Mystery’s End by Maryanne Snell

If you like mysteries, check out Maryanne Snell’s Mystery’s End, which is out today.

It’s a parlor room type mystery set in the 1920s in a fictional house very much like the Winchester Mystery House.  If you’ve never been there, you should go.  But read the book first, because it’s delightful.  This should be no surprise, as Maryanne is one of the coolest people ever.  Don’t believe me?  She talks about her own book (among other things) here.

Congrats on the debut, Maryanne!

Sometimes I love games that are also sexist

 

A while ago a friend and I were talking about the upcoming Kingdom Death: Monster.  I had criticized that game’s portrayal of women–in particular the extreme sexism and objectification of the self-described “pinup” minis.  My friend asked what I thought was a sensitive question.  “So,” he said.  “Does that mean when it comes out you won’t play it with us?”

“No,” I said.  It absolutely did not mean that.  Why?  Because as a table top gamer, I have two options.  I can play games that objectify and sexualize women, or I can choose not to play miniatures games.

My friend dearly wanted to argue with me on that point.  Sure, Kingdom Death was obviously sexualized.  But surely not every game was like that.  So (politely!  Because my friends are awesome), he tried to think of a counter example–a game that did not sexualize women.  But for every Constance Blaise, who is actually quite well-armored for a female fig, I could name a Deneghra, made by the same company.

In the end, my friend conceded that I was right.  Those, in fact, were my choices.

And I reiterated my personal choice.  I choose to play.

Why?

Because I love to play.

That Deneghra mini?  I own it.  (Though, ouch.  Old paint job.)  Cryx is my first love, and I own all their sexy undead women.  I bought Deneghra.  I love to play her because she kicks butt and totally demoralizes the opposing army FTW.  She’s my favorite ever.  And though I’m not a huge fan of that mini, I am a huge fan of the Pirate Queen Skarre mini, which, lets face it, have all the same sexualization problems.

I like a lot of minis that sexualize women.

But that doesn’t mean I like the sexualization of women.  I hate it.  And I am totally on board with some people choosing to handle their disdain for objectification by choosing not to play these games, by choosing not to give money to these companies, by choosing to not be table top gamers.  Totally on board.  I get why one would do that.  I support that choice entirely.

But I choose to play, and to give money to these companies, and to bring these minis into my home and to love them and play with them.

Why?  Because of conversations like that one with my friend.  Because as we talked about sexualization, he got it.  He looked at all of the games he played and he saw that not a single one did a decent job of portraying women’s bodies realistically or respectfully.  And once he saw it, he couldn’t un-see it.

That’s awareness.  Awareness is important.

It would be nice if we lived in a world where most people were already aware of these things, but we don’t.  Outside feminist circles, most people don’t get it.  And gamers don’t want to listen to voices from outside telling them that what they love is wrong.  No one wants to hear that they aren’t allowed to like the things that they like.  And gamers hear this from everyone, all the time.  We shouldn’t like games because they are time wasters (never mind that gaming is a social experience–even more so than watching sports or television or movies thankyouverymuch).  We shouldn’t like games because they are violent (as if there’s much adult entertainment inAmerica that isn’t violent.  Or entertainment for children for that matter.  Seriously.)

And so, when someone says that games objectify women (which is an observable fact), gamers rush to defend their games.  Why?

Because, man.  I love that game!  How can you say it’s bad?

Are gamers wrong to be defensive like that?  Yes.  Dead wrong.  Even wronger when they then lash out at the person delivering the message.  Guess what?  Nearly every piece of American culture objectifies women.  Games are no exception.  It’s a huge problem.  The defense of the indefensible makes the problem even worse, and often reperpetrates the problem by victimizing the very person who is trying to point out the victimization.  Some gamers have a tendency to go all RawrHulkSmash on women who are critical of the games they like.  This is an atrocity.

Here’s an important fact to remember when you’re faced with such criticism:  no one gets to tell you what you’re allowed to like.  And, in American culture, it’s really hard to like anything without liking something that is legitimately, demonstrably racist or sexist (or, usually, both.)

