Friday, 21 March 2014

Book Cover Design: The Creative Process

[Guest post by Solaire]

Where is the starting point for your cover design? And how do you get the final result to look like the picture in your head?
While I am no expert in any way when it comes to designing book covers, I can take you through my personal designing process and try to give you a few tips on the way.

So, the cover for my sister’s upcoming first novel, which will be published through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing this May, was my very first cover design. And this is the path that I followed in order to create it:
-        Reading the book (of course)   
-        Brainstorming ideas to come up with a concept 
-          Doing research
-          Drawing a rough sketch
-          Scanning and editing the cover on the computer

1) The Concept

After you have read the book and gotten an idea of what it is about – and ideally taken a few notes about characters or settings –, it is time to do some brainstorming. Who or what do you want to feature on the cover? It can be something abstract, so the focus will be on the title. You could choose for the main character to be front and center or, especially when it comes to fantasy or science-fiction, feature an artwork that shows a glimpse of the world you created. If you're into photography, you might even put one of your works on the cover. The possibilities are more or less endless, the difficult task is to find out what's best for your specific book.

2) Doing Research

After – or, even better, during – the initial brainstorming phase, I learned a lot from the research I did online. In one video by Random House that I found quite helpful, a few of their designers talked about the process of cover design and also show which stages a few of them went through before publication. Some of my personal favourites are the designs for Ben Marcus’s books created by Peter Mendelsund. He is also the designer who, in my view, gave quite an important tip when he said that a character should never be shown in full on a book’s cover or jacket, in order to leave some room for the readers’ imagination.

3) Sketching

Before even starting up my graphic program, I use a good old pen and some paper and get sketching. The more ideas you have and bring to paper, the better, because during this stage, you should always check back with the author and get his or her feedback. For me, this came naturally, since my sister was the author and was also present when we discussed possible ideas.
This initial sketch can be quite abstract, as illustrated in the picture below, the important part is that you get it on paper and that you yourself have a clear picture of what you doodled there in your head.

First 'idea' draft.

For “Celtic Forest”, I actually didn’t have to do much sketching, because one picture had come into my mind sometime after reading the final draft of the manuscript, and both of my sisters (one the author of the book and the other fellow beta reader, marketing executive etc.) immediately liked it, so we decided to go to the next stage.

4) Editing

Most people will probably use a design program like Adobe Photoshop for this part, but I chose Jasc Paint Shop Pro 7, since I was already familiar with it.
For me, the decision to colour the picture on the computer was mostly based on the thought that this way, I could easily make changes to it if necessary. And also because my skills with watercolours are rather limited…

"Celestia" - tracing the outlines with black pen.
Black outline of the 'forest'.

So, at this stage, the process will be quite different, depending on your cover design. In my case, I went from one ‘layer’ of the picture to the next. At first, I started colouring the trees and simply trying out a few of the graphic program’s functions. From there, I went on to colouring the leaves, the forest ground, the snow etc. 

Colouring of the tree trunks.
The figure that I chose to be in the center of the picture was drawn separately and was the last layer that I inserted when the background was finished. Some of you might notice that, even though I mentioned Mendelsund’s tip before, about avoiding to show characters in full on a cover, I still decided to incorporate Celestia, one of the story’s main characters, in my design. However, I tried to avoid showing her face, plus I think that, since it is not a photo but a drawing, there is still lots of room for imagination.

5) The Finishing Touches

The very last thing left to do after I had finished the cover was to add the text. I left that task to one of my sisters, since she is more skilled when it comes to fonts.
Usually, the text on the cover comprises of at least the book title and the author’s name, as well as the name of the publishing house, if you’re not planning on self-publishing your work – and voilà! Your book is ready to be published – as long as you’ve finished everything else…
As for the final result of my cover designing process, it will probably be revealed some time in May, shortly before the actual release of "The Farnir Chronicles - Part 1: Celtic Forest".
As a final note, to see how fun this process of designing a book cover can be, I recommend you watch designer Chip Kidd’s TED talk from March 2012: “Designing a book is no laughing matter. OK, it is”.

