Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Cover Art Caught Between Art & Commerce

When I contracted my first book a long time ago—though in this galaxy, not one far, far away—I think it’s fair to say that I had seriously unrealistic expectations about the cover art that would be wrapped digitally around my new baby. Yes, I had high expectations for a book called Pig in a Park. I was young. And it was my first.
My poor publisher. I gave input and what came back—sigh. My “vision” of my cover was fairly scary in execution, though said publisher did her best to fulfill my cover dreams. After studying the cover nightmare, I asked my publisher what she thought the cover should look like. The result was a better cover that did a fairly good job of informing the reader what was inside. It sold books.
It was my first lesson in the push/pull between [cover] art and commerce.
We write a book and we want the perfect cover for it. It’s really that simple. 
As I was mulling this post, I asked AnaBanana, a cover designer I’ve worked with, for her top three tips on how to design a great cover:

1. Learn some basic design principles and approach your cover like it is ART - because it is!
2. Look at others’ work but don’t let it define your own work. Let your natural style come through. 
3. Don’t be afraid of failure. Think of it as a learning experience. You’re learning if your DOING something, but there’s nothing going on if you’re not trying.

Obviously she is a designer. Art is her business and she does it well. And if there is a chance that your book is going to be stacked in the big window at the local Barnes & Noble, you want cover art. 
But in this brave new world of the digital book, a lot of the nuance of cover art is lost in the thumbnail that is all that most readers see when browsing Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, GooglePlay or the NOOK store. 
This is where art bumps into commerce and art often gets dented. Maybe you get lucky with a first cover that hits the target perfectly between art and commerce. But what if your “perfect” cover art doesn’t sell your book?
At that point, you really need to focus on how to get readers to love that cover. 
Or change your cover. 
I fell for most of my covers at some point. I loved a lot of them. They were part of the package called published book. That makes it hard to break up when it’s time. It took me a while to realize that, at its most basic, a cover is...
  1. ...a part of your overall brand and...
  2. ...it’s a billboard that tells the reader as quickly as possible what kind of book is inside. Granted, in thumbnail it is a very small billboard, but a billboard none the less. 
This would be the commerce side of your art. 
If you can get some distance, some detachment about your covers, focus on their function and purpose, it will make it easier to break up with them if the business side requires it. Don't fix what isn't broke.
In my many, many years in the publishing business, I’ve had beautiful covers. I’ve had functional covers. I’ve had covers that I thought were hideous, but sold books. Because I’m not always the best judge of what will sell my books (and it pains me to write this), and because I’ve invested money in covers that didn’t always appeal to readers in that tiny thumbnail size, I finally realized that I needed to dive into (for me) the very cold waters of cover design. 
I won’t kid you. It was scary. I took a webinar, bought a cover design package, and didn’t open it for several weeks. I spent that time telling myself no one had to know or see my stuff if I sucked at it. And of course, WHAT IF I DIDN’T KNOW I SUCKED? 
Yeah, it’s a lot like, I don’t know, writing a book? 
Then I read this article by a long time author who pointed out (paraphrased), if she were smart enough to learn how to write a novel, she was smart enough to learn how to manage her writing business. And, I realized that—even if I never used my DIY covers—it was a good idea to know about this side of my writing business. Hey, I might even learn enough to give my designers better guidance and feedback. 
And there was another hard reality to face while I hovered at the design water’s edge. One of the HUGE benefits of being an independent author is the ability to be nimble, to change what wasn’t working. But if I couldn’t do even minimal cover design, I wasn’t nimble. 
