What is the Worst Thing?

One of the writers I respect most – and whose stories I love the most – asks herself this question: what is the worst thing I can do to my protagonist?

She poses that question, answers it, and then does that very thing in her story.

Shark by Umair Mohsin

She’s not the only writer who uses that question to guide her stories. Many do.

But it never worked for me. When I asked myself, “What is the worst thing that might happen to my heroine?” the answers were distinctly not helpful.

Answer the first: kill her off. In which case, there is no story.

Answer the second: take away the thing that makes life worth living, with no hope of replacement or redemption. In which case, I’m writing a tragedy, and I don’t want to write a tragedy.

Many of my stories are born from a setting that has inherent problems.

For example, Livli’s Gift was sparked from an incident that happens in Troll-magic.

When Lorelin travels north on skis, she encounters a Hammarleeding woman in the woodland edging the tundra. We learn that the woman is returning from a journey to visit her new grandchild, and that her daughter had left the Hammarleeding enclaves entirely, because she wouldn’t be allowed to keep her young son if she stayed. Hammarleeding boy children go to live in the father-lodge, apart from their mothers, when they are two-and-a-half years old.

My story question was: how would a woman who couldn’t bear to follow that societal norm manage when she gave birth to a boy?

Livli’s Gift explored that question, starting with pregnant Livli worrying that her baby might be a boy.

Knife-weilding ElfI’ve generally relied on the inherent dangers and risks in my story setting to drive the story forward.

But, in one of my recently written novels, that method wasn’t working. At least, it seemed not to be working. Both of my first readers told me that the first third of my story wasn’t holding their interest. Both loved the middle and the end. But not the beginning.

So I had some thinking to do. Where exactly had I gone wrong?

The situation my protagonist found herself in was dangerous and scary. If I were in that situation – utterly alone, trapped in a deserted castle with no food or water and no way to get out – I’d be pretty scared.

So why were my readers not gripped by it?

The answer, when I discovered it, was quite obvious. (Although it took me two hours of discussion before I stumbled on it. 😉 )

My protagonist dove into solving her problems too quickly. No sooner did we realize that there was no water than she scrounged up water. Same with the food. That took all the tension out of the story.

I needed to let her encounter the full dangers of her situation before I allowed her to devise solutions.


Tiger Face Portrait by Gavin BellUnconsciously, I’d followed that guideline – show the dangers fully – in most of my stories.

In Livli’s Gift, Livli arrives on the scene worrying about being forced to give up her baby, if he is a boy.

In Perilous Chance, young Clary immediately must cope with her wailing baby brother, because her father is absent and her mother incapacitated.

In Troll-magic, Kellor struggles with the throes of troll-disease: its physical discomfort and its mental confusion.

In the novel where I failed to follow that excellent precept – allow your protagonist to wrestle with the difficulties inherent in the situation – why had I failed?

It was because I, the writer, was too scared!

I was writing my personal nightmare, and I couldn’t bear to experience it in all its horror. I needed those solutions. With the result that I let my heroine have it too easy.

But don’t worry, she now has a perfectly dreadful time!

That’s why most writers have trusted first readers: to find the places where the story isn’t working so that the writer can fix any writing mistakes and make the story work.

Not only have I fixed the mistake in this particular story, but I now have my own question to ensure I don’t make the same mistake in future stories.

Colorado National Monument

“What is dangerous and risky about this situation? How can I present those dangers most powerfully to the reader?”

It was exciting to develop my own twist on, “What is the worst that can happen?”

I was in the middle of writing a novel at the time, but I can’t wait to see how my touchstone question guides me at the start of my next story. 😀



Cover Reveal: Caught in Amber

Caught in Amber is getting ever closer to its release!

Amber cover, 300 pxWhen young Fae awakens in a locked and deserted castle, she remembers nothing. Who she is, where she comes from, none of it.

Beauty from all the ages – medieval, renaissance, and gothic – graces her surroundings, but underneath the loveliness a lurking evil stirs.

Fae must recover her memories and discern the true nature of the challenge before her, while she confronts the castle’s dangers – both subtle and not so subtle.

Somewhere in her forgotten past lies the key to her freedom.

Coming soon!

What Happens After the Manuscript is Complete?

Once you have a complete manuscript – ready for publication, ready for readers to enjoy – what happens next?

workflow ms

Several of you have asked me this question, and it is well worth considering.

