Tag Archives: book covers

Cover Talk – Australia > U.S., Joanna Bourne Edition

I don’t feel like I need to add much to the title, except to reiterate how obnoxious I find the “sexy” covers so prevalent in U.S. romance cover art. I basically don’t look at books that have covers like this – and always look at books with covers like the Australia edition. The man-titty tells me it’s a sex-romp in which the relationship will be based primarily on the physical, which means I will find it unsatisfying, while the fully dressed woman in roughly accurate historical costume tells me the book is character-focused, which means I’m more likely to find it satisfying.

blackhawkaublackhawkus

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Filed under Artwork, Reflections on Romance

All Set

It took a lot of finagling and hair-pulling, but I finally have my computer set up the way I want it. I ended up uninstalling MS Office 2013 and installing 2010, which if I had known I could activate on more than one device to begin with I would never have bought 2013 at all. Ugh. The sticking point for me with 2013 is their insistence on the creation of a Microsoft Account and its attendant cloud storage of all files to “back them up.” Nope. Not gonna happen, and the more you try to bully me into it, the more likely I am to delete all your fucking programs and go completely open-source software.

Speaking of open-source software, I am happy to report that I did not lose any of my hard-won GIMP skills in the 10 months since I have worked with the program, and mastered a new task quite easily with only a minimal tutorial; I think I am at last working within the logic of the program. Project at hand: I am finally working on the new covers for my Twelfth Night novellas, for which I took photographs last December and which I have not yet had (made) the time to put together. I won’t get them finished tonight – still have to do all the typography, which will be its own brand of hell, I think, given I need a way to create linking elements between these two and A Christmastide Courtship (which cover I need to tweak, so the sticking point is creating the common element rather than just implementing one already in place) – but I am pretty pleased with the overall look and feel for them so far.

After I redo all the covers I am going to redo all the ebook files. Christmastide has a few typos I found on a re-read over the summer, plus the formatting on the Amazon version came out with wonky paragraph spacing, and the novellas were completely bare-bones presentations to begin with. I may only be able to work in drips and drabs right now, but these are projects made big by a long list of tasks, not because they are single tasks that take long stretches of concentration…thus they are highly suitable for evenings after work and baby-tending.

I have not been writing much since my last posts. Hard to say if the words have dried up, as I simply haven’t had time, or the mental energy the few times I’ve had time. Baby went through another sleep regression where he wakes 1-2x per night, and so unless I’ve gone to bed with him at 7, I am simply too exhausted to get up and write before work, and always too tired to try in the evenings. Plus I had a minor sewing commission and a big family visit. And this week is the big week when baby starts day care full time and the family-nanny departs, and suddenly I will have to find time/energy for ALL the household chores instead of just some of them.

On the bright side – husband and I are leaning very strongly towards relocating to the countryside, and one of the benefits therein would be my not having to work outside of the home. No plans are made, so this might still be a year or even two off, but the possibility heartens me on the days I am burned out on being a working mom.

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Current Cover Design Trend Grievance

I pay attention to the covers of the romance novels I read (or look at) in part because, as a self-publisher, I should be aware of trends, but in all honesty mostly because I am the sort of reader who is sensitive to covers and always has been.

For example, I have always found it difficult to even examine, much less purchase, the romances that had shirtless men all over the covers. To me that cover treatment just screamed “illogical sex-fest aimed at lowest common denominator reader” AKA not the droid book I’m looking for. Even now, with ebooks that I don’t have to carry to the register, I still tend to not look at books with that cover style unless the title or author was specifically recommended to me.

The thing that is bothering me lately is women in modern formal dresses against some generic background that may or may not actually be historical on the covers of historical romances. The covers themselves aren’t explicitly an issue; it’s covers like that combined with a description that does not make clear whether the book is set in a different era or modern times. See, you can get away with a cover that doesn’t talk about what year it is or what war is looming/just finished, etc., if you have, you know, ACTUAL historical dress on the cover model. But if you are going to use a prom dress as your “mistorical fiction” denominator, then your back copy had damn well better be clear about when and where your story is set.

I’ve lost track of the number of books I’ve seen lately that have this dynamic. It’s annoying. I don’t want to sound like I am the sort of person who will ONLY read in my little niche, but at the same time–I want to know what I’m buying. I want to be sure it’s the kind of book I’m actually in the mood for. Part of branding and marketing your book correctly (by which I mean, giving it every chance to catch the eye of the right kind of reader, should they stumble across it) is to make unambiguously clear what your book actually is.

