image (excluding erotica) isn’t about sex. It’s about the promise of love. If you go look at stock images and search for Romantic Couple you see pages and pages and pages of women who look like they’re auditioning for a porno movie. Virtually none of them look like they’re falling in love or about to fall in love.

It’s a disgrace. It’s offensive. Probably those Royalty Free sites have the dregs of a photoshoot where the excellent shots went elsewhere.

The clinch cover is not, as that idiot from Vox implied, all about ::giggle:: she wrote a word that has a naughty meaning so let’s read EVERYTHING as if it has that meaning!!! It’s damn near impossible to find a couple who look like there’s love somewhere in there.

And, 99% of the time, someone’s idea of a “historical” gown comes from a $4.99 Halloween costume.

Fortunately, there are now some additional sites dedicated to Romance Novel cover images that have good to great models. There are fashion experts who will loan their historically accurate clothing to the cause of a photoshoot. So, it’s easier than it used to be. As in, instead of impossible, it’s almost impossible.

The image Challenge

My first covers were severely hampered by two main things: the image problems, my talent problem. For some time I could get away with mediocre to good covers because there were others that were so bad … The bar was low and lots of authors benefited from that, whether they knew it or not. The fact that so many NY Romance covers were also just as terrible or worse also contributed to that low bar. I quickly realized that NY was using the same stock image sites as the rest of us. Some of my early covers were pre-made but with some custom typography work.

So, my goal then was to get my reverted titles on sale with the best cover I could manage given all the handicaps around that, and then to bring out front-list, too.

In early 2013, the cover bar got higher, or I got less tolerant of the shortcomings of my covers. I had good cover artists, but I wasn’t letting them do their job. I did have to learn to get out of the way. Early on, I wasn’t able to also get print covers made …. see lack of talent from me. The person I was working with at the time didn’t do print covers and I was not able to do them myself and be happy with the result and the time spent.

This was a problem for me. I ended up having almost no print presence, and that got to be a worse and worse situation, to the point where I had to find another artist. Ultimately, to get all the covers done, I ended up using two different people.

The 100% Improvement Dilemma

Here is a true fact. For ease of discussion, let’s pretend there’s the following spectrum of ability:

  1. Worst ever in history
  2. Horrible
  3. Never should see the light of day
  4. sucks
  5. Not bad
  6. Almost good, if you squint
  7. Mediocre
  8. Huh
  9. I like it
  10. Nice
  11. Ooh
  12. OMG that’s amazing
  13. Off the charts genius

Suppose you start out at horrible in the “Cover Ability” area. You get Photoshop or Gimp and learn a few things and voila! You have a cover that never should see the light of day. You have improved a lot. You work some more and now your cover merely sucks. You have improved 100% in ability, you can see that because look at the difference between where you started and where you are now! You can use the tools! Eyedropper! Oh, hey, fonts. That I did not buy.

But your covers are still terrible.

If you’re in the business of selling books, your covers need at minimum to be at least Nice. At least there. If you’re not an actual artist, chances are very very slim that the cover you think is Nice actually is.

Typography

It’s a skill. And it’s a separate skill from design. Courtney Milan wrote a post about this. Go read it. FYI, I Googled “Courtney Milan and the Duke’s Cock” to find and link to that post. It was more fun than it should have been. But I’m not even ashamed.

What I did, several several several months ago, was find someone good at typography and commission a custom name font. Anthony Piraino as it happens. It was a chunk of change but a more than acceptable business expense. I wanted a font that would work across genres, so it couldn’t look too historical or too paranormal. It’s not just a font with letters that spell my name. (grin) He made pixel level customizations to the shapes of some letters for me.

The first time I used it on a cover, I could see it looked — as it did. The effectiveness of the name font isn’t apparent until you see it on several covers. Then you can see the branding and how it pulls the books together.

Color and Contrast

What I know from my work on websites and from studying the hell out of my cover situation while I pondered solutions, was that in the digital space, thumbnails matter a lot. You need colors that contrast. There are a lot of things wrong with the current trend in historical covers, not the least of which is how bad they look at thumbnail size.

