So … here’s my new cover

In the world of indie-publishing, cover reveals are supposed to be a big deal. Authors take great pains to count down to their cover reveals, go on blog tours to announce them, etc., etc.

Not me. Not this time.

Personally, I’m embarrassed that I didn’t go for a more professional cover in the first place. I thought mine did a good enough job. I entered it in The Book Designer’s monthly cover contest and no less an authority than book designer Joel Friedlander said there was “absolutely nothing wrong” with it. He complimented the typography. However, he also pointed out that there was nothing particularly compelling about the cover, either. And noted that rocks didn’t exactly suggest a love story.

But since the book is not really a pure romance, that didn’t concern me too much.

(You see where I’m going with this, right?)

I’m trying to start this publishing career without wasting too much money. To me, my cover was good enough for a first foray into publishing (I think the stock shot cost me about $14 and I designed it on GIMP, which is free design software). I set type back in the bad old days of Compugraphic (no WYSIWYG back then), and I’ve been the product manager or acquisitions editor in a fair number of book cover meetings. So I figured that no, it was not a GREAT cover …but it was good enough.

I was crazy if I expected to hit gold with a debut novel, anyway. I was just going to live with it, and do some marketing now and then, and hope the addition of new titles eventually got me to the kind of critical mass of stuff that allows the kind of cross-selling that will eventually make this a profitable enterprise.

However, having such a great run on my free days and getting such a nice crop of reviews from them has made me a little more ambitious for this first title.

Also, once I made the decision to come out with the paper edition of this book — because too many people just don’t read Kindle and swear they will read it if they can please just have it in paper (we’ll see if that’s true) — I calculated thus:

  1. It really needs to come out well before Christmas (ideally at the beginning of  November, but it’s too late for that).
  2. I’m teaching four composition classes. Four! With research papers!
  3. There’s no way I can format the book and create a decent-looking full cover for it and actually get it done before Christmas.

Ergo, I needed to hire some help. And at least this semester I have some money to pay for it. (I wasn’t expecting two of those four classes when I started out this summer.) So as long as I had to pay for help anyway, I went to the guy whose cover instincts I’ve been admiring for months — Damon Za. It took me awhile just to write up everything I needed for him, but once I did I sent it off and paid my deposit, and after a week or so I got three designs back, including the fixed up version of my own cover that I asked him to do as an option. (I was a little reluctant to throw out ALL my branding to date if I could find a way to make it work.)

One was an honorable attempt to cope with the busy rocks that screamed “this is probably stodgy literary fiction by a woman of a certain age,” so that one I never even showed anybody.

The other was a much improved version of the feet on the rocks with a better focal point and professional type treatment. But those rocks — oh, those rocks. They just make a terrible background for type.

And the third one was striking and sexy and just WOW.

I loved that third one right away — though it also made me a little nervous — but I ran it past my gang because you’re crazy if you don’t seek honest feedback from others in this business.

And of course the gang split.

Turns out a lot of them LIKE bare feet on rocks. Especially the guys, but not just the guys. However, the readers who are probably a little closer to my target demographic tended to go for the one I loved. And told me not to be nervous. Though I still asked Damon if he could do a little strategic blurring, which he did, so now I love it even more.

Of course, whether I love it is irrelevant. (And when I was an acquisitions editor, how dearly I wished my authors understood that.)  The question is: Will it work?

Here’s the deal. Other than the text of the book itself, which is what it is at this point, I see everything I’m doing right now as an experiment. I put out a cover that worked pretty well, especially when the book was free, but not well enough to sustain full-price sales even with a lot of nice reviews racked up and a good ride on Amazon after my free days. Ads of the book at full price seldom got any clicks, no matter what the copy said. Which meant no curiosity was being excited by that cover.

So now I’ll try this one. It will either increase clicks and sales, or it won’t. If it doesn’t, I guess I’ll have learned something valuable.

But speaking as the product manager for my own book, I just think it’s a much better cover. It has excellent, uncluttered use of color and typography, and it has a focal point. As a reader you might wonder why this woman looks so tightly wound — which doesn’t actually literally fit the scene of the book from which this could be taken — but it captures the heroine’s problem at the beginning of this book perfectly. I also think this cover is an excellent, flexible design basis for the books yet to come.

Next time I’ll go straight to Damon Za right from the beginning (if I can afford him, anyway). So, here it is.

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The paperback pages are getting final corrections right now, and I dearly hope it will be available on Amazon before the month is out.

Hate it? Prefer the rocks?

Go buy the e-book quickly and never delete it and reload it from your Amazon account, and you’ll have the old version!

Or, buy the PG-13 edition. (You can only get to that version with a precise search by title, or a link. Confusingly, the sales copy for that edition is exactly the same and warns you about the sex, but if it says PG-13 on the cover it ought to be the clean version. I do not understand the mysterious workings of Amazon in this matter, but with a grand total of three or four sales to date on that edition, I’m not going to worry about it either. That’s also why I don’t plan to change that PG-13 Edition cover. So if you want, get that one. You’ll have to give up a little sex, but that way you can, um, keep your rocks on. Yeah, I actually went there. Sorry.)









