Sunday, May 1, 2016

What I learned as a book cover contest judge.

I'm technically still on vacation, so today I'm reprising a post that ran last month at Indies Unlimited. I'll be back next week, rested and ready, if not tanned (come on -- I was in Ireland!).

You may be interested in knowing that I've started writing the final Pipe Woman's Legacy book. Oh -- and by popular demand, there's now a page here on the blog that lists all the books and short stories in the Pipe Woman Chronicles universe. Feel free to take a look; you may have missed the short stories that I put up at Wattpad.

Have a great week!

Among my favorite internet acronyms is AFLE. Translated loosely, the letters stand for another freaking learning experience.

I don’t know about you, but for me, that acronym perfectly sums up this whole indie author thing. No matter what your background, there’s going to be some component of this jack-of-all-trades business in which you’re going to need a crash course. Or professional help.

Art is one of those things for me. In school, I was an A or B student in everything but art. (Well, and physical education. But so far, nobody’s expected me to do pushups for my books, thank goodness.) So imagine my dismay when I realized I was going to have to design covers for my books. Luckily, I have a couple of friends who are much better in graphic arts than I am, as well as two daughters who know their way around Photoshop. I treasure their advice to this day.

Still, I had no business participating in a cover art contest – much less being a judge. And yet, there I was, in a secret Facebook group, looking over contest entries and discussing what made each a contender or – gulp – a failure.

And yet, I’m glad I had the opportunity, because I learned a lot about what makes a book cover great.

One thing that surprised me was that we weren’t just judging indie book covers. Some professional cover artists entered our contest, too, and that set the bar higher than perhaps some entrants expected. But on the other hand, it was probably a good thing, as it simulates what actually happens on the shelves of your favorite virtual bookstore. After all, your ebook is going to be sitting right next to books with pro covers in readers’ search results. So you might as well assume you’ll be competing against professional work from the get-go.

That’s the first thing I learned: Your cover needs to look professional. I hate to tell you this, but we rejected obviously homemade covers immediately. Here are the kinds of the things that got an instant thumbs-down:

  • A blurry photo, or a photo blown up to the point where it was grainy.
  • Badly-composed photos – often a landscape shot with no foreground focal point.
  • Nearly all hand-drawn artwork. We gave a little leeway here for children’s books, or if the artist was going for a cartoony feel (but the book’s category and blurb had better support that sort of lighthearted mood). Otherwise, anything hand-drawn had to be pretty close to perfect.
  • Photoshop collages – the sort of thing where the author wants to get every important element of the plot onto the cover, so they take a bunch of photos, trim them badly so that they look like they were cut out of magazines, and plopped them all onto some sort of background. The result is a cover that’s too busy and too difficult for a reader to parse at first glance. Plus the details will get lost in the thumbnail.

Which brings me to the second thing I learned: Your cover needs to be legible in thumbnail size. “How does it look in thumbnail?” was the one question that the judges most often asked. By “thumbnail,” I mean a picture that’s about an inch wide by about 1.5 inches tall. The most important elements of your cover – title, author’s name, and photos or graphic elements – all have to be legible at that size, because that’s how readers are going to see your cover first.

Here’s how to check: Open a new document in Word. Insert, or copy-and-paste, your cover image on the blank page. If you don’t see a frame around the image with little squares at the corners and a handle at the top, click on the image. Then click-and-hold one of the little squares at one corner – it doesn’t matter which one – and move it diagonally toward the opposite corner. Your image will start to shrink. Stop when it’s about an inch wide. Now, look at your cover again. Can you see what’s going on? Can you read the title? Can you read your name? If you can’t – even when you know what it says – imagine a reader coming to it cold.

AFLE, right?

These moments of cringe-worthy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Long Cantwell search.

Long-time readers of this blog know I'm on a multi-year hunt to discover certain landmarks that bear the name Cantwell. A couple of years ago, for instance, I made a pit stop during my vacation in Alaska and took a selfie at the post office in Cantwell, Alaska.

I'm on vacation this week in Ireland, from whence the name Cantwell originates. My ancestors were Normans who settled first in Brittany, then in England (arriving with William the Conqueror) and Wales, and, at last, in Ireland (arriving with Strongbow). There the surname was settled, more or less, and there the family thrived, owning quite a bit of property in counties Kilkenny and Tipperary from the late 12th century on.

Among the Cantwells who lived and died in the area was Thomas de Cantwell, a former Crusader who died of old age in about 1320. He was entombed in the church at Kilfane, not far south of Kilkenny city. A new church was built across the road and the old one has been left to crumble -- and in the process, Sir Thomas's effigy was buried for quite a number of years. It's a remarkable work, as these things go. It's finely carved, and nearly eight feet tall -- hence its nickname: Cantwell Fada, or Long Cantwell. In 1935, some 600 years after his death, his effigy was rediscovered, raised to an upright position, and bolted to a wall inside the ruin.

This is my first trip to Ireland, so while I had seen photos, both in hard copy and online, of the Long Man, I'd never seen him in person. So seeking him out has been on my bucket list for quite a number of years.

