A Cover Story

Astute authors will recognise that irrespective of how good their story might be, it’s the cover which is the first point of contact with the reader (or ‘the customer’ if we’re honest).

I accepted early on in my writing career that if I wanted my books to be treated seriously then I’d have to part with cash, and not for vanity publishing—some people still do. In essence, I’d have to fork out before my hard work had produced any reward in royalties.

There are many more aspects which affect the success or failure of a book but for now, I’d like to stay on topic—covers.

It didn’t take much research for me to discover that poetry and short story anthologies attracted less interest than any other aspect of creative writing. Yes, as luck would have it, my first titles came into those categories, however, I’m a positive kind of guy and saw an opportunity. Here were two areas in which I could practice the dark art of cover design. Later, I would find another. 😀

My first novel took a year to write due to me also holding down a full-time management job. I produced my idea of a cover for Beyond The Law. Even with my artistic leanings, it was not an impressive sight, so let’s not go there.

For my next two novels, I bit the bullet, which is an option not many of my characters are offered. I paid a professional cover designer to cater for Ten Days in Panama and Amsterdam Calling. Both books sold steadily and a significant lesson was learned. I asked the designer to create a cover for Beyond The Law (later to be suffixed ‘Formation’. Like the other two covers, it was expensive, but the blow was softened when I saw the effect of a decent story married up to a good cover.

In less than six months, I received sufficient royalties from Beyond the Law to cover the cost of all of my first three covers. Needless to say, I went on to use the same designer for A Taste of Honey. When Beyond the Law – the trilogy was created with the addition of ‘Retribution’ and ‘Consequences I saw regular sales. 

I continued producing the covers for my short story anthologies as the books were published. Yes, they would sell, I thought, but not in sufficient numbers to warrant a hefty outlay on covers.

One interesting twist came when I wrote my magnum opus, A Life of Choice. This was a five-part, fact-based fiction series; a depiction of my military career, but I had doubts. I hoped it was written in an entertaining and engaging style, but it was simply a story I wanted to tell. I didn’t see it as a prize winner or a major money-spinner.

I designed the covers using the ‘Regimental Colours’ of the Royal Signals (my Corps), and I used a small representative graphic for each of the five stages. My theory was that the ‘colours’ would attract the eye of some of the thousands of Royal Signals soldiers past and present. Following a slow pick-up and a few good reviews, this series rapidly established itself as my top-selling story.

The only issue I had was the regular requests for it to be available in paperback. I experimented and it took several weeks but I managed to amend the end/beginning of the five parts to convert them into a paperback trilogy—the same story, in the same words but broken at different logical points in time.

I recognised a potential saboteur—overconfidence. I contacted my professional designer and gave her a simple brief, sending her photos of the three pieces of equipment to be featured, samples of the background colours and all the printed matter for front and back exterior. For example, apart from the blurb, each book in the trilogy has excerpts from three different reviews. It took a few weeks to get there and I was delighted with the designer’s solution.

An area that some indie authors fail to register is that paperbacks are formatted differently regarding the front and back matter. I took great care in presentation, as I’ve done with all of my paperback versions so that they mirror traditional books.

One aspect of this series I didn’t expect was how much it would be enjoyed by those who had never served. The primary target of any creative writer should be to provide entertainment and it gladdens my heart to know I’ve achieved my aim with this special story.

As if by magic, the paperbacks continue to sell. I’m delighted to report that they are a popular prize at the many military fund-raising events to which I donate signed copies of the trilogy. 

I recently felt that I’d gained sufficient knowledge and experience to try my hand again at the creative, challenging skill of cover design. It took a few days but I’ve refreshed the covers for the Beyond The Law trilogy. My versions are on trial for a couple of months.

Apart from poetry and short story anthologies, I said that later I was to find another area for which I could create the covers. Erotica is that area and not surprisingly there aren’t that many reviews although they are good. There are, however, plenty of sales. 😀

If you’re an author at whatever stage of your journey, please remember that a well-crafted book with a good cover is more likely to see a healthy return on the investment of your time and money.

Thank you for reading.

Thank you.

A Review of Reviews

A Review of Reviews?

An Amazon Author Page
My Amazon UK Author Page

For creative writers the review is a necessary evil. We want feedback so that we can see if weeks and months of effort stand up to the challenge of entertaining our readers.

We must be prepared to take the rough with the smooth, which for some writers is easier said than done. Personally, although I feel annoyed when I see a negative point within a review, I don’t feel annoyed with the reviewer, as long as they have justified their comments.

I am most annoyed at myself if I can see that a negative comment is justified.Ten Days in Panama - the cover 2904

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What is my average review across all of my titles?

I have so far published: four novels, two short story anthologies and five anthologies of poetry, and my average review: 4.7 stars. Over the full spectrum of my titles, I’m happy with that result, but I aim to improve on it.

Yes, it’s great to read a five-star review that praises one of my books. Irrespective of the rating, when I see comments that are less than complimentary I still tend to question my work, even if the reviewer has not qualified their reasoning.

Up until now, when I’ve read a comment that suggested that any part of one of my stories could be improved, I’ve made a mental note for the future. This is something I intend to amend in the coming months.

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What is my new strategy?
Beyond The Law - the cover 2904

I am planning to start with the reviews of my most popular book, Beyond The Law. I will read each of the reviews in detail, including the five-star rated, and then I will make a list of both the good and bad points.

