So that’s what he really looks like?

My vision of main character Alex was always more emotional then physical.  He was solid, dependable, someone to rely on and hang on to. Okay, he was also tall and blondish, but that was about all I knew.

My first cover for Twists of Time (originally published as z2) showed an outline of the man, and I sort of liked the vagueness of this portrayal.

When I decided to rename my books, I needed new covers. Current fashion is to show the characters, so it looked like I had to find someone who could show the world what Alex really looked like. I found a group called Deranged Doctor Design.

I decided to tolerate the model they selected for Alex, even though I wasn’t crazy about him. He really didn’t look like Alex to me, but I felt like I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted and if I gave it some time then maybe this one would grow on me.

Lucky for me, my sister disagreed. She didn’t know what Alex looked like either, but she was so positive it wasn’t this that she went to Shutterstock and emailed me photos of several other models.

Okay, it looked like we’d have to find another Alex. Option one she sent was clearly too young, but the other six could work. I went searching for any of them.

Man number four was easy to find, and I asked the fine folks at DDD if we could use him. Back came the new Alex and I knew he was right.

When it came time to create the last cover, we needed Alex to make a second appearance, but not with an identical face. This particular model had dozens of photos to choose from, but unfortunately most of them had one of two expressions. Alex was either grinning, or looking puzzled. (Or both.) And on this cover, we needed Alex to be a bit menacing.

The first attempt worked for me, but I got a lot of push back from others who thought Alex looked sneaky because he was looking away. Well that wasn’t the intent, so I asked DDD to see what they could do. I was pretty pleased with the eye surgery they performed, and when I saw the final product, I knew this was what Alex really looked like.

 

Coming down the slide in 10 days

I remember the feeling of walking to the top of a high, convoluted slide in a water park and thinking I spent 45 minutes in line to get here. Why? Do I really want to go down this thing?

I always did go down, of course, because I’d spent 45 minutes trying to get there.

There was the first rush of panic, followed by a whoosh of tummy tickling pleasure, then a sadness to have it end, probably 30 seconds or so after it started. It was usually followed by an irrational desire to get in line and do it again.

It’s been a while since I’ve done that, but the past three months have had a similar feel. With each new novel I’ve released, the level of complexity of the tasks has increased, making each slide seem higher and feel more twisty.

I’m nearing the end of my slow 45 minute trek up the steps on book 3. The complexity comes from the fact that I’m  juggling more each time. The audio version of book 1 is in progress and requires my input. Newly released book 2 is in sore need of publicity. Book 4 is blissfully dormant but book 5 is getting edited, while the designers are starting on the cover for book 6 and have quite a few questions.

I feel apprehensive and drawn five different directions and I’m wondering why I thought walking up here and going down this was such a good idea. On March 16 I’ll be at the top, submitting manuscripts and covers and pushing the publish button once again, hoping for 24-hour turn around on the approval so I can claim a St. Patrick’s Day publication date just for fun.

Then it’s whoosh, and whee, and that was fun, followed by can I do it again? Yes, I can and probably will.

 

All Done and I’m Still Not Sure

Arrrghhh. Working with a professional designer on a cover is great fun, but it also can bring out the worst in me. I’m a perfectionist, at least about the things that matter to me, and my books matter to me a lot. I’m also a people pleaser. I hate to be a pest. The result is I tend to say I’m okay with something, when I’m really not.

You can see how these two impulses could combine to cause a problem.

My first two covers went pretty well. With the first one I accepted some things I didn’t like (Lola’s red lipstick, Somadina was supposed to be tall) because overall I liked the direction we were going and I wasn’t sure how many changes I could request. Plus, how much does lipstick and height of a character on a cover really matter?

On my second one I pushed harder to get Zane exactly right, and I’m glad I did. I’m lucky that Afi was perfect on the first try and the background was beautiful by attempt number two. The nice people I was working with seemed okay with my persisting on a single issue (Zane), and I couldn’t be happier than I am with the cover we ended up with.

I feel like I’ve strained the relationship, however, with cover three.  Two variables were perfect right from the start. I loved Xuha, and loved the Maya ruins the designer had found for the background.