On a purely personal level, I don’t care for the pastel trend, in historicals particularly. I wanted vivid, vibrant jewel tones over a year ago and I wish I’d been in a position to get all my covers done then. I wasn’t able to make it happen, alas. I would have been WAY ahead of the curve. I’m sure that will change at some point and I’ll be looking for another composition and color effect.

A Key Difference

Here’s the thing. Across all the books I ever published traditionally, my covers were always branded to the publisher and/or imprint. Not to me. I got one cover and that was it. There were no do-overs, or huh. It’s not working, let’s try something else.

What I have done is replace covers that stopped working or were too divergent from the look I was trying to hit. What I’ve done or am in the middle of developing, is a look that says, this is a book by Carolyn Jewel. And that never happened when I was traditionally publishing. I got some fantastic covers. Several of them were distinctive enough to build off of … There was nothing cohesive across my name even at the same publisher.

I am shallow. Very shallow

I have spent a lot of time looking at images of men, women, and couples. Here’s a list of the things I began ruthlessly saying:

  • She’s not pretty enough.
  • He’s not handsome enough.
  • Great body. Meh face.
  • They look like they hate each other.
  • That guy is SUPER DUPER cute but he isn’t ripped enough.
  • Please, dude. You are not that good looking. Just stop it.
  • Lady, could you at least TRY to look happy?
  • Holy shit, he’s hot.
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About A Notorious Ruin

September 7th, 2014

Today, I uploaded the final, final files for A Notorious Ruin at all the sites where I could do a pre-order. The print file is off to the person who does my interior formatting. So, this book is done. You can start buying it Sept 23, 2014.

Now, of course, I keep hearing all these terrible stories about vendors delivering the wrong file … So. If you pre-ordered, and the change log at the very end does not say 2014.09.07: Version 1, then you didn’t get the correct file and you should let me know so I can either send you the correct file or see if the vendor can fix the issue.

I want to say thank you to everyone who has waited patiently, impatiently, and even not-waiting-anymore. All of you reminded me how much people wanted to read the sequels to Lord Ruin. This book is over a year late, and boy. I think it would have been late even if it had been traditionally published, because I spent most of 2013 so sleep deprived I could barely think straight. A worse outcome than late, though, would have been a book that was on time but not as good as it should have been — because when you’re sleep deprived, you think you’re coping OK when you’re not.

This book kicked my ass, but I think that was in part because I was sleep deprived from late 2012 through just about all of 2013. I’m the only source of income for my family. I could not afford to just quit the day job, even though I considered it and kept hoping I’d get fired. I knew if I took a job with a commute– and I was interviewing– I would have lost most of my writing time, and I would have had to give up one of my promises to myself about being home when my son was home.

I literally do not know how I would have made sure he got to and from school with his zero-hour classes if I took a different job and had to commute into the City. But things did get better enough at the job that at last I wasn’t getting up in the middle of the night most nights, ofte several times, dealing with emergencies.

I wasn’t back up to snuff sleep-wise until about March or April this year, and looking back, I can see that’s about when A Notorious Ruin finally had a spark or two. I had a couple of other writing commitments, too, so twice I had to put A Notorious Ruin mostly on hold for about 4 weeks while I wrote a novella. I wrote the other novella while ANR was in beta.

When I sent the book out to beta, I figured, well, it’s done if by done you mean, there are 80K words that seem to have a progression of sorts. When it came back, I was shocked to realize the book was in far better shape than I thought. (which isn’t saying much) I revised in my usual fugue state and filled in the couple of chapters that said “X will happen in this chapter. Probably” and also wrote the ending. Off to my editor it went.

I revised again when it came back from my editor, added about 15K in polishing up complexifying words, and by then, I said, quite literally, “Holy shit, this book is good.”

And it is. It’s really, really good.

I hope you love it as much as I do.

 

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About That Other Thing — Running for Stuff

September 4th, 2014

So, I’m looking at my Google and Talkwalker Alerts and there are more of them than usual. So I look in case it’s something more exciting than another pirate site, and Oh! Yes! There is! !! for good measure.

I am running for the RWA Board, for a director at large spot. I knew Tessa Dare and Courtney Milan were running. In fact, when I saw Courtney at RWA this past July we chatted about that, and I did think it would be pretty awesome to have the two of them on the Board since they have my utter respect in all things business of writing related. Anyway, I don’t know exactly what happened, but I walked away from that chat having decided to run for the Board, too.

