COVER STORY (Part 2)

DIY Covers for Self-Publishers

1. For the cover of January Jinx, the first in a series of historical mysteries set in Kansas City around 1900, I needed an image to work from. And I’d already decided I wanted something distinctive. This meant clip art was out. And if I was to have half a chance of making money, I couldn’t hire anyone to do it.

Luckily, when I started researching my calendar mysteries, I bought a bunch of Dover books. These included Victorian Fashion in America, edited by Kristina Harris. Among the vintage photos was this one:

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With some cropping, it would fit inside a frame neatly and so I would avoid the kind of linear design that had caused Cinderella on the covers of some of my fairy tale mysteries to lose her head and legs in thumbnails. Plus, I loved this young woman’s cocky pose. Still, I decided not to include the bow tie, as jaunty as it was. And her hat was much too big and fancy for my protagonist’s workday hat. So I used this hat as a model instead.

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And finally, I wanted to use my own grandmother’s face rather than that of the charmer in the first reference photo.

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(This is Juliet Perkins Smith for whom I’m named.)

2. On the basis of these decisions, I set to work on the cover of January Jinx.

I did a number of color tests to get the right color for Minty Wilcox’s garnet red suit. Here’s a sample of a color text.

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I laid out the cover to fit a 6″ by 9″ format so I wouldn’t need to do too much in Photoshop. I played with fonts, printed samples, and decided on Trajan Pro. The photo below shows an early version of my cover layout.

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Then I ran into trouble with the frame. I did the outside edges, but I couldn’t figure out how to do the inside points. I asked for help from Barbara O’Leary, my art teacher, who said, “It’s just geometry, Juliet.” Waving my hands hysterically, I shouted, “Do you know how long it’s been since I had geometry?” Once Barbara showed me how, I quickly finished the frame.

Next I transferred my reference photo to my watercolor paper. Now, my mode of doing this is crude. I make a photocopy, reducing or enlarging as I need to. Then I cut the image out and draw around it on my paper. Finally, I refine the image with pencil.

Here’s where I ran into trouble, lots of it, on my model’s right hand, the chair, and the girl’s face. With such a small painting, her eyes were barely an eighth of an inch wide. So even the tiniest slip of the pencil tip made them cross. But the principle of simplifying held me in good stead with all three problems. Minty’s face ended up not looking much like my grandmother’s, though.

The actual painting went along well except I accidentally got Alizarin Crimson a few places where I didn’t want it. Mostly I fixed those glitches with the brush, but one I left to fix in Photoshop. Here’s a photo of the cover in progress showing my pattern and the suit with a Payne’s Grey undercoat.

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(I cut out a copy of my grandmother’s face and taped it to the copy of the first reference photo.)

3. Using Photoshop I completed the cover. By the time I did the cover of January Jinx, I already knew how to crop a simple image, to insert text, to adjust image size, and save a cover as a jpg file. To these skills and with advice of three different people, I added correcting images to my Photoshop skills. And so I removed the extra bit of Alizarin Crimson from the top inside of the frame. Here’s the finished cover.

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As usual during the process of publishing my own work, I learned a lesson. Reducing an image to such a small size creates problems like the one I had with Minty’s eyes. So the next time I do a cover I plan on painting the image larger and reducing it in Photoshop. I have the skills for that, I think.

By now you might be asking why I go to all this trouble doing my own covers to save some money. The answer’s simple. The covers of my books and stories may seem a little amateurish, but they look like no one else’s. They stand out among other books on Amazon sell pages and on bookstore shelves.

January Jinx is now available as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4) and the trade paperback is coming soon. You can buy also Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI) or trade paperback. Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is available as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) and trade paperback.

 

Cover Story (Part 1)

Lessons Learned

By the time I needed a cover for January Jinx, a light-hearted historical mystery set in Kansas City around 1900, I’d already done cover illustrations and design for several stories and two books, plus the theme for my website.

Here are some of the lessons I’d learned.