A well-written piece of feedback will give both positives and negatives, but where there are negatives, the review author will suggest why they’ve raised those particular issues.

My intention is to locate, analyse and amend any offending dialogue, narrative or plot issues.

Yes, it will be time-consuming, but if it means the reading experience will be improved for my future customers, then it will be worth any time I invest.

If I find that there is a point made that nobody else has highlighted, and I believe it’s simply a personal dislike of that particular reviewer, then I’ll leave the issue unchanged.

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Why have I not done this already?

I have made several minor adjustments in the past, if I thought an issue warranted it, but this time I will revise whole sections of a story, not simply content to change a word here and there.Amsterdam Calling - the cover 260714

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Do I have a sequence for how to prioritise my titles?

My plan is to start with my most popular book, and then deal with the next most popular and so on. At time of writing, I have four novels to work through.

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How soon do I intend to get underway with my plan?

A Taste of HoneyI am working on two novels simultaneously at the present time, and for the first time I’m using more than one beta reader prior to publication.

My aim is to have both of my current stories published by October 2015. My review of reviews plan will begin a week after the second of my latest stories is published.

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Do I have a target date for my first in-depth revision?

Yes, my target date for the revised edition of Beyond The Law is December 2015.Smoke & Mirrors - 030714 2

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What are the reasons for performing such an overhaul?

First of all an improvement to any book must be a good thing for readers.

Secondly, if my undertaking to improve my previous titles then produces predominately good reviews, then it will strengthen the case for multiple beta readers instead of paying an editor. Although my books are selling, I don’t earn enough to pay the rates of an editor.

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912FmvSHzYL._SL1500_As always, I will follow up this article with any tangible results when the time comes.
Thank you for reading, and if you have anything you’d like to add, or comment on about the topic, please do.

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Resources – holiday

 

A loch within a forest near Glencoe.
A loch within a forest near Glencoe.

It’s not a book and it’s not a website, or even a single location. I’ve been on holiday for the past week and as I usually do, I tour the area extensively.

Being on holiday is a good source of resource for readers and writers as I aim to highlight in this post.

What specific resources are there?

1.  As a reader you might carry a notebook and pen. If you’re a writer you should carry a notebook and pen.

2.  Keep your camera handy. Seeing wonderful sights is all part of being on holiday, but to remember them clearly, and the ideas they provoked – take some pictures.

3.  Tourist Information. The classic holiday source for information whether at home or away. Maps, pamphlets, locations of places of interest, books and of course the staff. Talk to people who know the area.

4.  Museums of whatever size or type usually have a selection of books and leaflets. In those locations there are usually maps and guides to the local area.

5.  Accommodation can be a great source. I tend these days to hire self-catering accommodation and once again I’m living in an old stone cottage. A local village, a forest, mountains and a loch all within a few minutes walk make this an exceptional location, but you can find inspiration in any area if you look.

6.  Open eyes, open mind and active imagination are all at our disposal. It doesn’t matter if we are continuing with our regular life or if we are on holiday – we will find inspiration if we are open to it and look for it.

Time to go now, because I can sense a day of inspiration calling to me.

I’ll be on blog patrol as soon as I’m back in my usual writing location. Thank you for dropping by.

Resources – the Atlas

Europe - featuring Sweden (green section at top centre)
Europe – featuring Sweden (green section at top centre)

I feel that this is an area that might be interesting to readers and writers.

Prior to the April A to Z Challenge 2014, I set up a menu to build a list of resource materials.

In my menu I listed several books that I use myself as handy resource tools. Online resources are a separate idea in my opinion, so I’ll leave them until after I’ve written a few posts on that wonderful idea; the book.

What do I use?

I use the Philips Navigator Britain, which is excellent whether being used for journeys or as a writing resource. I have a good map of Northern Ireland and a separate map of Eire aka; the Irish Republic, or Southern Ireland. To handle international issues, I also have the AA Road Atlas Europe and The Times World Atlas, which is much more than a book full of maps.

What do I get from my ‘Navigator Britain’ atlas?

1. Route planners, which enable me to decide which way characters might choose to get from A to B.

2. Town and city names which apart from anything else sometimes provide ideas for character names.

3. Motorways, major roads, minor roads, bridle paths, rivers, lakes and railways are clear.

4. Densely populated areas and remote areas which can help with a plot.

5. Places of interest like: castles, golf courses, museums, historical sites and much more.

Why not use Google or another search engine?

My atlas is physically there with no searching, opening various windows, setting parameters.

If I find something that has an appeal, I then follow up with a search engine for up to date details.

What do I get from the World Atlas?

1. My geographical knowledge is reasonable, but it provides so much confidence to double-check things like borders, flags, populations, average temperature, the currency, languages spoken and more.

2. I’ve been to many cities in Europe but it’s nice to relate to a route by road number and see how a city can be approached from a variety of directions, including from other cities.

3. Distances between places and the terrain are all there by taking a closer look, not be going screen to screen, zooming in and out and so on.

4. If I find something that appeals, I can as said before, use a search engine for up to date information.

5. Time zones, latitude and longitude are all inter-related and help when characters are travelling or communicating with somebody across the world.

I have a good selection of city maps and individual country maps to supplement these two main books, so for me, these things are so much more than mere books full of maps.

Are you a map person, or a search engine person, whether a reader or a writer?

My next blog patrol starts today so if you’re on my list – see you soon.

In my next post I’ll look at the Zodiac Signs book, but for now, thank you for stopping by.