cozy artwork featured

Creating a Cozy Mystery Cover Part 2

I need cozy artwork, images that suggest a cozy mystery experience for my novel The Task of Auntie Dido. In my previous posts, I talked about researching cozy mystery covers, and my process for creating the Kindle cover. This time I'm talking about the process I followed to select and use artwork for the cover.

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Cozy Artwork, DIY vs. Buy?

I want to have my own artwork on the covers of my books. The trouble is, that has held me back from sharing my work. I think many indie authors will choose to have someone else design their covers, working with the designer to come up with a professional and effective cover. That is the smart way to go!

There's a good argument for focusing on writing, and working with other people on things like covers. Trying to do it all myself has slowed my progress and has contributed to making it hard for people to find my books. I know this. I also know that I enjoy learning about design, art, typography and all the rest. That said, I've decided that I need to compromise if I'm going to get my books. I'll put the covers together, but will use artwork created by other artists (for now). I still want to create original artwork but that is the piece that has held things up.

Finding Artwork

I turned to Dreamstime.com for cozy artwork. They offer a number of credit or subscription plans that can be used to download artwork. The subscriptions generally offer a better deal and allow you to download the images at whatever resolution you desire. Dreamstime also uses a royalty-free license that works well for e-books and print books.

In my previous post, I talked about my plan to use silhouetted figures on the cover. Since I decided to purchase rather than create the figures, I started my search looking for vector silhouettes of an old woman and a cat.

There are  a lot of results. It is worth the time to explore, check out related or similar images, and consider what will work for the cover.

cozy artwork

Choosing Cozy Artwork

I ended up selecting two sets of vectors, one for each. Since these are sets, it meant that I had different poses to experiment with and can use others with other stories. After adding the figures, I still felt like the cover needed something more. I ended up downloading a third image of a Victorian house, which I added behind the orange overlay and applied effects to give it some texture.

Final Touches

I like this new cover much better than the one that I created for the first edition of the book several years ago. It will be interesting to see if readers respond to the cover. I think it fits well with the elements that I noted when looking at other cozy covers. I have a few things to do with the interior files but I hope to have it finished and available by the end of the week.

Next up? Designing Science Fiction Covers. I have plans for a new edition of Dark Matters and for a brand new release, Stowaway to Eternity.

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alternate e-book cover

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C. Auguste Dupin expects simple things out of his day. A sunny spot beside the fountain to nap. His tuna delivered at precisely the right time by librarian Penny Copper. He didn’t expect someone to stuff bodies in the book returns and disrupt his entire day!

The only thing left to do? Apply his considerable intellect to the task of identifying the killer while guiding Penny to the answer.

Covers design

Creating a Cozy Mystery Cover

I already covered researching a cozy mystery cover and gave the example of changes I made to The Murders in the Reed Moore Library. Now I'll go through the steps I follow to create a brand new cover for my C. Auguste Dupin novel, The Task of Auntie Dido.

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Illustrating a Book Cover

I'm using Adobe Illustrator CC for this project, but this isn't going to turn into an Illustrator tutorial. You could use any program that allows you to use text and images together and export the result to a suitable image format for your ebook.

I'll also start out focusing on the Amazon Kindle guidelines and compare those to guidelines on other sites.

Image Size

For Kindle, the recommended image size is 2,560 x 1,600 pixels. I'll use those dimensions and save it as a preset in Illustrator for future projects. This ensures that I get the dimensions right for my project. Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) offers extensive help for details on each stage of the project.

KDP ebook Cover preset

Fonts

I want to use the same fonts that I used for the first story. I'll open that file and copy over the text to my new project. That way I have everything the same for the new project, lending to a consistent sort of branding for the new title.

So here's the interesting thing: I hadn't made sure that the cover image for the previous ebook was the recommended image size! When I copied and pasted the text it was much too small! That meant spending more time adjusting the typography to get the sizes right. With the CC library I can save elements, which is another way to move artwork, colors, or other items between projects.

Colors

I used black, white, and red in the last cover. I'd like to keep some of those, but I want to try out other colors for some of the elements in the book. A cozy mystery cover tends to feature bright colors. I have some ideas for colors to try out.

In my Illustrator document I have the text on one layer and a background layer with a filled rectangle set to black. I've locked both and created a layer in between that I will use for the illustration. I'm going to start with another filled rectangle to test out colors.

