So, it’s the third day of the A-Z Challenge and we’ve reached the letter ‘C’. Not a popular letter at the moment, bless it, so let’s see if we can come up with some writerly C words that have pleasant connotations.
What could be a more pleasant topic for discussion than covers? There’s nothing more exciting than a cover reveal, whether it’s your own or someone else’s – but especially your own. When you see your book cover for the very first time … ooh! A real squee moment! And I say that as someone who never, ever, uses the word “Squee”.
But there’s no getting away from the fact that covers can be pricey. When you’re running a business (as we are), you have to recognise that investment in that business is crucial. So, of course, ploughing any profits back into covers, editing, proofreading etc is worthwhile. But what if you’re just starting out? What if you don’t have any money to invest? There are options. I was lucky. I had an author friend who offered to make a cover for me. I loved the original covers for There Must Be an Angel and A Kiss from a Rose. I still have the paperbacks with those covers, and I think they’re so pretty. Those covers cost me nothing more than the price of two purchases from Shutterstock, which is just one of the many sites where you can buy images.
The first book of mine that had a professional cover was Resisting Mr Rochester. I was so excited to have an actual designer working on my book! I was even more excited that I could finally afford one. Worth every penny, as far as I was concerned. Berni Stevens is so talented, and she still designs for me to this day. In fact, she’s currently working on new covers for all my romcoms, to give them a fresh look. I’ve seen the new covers for Angel and Rose already and I can’t wait for the next reveal.
But if you can’t afford a designer yet, what do you do? Buying your own images and turning them into covers – at least for ebooks – is an option. You’ll need a bit more technical savvy to produce paperback versions. I’ve done my own ebook covers for the Bramblewick series and the Home for Christmas series, but I’ve relied on my lovely friend, Jo, to turn them into paperback covers. There are, however, other options that are fairly cheap. There are several sites that sell ready-made covers which you can customise to suit yourself. You just change the author name, book title, and strap line (if you’re using one). I know a few authors who use these sites and their covers look fantastic. It’s something to consider.
Also worth considering is how your cover fits in with your genre. It’s really tempting to go with a design you love, even if it’s not appropriate for your type of book. I made that mistake myself. I wanted my books to stand out and be different. Don’t get me wrong. I love them. I think they’re beautiful. But with the benefit of hindsight I can see that they don’t all suit the sort of novel I write. There’s a reason that big publishers use similar designs for books in the same genre. The reader knows exactly what sort of story they’re going to be reading, and they choose a book that “does what it says on the tin”, rather than one which may have a pretty cover, but doesn’t immediately inform them what’s inside. Some of my book covers fall into this category because of my own naivety. Hence, my current project to give my romcoms a fresh look. You live and learn.
You do have to be careful with covers you design yourself, because they can end up looking hideously homemade. I think fonts are a particular giveaway, and it’s often worth paying for and downloading new fonts to get a professional look, if you’re making your own cover. Personally, I would say that if you can afford to hire a professional designer then you should go for it, unless you’re a whizz at making them yourself. But I do know how it feels to have no spare cash to do that, so if you’re really stuck, have a go. You never know. And for me, the easiest way to make an ebook cover is:
Canva really is an author’s friend. There’s a free and a paid version and it’s perfectly possible to get by using the free version. I know, because I did, for ages. I only upgraded to the paid version a year or so ago, and I’d already used Canva a lot by then. It provides you with loads of different templates, including book cover, so you just upload any pictures you want to use (be they photographs or your own drawings or purchased images from a site like Shutterstock) and drop them into the template. You then choose a font from a drop down menu and add your book title and author name. You can move images and text around, change the size of the font, change the colours, add background images or colours, and even resize the finished picture, so it can go from a book cover to a Facebook post in seconds.
It’s also my go-to website for making social media posts. I now pay for Canva and I can remove backgrounds, add animation and effects, and store my brand colours, fonts and logos. Through Canva, I’ve made my marketing posts, my Green Ginger Publishing and Bramblewick logos, and even the “love from Sharon” signature at the bottom of my blog posts! I don’t know what I’d do without it. I have friends who don’t use Canva and I should point out that there are alternatives. However, for me, it’s the easiest one to master and I’d recommend you at least give it a go.
One thing you quickly realise as an author is that you never stop learning. And if you’re like me, you’ll want to keep improving as a writer. Courses are one way of doing this, as are “how-to” books. I have loads of “how-to” books. Some of them are more useful than others, admittedly, but I return again and again to the ones that really help. It’s not just about grammar and punctuation. It’s about the art of crafting a story. It’s also about recognising the usual tropes of your genre, and learning what it is that your readers will accept and what they won’t. Then there are books on self-editing and marketing. Fascinating stuff, and you can spend hours and hours studying them. Believe me, I know. Courses are, of course, likely to be a bit more expensive. Or a lot more expensive, depending on what you choose to study. If you’re just starting out, FutureLearn do a free online course called Start Writing Fiction. You can find that here.