It’s okay.  Next time someone says that a game, or a movie, or a book, or anything you like is racially problematic, or objectifies women, take a deep breath.  Say to yourself, I’m still allowed to like it.  And then try to see the problems with it anyway.  Practice saying, this thing I like isn’t perfect.  This thing I like is also part of a harmful cultural trend.  This thing I like can be both harmful and awesome at the same time.

Because it can.  Most entertainment is, and always has been.

Back to awareness.  Once you are aware of sexualization and the inherent problems, you will see it everywhere.  That’s okay.  You can like what you like and still admit that no piece of art is perfect, that all art is a product of the culture from which it stems, and that most art could use improvement.  You can say, I don’t like this cultural trend, but I still play this game because other things about it are freaking awesome and Iloveitsomuch.  That’s okay.

There’s totally a place for shunning work that doesn’t meet your personal standards.  It’s totally okay to boycott problematic things.  But it’s also okay not to boycott, and still participate in the conversation.  The more people are respectfully aware of the problem, the more the conversation of the art will change.  And with that change will come better games, which we can all also love.

Because that’s what gamers do.  We love games.  Sometimes we love problematic games.  Sometimes we love progressive games.  Sometimes we love games that are violent and sexist and can I tell you about the three hundred hours I’ve poured into the Borderlands video games I love them so much they’re my favorite and holy crap the sexism and objectification and violence against women.  WOW.  It’s truly appalling.

I still love them, though, because the game design is awesome.  Both things can be true.  I can play them and love them and still see and discuss the problems.  Would I love them even more if they weren’t so problematic?  Yes.  So it’s only up from here.

That’s how I personally choose to deal with the sexism in gaming.  Everyone gets to make their own choice about how they deal with it.  But making the choice to attack others for pointing out the sexy-sexy elephant in the room?

Not cool.  Never cool.

So make your own media consumption choices.  But let’s all just admit that our culture is full of harmful portrayals of women, many of them in things that are otherwise the Best. Thing. Ever.

Those are the conditions of our existence.

And until we see real, positive change, we’re all going to have to choose how we navigate that.

Learn to Fail

I get asked a lot about what advice I have for beginning writers.   I’ve been thinking about this question a lot: there are so many ways to answer it.  There are so many things to say.

But lately, I’ve decided that I think one thing is more important than all the others.  This is my one piece of advice, the thing I think everyone going into the arts needs to do:

Learn to fail.

That sounds stupid, right?  Any idiot can fail.  And that’s true: any idiot can do work that yields bad results.  But to fail and keep trying–to fail and learn and grow–is a skill.  If you want to be a writer, or any kind of artist, or maybe any kind of person, I would suggest that it’s a skill you should learn.

People get really uncomfortable when I talk about my failures.  I can’t use that word without watching people squirm.  Then come the excuses.  You’re not a failure!  they exclaim.  Don’t say that!  It makes me angry, actually.  I don’t like it when people try to take my failures from me.  I worked hard for those.

Let me tell you fact: if you can only be happy when you are rewarded by resounding success, you are not going to be very happy as an artist.  No artist I know–not even the biggest, most successful, most lucky artist–succeeds all the time.  If you have to succeed all the time to be happy, don’t go into the arts.  In fact, you might not want to go into this life thing, because life is full of failure.

It’s okay not to win.  It’s okay not to do well.  It’s okay not to get what you want.  It’s simply not true that you can have succeed at everything all the time.  That’s not the way it works.  There’s no shame in working hard for things that never come to fruition.  There’s no shame in saying the wrong things, doing the wrong things, messing up everything.

You don’t have to be perfect.  Successful people are the ones who aren’t so afraid of failing that they don’t try.  Successful people are the ones who fail, and after they have failed, they figure out what went wrong and try again, doing things differently this time.  And sometimes they fail that time, too, but they keep going.

Happy people aren’t people who don’t fail.  They’re people who know that their own failure is not reflective of their worth, of their goodness or value as a person.  They are people who know that everyone makes mistakes, that performing badly at first is a part of learning.  Happy people know that we’re all always learning.  Happy people are people who allow themselves to fail, but don’t let that failure haunt them or define who they are.  Because they’re allowed to fail, they aren’t afraid to try again.