I considered different possible colors and ended up with an orange color that I like. I add a gradient effect so the color becomes lighter near the top of the book.

Cozy Mystery Cover Gradient

Iconic Illustration

With the previous title, I used a simple silhouette of a cat in front of a book to capture key elements of the story. For this title I want to do something similar, except I think that I want silhouettes of an older woman and a cat on the cover. The quickest way to do that would be to purchase the artwork. In this case, I'd like to take a stab at it myself and see what I can come up with on my own.

Cover Designs

How to Research Cover Designs For a Cozy Mystery

Effective cover designs entice us to pick up books. Good cover designs tell us what kind of experience we can expect from the book—before we even read any text on the cover. I talked about the importance of cover design in my post on releasing books fast. I want to relaunch my cozy mystery The Task of Auntie Dido, and in this post I'm going to walk through my research process.

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Searching Amazon

I plan to do my research quickly, which means I'm going to go straight to the largest bookstore. I'm going to pop over to smile.amazon.com (I have it set to support the Freedom to Read Foundation), choose “Books” in the search drop-down, and search for cozy mysteries.

Amazon book search

Search Results

The first thing I do? Scroll down the page and take in the overall sense of the designs and identify the key sections that I want to focus on.

Categories

I want to dig deeper into the category section as I research covers and check out sub-categories that might fit my book better than the general search results.

My series features a cat, C. Auguste Dupin and his librarian, Penny Copper. They first appeared in The Murders in the Reed Moore Library (available as a free download).

eBook CoverDownload FREE book

While I research covers for my novel, I'm also thinking about this cover and whether or not it works effectively.

Sponsored listings

Cozy Mystery search results

The first results showing are sponsored listings. It's interesting to look at these from a marketing perspective.

Goodreads popular titles

The popular titles from Goodreads is interesting as they give a perspective on what readers expect to see in a ‘cozy mystery' title.

Results list

Finally we get to the results list. On my first pass I'm looking at the covers. I want a broad perspective so I'm not focusing on details at this point. I want to take in the look and feel of books in this category. A few books catch my eye, but I'm not stopping to focus on any particular book. I don't want to copy a design!

The next page starts with a couple more sponsored titles, then back to the results again.

Initial Thoughts

After scanning several pages, it's clear that many of the titles share certain things in their cover designs.

  • Illustrated covers. Many (not all) of the covers feature an illustration ranging from cartoony and vector-art illustrations to pastoral paintings.
  • Cats feature on the covers of many of the titles (as do books and libraries!)
  • Fonts tend to be serif fonts or decorative fonts with a few sans serif fonts showing up.
  • Titles are usually large, using multiple words and different font sizes or treatments.
    • Many titles feature puns, word play, references to death or mystery.
  • Author names tend to be smaller and use a less decorative font.
  • Most covers feature bright colors
Book with text

5 Ways to Release More Books Faster (Without Going Insane)

What's the best way to fail as a writer? Not writing. What's the next way writers fail? Not making their work available to people who can pay for it. Robert A. Heinlein's business rules for writers make these points abundantly clear. Today it pays to release books fast. These quick techniques can help you release books faster so that readers can discover your work. I'm putting these into practice myself to get my backlist up and available.

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Focus on your cover first

Covers matter. A cover that doesn't entice readers to check out your book is a cover that fails—no matter how attached you might be to the artwork, design, or other elements. It's the single biggest factor on whether or not anyone gives your books a chance. You want to release books fast, but start with your cover.

I've released plenty of books without effective covers. I'm working to fix that now. My problem? I want to illustrate my own covers. That's terrific, except that I don't have many of my titles available and my available books don't have effective covers. It's a weakness that I plan to address as I work to release all of my books.

Your cover will change

I run into the trap of imagining the perfect cover. It doesn't exist. An effective cover now may not work in five years. Tastes change. Standards change. Your cover needs to change with the times. Look at current design and get a cover that works.

Don't worry about cost

If you can't afford (or don't want to) pay for someone to design your cover, you can figure it out yourself. Look at covers on books like your book and come up with something that will work. Do the best you can right now. Change it later, when you can, when it's needed.