Writing has a natural flow. When you finish one scene, you write the next. When you complete the first draft, you send the story to your trusted first reader. When you’ve fixed the errors pointed out by your first reader (or readers), you send the manuscript to your proofreader. Step three cannot be performed until steps one and two are complete.

workflow: too muchBut once the manuscript is completely finished, the next step is less obvious. Especially if you prefer to do the work yourself, as I do.

Do you create the cover?

Do you write the cover copy? (Sometimes called a “blurb,” just because “blurb” is one syllable, while “cover copy” is four!)

Or do you format the file for uploading to the different etailer sites?

It can feel like all of these tasks are rushing you in a group. But they aren’t. You pick one and work on it. Then you pick another and work on that one.

I have published fourteen ebooks so far, and I have another five underway. Somewhere between the first book and the fourteenth, I arrived at a workflow that feels comfortable for me and that allows me to do my best work.

I’ll outline it below.

workflow: early blurbThe Blurb

I always tackle the cover copy (or blurb) first, because I find it to be the most challenging piece of publishing a book. I have to take multiple passes at it to get it right.

How I feel about my first attempt at a blurb varies wildly!

Sometimes I’ll write it and think: I nailed it! This is it! Woot, woot!

More often, I’ll struggle and groan and feel as though someone is driving spikes through my head, and think that whatever I’ve created for cover copy is awful! Blurb writing does not come easily to me.

But once I’ve put in solid, committed effort and have a complete blurb, I move on.

If you’d like to see the principles I follow when writing blurbs, I have two posts about blurbs on my website: one here and one here.

workflow: cover artCover Design

I tackle the cover design next. Finding the right art for the cover can be very challenging, but usually I’ve started looking for art while my first reader is reading my story. Often I’ve found the art and purchased the right to use it before the manuscript is back from my proofreader.

For me, cover creation is like playing. All my stress melts away, and I’m just having fun creating a beautiful and compelling visual that fits my story. It’s a good chaser to the agony of blurb writing. 😉

For guidelines on cover design, see my Cover Design Primer.

workflow: second blurbBlurb, Round 2

Then I look at the blurb again.

Inevitably – whether I loved my blurb or hated it – I see that it’s not good enough. It conveys a false idea of the story or it fails to ground the reader in the setting or it doesn’t include any hint of the lyricism that is part of my writing.

A blurb can fail in so many ways, and I think I am slowly discovering them all. 😉

But usually there is some portion (or portions) of my blurb that is useable. I build on that for another draft. And see what my husband thinks about it. And then use his feedback to create yet another draft.

Then I return to my cover.

workflow: tweaking the cover design

Cover Design, Round 2

When I create my covers, I start with the cover for the paperback. I’ve learned that it is much harder to add a spine and back cover to an ebook cover than it is to extract the front cover from a paperback cover and use it for the ebook.

So I pour the blurb into my paperback cover file.

When I do so, I inevitably see that the cover needs some adjustment.

Maybe the font I chose requires that the tail of the “J” in my byline be a little longer. Or a little shorter. Maybe the position of the skier’s cloak (in the art) is too close to the spine. There is always something.

So I tweak the cover.

(The left version of Devouring Light above shows only the harsh black of outer space behind the goddess. It directly contradicted the playful undercurrent of my story. The right tweaked version of the cover has a soft starfield in the background.)

workflow: third blurbBlurb, Round 3

Pouring the blurb into my cover file helps me to see the blurb as a reader, rather than as a writer. That fresh perspective often clarifies where to go next with the blurb. By this time, my blurb should be approaching its final form. A little more massaging will get it to where I am satisfied.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am far from a master blurb writer. Marketing gurus have many years of schooling in the discipline behind them plus years of experience. That’s not me! I suspect I will continue to learn about blurbs and how to write them for as long as I’m publishing books. But I am better at it than I used to be.

Format the Ebook File

I leave formatting the file for last.

I believe that ebook files need to be as simply formatted as is possible. You never know what kind of a device your reader will be reading on. It could be a Kindle or a Nook or a Kobo. More likely, he or she will be using a smartphone and some sort of ereading app.

The more bells and whistles you include, the more likely that something will go wrong. And then your reader won’t be reading at all. Or, if she is, it won’t be your book.

So I make the formatting very, very minimal.

Which means that it doesn’t take me much time. Half an hour at most.

workflow: keywords


Not all etailers allow the publisher to attach keywords to a book. But Amazon and Nook Press do. You want to choose your keywords carefully. I choose mine to position my book in as many of the suitable categories as possible.