Authenticity vs. not being a hack … or a bitch

Some of the unwritten rules for authors that I’ve read: Help each other out, never give a bad review, and avoid getting into hot button issues that might lose you potential  readers.

This is harder than I ever imagined.

First of all, while my first book The Awful Mess is about how people can come together despite having very different religious and political ideas, any reasonably capable reader is going to come to some conclusions about my own beliefs by reading it.

So do I really need to hide them in my social marketing?

I’ve tried picking my battles, but the book is clearly in favor of gay rights and marriage equality and concerned with issues of hunger and poverty, so those I’ll tweet and post. I try to avoid the more overtly partisan stuff, but it’s probably creeping in more and more over time. It’s just really, really hard to not be my authentic (opinionated!) self.

Two, when it comes to helping other authors, I’m happy to help by sharing tips or advice, and I’ll retweet that kind of thing from others very happily, as well as new or free or bargain books if I’ve at least heard they’re good from people I trust. This is especially true if they are coming from people in similar genres, or have come from a site that appears to practice some quality control.

But I’m not going to fill my relatively sparse twitter feed with tweets for stuff I haven’t read, may never read, and have no reason to believe my own readers would read. If this means I’m not playing the game right, I guess there’s some hope I may yet learn the rules. (I’m still new to this.) But right now I just don’t see the point.

Three, I have a really hard time leaving glowing reviews for books that I think have issues. What can I say? I grade students all day. I can’t just be nice — I want reviews to mean something. But me leaving a less-than-glowing review for your book isn’t good for either of us, because then you’re not happy … and I look like a bitch.

This is why I just won’t accept free indie books for review anymore unless an author swears that an honest review or honest private feedback instead is okay, and seems to really mean it. And even then, I think I really shouldn’t. There’s just too much pressure.

If you’re an author, I’d be  curious  to hear how you handle these issues. I also invite you to let me know where I’m going wrong!

Heading off to New Hampshuh…

This week’s blog post is early and short because I’m going off this weekend to meet up with an old friend who lives in Manchester. We’re going to stay in Peterborough, the town I (very loosely) based Lawson on. I haven’t seen my friend in a year and a half and instead of being together with our families, we’ll be on our own, just the way we were when we met almost twenty years ago.

Back then, we were each teaching for the first time — on either side of a completely ineffective temporary room barrier in the basement of Coe-Brown Northwood Academy. I had the tenth grade and she had the eleventh grade. We could each hear everything that was said in the other room, so we couldn’t help but get to know each other well.

Today she’s a high school guidance counselor. I left New Hampshire for New York (for a guy, though not the one I married) and ended up in educational publishing and advertising for many years before making my way back to teaching, sort of (I’m an adjunct).

Despite living quite some distance apart, my friend and I have gotten together almost every summer of our lives ever since, usually at her family’s summer home in Maine. One summer I took off to go to Scotland with my Scottish father and my Scottish-Puerto Rican son. She took this one off to cope with her mother, who died this fall.

It will be nice to catch up, because although we are very good friends, there’s very little conversation between our yearly meet-ups. We just save it all up for when we get together.

I can’t wait! We plan to eat well, hang out at the Toadstool Bookshop (which I already know is a lot bigger than it was when I lived there), check out the sights, and — if I know us — try to find at least one thrift store. Who knows, we might even get a meal at the diner, if we can get in. (I’m sure the good people of Lawson would approve.),_Peterborough_NH.jpg(Photo from


Practical tips for enjoying the cold

I figured I’d offer something a little more practical this week. We’ll say it’s related to my books tangentially – so far they’re all set in New England, after all, and winter is most certainly coming in. (Also, all the houses in The Awful Mess are old and drafty.)

I had to learn all these techniques the hard way. I grew up in Florida, and that move to Massachusetts the week of Christmas 1976 just about killed me. I did not acclimate cheerfully. It took years, but at some point I actually began to appreciate winter. Here are some reasons why.

Reason #1: I acquired some key wardrobe items.

  1. ANGORA BLEND SOCKS.  Ah, bliss. I’ve found these wool-blend socks at TJ Maxx and Marshalls and online. They’re not the big heavy ones you buy in hiking stores, and they fit into regular shoes. I’m sensitive to wool and can usually never wear it next to my skin, but these blends don’t bother my feet, though I sometimes do pull them up my arm to make sure they won’t scratch too much before I invest. They’re not cheap (unless you manage to find them on clearance), but they usually last for years. I wash them in the washing machine with the other clothes, but hang them to dry. (Most survive drying just fine, though, as I’ve discovered by accident.) Don’t over-stuff your shoes, either. I got frostbite during my junior year abroad in the UK — which doesn’t even get that cold — because I over-stuffed warm socks in hiking boots that were probably too small. Remember: blood circulation is our friend.
  2. POLYESTER FLEECE.  I adore it on cold days, but it’s so warming I like to wear fleece I can easily take off in a classroom, like jackets and big shirts. One hazard: It melts, so I have to watch out for sparks from the fire or wood stove. At the thrift store/food pantry where I volunteer I keep my eye out for the rare work-acceptable fleece that doesn’t already have holes from wood stoves in it. Fleece can be washed in the machine and dries almost immediately, so I hang it instead of throwing it in the dryer. At home, once I’m in for the day, I usually change into fleece sweat pants and a fleece jacket. (We usually keep our thermostat at 65 degrees, so I need that for sitting at the computer.) Fleece throws are cozy to have around, too.
  3. BOILED WOOL. Same deal as fleece except for cleaning (don’t ever put one in the dryer, and even the washing machine is a risk.) They won’t melt from sparks, though they can get charred. They tend to look a little more professional and don’t get too hot as quickly as fleece does. They also don’t attract dirt as quickly as man-made fabrics like fleece do, so you can often get away with dry-cleaning only once or twice a season.
  4. LONG UNDERWEAR. When it’s really bone-chillingly cold (wind chills below zero), or I expect to be outdoors for a while, I add an under layer of silk or polypropylene. The trick is having layers and not letting anything next to your skin get wet and clammy. I buy all of mine in the thrift store, but L.L. Bean is a good source at full retail. I even have long underwear for my feet — thin silk or polypropylene sock liners.

