Free Software for Indie Authors: Cover Creation (e-book and print)

Last week, I talked about free software I’ve used for writing fiction, especially novels. Today, I’m going to discuss free graphics programs I’ve used for things like covers and such.

Really, there’s only three I’ve enjoyed enough to recommend for cover and website use. Those three are Paint.NET, GIMP and Inkscape. I’m also going to briefly mention an option I’ve used for preparing print covers, but please keep in mind that I don’t have nearly as much experience with that portion as getting an e-book cover together.

Please be aware that there’s a number of tutorials out there for all these. A little searching should answer whatever questions you might have on how to get a particular effect.

Paint.NET

When I first tried my hand at making covers, I knew I couldn’t get away with basic photo processing software. Okay, maybe if it were a literary or mainstream book, it might work, but I tend to write fantasy. The requirements for branded covers in that genre are a bit more stringent.

I originally downloaded GIMP. I took one look and ran as fast as I could from it (more on that in a minute). Paint.NET turned out to be perfect for someone who had never used a photo manipulation program before but who needed something with more power than the average photo touch-up software.

Pros:

  • Easy to use interface.
  • Pretty intuitive.
  • Nice filters.
  • Active community so it’s easy to find support and filter extensions.

Cons:

  • There’s a limit to what you can do in manipulating a photo.
  • Unless you have a pre-made painting/illustration that’s mostly the way you want it, it’s difficult to get a professional grade product. My memory tells me I had more hoops to jump through with Paint.NET than with GIMP.
  • It does not support CMYK (though I’ve heard there are plugins you can get for that).

Paint.NET works best, I think, for people who aren’t as familiar with photo manipulation, people who want something more intuitive, and/or those who want a tool that will quickly come up with some neat effects for a header or avatar.

GIMP

Now, as I mentioned earlier, I tried GIMP first. And ran.

Looking back, I can see why. Paint.NET is one window. In the version of GIMP I first downloaded (2.4?), I had three floating windows.

Yikes. Very intimidating.

And then I tried using it…and it got worse.

After some time using Paint.NET, I decided to try GIMP again. I’ve forgotten what I wanted to do, but I do remember that it involved a heck of a lot more work in Paint.NET and not so much in GIMP.

I’ve never looked back.

This is my go-to now for all photo manipulation.

Pros:

  • Powerful.
  • Similar to Photoshop.
  • Very nice filters.
  • Easier to get close to professional-grade product using this program.
  • I’ve seen some people on DeviantArt make some amazing digital art with GIMP, using the eraser to emulate a pressure-senstive drawing tool.

Cons:

  • Intimidating.
  • Not very user-friendly (though I’ve used worse).
  • If you’re stuck and need help, do NOT go to the main website for instructions. Maybe it’ll work for you, but for me, it was an exercise in frustration. The best tutorials are on YouTube by actual users. I strongly recommend watching them if you want to really get the most out of this program.
  • If you’re on Windows 8, there is currently no way to convert a picture from RGB to CMYK inside GIMP. Heck, I’m not even sure if it’s possible to use some of the plug-ins I’ve seen with 2.8. But I’ve heard that CMYK conversion is being added to 2.9 or 2.10, so I’m hoping that rolls out soon.

Before I go on…

A quick word about CMYK and why you should care about it when converting pictures to it for print.

If you’re an indie author who wants to diversify, chances are good you’ll also see the need for a print edition. It may not occur to you now, given how easy (ha!) creating an e-book is, but there will be fans out there who do not want an e-book version. They want print and only print. Not to mention fans who love your work who want a copy they can own and pass around to friends without worrying about device compatibility.

This means you’ll want to get a print version put together.

This also means the cover you made for your e-book, especially if it involves the color green, will need to be tweaked for CMYK (i.e. the colors used for printing on paper: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black).

If you have any interest in making your own print cover for your book, I strongly recommend reading up on CMYK. Knowing the basics of this process is very important. If you don’t do a test run to make sure your colors are the way you want them to be (or at least somewhat close) you might end up with that beautiful cream-colored background and green images that look like they were coated in mud.

This is exactly what happened to me when I got a proof copy of one of my books. In fact, the trouble I had with getting that bright, clear green I soooooo wanted to have is what started me on this journey in the first place.

So, a quick word about what I learned. Your print cover is going to vary depending on many factors. In fact, there are so many factors that even if you ordered a proof copy and it looked just like you wanted, if another printer handles the order, it could still turn out different.

Here are the things I’ve learned to try to keep that risk at least somewhat mitigated. Please be aware that I’m still new to this myself.

  • Use a program that allows you to add color profiles and tweak the colors for your cover. The two I’m about to mention have that capability, though I’m more familiar with one than the other.
  • Buy a book that gives you CMYK color combinations. You don’t want to use one that’s online because the color isn’t going to look exactly the same on your monitor.
  • Once you’ve gotten it close to what you want, print out a test copy at home if you have a CMYK printer. I’ve also found that some print places will print out a single copy for less than a dollar if you need to use an industrial grade printer or just for the heck of it.
  • When you think you’ve gotten it the way you want, upload it to the print distributor of your choice and order a proof copy.

Following this should give you a decent product and help you avoid having muddy brown instead of green on your cover. Hopefully.