1. If I had any chance of making money publishing and selling my work, I couldn’t keep hiring help. I had to learn to do everything myself. For example, I paid a friend $150 to clean up the cover painting for my award-winning short story “Cinderella, P. I.” He also added the text to it and created the files needed to publish the story as a Kindle eBook. At 35% of $0.99, it would take 432.9 sales to recoup that expense. (I’m not there yet.)

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2. From the trouble that my friend had cleaning up the image for the first cover in Photoshop, I learned that I needed to create as clean an image as possible with pencil and paint. (Didn’t he do a great job, though?)

3. I paid my friend another $50 to complete the cover of the second short story “Cinderella, Undercover.” (I haven’t made that $50 back either.)

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My daughter helped me add the frame and text in Photoshop to the cover of the third story, “Cinderella’s Giant Case.”

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But she’s very busy with her own work, so I hesitate to ask her for too many favors. So I knew that sooner or later I needed to master some basic aspects of Photoshop. This I resisted for a long time by making copies of the cover paintings, printing the text onto the copies, and formatting these as jpgs in Photoshop. But in this process the colors faded, and I lost details, especially on the cover of Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel.

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And before I continue, I want to thank my daughter for her help with the cover of “Cinderella’s Giant Case” and GK for his help with the two covers and for all his generous freebies later on, especially when I’d passed into hi-tec anxiety and sat stooped, twitching with frustration, over my keyboard.

4. Gradually I learned, mostly because of my limited graphic arts skills, to keep the cover images simple with the overall design fitting a 6” by 9” format and to limit the contents of a cover to the title, the image, and my name.

5. Here are two lessons about cover design I learned that I sort of wish I didn’t have to know: It’s not a good idea to use an extremely vertical cover image of my p. i. because Facebook whacks her head and feet off when it posts the thumbnail of the cover. It’s also not a good idea to have a really horizontal image like the one I did of Cinderella for my website because Facebook chops her off at the shoulders and hips.

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I’ll leave you with that grisly image in your mind until next time.

Meanwhile you can buy the three stories I’ve mentioned individually as Kindle eBooks or these stories plus nine more in Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI) or trade paperback. Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is also available as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) and trade paperback. January Jinx is now available as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4) as well.

Best, Juliet

Beating Myself Up for No Good Reason

AKA Some New Year’s Resolutions

When I retired in May 2004, I immediately got cracking on my long-time dream of becoming a full-time writer. I started with an ambitious project: a dozen historical mystery novels set in Kansas City beginning in 1899 with January Jinx and ending with Deadly December in 1910, the year my mother was born. This project went great guns. And by spring 2007, I’d outlined the whole series, brainstormed thirty-six possible titles with my daughter’s help, researched and put the first book through seven drafts, and researched and drafted the second, Fatal February.

But a weird thing happened in April 2007 when I went to a book signing with a writer whose work I’ve come to admire. At that time, this author was well along in her contemporary mystery series, which still continues. With her husband she’d written most of a historical series set in Victorian and Edwardian England. On her own, she’d started another historical mystery series featuring a well-known, beloved children’s author.

Thinking that she’d be encouraging to another historical mystery novelist, I went up to her with one of her books in hand for her to sign. But when I told her I was writing a series of mysteries set in Kansas City around 1900, far from being encouraging, she dumped all the bad things about writing historical mysteries on me. People will criticize your research, she said, and the market for these books is small.

And I bought it. I accepted her wisdom as gospel. I decided that my hard work wasn’t good enough and that I might as well quit before I wasted any more time on it. I didn’t tell her about my Ph. D. in English literature, which says more than a little something about my research skills. I didn’t mention my experience teaching hundreds of college students how to do research and put their information together in readable papers. I didn’t tell her about the dozens of stories and nine novels I’d already completed.

Basically, I assumed that given the poor market for historical fiction, the project was worthless. So I abandoned it. Not only that, but I went into a funk and didn’t write fiction at all for two years. A long time for a fiction addict like I am. This and some other set-backs caused me to fall into a depression that I didn’t come out of until I got excited about writing fiction again in May 2009, a full five years after I retired.

