Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Secret About Cover Artists

I always wondered how cover artists got it right when it came to a book's cover. Naively, I marveled about the fact that they had so many books to read and covers to create. How could they possibly find the time to read them all?

Well, now I know their secret.

When a publisher signs an author they give them, among many other documents, a 4-5 page sheet with all kinds of questions and inquiries about the book and what the author envisions for the cover. Those answers are given to the cover artists. Here's a sampling of questions from my publisher:

  • What do your main characters look like? Describe their hair color, eye color, skin tone, etc.
  • What do the villains/antagonists look like?
  • Is the setting integral to the book? If so, describe it.
  • Is there an item that's important to the storyline, i.e., a necklace, sword, castle, horse or coconut cup, for example. (Okay, I made the last one up but there is a coconut cup on my cover and you'll see why when you read my novel!)
  • Is there anything you do NOT want on the cover? For me, I didn't want a man, even though several men are integral to the storyline, especially a sexy cop! Oh, how I fought myself about adding a uniformed hunky man to the cover. Also, Hope's hippie parents are important (and hilarious) and I considered adding their crazy peace signs and VW Microbus to the cover but I knew it would get too busy. Finally, since my novel opens on Suzy's wedding day, I thought about having a bride on the cover. There were so many possibilities! Agony. I had to refocus and decide on the gist of THURSDAYS AT COCONUTS. The genre is women's fiction with elements of romance, suspense and humor, so I wanted the focus to be on the three female main characters--Suzy, Hope and Alex.
  • Would you prefer people or an object on your cover? This was the hardest question for me to answer. At first, I typed PEOPLE. Without a doubt. No hesitancy. Then, out of curiosity, I ran downstairs and looked at the books in my library, a/k/a the exercise room. I pulled 20 random books. To my surprise, the cover art was about 50/50 on people vs. objects. That told me that I'm compelled to pick up a book whether it features people or objects. So, I went back to the drawing board on my answer.
  • How do you envision your cover? Give us a couple of examples of what you'd like to see. I decided I'd like to see Suzy, Alex and Hope seated around a table like they do at Coconuts, their Thursday night meeting place and that's what I got. It was strange to see how the artist envisioned their faces, which is, of course, not exactly what I had in mind. I can see why some authors go for graphics or don't show faces for this reason.
Those are the main bullet points I remember but there were at least four pages of questions. Now we know how the cover artists get it right!

Here's my cover for THURSDAYS AT COCONUTS. It releases in ebook on August 13, 2014, by Soul Mate Publishing. A few months afterward, it will be available in print. I'll share more about my characters in June and July. Mark your calendars for a fun online launch party on August 13!

I was allowed to suggest a few tweaks--there was a plant at the end of the table and I asked the artist to replace it with pretty flowers. The drink glasses were empty and I informed her that Alex always drinks Chardonnay; Suzy drinks Cabernet, while Hope usually has a margarita, so that was changed.  She also had Alex, the sassy bank marketer, in a drab brown shirt and that is so not Alex (more like Hope) so I asked her to change it to red. I love the color of my title, the font choice, and the palm fronds at the bottom. And seeing my name on the cover...I'm still pinching myself.

So, did you know the secret about cover artists? How do you envision your book cover?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Meet Fiction Author Jan Morrill

I can't tell you how happy I am to feature my good friend and award-winning writer, Jan Morrill. We met nearly five years ago at a writers' conference in the Ozarks where she took me under her wing. She was with her Arkansas writer friends and I was alone. She was nice enough to introduce me to them and invited me to meals. We've been close ever since.

Jan has two books I want to showcase today. Her debut novel, THE RED KIMONO, is loosely based on her mother's life when she was interned following the bombing of Pearl Harbor--all because she was Japanese, even though she lived in America. A very famous celebrity was also interned in the camp mentioned in Jan's novel. The author is pictured with actor George Takei, of Star Trek fame, below.

In addition to THE RED KIMONO (isn't the cover amazing?), Jan has a new release, LIFE: HAIKU BY HAIKU. She and I both share a love for writing haiku but she has actually done something about it! Jan is an excellent writer and speaker and is fun to have at writerly events. I hope many of my new readers get to know her. Welcome, Jan.