Now, on to the other programs.

Inkscape

This is such an amazing program. I’ve used Inkscape for headers, logos, the occasional book cover, icons, symbols, and even illustrations (i.e. the clock face on Flicker of Time’s cover). There are even some who’ve done photo-realistic images. I’m not that far ahead, but I hope to get there someday.

Pros:

  • Once you understand that everything in Inkscape is a path or an object, it’s actually pretty intuitive.
  • Inkscape is a vector graphics program which means you can make your image bigger or smaller without turning it into a pixelated mess. Perfect for the continual resizing a logo might require.
  • Intuitive manual kerning for text (though this has some dangers when saved to pdf format).
  • I’ve found there are some effects that are easier to achieve in Inkscape, such as making your text look as if it were a paper cut-out and you were looking through to a different colored background.
  • It’s pretty easy to tweak CMYK values in Inkscape.

Cons:

  • Very intimidating when I first tried it.
  • The concept of everything you create being either an object or a path might be difficult for some people to really grasp.
  • Layers are a bit trickier to navigate in Inkscape than in GIMP.
  • I’ve tried building a cover, exporting it to pdf inside Inkscape, then opening it as a pdf. It does not look good at all. However, if I took the same image, exported it to a form Scribus could handle, then exported it as a pdf from Scribus, that gave me the best looking pdf of all the methods I’ve used.

Please note: if you want to take something you’ve built in Inkscape and put it into GIMP, the best way to do that is to save your Inkscape image as a pdf and import it into GIMP. Please be aware that the moment you turn it into something GIMP can play with (called rasterizing) you won’t be able to resize it without risking pixelating it.

Scribus

This is only going to be a brief note since I want to talk a little more about this in a later post. For now, let me point out the following about Scribus and cover creation.

Pros:

  • Built for color management for print.
  • It’s possible to add your own colors to its repertoire.
  • Best pdf export I’ve seen, except for Apache OpenOffice/LibreOffice.

Cons:

  • If you’re using gradients/blends, it’s better to use a program like Inkscape or GIMP and then import what you’ve created into Scribus.
  • It can’t flatten transparency.
  • Very, very, very, very, very non-intuitive. In fact, of all the programs I’ve used so far, Scribus is the least user-friendly of them all. More on that when I talk about Scribus at length for book interiors.

Finally, an odd sort of program to stick into a discussion of cover creation, until you realize what it can do.

Blender

This is possibly the best gift Providence ever gave to cover creators. It is also the most maddening, exhilarating, mind-blowing program I’ve ever seen that is also completely and totally free.

In the sense that you don’t have to pay anything in order to use it.

Blender is a 3d graphics program. It’s what I used when I needed to create a wand for Lady Fair’s cover and could NOT find anything close except for one image…and I realized it was better to make my own than wait for someone to get back with me to give me permission.

It’s both very easy to use and very difficult. It’s concepts are simple, but the application takes a bit of practice.

Those of you who need spaceships, aliens, specific scenes, landscapes, planets, and so on, can use this to create things specific to your cover. It will take a bit of processing power (something I hope to acquire soon), time to learn how to use it, plus I’m not so sure you’ll want to use it to create people for your cover, but who knows? I do know I haven’t used it nearly enough and I can’t wait until I’m able to use it more (dang processor).

So that’s it for things I’ve used to create my covers. And now I’m off to practice drawing with an ordinary pencil and some paper. Next week, I’ll cover formatting for e-books, something that has been weighing on my mind for a while.

What’s your favorite program(s) for playing with photos or creating art? For indie authors, what do you use to make book covers?

Addendum: I wasn’t going to mention this, since I haven’t (yet) gotten this to work on my computer, but for those who like playing around with fonts, there’s an open source program called Font Forge. Though fonts can be tweaked and changed in Inkscape, I’ve heard enough good things about Font Forge to at least give it a mention here as a possibility. That’s all. See you next week.

Free Software for Indie Authors: Writing

Inspired by Holly Lisle’s course, Publishing While Broke, this is the first post in a series for indie authors who need software that doesn’t cost anything more than time. It’ll cover word processing, graphics, 3d modeling, and desktop publishing software that I’ve used. I may even cover formatting and e-book creation software, but I’m not as sure about that, so I may skip it.

Please also note that this first post is for writers in general, not just indies.

Brief background: I was first introduced to open source software in the early 2000s by a writer who used OpenOffice. I was considering putting some of my stories online in a format that didn’t require the reader to be online, but I had no idea how to create a PDF without spending money. OpenOffice.org did that. So, I tried it. From that moment, I fell in love with open source software. That’s why so many of the things I’m going to discuss in this series are open source.

That said, let’s look at the options.

*  *  *

There are four programs I’ve used to write stories: Apache OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Google Docs, and yWriter.

Apache OpenOffice

OpenOffice.org, my first love, is now called Apache OpenOffice (hereafter called AOO) and contains Writer, for a long time the only word processing program I used. It’s a sturdy program that I still use fairly frequently, especially for writing and typesetting e-books.

In this review, I’m referring to version 4.0.