I use Amazon’s keyword guide for fantasy and science fiction to help me choose. I only aim for categories where my book genuinely belongs. But often there are quite a few that fit. I want my book to appear in as many of those as I can manage. 😀

I make a list of the keywords for this book and keep a record of them in my computer folder for that title.

workflow: final blurbBlurb, Round 4

Sometimes I don’t need this final stab at the blurb. But, often I do.

Just before I upload the ebook file and the cover file, I look at the blurb again. And tweak it just a little more.


I double check to be sure I have everything I need. Is the file formatted and ready to upload? Check.

Is the cover file correctly formatted and correctly sized for uploading? Check.

Is the blurb ready to copy-and-paste into the blurb box on the etailer site? Check.

Do I have my keywords chosen and ready? Check.

I log into my account, type in the requisite information, upload the files, type in my price in US dollars, and round the international prices so that they are not a weird number like £3.16.

Then I wait the 12 hours it takes (sometimes less on Amazon, usually more on the other sites) to go live.

Author Central

Once the book is live on Amazon, I visit my Author Central account and “claim” the book as mine.

This will cause the book to appear on my author page on the Amazon site. Whenever a reader clicks my name on the book’s page, he or she will arrive at my author page. I want all my books to appear on that page. I want it to be easy for a reader who loved one of my books to find another.

The other benefit of my Author Central account is that I can format the blurb.

The KDP desktop where you upload the book does not permit any formating. No italics. No bolding. Nothing. The result can look unprofessional and messy. The desktop at Author Central lets me make my blurb look nice.

And – guess what? – when I see the blurb correctly formatted, I often make yet one more tweak! That final blurb often has ten or more drafts that preceded it!

workflow: Author Central blurb

Quality Assurance

When I upload a book, Smashwords and Amazon both have a step that allows me to preview the ebook. I look through every page of it to be sure that a glitch has not crept in unbeknownst to me. I don’t read. What I’m primarily checking for are: odd page breaks, weird formatting, or formatting that appears as text instead of invisibly guiding the text of the story.

My workflow tends to generate odd page breaks from time to time. Not always. Not often. But sometimes. If I find any, then I have to fix the problem and re-upload the file before I click the publish button.

But I like to take one final QA step on Amazon after the ebook is available for purchase. I buy the ebook and look at it on my Kindle. And give a huge sigh of relief when I see that the formatting is indeed fine.

Devouring Light on the Amazon siteDone!

Writing out my entire process makes it sound like a lot. But I move through it fairly quickly these days. Practice!

Of course, this is the workflow for an ebook. Paperbacks use some of the same elements – but they have their own unique workflow. Perhaps, if I hear interest, I’ll blog about it sometime.

Edited to Add

All of the above could be summarized much more tidily.

1 – The blurb: write it.
2 – The cover: create it.
3 – Format the ebook file.
4 – Choose your keywords.
5 – Review steps 1 and 2, repeatedly, and tweak both, repeatedly. 😉
6 – Upload the files.
7 – Visit Author Central and format the blurb.
8 – Buy a copy of the ebook and look at it on your Kindle.
9 – Done!

My hope is that the more detailed narrative will be useful to those who are actually in the throes of the work between completed manuscript and published ebook.

The middle of the real process is a lot messier than nice, neat check lists. Many of us (myself included) find value in an accurate (if complex) roadmap. 😀


Building Rainbow’s Cover

art for Rainbow's Lodestone

The first time I created a book cover for Rainbow’s Lodestone, I couldn’t find any art that looked like my spirit of the rainbow. So I settled for a landscape. It was a dramatic landscape – beautiful – and it had a rainbow against a looming cloudy sky. But I didn’t think it conveyed the essence of my story well.

art for original Rainbow's Lodestone coverSo, when I was ready to create the paperback edition of Rainbow’s Lodestone, I went looking for more suitable art. And I found exactly what I was looking for. The instant I set eyes on the image, I said to myself, “That’s her!”

It was exciting. I purchased the right to use the image on my cover.

The first thing to do was flip the image. I wanted the spirit of light looking to the right, supporting the eye’s natural tendency to move from the top left corner of an image to the bottom right.

The next adjustment needed was creating room for a title. As you can see (above), the art didn’t have room at the top. Nor did it have much room at the bottom for my author byline. I had some work to do. I started to “paint” the extra margins I needed.

I’ve talked before about this “painting” I do in Photoshop. You might be wondering what I mean since that’s not very specific.