And lastly, here are some of my favourite book covers, many of which convinced me to have a look at the books’ blurbs in the first place:

by Marissa Meyer
by Kerstin Gier
"Seide und Schwert"
by Kai Meyer
by Eva Völler
"The Night Circus"
by Erin Morgenstern
"These Broken Stars"
by Amie Kaufman

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

5 Community Writing Opportunities

What is Community Writing? It is the literary answer to Social Media, catering to the fact that we are increasingly more mobile and connected to the virtual world wide web which allows for new, more collaborative approaches towards the creative processes.

Traditionally, the writing process was a solitary task. Written works were hidden away, shared in very limited circles during the actual writing process. With the rise of digital media and the increase in the production of content, new text forms and new opportunities for writing have emerged. 

Community writing opportunities come in any number of forms and there is one for nearly every type of writer. If you are eager to share your work earlier, sites like Wattpad are surely for you. If you want to keep the actual words closer to heart, but still need help fighting the occasional inner demon or writing block, then Twitter, NaNoWriMo and Writing clubs are places for you. This blog will give an overview over 5 different platforms that can support you during your writing process as well as give you a jumpstart in building your readership.

1) Wattpad

Launched in November 2006, Wattpad is today the largest reading and writing platform in the world. By June 2009, the Wattpad app had reportedly been downloaded 5 million times. Unsurprisingly, Wattpad's usership is skewed towards Y Generation teens/twens and women. This mimics the customer mix of the e-book industry. On top of that, users actually spend up to one hour a day on the platform according to Wattpad. That is a quite an amount of time for teenagers to spend reading in a world filled with a veritable buffet of virtual distraction.

Wattpad has quickly gained a name as a place to upload original and fanfiction stories in a first draft/while writing format. It allows writers to get feedback during the writing process and to get recognised for popular content. Even published authors have discovered the avid story lovers and readers the platform attracts. 

Wattpad has 22 categories of free content work for you to explore. The currency there is not money, but an open dialogue between writers and readers on story ideas. Constructive feedback can help a writer improve their craft during the creative process and gives readers an opportunity to shape a story by providing a different perspective. It also allows writers to build a rapport with their readership earlier than ever before. Finally, content can gain more visibility through the activities, feedback and endorsement of its readers. 

2) Authonomy is a website owned by HarperCollins and was launched in September 2008 to source new literary talent. It allows writers to publish their manuscripts and gives reader-reviewers the powers to vote their favourite stories to the editor's desk. At the end of each month, the five books highlighted in the editor's desk widget on the website's homepage will be submitted for consideration to an editor. They will be reviewed and might result in a publishing contract. In the meantime, the authonomy blog and community provides real-time feedback to writers as soon as they publish their books. This feedback in turn may help writers boost the popularity of their stories if heeded. Two authonomy sourced titles are Fairytale of New York by Miranda Dickinson and Melanie Davies's Never Say Die

3) NanoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo

Each November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) at Writers from all over the world flog together to write 50,000 words each in the span of 30 days. Or at least that is the goal. And beyond that anything else is up to you. What you write, when or how falls under no rules, but you have a great community to commiserate, discuss, cheer you on and be inspired by. Locally, write-ins will be organised. Sessions where writers from the same areas come together to add to their word count. In Luxembourg they happen every Saturday in November. Either during write-ins or via various Twitter hashtags you can also join write-sprints. Lasting anywhere between a few minutes to an hour you try to get as much on your page as possible in the given time frame. Nanowrimo is a great place to get the first draft of a novel down, simply explore a new world or just write whatever comes to mind to clean your soul. If you hit 50,000 words at the end of the month and verify your word count through the website you will get a winner badge and discounts on a number of writer products which can be super helpful in your future writing endeavours (e.g.: discounts on Scrivener, the editing software).

