Friday, 23 January 2009

Revised book covers were a Good Idea

My efforts last year at a re-design seem to have been endorsed. I went into my local bookshop last week because it's under new ownership and found the same staff behind the counter as before. I got recognised as a local author in front of the customers which was - I have to admit it - a very nice feeling!

I asked how the shop was going and it seems it's doing well which is always good to hear. The lady behind the desk remembered that they'd returned The Horsepower Whisperer just before the business was sold. "I'm afraid we didn't have any luck with it," she said.

She went on to mention that she didn't like the cover - then apologised when she realised that I'd done the cover.

"Why didn't you like it?" I persisted.

"It looked too cartoon-like," was her reply.

This was the cue for me to take a copy of the new revised version of The Horsepower Whisperer out of my rucksack (I always have one to hand for just such an eventuality). And she could hardly refuse taking the new edition back on a sale or return basis.

I still think that this particular person doesn't like the cover but probably dislikes it less than the old one. I don't think even I will ever be 100% happy with it but I don't get too amped about it these days. I'll settle for 99%.

And when you get a copy of The Wormton Lamb next to The Horsepower Whisperer they look fantastic! (I reckon anyway.)

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Sunday, 19 October 2008

Book covers

It's been a long journey bit the new designs for my book covers are nearly ready. I can't show them to you yet. This isn't any attempt at showmanship - it's just that I don't have them in format that Blogger will take as an upload.

The Horsepower Whisperer was pretty good out of the box. Beck and I were pretty happy with that one but Beck suggested breaking up the cloudless sky with some, well, clouds. She said she liked the original sky that I'd created because it was more graphic. So I had a go at some clouds and found that clouds are hard.

I can't remember drawing or painting clouds realistically before. I feel I've come on some way since the time when I drew the first illustration of The Wormton Lamb. To cut along story short i messed up the original painting with sub-standuard clouds. Fortunately, I subsequent attempt produced clouds that looked more cloudy and Beck, who has the technology, was able to splice my new clouds behind the dancing lamb. It's amazing what she can do with her IT.

So now the cover illustration for The Wormton Lamb exists only in cyber space.

Beck and I now have a few minor tweaks to make. It's something you can get dangerously anal about she said. I never considered the dangers of being anal before but have to concede that this could be a possibility. If I am to live with these cover designs then I have to be entirely happy with them and not see improvements every time I look at them. I know nobody else will look at them so critically and that most people thought the originals looked okay. But I want them to be as good a s I can possibly get them and not have these niggling little faults for a long time from now. I suppose i want future compliant covers, even though I can feel my standards are constantly on the rise.

Once the minor tweaks have been made, Beck'll produce some jpg files for uploading onto Amazon but I'll previe wthem here first. Watch this space.

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Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Are you a portrait or landscape person?

I am a landscape person. I have discovered this during the work on my new book covers. The original drawings were all in landscape format so when I came to incorporate them into my cover designs there was a lot of white space above and below.

I started off liking the crisp white space but have realised that the original drawings limited the cover design and didn't make the best use of space. I am now trying to become a portrait person.

After years of drawing cars and motorbikes that are longer than they are tall, it's difficult to adapt. I'm also having to get used to the idea that there should be plenty of blank illustration where the text can go. But the text should flow naturally around the illustrated action. Because I don't know where the text is going to go, I don't know where action needs to be and where to put the vacant spaces. It's not a question of the chicken and the egg - it's a re-iterative process until you have the chicken and the egg beside each other. And the text snugly nested with my drorin.

Ah yes, colour. I am a monochrome landscape sort of chap. I haven't time for this colouring in lark. At least I didn't until now. Now I want my book covers to be vibrant and lively, rather than a neat pen drawing or a scratchy pencil sketch. Consequently I'm dabbling with oil paints. Even if the dawbs of colour don't work out straight away, I can paint over them when they're dry (difficult with water colours and ink). And the texture and smell is great.

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Friday, 4 July 2008

The problem with reading

Perusing the bookshelves in Edinburgh airport last week gave me the chance to consider the appearance of my own books. The books on offer all had quotes about how good they were, sometimes from papers that I don't read or from people I'd never heard of. Some had "International Bestseller", "No 1 Bestseller" or "His/Her Latest Bestseller".

Obviously I can't put any of this stuff on my book cover. Well, I could but I'd be lying. I believe getting independent endorsements must be very important for any book but I don't think they're independent any more. Journalists rave about their friends' books in the literary sections of the newspapers even without reading them, as was recently proved.

I could put Amazon bestseller on my cover I suppose but I wouldn't be entirely comfortable with it. That's because although it got as high as number 60 in the Top 100 for Contemporary Fantasy it isn't in the Top 100 right now. How is a bestseller defined?

I was also struck by the prices of the books on offer. They were about the same size and the same price as my own book, The Horsepower Whisperer.

There were new books by Terry Pratchett (25 years of the Discworld) and another motoring title from Robbie Coltrane. If you like their earlier stuff you'd like their latest offerings. That's the importance of branding.

So what did I come away with?


No book appealed to me sufficiently for me to buy it. I would much rather look out of the window at the wings waggling and the tyre smoke when we land.

At the same time I would love to be absorbed completely by a good read but it seems to be happening less and less. Quite why this is so, I have no idea. I have started and not finished so much rubbish I exercise caution instead of diving right in. My reading buds have become jaded.

So I am now thinking as a reader as much as an author. Does my book have shelf appeal? Does it entice its prospective audience into picking it up, looking it over, dipping into it and buying it?

As I examine the proof of The Wormton Lamb and work on The Grey Ones, I must somehow check that I'm enjoying reading it as well as writing it. I'm not quite sure how to manage this. The reader/writer thing is like a dual personality. I often write becasue I can't find anything I like to read.

I think the books on offer in the airport lacked real enthusiasm. That's one of my strengths. I've got bags of enthusiasm and it could be a USP - a Unique Selling Point. I don't think any book I saw in the airport had a USP.

Also, those bestsellers will only be on those shelves for a maximum of six weeks before being returned to the publishers for discounting or pulping. I'd rather have a slow burn than an explosive, ephemeral impact. That's just as well really - The Horsepower Whisperer is working up to a very slow burn.

Would "Cult author's latest" on my cover make any difference? I've left some room in readiness for quotes but as far as I am concerned I don't think I - as a reader - would be swayed that easily. For me it's reader feedback that matters.

I must admit, though - sometimes my covers start to look a little bare without them. But are readers and book purchasers as jaded with these techniques? Do you really want two pages of endorsements from newspapers and celebrities in the book you are about to buy?

My book covers are designed to look good on Amazon and for that you need clarity. Some of the titles in the airport were unintelligible, especially the girly ones with their curly writing.

Maybe that's deliberate. It's a guarantee I won't pick up any chick lit.

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