Of course, knowing what isn’t working doesn’t help that much with finding out what does. I’ll be honest, a lot of it is trial and error. Some of my books have had four or five covers. Conventional advice is to study what works, but what if you don’t know why a cover works? A lot of really popular covers don’t push my “buy” buttons. And my books don’t fit neatly into the really obvious genre niches. 
I also needed to make sure that my covers tell readers, as well as I can manage, what’s inside. For instance, my former publisher put a gal in a corset on my steampunk novel and one reader thought it was sexier inside than the book actually was. You can’t control ALL reactions, but you can avoid the big mistakes. I don’t put bare-chested guys on my covers because any sex in my books is off camera. Way off.
Once a month, The BookDesigner does a blog post on covers. Designers and authors send their covers in and he comments on points, good and bad, and picks his favorites. I've learned some things reading those comments and studying those covers. Over time, he’s recognized that not everyone can afford a top dollar designer and now offers basic cover design templates that work with Word. I have not tried these templates, but have used his book design templates and they worked very well for me when I worked on my first self-published print book. Plus he offers customer support for all his templates.
Another resource is Canva. I had looked at it as a place to create free or very low cost promo images, but I found out some authors use it for cover design (the pay side). Also, they send out design tutorials for free after you sign up (which is also free). You only pay as much as you want there, but some features aren’t available for free. 
If you do not want to DIY, there are pre-made cover sites, so many I won’t link to them, but there are some very nice, very professional looking covers out there for purchase. With a pre-made cover, you do have to fit your vision to theirs. And, if you have to replace several covers, or ask for a lot of customization, the costs can add up fast. 
For super cheap, there’s Fiverr. I have not tried any of these cover designers, but I do know people who have had success there. If you have a lot of books needing covers, it is a low-cost, fairly low-risk option. 
If you'd like to give DIY a try, The Book Designer offers webinars for different services for authors and one week he offered the KD Cover Kit that I mentioned above. It includes basic templates (divided by genre, which really helped me get closer to the "right" genre design) that you can use to build covers by swapping out elements, images, fonts, etc, without having to have a PhD in PhotoShop. Ed is constantly adding videos on how to use the templates and other resources to the kit. Plus there is a Facebook group where you can share tips and get feedback from other authors. Thanks to help from Ed, I’ve been able to find an affordable mix of royalty free images and fonts. I also use images from the hubs. With the templates provided and feedback from the group and Ed, I’ve been able to begin the process of building a consistent brand for my novels. I even got a nice review for Core Punch’s cover. 
It also saves me time and money because I can create my own audio covers and swap them out as needed. (I have two audio books that have old covers. I just couldn’t justify the extra cost at the time I when I bought my high end covers for those two books.)
Of course, the real test is the readers. I’m seeing books that were sitting unnoticed on the digital shelves getting found and bought. And even better, I look at my bookshelf and see a consistent look, an actual brand spreading slowly through my backlist, and forward to my new releases.
I still have a long way to go before I reach the level of “art,” and honestly? I will probably never reach that level of design. I won’t pretend to be anything but a journeyman at cover design. For my business, I need to put the bulk of my time into writing books and save the art for the real designers of cover art. 
But if you’re looking to better understand the design process, or need to get better control of that part of the costs of your writing business, I’m here to say, you can do it. Hey, you were smart enough to figure out how to write whole novels. 
Do you design your own covers? Have any tips to offer this journeyman? Have you thought you’d like to learn? What resources have you found helpful?

