Kay: The Plot Thickens

Photo: The Harris Poll

It’s always something. Just a few days ago, Jeanne talked about how she used enneagrams to clarify who her characters are, because she thought they weren’t behaving consistently. I usually have a pretty good grip on my characters right from the start—that’s almost always why I write a story to begin with. Somebody out there speaks up.

My problem is plot. And conflict. Which, if I had enough conflict, I’d have more plot. It’s a vicious cycle.

A few months ago, when I was ready to start a new project, I didn’t have any new ideas. Nobody spoke to me, demanding to be put on a page. The girls in the basement didn’t send anybody up. So I decided to write a story that’s been noodling around in my brain for a few years. It would be the continuation of a two-book FBI series, of which the second book was finished in 2012. Continue reading

Kay: The Juggling Act

Circus tapestry by Ambesonne

I’m not one for multi-tasking. For me, it doesn’t work. I can toss junk mail while I’m on hold, but I have no illusions that I can do two tasks at once and do justice to either.

So while I’ve sometimes envied authors their giant traditional publishing contracts, I’ve never envied them their workloads: the writing of a complete book in three months, during which time they make revisions on the previous book, proof the galleys of two books ago, and plot the next book. I could do all that sequentially, but not concurrently.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself, as an indie author, in a similar situation.

I finished my three-book series about the haphazard CIA agent—when? Last winter? It’s only been months, but it feels like years ago. I have the revision letters of all three books from my dev editor sitting on my hard drive. I have begun changes on the first book. I’m about 10% in on that one. Continue reading

Kay: Finding The Voice

Copyright: Konstantin Sutyagin

The other night I watched a three-part mini-series on Amazon Prime called David and Olivia. Part One opens with a guy (David, we learn later), getting into his car and driving away, not noticing that there’s a naked woman (Olivia, we learn later) asleep on the back seat.

Great premise!

She wakes up and keeps herself more or less covered with a large, bulky, plastic bag she’s carrying. I think it takes too long for him to notice her, but when he does, he’s startled and then solicitous. Olivia says she’s on her way to Edinburgh; will he take her there? David says no; he’s taking his girlfriend’s passport to the Glasgow airport because she’s on a business trip and she forgot it. Continue reading

Kay: To Revise, or Not to Revise

Image from Electric Literature.com

Some time ago I heard a woman tell a story about how she’d sent a manuscript to her publisher, and her editor sent her a 17-page, single-space revision letter. That would be a revision letter approximately 12 percent of the entire length of the manuscript. Hearing that made me happy, not for the first time, that I didn’t have a publishing contract.

However, self-pubbing is not for the faint of heart, as most of us attest to every day in these posts. The other day I got the revision letter from my freelance editor, a woman with many years’ experience editing romance at a big publishing house, and it was a winner, as far as I was concerned: only six pages for a 269-page manuscript. Not nearly the work of my fellow writer from the first paragraph. Continue reading

Kay: New Dogs, Old Tricks

Can you read the caption? “Andrina Wood at the console of a BTM computer. Tabacus: The Magazine of the British Tabulating Company, August 1958.” The photo was republished on the Twitter account of Mar Hicks, a professor and historian of technology. Many of the vintage photos I’ve seen show women at computer consoles working with a legal pad or paper notebook.

I’ve started a new book. For lack of any better ideas, I went back to a project I last worked on in about 2006—the adventures of my genius computer hacker and the FBI agent who arrested her.

I wrote two books of these characters before I switched to lighter storylines—there’s just something about your hero sending your heroine to prison that tends to get dark pretty fast. And it’s hard to write genius, too, if you’re not genius yourself. Using Sheldon Cooper as a role model, especially for a female character, has its limitations.

The reception I got for these books after I’d finished them was lukewarm. The first book is about stealing an election, a topic that every agent and editor I talked to said would be stale in months. And we all know how that turned out.

Continue reading

Kay: Anatomy of a Cover, Redux

Not long ago, I decided I wanted to get a new cover for my book Betting on Hope. I discussed in this blog post that I wanted to have a print cover made, and I thought it was time to refresh the old cover, which had been designed in 2011. The cover on the left is what I had.

I hired a designer from the Fivrr site and paid the artist $42 to do a new cover. She did a good job with what I gave her, but I picked the wrong image and decided I wouldn’t switch. The cover below is what she gave me.