But a funny thing happened this past autumn while I was busily self-publishing Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel and Cinderella, P. I. and other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories. I started thinking about how January was coming around again and wouldn’t it be great if I could bring January Jinx out in January 2014? If it was any good, of course.

So I pulled up the file and started reading. And you know what? I’d forgotten how much fun that book was and what a good job I’d done in incorporating the research without letting it bog the story down. Not just taking my own assessment for its merits, I asked my dear friend and art teacher, Barbara O’Leary to look at it again. She too found it to be lots of fun.

And so I’ve resolved to quit making the same old mistakes about my writing that I’ve made over the last twenty-five years.

Here are some of my specific resolutions for 2014.

1) I resolve to quit beating myself up for no good reason and equating a project’s potential low sales to its merit. After all, selling is hard for everyone these days. Consider, for example, the way Charlie Lovett’s agent couldn’t get an American publisher interested in The Bookman’s Tale until the agent had already sold Charlie’s excellent first mystery novel in eight foreign markets.

2) I resolve to have more confidence in my abilities. By the way, I’m not alone in being dogged by a lack of confidence. Recently, I found out from one of Louise Penny’s Facebook posts that she suffers from the same thing in spite of the way her Inspector Gamache novels keep racking up awards. She gets out of her funks and gets going again. So should I.

3) I resolve not to abandon any more projects until I’m sure they’re not worthwhile. This resolution includes work I’ve already published that I’m not marketing assertively enough.

4) I resolve to go back to projects that I abandoned. These include a big epic novel set in Ancient China around 200 B.C. It features. . . . I’m considering giving it a fantasy twist like George R. R. Martin has done to British history in. . . . Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. First I need to finish Wings, the sequel to Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel.

This all means I’d better get cracking, especially since I need to clean and reorganize my study, so I can find the hard copies of my orphans and the research materials that went into them.

In the meantime, you can read Walls as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) or as a trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-1-1) and Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI) or as a trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-4-2).

And after resolving my issues with the cover, I’m pleased to announce that January Jinx, the first Calendar Mystery, set in Kansas City about a hundred years ago when living could get deadly, is now available for Kindle. (www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4).

Best, Juliet

(This isn’t the final version of the cover.)

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Should You Self-Publish?

Earlier this month, when the wonderful Mysteryscape Bookstore held a Local Author Fair, a baker’s dozen of self-published and small-press-published writers came together to promote and sell their books. During the afternoon, as I sat there behind a display of my books, a tall, dark-haired young man asked me if he should self-publish his novel when he finished it. “Or should I try to get an agent?”

I couldn’t answer either question, certainly not with an unequivocal “yes” or “no.” Too much involved. When I taught Creative Writing, for instance, I spent an entire unit on marketing.

Now I’ve had time to think about his first question and to reflect on what I’ve learned this year as a publisher of my own fiction. And I have to say, “Don’t be in such a hurry, young man. Give yourself time to learn your craft and pay your dues. As the sayings go, it takes ten years to become a writer; you need to spend 10,000 hours on any art or craft to master it; you must write a million words to learn how to write. So, the novel you self-publish now probably isn’t the best book you could write. You might not want it out there embarrassing you as you continue your career.” This sounds like good advice for a young writer to me.

But what if you’re not such a young writer? What if you’ve been writing for at least ten years, spent at least 10,000 hours mastering the art and craft of writing, written at least a million words? That is, what if you’re more like me? I wrote my first novel nearly forty years ago, and I’ve been writing fiction steadily since 1986 when I drafted my second and third novels. I’ve completed ten novels and forty to fifty short stories. (I don’t have time to count my poems, nonfiction pieces, and the journal entries that fill well over a hundred notebooks.) Now retired, I try to write 20 to 30 hours a week.