The views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and not the SFR Brigade.

Pauline has published 16 novels. Her latest release is Sucker Punch: An Uneasy Future. It is the second book in a new series that is a spin-off of Project Enterprise and The Big Uneasy. You can find Pauline here:
Vi never liked math and aftermath isn’t floating her boat either….

Hurricane Wu Tamika Felipe has moved north. Yeah, the storm almost killed Detective Violet Baker, but it also blew some romance her way. Her uptight partner, Dzholh “Joe” Ban!drn actually kissed her. 

But there's no time for any follow-up kissing, much to Vi’s regret. They are hunting something very bad. Something that tried to kill them while they were dirt side during the storm. 

And has now escaped up into New Orleans New. 

It’s not business as usual, though there is some deja vu in there, when Vi and Joe get sent to a FEMA camp to check out a dead body. 

Until that body turns into a trail that might lead to the evil it. Or to its next victim. 

Just when Vi thinks things are crapeau enough, the MITSC (Men In Top Secret Color) show up and take over their case. Are they after Joe or the evil it? 

Before they can find out, the evil it lures them into a trap. 

It’s ‘it’ versus them and it hasn’t lost yet….

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Dark Secrets of Logan Stark – Anti-Heroes in SFR

by Cathryn Cade

Everyone loves a secret—especially when it comes to heroes.

The moment I learn a romance hero has a dark past, I want to know what tortures him. Especially if it's damaged him in some way. What molded him, twisted him into the man he is? And how can I (the heroine) save him??

If he has become an anti-hero (read alpha-hole) because of his past, I want to know why. And it had better be good! ‘Cause if he’s just a jerk … there’s no cure for that.

Luckily for us, there are so many ways to turn a sci fi hero dark and yet sympathetic.

Roarke in J.D. Robb’s IN DEATH series, rose from the absolute bottom of the gutter, to become the clandestine ruler of the underbelly of a futuristic NY City. Only his love for a stubborn cop might convince him to go straight.

Assassin Eril Morav in Jessa Slade’s SHEERSPACE series. This man has been brainwashed into believing he exists only to destroy rebels. Will he kill cyborg warrior Shaxi, or save her?

Rees in Allyson James’ TALES OF THE SHAREEM. Created to be an enhanced gigolo on a planet of women, this incredible male is willing to kill to escape—until he meets his heroine and decides he’d rather please her and then murder her.

Whoa, these men all have very good reason for their dark ways, and they’ll take us on a hard chase before we discover whether they have that essential spark of nobility deep inside.

Logan Stark, the hero of my LodeStar smexy sci fi futuristic romance series, is an anti-hero. He's a wealthy man, with employees at his beck and call across the galaxy. He owns factories, a fleet of new space cruise ships, and interests in exploratory industry on the new planet of Frontiera, including a mine full of precious irridium ore. He has people who do what it takes with savvy, experience and the latest tech.

He's also secretive, emotionally closed off, and manipulative, moving people around like holovid chess pieces. And when he feels betrayed, watch out! He does not forget or forgive easily.

How did Stark come to be this way? Why is he so obsessive with providing his two younger brothers with everything they need for happiness, while remaining aloof himself? Can he extend this protection and care to a woman? Or will she become just another acquisition, another mark that he’s a success?

Find out in Stark Pleasure; the Space Magnate’s Mistress, Book 1 of The LodeStar Series, FREE on all online sales outlets!

And I KNOW you have a favorite dark SFR hero of your own! Who is he, and why do you love him so? Let us all know, won’t you?

Cathryn Cade

Best-selling author of sci fi romance

RT 4.5 Stars and Night Owl Reviews TOP PICK

... it's hot in space, red hot!

And sign up for My Newsletter for a chance to win goodies!


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

World Building – the Pantser Way

by Diane Burton

In any genre, the world our characters inhabit add a richness to our stories. In contemporary stories, we can visit the world, or perhaps we live in a similar village, town, or city. In science fiction, we have all kinds of possibilities. We can decide everything about our world. The type of government that rules, religion, vehicles, food, creatures, climate, employment, day-to-day activities. The galaxy is our playground.

Our methods of determining our worlds are as diverse as our writing methods. Those writers who are plotters will set up their world first. Just as they outline their plot and do detailed analyses of their characters, they will write out all aspects of their world before ever writing a word of their story.

Pantsers have a different way of setting up their worlds. Since I’m more of a pantser than a plotter, I determine my world as I go. As with any details, I must keep track, especially if I’m writing a series. As the series progresses, my imaginary world expands. I may start out with a vague idea of the culture, but I’ll keep adding details as the story demands. I’m sure to a dyed-in-the-wool plotter my methods seem haphazard or random. But it works for me.

Whether your world evolves along with your characters or is fully fleshed out before you write “Chapter One,” make sure you are consistent. Decide the rules. Make sure your characters abide by those rules or have a darn good reason for breaking them.

In my upcoming science fiction romance, The Protector, I already established the culture in two previous books—a central government with representatives from several planets and that area beyond the reach of that government, the Outer Rim. I modeled my world after the frontier in 19th century America. The colonies are still pretty wild with people who want to get away from the “civilized” world and want to be left alone. Then I threw in a gangster who capitalizes on the lack of law enforcement. The conflict possibilities are endless. In each of my Outer Rim novels, a strong woman foils the gangster’s plot to rule the galaxy.