It’s not a decision totally out of the blue. It’s been mentioned to me more than once over the years, mostly because I have no shortage of opinions, and an often appropriate response to someone’s strong opinions about stuff is to say, well, why don’t you do something about it?

Over the last two years, the issues facing RWA have been both important and contentious. I think contentious is good — it means people are paying attention. RWA is, in my opinion, currently an organization of writers who hold a unique position in the business of being authors. There is no other organization ahead of RWA and its members with he issues facing publishers and writers today. Not one. Other organizations are behind RWA members. What has happened to and because of authors in RWA is very likely on its way to other writers.

It’s also true that the current publishing environment is one driven by technology. We are potentially looking at a future where the big publishers are not companies like the Big 5 but technology companies. Amazon, Google, and Apple are tech companies, they are not book publishing companies …. except now they are.

I have spent something like 20 years working in tech. I currently work in software development, as a data architect. That’s a job that touches lots and lots of technical areas. I feel strongly that RWA needs at least some Board members who have a strong grasp of what this technology transformation of publishing could/does mean for writers. I’m not the only one with expertise, not by any means. But I am one of them.

This is a crucial time for RWA. So go look at the slate of really, truly, fine candidates and then vote for people you feel should on the board, representing you.

Consider this:


Everyone says publishing is dead. Nobody reads. Three of the biggest companies in the world — Apple, Amazon, and Google — are all recently and aggressively in the book publishing business.

Whatever your take away on that, go vote. It’s important.

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Oh, Hey About That Thing You Did 5 Times

September 4th, 2014

I’m going to whine.

I have put A Notorious Ruin through five rounds of proofreading. Five. Today I finished round five, and I updated my files etc etc etc., and then I uploaded the updated files to the places I have preorders just in case, you know, even though I have another week before bake-in, as it were, and I did Amazon last, and their spell checker, which has never ever before found an actual typo, found a typo that was an actual typo.

O_O

So I went back and fixed that, and then did one last check and I found another one (that Amazon missed. I don’t think “afer” is a word so what the hell, Amazon?) So I fixed that too.

Seriously.
::sigh::

The good news is that I have the final new cover for Stolen Love, and it’s pretty, pretty, pretty, and I’ve uploaded that most places. And, the Print on Demand cover for Scandal is gorgeous. I got that today. So, as soon as I have a final interior, there will at last, be a paper copy for Scandal.

Yay!!

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The News Post of New Stuff you Didn’t Know Probably

September 1st, 2014

All righty.

Things I have been doing:

1. Uploaded A Notorious Ruin for pre-orders at Amazon, iBooks, Google Play, and Kobo. The publication date is September 23, 2014. I’ll post the pre-order links as they come live.

The files are final enough that I would not be totally horrified if they delivered now. They’re missing a couple graphical elements that would spiffy up the file, that’s pretty much it.

Side note: Aside from other proofeading, I ran A Notorious Ruin through an on-line grammar checker that highlighted some typos and points that needed clarification, and the WordPerfect grammar checker that highlighted OTHER typos and points that needed clarification.

Side Side note: Grammar checkers are pretty much useless for actually checking grammar. But they are very good at finding typos or other slips.

Side Side Side note: Next, I will do a visual proof on the iPad (see below) AND have it read back to me.

2. I have started uploading the new covers for Scandal and Indiscreet. That goes along with some updated links and formatting (always tweaking!) They’re live most places, actually.

3. I approved the new cover for Stolen Love and have the final files.

4. Took a look at the new cover for The Spare and asked for a slight tweak.

5. Went back and forth on the main images to use for Passion’s Song and Moonlight. Found a couple more to consider.

6. Contacted my go-to guy for typopgraphy and logos etc about doing some work on a logo and graphical elements to use inside books. Yes, that latter one would be easy. If you aren’t me. But I am me. So.

7. Loaded the proof iBooks file for A Notorious Ruin to the iPad. I find this a very very useful proofreading tool. I’ll also find any formatting glitches, of course.

So, been busy. How about you?

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A Notorious Ruin – Update!