Don’t try take my failures away from me.  I won’t let you have them.  I value them more than I value my successes.  I don’t get to decide most of what happens to me.  Really, everything I control about my life comes down to one thing: I get to decide what I will try.  That’s it.  The results are, for the most part, out of my hands.

Do results matter?  Yes.  They matter.  They matter for lots of things–feeding your family, maintaining relationships, contributing to your community.  Does effort matter?  Of course it does.  Results are about other people, but effort is about you.   You matter.   Your development matters.  You will get better at things you practice.  At first you will fail.  Later, you will fail some more.  You will finally succeed, only to fail again.  And it’s only when you turn around and look back that you will discover that the failures taught you as much or more than the successes.  And with what you’ve become you can turn around and deliver results–maybe not the ones you tried and failed at, but good, meaningful ones that will be beneficial to other people.  Results and effort are not a binary.  They have a reciprocal relationship, and always, always, they dance with failure.

Learn to let yourself fail.  Fail at that.  Try again.  When you’ve mastered it, learn to let yourself fail and be happy.  Fail at that.  Try again.  Finally achieve it.  Then, learn to let yourself fail and be as happy as if you had succeeded.

And on that day, you’ll be the bravest artist who ever lived.

A Whole Lot of Nothing

I’ve been mired in fixing the ending of a book for a while now.  This makes me feel like I’m accomplishing nothing, because it’s a whole lot of brainstorm/write/cut/write/rinse/repeat.  Not my favorite.

Today I was bemoaning that I haven’t accomplished anything in months.  MONTHS I tell you.

Then I thought to myself: is the true?  Or have I just been sucked into the Vortex of Time Dilation aka Revision?

So I counted.

In the last seven months I have:

1) Heavily rewritten EVERYTHING’S FINE.

2) Gone through four editorial passes (developmental 1, developmental 2, copy edit, galley) on EVERYTHING’S FINE

3) Formatted, published, and marketed EVERYTHING’S FINE

4) Heavily rewritten another contemporary novel (aka, cut every word and rewrote them all)

5) Endured critiques as my (brilliant!) writing group deconstructed that novel

6) Heavily revised that contemporary novel based on that feedback

7) Sent that novel to my agent

8 ) Entered into a collaboration with a writer friend and collaboratively outlined a complete novel

9) Collaboratively written 7k+ of said novel

10) Learned new things about beat mechanics and fixed all the beats in EVERYTHING’S FINE

11) Done two arduous passes to fix all the beats in one of my YA science fiction novels

12) (Almost) Rewrote the last 15k of said novel, from scratch.  Twice.

Um.  That’s a little bit of work.  Take that Revision Time Dilation!  I am too accomplishing things!

Day to day, man.  So little gets done at any given time.  I feel like I accomplish nothing.  Sometimes I need to step back and look at the big picture.

I guess showing up to work every day really does pay off.

Reviews, Interviews, Giveaways

I’m a little behind on the linkage here, so today’s post is something of a buffet.

The most recent first: Michelle over at Book Briefs wrote a stellar review of Everything’s Fine.  Squee!  One of my favorite things about releasing a book is getting to hear what other people think about it.  Check out what she has to say.

She’s also hosting a giveaway (US only) of a paperback copy of the book.  Head over and enter!

My friend Sandra Tayler wrote a very kind review as well.

I was interviewed for this article about writing contests following my post over at Cynsations.  And I was also interviewed by S. E. Page over at Forty Gallons of Sap about what parts of Everything’s Fine I drew from my life.  (Spoiler: it’s not a lot.  Mostly small details.)

I wrote a guest post for Michelle D. Argyle about sustaining an idea over ten years.  (That’s how long it took me to reach the final draft of Everything’s Fine. )

Also, you may have heard of Amazon’s new subscription service, Kindle Unlimited.   Everything’s Fine is available right now through that service, and if you borrow it and read it, Amazon pays me just like they do if you borrow the book through the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library.  So if you have Prime, or are a member of Kindle Unlimited, you can check out the book for free and I still get paid for it.  Bonus!

