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5 Ways to Bring Clarity to Your Cover

You may have heard before that the most important job of a book cover is to get the reader’s attention, right? It must be compelling enough to get the reader to PICK IT UP. Like a brownie, a cute kitten, or a fifty-dollar bill. Then, hopefully, the reader is so intrigued by the rest of the content, he or she just can’t let it go and has to buy it.

For book covers, website pages and advertisements (as well as for basketball violations and dropped food) the  3-Second Rule applies. In this case, it means that you really have only three seconds to grab the attention of your audience. It suggests that we all have absurdly short attention spans, but we also value our time. If we don’t get an immediate read from something that ignites our personal brain cells, we move on.

Make Your 3 Seconds BIG

So how do you maximize your three seconds to get into the hands of your reader? There are many elements of a successful book cover, and one I am learning about now: clarity. But what does that mean? That my images are clear? My text is sharp? My book description is short, strong and to the point?And what could I possibly do to bring even more clarity?

Let’s start with the essentials:

Information is key. A book cover must include the basic information to identify it, categorize it, and make it findable. These are the title, author’s name, publisher name and logo. There should also be an EAN barcode that displays your 13-digit ISBN, and the shelving category, such as mystery, thriller, fantasy, non-fiction, or my favorite, historical fiction, so the librarians and bookstore owners know where to put your book. Speaking of the back cover, you might spend almost as much time perfecting your back-cover description as you did writing the book, because if your cover design is the lure, the back-cover copy is the hook. Make it sharp!

Appearance. What is the most compelling image you can use that not only identifies the subject matter, but also provides some sort of ‘eye candy’? This is the lure, that shiny thing that gets the fish to bite. It doesn’t have to be an image, it may also be words, but it has to grab the reader. Not only that, but it has to have the same effect when you shrink it down to thumbnail size that will appear in an online search—the image still clear and identifiable, the text still easy to read.

Your Book vs. Competitors

Competitiveness. Your book needs to stand out against competitors when it is on a shelf, table, or in a search list. Look at other books in your category. Do your color choices stand up beside them? Is the color and image stimulating and appropriate to your subject matter? Can you make yours just a little bit better than theirs?

Layout. How is the content—the images and type—organized on the page so that it is pleasing to the eye, well placed and sized to allow instant reading? Professional designers use a grid that hides in the background to ensure spacing is balanced and exact, because if it is not, the human eye can subconsciously detect that something is wrong. Make sure your font is well chosen and appropriate. I am a big proponent of using a strong, consistent font as part of your personal brand. Also, For added clarity, try to restrict yourself to three fonts on your cover: title, subtitle/author, and text font for your back-cover copy. Additional fonts make your cover look confusing and unprofessional.

Clarity. Make sure your cover communicates as clearly as possible what your book is about.

Now we come to the issue that troubled me. I entered a literary contest recently and scored well, with very positive comments from the judges, but was downgraded a little on the cover design. I was perplexed. I thought my cover was well-made for my category. It had all the required data plus a robust, vetted title and story description. And it had a stunning 17th-century portrait as the central image.

But the thing is, my topic is a little obscure. I write 17th-century Irish historical novels. While the content is really quite engaging, it’s not the stuff of everyone’s normal education, at least not in the U.S. And the truth is—except for a small percentage of risk takers—book buyers tend to gravitate toward what they already know.

In looking at the three winners of this contest, the covers were, in my opinion, not that strong or magnetic, and one was quite hard to read. But, all three were well identified for topic. One included a subhead, “a novel of the Battle of Britain.” Everyone has heard of the Battle of Britain. The next one was “a novel of the Civil War.” We all know about that. And the third had a title that made clear it was a novel about the Native American experience. The reader immediately gets it.

Clarity Helps the Reader Get Comfy

So, if I want to compete with common knowledge, my cover has to work a little harder. The front cover of my next novel includes this blurb, “Based on a true story of the Great Irish Rebellion” along with Celtic graphics. Back cover copy has additional detail. The topic still may not be something readers personally know, but they might be more willing to take a chance if I’ve checked off all the clarity boxes.

Whatever your novel is about, use your subhead, back cover copy or short descriptive text on the front cover to immediately connect your book to something your readers will recognize. Then perhaps those who pick up your book will also carry it home, safe in the knowledge that the writer will maintain them on familiar ground.


