Alien eye

Catching the Eye of a Sci-Fi Reader

Who doesn't want to fall in love? Hopefully, you've had the experience of seeing that one perfect book cover that captures your gaze, pulling you into an intense and engaging experience. It entices you to pick it up. You run your fingers across the cover. Maybe you turn to read the sales copy or maybe you don't because the cover has captured you so completely.

Although today you might just look and then swipe right.

Online (Book) Dating for Sci-Fi Writers

In truth, most book sales, whether print or e-books, take place online. We're not picking up the book with the cover that catches our eyes. We're looking at the book's online profile. We read the sales copy. If other people have picked up this book, we might read what they say. If we like what we see, we buy the book. Often that means in e-book formats, though it can be print.

If we enjoy the book we might go back to that author for a second date. A third. Maybe, if it's a great match we'll give every book by that author a chance. It all starts with that first look that catches the eye.

As writers, we know the importance of making a good first impression with our book covers. I'm working on improving my covers right now, as a part of the reboot project.

Studying the Bestselling Covers Using Amazon Lists

I tend to picture book covers from decades ago when I think about science fiction book covers. The covers that I grew up seeing in bookstores in mass market paperback formats. I also love old pulp covers.

Design has changed since then. Covers need to work as thumbnail images. Most book sales take place online.

Category Covers


Sample Covers Selected by Amazon for Categories

Looking at Amazon's categories, they've selected a number of titles to represent each category. Although some of the titles appear to fit the categories, others seem odd to me. I wouldn't call Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish novels cyberpunk, for instance. Ready Player One might be a better fit. Artemis works for Hard Science Fiction.

The sidebar lists a much longer list of categories. You can also just scroll down to the list. Ready Player One sits at the top with over 15,000 reviews (at this point).

Looking For a Match

Pick a category that seems to match your novel. I'm going with the Genetic Engineering category first for my novel Dark Matters. Here are a few of the titles at the top of that list:

These show a variety of styles. Most without a complicated scene, except for Genome. My Moreau Society series centers around detective Brock Marsden. He incorporates alien DNA into his own using Galactic technology. This gives him unique abilities. It takes place on a world with many different species of aliens, as well as standard humans. Other categories might be Colonization or Adventure.

In the Colonization category we find these sorts of covers:

The covers differ in some ways from the previous category. Persepolis Rising is the only one with a complicated cover painting more in the style of older science fiction. Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles has that ‘classic' look to it. Most use simple shapes that translate easily to thumbnails.

Turning to the Adventure category we find:

Familiar names on this list! Bradbury's cover hits the same red, black and white theme. Brown's covers are easily recognizable as part of the same series. Ready Player One sports the movie-branded cover. Philip K. Dick's cover resembles the Brave New World cover.

Let's compare these to titles from the Mystery category:

Author names are much larger on these books than the science fiction titles, although you see a bit of that with Atwood and Corey. Other colors show up in these covers. I could see incorporating some of the mystery elements into a design that is more clearly science fiction.

What Are Your Favorites?

Let me know in the comments which cover designs and elements you like. What should I focus on for my new covers? I need to come up with new covers for all of my reboot titles. Right now I'm focusing on science fiction. I'll do some more posts as I get further along in the process.



Don’t Talk to Me About Ideas

Where do you get your ideas for stories? Do they come in the mail along with other assorted junk destined for landfills? Or maybe the muse's breath tickles the fine hairs on your neck with whispered inspiration? I've heard that some ideas are inhaled on the misty vapors of a hot shower. A man I knew in New York swore that he got his best ideas while eating big, crisp, dill pickles as long as his hand.

Don't Go Hunting for Ideas—Target Characters Instead

Ideas don't matter. An idea isn't a story. Here's an idea:

An asteroid hits the Earth.

It's happened before and it will happen again. Arthur C. Clarke used it in the opening of his classic book Rendezvous With Rama. Other writers have created numerous other tales about impact events in books and movies. It's an old, well-used idea. Does that mean you can't use it? Of course not!

Just decide who you want to write about because it's their story that matters.

Compare Seeking a Friend for the End of the World with Armageddon. Very different takes on the idea because the characters are different! The story emerges from the character.

Pick on Your Characters—It's Your Job

Characters exist somewhere, in a place. And they exist in some sort of situation. They have a life that exists before the first page of your story. That situation or problem may not (probably isn't) the main problem of the story. It could be related. Unfortunately for your character, things are about to get much worse. Almost as if there is someone deliberately making things hard for them. Oh, wait, there is! We don't read stories about characters where everything goes terrifically well all the time for the character. Things get worse for the character. They try to solve one problem and fail. That ‘try-fail' cycle repeats. Each time they do their best but things keep getting worse until they either succeed or fail for the last time.

Damon Knight describes the Quadrangle: Character, Setting, Situation, and Emotion in his book Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction.

Story Quadrangle described by Damon Knight

I like this visualization of the concept. It neatly captures the character, situation, setting and adds an important factor—emotion into the mix. He explores each of these factors (and much more) in his book. It's well worth reading!

Where do you get your ideas?

What do you turn to for ideas? Do you agree that ideas don't matter? Let me know in the comments!


Stranger Than Fiction: Learning Story Through Practice

I like the movie Stranger Than Fiction. I've watched it many times. It's fun, even though it shows an image of a writer as an eccentric, chain-smoking, and depressed person subject to the demands of a publisher, working in a spacious suite with marble floors. A literary author. It's an odd view of a writer, but one that reflects many of the stereotypes around writers.

“Sitting in the rain won't write books.”

Despite this, I really enjoy the characters in this story. Harold pulls me into the story. That's something that I want to do in my own work.