Phew!  That was a lot.  Note to self: remember you have a blog and parse these out!

Thanks so much to everyone who’s read the book, and also those who’ve left a review.   Especially with an independent project like this, it helps SO much when you spread the word.  THANK YOU.  You all ROCK.

In late-to-the-party news, I believe that I never showed off the pretty cover for the German edition of Chasing the Skip. There was some confusion around the German release, and this got lost in the shuffle. But there is in fact a German edition, and here it is.  Better late than never, I guess.

 

Author Interview with Michelle D. Argyle


When I heard the premise of Michelle’s new book, If I Forget You, I have to admit to jealousy.  This is one of those books that makes me wish I’d thought of it.  Here’s the blurb:

Avery Hollister is a little more than absentminded. She has trouble remembering faces, names, and dates without her piles of lists and Post-it notes. When she heads off to college it takes her a week to realize the guy she’s crushing on is, in fact, three different guys. With a faulty memory and three men who have no idea she’s mixed them up, Avery doesn’t know how to fix the mess she’s made. But she knows she has to try, even if it means losing a love not even she could forget.

See what I mean?  But really, no one could have written it the way Michelle did.  I’m happy to welcome her today to tell us about it.

Janci: The thing I loved the most about IF I FORGET YOU was your depiction of Avery’s loneliness.  As a person who constantly forgets, she is constantly hurting other people by forgetting them, or things that are important to them.  But ultimately she’s the one who hurts the most, because she’s unable to forge real connections with others.  That loneliness and pain is what made her most sympathetic and compelling to me as a character.  The situation  is at once totally unique and touchingly universal–which to me is the goal of all fiction.

How did you go about creating that lonely mood?  Why did you decide to write the character that way?  You’ve said that this book is the most auto-biographical of all of your novels.  Is this aspect of Avery’s character pulling from your life?  What is it about loneliness that is so compelling on the page?

Michelle: In all honesty, it was never my goal to set about creating a lonely mood for IF I FORGET YOU. I always begin with character and let the character set the mood. With Avery, her loneliness came from a space deep inside of me. Since I was writing from that space and pulling from my own experiences, my own loneliness seeped into Avery’s character — developed from her own similar, albeit fictional, experiences.

I think humans, in general, are lonely creatures, which is why Avery’s loneliness is most likely something readers will connect with. We all want to be understood and liked and respected, but when a person in our life challenges that understanding and respect, it can create some pretty deep rifts. I have some of my own rifts, which is where Avery’s story came from. I’ve had friends challenge my forgetfulness, treat it lightly, tell me it’s nothing but an excuse. That has given me a sort of complex — one I’ve explored inside and out in IF I FORGET YOU. My forgetfulness is not as bad as Avery’s, but it has come close at times. I thought writing the book would “cure” me of this complex, but it hasn’t. It has, however, helped me understand the other side of the coin, so to speak.

Tam, one of the antagonists in the book, is a character I’ve based on several experiences of mine. She represents a lot of Avery’s negativity and loneliness. She is a selfish, angry character with good intentions that go wrong. She’s far from black or white, which I did on purpose because at some point, Avery has to realize that Tam is not always wrong in her accusations. That has been something I’ve had to face — that my loneliness, my faults, etc., are not something I can blame on anyone else, no matter how horribly others might treat me. It’s a tough lesson to learn, and quite a blow to Avery’s ego, as well as mine.

Avery is not me, but she has a lot of me in her. I hope her experiences can touch other readers, even if they might seem far-fetched. There are people as forgetful as Avery, and even more people who are just as lonely. It’s what we do with those problems that matters. Avery learns that eventually, through an interesting set of twists and turns I’m glad I never had to go through!

Thanks, Michelle!  If you want to read more about Michelle’s other work, check out her website.

Guest Post with Bryce Moore

I have a post up over at Bryce Moore’s blog about how writing is hard work, no matter how you do it.  Bryce read many early drafts of EVERYTHING’S FINE, so it feels pretty full-circle to have a post up of his.  If you haven’t read his novel Vodnik, you really should.