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Your book cover must be compelling enough to get the reader to PICK IT UP. Like a brownie, a cute kitten, or a fifty-dollar bill. Click To Tweet

If your cover design is the lure — the shiny thing that gets interest — the back-cover copy is the hook. Make it sharp! Click To Tweet

The 3-Second Rule applies to book covers so how do you maximize your three seconds to get into the hands of your reader? Click To Tweet

 

2 Ways to Stop Sharing A Most Annoying Quality

I love indie authors and right now I’m annoyed. Aggravated. Disappointed and sad. I’m not sure what is worse — the feeling that I’ve wasted time and money on poor quality books or my current reluctance to pick up another book written by an indie author.Two Ways to Avoid Sharing That Most Annoying Quality

When Nancy, D-M and I decided to start Amelia Indie Authors, we had two goals in mind: to protect indies from over-priced industry predators and to help raise the quality of what indie authors are publishing. The reading I’ve done over the past few weeks was disheartening. And, with any luck, motivating. Hopefully, it will make me even more passionate about the success of other indie authors.

Like many other authors and publishers, we attend book festivals. We often trade titles with others in attendance. We no longer look at the festivals as a place to sell books, but, rather, an opportunity to connect with readers and other authors –and, of course, spend too much money on an armload of intriguing titles.

Hopefully, it will make me even more passionate about the success of other indie authors. Click To Tweet

In the last ten days, I’ve read several of the books from two festivals just past. Two fiction, three non-fiction. Two for the little people in my life and three for the grown-ups. It was a nice cross-section but the quality made me very unhappy. Instead of writer’s block, these five works may have given me reader’s block.

Instead of writer's block, these works may have given me reader's block. Click To Tweet

I am not a snob. I make my share of mistakes. Besides, I love indie authors and, quite obviously, am invested in their success. But this is the sort of thing that makes the rest of the #WritingCommunity look bad. I could not finish the novel written entirely in the passive voice but got all the way through the two skinny non-fiction efforts that were half story and half filler. The major first-page typo in the next selection was almost enough to make me put it down. I’m glad I didn’t: while it’s got some spots that could benefit from an experienced editor, it’s a hella good story. And the last juvenile fiction is of a quality that could compete on any best seller list.Two Ways to Avoid Sharing That Most Annoying Quality

So, then, why so grumpy?

Because they were all good ideas. Some were great ideas. Their authors put in their own measure of blood, sweat, and tears to bring them into being. Unfortunately, some of these titles are likely not going to do anything but sit in a box in the author’s closet — until he or she gets tired of the business and gives them all away.

That doesn’t need to be. But how does a writer get the kind of feedback they need to write in a way that gives excellent voice to their wonderful ideas? And what’s their responsibility to do so? Part of it is to keep the implied promise to readers: that the book they hold in their hands represents the writer’s best work.

Writing a book -- any book -- takes guts. Click To Tweet

Writing a book — any book — takes guts. Authors face rejection each and every time they ask someone to give it a read. Eventually, their names are emblazoned on the front cover and, if the release is poor quality, readers may never give them another chance.

  • The first line of defense can be as simple as a grammar program — not just the spell check that comes with most basic writing software by something a bit more sophisticated like Grammarly or ProWritingAid.
  • Second? How about using some beta readers who are not family and friends? People who don’t normally read your genre or are unfamiliar with your topic? If you ask, they’ll tell you where they’re lost and confused — that’s where the author needs to do more work. After all,  anyone who picks up the book to be able to understand it, right?

'you got this' chalked onto roadAn author willing to accept some hard feedback from strangers and take the time to work through multiple drafts can produce something anyone can be proud of — something of such high quality that it could compete on any best seller list.

 

 

 

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Author Winfield Strock Releases Long Shadows

Author Winfield Strock smilingWe recently had a chance to catch up with Amelia Indie Authors member, science fiction author Winfield Strock. And of course we couldn’t resist the opportunity to turn a celebratory cup of coffee into a bit of an interview. We’re pleased to introduce you to Win.

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AiA: With publication of your new book, Long Shadows, you have produced five science fiction and steam punk novels. What drew you to these genres? Do you have a preference for one over the other, and if so, why?