Focus on one format

To release books fast, pick one format for your book to focus on first. Get your books up as e-books on Amazon. Don't worry about print, large print, audiobooks, hardcover vs. paperback, going wide or being exclusive. Figure that out later. To get started, simply have a clean file of your book and a cover, and upload them to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

Why KDP? At least in the US, it's the biggest market. Start with the biggest payoff. You can always add other markets later (even if you're initially exclusive in KDP Select). I think it makes sense to expand to multiple formats and markets. I plan to do that too (I have with other titles). Right now, however, I have more titles that are not available than those available! I need to get my books up, and work on improving them when I have time.

Write more books

If you want to release books fast you also need to write more books! And write books faster. Mostly that means being consistent with your writing. You might want to check out my quick guide to goal setting. Figure out how much time you will spend writing your book and decide on a schedule. If you're like me and work a full time job, you may not write as fast as you'd like, but being consistent counts.

I already have a backlist of titles to put up. I'm also working on a new book right now, with a long list of additional titles to write. Some in my current series, others in new series, as well as some standalone titles. Figure out what you need to do to make time for yourself to write. Have fun!

Writer T-Shirt

Use boilerplate templates

Use boilerplate templates to release books fast. Create (or have someone create for you) a template that you can easily use for multiple books. Save time on your interiors by using the same templates. This works especially well for novels, even more so in a series, since they will have a consistent appearance. Make sure that you use styles. One of the biggest issues I see people run into is formatting selected text instead of using styles. Whether you're working in Word or InDesign (or something else) find out how styles work and use them! With a style you can modify the details of the style and instantly change all text with that style. It's a huge time saver and also lets you tweak and customize your templates (say for different series) with a few clicks.

Analyze your methods

With each book, take a look at your methods and processes. What can you improve to help you release books fast? You don't have to improve everything or analyze everything. Pick one process and ask, how could I do this better? Test your processes. Track how long it takes, make a change, and track it with the next book. With each book try to find one or two things that you can do better. It will pay off over time.

I also recommend that you use these methods when you start and don't hire someone. Learn how all of this works. Figure it out. Test and improve. Identify those areas that have the biggest payoff in helping you release books fast. Later, after you have worked through the process with many books, you'll have a better sense of whether or not it makes sense to hire someone to take over parts of the work. You'll have a much better idea of what you can give someone else to do, and a better idea of how long it should take (and cost), if you've been doing it yourself first.

What ideas do you have?

What ideas do you have to release books fast? Share in the comments!

Anthology Workshop Ocean

Reflections on the Anthology Workshop 2018

I just spent over a week on the Oregon coast attending the 2018 Anthology Workshop run by WMG Publishing's Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Allyson Longueira. The other editors this year included Denise Little, Ron and Brigid Collins, and Mark Leslie Lefebvre. Plus nearly fifty professional writers who wrote stories for six different Fiction River anthologies and Pulphouse Magazine. How was it? Fantastic and intense. 

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Anthology Workshop Basics

Dean Wesley Smith runs the Anthology Workshop along with Kristine Kathryn Rusch and WMG Publishing on the Oregon coast. The link to Dean's site provides more information about this invitation-only workshop. Basically, a bunch of professional writers write short stories on a tight deadline for a half-dozen anthologies before going to the workshop. They also read the stories.

This isn't a critique workshop. The writers don't critique each other's work. The only critiques come from the panel of editors who each give their opinions and thoughts on each story in turn. The editor of that anthology is the final word on the story, making an offer to purchase the story (pro-rates) or rejecting it. It takes all day to get through the stories for each anthology.

If you have a hard time with form rejection letters, sitting and taking notes while 6-7 editors pick apart your story in front of a room full of writers might not be for you. It's a fantastic opportunity to learn.

Historic Anchor Inn<img class=”tve_image wp-image-676″ alt=”Historic Anchor Inn” width=”4160″ height=”3120″ title=”IMG_20180226_095007″ data-id=”676″ src=”//ryanmwilliams.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_20180226_095007.jpg” style=”width: 100%;”>

Historic Anchor Inn

Anthology Workshop Reflections

A year ago I decided to attend the Anthology Workshop once I finished my MLIS degree. I've attended numerous other Oregon coast workshops on writing craft and business. I've sold stories to Fiction River. Despite that, I hadn't attended one of the anthology workshops. I knew what to expect (more or less) from my other experiences. It definitely met my expectations and was a great way to launch my effort to relaunch my writing.