Guest Post at Cynsations

 

 

 

 

I have a guest post up over at Cynsations about winning the Utah Arts Council Original Writing Competition with EVERYTHING’S FINE back in 2007.   This was my first success as a writer, and while the book has been majorly rewritten since then, I’m still proud of it.

Indie Publishing Interviews: Kristina Kugler, Freelance Editor

I have to gush about Kristy.  Meeting her was one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me.  We met at The Leading Edge magazine at BYU.  Not only is she my best friend from college, but she’s also the most gifted editor I have ever met.  She’s been reading my work for ten years now, and giving me fantastic critiques.  So when I needed to hire an editor for EVERYTHING’S FINE, it was a no-brainer.  I couldn’t imagine working with anyone but Kristy.

This may sound contradictory, but when you’re looking for a critique partner, a writing group, or an editor, I really believe what you’re looking for ideally is someone who will tell you the following (in order): I love it!  It’s brilliant!  You’re a genius!  But it’s not working at all.  Rewrite it.  That may sound like a contradiction, but it’s not.  There’s nothing like taking criticism from someone who really gets what you’re trying to do, values it, and also can see what needs to be done to turn it into the work you meant to write and make it more attractive to your audience.   And here’s something wonderful about Kristy: she sees value in everyone, but she has a sharp eye for what could make writing better.  This makes her a fabulous editor.  If you’re in the market for one, you want to work with Kristy.

One more thing about EVERYTHING’S FINE: if you’ve read it, you know that there are interludes between the chapters that take place over the last few years of her life, when Haylee was still alive.  Those chapters are really important, because they’re the place that you get to get to know Haylee, but they were also a bit of a logistical nightmare when it came to remembering what events happened when.  Before I sent the book to Kristy for a second-round edit, I tried to make a calendar about how long ago everything was and what day all the events in the book were supposed to take place.  It turned into a big tangled knot, and I gave up, figuring I’d try again during copy edit.

So imagine my joy when Kristy sent the book back with not only a calendar, but a note beside every time reference in the book.  Actually, it’s Tuesday.  Actually, that was three days ago.  Actually, this should be eighteen months ago, instead of seventeen.  I could have cried.  Maybe I did.  The level of attention to detail that Kristy brings to a project.  It’s irreplaceable.

But I’ll shut up now and let her talk:

Seems obvious to me, but it has to be asked: do books need editors?  Why?  How would you explain the need for an editor to someone who has never worked with one before?

Yes, all books need editors!  Even best-selling authors who have been writing for decades need editors.  When you are writing, you are immersed in your world. Sometimes things you think are clear, because they are clear in your head, aren’t as clear in the text. A fresh set of qualified, expert eyes is invaluable to catch plot holes, or characters that don’t really function well in the story, or stylistic changes that detract from the story. A good editor’s job is to give you constructive feedback on what is and isn’t working in your writing so you can tell the story you really mean to tell in the way you want to tell it.

That last bit is the gift of a great editor.  Thank you for getting it!  So, what is the difference between professional editorial work and a critique from a friend or another writer?

A critique from a friend or another writer is great, because friends are going to be champions of your work and give you support.  They may be able to point out where things aren’t working, but in general, they’re probably not going to give your manuscript the same in-depth, experienced critique a professional editor will.

A professional editor’s job is to give you the feedback you need, especially regarding the places where the writing isn’t working or where things need to change to make a better book. For example, a professional editor has the training and experience to look for problems such as plot holes, side plots that fizzle out, pacing issues, or characters who aren’t pulling their weight or who suddenly start acting out of character without explanation.

What is your role in the creative process?

My role in the creative process is to support authors as they create and refine their books.  I point out issues I see, and may make suggestions on ways those problems can be fixed to help the author see the problem from a different point of view. I point out areas that are working, and highlight differences between the sections that are spot on and the ones that need a second, third, or fourth look to get them into shape. I ask the hard questions the author needs to think about to tighten and refine the story.

Basically, my role is to help you, as the author, to say what you are trying to convey in the most effective way possible. It’s your story; I just help you tell it the way you meant to from the very beginning.