What’s even more disheartening to me is that the actual trend seems to be reserving accurate historical dress for the Amish and Christian romances – though at least most of them do a good job of self-identifying by talking about God or faith in the back copy, so I can avoid them. No offense to religion intended; I don’t mind having faith play a part in the story if it is a part of a character’s life, but I am not looking for the stories that specifically include it as a plot point, nor am I looking for all the other trappings that go along with religiously-oriented romance. I just also find it annoying that 90% of the time I click on a description because I like the cover and its actual historicalness, the book turns out to be in a subgenre I don’t want to read. And the more historical dress on the cover comes to be equated with stodgy ole religious romances, the more entrenched the stupid modern Cinderella prom dress as analog to “any period from the Enlightenment to the Edwardian” will become.

I am officially filing a pet peeve on this one.

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Filed under Ramblings, Rants and Storms, Reflections on Romance

Now THIS Is a DIY Cover

So…after nearly 11 hours of work, off and on, what I have under my metaphorical Christmas tree is a book cover.

Yes, I just spent my entire day fiddling with the effing cover. A lot of this was the learning curve of not just Gimp but also how Gimp-created images do (or do not) play well with other programs. Next time I will know how to render these graphic elements a lot more quickly.

Anyway, I am quite proud of the cover I put together, especially considering just how do-it-myself it was:

  • I made the clothing seen in the picture, the jacket specifically for the purpose of Regency novel covers…from an original pattern based only loosely on Jean Hunniset’s costuming book for the period
  • I had to rearrange the furniture in my house to get a suitable set-up
  • I took the photo OF MYSELF with a delay on my digital camera
  • I spliced together three different photos to make a “scene’ (the couch and figure, the baseboard, the wallpaper) and rendered it into something closer to a painting than a digital photograph using a free program I’d never used before
  • I created the cover graphic (“a Regency novel”) and had to create a separate graphic for the title in order to achieve the text depth and orientation I wanted
  • I put the cover layout together myself using three different programs because none of them alone would quite do what I wanted (Powerpoint, MS Paint, and Gimp)

I am sad I am not hitting publish tonight but, y’all, I am bushed. And in the end the only person I’m letting down with my publication schedule for this book is myself. I can look myself in the eye and say “I did the best I could” without cringing and knowing the words for a lie. Maybe if I go to bed sooner than later I’ll be up for a little coding in the morning and submit this beast before work. If nothing else, after wrestling with Gimp for so long, a series of MS Word hoops are going to feel laughably easy.

In the meantime, I present you with the cover to my newest novel, A Christmastide Courtship.

courtship with title

 

Thursday morning postscript:

Reading back over my post from last night, I feel I should clarify my out-of-pocket expenses for this.

(1) $35 (approximately) for the jacket – 2 yards of fabric, thread, buttons. (Part of me doesn’t even want to count this since I know have a cute little jacket I can wear out and about!)

(2) $59 for the font, which is “Respective” by Mans Greback, from http://www.aringtypeface.com/ (which I plan to use as the cover font for all my historical novels, so the per-cover use will drop with every book I publish. Right now it’s about $20 because I’m about to re-make my covers for the Twelfth Night books).

That’s it. Everything else was just time. (Soooo much time, lol.)

Granted, I made a lot of use of items I had to hand for other reasons. If you don’t cosplay…if you don’t have a good digital camera…if you don’t have old-school furniture to pose with and a fabric stash to make wallpaper out of…then you might have a higher expense list. But for me, it was <$100 which is a pretty nice price tag. I can spend that on myself for Christmas since hubs & I don’t do gifts so much as time and food. 🙂

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If There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way, Trust Me to Find the Hard Way

My Christmas present to myself this year is publishing my Christmas novel. The one I’ve had ready to go, textually speaking, since October. I haven’t sat down to make it into a proper ebook with all the bells and whistles before now because I both haven’t had all the elements ready and also haven’t had both time and mental energy to sink into that type of thought for long enough to get a book ready to go. Somehow, it seems the sort of project (to me, at least) that should be done in one fell swoop rather than in pieces, probably because I don’t know the whole process well enough to be sure I’m doing everything if I stop and come back to it later.

