Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tip of the Day - Fonts for Book Covers

All you DIY indies out there who are either brave or foolish enough to design your own covers, one of my favorite blogs, The Book Designer, has a nice post on good fonts for book covers.

You've all seen crappy covers that look like they were slapped together in Microsoft Paint. Cheap graphics, boring design, and cheesy fonts. You're doing yourself no favors if you skimp on cover design. But what if you can't afford a professional designer? Well, that's still no excuse for doing a crummy job.

There are three elements to a good cover: the concept design, the graphics, and the font. Leaving aside concept and art today, let's talk about fonts for a moment. The first mistake DIYers make is not doing research. When you set out to design your cover, get yourself to Amazon and starting searching for books. Look for books in your genre, look for books by your favorite authors. What do their covers look like? What strikes your fancy, what turns you off?

One of the most important things for ebook covers is finding a font that is easily readable in a small view. Then you need a font that expresses your story/genre/theme. Your cozy mystery is not going to require the same type of font that your splatterpunk horror novel will. Then you need to find a font that fits in with your design and art. You want a thematically pleasing cover that expresses what your book is like and tells the reader what to expect.

After doing some research, you should have some ideas of the look of the font you want for your book. It's probably not going to be font you've already got installed. Trust me, the common fonts on your computer are not necessarily optimal for typesetting and design. So how DO you find a font?

Say you came across a book on Amazon with a great font, how do you identify it? Unless you're a physic font reader or a typesetting savant, you'll have to do some sleuthing. One great way is using the WhatTheFont tool. You just upload the image and it will tell you what font you're looking at. This sometimes takes some jiggering, but once you're got a clear image that contains the font you want, this will identify it for you.

Now, of course, you've got to find that font in True Type to download to your computer. There are lots of sites for fonts. You can go to a graphics site like Veer and search for fonts. These tend to be a little pricey.  You can go to a free font site like dafont.com and start searching. Looking for a free font to match the font you've chosen can take a little time. Sometimes you'll be helped out by a description that contains the words "similar to" and references a font you're looking for. Look around, experiment. Download a number of fonts and plug them into your design and see if it gives you the look you're going for. Make sure you decrease your design image to thumbnail size. What looks great big may be just a blob small.

What I Did

When I was looking to design the covers for the mystery series, I had to think about what I wanted to present to my desired audience. When a reader looks at my book, what associations do I want them to make? I decided to go with what's called the "big book look." This consists of a bold background image over which can be placed the title and the author's name in big, bold letters. I chose this because I was targeting readers that might pick up books by Kathy Reichs or Tess Gerritsen or Patricia Cornwell. I have a backup plan that goes a different direction, because while I think the mystery series will appeal to the readers of those books, it will also appeal to readers of cozier, funnier books. Those covers would be more brightly colored, with a font that's friendlier and not so bold. The great thing is, if I want to switch covers next week, I can. (That's, as Stephen King would say, another story for another time.)

Going back to the present covers, I looked on Amazon for covers of mystery series by women authors featuring women protagonists that I read regularly. I looked at covers until I found a font that I loved and that fit the picture in my mind's eye. I copied the cover, went to WhatTheFont and found out the font name and then did a search for fonts until I found some "similar to" fonts that were free for commercial use. I downloaded several and plugged them into the design until I got what I was look for. Then, using Adobe Photoshop, I adjusted the font size, beveled it slightly, gave it some depth with shading and it was good to go. This was all done with no special knowledge, just a decent design program and the will to experiment. 

(Oh, and about those other covers? I've gotten feedback from some readers -- and looked at the "also bought" suggestions from Amazon -- and realize that the series might better be represented by cozier covers. So I'm going to do an experiment and design a new set of covers and see what happens. This is a definite plus for indie publishing: the ability to hone the presentation of your work. Updates coming.)

Link of the Day

Mentioned on The Book Designer Blog is a fantastic site for fonts that I was heretofore unaware of.  Font Squirrel is a great site with tons of swell free commercial use fonts.  I collect fonts like some people collect stamps or coins or hideous ceramic figurines, so it's like being a kid in a candy store. Check it out!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Using Twitter Better

For a long time, I resisted the Twitter. I'm not a big Facebook user, and I viewed Twitter as just a bite-sized Facebook with people yapping about their Starbucks order or asking for a goat for their imaginary farm. Besides, how can you say anything in 140 characters?