Pros:

– Solid program.
– Good conversion
– Simple interface
– Working Find and Replace (I know this sounds odd but you’ll see in the next section why I mention it)
– Converts any document to .pdf.
– Can create templates using styles and formatting to speed up the process of creating either a submission or a published book.
– File recovery works great!

Cons:

– Doesn’t convert to .docx.
– There’s no running word count. You have to go into Tools–>Word Count in order to find it. And if you only want a particular section, you have to highlight that section first, then go to Tools, etc.

LibreOffice

LibreOffice is what grew out of a split in the original OpenOffice.org group. It also contains a word processing program called Writer. I’m somewhat new to the program, but I like what I see so far.

Review concerns version 4.4.1.2.

Pros:

– Prettier buttons than AOO and better overall look.
– Sidebar isn’t the default when you open it.
– Good conversion, and .docx is included.
– Converts any document to .pdf.
– Can create templates using styles and formatting to speed up the process of creating either a submission or a published book.
– Running word and character count in the status bar.
– File recovery works great!
– I’ve heard that Libre has an edge due to the differences in license agreements that come with the software, enabling Libre to grow faster than AOO.

Cons:

– Maybe it’s just the version I got, but Find and Replace only worked half the time. Literally. I would put in a name I wanted changed and it would tell me it couldn’t find it, even when I was staring at that exact name in the manuscript. There was no rhyme or reason to when it did or didn’t work, except that there were words and names it consistently did not pick up. AOO doesn’t have this problem, so all my editing is now done in AOO.
– It looks like it’s trying to emulate Word, which is something that makes me pretty leery since I downloaded OpenOffice.org all those years ago to get away from Word.

Google Docs

Google Docs…Google Docs is a good, basic word processing program.

Not putting a version on this because, hey, it’s online.

Pros:

– It appears to be built for hassle-free collaborations and that’s where it works best. All comments are made in real-time with next to no lag. When my husband and I used it, there was no lag at all. This makes it ideal for critique groups who might be using different kinds of software and plan to indie publish their work.
– It’s got various levels of sharing. So, I can set it so that everyone and their brother can see my document, only certain people I invite can see it, or I can keep it totally “private” and no one but me and Google can see it. Theoretically.
– I know of at least one published author who used it to write a short story in public.
– It can be used on your mobile phone, allowing for writing wherever you might be.

Cons:

– It’s online. That means you need an Internet connection.
– It’s online. That means anyone with the time and energy can see your manuscript if they want, no matter what permissions you set.
– It’s online. I asked the authors in an online forum I love (Forward Motion) if publishers were still leery of work published online, but not publicly available. The answer they gave was that most publishers nowadays don’t care, as long as it’s not public. However, there might be some who do, so that needs to be kept in mind if you plan on submitting your work anywhere.
– It’s part of Google, so in order to use it, you’ll have to use Google Drive. In order to use Google Drive, you have to have a Google ID. If you hate Google or don’t want an ID, this option is closed to you.
– Writing a story in public can tick off your fans if you ask them for a trigger and ignore the ones whose ideas you don’t use. Even if you’re very polite and make sure you thank everyone who contributed, there might still be someone who thinks you’re being rude.

yWriter

yWriter (by Spacejock Software) is kind of like Scrivener. I use this during the editing phase since it gives me a clear picture of the overall story, as well as how I want it organized. I’m considering using the e-book functions more, but that’s in the future (possibly the near future). At the moment, I use HTML documents created by AOO, converted by Calibre, and tweaked in Sigil.

(After writing out the pros and cons, I think I may try creating a story in yWriter again. A lot of the problems I initially had with it were mostly due to my inexperience as a writer. I’ll also be testing the e-book features because I want to make sure there are no issues with that, not when I already have a system that [currently] works.

I’ve changed straight quotes to curly quotes by hand. Never again.)

Even though yWriter was built for novels, I can see it working for short story collections, too. The creator, Simon Haynes, points out that some have modified it so that they can write “plays, nonfiction, and even sermons.”

This review concerns yWriter5.

Pros:

– It’s a free, standalone application. Files stay on your computer instead of being immediately available on the Internet.
– Writing is sectioned off by scene instead of becoming one long document. This can allow for a tighter focus if you’re used to going on and on and on instead of viewing each scene as a mini-story with a beginning, middle, and end.
– POV is clearly marked for each scene and you can organize chapters pretty easily.
– Things such as conflict, tension, and so on, can be rated on a scale of one to ten and graphed (for those who are trying to create an emotional build and want to take a long view of it). Also, these categories can be altered by the writer to fit specific genre requirements, such as romance.
– Each scene’s goal, conflict, and outcome can be written down and each scene marked as either “action” or “reaction,” for those who want to keep track of that.
– It has a time feature in the scene details that can either track hours and minutes in a story, or can be switched to dates and times. This is critical for making sure you aren’t having characters running through a pitch-black night when your internal story timeline says it’s early afternoon.
– All items related to the scene (description, characters, locations, items, notes, etc.) are in a tabbed section below, giving easy access to information relevant to the scene.
– Scenes can be storyboarded to give an idea of POV flow.
– Chapters and their descriptions are on the left, allowing for an immediate overview of the whole book.
– It has word counts for each scene, chapter, and for the project as a whole.
– It can generate a number of different reports, including a synopsis (based on the descriptions you entered) and a daily word count.
– Files can be exported to plain text, LaTeX (for print), and html (for ebook creation). It can either convert the whole book to html or create not only the html files but an index to go with them. (I have yet to test this. I’ll update this section after I do.)
– You can create a project work schedule that includes multiple edits and the program will let you know when you’ve gone beyond your deadline.
– You can export parts or all of your background.
– Can be personalized (within reason) to each writer’s needs.
– For those using Linux, Play-On-Linux supports yWriter under the “Office” group. (Thanks to Todd Carnes from the yWriter Google Group for mentioning that.) Also, it runs on a Mac and Linux using Wine. See the website for more details.
– Please note that the creator recommends Scrivener for Mac users.
– There’s a lot of support for yWriter, both from the creator and fans. If you have a question, chances are very good you’ll get it answered after a quick search.