But I wasn’t happy with Alex’s head or his body (two different elements with this designer.)  I was really unhappy with the first circle of yellow light that looked too much like the first book. My problem was that I tried to complain about only one thing at a time. (It seemed more polite.) So as the designer fixed one thing and thought she was done, back I came with something else I wanted different. I can understand her frustration.

She varied the light. I didn’t really like it. She changed Alex’s head. That was good. Then I didn’t like his body. She did new forms of light. She suggested five different bodies. She made the light swath different colors. More transparent. She added more white light behind the men. The more she dinked, the more I didn’t know what I wanted. Finally I decided it was time to stop whining and call it good.

But is it good? I do like the background, Xuha and Alex (now) but I’m still not happy with the use of light. The swath in front still looks too much like a feather boa, and the light from behind doesn’t have the power I wanted to see. But I’m at a loss for how to fix it.

So I finally said “This will do.”

Now I’m having buyers remorse. I opened up an editing program and tried to cartoon in what I wanted to see. Then, when I stepped back and looked at what I’d done I realized I didn’t really like it any better. Arrrghhh. Here is the final cover, followed by my two attempts to improve it. What do you think? Do I go back and offer to pay to have revisions made? Or do I tell myself to take a few deep breaths, maybe go have a glass of wine, and decide this cover is just what it’s meant to be?

Final cover

I add more light

I play with the light

Not my new cover, but I’m still having fun ….

Wahoo! I just got the first draft of the new cover for Twists of time.  I do love the work done by these fine people at Deranged Doctor Design. Yes this cover is cool. Yes this will need some tweaking. But go ahead and take a peak, and then I’ll share the input I sent back. If the past is any indication of the future, I expect something closer to the mark sometime tomorrow or the next day.

Things I love (and don’t want changed):
1. Mayan ruins in background
2. Model you found for Xuhu
3. The yellowish clouds, and feeling of sun behind clouds
4. The way the title color works with the rest of the cover
 
Things I’m okay with either keeping or with changing:
1. Model you found for Alex
 
Things that have to be fixed:
1. Relative height. Xuha is on the short side. Alex is a former college basketball player. I assume images can be shrunk or squeezed to achieve this effect?
2. Hair — Alex is described throughout the book as a sandy blonde. I’m fine with you lightening his hair and making him taller if you can, or with finding a taller, blonder guy
 
Things I’d like to have fixed:
1. Much less blue or better yet no blue sky on cover. More clouds instead.
2. Yellower clouds, at least at edges.
3. The circle of light around them looks too much like the first cover. Can we do something more unique? Maybe it somehow involves a twist? (It’s fine if it doesn’t …..)

Fun With Covers

When I was advised last summer to get new, genre appropriate covers for the books in my 46. Ascending collection, I had two objections to the idea (besides the obvious ones of time and money.) The first was that I love my original covers. The other was that my stories wouldn’t adapt well to the sorts of covers everyone else uses.

Well, I’ve redone two of the six so far, and I’ve got four things to report.

1. Yes, it does take some time and effort to convey to a designer what you want and to work with them to achieve that end

2. Yes, it does take some money as well.

3. Yes, my old covers were pretty and I’ll always like them.

4. No, the fine professionals I’m working with seem to have had no trouble at all, as far as I can tell, coming up with covers for the first two books that are a) great to look at, b) look like covers for the kinds of books I write and c) capture enough about the story to make sense and not be misleading.

 

Above is the original cover for the first book in the collection, originally called x0 and now called One of One, followed by the designers first proposal and the final version. For context, here’s the description of the story as it appears on the back cover. I think they did a great job.

A young Nigerian telepath faces a crisis. After Somadina’s sister is forced into a frightening marriage, Somadina cannot find her sibling or even her thoughts. She seeks another telepath to help. What she finds is Lola, a busy Texan scientist who has ignored the disturbing phenomenon in her mind for decades, and has no intention of embracing this nonsense now. Yet these two have more in common than they know, and a powerful link will be forged. Once Somadina discovers her sister is a pawn in a dangerous political game, the stakes rise for everyone, including an ancient organization of telepaths compelled to intervene. Both women are stronger than they realize, and they have ignited the wrath of a fanatic willing to kill anyone to alter his nation’s future.

