What makes a good self-published book cover? An interview with Joel Friedlander


audio-trackWhat makes a good self-published book cover? Joel Friedlander knows. Since 2009, Joel’s blog, The Book Designer, has posted over a thousand articles of value to anyone getting involved in self-publishing. Cover and page design are the site’s bread and butter, but Joel and his crew also dip into editing, platform-building, marketing, ebook formatting—everything that goes on between the writing of your book and its final destination: the reader.

When my bosses at Blurb wanted to produce a podcast on cover design, Joel was the obvious person to call. In our interview last week, Joel explained what makes a book cover work (or fail). We also talked about the need to hire a pro, and what to look for when choosing a designer. It was a great chat, and I have to say the chance to have conversations like this is one of the best perks of my day job.

If you’d like to learn more about Joel, check out The Book Designer website or follow him on Twitter.

And if you missed it last month, check out my interview with editor/consultant Kim Bookless on how to navigate the self-pub editorial process.

5 Tips for Surviving NaNoWriMo

5 Tips for Surviving NaNoWriMo

Holy crap, NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow (or today if you’re in Australia)! If you’re planning to write a novel in November, you’re probably pretty excited right now—and maybe a little scared. This is my fifth time at the rodeo, and I’m still terrified. But I’ve also learned a thing or two about how to get through it in one piece. Here are my top bits of advice, expanded slightly from a piece I originally wrote for Blurb’s Coffee & Quill Society newsletter.

1. Take it one day at a time.
Don’t worry about the big picture. Don’t worry about how long it’s taking to get to the next plot point. Don’t even worry about 50,000 words. Just relax and write. And keep on writing, every day. You’ll get there.

Ovaltine the Dragon

Ovaltine the Dragon, writing totem supreme

2. Claim your writing space.
Carve out a couple of hours in your daily schedule, take over your favorite desk or chair, and build a mental wall around it. This is your writing space. When you enter it, you are writing and the rest of the world fades away. Need help making the transition? Try putting on a special hat or using another marker to show everyone that this is writing time and you are not to be disturbed. I place a writing totem next to my keyboard: my li’l green dragon, Ovaltine.

3. No editing allowed!
You will be tempted over the next 30 days. A little voice inside your head will tell you to go back and “fix” all the things you’ve written. Do not listen. Your first draft is allowed to be crappy. First drafts are almost always crappy. That’s why they’re called first drafts! So ignore that voice. There is a time and a place to edit, and this is not it. You can edit as much as you want in December, after you have a first draft.

4. Go with the flow.
What if you want your characters to turn right (into the castle, let’s say), but they keep trying to turn left (into a weird, dark swamp that wasn’t even in your outline)? Let them go there. When you’re writing, all sorts of ideas will bubble up from your subconscious. When you say, “hey, my characters won’t do what I want them to do,” what you’re really saying is “I’ve come up with a new story direction but I’m afraid of the unknown.” Don’t be afraid—this is a good thing. Your characters should do something unexpected! It means they’re taking on a life of their own. It’s their story, so let them tell it their way.

5. Use your network (yes, you have one).
Getting stuck? Losing your mojo? Now is the time to lean on the NaNoWriMo community. If you have a team of personal writing buddies, reach out to them. If not, don’t fret. There are literally thousands of people online at the NaNoWriMo forums at any time of the day or night. Go hang out, meet some people, and get some fresh inspiration. Read one of the many great pep talks on the NaNo website. Or jump-start your word count at a local write-in or by diving into a writing sprint.

I hope this helps. If you need a little more inspiration, check out the webinar I did with NaNoWriMo’s founder and executive director last week. Then get out there and write that novel!

8 Page Design Fundamentals for a Professional-Looking Novel

A post I wrote recently for the Blurb Stories blog…

Illustration by Thomas Whitehead

Illustration by Thomas Whitehead

We all know the importance of a good first impression. It’s true for books, too. We’ve compiled some basic tips that will help make your book’s pages inviting and readable.

You’ve invested a lot of time and effort into writing your novel and the way it looks should reflect that effort. If your pages look clumsy or amateurish, you might scare readers away before they have a chance to fall in love with your prose. And, once they’re in, you want the page design to help them along—not get in their way.

Page design is a fine art, but don’t despair. Even if you aren’t a professional designer, there are simple things you can do to make your pages look more polished. Pull any bestseller or classic off your shelf and you’ll see all of the following principles brought into play. Use them yourself, and your book will belong with the best.

1. Keep the margins roomy

Page margins are a common problem in books by first-time self-publishers. It can be tempting to cram as much text as possible on a page to reduce a book’s page count, but don’t do it.

Tight margins make pages look cramped and intimidating. Even worse, some of your text can get lost in the “gutter,” or inside edge, meaning the reader has to torture your book, prying it open just to read it. A nice, roomy margin all the way around the page makes the book feel more inviting, allows the reader to hold it comfortably, and leaves space for notes or marks.

How much margin is enough? For a 5 x 8 inch book, try 5/8” (.625”) to start. For a 6 x 9 book, 3/4” (.75”) is more appropriate. Make the inside margin slightly larger so words don’t fall into the gutter (this is especially important for longer books, which have deeper gutters). There are some detailed resources online if you want to explore this topic in depth.

Read the rest of this post (7 more tips!) at Blurb Stories

Editing for Self-Publishers: an interview with Kim Bookless

Editing is an important part of the publishing process. Hugely important. But it can be confusing, especially to new authors and those who choose to self-publish. Nobody wants to read a rough draft (much less pay good money for it), but how much editing does your book really need? How does the process work? And how do you find a good editor?