Cons:

– There’s a bit of a learning curve. It’s not huge, but if you really want to use yWriter to its fullest, expect to spend more time learning than you would with Libre or AOO. At the moment, I think it’s worth it. The reason I put in that caveat is because I’m not sure how well the transfer would work if you write your book in yWriter, then move it to a different program to create the e-book or a Word version.
– It can be a huge time sink; I found myself playing around with features more than actually writing.
– Though LaTeX and HTML are fantastic exports, giving a lot of control when it comes to formatting, that’s about it for advanced conversion options. There’s no converting to a Word format, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, imo. I put it in the Cons section because I do like a bit more flexibility, especially when it comes to sharing work with beta readers or submitting.
– Some people may not like the way the interface looks. I like it, but it’s not as pretty as some other programs I’ve seen out there.
– There’s a temptation to have an enormous amount of detailed background work done before you ever write a word. If you have the discipline to only add what you need, this is not a problem.

So, that’s it. I hope you found this article helpful. Next time, I’ll discuss free graphics programs I’ve used.

If you have any other recommendations or comments, please share them using the form below!

Free Software for Indie Authors: Desktop Publishing

(Post has been updated at the end of the post.)

I’m sorry I didn’t post this last couple of weeks. Came down with an illness (or really bad allergies) and could hardly think. I’ve been playing catch-up ever since. Being unable to get onto the Internet most of last week didn’t help.

What matters is that I’m back now. Onward.

Only one program today, but that’s because this is the only substitute for InDesign I’ve seen (so far).

Scribus

This is a very good program but it has possibly the worst interface ever. Seriously. With Inkscape and GIMP I was eventually able to muddle through it. Not Scribus.

I’m about to rant, and that’s not my point because this really is a great program. Let me start with the good things.

Pros:

– Beautiful PDF conversion for print. Seriously, this program makes fantastic PDFs for print when compared to the other software I’ve mentioned. Only Open/Libre Office can compare. So, you may ask, why not use them for print interiors instead of Scribus? See the next point.

– It’s very good with layout. I switched to Scribus for Shining Armor’s print version when I found drop caps could act funny in Apache OpenOffice if there was only a one-line sentence for the first line of a chapter. In fact, the first difficult thing about this program is realizing that it’s not a word processor. Although you can add text, it’s designed to treat text as an image that gets moved around. That’s why the layouts can look so gorgeous.

– Master Pages are the best thing since sliced bread. Once you figure out how to use them, you’ll want to turn the whole document into a series of master pages.

– Works well with AOO and LibreOffice. It natively accepts .odt files, which means that once you’ve formatted your chapter in your word processor, it’ll go right into Scribus, styles and all. (I’d recommend, however, doing this chapter by chapter and not worrying about trying to carry headers or footers over.)

– Styles are pretty straightforward.

– Wide variety of fonts.

– Color management tools including the ability to add your own colors. Very useful.

– I really love its document manager. Much more intuitive than InDesign (I can’t believe I just called something in Scribus intuitive).

Cons:

Here we get into the real downside of Scribus.

– Has a tendency to crash with large documents. So, if you have a 500 page book that needs to be formatted, DO NOT COPY AND PASTE because the chances are good, given the way the styles are, that you’ll lose hours of work because saving it is a bear and the thing takes forever to reload after you’ve saved and good gosh why isn’t anything moving and oh. It’s gone. 😦

If you can, import.

– Styles can’t be applied globally inside Scribus. In other words, if you copy and paste text, you can’t select the text inside the text box, click on the font and font size you want and change things. You have to set up the paragraph styles you’re going to use, right-click on the text box, select Edit Text, wait for the dialog box to come up, pull down the appropriate pull down selections to the left of the text inside the dialog box, one…by…one…through the whole amount of text you want to change.

Again, if you can, import.

– It doesn’t split books into files. Let me explain that one and why I think that’s a bad thing.

InDesign can be used to create one long document. It can. But a better use is to divide the book into files either based on chapter or section breaks, depending on what makes the most sense. All these files are linked to a “book” within InDesign. So, for example, when I built the interior of Lady Fair (print version coming soon!) I slightly modified my front matter file, added it to the book, created the chapter files (one file for each chapter), added them, then added my back matter with whatever modifications had to be made there. I saved it, then used the commands that turned the whole thing into a single PDF file.

By working with only a portion of the file at a time, it’s possible to avoid the burden a large file puts on the CPU. It was difficult to understand at first, but now I really like it.