Learning From Story

What do you do when you enjoy a story, be it a movie or a book? Do you ask why? What did the story's writer do to pull you into the story? How did they do it? Especially when you come back to a story more than once.

We pick up story everywhere. Our whole lives we here, read, and watch stories. Our subconscious picks up on story. It filters through and comes out when we write. With focused attention, we can study works we enjoy to pick up techniques. Dean Wesley Smith covers this in his lectures on Practice.

My Plan

In coming at this reboot of my writing career, learning is key. I've spent many years writing and I continue to learn. After finishing my MLIS degree I realize that I need to focus much more on learning my craft as a fiction writer. I always want to get better. I want my writing to improve. This year is a year of reflection, planning, and rebirth.

I'm looking forward to it.

I'm writing a story each week and I plan to practice as I write those stories. So far I'm hitting each week this year (I started back in December). I create a card on my Trello board for each story which includes the deadline, target word count, and I've added a field for the technique I plan to practice.

Trello card with custom fields

This gives me an easy reminder each time I look at the card. I've added the word count and the topic using the custom fields power-up. I'll update the word count when I finish the story. And a title. When I finish the story, it goes out to a market following Heinlein's Business Rules.

How Do You Practice Writing?

What about you? What do you do to learn and improve your craft? Are there resources you recommend? Techniques that work for you?


laptop showing stats

Writing, Business or Hobby?

Are you an entrepreneur? Do you see your writing as a business? Or is it something else? Maybe a hobby. It's worth taking some time as you consider your goals to think about what you want to accomplish with your writing. It's up to you, there isn't one right way.

You Might Be An Entrepreneurial Writer, If:

  • You are passionate and motivated about your writing.
  • You seek constant improvement.
  • You want to make money from your writing.
  • You aren't afraid to take risks and try new things.
  • You find resources to help you tackle challenges.
  • You look for coaches or mentors further along the path you've chosen.
  • You thrive on hard work.
  • You follow changes in the publishing industry.
  • You enjoy networking.
  • You embrace marketing.
  • You plan to make writing your career.

It's okay if you struggle with some of these. In the past, I didn't embrace marketing. I didn't make any real effort to tell anyone about my books. I didn't see it as a way to connect with my potential audience. I'm constantly learning both my craft and the business of writing.

You Might Be a Hobby Writer, If:

  • You are passionate and motivated about your writing.
  • You seek constant improvement.
  • You aren't opposed to making money, but it's low on your priorities.
  • You aren't afraid to take risks and try new things.
  • You find resources to help you tackle challenges.
  • You look for coaches or mentors further along the path you've chosen.
  • You thrive on hard work.
  • You follow changes in the publishing industry.
  • You enjoy networking.
  • You look for opportunities to share your work.

We won't necessarily share all of these characteristics. Some writers might not enjoy networking. Or might have difficulty identifying coaches or mentors.

Not That Different, Are They?

Maybe you consider yourself an entrepreneur, in business, with a plan to make a living from your writing. Or you plan for your writing to provide a supplemental cash stream as a side hustle to your career. Maybe you don't think of your writing as a business. It's a form of self-expression. You write because you feel the desire or need to write and don't plan to make it your business.

It's a spectrum. Where do you fall?

Let me share a bit of my story. In middle school, I decided that I wanted to write and I planned to make a living at it. My grades turned around. My focus improved. I wrote my first novel. I wrote and submitted stories. I read Writer's Digest and tried as best I could to glean what it meant to be a professional writer. Undergraduate degree focused on writing and science, my first graduate degree, an M.A. from Seton Hill University, focused on writing popular fiction. By that time I had a supervisory position in the library.

If you'd asked, I'd have said that I was in business as a writer.

I sold a few stories. In 2009 I connected with professional writers on the Oregon Coast at a Master Class taught by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Two intense weeks that showed me how much I needed to learn. Finding coaches and mentors, as well as fellow writers, turned things around for me. I sold more stories and started self-publishing my work. I started to understand what it meant to be a professional writer, to be in business.

I still have much to learn. That's what this reboot is all about. Improving my craft. Improving my business skills. Taking that next step.

For most of my ‘writing career,' I've acted as if it was a hobby rather than a business. Nothing wrong with that, except I thought I was treating it as a business. At the same time, I've enjoyed a successful library career. I didn't need my writing career to pay the bills. I made decisions that I wouldn't have made if I were dependent on my writing to bring in income. Now that I'm aware of that, I can approach this reboot of my writing career with a clearer picture of my goals.

What About You?

How do you see your writing? Share in the comments!

Space scene

Nuke the Entire Site From Orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.


True words. Over the past few days, my sites came under attack from hackers. The code infested everything. No sooner would I strip it out and try to secure one site, I would discover it somewhere else. I decided to take Ripley's suggestion to heart. My sites might not be a multi-million dollar installation, but it's hard to do something like that after having spent so much time working on the sites. No doubt there were less radical methods that could have been used. I do have backups. I could restore posts. Only, I'm not going to. At least not right now.

Massive Reboot

I planned to launch my Massive Reboot of my writing and illustration career in 2018 after finishing my MLIS degree program. I'm currently working on my plans. This month is going to be a month of reflection and planning. Right now I only have two goals to focus on this month.

  1. Write a short story each week.
  2. Read.

That's it at the moment. I've ordered Michael Hyatt's Full Focus Planner and look forward to using it in my planning efforts. I first heard about it through Amy Porterfield's excellent podcast. I'm not adding more goals until I have a plan worked out for the reboot. I work as a full-time librarian and need to take that into account as well. For the moment that also means that I'm not going to work on restoring my other sites or the content that was on this site. I will work on the site deliberately, with a plan. I hope you'll check back as I work through this process!