A few of our blog readers thought I should use the original image and just go with a new type treatment to spruce up the cover look. I didn’t have the image or the InDesign or PhotoShop file from the original designer, which is customary in the design world, and I couldn’t find the original image on the site from which it had been purchased. In a miracle of skill and organization, Michaeline and Jilly tracked down the image for me.

And then heartbreak ensued, because while the image was found, it cannot be purchased from that location. The site says that “most” of its images were migrated to two other sites for sale, but neither of them has it and won’t be acquiring it.

So with that possibility gone, I went back to the drawing board and purchased the photograph on the left, which I thought sufficiently conveyed the mood of my book.

Then I hired the same artist on Fivrr who’d designed the purple cover. I asked her to crop out the woman in the red top and to make sure that the man driving the convertible is also cropped out. The cover below is what she came up with.

Note that she used the first purple cover as a template for this cover. I’m not disappointed, exactly—for $25, I’d do exactly the same thing. But I would have liked to have seen a different look.

However, I like a lot of things  about this cover. I picked a better photo this time: The color palette is right and there’s some juice in the image. The artist did a good job cropping out the people I didn’t need and screening back the less important visual elements. What’s important in the image is central on the cover, leaving a lot of breathing space for the type. I like the type treatment, and she does a reasonable job incorporating the cards on the left in such a way that they can be seen without overwhelming the space.

What is not as good, in my opinion: In a perfect world, the image would have had a couple front and center, rather than a prominent woman and the hand and a small bit of the head of a guy sticking out. Still, I think readers can tell there’s two people there and they might assume they’re a couple. What are imaginations for, otherwise?

In addition, I had the designer make my name bigger than it was on the purple cover, and it could be bigger still. The kerning on “Betting” is poor, making the word just a teensy bit hard to read. The photo on the cover is less vibrant than the original, because of the screening. The woman looks like she’s sitting on the ace of hearts, which is a little weird.

And I’m worried about the prominence of the “Las Vegas” sign. The location is important to the story, but the Las Vegas location isn’t the story. However, I looked at a million photos, and I didn’t see any others that I thought would be better. (But I thought that purple one was a good choice, so what do I know.)

I might ask a second designer for a treatment with this photo to see what I get, and then maybe run a survey on PickFu to see what “wins” with romance readers. But if I don’t get around to that, I think I’ll just go with this cover.

So what did I learn from this experience?

First and foremost: Buy your cover image yourself and send it to the designer, rather than have them suggest image banks at which they have a discount. It’s almost unbelievable that images would eventually become unavailable, but it does happen. If you own it, you can use it forever.

The next thing is about me and not cover design: I’m not that fussy about my covers. In part that’s because I’m not convinced that a cover sells the book. I think you need a professional-looking cover to get readers to pick it up, but after that, the back cover copy and the first page (or maybe a previous exposure to your work) do the selling. I just bought a paperback by a very well-known historical author, and the cover, in my opinion, is no better than meh and maybe not that good. But the book is selling gangbusters.

For me, if a cover ticks the boxes, that’s enough. Does it get the job done? That is, does it tell the reader what the genre is? Does it convey the right mood, and does the image reflect the content? Is the type clear and large? If so, I’m fine with it. I want to spend my time doing what’s fun for me—writing, not production and marketing. And budget is always a consideration: I want to spend some money this year on ads and I don’t want to blow my entire budget on covers.

What about you? And what do you think about this cover?



Kay: Book Squee! Sort of….

I’m reading Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century, a 2011 New York Times bestseller, which I received as a Christmas gift. Peter Graham, the author, is a retired barrister who worked in Hong Kong and now lives in New Zealand.

Anne Perry is an 80-year-old writer of murder mysteries, who, in 1954 when she was 15, participated in the murder of her best friend’s mother. Perry’s family was set to return to England from New Zealand, and while Perry’s father, a distinguished physicist, went ahead to look for work, she and her mother planned to stay temporarily with friends in South Africa. The girls conceived of the murder plot as a way to stay together. (That idea didn’t make sense then or now, but so it was.)

Because they were juveniles, Perry and her friend, Pauline Parker, served five years for the crime. Perry returned to England and has lived what seems to be an exemplary life ever since, taking up writing as a career when she was 39 and producing, by my count, more than 100 works so far. Continue reading