Sunday, July 13, 2014

Three Simple Rules for Book Covers

As most of you know, I have quite the independent streak. Unfortunately, I'm also a cheapskate by nature. Sometimes my need to do things myself with whatever resources I have on hand gets me into trouble. So, this post is for all you independent cheapskates out there, especially those writers like myself who insist on doing everything the hard way.

You want a great-looking cover for you book, right? You want your cover to express what your book is all about, right? Well, I got news for you. Sometimes these two things together are not what you might think. I've worked with a few authors (including myself) that have a tendency to show their main character on the cover, or put all characters on the cover, or show every element and aspect of the story on the cover but one must resist this urge and adhere to rule one.

1. Less is More

While there are countless examples of bestsellers with covers so simple one might think it was an afterthought, I can think of very few examples of bestsellers with overly busy book covers. Here, I must make a distinction between print covers and ebook covers. They are different but the design elements remain the same. The only thing is that, with an ebook, simplicity is more important because the potential buyer is usually looking at the cover as a small thumbnail photo.

Notice the simplicity of this Hugh Howey novel? I'm not even sure what that picture is. Could it be a face. Hugh Howey, as an independent author, hit the nail on the head with simplicity.

Now, take a look at this cover as if you were seeing it on your favorite bookstore, whether that be online or brick and mortar. What do see that might make you look inside or hit the "purchase now" button? Of course, there's the title, the picture, the endorsement of how wonderful this book is by someone you may not know up there at the top, but then there's something else. Oh yeah, that's it-the tagline!

2. Use Simple Taglines.

I know the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words but, in the case of book covers, I believe a short tagline is worth a new buyer of your book. When a person looks at the cover at the bookstore or online, they will naturally read the tagline. See what you just did there? You might have just sold a book. The most important thing a tagline can do is get someone reading your book before they've even opened it up. In the case of the book shown above, the cover does not really do a great job of explaining what the story is all about. Sure, the use of color is great but that tagline, now that's intriguing. A good tagline should be short, express the tone/mood of the story, and put a question into the potential reader's mind. I consider taglines to be a kind of secret weapon. While some covers don't lend themselves well to taglines, one should use this if they have the option.

3. Bold is Beautiful.

By bold I don't mean "in you face" rainbows and sparkles. Simple is bold. Limit your color scheme to meet the tone of your story. Dark colors convey darkness, Light colors convey boldness, White conveys simplicity and forces the eyes to whatever other graphics shown on the cover.

In this example, notice how your eyes are drawn to the picture more than anything else? Even the title is understated. The symbol on the upper right is the Chinese symbol for beauty, but who would know that? It just looks like part of the picture.

Above is an example of a cover I recently completed that shows a simplicity of color with a complex picture. I actually applied a shading graphic in this to tone down the colors and make it darker. The brightest spot shows the single character walking toward a maze. Since this novel did not have a tagline, I used the picture to set up the question, "Where's that person going? Why is he walking into a maze?" Sure, I'm still unsure about all the blank space in the middle but thought that if the eye was drawn to that (for the ebook version) it would show a sense of solitude. Funny thing is that, in the story, the character does not go through the labyrinth alone but I felt this picture set the tone or mood. The story is really about recovering the stolen sword shown on the back cover but you'll just have to buy the book to find out more about that.

One more thing that applies specifically to ebooks-they must look good/be readable in thumbnail size. Many authors and even cover designers forget this and, whether they admit it or not, it may hurt sales of the story. If a person is scrolling down the list of books on their favorite online bookstore, they simply will not be prompted to click on that picture if it looks like a jumbled mess.

Of course, other elements come into play here too. Things like a catchy title, author name recognition, series books, and many others. I just wanted to keep it as simple as possible for those do-it-yourselfers out there. Also, these simple rules still apply if you are having someone else design your cover for you. Do not be afraid to demand your cover meet these requirements. Remember, it's your hard-earned money you're spending on this cover and the story is your baby. Don't let the story that you worked on so hard become a neglected foster child because of a lackluster cover.

My hope is that this post provides hope and comfort to all those cheap bastards like me out there.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Should I Stay or Should I Go

I recently let loose another rant on FB about a current news item (sometimes I do this for fun and either take an unfavorable side or remain so ambiguous that no one really knows what I'm trying to say) that somehow turned into a discussion about the Zombie apocalypse.

Funny how everything seems to fall back to the Zombie apocalypse for me.

Anyway, someone mentioned how prepared I must be and that if the Zombie apocalypse ever happened, they were coming to my house. This leads to a critical question, should one travel during a Zombie apocalypse (or any other disaster?)