Scribus keeps things in one document. As I mentioned before, it has a tendency to crash when working with very large files and I’m guessing this is a big reason why. It also means you have to create a template with front and back matter added, then add or subtract pages within the document instead of simply adding modified front and back matter as files.

One last time, if you can, import. That will help with this issue as well.

– It’s difficult to figure out how to do things. Seriously. Difficult. There is nothing intuitive about this program, except that one part about document creation. Have I mentioned that? I can muddle through most programs and figure them out without having to buy a guide.

Not this. I had to hunt down how to even begin to use Scribus, let alone use it to create a book.

Thankfully, I can point you to someone who is pretty familiar with Scribus, has used it more than once to create print versions of her books, and does so in a way that might keep an indie author from ripping her hair out. I don’t get any money for mentioning this book, except for the small bit I get as an Amazon affiliate if you buy a copy through the link below. Mostly, I get the satisfaction of knowing that I’m promoting an excellent book that will help those who want a good alternative to the pricey InDesign whilst (and at the same time) keeping hair on the heads of frustrated indie authors.

That book is Creating Print On Demand Interiors & Covers Using Scribus 1.4.1 by D.J. Mills (I own version 1.4.5 and I didn’t see much difference between what she describes and what I have in front of me. Then again, I don’t use Word, so if there are differences there, I’m afraid I can’t spot them.)

Not only does she cover basics, like how to use the dang thing, she also covers setting up templates and master pages, styles and formatting, using the story editor and linking pages, page numbering, importing (including how to import a Word document), and a whole host of things that you’ll think you can figure out until you actually face trying to do what you want to do in the program.

Even after listing the cons, I would most definitely recommend using Scribus instead of InDesign if you’re an indie author/publisher, especially if you use Libre Office or Apache OpenOffice for your word processor. The import works very well between the two programs and should make creating a book a pretty quick affair.

InDesign, based on my experience with it, seems to be designed more for high-volume producers and those who are doing print runs (i.e. working directly with printers). Most indie authors are going to be uploading .pdf documents to either CreateSpace, Lightning Source, or Lulu. Scribus is definitely up to the job if that’s all you’re going to do. (Heck, it could probably do print runs as well. I don’t know because I just don’t see the need for print runs anymore, given current technology.)

This may or may not be the end of this series. We’ll see.

Update: Two of the commenters mentioned a good resource for using Scribus, and it’s free. Here’s the link.

http://en.flossmanuals.net/scribus-2/index/

Echelon story sentence and blurb

Story Sentence: A pregnant rebel, escaping fellow conspirators, finds she needs a cynical bounty hunter of an enemy race to protect her, even if it means leaving Earth.

250-Word Blurb:

Maia Thomas. Quiet. Widowed. And expecting her first child. A child that’s supposed to save humanity. Her late husband, considered a prophet by those humans who have managed to escape the slavery imposed by the Tuatha dé Danann — not gods, but aliens who have returned — said it, and now those who remain of the rebels are clinging to her as their only hope.

Even if it means putting that same child at risk once she’s born.

Unwilling to let anyone, even fellow humans, put her child in danger, Maia escapes and finds herself in an even worse situation. She needs food, shelter, and protection from the increasing dangers around her. The best she can find is Kaylan.

Kaylan is an outcast from the Darushee — known to the humans as the Tuatha dé Danann. Considered non-sentient, he’s made a life for himself outside the clan, bringing escaped criminals to justice. A human like Maia isn’t his concern, no matter how often she tries to make herself useful. And yet the longer he’s around her, the more he’s drawn to her, even though he knows it’d be smarter to get rid of her as fast as he can.

But when a desperate human decides to get Maia back at all costs, both Maia and Kaylan will have to ask themselves if they’re willing to trade what they want for what they need.

Just thought I’d post some of what I worked on today. I’m revising a story and to do it I’m going back to a method I wasn’t able to do for most of the Trial of the Ornic series: Holly Lisle’s One-Pass Revision. It’s the best I’ve found. For those who are looking for a method that will help you clean up your manuscript without putting you through Revision Slog, there’s a truncated version on her website, her course How to Think Sideways outlines it, and she has an entire course devoted to it, How to Revise Your Novel. The Story Sentence and Blurb idea are from that method (I took How to Think Sideways when it was offered on Amazon), but I realized today that I hadn’t done that for Echelon.

So I did.

What do you think?

 

 

The Lord’s Tale (part two) is in editing; General update

Not much time, but I thought I’d give a quick update.

Yup, the next part of The Lord’s Tale is in the process of being edited. I’m really happy about this. It’s a very strange feeling, after it took so long to get the first part out, to start getting What Comes Next ready for publication. I’m really looking forward to starting the rough draft of part three, and it looks like (if my outline is to be believed) there might even be a part four. This book is turning out to be much larger than I expected. O_O

I thought I was at the end of my “space elves” story, but I haven’t really found an arc in what I’ve written. Not like the Trial of the Ornic series, anyway. More than likely, I’ll get to the end of this part of the story’s time period, then write the next so-called arc after I’ve finished LT#3’s rough draft. In other words, it won’t be serialized like Trial. It’ll probably be a stand-alone, given the way it’s currently going.