Since 2011, summer sessions for NanoWriMo are also available under the moniker CampNaNoWriMo ( In 2014, they will be held in April and July. Slightly different from November NaNoWriMo, Camp NaNoWriMo lets you choose your own word count goal, you may join a cabin of 7 writers instead of a forum and the cabin message board is only visible to cabin members. It is a much more intimate writing experience and you get to know your fellow writers much better. More than one great writing friendship has been struck up in CampNaNoWriMo. 

Noteworthy published works produced during NaNoWriMo are The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Adam Douglas, to name two.  

4) Twitter Hashtags/Aliases

Recently I have also found some great Twitter hashtags that encourage writers in their literary journey by either offering a community or challenging us to achieve certain writing goals. Others again are just a great way to share some of your short fiction and keep your creative juices flowing. Here is a list of some of my favourites with short descriptions:

#WriteChain: Set yourself a daily word goal and celebrate the consequutive days on which you meet it under this hashtag. Each day where you meet your goal becomes another link in your write chain.

Friday night word-sprints for everyone. Motivate others to add to their word count and get encouragement in turn. Plus it is super fun to shout out new word counts at the end of each sprint. 

Friday phrases. 140-character flash fiction, story prompts and poems each Friday night. Great place for some quick writing fun.

@SprintShack: Write-sprints around the clock. Whenever the mood strikes you, join fellow writers in their race towards a bigger word count.

#Writerproblems: a great place to vent about the frustrating aspects of the writing process, help others out of a rut or commiserate.

5) Writing Clubs and Writing Buddies

Setting up a writing club and organising regular meetings can be a great way to get out from behind the screen. And social media makes it super easy nowadays.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a rut because we are unsure where our story should go next, we are suddenly out of ideas or have one of our days where we doubt every step we make. Those are the perfect days to call up a writing buddy or put down a few questions you want to discuss in your next writing club meeting. Writing clubs/Writing buddies are also great in helping with goal settings and keeping. They hold you accountable for the writing goals you set with them and you in turn can help your buddy/fellow members out. Writing clubs are a great place to challenge yourself, connect with fellow writers and get valuable feedback from people that know how trying the writing process can be at times. Writing buddies on top of that are often your most understanding cheerleaders, but also at times your toughest task masters which help your get over that finish line you set yourself. 

Where to find a writing buddy? I found mine through NaNoWriMo, a book club on Goodreads and by joining a local writing club. The club I found through Google. Nowadays, most writing clubs have at least a Facebook page. If there is no write club in your local area you could found one or join one virtually.

What are your favourite community writing hounds? Any other platforms to recommend?

Sunday, 2 February 2014

6 Quick Notes on Blurb Writing

Some have described your blurb as your pick-up line for readers, others simply call it a hook. I like to think of it as an elevator pitch. The idea behind the elevator pitch in business is to convince someone of your idea in the time it takes to take an elevator ride. This means your pitch needs to be succinct, to-the-point, capture the essence of your story, while not giving everything away, and ensnare your reader in the blink of an eye. Not an easy feed and one of the main reasons why writing blurbs is so tricky. 

Now that I have probably managed to scare you, let me give you 6 pointers on how to write a great blurb for your novel :)

Quick Notes on Blurbs: 

  1. Keep it short! – A great blurb shouldn’t go beyond 150 words
  2. The First Line Hook – like with your actual novel, the first line of your blurb should pack a punch and compel your reader to read on.
  3. Character and Conflict – the body of your blurb needs to efficiently establish the character and conflict of your book.
  4. Cliffhanger – That doesn’t mean to leave your reader hanging at the end, but to conclude with a note of suspense. 
  5. Simplicity is Key – complicated formulations will only hurt you in blurbs. Keep it down to a simple, clever statement of what awaits the reader insight.
  6. Don’t Oversell – avoid hyperboles in your blurb and stay away from overly praising your work.

Beyond having these 6 pointers in mind, writing a blurb is like writing the actual novel. You research, you draft, you edit, you rewrite, your beta readers give you their two cents and you rewrite it again until the right medium of elements is achieved. 

Good luck with your fabulous blurb writing in 2014!

Here are some futher blog articles with great tips: