Cover art, movie theaters, lazy writing, clunky first chapters, and being incredibly successful

Posted on May 6, 2017 (Subscribe to Blog)

Hello all! It's been a while since I last posted, so this is a round-up of what's been happening over the past month or so.

My latest book, Gargoyle Scourge (Island of Fog Legacies #3), has been on sale for two months and is doing well. I'm happy to say reviews have been favorable. And now I'm working on Book 4, Haunted Fortress. I've written over half of it already. This time, just for a change, I wrote a detailed chapter summary and got started with the middle section first. Why? Because it's a fairly complex plot, and it actually made sense to write this book out of order. After completing the middle section, I then filled in most of the opening chapters and am now working on the last third. It's working out nicely.

Haunted Fortress features Travis and Melinda with alternating points of view (chapter by chapter), and it's refreshing to write like this. When they share scenes, I just switch POV and carry on. But they can also go off on their own personal missions, and that's where the alternating POVs really shine.

As usual, this novel will be a complete standalone story as well as being part of the overall series arc.

It's worth noting something about the cover. I've said before that, being a poor nobody-author, I can't afford to hire my own cover artist to paint something that matches the details of the story... so I often write to suit the artwork rather than the other way around. In this case, it had been a while since I looked at the cover, but I went ahead anyway and described the fortress as Travis and Melinda arrived. Big mistake! I finally opened up the artwork and realized I was quite a way off with my description, so I had to adjust my wording. In fact, I ended up adjusting some of the rooms I'd written about as well. I doubt whoever created the original artwork ever guessed he or she would be instrumental in shaping my story.

And with that in mind...

Putting My Book Covers Together

It might be interesting to see all four covers in this series so far alongside the original artwork I purchased:

Legacies Book 1 Cover Build

With Unicorn Hunters, I found a nice unicorn-in-a-forest painting and cropped it to the right shape. Then I added a silhouette of some hunters and faded it out so they look like they're standing in a mist. (I cheated a bit, and the bushes behind the men actually show through, which is wrong – but it's not very noticeable, and I could argue the bushes are in front of them, not behind.)

Legacies Book 2 Cover Build

Sinister Roots was easy. The artwork was just what I wanted, and I altered the color mainly to set it apart from anyone else who might be using this stock image. Obviously I had to resize and crop slightly.

Legacies Book 3 Cover Build

Gargoyle Scourge was quite difficult because I had to cut out the gargoyle figure and separate her from the background so I could sit her on something more relevant to the story – like a stone archway, which I also had to remove from its background. Lastly, I added a brand new sky. You may wonder why I removed a sky and then added one back in that's very similar. Well, it's pretty common for stock images to have very little space above the subject for book titles. Look at the next one...

Legacies Book 4 Cover Build

Haunted Fortress was pretty easy except for the lack of space for the titles at the top. Also, the fortress was floating so high that I would have had a lot of dead space below. What I really wanted was to just slide the fortress down so it sat nearer the sea, but that's not quite feasible. So I added some sky above. As it happens, I found a sky that was pretty close in "cloud-texture," and I just had to alter the coloring so it blended in. It's hard to tell the difference. Then I cut out a section below the fortress and above the sea and blended the join. This new version meant I could zoom in a bit and show the fortress in more detail.

With all book covers, I darkened the area around the top corners. This makes the white text stand out more (even with Gargoyle Scourge's dark text and white glow). I usually end up darkening the bottom as well for the same reason.

The covers shown here are the printed versions, which are sightly taller than the ebook versions because I have to allow a bit extra for trimming. With the ebook versions, I just crop a bit off the top and bottom.

So there you go, a quick look at my methods! Now, changing the subject...

A Trip To The Movie Theater

We went to see Beauty and the Beast recently in a new-ish theater that has massive reclining leather chairs and ample room. I'd stopped going to movie theaters a few months ago because of the poor picture quality; we'd watched Rogue One and enjoyed the movie, but the picture was dark and drab, needing more contrast, brightness, and color. Horrible! This wasn't the first time I'd experienced this, and this was the last straw. About $35 for a family of three including popcorn, and we can't even see what's happening in the nighttime scenes? Nope.

But this new theater is brilliant. Plenty of space, excellent picture quality, and only a dollar more than normal theaters. We'll go again – but only to MUST-SEE movies. Beauty and the Beast was something my wife had been looking forward to, and I enjoyed it as much as she did. Although... Hermione Granger didn't do any magic, and Ron Weasley was nowhere to be seen. Unless Ron was the Beast? I'm not sure. And what was all the singing about? Who breaks into song in the middle of a conversation? Oh wait, my wife does...

Anyway, as usual with family movies like Beauty and the Beast, I found myself hanging onto the dialog and analyzing how screenwriters reveal everything the audience needs to know so deftly in the opening scenes...

How Writers Get You Up To Speed – Deftly Or Otherwise!

Some movies are terrible at this. This brings to mind the lazy writing of certain TV shows where the main character might look toward the camera, narrow his eyes, and say, "Looks like we need to pay a visit to someone I know..." before putting his sunglasses on and stalking away. And then, the very next scene is this character and his sidekick getting out of a car having traveled for five hours across the state. They're sweaty and tired, and the sidekick is irritable as he asks, "So who's this person we're visiting, anyway?" whereupon the main guy explains everything as he rings the doorbell. Works a treat for the TV audience, right? Gets the information across most expediently! Yet it's utterly ridiculous to imagine driving all that way without discussing where they're going. Maybe the sidekick actually did ask at some point. The reply was, "Can't tell you yet. Wait until we're there on the doorstep when the TV audience is listening. Then I'll explain all."

So I always find it interesting how movies (and TV shows, and also novels) introduce their audience to the world, characters, and current situation. The dialog has to be JUST informative enough to get the audience up to speed without being stuffed full of nonsense real people would never say. Nonsense like: "Say, it's nice of you to look after my ten-year-old boy Simon and my eleven-year-old girl Suzie while I visit my sick sister for three days. Although your house is out in the wilderness with no phone signal, I'm sure the legends of the witch around these parts won't make them feel uneasy. They're just stories, right?"

There's definitely an art to getting it just right. I think your average TV cop show is lazy about this kind of thing. Another thing that's lazy is a novel that dumps a ton of exposition on the reader on page one – like explaining that the land was once vibrant and full of magic until one day a thousand years ago when an evil warlord rose up and cursed everything, and since then... blah blah blah. Who wants to be told everything secondhand all in one go before you even know the characters and story?

To be fair, I've done this myself to some extent – I think all authors do it until they wise up – but it still amazes me how many traditionally published famous authors do it. I gather that fantasy fans are more forgiving. They buy a book, get comfortable, and lap up every detail of this grand new world they're entering. But there are better ways to introduce a new world. Have the character live in it for a while first, and sprinkle explanations as you go along. I think the trick is to weave your story so it's got something interesting going on from the very beginning at the same time as showing the reader around the place. The character has to come first, though. Make a reader care about the character and then talk about where he lives. Don't tell the reader where someone lives and then introduce that someone afterwards.

First Chapters Always Feel Stiff

I think this is especially true of all first-time authors. You try so hard to be poetic and everything, and you're still finding your way around the mechanics of dialog and narrative and so on, and the first one or two chapters are bound to feel stiff and forced. After a while, you get the hang of this writing lark and settle down with smoother, more professional prose. But your first chapter still stinks.

So what's the answer? Simple. Write your first chapter last. It makes sense when you think about it. It's the single most important chapter because it has to hook the reader and get them to read the rest of the book. So treat them to your most professional writing skills and not your clunky early efforts.

I suffered from this problem with an early version of Island of Fog. However, the finished product is not that book. I wrote the first eight chapters, then rewrote them, then ditched the first four chapters, and so on... meaning that my current first chapter is actually a zillionth rewrite. So in that sense, I smoothed out my first chapter simply by ditching it.

And finally for now...

Being Successful Enough To Easily Raise Money For A Good Cause

I'm subscribed to a British author named Mark Dawson. Recently, he sent out an email that made me all wistful. In a nutshell, he took a month off from his ongoing project to write a novella where the proceeds would go to a good cause (in this case a friend of his who needs 40,000 for a new trial drug to combat cancer). With $2.00 from every sale going to this fund, and with 80,000 subscribers on his list, it means that if even half his readership buys a copy, the treatment will be funded for a year and a half.

I would imagine he'll get close to that goal. Imagine having such power at your fingertips! To write a book, put it out there, and generate potentially life-saving funds for a friend. It's all in the numbers, though. You need that fanbase, and 80,000 subscribers would certainly get things done.

Meanwhile, I'll push on with my significantly smaller but equally cherished subscriber list and hope to keep growing my fanbase for years to come.

Thank you, all!

Comment by ROGER ESCHBACHER on Saturday, May 6, 2017...

Thanks for the cover mini-tutorial. I've always liked your covers and it's nice to get a peek behind the curtain to see how you create them. And yes, first chapters do always feel stiff. Still working on that problem.

Comment by BRIAN B. on Sunday, May 7, 2017...

Ha! Love the chapter by chapter alternating POV.

Comment by GIL on Friday, May 26, 2017...

Interesting to hear how you make book covers as a self-publisher. I'm curious, where do you purchase your images, and what software do you use to make the covers?

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Friday, May 26, 2017...

Gil, I buy my images from 123rf.com (about the cheapest I can find, and a good selection). I use Paint Shop Pro for all my graphics work.

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