Q. Tell us about your new release.
My latest release is a book of haiku titled, Life: Haiku by Haiku, which includes haiku I've written over the last fifteen years or so. It reflects my thoughts on various events in my life over those years.

Q. How long have you been writing? Describe a typical writing day.
I have been writing since my earliest recollection, but seriously for about the last ten years. There was a time when I was very disciplined about my writing day. I woke at 5:00 a.m. and wrote until about 7:30 a.m. I found that I worked best in the morning, before my responsibilities of the day began to swirl around in my head. Note I say, "There was a time..." I haven't been so disciplined in the last 18 months, and not surprisingly, I haven't gotten as much writing done. But I'm working on getting back into a routine again.
I've got to get into a better routine but 5 a.m.? That probably won't happen.

 Andi, Jan's daughter, created the cover art!
Q. How many books have you written?
Life: Haiku by Haiku is my third book. Though a book of essays titled Doll in the Red Kimono was my debut, I consider my historical fiction, The Red Kimono (University of Arkansas, February 2013) my official debut. I write mostly fiction but also some memoir, essay and poetry.

Q. What was your writing journey like? Traditional querying and pitching  or did you self-publish? Was it arduous or easy?
As a new writer, my dream was to get an agent who would sell my book to a New York publisher. I think many writers have that dream. So, once the manuscript for The Red Kimono was complete, I began to look for an agent. My philosophy with querying was that with every rejection received, I'd submit two new queries. When the manuscript was finally accepted by a New York agent after I pitched to her at OWFI (an annual conference in Oklahoma), I thought I'd do cartwheels for days.

But after a year of working with this agent to make suggested changes to the story, I finally decided she was trying to change it more than I was willing to change it, and at the end of my contract, we went our separate ways.

Within a week, I queried the University of Arkansas Press and they accepted it and scheduled it for publication the following semester. I could not have been happier working with the UA Press staff. My only regret is that I waited so long to contact them.

As I work on the sequel to The Red Kimono, I often ask myself what path to publication I'll pursue. I have several ideas from releasing it as eBook chapters, to self-publishing it, to querying a small press. But I have to be honest here. Of course, I still dream of being published one day by a New York publisher. I'm just not sure I want to risk the time involved in taking that path again.

Q. Give us your best writing tip/advice.
Make your goals in small increments. Don't make your goal "write a book in a year." Make it "Write for 30 minutes a day." Chances are, you'll write more than 30 minutes a day if you can just sit your "you-know-what" down in that chair! It feels good and motivating to reach your goal. It feels bad and demotivating not to reach it.
I like those smaller increments. Seems more attainable, I agree.

Q. What's something quirky about you that we may not know?
This is a hard question, not that I don't have any quirks. It's more like putting a leash on my inner quirk before I let her out the door. :) Let's see--in no particular order:
1)  I like to skip.
2)  I like to fold laundry.
3)  I wanted to be a marine biologist when I grew up.
4)  I don't like scary all. I'll cover my face with my hands even in the previews. But, I'm a  sap for sad movies.
5)  As a teen, I used to write secret notes on my closet wall behind my clothes.
6) As a child, when I had chores to do, I'd crinkle my nose like Samantha Stevens (Bewitched) and hope everything would magically be done.
That's so funny about the notes on your closet wall and gives me a novel idea... I like to do #'s 1, 2 and 6 as well!
Look who's holding THE RED KIMONO!
Jan met actor George Takei at a museum
opening in McGehee, AR
Q. Envision a Hollywood actor(s) playing your characters. Who would they be?
For The Red Kimono, I always envisioned Ken Watanabe as Papa. When Terrence first came to my mind, I imagined a young Terrence Howard, his hazel eyes. However, after seeing the movie After Earth, I began to imagine Jaden Smith. For Nobu, I imagined my Uncle Lloyd, though the actor I pictured playing Nobu was a young George Takei. After seeing Beasts of the Southern Wild, I thought Quvenzhane Wallis would be the perfect Jubie. Of course, for Sachi, I always imagined my mother as a little girl. If, beyond my wildest dreams, The Red Kimono became a movie, all but Papa would have to be re-cast.
Q. What is your favorite marketing tip/promotional advice?
Don't preach to the choir. I see a lot of authors promoting their books to other authors. I guess the hope is that we'll sell books because we buy authors' books, but that's not enough. Authors need to think about their marketing plan rather than following what the crowds of other authors do. Think about your audience. Be creative in thinking about how to market (not sell) to that audience. Think of how to do this outside of social media. So many other authors promote on social media that it's very hard to be noticed among the thousands and thousands trying to do the same.
Excellent advice! I agree.