If I have time later in the month (and Internet access), I’ll see if I can post an excerpt from my “space elves” story on this blog. At the very least, I might post the first few scenes of LT#2 on Wattpad, as a way of taking off the edge of LT#1’s cliffhanger ending.

General update: Internet access is still spotty. We’re all healthy, though, and doing better than I expected. Hopefully, everything will settle soon and we’ll be able to get back to something of a routine. In the meantime, I write when I can. It helps keep me grounded.

More when I can. Thank you for reading.

Print version of Shining Armor; revisions to ebook

I’ll get the stuff that makes me somewhat uncomfortable out of the way first. I’ve decided to make a few minor changes to the ebook version of Shining Armor. One is a phrasing issue that ends up changing the tone (slightly) of Annie’s time just after she enters the cave. I also changed the formatting a little. I hope to have the revised version out by Friday.

Why does this make me uncomfortable? Because I don’t want to be the kind of writer who’s constantly making changes to something that’s already published. My goal has been to not touch a book after it’s put out. I don’t think it’s fair to fans to change what’s already written (unless you’re working in public on a rough draft and are clear about this) because any change is going to jar them. It jars me, when I read a work in progress. I never entirely let go of the initial version.

So, you may ask, why am I doing this?

Because the print version of Shining Armor will be available on Amazon sometime next week. Heck, it might be ready as early as this Friday. But I changed the phrasing in the book version. I like the Kindle and the print to be the same, so that means returning to the various ebook versions and, hey, this might be a chance to pretty them up a bit.

I’m not doing this again, though. The next time I put out a print version, and there will be a next time, I’m not fixing any typos or phrasing. It’s not fair to those who have already read the ebook. I’m only doing it this once because it clarifies the text.

That’s the biggest news I’ve got this week. I’m still working on revising The Lord’s Tale (part one), and I hope to get another scene up today on Wattpad, as well as add the revisions I’ve made to the first scene. In line with this, I’m hoping to get the entire first part up on Wattpad in the next week or two, leave it for a week so that everyone who wants to read it gets a chance to read it, then leave only an excerpt when it comes time for the final polish before it’s published. Except for part one (which is still there), I didn’t do this with the various parts of The Baker’s Wife, and I wish I had.

Anyway, if you want to order a print copy of Shining Armor right now, it’s available in the Createspace e-store. When it shows up on Amazon, I’ll add a link to the My Books page, and announce it here.

More soon. 🙂

Yet another self-publishing guide: covers (basics)

Before we talk about covers, I’d like to stress one thing. A beautiful cover won’t save a terrible book. And, if you get right down to it, a terrible cover won’t destroy a book’s chances of being read. So, above all else, work on knowing story, grammar, style, etc. The story is the key.

Onward.

There’s so much I can talk about regarding covers, I could seriously write a whole book and not feel like I’ve covered (heh) everything. What I’ll try to do here is discuss the basics and see if I can’t give more specific tips next week. Heck, I may even do one specific to GIMP. Not sure. We’ll see.

The Basics of Building a Cover (according to what I’ve learned):

  1. Placement/Color Branding
  2. Font
  3. Picture/Illustration

1. First, figure out where you want your title, byline, series title, tagline, and please keep in mind that, for the most part, these things aren’t going to change much, especially if you’re sticking with the same genre for most of your publications. Also, try to figure out a general look you want to keep with that will also tell potential readers what kind of book they’re getting. Obviously, you’re not going to be a slave to this, but it’s good to have a general feel, especially for a series. Take a look at the series in your genre and take notes of what the designer keeps the same and what they change from book to book in the series.

2. Whatever fonts you pick need to be appropriate for the genre in which you’re writing.Take a look at fonts used on the covers of books in your genre and compare with fonts you can find online. Don’t just look at the type of font used. Look at placement, look at what’s done to the font. Look at the effects used (if any). Use books published only in the past year or two, btw, for your research. Most importantly, look at what does and doesn’t work.

Even professional covers aren’t perfect. Sometimes it’s hard to read the title. Sometimes the colors make your eyes scream in pain. Sometimes the words disappear into the artwork.

Talking of which…

3. You don’t need a picture. It’s not an absolute. However, in some genres, it’s pretty much expected. In fantasy, It’s practically a given that there will be something magical or medieval on the cover, and that the picture will likely be an illustration (though nowadays the trend seems to be leaning toward photographs that have been played with). SF has something science-like, like aliens or something metallic with rivets. Romance has “the clinch” as well as more neutral images that are still feminine. All these images, along with the appropriate font, are a kind of shorthand for readers. If you go with an image, try to get the one that works best with your genre and your book. And if you’re talking ebooks, for heaven’s sake, don’t worry about how detailed the image is. That doesn’t matter if the image can’t be made out when the cover is a thumbnail. KISS (Keep It Simple Sweetie) the whole way through.

If you decide to skip the picture, your fonts have to pick up the slack. Your fonts have, in essence, become the picture.

Next week, I’ll discuss point #1, general placement, with an example pic.

Yet another self-publishing guide: covers (tools)

SPDCcover6Thumb
Most recent cover.