Here is the original cover for the second book in the collection, originally called y1and now called Shape of Secrets, followed by the designers first proposal and the final version. For context, here’s the description of the story as it appears on the back cover. Once again, I think they did a great job.

Zane wants to be himself. He’s gotten a degree in neuroscience to figure out how he can alter his appearance the way he does.  Unfortunately, that degree lands him in the sales department of Penthes Pharmaceuticals, and the more he learns about the company’s dark secrets the more uncomfortable he becomes. Good thing he has always excelled at blending in. Then upper management discovers him and life gets complicated. A sales junket in the South Pacific introduces him to love. It also leaves him dealing with an unsolved murder, an unsavory boot camp manager, and serious repercussions from the fact that not everyone at Penthes likes him, or wants him to knows the mysteries the company has worked so hard to keep hidden. Even in paradise, it will take all of unique his talents to keep from turning into the next murder victim.

Twists of Time will be the next book to get its new cover, sometime in mid-January.  I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

My Eye-opening Second Reason for Writing

Over the past few years I’ve learned what it would take to climb a mountain in the Himalayas. I’ve studied supply lists for crossing the Pacific as a single sailor. I’ve wrapped my arms around high-frequency trading, come to understand the damage caused by oil exploration in the Niger Delta, and learned the history of U.S. immigration laws. It has been one hell of an adult education program.

My degree, if you will, is the six novels I’ve authored. I’ve discovered that the information living in my brain because of them is one of the seven reasons I write books.

Couldn’t you go research all these things and more, and not bother with the writing part, you might ask? It would be a fine question. Of course I could, but I probably wouldn’t. I’m curious about so many things, but my ability to get myself to sit down and learn about them instead of goofing off is pretty limited. Unless I’m doing it for one of my books. Then I will spend hours on it.

I’ve recently returned to participating in writers’ group, and that has started this reflecting on why I write. At a recent meeting, one writer was trying to describe the subject matter of Philip Roth’s books. “Anything he got a wild hair up his ass about,” she said.  I had to laugh, not only because it was apt, but because she had described one of the chief joys of writing.

You get to pick something you care about, anything that interests you, and then go learn enough to begin to weave a story. You don’t know where your imagination or your research will take you, but between the two of them you can bet it will be somewhere fascinating.

I haven’t only learned from research. The very act of producing books has forced me to to become more acquainted with software, graphics, and photo licensing. I’ve had to brush up my grammar. Do you know when to use “a while” and when to use “awhile”?  I do, now.

Writing has also forced me to stay more current with idioms and kept me more politically correct. No one says “on the QT” anymore, but “on the DL” is still used. Really? It is better to call a mentally challenged child cognitively impaired? Okay. Glad I know.

My ad hoc education program hasn’t been restricted to me, either. Others have been kind enough to seek out information for me in their own fields, leaving friends and relatives familiar with Mayan numbers and civil war battles. (Yes, my husband really did attend a re-enactment to help me with a book.)

Much of my education has come from the intriguing people I’ve been exposed to because of my writing. There is a lady in Denmark who shared her vacation photos from Iceland with me, to make d4 more realistic. Four wonderful women from India helped me with information and cultural sensitivity as I wrote c3. One went a step further, working with me to create a Sanskrit word needed for the story. I had taken a stab at it, using internet translation, and she laughed at my result. She took the problem to her father, a scholar who speaks Sanskrit, and “Jvalalaya, the Abode of Light” was born.

As I work to overcome the inertia and start a new series of books, the thrill of learning draws me forward. I have a giant “to read” pile already, much of it on artificial intelligence, which will play a large role in the world I am building. Anticipation of creating this world has me headed off in two very different directions this summer, attending two fabulous yet odd events I would have passed on without the added impetus of “this will really help me with the next novel.”

Yes, sometimes writing gets me up out of my chair to take in the world.

Of course, this still doesn’t explain what drives me to keep on with all the other time-consuming pieces of putting together a book. For that, I’m going to need to take a hard look at the other five reasons I spend most of my free time creating novels.