As for the young man’s second question, from time to time over the last twenty-five years or so, I’ve attempted to get an agent, and I haven’t managed to interest any. Actually, I take that back. I did interest a couple, but neither of those nice ladies sold the project she submitted to publishers for me. And now the whole process has become demoralizing. The rejection depresses me, makes me doubt the worth of my work, and interferes with my writing. So I’m not doing it anymore.

I’m not alone in that decision. At the Local Author Fair where the young man asked his two questions, I sat next to Edna Bell-Pearson, author of the self-published Fragile Hopes, Transient Dreams and Other Stories, selected as one of 150 best Kansas books. A senior as I am, Edna observed that she simply didn’t have the time “to fool with those people.”

And so, though the technical aspects of publishing my own work can make me exceedingly anxious and the marketing aspects of being my own publisher like tweeting, branching out, linking in and befriending folk also take time away from my writing, I will continue to self-publish. Why? For one thing, I hope that the same time-on-task that made me a writer will also make me more comfortable with publishing and promoting.

And I already have lots of well-written fiction to bring to you, dear reader. This includes January Jinx, the first book in a series of historical mysteries set in Kansas City around 1900. Look for it next month. Meanwhile you can read Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) or in print (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-1-1) and twelve stories that feature Cinderella as a p. i., her loved ones, her friends, and an enemy or two in Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories (www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI and 978-0-9899504-4-2).

Giving Thanks for Mysteryscape

Among the many things I’m giving thanks for this year is Mysteryscape, the independent bookstore at 7309 West 80th Street in old downtown Overland Park, Kansas. How come?

As a reader, I love fiction. And though I’ve downloaded eBook versions of several works of fiction to my iPad, including my own stories and books, I still prefer reading books with paper pages. (I’m not alone in this.) And when I’m choosing, the lists, blurbs, samples, reviews, etc. of on-line sell pages just don’t quite do it for me the way browsing the shelves at a brick and mortar bookstore do. For one thing, I like to pet books. I like to be surrounded by them.

Sadly, there aren’t  many places around the KCMO area anymore where I can page through books since Borders has folded and several other bookstores have as well. Our local libraries are very good, but honestly, I’m often too impatient to wait till my name tops the waiting list for popular titles. Besides, I like to support my favorite authors by actually buying their books.

And now, let’s take a little, verbal visit to Mysteryscape.

The broad, windowed façade promises Young Adult, Supernatural, Thriller, Suspense, Mystery, New & Used on the left and on the right Coffee, Tea, & Nosh, Gifts, Events, Book Clubs. Believe me. Mysteryscape delivers on all these promises. Racks in the windows also display, for instance, seasonal offerings and favorite authors’ latest works like the most recent V. I. Warshawski or Stephanie Plum.

Stepping between two carts of used books parked outside and entering the store, you’ll see on the right a large antique table covered with stacks of goodies. These currently include Airball, My Life in Briefs, a William Allen White selection, by my friend and former student Lisa Harkrader.  Historical, British and international mysteries line shelves on two side of this table.

Straight ahead on the right side of the aisle stands a small table holding books from the Mystery, Ink series, edited by my friends Suella and Larry Walsh. And across the aisle shelves labeled Great Escapes hold works by local authors including my own Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel with its distinctive cover.

Directly to your  left sit comfortable leather chairs and a couch that invite you to pluck a new hardcover from a favorite writer off the shelf and plunk yourself down for a brief browse.

A little farther south from the new arrivals on the east side of the store, you come to more treasures including the “First in Series” shelves. These might be unique to Mysteryscape now that the late and lamented I Love a Mystery is gone. A recent study of this section bagged me Storm Front, the first in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels, and Wool, Hugh Howey’s first book. I was immensely cheered to discover that Howey originally self-published this New York Times bestseller as it gives me hope my own self-published books will do as well.

Next comes the local author section. Here you’ll find more copies of Walls. Soon the trade paperback of Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories will join it.

Turning your back on the local authors shelves, you’ll see many more packed shelves offering mysteries in assorted subcategories. Here you’ll find your culinary and craftsy mysteries, for instance.