August 31st, 2014

I’ve been quiet here lately, but that’s because I’ve been revising and polishing and finalizing A Notorious Ruin. Well, tomorrow I run it through one last pre-final proofreading check. Then I’ll prepare the first digital file and read through that and, guaranteed, I will find more errors. Realistically, that will be a several day process. I’ll load it into a reader and have it read back to me and that will also find more errors.

But, and here is the important part, I expect to start uploading for pre-orders in the next week.

If anyone wants a review copy, let me know.

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Reading.

August 20th, 2014

I’m tidying up A Notorious Ruin before I get it copy-edited and proofread, but in between I have read three books I have really enjoyed.

The first is The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley. It’s set in modern England, but with a secret governmental society that deals with paranormal threats. The members of the society have various powers and as you can imagine, there’s a dark-side, too. It’s delightful and fun and really, I’m looking forward to more! Get the book. I have a theory about the story and its future, and I can’t wait to see if I’m right.

I resisted buying this book for a really long time because the eBook is $9.99 and that is a price that makes me unhappy.  However, if you are going to buy an overpriced eBook, this is the one to get.  (The author in me says, what a shame, a lower price would probably have put the book on a bestseller list. I know for a fact I’m not the only person who didn’t buy in the initial buzz period because of the price. I didn’t buy until I heard from two people I trust that it was worth the money.)

The second is The Hidden Blade by Sherry Thomas. This book is a prequel to the upcoming Romance. Disclosure: Sherry is a friend. We have the same agent. We were both in the Midnight Scandals Anthology and have books in the upcoming box set Seven Wicked Nights.

The Hidden Blade is not a romance. It’s set in England and China. The writing is wonderful (doh) and reading it was an unusual experience because I kept thinking, this book is pulling me alongm and I don’t understand why. I just know I was engrossed and invested in the characters and it was just a wonderful, wonderful story and all the time while I wasn’t reading, I was thinking about the characters and how I needed  NEEDED to get home and find out what happens to them.

Another thing I loved was the Wushu. I love martial arts movies. The ones set in China that draw on the magical powers and effects of Wushu are among my favorites. Chinese martial arts films have a strong tradition of women fighters. It’s not even right to say “strong tradition” it’s that women were also fighters who could kick anybody’s ass and did so. It’s normal. Normal. (One of the best, most easily accessible movies for Westerners that demonstrates this is Jackie Chan’s The Legend of Drunken Master. If that film had been American, the parts of the women would have been eviscerated and/or replaced by men. But instead, you see Chan playing opposite a female fighter who is never a love interest and who also cannot be disentangled from the plot. It’s hilarious, by the way.)

So, I loved loved loved the martial arts in this book and that it played out through the women. Hell yeah. Plus, at the end, if the main book were out, I would have one-clicked it. I have it pre-ordered. I can’t wait!!!!

The third book is The Hunt For Red October by Tom Clancy. Yes. That’s right. Somehow, even though I LOVE thrillers and read them all the time, I’d never read this one.  ::Head Smack::  I loved it. I really did. It’s everything I love about thrillers and it was engrossing the whole time.  It made me think lots of writerly thoughts, too, but not when I was reading it. When I was reading it, I was too busy going, oh my god now WHAT!!!

What have you read, lately?

 

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Misha Saves The Queen

August 16th, 2014

God love a Glock. Keep a stiff wrist, and they never jam.

Misha shoved his last mag home. Snick.

Firm two-handed grip.

Smoke drifted from the robotics clean room. Fully contaminated now, with half a body leaking blood in the doorway. The guy wasn’t going to get any deader, but a carbon-fiber tentacle squeezed the corpse’s neck with all the joy of an elopus fresh from the cryotank.

Misha flicked the juice. The electric charge that shot up both arms never got old.

The creature bounded out of the lab like a ballerina on tentacles; fast, coordinated, strong. He aimed, locked on three centimeters above its elephant trunk, and squeezed.

Boo-yah, baby.

“Is it always this messy?”

“Your Majesty.” Elopus gore oozed down his left shoulder, but when the Queen walks into a room, you bow, motherfucker.

What the??

A participant in GISHWHES asked me to help her in her scavenger hunt. One of the tasks was to get a published Sci-Fi author to write a story with the parameters below. I qualify, it was felt, because my books in the Crimson City series are Sci-Fi romance. So, I said, sure!

