Monday, March 27, 2017

Book Covers: Stock Beware

I read this article on Indie Book Launcher about the dangers of using stock photos for your book cover. They have examples of covers using the same photo, but I feel like their conclusion (never use stock photos on a book cover) was a bit extreme.

I follow a bunch of writers on social media and saw someone share this beautifully designed cover.

Quarterback Sack

I'm not a big romance person, but this colorful cover caught my eye. It looks really professional. When I clicked the image to enlarge it, my Pinterest extension kicked in and did something weird. It popped up in a new window with a reverse image search on the cover. I didn't know it could even do a reverse search. The first item in the search results wasn't this book cover; it was another book with the same image. I was curious if I could find this photo elsewhere. Within a few minutes, I found five other covers with the same stock photo.

I don't know if reusing stock images is common in the romance genre, but I found it interesting. Only in the last cover, BLUE, does the designer alter the image in any way.

I've used a stock photo for my cover for The End of Refuge, but I was careful to pick out an image that was unique. In a fit of paranoia, I also did a reverse image search of my cover. No copycats yet. I still have nothing against using stock imagery in covers, but recommend doing something to make your covers a little unique.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

NOOK Press Print: Unboxing and Review

When publishing my ebook on the NOOK Press platform, I couldn't help but notice they had their own POD service which also offers hardcover copies. I set it up and ordered some in the mail, and thought I would share my first impressions on them with you.

Monday, March 20, 2017

How to Write a Novel: Chapter One

Last week, we talked about making a plan for your novel. So, now that you have your plan figured out, it's time to finally sit down and start typing.

But where do you begin?

The first Chapter has a really important goal: to get readers hooked in so they'll keep reading your novel. There are a lot of ways to hook readers.

Start with the action

I love action movies, especially ones about a big heist. How do most heist movies begin? In the middle of a heist. It's a great way to show the viewer what kind of story they should expect while showcasing the main character in their element.

The first chapter is your chance to showcase what your book is about. If you're writing about crime drama, political intrigue, or mysterious magic, then start out with that. You'll instantly entice exactly the readers who will enjoy reading your entire book.

Show what makes your book unique

There's going to be something about your story that makes it special. If there's something different about the world your story takes place in, show it off in the very first scene. This is more straight forward in speculative fiction: there's magic, it's set on a space ship, or we're 1,000 years in the future. But even in stories set in the contemporary world, there will be something about the main character or central conflict that makes your story worth telling. Use that to engage readers.

Get the reader asking questions

Another great way to hook your readers is to pose a question they can't get out of their head. The only way to sate their curiosity is to keep reading.

There are also a few things that will make people put down your book before making it to page two.

DON'T Set the scene

It was a lovely day. The breeze tousled the last few leaves left on the old oak situated in the center of the Yoder's backyard. Dark orange shades of the foliage contrasted with the white paint on the sides of the simple house.... yawn.

It's really tempting to set the scene with beautiful flowery language, but don't. At the very beginning, no one cares about the oak tree in the Yoder's yard, and a lengthy description of a tree won't grab your readers.

DON'T Infodump

This is similar to setting the scene and is especially troublesome in speculative fiction. You've fleshed out this really cool idea of an alien world, and the first thing you want to do is tell your readers all about it. Don't. It's really hard to read through a long slog of description, and even harder to remember the important bits moving forward. It's best to intertwine world building throughout the story. Instead, tease the reader with a single unique detail about your world in the beginning and then they'll be excited to read more about the cool setting you've made.

DON'T Start at the beginning

You never want to start at the beginning. Start when things start getting interesting. I read many YA novels when researching for The End of Refuge. One thing that would always make me put down a book was if it started with on the first day of school. Don't get me wrong, I loved school as a kid, but the first day of school is such a boring place to start. So why start there? My only guess is because it's what the author thought was 'the beginning'. Start when the main character runs into the vampire, realizes her best friend is a secret agent, or emits sparks out of his ears for the first time. Even the Harry Potter books, each of which followed an entire school year, didn't start on the first day of school.

Rant over. There are other cliched beginnings to avoid, like the birth of the main character, waking up, moving to a new place, the apocalypse, etc.

Now, I know I've put writing chapter one as the first step after coming up with a plan, but honestly, don't worry about drafting the first few scenes first. I usually have a hard time coming up with an awesome hook right from the start. I'll usually start in the second or third chapter arena and come back to the beginning when I get an idea of how my novel should start.

Originally, The End of Refuge started with Juliet getting to work a few minutes late. Snore. You bet I went back and changed that. Now the book opens to a fire. Sound exciting? Then read the book.

Monday, March 13, 2017

How to Write a Novel: Make a Plan

This has been an exciting week for me. I finally launched my debut novel and have even gotten quite a few sales. I've heard from other authors that the best way to market a book is to write another one. So, if all goes well, I'll launch another sci-fi novel later this year.

Today, I'm starting a series on how to write a novel. We'll begin before pen even hits paper or fingers ever touch the keyboard.

To read the rest of the series, click on the links below:
Chapter One

How to Write a Novel

Step 0: Make a Plan

I'm what the writing community would call a pantser: someone who writes by the seat of their pants. I sit down at my keyboard without making a detailed outline to go by and just start typing. But that doesn't mean you should just start writing whatever comes to your head without coming up with some sort of plan first or else you'll end up with a rambling mess. 

Start with a basic idea

This can be anything from a conflict, to a character, to a setting. Your idea will be caring your novel, so pick something interesting. When you tell people your idea, the response you want people to say, "that's F*^%ing cool!" Otherwise, you'll end up writing a book you're not passionate about that no one will want to read. For The End of Refuge, my first idea was that I wanted a story about people trapped in a bomb shelter.

Got an idea? Great! If not, here's some help finding one.

Who's your main character?

Once you've got a basic idea, start making the main character to lead us through your story. Your character needs a personality, interests, occupation, physical description, and most importantly a goal. Using Batman as an example, Bruce Wayne is an interesting character, but without his goal of protecting Gotham, all the Batman comics/books/movies/video games would fall flat. I decided to make my protagonist Juliet: a young woman who's goal is to live a normal life.

Something needs to get in their way

To avoid a meandering plot, a novel needs a central conflict. This takes the shape of something big that gets between the protagonist and their goal. Batman wants to keep Gotham safe, so something needs to come in and make it unsafe. Make the central conflict interesting and difficult. Summing up your main character, their goal, and what gets in their way will make your elevator pitch and should make someone curious of how or even if the character will reach their goal. What gets in the way of Juliet living a normal life? Her shelter can no longer sustain the population living there, so the end is coming.

Who's the antagonist?

Someone (or some time something) has to set in motion the events that make up the central conflict of your story. The antagonist doesn't necessarily have to be chaotic evil, they just need to have a goal which directly opposes the protagonist's goal. The antagonist in The End of Refuge is a politician. He's not an evil person, he just want's something different than Juliet.

Pick a setting

I already had a setting picked out from my original idea, but that's not always the case. If you haven't already, decide where and when all the action in your novel will take place. You could have your novel take place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, in the present in New York City, or anything else.

Who will help your main character?

Yes, the protagonist can stumble through the plot all by themselves, but more often than not, they'll need people alongside them. Anyone working with the protagonist should be introduced early in the novel, so go ahead and flesh those characters out before you begin.

Once you have all of those items set, you've got enough of a plan to start drafting! Clearly missing right now is the build up to the central conflict and the resolution. I like to figure these parts out as I write. Other writers like to outline all of this ahead of time. There are plenty of tutorials out there on how to outline a novel. I'm not going to get into that because I personally don't work from an outline.