I’d buy these, Alianne!
Call it a synopsis, a back copy, a blurb, or Satan’s revenge upon writers, the 200 or less words that describe a book always have the power to reduce a writer to tears. Over ten book into the game, I can honestly say I still hate blurbage with a passion. Why? Because being forced to distill a story down to one one-thousandth or less is cruel!
Ask me about my book, and you’ll probably get one of two types of responses:
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Here’s a basic recipe for baking a book cover from scratch. Please note that this recipe requires previous experience in baking using Gimp, Photoshop, or other kinds of illustration-friendly ovens. Enjoy!
1. Start with a scrumptious, satisfying book. A book you’d happily eat again.*
Dell Zero, a dystopian novel by C. L. Ervin, for example.
2. Study the book’s product description — its blurb.
Is it a great blurb, whetting the appetites of readers? Does it garner the interest this book deserves? If not, nag the author to write a new one. Oh, look, she did!:
Into a sexless, controlled society of drug-induced immortals comes Dell, a rare, untainted human with female characteristics.
I call myself Dell, but my name is unrecorded. I’ve always been hidden, sheltered by my guardians on the outlands of the Chapter. Now my guardians are gone, reassigned. They will not remember me.
I am young. I want to be loved, to be touched. Is there anyone in the Chapter like me?
I have no number. My identity band is false–it hangs loose, unconnected to my veins. It won’t get me into the Chapter. If I do get in, I’ll live forever, but I know what forever is like for my guardians. I will no longer be me.
I am Dell–Dell Zero–untransformed and mortal. I will make my own way.
3. Identify why the book is not just good eating (subjective opinion), but a unique dining experience (objective opinion**).
What’s the most important ingredient in the book? How can it be represented in an illustration?
- Is it the story? It’s a good story, well told — a new variation on a dystopian theme explored by some classic sci-fi authors. But the story itself doesn’t need to feature heavily in the cover, just the genre. A good tagline should be enough to represent the story. (Live Forever… or die Free?) After all, these days a potential reader may take less than a second to click or pass on a cover; how much story can be communicated in a second? A snapshot of a scene could make it look like a graphic novel, anyway. Graphic novels are great! But this isn’t one.
- Is it the writing? C. L. Ervin has unique writing skills; she takes a measured, chillingly literary look at an intriguing subject, and somehow still makes Dell Zero a hard-to-put-down book. But how do you illustrate literary writing? Layers of meaning and symbolism can be literally illustrated… as layers. Will readers understand? Maybe yes, maybe no, so make sure the layers pique a reader’s curiosity.
- Is it the characters? Yes! The main character, Dell Zero, will catch the eye on a cover. She is young and pretty and female, in a world where the meaning of that needs to be explored. Besides, a cover that gets one second of eye-time needs to appeal to the emotions of a potential reader. Faces do that, or so they say…
4. Use your best ingredients (colors, textures, contrast, images, text and symbolism) — ingredients you hope will engage the emotions, curiosity and intellect of the readers most likely to gobble up the cover — in one second or less!
This is an impossible task, so just do your best. Results will vary.
I am still learning to bake, and Dell Zero was a tough cookie.
I did my best… But wait, if I just…
5. Don’t overbeat; don’t overbake. Nothing is ever perfect. Stop when you need to stop or you’ll never publish it, never move on to the next baking project.
Wondering if Dell Zero‘s author likes the new cover? Read all about it over at her website!
*A book you’d give 5 stars to, if Amazon wouldn’t immediately delete your review just because you drew the book cover.
**Is there such a thing as objective opinion? Oh, shut up and eat your book! You know what I meant…
I have never broken so much as a toe. I know you’d say I’m clumsy, but would you say I’m lucky… or unlucky?
When I was a child, my mother would come running when she heard the thumping – the tell-tale clue that I was bouncing down the stairs. After a while she stopped running to my aid and would just call out from the couch, “You OK?”
Once, when I was in college and working at the Potsdam Museum, I slipped on ice at the top of the stone steps and landed on my ass on the sidewalk, about eight feet away, without hitting a single step on the way down. There was no one to applaud but me. This photo from the museum’s collections shows the Center shortly after its completion. (Note the steps I fell down, on the right!) At the time, I was still a half-hearted believer in some sort of deity, but even then I wondered if He was the angel catching me at the bottom… or the devil giving me a shove at the top.
I have been lucky in other ways.
I am lucky in love.
I’ve been lucky in traffic, too. Twice I just missed being flattened by a semi. Once was (mostly) my own fault – I didn’t see a stop sign at a country road intersection. It was there, barely visible, nearly covered by foliage. My husband saw the sign and shouted for me to stop just in time. See? Lucky in love…
I am lucky to have met you.
And speaking of time, I have been lucky to meet just the right people at just the right times in my life, for just the right sorts of reasons. Seventeen years ago today, I had major surgery in a foreign land. The land was Turkey, the city was Ankara, the hospital was the Woman’s Hospital, and my surgeon turned out to be a very important person, the head of the hospital. I don’t recall her name, but she had a photograph of herself with Hilary Clinton on the wall of her office. Talk about lucky! One of the best surgeons in the capital had worked on me, and Hilary would have been happy to know that my surgery and week-long hospital stay only cost us 200 bucks.