This is what I do to extend the background: I take the “lasso” tool and draw a rough shape around a suitable piece of the background. Then I “feather” the edge of my selection, essentially creating a fuzzy edge instead of a crisp one. Next I copy my selection and paste it on a new layer in my file. I move it around until it looks good. Then I merge it back onto the main layer.

That’s it in a nutshell.

But I do it over and over again to fill in the area I need.

modified art for Rainbow's Lodetone

The next steps were less time intensive.

I assessed the back cover area to discern whether type would be easily read atop it. Rarely is it just fine as is. Usually I must either lighten it to receive dark type or darken it to receive light type. Additionally, if there is a lot of variation in lightness and darkness, I must even it out.

Type needs a fairly bland background behind it in order to be easy on the reading eyes.

The art for Rainbow’s Lodestone didn’t extend far enough to the left after I’d added to the top. I could have “painted” yet more background, but I had a better plan in mind.

I sampled three colors from the back ground: a dark blue, a dark aqua, and a black. I selected large irregular triangles in the area that needed to be filled – feathered the edges a lot – and filled them with these three colors. The result was a varying wash of color that blended with the art and also yielded a good background for the back cover text.

Rainbow art with title

The Lodestone Tales follow the lodestones created by Zandro Mytris through the history of my North-lands. Which means I want the covers for all of the stories to look like they belong together.

I’d already chosen the font Bradley Gratis for the titles of the books and the font Gloucester for the tag lines and the back cover text. Working with those choices, I placed the title on the front cover so that it lined up with one edge of the cover and framed the art. Adding my byline and the tag lines was a straight forward matter.

Rainbow’s Lodestone is a short story, which means that its “blurb” is fairly short. I wouldn’t want to plump up the blurb with a lot of spoilers! I had to play with the best size for the text and line spacing, as well as seeking the best way to break the text into paragraphs. It was a matter of trying different arrangements until I got one that looked good.

I submitted this cover to a design contest held every month by Joel Friedlander. He’s a publishing and design professional active in the indie publishing world, and his good opinion is very worth having. I was delighted when Rainbow’s Lodestone won a rare and coveted gold star award!

(Rainbow’s Lodestone is the 30th in the long column of covers shown. Joel doesn’t list them by rank, but randomly.)

Paperback cover for Rainbow's Lodestone

To see more cover builds:
Building Star-drake’s Cover
Building Wild’s Cover
Cover Creation: Perilous Chance

For the basic principles of cover design:
Cover Design Primer


Building Glory’s Cover

y Magnus Sjöberg (Larsson), photo used under a Creative Commons license, FlickrI was so lucky finding images that were perfect for the covers of Fate’s Door and Caught in Amber, I hoped I might be equally lucky with photos for Winter Glory.

I found a gorgeous northern landscape: a snow-covered pine forest with the sun setting through the tree trunks. (Similar to the photo at left.) But I couldn’t find anyone who looked like Ivvar.

This didn’t truly surprise me. Ivvar’s a tall fellow with shoulder-length gray dreadlocks and tan skin. Not tanned by sunlight, but naturally tan, the way my Hammarleedings are.

I searched for a photo of Ivvar last October when I finished writing Winter Glory. I searched in November when I got feedback from my first reader and started revisions. I searched in January when I received feedback from my second reader and made more revisions. I searched in February when the file came back from my proofreader with typos corrected.

I searched one last time when it was time to create the cover.

illustration for East of the Sun and West of the MoonThen I had to face the fact that I simply was not going to find Ivvar photographed by chance by a modern photographer. 😀

I wasn’t panicked. I had a plan B. I would use the illustration by Kay Nielsen for “So the man gave him a pair of snow-shoes” in East of the Sun and West of the Moon. It’s a gorgeous piece of art. It was probably for the best that I’d failed to find a good photo.

As I scanned the Nielsen art, I talked with my husband about my plan for the cover. He was in the other room, so he was not looking at the piece of art concerned. He said: “Oh, yeah! You’ll make one of those black & white covers, like the ones for Troll-magic and Sarvet’s Wanderyar. Great! They’re really your trademark look.”

Right then and there I had an epiphany.

The art showing a man on skies is a color piece. But in the time it took my husband to speak, I’d envisioned it rendered in black & white, and I loved it.

Plus my husband’s suggestion made so much sense. A color painting would be a whole new look for one of my books. But a black & white Kay Nielsen piece would fit right in with the other North-lands and Hammarleeding books.