As the title of this post alludes to, I am also making this job extremely hard on myself. What can I say; I don’t do anything by half-measures. I could have put a plain and unadorned book with a plain cover out back in October. I chose not to, because I would rather have a professional quality book with hoops and adornments. I have been somewhat constrained by a lack of money here…many of the websites that offer graphic and visual elements require a licensing fee for commercial use that is not worth the minuscule effect they would have on the book as a whole, which left me at ask a friend or do it myself. Same with the cover art.

For…reasons…I find myself in the position of having to do it for myself if I want it done at all.

I spent an hour on Saturday cutting graphic elements out of black card stock and photographing them so that I could have my mistletoe (versus holly, which apparently 95% of graphic designers don’t know are different things) adornments. While I was at it, I made holly just in case, and a masquerade mask for my Twelfth Night novellas, which are about to get an upgrade to my new standard for ebooks. I hauled out my old calligraphy pens – both the marker-like pens and the old-school type that gets dipped in an inkpot – and spent an hour practicing forming letters before I made the “calling cards” for the new Twelfth Night covers. I played dress-up with my spencer jacket (finally finished it, will post on the end of construction later) and various skirts I have made for other costumes until I found a combination I liked, and took test shots with various gloves and without any at all. I stopped in at the plant nursery a few blocks from me and scored a huge stalk of mistletoe for free because they were 5 minutes past closing and the whole wheelbarrow full of it was already wilting.

Sunday I rearranged my living room to show only the oriental rug and chesterfield couch, with a sheet hung behind  it so I would have a blank backdrop, and spent about 3 hours taking photographs of myself in costume on the couch and then standing against the sheet. Let me tell you, figuring out how to balance a little hand-held digital camera on top of 5 books on top of a chair on top of your coffee table is not easy. I ended up having to pin the wrist-strap into the front of a writing journal as a bracer. But it worked. I got some really awesome shots, at least a couple of which could almost be slapped onto a cover as-is. When I see the thumbnails I have to do a double-take to be sure it’s not a picture of a book cover. Unfortunately, the wrinkled green sheet in the background just doesn’t look like wallpaper, so I have to manipulate the image (original plan was to have someone photograph me in an historic hotel with appropriate decor and then just run the picture through an oil painting filter in Photoshop…you know, an hour and an hour and done sort of thing; plans change).

Alas, poor Lily, for the rest of Sunday’s project time did not go so smoothly (“smoothly”) as the picture-taking. I don’t have Photoshop, and I don’t have access to it this week, so I am stuck using a freeware program. I chose Gimp because I have a friend who uses it (unfortunately, it’s a guy I work with so not someone I can just outsource fixing the cover to), and several places online claim that it’s actually more powerful than Photoshop…once you learn how to use it. That caveat needs to be 10 inches high and in red, because Gimp is NOT an MS-based program (I know Adobe is a different company but they mimic the “logic” of MS commands, which is probably part of why they have become/stayed ubiquitous as the go-to photo-manipulation program). I had to find a tutorial merely to open a picture in the program!, and I do not consider myself either stupid or ignorant of computers in general. I spent another 3 hours trying to change the background color and just figuring out a little of how Gimp works in hopes that I might be able to get a working knowledge of it. No such luck, on either count. I finally put my computer aside in abject frustration, resigned to the fact that I would be using tutorials specifically and only for the tasks I needed, and therefore there was no point until I had the pictures all taken (I still needed my “wallpaper” – fabric out of my sewing stash for the win!- and the Twelfth Night pictures, which I needed to take outdoors in daylight) and could just work on the actual cover instead of a practice picture. This was the point where I looked up and realized it was 9:30 and I hadn’t eaten anything since about 11 that morning, and, oh, yeah, I’m not just feeding myself right now.

Monday was a long day at work, and I came home too tired to do anything. Yesterday I got home around 3 and took my Twelfth Night pictures, had Christmas Eve cocktails with my husband, and went to bed early.  He’s back at work today, and I am blessedly off, and so today I embark on the following tasks:

  • take my fabric pictures
  • load all three sets of pictures to my husband’s computer (I don’t have our camera reader installed on mine) and transfer them to my own via Dropbox or email
  • crop out the ugly green curtain from around the couch and replace it with proper wallpaper
  • run the manipulated picture through a filter to make it look more like art than photography
  • add the title/attribution
  • make proper graphic elements out of the mistletoe, holly, and mask .jpegs
  • buy a license for the font I’ve settled on for all my historical romance title needs
  • create graphics for my title page and chapter headings with the font (bc otherwise I have to fool with embedding it in the file and…just no)
  • learn how to hyperlink inside an ebook
  • copy the novel into a new document with appropriate style sheets
  • add the front and back matter
  • add the chapter headings, first line treatments, and graphics section dividers (if I decide to use one instead of the traditional  * * *)
  • make my table of contents
  • do any other html code fiddling (such as defining the size of graphics if necessary, etc.)
  • convert into .mobi and .epub files
  • load to my distributors

I am not in a rush to do this by a certain time today. It’s the only project I have to do, and I doubt anything is showing up in an online store for a day or two after Christmas. Just a hunch, somehow, if any human element whatsoever is needed to make files live.