I, for one, could not produce a finished product without that support.  What advice do you have for writers looking to hire an editor?  What questions should they ask?  What agreements should they make before they begin a working relationship?

First, I’d say to figure out what kind of editing you’d like. A substantive edit is going to deal with the big picture items—such as plot, characters, and pacing issues, and it won’t usually deal with word-level problems.

A copyedit refines the text, finding continuity errors, fixing grammar and punctuation problems, adding missing words—mainly fixing problems at the word and sentence level.

Some good questions to ask an editor before you start working with each other would be:

What kind of editing do you do? 

If you are looking for a substantive edit, and the editor only does a copyedit, you’re not going to get what you’re looking for.

Do you work in my genre/are you familiar with my genre?

An editor doesn’t necessarily have to be familiar with your particular genre to do a good job, but it can help, because then the editor is familiar with the common tropes and trends and can better help you refine your work to appeal to your desired audience.

What are your rates, and can you give me an estimate on how much you would charge to work on my project?

Pricing varies widely between editors. Some charge per word or page, some charge per project, and others charge by the hour. It’s good to know up front whether the editor will be in your price range, and whether you are satisfied with the potential cost.

How do you like to be paid/when do you require payment?

Some editors only accept checks, and others allow payments through systems such as Paypal. Also, some require a portion of the payment up front while others wait until the project is complete to charge the fee.

Do you have an estimated timeline for when you could fit in my project, and how long do you estimate the edit will take?

Life happens, and deadlines can be moved back, but it’s good to know up front how long you should need to wait for the work to be done, or whether the editor of your choice has time to complete the project within an acceptable timeframe for your plans.

Many editors will also edit a small amount of text (the amount varies depending on the type of edit and the editor) for free so you both can determine whether the project will be a good fit for the editor’s preference and skills, so it’s helpful to ask whether that option is available.

You should also find an editor who is excited about your project. A good working relationship is important; you should feel comfortable conversing/emailing with the editor.

It can help to create a written contract, but not all editors do so, beyond a verbal or emailed commitment. You should always be clear on the timeframe, level of editing, and a firm estimate on the price and timing of the payment before you begin, however.

What challenges do you encounter working with clients?  How do you handle those challenges?

Each project has its own challenges. However, it can be hard for a writer to hear that their hard work isn’t done yet. You pour all this time and effort and commitment into a novel, and then an editor comes along and tells you that entire sections aren’t working! I never want to discourage my clients—I always try to include all the things I love about the work, too, along with pointing out areas that can improve to make the book more readable and a tighter story.

Mostly, challenges can arise if there isn’t clear communication. I make sure to query anything I’m not sure about in the text, rather than just changing things willy-nilly. I also am upfront about what I offer and any potential costs before I begin a project.

What advice would you give to self-publishers about the editing process?  What does every self-publisher need to know about getting their book edited?

The editing process can take time, but it really is important. A fresh set of professionally trained eyes strengthens your writing and helps you to put forth the best possible piece of work. Also, needing an editor doesn’t mean that you’re a bad writer. Even the most successful authors need an editor to put forth their best work.

The time, money, and effort it takes to get your book edited is worth it—it is hard for readers to want to finish a book or pick up another by an author with a book that still has plot holes, character problems, or even just grammar and spelling issues. A professional edit enhances your credibility as a polished, professional author.

What kind of books do you edit?  What kind of work are you looking for? 

I primarily edit middle grade and YA books.  My preferred genres are contemporary, science fiction, and fantasy.  I do both substantive edits, where I look at the big picture issues, and copyedits, where I help authors refine the prose and point out style, grammar, and punctuation problems.  Feel free to check out my website.

Seriously.  I can’t say this enough: if you’re looking for an editor for your work, you should check out Kristy.  You won’t find anybody better.

Thanks, Kristy!

 

 

Indie Publishing Interviews: Isaac Stewart, Book Designer

When I was getting ready to publish EVERYTHING’S FINE, I had print layout fear.  Enter my awesome friend Isaac, who walked me through how to do layout in Indesign.  (When you have an expert, it’s super easy.  When you don’t, I’m guessing not.)

