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

Kay: “A Grizzly Wedding” Christmas Story

Kizzy Macklin clutched the glass of champagne, now warm, and shifted rightwards at the head table, away from the drunken and leaning Peter Frederick Fordyce-Fisher III. Why her sister wanted to get married on New Year’s Eve, a day when the entire population had an excuse to behave badly, was baffling to her. You didn’t have to look any further than Freddie to realize the whole affair was one giant fiasco. But that was Carlie all over.

“Zhe looksh like an angel,” Freddie slurred, gazing in Carlie’s general direction, his eyes unfocused. Kizzy didn’t believe he could actually see Carlie, but he wasn’t wrong. Carlie did look beautiful in her simple white dress, her naked shoulders gleaming in the candlelight, and that giant diamond tiara blazing brighter than a lighthouse on top of her head. That thing was so big that if she stood outside, the refracted light would cause tanker ships to collide. Continue reading

Kay: Quiz for Y’all—Would You Go Here?

7 bedrooms, 3 full baths, 3 half baths, 5,000 sq ft, small city environment

Motivated by the arts community Yaddo, I cooked up an idea some time ago that I’ve begun pursuing with some interest.

For those who don’t click on the link, Yaddo is an artists’ retreat located on a 400-acre estate in Saratoga Springs, New York, where artists of all stripes can apply to work for up to two months. They get a studio and room and board for free if they’re accepted. Collectively, Yaddo artists have won 74 Pulitzer Prizes, 29 MacArthur Fellowships, 68 National Book Awards, and a Nobel Prize (Saul Bellow, who won the Nobel for Literature in 1976). Notable Yaddo artists include James Baldwin, Leonard Bernstein, Truman Capote, Patricia Highsmith, Continue reading

Kay: Melissa McCarthy as the Unlikeable Protagonist

Let’s talk about unlikeable protagonists. A few weeks ago, Jeanne did. I thought about what she said, and I wasn’t sure I agreed with her. Since then, I’ve seen Can You Ever Forgive Me?

For those of you who don’t go to the movies or haven’t seen this one yet, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is based on the life of biographer Lee Israel, who reaches a dead end in her writing career after her agent rejects her latest project. Out of money and desperate to meet her rent and take her cat to the vet, the movie shows Israel first forging letters from famous, dead actors and writers and then stealing such letters from public libraries and research institutions and selling those, as well.

Movie-wise, I thought Melissa McCarthy did a terrific job playing Israel.

Character-wise, I didn’t like her. Continue reading

Kay: Quiz for Y’all—Now What Do I Do?

I finished my last book. I’ve revised it. It’s done.

Usually when that happens, I get a new idea. For a long time now, like clockwork, when the old book ends, the new one appears. It’s like the Girls were thinking about it while I was concentrating on other things, and when I’m ready, they send up the next demand, er, suggestion. The transition is flawless. The second I type “The End,” I can type “Chapter One.”

Not this time.

This time, I the Girls are on vacation, asleep, or, heaven forbid, dead.

I’ve got nothing.

There are ideas I could pursue, extensions of ideas I’ve already worked on. For example: Continue reading