And I was sure I could do it. The print quality on the black & white illustrations of my 1914 edition of East of the Sun and West of the Moon is very poor. In order to get a clean image for my covers with Kay Nielsen art – crisp lines without inkblots, black blacks, and white whites – I’d always placed the art on a light table and traced it.

I was certain I could do the same for a color illustration. It would be trickier. I’d be making value judgements all the way through about how to render shades of color as either shades of gray or patterns of black & white lines. But Nielsen’s work lends itself to black & white interpretation. Even his color work has interesting line and texture present.

I scrutinized the piece of art depicting the skier. Yes! I could see in my mind’s eye exactly how I would do it.

So I set to work.

black & white sketch for Winter Glory

I was nervous at first. So nervous that my hand kept shaking. I had to talk myself down. “Jessica, any small mistakes can be corrected in Photoshop. And if you make a big mistake, it won’t be the worst thing if you have to start over. Relax. Relax. Relax.”

My hand was still not steady with that first line of ink on paper. I got a fresh sheet of paper. And started on the skier’s hair, which was supposed to be squiggley. By the time I finished the hair, my hand was steady. I’d forgotten my nerves and was enjoying the drawing.

I was almost sad when I finished, except that there was more fun ahead.

I scanned my black & white drawing into my computer and started building the cover for Winter Glory.

The first step was to select the stars and turn them from black to white. Then I put a gradient screen from the top of the cover to the bottom, thus creating the sky. I loved how that made the skier pop!

Adding the sky to the cover for Winter Glory

Next step? The title.

I already knew I wanted to use the cloak texture from the original color illustration, but I wanted to get the title’s size and placement settled using Photoshop’s type managing tools. I would turn the layer from a type layer to an image layer after I got the type exactly the way I wanted it. So I used a bright red to help me visualize the final result.

Adding title and byline to the cover for Winter Glory

The cloak in the original illustration was a lovely patch of color. It was big enough that I could have just selected it and “pasted it inside” of the letters of the title and my author byline. But it would have been a lot of pasting.

cloak textureSo I made a square of the texture first – pasting and pasting and pasting that cloak patch into a separate file. I increased the saturation, and heightened the reds and yellows to achieve the effect I wanted.

Once the cloak texture file was ready, I selected the whole square and pasted that inside the letters of my cover file. It took four pastes to fill them all. Instead of ten or more!

The textured title softened the overall effect of the art. The black & white art with the solid read title has a crisp and definite look that I like. But it’s a little too hard-edged for the story, which blends life-threatening action with romance.

Winter Glory cover with textured title

Then I was closing in on the finish line.

I added the tag lines – one above the title, one below my author byline. And my trademark line, connecting the big “J” to “Author of Sarvet’s Wanderyar.”

I placed the back cover copy. I placed the title on the back cover. Next came the spine: title, byline, and Wild Unicorn logo.

And finally the publisher info and the box for the barcode.

I was done! It’s ready to be placed in an InDesign file for the paperback cover, and to be windowed for the ebook cover. 😀

complete cover for Winter Glory

For more cover builds:
Cover Creation: Perilous Chance
Building Star-drake’s Cover
Creating Livli’s Cover

For the principles of cover design:
Cover Design Primer


Cover Preview: Winter Glory

I’m writing a lot, and exciting things are happening with my work in progress, Fate’s Door. I can’t wait to share the story with you. I’m hoping for a May release – fingers crossed – but I won’t rush the story telling. If it takes me longer to finish, that release may slide to June. 😉

I’ve also been working on book covers for the stories that are complete and approaching release to my readers.

Winter Glory came back from my proofreader (thank you, Wendy, fantastic work!) about a week ago. The interior of the book is now all ready, and today I finished the cover! Naturally, I want to show you what it looks like.

I’m really pleased with how it turned out, and I’ll share how I built it in a future post.

Winter Glory cover reveal

In the cold, forested North-lands – prowled by trolls and ice tigers, redolent with the aroma of pine, and shrouded in snow – Ivvar seeks only to meet his newborn great granddaughter.

Someone else has the same plan.

Traversing the wilderness toward the infant’s home camp, Ivvar must face the woman he once cherished and the denizens of the chilly woodlands in a complicated dance of love and death.

Ivvar’s second chance at happiness – and his life – hang in the balance.

Coming soon!