Beyond the cozies lies Mysteryscape’s popular section for Young Adults with many intriguing offerings. Next to this section looms the door to the bookstore’s back room that holds small tables and chairs. Here you can linger over coffee and a nosh.

If you do a 180 from the Young Adult section, you’ll spot the desk and probably one if not both of the storeowners, Acia Morley-Hall and Cheri LeBlond. They will smile in welcome and possibly call you by name as they do me.

Since the store’s launch in 2012, Cheri and Acia have worked very hard to make Mysteryscape a place for book-lovers. They offer several different clubs including the Women of Intrigue group focused on women mystery writers and sleuths. They host book signings and other author events, including the upcoming Local Authors Book Fair on December 14 from 1 till 3. They provide a location for the meetings of Border Crimes, our local chapter of Sisters in Crime. Recently, Border Crimes held its fifth anniversary celebration at Mysteryscape. Our special guest was Hank Phillipi Ryan, author of best-selling The Other Woman and also the immediate past president of the national Sisters in Crime.

All of this provides a clue to the biggest reason I’m giving thanks for Mysteryscape this year. For all that on-line booksellers do for readers and for authors, they can’t supply the company of real, living and breathing readers that you can talk to and share your love of fiction with. You’ll find us at Mysteryscape though.

Thank you so much for all that you do, Acia and Cheri.

To keep up with Mysteryscape events, go to www.mysteryscape.com.

Best, Juliet

 

Hello Again, World!

Two months ago some pervert hacked my website and I was so offended that I took my website down. But more than one person has pointed out that a writer who publishes her own work needs a presence on the Internet, some central address beyond her Facebook and Twitter pages. So here I am again.

In this first installment of my blog reborn, I want to talk about what sorts of posts I made in the past before I lay out plans for future posts.

(Please don’t worry about my losing my previous installments. When I was in graduate school at Ohio State, I had a class with Richard D. Altick, the great Victorian scholar and author of the lively book called Scholar Adventurers. Altick warned us in no uncertain terms to make copies of our dissertations, even going so far as to advise us to keep a copy in the freezer in case the house burned down. So now I print hard copy of all my work. I also back up all my work on my computer and to other devices that now include an auxiliary hard drive. If the house burns down, I can grab it and run. This discussion reminds me to copy my finished books to the flash drive I keep in my purse in case the house burns down while I’m out and about.)

Back to my past blog: For nearly two years, as Juliet Kincaid, Fiction Addict, I wrote about the lessons that I learned from the books I read–mostly mysteries–that help me write my own, fairy tale mysteries featuring Cinderella, P. I., twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball. These essays often included very detailed analyses of fiction I admired along with how I could apply those insights to my own work.

They were lots of work, you bet your bippy, sweetheart. For instance, I spent nine hours (three writing sessions for me) on a piece about James Church’s superb A Corpse in the Koryo. These nine hours were in addition to reading it.

Downside: Spending that much time every other week on somebody else’s work severely cut into my own writing and slowed my progress. And I simply can’t take the time to do that sort of blog now. (However, this past year, I’ve occasionally republished some of these blogs as “golden oldies” with updates on the writers’ careers and how I’m doing on my own “Work-in-Progress.” I might do some more of that.

Later in 2012 I also began to write about myself as a Late Bloomer, someone launching a career after age 60. Also I reflected from time to time on aging generally including where I’ve been, where I am right now, and where I’m going.

These feel more comfortable to me for future subjects though I reserve the right to write about just anything I please. Hey, there are among the perks of being an old gal.

Enough for now. You can expect more installments on the second and fourth Thursdays of every month. To receive notifications, please subscribe to my blogs through RSS.

Best, Juliet

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Currently available as Kindle eBooks are five of my fairy tale mystery stories including the first, “Cinderella, P. I.,” and Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel. All feature Cinderella twenty years, three kids and a few extra pounds after the ball.

You’ll find “Cinderella, P. I.” at www.amazon.com/dp/B00BAZPXEM and Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel at www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI.

Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JulietKincaid. Friend me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/juliet.kincaid.