Myself as a Work in Progress

IMG_0972WiP Report # 13

Boy, howdy, how time flies.

When I recently checked my files, I discovered that it’s been a year and nine months since WiP Report # 12 in which I reflected on my decision to quit trying to go the traditional route of getting published with the help of an agent and editors.

As I looked over that blog installment, I couldn’t help but reflect on how far I’ve come as a self-publisher since I posted it. By July 25, 2013, when I posted that blog, I’d published only five Cinderella, P. I. fairy tale mystery short stories as Kindle eBooks. I had also nearly finished writing Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel. But as I said in the blog, besides publishing Walls, I wanted to revise and publish Wings, its sequel; two or three Cinderella, P. I. story collections; and up to five more novels sooner or later. Also I wanted to write a contemporary series with a baby boomer amateur detective “before I check out.”

There’s nothing like the devil on your tail or at least time’s winged chariot bearing down on you to speed matters up. And it certainly helped that I’ve been writing with the aim of being a published author since 1986, so I had about ten novels and other completed manuscripts in my files.

Still, I’m a little amazed to report that in the year between October 9, 2013, when I published Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel as a Kindle eBook and October 9, 2014, I published three novels altogether including January Jinx, the first in a historical mystery series; two story collections, and an additional short story. All this added up to more than 300,000 words or the equivalent of 1,100 print pages. Plus in National Novel Writing Month, November 2014, I drafted a 50,000 novel set in a community college and tentatively called Fall into Murder. In the months since December 1, I’ve written another draft of Fatal February, the second Calendar Mystery. I missed my February 2015 deadline to publish Fatal February, but still I aim to have it out this year along with a third Cinderella, P. I. story collection, possibly a collection of essays about mystery fiction that I originally wrote for this blog, and a stand-alone thriller called Death in Shining Armor. Besides the sheer output, I’ve also taken on more of the tasks of self-publishing such as doing some of my own covers and formatting instead of hiring someone to do those things for me.

Perhaps most important, I’ve gained a lot of confidence in myself as a writer and self-publisher. For example, I used to get all bent out of shape with “hi tec anxiety,” but not so much anymore. I still beat myself up sometimes about my low sales figures, but they’re improving.

FYI: These five books are all available as Kindle eBooks and trade paperbacks at Amazon.com. If you enjoy these novels and stories, please review them. Even a few positive words help.

Till next time. Best, Juliet.

P. S. Didn’t my daughter do a beautiful job on the cover of January Jinx?

What’s going on with Juliet?

Hi, All!

Check out my Author Spotlight at http://eepurl.com/beLexH  featuring my most recent book, January Jinx, a cozy historical mystery. Enjoy mystery and romance in Kansas City in 1899 in the first of the Calendar Mysteries that tell the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newlywed and beyond. January Jinx is available from Amazon.com in trade paperback and as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4 

Best, Juliet

P.S. “Cinderella, P. I.,” the first short story in my Cinderella, P. I. fairy tale mystery series, is available as a Kindle eBook February 19 through February 22 for FREE at www.amazon.com/dp/B00BAZPXEM

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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