Knossos, Center of Minoan Culture

Fresco from the palace of Knossos, ladies of the courtI’m currently writing a story about a sea nymph of ancient times who becomes handmaiden to the three fates.

The story keeps growing on me. When I first wrote the opening for it in 2013, I thought it would be a short story. When I decided to go beyond the opening and complete the work, I thought it was more likely a novella, perhaps 20,000 words.

After I started writing it this January, I realized it would be a longish novella, perhaps 35,000 words.

Floorplan of KnossosAnd once I was well into the project, and had expanded the outline, I knew it would be a novel. Anywhere between 50,000 and 80,000 words. Yikes!

But I want to tell this story right, which means I can’t skip those middle scenes that hadn’t seemed necessary when the idea for it first sprang. One of the advantages of the indie world is that the writer can allow the story to go to the length it needs.

So I’ve been writing Fate’s Door for 5 weeks now, and I’ve discovered another element that makes this a challenging project. It’s the most research-intense book I’ve written yet.

Scale Model of KnossosWhen the scope of the narrative was confined to the northern cottage of the three fates, I had to research looms and spinning and other details about textiles. But that was all.

Now that I’m including events from my protagonist’s life before she came north, I’m needing to research much, much more. Coral reefs, fossilized coral reefs, marine life, islands in the Mediterranean, history of the ancient world, and so on.

I find it all fascinating. (You knew I would!) But wow! Every time I start a new scene I realize I need to know some additional tidbit in order to write it properly.

My latest foray into research concerned Knossos, the palace on Crete built in 1950 BCE. My heroine grew up in a fringe reef off the coast of a Mediterranean island near Tunisia. She soon goes ashore and encounters the land folk who live there. Which meant I needed to know more about them.

I had already decided that even though the time frame of my story is more eternal than chronological – because it’s about the numina of the ancient world, gods and goddesses of the waters and the archetypes – it still takes place during the Corinthian War, when the city-states of Athens, Argos, Thebes, and Corinth fought to throw off Sparta’s yoke.

But the island where my heroine goes ashore is far from these events.

I decided to model my Zakynthians after the Minoans of Crete. Perhaps they were a remnant of Minoan civilization that had survived the downfall of Knossos on Crete. Like the earlier Minoans, they were seafarers and a power on the water. They built fleets of warships to protect their realm. They built another fleet of trading vessels. And they grew rich.

Artist's Rendering of Knossos

Their palace would be modeled on ancient Knossos, one of the most magnificent buildings of the older world.

So I researched Knossos. It was, indeed, impressive.

The palace took up 6 acres, with many corridors and small inner courts all arranged around one great central court. An aqueduct from springs on a mountaintop 6 miles away supplied it with water and actually ran fountains with the water pressure. Pipes from the aqueduct brought running water right into the palace.

Reconstructed Facade of Knossos

The palace was constructed of limestone using a post-and-lintel system. Tree trunks formed decorative pillars. Squared off wooden beams created decorative elements within the stone walls, as well as outlining doors and some windows. Light shafts brought light and ventilation to interior rooms.

A red wash colored the stone floors, and frescoes adorned the interior walls. The queen’s chambers included a toilet that was flushed by pouring a pitcher of water which cleared the basin and ran out into a separate sewer system. The Minoans of Knossos had advanced water handling skills!

Dolphin Room at Knossos

The palace was much more than a royal residence. It did house the royal family, but it also served as the seat of government for the adjacent city, the center of commerce, and the hub of religious life. The complex included a theater.

Extensive food storage and processing workrooms made up a large portion of Knossos. There were grain mills, olive oil presses, and wine presses on the premises. And a multitude of storage “magazines” held massive urns (or pithoi) in pits, so that the opening was at floor level. Olives, olive oil, dried figs and dates, honey, grain, wine, and dried beans are some of the staples stored in these urns. When they were full, they weighed tons.

Pithoi of Knossos

I sometimes wish I could visit the past to experience places like Knossos. No doubt that’s part of the charm of time travel novels for me. 😀

If you could visit a time and place out of history, what time and what place would it be?


Back Cover Design: Hunting Wild

The front cover gets all the love!

I’ve seen a lot of information about designing the front cover for a book, but only a little about the back cover. There’s a reason for that, of course. The front cover sells the book. It catches the eye of a prospective reader and encourages him or her to look inside.

Ebooks don’t even have back covers. And, until recently, none of the online bookstores ever showed the back cover of a paper book. If you wanted to see the back cover, you had to walk into a brick and mortar store. (Or wait until your purchased paperback arrived on your doorstep.)