Late last week, as I was checking out the Irish National Museum for Archaeology in Dublin, I stumbled across a reproduction of the Long Cantwell.

As cool as it was to see a familiar face in the museum, I knew my task wouldn't be complete until I found himself, as the Irish say. My friend Mike, who lives nearby, agreed to drive me around until we could find him. He and another friend of ours had mounted an unsuccessful search for the ruin of the Kilfane church a year or two ago.

Today, luck or the Long Man were with us. Accompanied by a chorus of cawing from the murder of crows nesting in the nearby woods, we found the old church, and Sir Thomas.

So there you have it -- photographic proof of the success of my search. Now I can get back to more important working on the next book.

(Many thanks to Mike for playing tour guide, as well as for saving me from having to take another selfie.)

These moments of Cantwell-related blogginess have been brought to you, as a public srervice, by Lynne Cantwell.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Plotting by squirrel.

Alert (not to mention long-time) readers of hearth/myth may recall this post from four years ago, in which I went into some painstaking detail about how I created the overarching plot of the original Pipe Woman Chronicles series. To review: I originally planned four or five books, each corresponding to a cardinal point on the Sioux medicine wheel. Seized corresponded to the East, where things begin; Fissured, to the South, the home of youth and passion; and so on. And I stuck to that structure when plotting the series, which eventually did end up being five books.

When I got to Land, Sea, Sky, I was a little less structured. I did come up with three main characters: Sue was allied with Earth goddess Gaia; Darrell was the Sea guy, by virtue of being in the Navy; and investigative reporter Tess was Sky, which can also be air and which is generally considered to be about communication. Each one got a book, nominally, although their stories were sufficiently intertwined that it might have been hard to tell whose book was whose from the outside, unless you knew what the author was trying to do. (Hint: Crosswind is Tess's book, Undertow is Darrell's, and Scorched Earth is Sue's.)
Peter Trimming | CC 2.0 |

And then I began plotting the Pipe Woman's Legacy series, and all my careful plans went out the window.

Originally, I intended to write just two books, with Sage as the main character in both. She was, after all, conceived by a couple of god-possessed humans. And White Buffalo Calf Pipe Woman had meddled sufficiently in Naomi's life that it seemed logical to me that she would also lay claim to Sage in some way. So Earth's savior Sage, together with her pals, got their duology. That rounded out the whole Pipe Woman Chronicles story arc to ten books.

But then people asked me, "What about Webb? Doesn't he get a book?" The more I thought about it, the more I realized he should. He had enough magical power to presume that the circumstances of his conception were probably similar to his sister's (without, one hopes, Joseph going walkabout for a couple of weeks afterward this time).

At that point in my planning process, things got a little squirrelly. The plot of Webb's duology is different from the rest of the series. For one thing, the gods are largely absent from Spider's Lifeline (and getting to Them is going to take up a chunk of the next book). For another, this is the first time I've handed the reins of the narrative over to a Trickster, and in some respects he's leaving me guessing. I was surprised, when I went to draft the outline for book 4, to discover just how far afield the story had gone in book 3.

But fear not. Webb and I have had a chat, and he's promised to stick to the plan in the next book. We'll see how long it lasts.

Hugs and big thanks to those of you who have purchased a copy of Spider's Lifeline so far. You're all my new best friends. For those of you who have not yet grabbed a copy, the eBook will be available at Amazon for just 99 cents through the end of this month. That's not exactly forever -- so go get it now, before you forget. Thanks!

These moments of squirrelly blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

At long last, Big Publishing News.

Alert readers of this blog have probably already noticed that this is the third week since I promised you Big Publishing News.

Well, three must be the charm, because I finally got Spider's Lifeline out the door.

The ebook is available at Amazon for just 99 cents through the end of April. After that, it goes up to $2.99. Which is still not a ton of money in the grand scheme of things, but just the same, you might want to grab it now. The paperback is also on the way; CreateSpace released it today. It usually takes a couple of days for them to get a book to Amazon, and perhaps a few more to show up at other retailers.

Anyway, I hope y'all enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you do -- heck, even if you don't -- please leave me a review. Don't think of reviews as helping the author (although they do); think of them as helping other readers find a terrific book. Or, y'know, warning them away from a not-so-terrific one. 

Okay, enough of the commercial. I know that what you guys really want to know is how the move is coming, right? Well...we're in, and we're still unpacking. The kitchen storage is wholly inadequate. This fridge has an icemaker, which the old one didn't (yay!), but that also cuts the freezer storage capacity in half (boo!). The shelves in the narrow pantry are only about six inches deep, so we're going to have to put shelves on the wall to make more dry food storage space. And we've added a person to the household, so what we needed was more storage space, not less. But we'll work it out.

Today, I finished hanging the pictures, as well as the pendant light over the dining room table. I can't drill into the ceiling -- maybe if I had a masonry drill bit, but I don't -- so I've stuck it up there with industrial-strength Velcro. 

Don't look at me like that. It worked in the old apartment.

These moments of glowy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.