The Instructions

140 word Sci-Fi story involving an elopus, Misha Collins and Her Majesty, the Queen of England.

Boom.

To be safe, I counted hyphenated words as two.

Enjoy.

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Who We Are

August 14th, 2014

“The worsening situation in Ferguson is deeply troubling, and does not represent who we are as Missourians or as Americans.” Missouri Governor Nixon.

Except no. That’s the whole problem. What we must accept is that this DOES represent who we are.

Until those of us who look in the mirror and don’t see brown skin admit that, this will never change.

Ferguson happened because of who we are. Let’s change that.

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Secret Project Revealed!

August 11th, 2014

This project came about very suddenly. As in something like just hours after Sherry Thomas floated the idea to me and Courtney Milan, this happened:

 

Cover of Boxed Set: Seven Wicked Nights

Seven Wicked Nights

About Seven Wicked Nights

September 16, 2014

Seven bestselling historical romance authors offer seven sexy stories featuring dukes, lords, rakes, scoundrels…and the unforgettable heroines who bring them to their knees. These stories range in length from long novellas to delectable little bites.

Unlocked

by New York Times bestselling author Courtney Milan

Elaine Warren has resigned herself to life as a spinster and a wallflower…but when Evan Carlton, the Earl of Westfeld, returns after a long absence, she’s afraid that he plans to torment her as he did before. This time, though, she vows to show him that wallflowers can fight back…

follow Courtney on Twitter | Like Courtney on Facebook | Read an excerpt from Unlocked

When I Met my Duchess

by USA Today bestselling author Caroline Linden

Everyone expects the Duke of Wessex’s wedding to be the society event of the Season. But when the duke meets his future bride’s sister, he realizes he’s about to marry the wrong woman…and his wedding is about to become the scandal of the year.

Follow Caroline on Twitter | Like Caroline on Facebook | Read an excerpt from When I Met my Duchess

How to Catch a Wild Viscount

by New York Times bestselling author Tessa Dare (originally published as The Legend of the Werestag)

Luke Trenton, Viscount Merritt, returned from battle a changed man, but Cecily Hale won’t be pushed away. She has only a few moonlit nights to reach the real Luke…the wounded heart she knows still beats inside the war-ravaged body…or she could lose him to the darkness forever.

follow Tessa on Twitter | Like Tessa on Facebook | Read an excerpt from How to Catch a Wild Viscount

One Starlit Night

by award-winning author Carolyn Jewel

Ten years away from Doyle’s Grange isn’t long enough for Viscount Northword to forget Portia Temple or their passionate adolescent affair. Portia, however, is about to marry another man…and Northword cannot help but interfere, with his words, his body, and the truths of his heart.

More About One Starlit Night

Claiming the Duchess

by two-time RITA® winner Sherry Thomas

Clarissa, the widowed Duchess of Lexington, has two great loves: the reticent and reclusive Mr. James Kingston and her faithful correspondent Miss Julia Kirkland, whom Clarissa has never met. Now both Mr. Kingston and Miss Kirkland are due to arrive at Clarissa’s house—and Clarissa is about to find out that neither is as she has been led to believe…

Follow Sherry on Twitter | Like Sherry on Facebook | Read an excerpt from Claiming the Duchess

The Misbehaving Marquess

by award-winning author Leigh LaValle

Having awaited the return of her husband for half a decade, Catherine Raybourne, the Marchioness of Foster, has no intention of reconciling with her misbehaving marquess. But when he insists he needs an heir—immediately—she must confront her own lingering desires. Can she protect her heart while attempting to win his once again?

Follow Leigh on Twitter | Like Leigh on Facebook | Read an excerpt from The Misbehaving Marquess

Ruined by a Rake

by award-winning author Erin Knightley

Eleanor Abbington has always had a contentious and competitive relationship with Nicolas Norton. But when her uncle orders her to marry the man of his choosing, her old adversary becomes her only ally, and she may very well find herself…ruined by a rake.

Follow Erin on Twitter | Like Erin on Facebook | Read an excerpt from Ruined by a Rake

More!

As soon as the pre-order links are live, I’ll get them posted. I’m thrilled to be participating in this. What a great way for people to get stories by some really fantastic authors.

Release date is Sept 16.

Pre-Orders!

iBooks

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