Strock: As a fan of history and science fiction, steampunk came naturally for me. Both offer an escape from normal life. Dystopian sci-fi serves as a warning about dangerous trends taken to their extreme. Characters have to fight against the world to make it a better place. Utopian sci-fi offers hope of what’s to come if we manage to get our act together. Characters have to save their world from those who would corrupt or destroy it.

Utopian sci-fi offers hope of what’s to come if we manage to get our act together. Characters save their world from those who would corrupt or destroy it. Click To Tweet

AiA: Long Shadows features an intergalactic conflict between two civilizations that could not be more different. Where did you get your inspiration for them, and how did you come up with the detailed descriptions? Were they purely from imagination, or was there some research involved?

Strock: Beginnings aren’t what comes to me first, so I have to retroactively create one from clues in my concept. The Salei and Alkir had to be at odds but willing to cooperate, so a cold war made sense. Each side’s goals defined the kind of creatures they needed to be. The Salei are like locusts: they ravage resources. The Alkir are herd-minded herbivores who fight only when cornered.

Cover of Win Strock’s new novel Long Shadows. AiA: The hero of this book, James, is a teenager coming of age, trying to find his abilities and purpose in life. He is in love with a street-smart, red-haired girl who works in a bar. She seems familiar, like someone most people would recognize from some point in their lives. Most fictional characters reflect the author’s experience. What relationships or people from your own past have informed these characters?

Strock: As a kid with Asperger’s Syndrome (before anyone knew what that was) interacting with other kids didn’t come easy. I think that’s why I became such a sci-fi fan. I imagined myself an alien that looked like the other kids but remained very different. There was a girl named Glenda in my childhood. I had a crush and she was pretty harsh. Not much of a story, but that kernel of personal connection made writing that part of the story easier and more real for me as I wrote it.

As a kid with Asperger’s Syndrome (before anyone knew what that was) interacting with other kids didn’t come easy. Click To Tweet

AiA: Like your previous work, Touching Butterflies, Long Shadows features a male friendship that is important to the hero’s journey. How is James’ friendship with Matt different from Neil and Roland’s relationship in Butterflies? James learns from his friend in unexpected ways. How did you see this relationship developing under very difficult circumstances? How did you manage to keep both friends on equal footing, when one gains such tremendous power?

Strock: For the most part, Matt’s character grew from James’s weaknesses and interests. Prior to the first scene, James (like me) has just made a big move. In a new neighborhood, at a new school, he sees a chance to react differently to the world hoping to gain better results. He’d been timid and shy; now he means to speak his mind and waste little time meeting the world head-on. Matt’s caution and logic are the guardrail that keeps James from tumbling to his doom.

Neil and Roland from Touching Butterflies were a case of role reversal. Neil had been the awkward geek and Roland the popular athlete in high school. Now with Roland’s football career destroyed and Neil’s computer skills at a premium, it’s Neil’s turn to have power and prestige go to his head and allow him down a dark path.

AiA: In Long Shadows, the warring civilizations seek power, and the real prize is in the form of telepathy. Tell us a little about your interest in telepathy, and what drew you to feature it in the story? And because science fiction is often predictive, what potential do you see for telepathy to actually gain the kind of power you describe sometime in the future?

Strock: Telepathy served two purposes in Long Shadows.

For the Salei, telepathy threatened their civilization, where secrets and hidden agendas kept the powerful on top.

For the Alkir, being part of a global mind meant they were unable to come up with new ideas because negativity of the collective mind about anything risky or untried magnified their fears.

If humanity becomes telepathic the upheaval is inevitable. Everyone’s a liar on some level. Sometimes they lie for a ‘good reason.’ Imagine going to a car salesman or to court knowing that your thoughts and memories are like a book on a shelf.

Everyone’s a liar on some level. Sometimes they lie for a ‘good reason.’ Click To Tweet

AiA: Long Shadows ends with an open possibility for a sequel. Do you intend to follow up with a series, or are you thinking of something different for your next book? If so, what can you tell us?

Strock: I always have ideas for sequels but I seldom act on them. Currently I’m working on The Kitten’s Apprentice. It’s a story about a sorcerer who tries to pass his powers on to a younger man. During the ritual, a cat interferes and the magical powers are shared between the man and the cat.

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