Here’s the blurb for The Protector:

After tavern owner Rissa Dix rescues two girls from a slave ship, she must rally the townsfolk to prevent traffickers from raiding the frontier colony. She’s met with apathy and disbelief. Because she lost her own baby to traffickers, she’s determined that no other mother will suffer the same heartache. Industrialist heir Dillan Rusteran aids her in rescuing more children. Little do they know they’re about to tangle with a trafficking ring that puts Rissa in danger. Dillan’s loved her for ten years despite her claim she’s too old for him. As they fight the traffickers, will she finally see him in a new light?

The Protector will be released this summer.


Diane Burton combines her love of mystery, adventure, science fiction and romance into writing romantic fiction. Besides the science fiction romance Switched and Outer Rim series, she is the author of One Red Shoe, a romantic suspense, and The Case of the Bygone Brother, a PI mystery. Diane and her husband live in Michigan. They have two children and three grandchildren.

For more info and excerpts from her books, visit Diane’s website: http://www.dianeburton.com

Connect with Diane Burton online

Sign up for Diane’s new release alert: http://eepurl.com/bdHtYf

Note: The views expressed are solely those of the author, Diane Burton, and not the SFR Brigade.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Smart Girls Love Scifi Romance are having a party to celebrate their 5th anniversary, with featured authors and giveaways. Pop along and join the fun!

From Charlee Allden: This event will be more than just the raffles, there will also be interactive posts where readers can participate. The biggest one will be an opportunity for readers to nominate and then vote on their favorite SFR Hero. Nominations will happen on the blog’s facebook page starting now through the weekend and the poll will go up on Monday so they can vote.  The Facebook Page:https://www.facebook.com/SMGLSFRblog 

Author Feature Dates

July 16 - Catherine Spangler
July  17 - Veronica Scott & Jackie Rhoades
July 18 - Pauline Baird Jones & Heather Massey
July 19 - Pippa Jay & Lyn Brittan
July 20 - KS 'Kaz' Augustin  & Corrina Lawson
July 21 - Laurie Green & Misa Buckly
July 22 - Donna Frelick & JA Kenny
July 23 - Melisse Aires


Raffle info

All books are ebooks and all times are Eastern Time Zone.

Raffle A: Now and Later Pack

6 books, $5 Amazon gift card, and  a SGL SFR mug!
Closes Thursday, July 23 10PM
Announced Friday, July 24 8AM  
Charlee Allden: Now: $20 GC to Amazon Later: SGL SFR Coffee Mug
Jackie Rhoades: Roark by Jacqueline Rhoades
Catherine Spangler: Choice of any one book by Catherine Spangler
Laurie Green: Inherit the Stars by Laurie Green
Donna Frelick: Unchained Memory by Donna Frelick plus $5 GC to Amazon
Melisse Aires: Alien Blood, by Melisse Aires

Raffle B: SFR Variety Pack

6 books that span the genre + 10 Gift Card to either Amazon or B&N!
Closes Tuesday, July 21 Midnight
Announced Wednesday, July 22 8AM  
Jackie Rhoades: Roark by Jacqueline Rhoades
KS 'Kaz' Augustin: RESTORATION by KS Augustin
Catherine Spangler: Choice of any one book by Catherine Spangler
Lyn Brittan: The Clocks of London
Corrina Lawson: The Curse of the Brimstone Contract by Corrina Lawson and a $10 GC to Amazon or B&N. 
Melisse Aires:   Alien Blood by Melisse Aires

Raffle C – SFR Smorgasbord Pack

Includes 10 books by 8 authors!
Closes Sunday, July 19 Midnight
Announced Wednesday, July 20 8AM  
Jackie Rhoades: Roark by Jacqueline Rhoades
Veronica Scott: Star Cruise: Marooned + Mission to Mahjundar by Veronica Scott
Catherine Spangler:  Choice of any one book by Catherine Spangler
Pauline Baird Jones: Core Punch and Sucker Punch (July 20th) by Pauline Baird Jones
Lyn Brittan: Anja’s Star by Lyn Brittan
Laurie Green: Inherit the Stars by Laurie Green
Pippa Jay: Keir by Pippa Jay
Melisse Aires: Alien Blood by Melisse Aires