Q. I'm also a children's author, so I have to ask what was your favorite book as a child?
Love You Forever by Robert Munsch has been a favorite of mine since I first read it to my kids. Now, I've given a copy to my grandson, Tommy. It's a sweet tale about the love between a mother and son over the life of both. Of course, I also love What Do You Want To Be? by Beth Carter and can't wait to read it to Tommy. :)
And I didn't even have to pay you to say that! You're too kind. I remember when you bought my picture book as a big HINT to your son and daughter-in-law. Guess it worked!

Q. About editing...Do you like it? Hate it? How do you tackle the beast?
I think I prefer editing over writing. Writing the first draft is like building the foundation of  a house or sketching on a canvas. Editing is like decorating the house--making it a home. Or, it's like adding colors to the canvas. Sometimes this love of editing can get in the way of writing the first draft for me, because I may edit every sentence, which blocks new sentences from coming to mind.
What great analogies regarding the first draft! But I'm scratching my head. How is it possible to love editing over writing? Egads. But go, you.

Q. What's your next project?
If you want the "writerly correct" answer, it's that I'm working on the sequel to The Red Kimono. But if you want the honest answer, my next project, which I'm working on now, is to spend the first year of my grandson's life spending quality time with him. In my spare time, which is sparse, I try to write, but so far, I haven't been very successful.

In April, I was very disciplined at getting up at 6 a.m. to work on my daily haiku posts in celebration of National Poetry Month. (See My plan is to continue to get up that early--even after National Poetry Month is over--so I can write 30-45 minutes a day before I leave to babysit Tommy. That may not sound like a lot of time but it's better than nothing.

Jan and Beth enjoying Mexican food after a meeting!
It's our tradition and who are we to change it?!
Q. I love first lines. Post your first sentence. Hook us!
The sun beat down on Sachi as the heat of thousands of marchers pressed against her.

This is the first (unedited) line in the sequel to The Red Kimono, currently (and temporarily, I'm sure) titled Broken Dreams.
A good one. I can imagine and feel the heat!

Outstanding Review of The Red Kimono by the Historical Novel Society:
This novel is sensitive, bold, and creative; the truth of the experiences herein is nothing less than astonishing and refuses to truck with clichés or easy solutions. This is one of the best books this reviewer has read in years! Highly recommended.

What a wonderful review and well deserved. It was great chatting with you, Jan. I hope we can get to see one another this summer!

Everyone, please comment and you'll be entered into a drawing for Jan's new book, Life: Haiku by Haiku. I have a copy of both of her books and they're powerful and beautifully written. Below you'll find links to all of Jan's books, as well as where you can connect with her online.

Find Jan Morrill's books on Amazon. Just click on the book titles below.

Life: Haiku by Haiku
Doll in the Red Kimono

Twitter: @janmorrill



Want more? Here's an interesting YouTube video with George Takei discussing Rohwer.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Romance Weekly Blog

I'm pleased and honored to join a group of romance writers from the U.S. and other countries. They blog weekly to bring readers and writers together and provide an inside look at the writing process. Look for our posts every Tuesday where participating authors answer the same three questions. You'll find out more about me as well as other authors who write romance. The hash tag is #lovewritechat so share away on Twitter! And...there's going to be a HUGE Kindle/gift card/book/ebook/swag give-away in July, so start following us.

This week's questions come from Amy Jarecki, historical and contemporary romance author.