Isaac has lots of book design experience, and currently designs for Brandon Sanderson.  (Does it make you want to buy my book knowing that the guts were designed by Brandon’s assistant?  No?  Ah, well.)  Today he’s here talking about book design as a whole, including cover design.  Welcome, Isaac.

So, Isaac, tell us.  What is the role of a book designer?

In its purely distilled form, book design is the art of getting readers to pick up the books that will interest them. So, it’s a combination of market research, keeping track of design trends, and producing professional output.

On the technical end, the book designer is responsible for taking working with an author or publisher to create the design of the book. For e-books, that usually just means the front cover, but when you get into printing the book, you add more complexity the further you go, adding the spine and back cover design for a paperback to jacket and hardcase design for a hardcover. There are even more steps to adding embossing and print effects.

What tools do you use in book design?

Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator. This is what I reach for first, but since I’ve got a background in animation, I sometimes reach for 3D programs like Max and Maya. Additionally I’ll use pen and paper to sketch thumbnails, use stock photo sites to see what’s available, browse Pinterest for researching similar books, and sometimes even schedule photo shoots and hire photographers when what’s already out there doesn’t meet the needs of the book.

What advice do you have for self-publishers? Should they hire a book designer or do it themselves?

Hire a Cover Designer/Artist. If the book looks professional, a reader is more likely to click on it.

Conversely, I believe that if you have enough drive and time, you can figure out book design for yourself, but like anything, your first attempts are probably going to be subpar. If you are as interested in book design as you are in writing, then by all means, take the years you need to figure out the trade. Then you can write books and design the covers and feel like an all-around awesome superperson.

But ideally, you want to be writing books, so almost universally I suggest that self-publishers hire a professional book designer. You want your book to grab the right audience and look professional. Too often, people try to do the cover themselves, using programs not meant to design covers. So they’ve hired a high school art student, or the neighbor’s artistic nephew–both of whom are great artists, probably, but they lack the experience and finesse of a professional. Same goes for typography. You really need to use the right tools for the job.

A designer is going to have access to the right tools and be able to help a self-publisher hit the market with a professional looking cover.

A Google search will turn up ebook cover designers, but make sure their work looks professional before you hire them. Some people think that they can make their own cover, but unless you’re a professional designer, I wouldn’t recommend it. Too many do-it-yourselfers think their books look good when they really don’t. If their work–or your own attempts–start looking like something from the Lousy Book Covers blog (http://lousybookcovers.com/), then you really ought to look into hiring someone.

What advice do you have for self-publishers who are designing their own books? What should they do/avoid?

Look at a lot of professionally-produced books whether online or at the bookstore. Find books that are similar to what you write, and try get your designer to emulate those covers. Graphic design is a whole other language of pictures that we’ve been taught our whole lives to unconsciously to read. You want to tap into that unconscious language and give the reader the right image that attracts them to the type of book you’ve written. Falsely advertising the book with the wrong kind of cover is only going to get you one-star reviews from people whose expectations aren’t met. Title, mood, tone, color: all this will build up the resonance of your book and help you find the readers already predisposed to like the kind of stories you’re telling.

An author friend of mine–John Brown (link here)–pointed out something that’s become one of my favorite principles when designing e-book covers. They’re basically movie posters. Good movie posters are designed to be seen and recognized at a distance. In the case of e-books, you want that thumbnail to really grab someone’s attention, so work with bold ideas. Pick a theme, and stick to that with only one or two elements on the cover. Look at movie posters, dissect what they’re doing to attract the right audiences, and see how you can use some of those same principles on the covers for your e-books. Take Janci’s latest book Everything’s Fine, for example. The big idea here is a well-photographed close up on a sad female. This draws your eye even in thumbnail. Next you see the title, which informs the reader that this is a YA book about coming to grips with strong emotions. Now, as a reader, you’ve been given all the information you need to know if it’s a book you’ll likely enjoy, which will motivate you to click the links and read the cover copy.

That’s what good book covers do. They look professional. They portray the mood and genre in a simple-to-read image. They draw a reader in, saying, “This is probably the type of book you would enjoy.”

Thanks, Isaac!  

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