But I was wrong and I'm learning to love Twitter, or at least appreciate its usefulness. And, yes, if you're self-pubbing, you can't not use Twitter. It's invaluable in meeting new people, learning new things, and, yes, promoting yourself if done correctly.

That said, a lot of people are using Twitter poorly and annoying everyone while doing so. Paraphrasing Glinda the Good Witch, are you a good tweeter or a bad tweeter?

The site 1stwebdesigner.com has a great list to start you out on 10 totally uncool habits you may have fallen into.   I particularly dislike people who do mass follows and unfallows and who promote themselves mercilessly.

But What About Promotion?

Yes, Twitter is a great tool for promoting your work, but you don't want to be the guy with the poorly lettered sandwich board blocking the front door of the coffee shop accosting passersby and shouting at them. Use self-promotion smartly and sparingly. If you've got a new post on your blog, don't tweet about it non-stop for three hours. Instead, tweet a few times throughout the day with different hashtags. If you've got a coupon or  an announcement or a sale, make it a fun tweet, pique someone's interest with a tagline, change things up.

There's nothing wrong with self-promotion, but don't look like a selfish noob. Follow some other authors that you admire and see how they go about promoting themselves. You'll probably notice that all their tweets are not screaming "BUY MY BOOK," but instead they tweet links to other sites, news, or posts of interest. They make comments of encouragement or tell jokes. In short, they act like somebody you'd want to have a drink with instead of some sweaty guy pounding on your door with an armload of encyclopedias. The way to get people to buy into your promotion is to be interesting, informative, and friendly. 

But how do I get followers if I don't mass follow?

Everybody wants to have tons of followers, and there are lots of gadgets and widgets and websites that will automatically add followers and do all kinds of annoying things. And while it's an ego boost to see your follower list balloon, in the long run I don't think it helps you much. You want to follow people you're genuinely interested in, and you want followers who are genuinely interested in you, otherwise you're just tossing messages into bottles that no one's going to open. 

There's a strategy that you can use that's going to take time and effort, but in the end is going to make you much happier and serve your needs much better.

First find people. One way I find people is I look at the follow/followed by lists of people I admire or follow or who have a blog/service that I like and use. For instance, I love David Gaughran's blog and I follow him on Twitter. He's a swell writer and his blog is indispensable for self-publishers. So I'll look up who David follows on Twitter and who follows him. Now I've got a ready-made list to sift through for likely people to follow. You can also check out tweets by people you follow or admire and see who they're retweeting or what blog posts they're recommending.

Now comes the work part, the time-consuming part. Once you've got a list of likely people, check out their tweets. Are they interesting, informative, current? Or are they only about themselves or do they espouse some viewpoint (political or otherwise) that you detest? If you like a person's tweets, then visit their website, check out their books, check out their blog. If they interest you or you find their work useful or informative follow them.

If you're interested in having someone follow you back, give them a reason to. Sign up for their newsletter, become a friend on their blog, leave a comment on their blog, tweet about their blog or their book, or send them a direct message introducing yourself. Something like, "Hi. Just read your blog and really enjoyed the post about Twitter." 

Don't do this insincerely, because most people can smell insincerity a mile off. And you don't have to do the same thing for every person you follow. Don't manufacture something (like the thank-you letters you wrote as a kid) but try to be friendly or helpful or even snarky. I find snark works much better than insincerity. 

Set a number of followers you'd like to add per day or per week and work to make that goal. Remember, you're not just adding followers like trophies in a case, you're looking for people you have some connection with, whose stuff you enjoy, or you think might be interested in what you have to offer. I try to follow five new people every day I'm on Twitter (which is not every day). Today, I followed 7 people and six have followed me back. And it's not just about the follows, I found a really great blog that I enjoyed reading   --   http://brendangannon.net/   -- and I found a book I put on my Amazon wishlist for when I've plowed through the seven books on my nightstand and the five on my Kindle. 

So it's not a race or a storefront, it's a way to connect and find other people who are cool and worthwhile, and just might think you're cool too. 