I got to chat with editor and publishing consultant Kim Bookless (yes, that is her real name) to talk about these issues for Blurb a couple of weeks ago. Kim was a great interviewee with lots of valuable insight into the need, the process, and how authors can get the most out of their editing relationships. I hope you enjoy listening!

If you’d like to learn more about Kim, check out her website or follow her on Twitter.

Get Ready for NaNoWriMo! a webinar with Chris Baty

It’s almost November, and that means National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Writing 50,000 words in a single month is a huge challenge, but for those who fully embrace NaNoWriMo, it can be tremendously rewarding. It’s a community, a chance to unleash pent-up creativity, and a heck of a lot of fun.

A few days ago, I got to spend an hour talking all things NaNo with the world’s two preeminent experts on the subject: Chris Baty, who founded NaNoWriMo back in 1999 (and wrote its bible/manifesto, the book No Plot? No Problem!, just released in a new edition), and Grant Faulkner, the Executive Director of NaNoWriMo. We had a great time discussing everything from basic motivation to survival strategies for the month. If you’ve considered participating in NaNoWriMo but aren’t quite sure about it, or if you’re an old hand getting excited about another year, do check out the video.

This webinar was made possible by my day job at indie publishing company Blurb (we’re a major sponsor of NaNoWriMo this year). To find out more about Blurb’s involvement, check out our Coffee & Quill Society.

Note: there were some technical issues with audio in the first few minutes of the webinar. Stick with it; the sound does get better!

Book Review: No Plot? No Problem!

No Plot? No Problem! Revised and Expanded Edition: A Low-stress, High-velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days
No Plot? No Problem! Revised and Expanded Edition: A Low-stress, High-velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty

My rating: 4.5 Stars

I’m about to embark on my fifth National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and boy do I wish I’d read this book a few years earlier.

NaNoWriMo is a wonderful thing. It’s a challenge, a community, and a much-needed injection of delirious creativity in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, ranging from novices who have never even written a short story before to seasoned professional writers. It’s also more than a little crazy-making, so anyone planning to attempt it really should get some advice first.

Who better to guide us than Chris Baty, the guy who invented NaNoWriMo in the first place? No Plot? No Problem! is like a great big pep talk—Baty prepares you for the high points and the low, addresses all the usual objections (“I don’t have time/ideas/talent”), and throws in a ton of practical advice for surviving the month with your brain relatively intact. There’s simply no better explanation of the what, the why, and the how.

So I highly recommend this book, but please bear in mind that it is NOT about the craft of novel-writing! If you’re going to churn out 50,000 words in 30 days, you can’t worry much about craft. There’s no time. NaNoWriMo—and, by extension, this book—is about freeing up your calendar and loosening up your brain and just getting the story down, as quickly and as exuberantly as possible. It’s about writing a novel in a month, period. If you want it to be a good novel, you can go read some other book while you start your revisions, AFTER you’ve basked in the glow of “winning” NaNoWriMo with the help of this one.

Originally posted on Goodreads

Book Review: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

My rating: 5 Stars

When a guy has written, published, and sold as many books as Stephen King, he must know what he’s doing. In On Writing, King shares his process, his opinions, and his journey as a writer. He does this with brevity and a gruff but good-natured wit that makes this book a joy to read.

But here’s the thing about writing, or any other art: It’s an act of personal creation, and each of us is different. Once we get beyond the basics of grammar and vocabulary (what King calls the top shelf of a writer’s toolbox), we all have to find our own way.

This is King’s way, and it works for him. Everything he suggests is worth a try. But I think what’s really valuable here—even more than his strong advice regarding adverbs, revision, and career-building—is what he has to say about the writer’s life and motivation. If you want to write fiction but you don’t read it, that’s a problem. If you write because you think you have to and not because you want to, that’s a problem. If you’re a slave to plot (which is imposed from the outside) at the expense of story (which evolves from the inside), that’s a big problem.

King identifies a sort of pyramid of writers with four tiers: the bad, the competent, the good, the great. He believes that the bad cannot be redeemed, and the great are born, not made. So all instruction can do, he says, is help the merely competent become good. I don’t buy into that theory. It seems to me any new writer could benefit from the advice and inspiration of On Writing.

Originally posted on Goodreads

Book Review: Meteor Menace

Meteor Menace
Meteor Menace by Kenneth Robeson

My rating: 4 Stars

March, 1934
Original publication order: #13
Bantam reprint order: #3

I’ve been taking a break from Doc Savage for a few months, but this was a good way to get back into the habit. Picking up almost immediately after the events of The Man Who Shook the Earth, Doc and his fantastic crew get swept up in an adventure leading from the deserts of Chile to the frozen heights of Tibet. Many of the classic elements are here: a truly bizarre weapon, a flamboyantly fiendish villain, a healthy dose of gadgetry, and lots of two-fisted action. There are also a few “what the…?!” moments of sheer surprise, a nice departure from the norm.

I do have some quibbles, though. Any story which involves a meteorite really needs to give a starring role to Johnny (Hellooo, Mr. Dent! Remember Johnny, the world-renowned geologist?!), but he’s just window dressing here. I also wanted more from the token beautiful daughter, who gets one excellent scene but otherwise spends most of the story on the sidelines. But the story was a romp and a hoot and several other monosyllabic good things. Go get ‘em, Doc!

Side note: This story was just a little tiny bit uncomfortable for me personally, because in reading it I spotted a few coincidental parallels to my own novel, Dragon in the Snow (which is an homage to Doc, but one that makes no reference to any specific stories). Just for the record, this was my first exposure to Meteor Menace.

Originally posted on Goodreads