(Read more about why I write at The Number One Reason I Write Books, Nothing cool about modest ambitions  and I write because it’s cheaper than therapy.)

Designing your own book cover, part 3

My biggest disaster in cover design came with z2.

By the time I finished writing it, I had two books out there with covers I loved. Yet, this new novel was my most complicated. It was about the the nature of time and special relativity, but it was also about white nationalists and immigration and the hunt for a Maya treasure. It touched on Guatemala and Belize and yet took place mostly at a high school in Houston. This odd plot all came together, at least for me, but I hadn’t a clue of what I wanted my reader to see on the cover.

So I turned to three very different people to help me. One was Jen from Mother Spider, who had produced the two covers I already loved, but she had done those with a good deal put of input from me. This time, she read over my plot description, and took her first at stab at creating a cover from scratch. Her work is above and I still think it’s pretty good. If the boy’s back pack hadn’t looked to me like the profile of a face, I might have used it without consulting anyone else and my life would have been so much simpler.

But because I didn’t like the backpack, I involved a second person, my husband. He had no particular qualifications other than he knew me and what I like, and the protagonist was modeled after him. I thought that combination might produce a flash of brilliance, but I should have factorized in what would matter to him or anyone in his shoes. He didn’t like the old and balding Alex holding the clock. He wanted a young and athletic Alex on the cover. A good-looking Alex. Sigh …. Of course he did. For some reason he also didn’t like the blue. I found the basketball guy and changed to a green but I was at a loss for what else to do. So I asked my sister for ideas.

Now, my sister is a successful business woman who runs her own travel company and has handled all of her own graphics and marketing for years. She’s very good at this stuff.  Within minutes of asking I had coins to symbolize treasure and Maya statues that she was quite pleased to have found and I sent them off to Jen who produced the cover to the upper right. It wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t sure we were going in the right direction. So I asked my sister for more ideas, and that was the real problem.

I was sort of like someone who wants to fire a few BB’s at a squirrel to scare it off the lawn and gets handed an AK-47. Before I knew it I had dozens if not hundreds of relevant images and so many cover ideas that my head hurt. Take a look at a couple of the wild combinations. Oh, and my sister loved the blue and hated the green. Ahh….

My book was ready to be published on Kindle and graphic artist Jen was understandably running out of patience as I kept coming up with ever more convoluted combinations, none of which made me happy. I had to make a decision. I picked something that I thought would please everyone a little and my novel first appeared with the cover below.

It took me no more than a few days to accept that I did not particularly like it. I didn’t want blue or green on the cover and now that I thought about it I wasn’t sure how I’d ended up having to choose between the two. I liked the old bald Alex and his glowing clock and I didn’t want Maya statues or coins and never had.

So I came back to Jen, apologized for the massive confusion and offered her more money to try it again. We talked about what mattered to me, and she produced the cover to the right. It was far closer to what I wanted. The only part I didn’t like was the odd gold border, but I decided I’d been picky enough and could live with it.

Luckily for me, when Jen would work on the cover for my next book, she would notice the border and ask me how we’d ended up with it when the others had no such thing. Good question.  She and I would decide together to take one last stab at getting this book the cover it deserved. The final, final result is to the left. Isn’t it gorgeous? It took over a year and countless failed drafts, but now it is my favorite of all five.

I’m pretty sure that one main lesson here is to not involve too many cooks, no matter how adept they are or how much you like them. Another is to go ahead and persist until you are satisfied. A book cover, for better or worse, is how the world will see your creation. If you love the creation but don’t like the cover, this is not a good thing. Be picky.

Another important lesson I got out of this experience was to not to hang on to an idea, trying to force it to work. I should have gotten rid of those coins, statues, colored letters and gold border before any of them saw the light of day.

It was a helpful lesson once I started designing the cover for book six. I was sure I needed a female judoka on the cover, and I tried so hard to find a model that matched my character. None did, but this young woman came the closest. I played with variations for weeks before I recognized that I was trying to make something fit that wasn’t meant to be. Once I gave up on the idea and moved on, I found the direction I really wanted to go.

(For more on this topic see Designing your own book cover, part 1 and Designing your own book cover, part 2.)