The schedule each day started with joining other writers at breakfast at 9 AM at the Historic Anchor Inn. Then up to the Inn at the Spanish Head for the sessions at 11 AM. The editor panel started through the stories up for that anthology. We broke for lunch at 1 PM and came back at 3 PM to continue. Another break at 6 PM for dinner, back at 8 PM for the final stories. Once the panel finished with the stories the anthology editor assembled the anthology, making decisions about ‘maybe' stories. In some cases decisions waited until later in the week. Throughout Dean also picked stories for Pulphouse Magazine. By 9:30 PM (usually), we wrapped up and went back to the Anchor to hang out until 11 PM or so.

Socialization Overload

It's great fun hanging out with lots of writers. I also found that I needed to take care of myself by getting some solitary time back in my room. As the days went on, I cut back on attending some of the morning and evening sessions. I needed that time. I still took time to spend talking with the other writers and editors. I learned a lot and enjoyed those conversations. I just took time for myself when needed.

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Storytelling Lessons

The Anthology Workshop highlights so many invaluable details about storytelling. As each editor discusses each story, you hear what worked, what didn't, and what they might suggest changing in edits. You see them disagree with each other. One editor might say that they got confused, or think that something should be changed, only to have another editor contradict them. Very few stories work for the entire panel.

A chief lesson: send the stories out. Each reader will have different reactions. Some will love a story while others don't. 

Selling Isn't Everything

Out of the six stories I submitted, two got picked up. One for Fiction River and another for Pulphouse Magazine. That's two more professional sales and I'm thrilled. It isn't the most important thing that I took away from the anthology workshop. The writers wrote something like 1.2 million words of fiction for the anthology workshop. The editors talked about every single story. And I have notes about all of the stories.

That is the best thing about the anthology workshop. I have extensive notes about what worked and what didn't work for each editor about each story. That's a terrific learning resource which will help me improve my writing. I'll be happy when my stories get published, but the storytelling lessons will continue to improve my writing for years to come.

Laptop, glasses

How to Write, Finish, and Submit a Story in a Single Day

Challenge: Write and Submit a Short Story in the Next 4 Hours

Here's the challenge: write a complete 3,000-word short story from idea to finished copy and submit it to a professional market within the next four hours. I've created this guide to help you succeed with the challenge. Have fun!

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30 minutes | Writing Your Opening Scene | 0 to ~500 words

Writing Your Opening Scene

Write the opening of your story. Start with your character in a setting, facing a problem or situation. It doesn't need to be the main problem of the story.

Don't worry if you don't have a fleshed out idea! Dive into your character and write about their immediate problem and setting through all of their senses, with their opinion and voice.

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Keep writing for 30 minutes. Aim for 500 words that introduces your character, setting (all senses and opinion), and the initial problem.

 

5 minutes | Take a Break

Take a Break

It's important to take breaks. If you're sitting at the computer get up and stretch. Walk. Take a drink of water. Take care of yourself so that you can continue to write.

5min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Don't look back over what you've written! We're moving forward with the story.

 

Next 30 minutes | Complicating Your Character's Life | ~500 to 1,000 words

Complicate Your Character's Life

If the initial problem wasn't the main problem of the story, it should be introduced by now if you haven't yet.

Faced with the story problem, your character makes an intelligent attempt to solve it.

And Fails!

The character discovers the problem doesn't have an easy solution. Their attempt to solve the problem makes it more complicated.

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Keep writing for 30 minutes. Aim for 500 words that develops the problems and complications.

 

5 minutes | Take a Break

Take a Break

Time for another break! Move. Stretch. Look into the distance. Meditate for a few minutes.

5min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Don't look back over what you've written! We're moving forward with the story.

 

30 minutes | Things Get Worse | ~1,000 to 1,500 words

Things Get Worse

Now your character knows that the problem they face doesn't have an easy situation. They recover from the initial failure and come up with a new (intelligent) attempt to resolve the problem.

And Fails!

 Fails, and their attempt to solve it makes the problem worse. Things don't look good!

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Keep writing for 30 minutes. Aim for at least another 500 words.