I studied creative writing at my local college, and did some evening classes at a local further education centre. I did an online fiction course and a year studying creative writing with the Open University as part of my degree in literature. I have friends who’ve done degrees wholly in creative writing, or even studied for a Masters in the subject. I’ve considered doing that myself, but I’ve concluded that a) it will take too much time away from the writing, b) if I were to do a Masters, I’d quite like it to be in literature, which I really enjoyed studying and c) if I do return to my studies, I might prefer to take another degree – perhaps in history. Which isn’t to say I don’t think I could learn a lot from higher level study in the subject. My friends have certainly gained another level of knowledge and highly recommend the courses they took. But if you’re not academic, or don’t have the time, the money, or the interest in making what is, after all, a massive commitment, then don’t feel you have to. You don’t. I know lots of writers who don’t have formal qualifications in the subject and they’re doing perfectly well without them.
I do think, though, that it’s good to keep learning in other ways. There are some brilliant text books out there that are written in light, easy language and help you without it seeming a chore. Learn from other writers. Learn from writing. Learn from reading other people’s books. I firmly believe that reading is essential to a writer. Sometimes, I read a book in awe and I’m immediately inspired to do better, to improve my own writing. Learn from a good editor, a good proofreader. Purchase (if you can afford to) a writing aid, such as Grammarly or ProWritingAid. They’ll highlight errors you’re making and show you how to improve. When you’ve fed several pieces of work through the app and it’s flagged up the same problems repeatedly, you start to realise that you’ve got some very bad habits! It can really deflate your ego, trust me. Of course, you have to be careful, because they can be a bit over-zealous and, if you let them, they would over-correct you to the point where your characters all sound the same and conversation becomes very stilted and formal indeed. Use your common sense and don’t feel you have to change everything they suggest.
Cake, Chocolate, and Crumbs
If you’re a writer, you’ll discover that the first two of those items are everyday essentials, and the third is an unfortunate by-product of them. See also, chocolate smears on keyboard.
Don’t ask me why, but cake is all writers ever talk about, and if you scroll down their Instagram posts you’ll find an awful lot of pictures of the stuff in all sorts of different varieties: chocolate cake, carrot cake, lemon cake, Victoria sponge, walnut cake, coffee cake … golly, I’m hungry now. Anyway, eating cake or, at the very least, taking photos of cake, is practically compulsory. So, if you don’t like cake, you may want to rethink your career.
Chocolate is another essential staple. When you’re staring at a blank screen and the words just won’t come and all seems lost, a bag of Maltesers or a Wispa Gold can mean the difference between bursting into tears of despair and shrugging your shoulders like you just don’t care. (Other chocolate is available and is equally as delicious – almost.)
Writers spend a lot of time shaking their keyboards to get rid of crumbs. Or that may just be me. I’ve never conducted a survey, so it could be that other writers are paragons of virtue and never lean over their keyboards, slice of cake or sausage roll in hand, staring in anguish at the half dozen words on the screen and wondering glumly what they even mean. An office essential is a bin. Always keep a bin under your desk. A large bin, if possible. For crumbs and chocolate wrappers and empty crisp bags. And office waste, too, obviously. Although crumbs, chocolate wrappers and empty crisp bags are the only office waste I seem to produce …
Finally for today (thank goodness for that, I hear you sigh) we come to candles. Yes, you read that right. No author worth her salt would ever sit down to work without being surrounded by candles. I refer you back to Instagram as proof. You know, I never really thought much about candles until I started writing. They were just the things my parents used to hunt around for back in the 1970s when the power cuts were at their height. Or the romantic-looking things that heroines in historical films carried in their hand. Once I started writing and joined the ranks of authors on social media, I became obsessed with candles. Scented candles. Candles in big fat glass jars. Tea lights. Wax melts. I’m telling you now, I should have shares in Yankee Candle. (Other candles are available and I’m sure they’re equally lovely.) My obsession with candles has now extended to buying them for other people. Nearly everyone in my family got a big candle and a reed diffuser thingy for Christmas, whether they wanted it or not. I am the Candle Queen in our family. So there you go. Want to be an author? Buy cake, chocolate and candles.
Here endeth the lesson for today. I’m sure you’re all a lot wiser now.
Stay safe, stay home, save lives.