But any book that has a paper edition needs a back cover for it. That back cover must be attractive and harmonize with the front cover. It needs to have sizzle, as well as the “steak” of the back cover copy. And it needs to have certain information, such as the bar code, the publisher, maybe the price.

I thought it might be interesting if I shared some of my experiences with back covers.

The first thing I learned was that when I create the front cover for the ebook and wait until I start building the paperback to design the back cover, it’s much harder! I did the covers for Troll-magic and Sarvet’s Wanderyar in this piecemeal way. I got them to work, but…hoo boy!

All the books that came after, I created the paperback cover first and simply used the right half for the front cover of the ebook.

Let me show what the paperback cover of Hunting Wild looked like when I was ready to start finalizing the back cover.

Hunting Wild back cover

One of the things that you’ll notice in the image above is that it’s a whole lot bigger than it needs to be. There are two reasons for that.

1) It has an extra half inch all the way around the edge. That’s because I’ve learned from experience that it is infinitely easier to chop off unneeded edges than it is to add more later if it turns out you miscalculated and need the art a little taller or a little wider. I give myself plenty of wiggle room.

You need only a one-eighth inch bleed when you upload the cover file to CreateSpace. But I have found that when I paste my TIFF file into my InDesign file – I do covers in InDesign – the margins sometime get funky and weird. There have been several times I’ve been very glad of my extra margin.

2) Because I am creating the paperback cover before I create the paperback interior, I don’t know exactly how many pages the book will be. Which means I cannot calculate the precise width of the spine. So I allow an extra inch on the far left of my image, in order to have enough image to go from the bleed on the far right all the way across the front, then around the spine, then across the back, and finish beyond the leftmost bleed.

For Hunting Wild, I had planned to purchase a photo of a stone wall to use as a continuation of the wall coming off the stair tower on the front. However, when I tried a mock-up using a watermarked comp image, I didn’t like the result.

So I decided to “paint” that wall extension by copying and pasting the stone blocks (and smoothing the joins) from the left edge of the stair tower photo. I was very pleased with how that worked. It looks natural to my eye, and it makes a good, even background for the back cover text.

Hunting Wild back with text

I’ve cropped the cover image above, to the approximate size it will be on the paperback, using an estimate of the spine width. It is easy to move the text and the title on the back cover from side to side. So I will place it more exactly when I know the precise spine width.

My second reader is still reading and generating feedback for Hunting Wild, so I have another round of revisions on the book before I can send it to my proofreader. When I get it back from my proofreader, I will start formatting it for both the ebook edition and the paperback edition.

Only when I have the precise spine width will I place the white box needed for the bar code, as well as placing text indicating my publishing imprint (Wild Unicorn Books), the genre (fantasy), and the price (which is determined by the page count).

I’ll also wait to place the title and my byline on the spine.

There are a lot of elements that must go on the back cover, and it’s important to use some of the same design principles that go into designing the front cover: alignment, grouping, and type fonts that match those used on the front.

I’ll be posting more about back covers. Until then, here’s the link to my Cover Design Primer, so you can bone up on those design principles. 😉

And, if you missed it, here’s the post about designing the front cover for Hunting Wild.


Building Foe’s Cover

Egypt 300 pxI’m imagining that some of you might say: “That J.M. Ney-Grimm! She has too much fun creating the covers for her books.” And you’d be quite right. It even seems a trifle unreasonable to me that I enjoy cover design as much as I do.

Not only do I love designing covers, I also like showing you how I did it. Today I’m going to pull back the curtain on the creation of the cover for Serpent’s Foe.

I found art that I adored long before I needed it, so I posted the art on the story’s “coming soon” page on my website. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it work on a cover, because the art has no space for the book title near the top. And the image at the bottom is too variegated for my byline to show well there.

sky 300 pxWhen it was time for me to decide what I would do, I searched for another alternative. One that wouldn’t require as much Photoshop “painting” as I guessed this image would need. But I couldn’t find anything I liked better. Probably because I liked this image so very much.

So I committed to the painting “Egypt Personified” by Farid Fidel and started thinking about how I could make it work. The first thing to do was find a photo of clouds and sky that matched the clouds and sky in the painting. There must be a bajillion such photos, and with so many to choose from, I was able to find one that looked really close.

a lot of empty spaceTo begin, I placed “Egypt Personified” into my file. As you can see, when room is made for a title, there’s a lot of space that needs art behind it and doesn’t have it. The next step was to place the clouds-and-sky photo behind the painting. The edge between the photo and the painting was very sharp, as I expected. I had a lot of Photoshop work to do, so I dove into it.