Q. When did you start writing and why?

I started dreaming about writing novels as a kid. I even remember how my first novel began but never wrote it. My initial foray into writing was feature writing in the eighth grade. I wrote articles for the school newspaper and was also the roving reporter (so I got to be nosy!) Once I saw my byline in the Pipkin Pirate newsletter, I was hooked. After that, I wrote a great deal of non-fiction while in my marketing jobs--television scripts, press releases, annual reports and healthcare articles. I was a single mom for years and worked full time and then some, so I didn't try fiction writing until five years ago. Now, it won't leave me alone. Since 2010, I've had three picture books published, been in four anthologies, three six-word memoir works and my debut novel, THURSDAYS AT COCONUTS, will be out in August 2014 by Soul Mate Publishing.

Q. What do you like best about writing?

I love many things about writing. Here are my top three:

#1 I love the fact that I create worlds and characters entirely from my mind. It amazes me when characters become almost human and I want to sit down and have a glass of wine with them or when I think they'll go left and they tell me they clearly want to go right (many plot points are changed by my characters who take over my writing!) The creative process amazes me. It's magical. 

#2 I also love the fact that writing is portable. That's what I tell my husband when he wants to go somewhere for any length of time and it's true. I can write on a legal pad, use a laptop or simply scribble notes on the back of a grocery list.

#3 I really, really LOVE the fact that I no longer have hateful 8 o'clock meetings. I absolutely deplored rushing to work and chairing 8 a.m. marketing meetings. To make matters worse, mine were on Mondays! Pure agony.

Q. If you could go on a writing retreat, where would you go and for how long?

Somewhere by the water. Water relaxes me and I tend to observe nature more and add those observations and senses to my settings. It could be on a deck at the lake or on a sandy beach. I think a week-long retreat would be amazing but one weekend would be a focused event. But, heck, as long as there are outlets and wine in the evening, I'd be happy writing in a dungeon (as long as I wasn't alone!) Imagine how inspiring that would be.

Please comment and then check out contemporary romance author Carrie Elks.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Cooking Up Memories

If you have a special bride in your future, I think you'll enjoy this unique gift. One of the gifts I gave my daughter for her upcoming wedding, was a customized recipe box. I scoured the Etsy site and found one with a bicycle for two image, which is what Amy and Chris have on their wedding site. It has their names and wedding date on the top, so Chris will never have the excuse that he forgot their anniversary date. Bonus! :)

I also ordered personalized recipe cards "For the Kitchen of Amy and Chris." They had sets of pink and blue with different graphics on each--wedding dress, engagement ring, wedding cake, bouquet, heart, and so on. I sent the recipe cards along with the bridal shower invitation to family and friends on both sides. Amy seemed pleased with the gift and everyone brought recipes to the shower. And since her fiancĂ©'s family is Italian, she landed some great Italian recipes!

I wanted to add a few more recipes before I shipped the box off to Amy. While going through my special recipe "folder" (meaning post-its, napkins, yellowed envelopes, the back of grocery lists and bank receipts--all with recipes scribbled on them), I noticed several things:

  • I don't cook as much as I did when I was younger.
  • I had forgotten about many of my recipes.
  • I need to make some of these dishes. My hubby would love it!
  • Going through old recipes is nostalgic--truly, a blast from the past.
  • I got completely lost while reading recipes from my mom and grandmother. I loved seeing their handwriting, which is a precious keepsake in itself.
  • I grinned and chuckled when I saw recipes that Amy had scribbled and drawn on as a child.
  • I loved finding recipes that had spills on them. I knew those were the good ones.
I'd encourage everyone to give sentimental gifts like this. I'm sure Amy will cherish the recipes, and it was a fun project for everyone. (The picture here is right after they got engaged!)

Finally, (and you knew I had to talk about writing!), I'm introducing a chef/caterer in the sequel to THURSDAYS AT COCONUTS, so I'll be able to use some of the recipes for the meals she prepares. Maybe I'll even include some recipes in my book. Don't you love novels that have a few recipes in them? What's your favorite recipe or special bridal gift?