This post is for those who don’t have the money to hire someone to make a cover for them. Obviously, getting someone else to do it can be an excellent choice. Those of us who can’t, have a steep learning curve, and getting the right tools for your goals is a large part of that curve.

Today, I’m going to go over the kinds of tools available, and what I specifically use to make my own covers, as well as some programs others I respect have mentioned.

There are several programs I’ve seen discussed when it comes to covers. At the very least, you need a program that can place text over an image. I’ve heard some say that you can use things like PowerPoint, but I have no experience with that. The little experience I’ve had with the open source equivalent, Impress, makes me seriously doubt an author’s ability to create anything close to professional-grade with that equipment.

Another cited as a necessary tool is Photoshop. I’ve seen enough tutorials online to be impressed with the program. However, it’s expensive. Like, really expensive. InDesign is another highly recommended program, and is mentioned by Dean Smith as his go-to for covers (it’s a requirement if you take his covers workshop). After seeing a cover one of his students produced, I can’t say anything against it. But again, it’s very expensive, especially for someone who may not see a profit for a few years.

Loki Cover
One of my first covers, made in Paint.NET

However, any good photo editing software should serve you as a means for creating a decent cover. There’s a few good ones out there. I personally have used Paint.NET and GIMP (both free).

Paint.NET, in my experience, is for someone who has never, ever tried to edit a photo. It’s pretty intuitive, and a lot of fun. In its basic form it’s fairly limited, but plugins add some nice features that, for covers, might turn out to be necessary.

SASwordCoverLightBackThumb
Made in GIMP.

My current favorite is GIMP. There’s a fairly strong learning curve, and instruction from official sources on how to do things didn’t help me much in learning how to use it at the level I wanted. However, there’s some great tutorials on YouTube and the web, plus some Photoshop tutorials translate better than I expected to GIMP (it’s how I managed to figure out how to make the fire effect on the most recent cover for Shining Armor).

Baker's Wife Main Cover 1Thumb
Symbol made in Inkscape.

Another (free!) program to have, if you want sharp symbols or are interested in vectors, is Inkscape. I used it to create the Ornic symbol on the front of The Baker’s Wife (complete) and it really is the best program I’ve found for creating logos and anything where you’re dealing with sharp images at various sizes. I also used it to create a basic land mass for a map. It’s a little harder to find tutorials, and it’s a lot less intuitive than GIMP, let alone Paint.NET, but when it comes to anything where paths are used heavily, Inkscape is my personal favorite.

A program my husband plays around with, but that I’ve only recently seen a use for, is Blender.

Blender has nothing to do with photo editing. It’s (free) 3D software and it’s a bear to work with! Gah! However, some of the images I want, I can’t find, and don’t have the components to create myself. I’m hoping Blender will fill that gap. We’ll see. With images like this, I have hope.

Blender Gallery

Next week, I’ll go over how I approach cover design (because I know ever so much after making a few *rolls eyes*).

Yet another self-publishing guide: marketing

I’m going to go off on a tangent today. Next week, I’ll talk about the tools I use to make my covers. But for today, I’m going to talk about marketing.

It may not make much sense right now to talk about marketing. But there’s a number of myths, and, believe it or not, this stage of the process is the perfect time to talk about it.

When I first got into this writing thing, blogs were just beginning to be pushed as The Best Thing Ever For Writers Oh Good Gosh If You Don’t Have One Get One Now. Forums, bbs, irc, and usenet groups were for meeting up with other professionals and that was it for social media. Now, I see a bunch of different views and theories and nonsense surrounding it, and I’d like to add my two cents, based on the little I’ve been able to accomplish so far.

Near as I can tell, there are a few things that a self-published writer, just starting out, MUST do.

  1. Write a good book, write another good book, keep learning how to write good books, etc. (i.e. keep increasing content)
  2. Be aware of the kind of books/stories you love to write.
  3. Get (or create) the best covers you can, using them to clearly project what you write to others.
  4. Have a central location so people can not only find your books, but find them in all their many forms.
  5. Learn how to write good copy/blurbs.
  6. Eventually get your book out to as many channels as you can.
  7. Use social media, but very, very sparingly, if at all.
  8. Get on Goodreads.

Seriously, my own experience has been that having more than one book will get you more sales than pushing one book and hoping to hit the literary lottery. That’s the biggest one right there. Don’t stop writing. Write every. single. day. (Okay, I take Sundays off, but that’s just because I’ve seen burnout close-up and know what it means.) Look at each story as a fun way to practice. Play. Yes, even when the rent is due and you have no way to pay it, because writing for fun makes a book a lot more enjoyable than reading a book written only for money. There’s a definite difference.

And for those who think sales come to those who play the markets, please read this speech by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Her experience is exactly why a person should write from the heart. Know what you love, and write it.

More on actual cover creation in the next post. I’m also going to talk about blurbs/copy and channels in later posts as well.

As for having a central location for your books, anything that doesn’t try to claim your words as their own should do. I like WordPress. In fact, most blogs can be turned into a website nowadays, so go with a free option that sings to you. Try them out. Have fun. Once you get a readership, you’re going to want to stay in one place as much as possible. Make it one you enjoy.

Don’t use social media to sell your book. Let me repeat and italicize and bold it.

Don’t use social media to sell your book.