The answer-yes and no.

You should strive to be as prepared as you can to bug out. Spend some time putting together a bugout bag-something that can hold all the bare necessities without sinking you like a ten-ton anchor. And right there's the rub, isn't it? If the Zombie apocalypse were to begin right now, this very instant, the major of our population would be dead within a week. Our population wouldn't die from the Zombie hordes or by running out of bullets, most (even many that have a bugout bag) will die of dehydration. While one may survive for weeks without food, no one can last more that a few days without water. It you are on the run, your water requirements will be higher than one sitting in the shade at home. And, unless you've invested in a quality portable water purifier ($100-$400 dollars) than you will have difficulty carrying enough water to fulfill your own needs, let alone fighting off those you meet on the road that are less prepared but use your burden against you to beat you down and take all your crap. Yes people, as shown so many times during natural and man-made disasters, people will treat you with less respect than zombies.

Don't even get me started on that subject.

So, in the event you are walking to the mailbox to get your mail one day and happen to see a small group of undead limping your way, followed by a massive horde of thousands (or, in the case of my small town-roughly four thousand) it will be better to run back inside and katy bar the door then to grab your heavy-ass day pack and try to outrun the horde to ...where?

A household will always be much more secure then the woods or roads. If you own a home with property, a good fence can buy you some time. If you live in an apartment, you can secure the front entrance and move to higher ground. If you are in an urban apartment building, a little pre-planning can give you a reasonably safe and lengthy existence on the rooftop once all the entrances are securely sealed.

Now, although having a year's worth of food stored in some closet would be great, I understand that most people just can't manage this. I, myself ain't got that kind of room to devote to my fanatical and, others might say, fantastical underpinnings and weird beliefs.

From your homestead, what form that might take, is a great place to eventually venture out looking for food. I believe that your food stores should always be the last thing you should consider eating. With just a little bit of knowledge, one can use the bounty around them to survive quite comfortably. The only downside to this is your protein might have to come in the form of rodents and even stray dogs. I know what you're thinking, "eww" but if you are not willing to eat rover when nothing else is available you probably weren't going to make it anyway.

For instance, I have a few chickens in my back yard along with a large fish tank full of tilapia that provide nutrients for plants in aquaponic media-based grow beds. I will eat my dog before the chickens or fish simply because, if it came to that, the chickens and fish will provide me with eggs and vegetables for as long as they are alive. I mean, hey, we're talking survival here folks.

So, before you break open you second five-gallon bucket of survival food, consider what might be right in your back lawn or in the cracks of the sidewalk just outside. There are two plants that are abundant all over the world and are completely edible from root to flower.

Clover-although considered by most as a weed, this plant is a delicacy to deer and other foraging animals. While the roots are difficult to process and bitter, the stems and leaves work quite nicely to supplement a salad.

Dandelion-All parts of this weed are edible. The only thing on this plant considered not edible is the milky with substance that sometimes on the inside of the stalk. The roots can be boiled and made into a tea. The stems, leaves and flowers can be eaten raw.

The only thing one might consider in eating these plants is where they came from. Koreans consider dandelion salad a very tasty treat but I cringe when I see a group of Korean women picking these leaves from an open field on our local military reservation. Why?  Simply because just a few days before this I undoubtedly see these grounds being sprayed with fertilizers and insecticides.

If you live in an apartment and don't have easy access to plants of this kind, fear not, there is a solution. You know that guy living down the street who never mows his lawn and the weeds grow unchecked and unfettered. Yeah, that guy is now your friend. Don't waste your time calling the local authorities on these folks for ruining local property values. Be there friend so later, their unkempt lawn will become your food oasis. Just remember to share in your bounty and include them.

Now don't go getting all crazy on me here and thinking your just going to go out there and start pulling up everything green to put in your belly. There are some plants that are equally abundant to the aforementioned, that will kill you in very slow, embarrassing, agonizing ways. As a general rule, here are some characteristics of plants you want to avoid:

Milky, oily, or discolored liquid or sap.
Spines, fine hairs, or thorns.
Beans, bulbs, or seeds that are inside pods.
Plants that look/smell like dill, carrot, or parsnip.
Plants that have an almond scent.
Plants with stalks or grain heads that are pink or purple in color or have black spurs.
Plant with three leaves, and some with five.

Yep, I know right now your thinking about all those veggies you buy in the grocery store and you're thinking I'm a liar. Remember, I you know for sure what these plants are, like they came from your garden or you can positively identify them, that's another story. I'm talking here about what you will find while venturing down the street or along those train tracks along the back of your apartment while trying to not gain the attention of any zombies or other people.