When I woke up from the anesthesia, this very important surgeon was holding my hand. She said “You are a very brave woman” to me, in English. Naturally, my fertile imagination decided “You are a very brave woman” meant “I’ve done my best, but you are going to die!” Luckily for me, that was not what she meant. She meant that, due to the mess she’d found when she sliced me open, she believed I’d been suffering great pain for years. The fact is that, while I was suffering due to a thousand inconveniences – mostly having to pee all the time — my condition had caused me very little pain.
I wasn’t brave. I just had to pee. Other women with my condition had suffered horribly. They were brave. I was just lucky.
A year and a half later, Turkey experienced a horrific earthquake. Approximately 17,000 people died, including one of our friends and her 6-year-old daughter. Our family was lucky; their summer apartment on the shores of the Sea of Marmara was flattened, but my husband and I had built a house here in Bodrum, so his parents came to stay with us that year and rented out the apartment. Unfortunately, the renters were killed. If we hadn’t moved to Turkey, we and other family members would have been visiting his parents – we would have been sleeping in that seaside apartment complex when it came crashing down. The whole family could have been wiped out, like so many others.
Once again, I was lucky when others weren’t. Meanwhile…
I fell down the stairs a few more times.
Once, I fell down the solid stone steps from our pool down to the equally solid stone patio. The steps were four feet wide; I rolled down them with my lucky head just off the edge and landed battered and bruised, but not broken. Once again, I wasn’t dead; once again, there was no audience to applaud but me.
I coulda woulda shoulda blown up.
Four years after the earthquake, I was visiting a friend in Istanbul. We’d planned my stay so I’d be home before my birthday, November 20th. The day I came home, Al-Qaeda blew a hole in the city of Istanbul. Five days later, on my birthday, they did it again — right where I’d been standing the week before.
So, what is luck, anyway? Some think “There but for the Grace of God go I…” They believe what I call luck is the hand of God saving people for a purpose only He knows, while He lets others, sometimes thousands of others — men and women and babies and Palamino horses — perish. And they worship that guy. That sounds crazy to me, and if I could believe in a god that would do such a thing, I certainly wouldn’t worship him. It seems to me that those who need to believe in a just and merciful god also need to believe in a vengeful, petulent devil – that it is that craven, cloven-hoofed goat who butts them down the stairs, not their God.
It’s a long time since I believed anything but that I’m naturally clumsy, distracted… and lucky. The world seems more dangerous every day, every where. Gods and Devils — those pushers and pullers, tossers and catchers — are in the news a lot lately, and a lot of good and bad folks want to fight for and against them. My natural tendency to cower at home seems more justified than ever. After all, most of my life I’ve been a Mrs. Magoo who just misses getting flattened again and again.
Times are troubled, but only I can decide if the things that happen to me prove I’m a lucky optimist or unlucky pessimist. There’s no guarantee that a semi won’t squash me on the highway, or a bomber won’t shred me while I’m squeezing cabbages at the bazaar. But most accidents happen at home.
On the stairs.
The odds that you are reading this are slim. Very slim. I probably won’t finish writing it, but if I do, I almost surely won’t be brave enough to send it to you. If I am uncharacteristically brave, what then? I send it, and it never reaches you; it slips between the cracks of your magically real life and goes to Neverwhere — or wherever unread emails go to die.
So why am I writing it at all? I’m writing it for me, because I have to. But please be patient with me. It’s hard to type through the tears.
Two days ago, my brave, compassionate, quietly kick-ass sister Gretchen died. One minute she was Alive… and then she was Dead. My beautiful inside-and-out sister was beautiful no longer.
Death is not beautiful.
I think — how can I know? — that she didn’t tell us there was no hope for her surviving the cancer because she didn’t believe in no-hope scenarios. Or maybe she didn’t tell us so she could spare us weeks of pretending we weren’t already writing her eulogy, while she was still sitting there. Maybe she agreed to start the chemo just to gain a few precious weeks to get her affairs in order.
No maybe about it that she didn’t get that chance.
Let me tell you a few things about Gretchen, Neil. She couldn’t stand pity, or being pitiable. (She also couldn’t stand spelling mistakes or grammar gaffes, so if her spirit exists anywhere, in any spacey-wacey way, it’s sitting on my shoulder, clucking its timey-wimey tongue.) Because she couldn’t stand pity, Gretchen kept secrets. Sad, sad secrets. She shared a few with me. I will not be sharing them with you.
But some things she couldn’t keep secret, like the time she leapt out of her car, wielding pepper spray, to confront a man stabbing a pregnant woman on a San Francisco sidewalk.
The man turned to her, dropped the knife… and pulled out a handgun.
“Thank you,” he said to Gretchen, “you saved me.” Then he blew his own brains out, all over her. But mother and child were saved.