The sky in the photo is a more yellow blue than the sky in the painting, and it’s a harder, more saturated hue. The clouds in the photo are also yellower than the clouds in the painting.

I color corrected the photo’s sky, shifting the blue away from yellow and toward magenta, also desaturating it to get a softer blue. That helped the clouds match better as well, but I needed to pump up the brightness to get the clouds fully white.

Egypt w-rough skyOnce the colors matched fairly well, I stretched the photo to get its clouds close to where there were clouds in the painting.

Then I put copies of both stretched photo and painting on the same layer in my Photoshop file, so that I could start obscuring that edge by “painting” over it and blending the areas of the two images that were close to one another.

I’ve gotten a lot of practice at this sort of “painting” lately. (Yes, I’m grinning and thinking of the cover for Hunting Wild.) Because of all that practice, this sky “painting” felt fairly straight forward.

I’d paint a bit with the screen magnifying that portion so I could see exactly what I was doing. Then I’d zoom out to see what the whole looked like. And then I’d zoom in to do some more. Back and forth until, several hours later, I’d gotten it all done, and I was satisfied with the result.

Egypt art readyThe sky wasn’t the only item that needed adjustment. I tried my byline against the bottom of the painting, hoping it might work. Not only was it impossible to read, but it was hard on the eyes.

Potential readers would be clicking away from the web page with my book on it just to save their eyes from the “ouch” that my byline generated – half on the water lilies and half on Egypt’s gown.

Once more I set to work. This time I selected the lilies and pasted them into another layer where I could expand them. Egypt would be up to her knees in lilies, rather than just ankle deep.

I created a lavender mist to match the one rising off the Nile River in the painting. And I added a translucent shadow across the lily leaves to make a better background for my byline.

Since I’d already created the byline, and seen that it needed a different background than the one originally there, I made it invisible while I “painted,” but clicked it visible to check my progress.

Had I placed the higher lilies in the right place? Was the translucent shadow in the right place? Was it deep enough? Again, there was a lot of back and forth, zoom in, zoom out.

Bastet preview cov 300 pxFinally, the blended images blended well enough to seem all of one piece. And then I was nearly done.

When I first placed the painting in my file, I’d done a mock-up of the title to be sure Egypt was standing in the right place. But now it was time to finalize the title.

I wanted it to pick up the different shades of gold in the painting and to harmonize with Egypt’s skin, so I color corrected the title, deepening its hue, saturating it, and reducing its brightness.

It still didn’t pop as much as I wanted it to, so I painted over one of the clouds (in the photo part of the image) with blue sky. That was much better, but still not quite there. I added a translucent blue shadow behind the title, and then I was satisfied. The cover for Serpent’s Foe was complete!

For more cover builds:
Cover Creation: Perilous Chance
Building Star-drake’s Cover
Cover Makeovers

For the principles of cover design:
Cover Design Primer


Cover Preview: Serpent’s Foe

200x300For those of you who just couldn’t wait to read Serpent’s Foe, there’s Quantum Zoo. My story is the very last one in the anthology. Plus you get 11 other sci-fi and fantasy stories by some superb indie storytellers. It’s a great deal!

But for those readers who want their Ney-Grimm stories straight up and undiluted (wink), Serpent’s Foe will be releasing solo in the late spring.

I’ve been writing a lot over the last few weeks, but I’ve also been getting several finished stories ready for their upcoming release. Serpent’s Foe is among them, and I’d like to show you the cover. I’m super pleased with it.

Bastet preview cov 300 pxHere’s a little bit about the story.

A lioness of ancient Egypt lies caged in a dim underground menagerie. She possesses unique powers and freedoms. Yet – inexplicably – these gifts elude her in her captivity.

Tormented by confusion and her own fury, she longs to regain her memory of who she is and all that rightfully belongs to her.

The mysterious enemy who holds her prisoner – a god of chaos and destruction – has seized a moment in history to throw down Egypt’s traditional protectors and cast her people into war.

The lioness must confront both the serpentine god of chaos and the wrongs of her own heart. Within that crucible of revelation lie the keys to her escape.

If she fails the test, the Egyptian people relying on her protection must submit to the rule of cruel foreign invaders, while she herself suffers eternal anguish.

Coming soon!