It is better to be safe than sorry.

Although you can forage equally well whether you are traveling or simply venturing outside your secure domicile, It is always better to travel only as a last resort. If you are going to get sick from eating something, wouldn't you rather be in a secure location rather than simply soiling yourself while running from baddies? I mean you might soil yourself anyway but that's another concern.

So, by all means, put together a go bag but the majority of your preparedness should go toward securing up your current location and hunkering down. Unless there is a hurricane coming and you're told to evacuate-then, do that.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Little Dity

Here's a little something I wrote a few years back. I suppose most would classify this in the "weird" category, although I don't see what is so weird about it.

Okay, maybe it's a little weird. This is another piece of flash fiction I wrote for Eclectic Flash Magazine. At the time they limited their flash fiction to 750 words, and this comes in at 749 words, so it was a good fit.

For those of you that might find this little story too hard to stomach, keep in mind that it is written in an epistolary format. That means that the story progresses through a series of letters, or in this case, emails.

So, here it is, for your enjoyment:


29 January

All-seeing Sophia,

I send you this email from a hospital bed. After using your email psychic service for many years, I should be afforded proper readings and predictions of my future. If you truly are psychic, you should tell me to be more careful.

Yesterday afternoon, just after receiving your cryptic email, I was hit by a Wal-mart truck full of “Dr. Thunder” soda. I would think that getting rear-ended by a truck would be something you could easily foresee.

My next correspondence will likely be from my lawyer.

Good day,

Jonathan Tischel


30 January


You might recall, as I certainly do, my exact words were, “Take heed the rolling thunder as its love hits you like a tidal wave, bringing you sweetness and effervescence.”

My website states, “All-seeing Sophia” is not responsible for any event, real or perceived, that may, or may not be attributable to predictions made by said entity.”

In consideration of your current and rather painful predicament, I am willing to offer you a fifty-percent discount on a future service of my choosing.
All-seeing Sophia


2 February

All-seeing Sophia,

Point taken, Sophia, but frankly, I interpreted your message to mean that I would find love, or rather, love would find me. What I received instead, was a fast ride to the hospital in an ambulance. Although, I must say, the nurse was nice.

Do you have any prediction on a future with her?

Jonathan Tischel


3 February


Love impresses upon your eye and punctures from arrears. Beware, from behind you comes love and pain.

All-seeing Sophia


4 February


Once again, I have failed to understand your cryptic message. It seems you are telling me that, again I will be slain but not see it coming.

I certainly wish that I had eyes in the back of my head with the way you predict my fortunes, or rather, misfortunes.

On a more civil note, it seems I had left my wallet in the hospital and the nurse I met called me to give it back. She seems very nice. We have our first date tomorrow.

Your friend Jonathan


9 February


Wish granted.

Please notice in your next statement, the discount applied.

All-seeing Sophia


14 February

All-seeing Sophia:

I am very disappointed in your services to the point of anger. Do I understand correctly in assuming that Rochelle was not the wish you granted? I am in disdain of your cruel sense of humor.

I woke this morning with a terrible ache in my eye. I groggily left my bed to wash my face with cool water. The water did not sooth my aching eye and, upon closer inspection, I was horrified to discover that THE EYE WAS IN THE BACK OF MY HEAD!


Just combing my hair was terribly painful. By the way, I only have one eye back there. I can’t make out distances, I just run into walls and doors. My hair covers the eye and it becomes irritated and painful by day’s end.

Furthermore, I had a very romantic Valentine’s evening planned with Rochelle but you ruined that as well. For the first time since our meeting, she quickly embraced me in her doorway. As we pulled close into the inevitable kiss I was sure would seal our love, she moved her lovely hands over my shoulders and into my hair. In my enamored condition, I forgot about the eye and, of course, had not told Rochelle. Just as I felt the warmth of her lips so close to mine, she poked me in the eye!

She was completely disgusted and I was in no shape to explain as I was reeling from the pain and trying to keep my own hair out of my watering eye. Now, Rochelle will not answer my calls.

Lastly, I spoke to my lawyer and he believes we have a viable case. Our next conversation may be in court – and in person!

Jonathan Tischle


17 February

Mr. Tischle:

I am writing on behalf of All-seeing Sophia. The Law firm of Adleman, Forrester, and Klemisch has concluded that your case against our client is without warrant. We have taken the initiative and spoken with your lawyer. There is no case.

Additionally, the accounting firm of Wallace & Sons wished to have our legal firm relay this message: “You get what you pay for – at fifty percent.”


Adleman, Forrester, and Klemisch