So there it is. As presents go, it’s kind of a doozy, even if it’s a helluva lot of work to get to the point of presenting it to myself with a nice little bow on top. 🙂

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Hi. My name is Lily, and I’m addicted to doing things the hard way

Or, If You Want Something Done Right, You’ve Got to Do It Yourself

I make reference here sometimes to the fact that I like to make costumes. I am by no means an expert seamstress or designer, but I am decent at both and improving by the project, and I have tackled conquered some hella-hard challenges (such as full 18th-century costumes for both husband and myself…and, yes, I made my own stays and paniers). I have been known to do things like make a corset in one night, without a pattern until I made one off my own measurements and intuition (I was trying to use someone else’s method and, boy, did it stink). Generally I create my own patterns, either off of other people’s methods or designs that I want to replicate, not so much because I want to be that hardcore Project Runway as because I just can’t find commercial patterns for what I want. Which is often historical or fantasy-oriented, which at the commercial level tends to get dumbed down to vaguely similar-shaped garments that in no way match the contstruction methods or patterns of original garments.

Here’s the dirty little secret about historical clothing: a lot of it was not hard to make, in terms of putting the pieces together. It was hard to make because it was either made by hand or decorated in ways modern minds can’t conceive of accomplishing.  It was also generally custom made to someone’s figure, so unless you’re making your own pattern off of ratios between your own measurements, the fit won’t be quite as perfect.

So. I have been thinking about book covers and such for soon-to-be-released (they will be, damn it!) upcoming works as well as re-publishing my Twelfth Night novellas with covers more in line with the new stuff and pretty ebook files now that such seems entirely possible thanks to JW Manus.  I have ideas in mind for some of the images that would be feasible with props I already have on hand, like nice gloves that look vaguely vintage. But at least one cover requires a partial body (the neck-waist so popular in romance composition right now), with something resembling period-accurate clothing.

I have a photographer picked out (actually it’s a couple, yay, teamwork!), and they are scouting locations for a shoot. I have basic design concepts in mind. What I don’t have is wardrobe. I don’t need much–just a spencer jacket (basically a 19th-century bolero)–because I can either drape uncut fabric for an “empire gown” or hike up my 18th-century petticoat to just under the bustline. Either way works, as long as the jacket covers the top of the “skirt.”

The jacket is the sticking point. I want to get this photo shoot done before Christmas, so I don’t have time to buy a custom-made piece on Etsy (I checked the ready-mades, and none would fit my needs, alas). I don’t have anything in my wardrobe of real-life that could be, at a stretch, vaguely Napoleonic. None of the costume shops I have access to do, either. My choices are to completely abandon the concept of a body shot or to make my own spencer.

To that end, I purchased fabric and buttons at my local Hancock’s Fabrics, ignoring all my usual rules of only buying period-accurate fabrics. I actually found a really fabulous fabric, because it is double-layer so I don’t have to line anything, just French seam or flat-fell the seams, and I won’t care–I won’t–that it’s a poly/nylon blend and not silk. Or linen. Or cotton.

I spent tonight at my local academic library taking photos of the relevant pages in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion and Jean Hunnisett’s costuming handbook. (I had to take pictures because my friend who is a librarian there and normally checks books out for me has too many fines to take anything out right now. Yes, that’s right, my librarian friend has kept books for so long she has an exorbitant fine at her own place of employment. Indeed, she is a tragic biblioklept.)

So, the good news was that all relevant volumes were on the shelf.

Bad news was that I didn’t really like any of the patterns in either book. None of them were quite what I have in mind. So it looks like I will be making my own original patterns, after all, with help from those ladies in the areas I most need it still–armhole angles and sleeves.

Sigh. And here I thought this was going to be easy, what with just copying a pattern from one of them and all.

Or, as Anne Taintor would put it:

magnets-stop-me-before-i-volunteer-again

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