I cannot stress this enough. Okay, one announcement of a finished project or promotion is fine. When I finish something, or have a sale, I’ll make an announcement on FB, Twitter, and certain parts of Goodreads, in addition to this blog.

What I’m talking about are the “experts” who claim you have to send out ten tweets, spaced precisely to coincide with your highest traffic, all day long. NO. I’ve unfollowed people on Twitter when they try that stunt and I know more than one person there who feels the same.

Here’s the thing. This analogy isn’t new, but it’s good and I enjoy it. Social media is like a big party. When you consider sending a tweet about your book or a status update, it’s like you’ve just shouted the news to everyone at the party. “HEY. I JUST PUBLISHED A BOOK ON KINDLE. LIKE MY FACEBOOK PAGE. REVIEW MY BOOK. HEY. HEY!” *wave, wave, wave*

Like I said, a single announcement on FB (or wherever you spend your online social time) isn’t that big a deal, especially if you’re active in other ways. I mention my books on FB because I have some friends who enjoyed them. Twitter was built for announcements, and I post so much other stuff there of all kinds (LOKI) that I don’t feel too bad about the occasional announcement. Not only that, but I also link to posts here where I try to offer something back to those who follow me. (This is known as “generating content.” Always a good thing.)

For those who already enjoy your work, social media is an easy way for them to keep up with you, so don’t abandon it. But it’s not going to generate income like writing more will, so keep it in its place. It’s hard (very, very hard) but worth it.

Finally, there’s one place I’ve found that’s helped me as a reader, writer, and self-publisher: Goodreads. Every writer is a reader first, and GR is an enormous help to those who need to know more about whatever it is they want to write. Discussions of what people enjoy and what they don’t are also useful for those who like to analyze what worked in a book and what didn’t (and why), while most groups on GR have a place for authors to self-promote. So, find a group you enjoy and start posting there. When something new comes out, make an announcement if you feel it’s appropriate and make sure it’s in the right spot. Also, make sure your books are listed, and, if you can, upload an excerpt so that people can easily get a taste of your work. (I recommend epub. More on that in a later post.)

Now, I’m saying all this for the benefit of those who are just starting on this journey. I’m not speaking to those who already have a large backlist, or those are already making a decent amount of money. Writers at that level have more options, like paid advertising.

About the only other thing I can throw out there for those who have tried all the above and still aren’t selling is to consider writing short stories for magazines. I’m still trying this, so I can’t say how successful it is. But the theory is sound: get your name out there and get paid for it at the same time. Along the way, all your skills as a writer (and some you didn’t even know existed) will improve.

Obviously, this isn’t my idea. It belongs to Dean Wesley Smith, who inspired me to try it out. Here are the links:

The New World of Publishing: Helping Readers Find Your Work

The New World of Publishing: Making a Living With Your Short Fiction, Updated 2013

Both the posts and the comments are very informative. I highly recommend reading these thoroughly.

Next week, I’ll share my thoughts on tools I’ve used to create covers. If I have the space, I’ll add some things I’ve learned about reaching for that professional look, as well.

Yet another self-publishing guide: covers (questions)

First off, before you do anything else, get a piece of paper and a pen (or open up a document somewhere) and figure out the answers to these questions:

  1. What is my genre?
  2. What is the tone of my book? (Or, if you aren’t sure, how do others describe it?)
  3. Are there any particular images/symbols that I feel sum up my book?
  4. What do the covers of my genre look like?
  5. What are the key similarities of those covers?
  6. Do I like the way those covers look?
  7. If not, what would I change and does that ignore the key similarities mentioned above?
  8. Given the look of the covers in my genre, do I feel I could produce something similar that would entice buyers?
  9. How much time am I willing to devote to learning how to make covers?
  10. How much money am I willing to spend?
  11. If I don’t feel I’m up to creating the covers for my books, can I afford to get a designer?
  12. (add in any other questions you feel are relevant to this list)

It is extremely important, before you do anything else with your manuscript, that you figure out what you can and can’t do, or, in some cases, what you will and won’t do as well as what your book actually is.

Some of this may be out of your hands. When I first started, I knew there wasn’t any option but to sit down and learn how to use the tools I could find (legally), even though most of the images in my genre (fantasy) tend to be paintings or digital artwork of a level I can’t even dream of making. (see sakimichan for an example of the kind of artwork I’m talking about for fantasy). This isn’t a requirement for a fantasy novel, obviously, but the images on a cover become a sort of shorthand for readers and that’s why they become so very important.

Anyway, if you know what your needs are, and what readers will expect from your cover, and what your book promises, then you can figure out a large part of what you can and can’t do.

Only when you know this should you either start looking for a designer, or start looking for the tools to do your covers yourself. More on that next week.

BTW, if you already know you aren’t able to do this yourself, and you’re looking for someone to design your cover, I like the designs of Cameron O’Hara, especially Mosaic2. He’s currently running a special. Check it out.

One final thing: I strongly recommend Think Like a Publisher by Dean Wesley Smith if you’re considering doing this as a full-on career. (Note: As an Amazon Associate, I get some money if you buy his book through the above link. Just so you know.) It still has a lot of good advice, even though it was written in 2012. He updates portions on his blog from time to time, so that’s also worth checking out.