Another time, again in her car: A man approached the vehicle stopped ahead of her, shot the driver multiple times and ran off, but not before Gretchen burned his face into her long-term memory. Sadly, the woman at the wheel passed away while Gretchen comforted her, drenched in blood, waiting for help to arrive. But her murderer is in prison now, thanks to Gretchen’s testimony.
Gretchen has been:
- bitten by a rattlesnake (“It was just a baby,” she said!)
- hit by cars (twice. No, wait, three times!)
- “shocked” (toxic shock twice, and then there was that supermarket sample shrimp, eaten just to be polite…)
- nearly done in by countless other, unbelievable things
In fact, over the years, so many things, circumstances, and people have failed to kill Gretchen that I’d started to think of her as an immortal among us. Like she was secretly Captain Jack Harkness, or the (finally!) female Doctor Who. Like we were just her Companions. She couldn’t really be my sister, this tall, brown-eyed beauty in a family of blue-eyed children, could she? Genetics said she could, since our mom had brown-hazel eyes, but I’ve always had my suspicions that she was not of this world.
Since timing is everything, or everything is time (or time doesn’t exist, at least not right now), the first thing I saw on TV after Gretchen died — when I could bear to turn it on — was my favorite episode of Doctor Who. It was my favorite for all sorts of reasons, long before I knew that you’d written it.
Though I didn’t know it, it was just what I needed to watch in this space and time.
Neil, you are starting to understand why I’m writing this letter to you. In case anyone else ever reads it, though, I should probably elaborate:
Gretchen, large in life — “and getting larger all the time”, as she would so wryly have put it — was like your version of the TARDIS brought to life: beautiful, mathematically inclined, and much, much bigger on the inside.
Thank you, thank you for that, Neil. I will now always think of Gretchen as a sort of immortal TARDIS, moving through time and space, saving people and taking them where they need to go more often than where they want to go. I will always think of the magically real time I spent with her as “the time that we talked”.
How right you were, Neil. “Alive” is the saddest word “…when it ends.”
Author Christoph Fischer has been interviewing the authors from the charity anthology I just pre-ordered from Amazon. I can’t reblog them all, but this one… Well, the author and her husband bought a woodland! If you go out in the woods, today…
Today I’m welcoming Sylva Fae whom I’ve met through our work for “You’re Not Alone”, an anthology in aid of MacMillan Cancer Care. This interview is part of a series of blog posts to introduce my colleagues in this endeavour. The anthology is available for pre-order and will be released on July 11. Twenty-seven writers from around the world, including myself have entered an assortment of short stories for your pleasure, show your support by liking the new page on Facebook and expressing an interest in buying the book.
You’ll find the book on your Amazon for per-order via these links: http://smarturl.it/YoureNotAloneAnthhttp://bookshow.me/B00Y5RCOOE
You’ll find the Facebook page here:
And here is the fund, in loving memory of Pamela Mary Winton
I am a mum of three small girls and loving it. I love being outdoors in the…
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Get it while it’s a bargain! One of my favorite sci-fi novels of recent years!
Dell is a girl who grows up on a remote outpost with herders (her guardians) who may or may not be her parents. They seldom speak or tell her anything, because the mandatory drugs that make them immortal and committed to duty also keep them quiet and forgetful. She has always been on her own to learn, and she’s become literate through the outpost’s telecommunications with its farm. But officially, Dell does not exist. She has no number, no portacath for drugs and no communications wristscreen. She is different in another way: she’s young, an aberration in a loveless world where the only creatures that breed are animals and primitive tribes considered outlaws. And now her guardians are being separated, and she must leave her home and find a place to belong.
Greetings from The Voice of Doom!
Remember the old story from Isaac Asimov?
I was once being interviewed by Barbara Walters… In between two of the segments she asked me… “But what would you do if the doctor gave you only six months to live?” I said, “Type faster.”
Well, then: You probably know all about these two good reasons to stay indoors and type faster:
Arctic lampreys falling from the sky, and
I mean, people, we already knew that when it blows, civilization as we know it will end. Now they say the new magma chamber they’ve found could fill the Grand Canyon 11 times! So what the world needs now is more Paranormal Romance! Chick Lit! YAAAAAAAAAA !!!!
The Voice of Doom wants more bad news, more reasons to type faster.
Listen to Roz.
You know my bookseller friend Peter Snell, of Barton’s in Leatherhead? (He’s the co-host of our Surrey Hills Radio show So You Want To be A Writer.) Peter is a staunch supporter of indie authors, and he mentioned to me that he’d been talking to an indie writer I know who wanted advice on revamping her novel cover.
Oh you mean Alison Ripley Cubitt, I said. Her science fiction novel?
It’s not science fiction, said Peter. It’s a contemporary eco-thriller.
And therein lay Alison’s biggest problem.
So how did she end up with a cover that sent the wrong message? How was she persuaded to change it – because she’d made that choice for a good reason. And what did she change it to?
I thought this would make a useful case study. Publishers often rebrand covers if they keep a title in print a long time, and…
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