Link of the Day

Okay, so it's shameless self-promotion, but, hey, it's my blog. The S/O has been working on setting up a new authors website -- which is still very much under construction -- but I'm setting up showcase pages that consist of a cover and a quick sample for each novel. The idea is to let the writing speak for itself without a lot of blurby stuff stepping all over it. So check out the bare bones prototype for Darker By Degree and, if you're so inclined, tell me what you think of the idea.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tick Tock - Finding Writing Time

Not long ago I was editing an interview with an up-and-coming writer (that's often the day job - editing). He has a hot new book that everybody's all gushy over, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, the interviewer asked him about his process for writing this novel. Apparently he'd written it at a secluded writer's retreat somewhere over a few months' time. His day went something like this: after a leisurely breakfast he would brainstorm for an hour or so, then write for three or four hours. After lunch and a walk in the woods, he would go back to his nice quiet room and write until evening, where he would commune with other writers over drinks and dinner, where presumably they would sit around and chortle about hard it is to write in absolute peace and quiet with no children pegging things at the back of your head, no cat throwing up under your chair, no washing machine spouting gouts of foam, and no day job (or two).

At that moment, I hated that man. It's not his fault, I suppose. He didn't say how he had wrangled two months at a swanky "writer's retreat." Maybe he'd saved his pennies for 10 years or maybe he'd married a rich widow and then pushed her down the stairs. All I was thinking at the moment, was, yeah, think of what I could do with 14 uninterrupted hours of writing time. Every day.

And there's the rub.  Most of us are lucky to have a few hours of free time a day where we could possibly write. And even when we have time, it's not quiet time. If we're careful we can create a happy little soap bubble and sit inside it, just us and the blank page. But that bubble is easily popped by the first wailing child, the significant other who's lost something they can't find or broken something they can't fix, by the client asking where project is, by the alarm that beeps letting you know you're late for doing something that must be done RIGHT NOW and damn your flow of narrative.

It can be done. People do it all the time.   But it's hard and frustrating and painful. You can do all the affirmations you want and perform the little tricks to eke out writing time and try to cobble together some platform from which to launch your work, and still it's damned difficult to maintain some kind of coherent writing life. Add to that the time you must spend marketing yourself, which is a sink hole if you let it be.

I myself have fallen into that sinkhole the last few weeks, doing things in bursts. I would edit madly, then realize I had to do some paid work to buy the groceries. I would drop the editing and work, then realize the book sales had stalled  and I needed to do some marketing. I would spend hours on social networking and realize that I needed to start the next book to make the publishing schedule. As I'm starting work on a new book, I feel guilty that I haven't finished the edit on the finished one. And it starts over.

Figure out how much time you can give each day to the three segments of your writing life: marketing, manuscript massaging, and writing. You need all three. You need to market yourself, you need to make your finished work the best it can be, and you need to be generating new work. Now think about how much time realistically you can carve out per day or per week and divvy it up. Split the time in thirds if you want, or make one day for writing, one day for marketing, one day for editing/book designing. Experiment until you find a balance.  But stick to some kind of schedule, at least for the marketing. Don't spend five hours on Twitter and then realize you haven't written a word.  And don't skip the editing, just because it's the most frustrating.  If you are going to let one segment take over and flow across the boundaries, make it writing. Find a balance that works for you.

This weekend, I vowed to wrest control back and I've made some resolutions:
  • Do marketing/social media first thing in the morning and limit it to 90 minutes max
  • Do my editing like it's a job - two hours a day then step away
  • Write 1,000 a day on the new novel
 Not some great, earth-shattering plan, but doable. What can you do take control of your writing life? Make a goal. Make is simple, without a lot of bells and whistles. Pick a word count that gets you somewhere, whether that destination is a short story that's been bubbling in the back of your mind, a work in progress that's been lingering on your desktop, a new idea that keeps tapping you on the shoulder. At 1,000 words a day my next novel will be through first draft by the end of October. 

Where are you going to find your writing time? 

Link of the Day 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Beat the Heat Giveaway - Darker By Degree Free on Smashwords This Weekend

Just dying for something to help you beat the heat? How about a little murder and mystery? Nothing more refreshing than spending the weekend with a good book and a cooler full of your favorite beverage.

This weekend Darker By Degree is free on Smashwords with the coupon code  EG95Q

Just pop on over to the Darker by Degree Smashwords page and type in the code in the checkout line.

If you enjoy the book, post a review on Smashwords or Amazon. It's good for your karma.