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Future of Time

by Wendy Lynn Clark

Captain’s log - Stardate 1507.14
By Cormullion (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
If you are a world traveler, there’s nothing worse than accidentally calling up your loved ones in the middle of the night. They just can’t be as interested in your weird lunch of barbecued octopus eyeballs at 3am. Faster-than-light travel amongst the stars will only compound this problem. If you are trying to coordinate an attack on a death star, how do you make sure everyone shows up before the attack and not a week after?
Science fiction has dealt with this problem for some time. The main character of recent sf best-seller The Martian experienced a day, week, and year of a different length on Mars, and had to calculate the difference. He essentially had one clock set to Earth time and one clock set to Martian time.

For calculation purposes, our current system of time measurement isn’t very intuitive. Called sexagesimal because it is based on the number 60, it originated with the Sumerians almost five thousand years ago. Others have proposed we move to metric time. Used by Joan and Vernor Vinge (among others) in their sf novels, it is a form of decimal time based on the number ten. The metric system divides a day into seconds, and you talk about the hours in terms of killaseconds and gigaseconds. (The “seconds” designation is arbitrary and you could label your unit of time anything . See some fun units of measure such as the “Kardashian” or the “MegaFonzie” on this humorous units of measure Wikipedia page.)

The advantage of a decimal time system is that if you know it is 5 o’clock, the day is 50% over. It’s easy to understand and convert. Some have suggested the Star Trek stardate is a form of decimal time.

After you have an agreed unit of measure, how do you determine the length of a day? After all, a “day” on Jupiter is only 9 hours long, while a “day” on Mercury is 58 days. (And technically, a sidereal “day” on Earth is only 23 hours and 56 minutes, but the sun moves in relation to us during the same period, so we use a solar day of 24 hours.)

In the science fiction future, which planet’s clock will become our “Greenwich Mean Time”? Or will we use a planet at all?

Every author must come up with their own solution.

In my android assassin novel Liberation’s Kiss, I use three kinds of clocks: local time, an “Old Empire” time on which extra-planetary commerce and communications were based, and a new corporate time that the conquerors are flooding across the universe. This is much the way that conquering languages and customs take over now.
From Liberation’s Kiss ~

Cressida passed the rest of the day enclosed in her own thoughts. True to his word, Xan remained out of sight. By the time the second half of a Liberation VI “day” — the hours of tangerine sun plus more hours of intense green planetshine from the gas giant and its three largest moons — faded into true darkness, she had a taste of the future she had predicted to Xan.

It tasted like a single meal, consumed alone at a bar, while the solitary night wind howled past.

She put away her utensils, climbed the stairs to the second floor, and stood in the terrace doorway, staring out into the darkness.

In the glassed cities, the starlight was allowed to filter through naturally to create a twenty-three-and-a-half-hour local day. Soon the Nar would rewire all of the cities to the twenty-five-hour New Empire standard, and no one would see these views but tourists.

But tonight, the vast star-spatter looked just that. Not poetic, the way her calligraphy described it. But vast and frighteningly empty.

Well, readers, what time systems to you enjoy in your science fiction? If the International Telecommunications Union asked you to define a unit of time (ex. a New York Minute, a Jiffy) what would you call it?

What would you think about a future with decimal time?

About the Author

Wendy Lynn Clark is an award-winning author of contemporary and science fiction romance. Find out more by visiting her online home at http://wendylynnclark.com.

Note: The views expressed are solely those of the author, Wendy Lynn Clark, and not the SFR Brigade.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The SFR Brigade Summer Cafe - Space Opera 2 winner

The final week of the SFR Brigade Summer Cafe has ended, and we have our winner. The Space Opera 2 bundle was won by:

Eva Millien

Congrats and enjoy your prize!

And that's the end of the Summer Cafe. We hope you all enjoyed our serving of SciFi romance, and thank you for joining us.

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