Reason #2: I indulge in certain key creature comforts.

  1.  A PREHEATED BED. I fill a fairly long, old, tightly woven cotton sock with uncooked rice, tie a knot, and heat it in the microwave (usually about 2-1/2 minutes, but you’ll want to watch and feel carefully to figure out what’s safe for your microwave — it can burn and even burst into flames at too long a setting). Then I roll it up in an old flannel receiving blanket and stuff it in the bed while I’m brushing my teeth. It’s also good for warming up cold toes, or draping over a sore muscle. Usually I can reheat the same sock of whole grains all winter. (I used to use hot water bottles, but these days it seems they are all made in China and inevitably develop leaks. Wet beds are not warm.) By the way, I tried adding dried lavender to the rice once. Yuck! Maybe I just don’t like lavender enough, or maybe cooked lavender is obnoxious.
  2. LAYERS ON THE BED. I can’t use goose-down duvets – they’ve always made me sweat. (And these days, a lot of things can make me sweat.) So I layer fleece blankets and quilts on the bed to throw off (and pull back on) as needed.
  3. BABY OIL IN THE SHOWER. I do way too much thinking and luxuriating in the hot shower, and in winter this means my skin gets itchy and dry. I smooth baby oil on wet skin before I even towel off. It makes a huge difference.
  4. HOT DRINKS. I can’t have caffeine at night, but the herbal teas get a lot of use on cold, dark winter nights. If I could, I’d drink coffee. On cold weekend days, we also indulge in the occasional hot cocoa treat. (No packets! I like to melt Abuelita or Chocolate Cortes tablets in a little water in a double boiler and then add milk. Use whole milk or add some cream. Sometimes I put a little chili powder or hot sauce in the chocolate and stir before I add the milk. If you have a way to whisk it in, all the better. Mmm.)
  5. MODERATE HEAT. Unless we’re depending on it for the cost savings or suffering through one of our (fairly common) power outages, we only use the wood stove when it’s REALLY cold. That way we won’t dry out our nasal passages or our houseplants, and the rooms away from the stove won’t feel uncomfortably cold.

Reason #3. I made friends with winter.

This was not easy for me. I used to fantasize about Florida all through the winters in New England. I missed everything from the beach to the mostly-green grass and gardens to the already-tepid water coming from the tap. (Though, truth be told, cold fronts can come through and feel pretty darn cold in the Tampa area too, at times.) Here’s how I think I finally turned the corner and started to enjoy winter.

  1. I LEARNED TO SKI. I am awful at downhill, but being able to cross-country ski makes snow something I look forward to. I can go out the door and ski around the yard, or around the park across the street, or around lots of other places (groomed trails are nice, but not necessary to get out and have fun). This makes a good snowfall something I anticipate with pleasure. One of these days I want to take up snow-shoeing as well. One big plus with winter sports: no bugs.
  2. WE GOT SNOW TUBES after we bought a house with a little hill in frontOfficially this was for my son and his friends, but who says adults can’t enjoy an hour of tubing just as much as kids do? Tubes are much more forgiving of conditions than sleds, and also less likely to cause bodily harm (although we sometimes have to bail out to avoid trees).
  3. I STOPPED PINING. If you hate winter, avoid palm trees or beaches as screen savers — unless you’ll be there in the next week or two. Don’t torture yourself. Try to appreciate the beauty around you instead. After I got over my outrage at being transplanted from Florida to New England — granted, this took years — I finally began to appreciate the sheer beauty of the colder months. For example, yesterday I took a little hike to a local waterfall with a friend and got to see some woods along the way in a completely different way because most of the leaves are down. If I’d only gone up there during warm weather, I’d never have been able to see the dramatic terrain, or the contrast of a few remaining yellow leaves against all those grey tree trunks.

043The only other thing I would add is to consider supplementing your Vitamin D. (It made a big difference for me recently.) Here’s wishing you the best winter possible — as warm, dry, well-fed, and happy as you can manage. If you have other tips for surviving the season, feel free to share them!