 

5 minutes | Take a Break

Take a Break

Time for another break! Move. Stretch.  Stay off social media, email, and all of that. Get away from the computer.

5min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Don't look back over what you've written! We're moving forward with the story.

 

30 minutes | The Situation Turns Dire | ~1,500 to 2,000 words

The Situation Turns Dire

Ever attempt your character made to solve the problem has made things worse than ever. Even so, they rally, dig deep and attempt to solve the problem again.

And Fails!

For the third time the character has failed and things are worse than they ever imagined. All paths seem closed off.

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Keep writing for 30 minutes. Aim for at least another 500 words or so. Be sure to keep the reader anchored and the emotions high.

 

5 minutes | Take a Break

Take a Break

Time for another break! You probably don't want to take a break at this point. Do it anyway. Step away and rally your strength for the final push.

5min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Don't look back over what you've written! We're moving forward with the story.

 

30 minutes | Final Attempt | ~2,000 to 2,500 words

Final Attempt

This is it! Your character takes the only option left, all cards on the table, the last big push to resolve the problem

And Succeeds!

The final attempt, the character's last heroic effort succeeds in solving the problem.

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Keep writing for 30 minutes. Aim for at least another 500 words. Put all of the emotion and detail on the page. Don't stop!

 

5 minutes | Take a Break

Take a Break

It feels like the story is done, but not quite yet! Take a quick break and come back refreshed to finish the story.

5min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Almost there, you're doing great!

 

30 minutes | Resolution and Validation | ~2,500 to 3,000 words

Resolution and Validation

Your character succeeded in solving the problem with their final attempt. This last scene wraps up the outcome of that resolution.

In the very end, provide a validation which tells the reader that the story is over.

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Keep writing for 30 minutes. This may not run a full 500 words, but be sure that you provide the reader with validation.

 

5 minutes | Take a Break

Take a Break

Final break before you dive in to finish up the story and submit it to an editor.

Get away from the computer!

5min

Set Your Timer and Start!

You've written the story! Take a final break before the last sprint.

 

30 minutes | Clean Up and Submission

Clean Up and Submission

Many writers struggle with this part of the process. The fear of sending out the story keeps them coming back at the story, editing it until they strip out anything original about the story.

Spell check. Go back and fix anything that you noticed that needs quick corrections. Make sure you use proper manuscript format.

Then send it out to a market!

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Right now, this is the hardest part of the challenge. Don't hesitate. Submit the story. If it makes you feel better, take another look at it if it comes back, but submit it before your time is up!

 

Conclusion

Conclusion

Congratulations on getting through the challenge!

You've written a complete ~3,000-word short story in 4 hours, cleaned up the manuscript, and submitted it to an editor. Great job!

I'm sure that there are questions. I've answered a few below, ask more in the comments!

240min

Questions

What if I want to write a story shorter or longer than 3,000 words?

Great! Go for it. The challenge isn't meant to suggest that a story needs to be that length, or that it needs to be written in 4 hours! It's a challenge meant to help writers overcome blocks that prevent them from completing a short story and sending it out to editors.

I can't send my story out without spending more time editing it!

You can. You're afraid to send it out but I doubt anyone is preventing you from doing so. If you completed the challenge trust yourself and send it out. Nothing terrible will happen. If it doesn't get accepted you can look at it again with more distance.

Oregon Beach Ocean

How to Write While Traveling (And Keep Your Sanity)

Travel introduces you to new settings and people and makes writing a challenge. It's great for writers—you get so much more to write about—and scary if you are a stay-at-home introvert like me. Travel disrupts writing habits and routines, making it hard to get words written and meet goals. There are some things you can do to keep a basic foundation of your creative routine.Continue reading

Learning About ConvertKit | The Stealth Writer

I'm new to marketing. My focus has always been on writing and publishing and unfortunately, without making much of an effort to make my work visible. I haven't used email marketing to reach out to readers and make those connections. Between working fulltime as a librarian and leading a busy creative life, I hadn't prioritized the marketing side of writing and that has hurt my writing career.Continue reading

A Writer’s Introduction to Life Rolls

The view out my window shows gently falling snow and frosted fir trees. Pretty, so long as I'm sitting here looking out the window. Less so when I head out later to pick up my sick dog from the vet. What does this have to do with life rolls? What are life rolls?Continue reading