Monday, June 27, 2016

I'm a Cover Girl!

Yes, the truth comes out... I am the person who takes the photos for my book covers.

What did you think I meant? Is that why you're laughing hysterically??

I've received a lot of compliments on my book covers which I take as high honors because I'm not really a photographer. I don't have an expensive camera, I've never taken a course in photography, and I delete many more photos than I save (there are just so many shots of the inside of my tote bag that I'm willing to keep.) I do, however, love to take photos and since my Black Horse Campground series is set in the region where I live, it only made sense to me to use photos of the area for the covers of my books.

This photo for my first book was taken on the road near my home. While the term "end of the road" may have some negative connotations, for me, this scene is what signals to me that I'm almost home. I like to think that the Black Horse Campground feels like home to a lot of my readers.

The photo for "No Lifeguard on Duty" illustrates how important it is for authors to have connections. At the time "No Lifeguard" was written, my husband worked in pool maintenance. He had to be there one morning (before sunrise) to get the pool ready for an early event. I went along to keep him company and take advantage of the eerie atmosphere of a deserted pool that would be the backdrop for the murder in the book. This is one of my favorite covers. 
When I wrote "No Vacancy", I had a really original concept for the cover: a "no vacancy" sign. In my quest to get a good photo for the cover, I discovered that the majority of "no vacancy" signs that I found were neon signs... something that the Black Horse Campground didn't have (I'm sure I could have changed that, but the Black Horse just isn't the place you'd find a neon sign. Trust me.) So I came up with the idea of taking a scene from the book and using that for the cover. The KOA in Alamogordo, NM is run by Kelly and Sandy Rodwick and they graciously allowed me to use one of their cabins for this picture.

This book cover is the one for which I took many shots that were eventually discarded. My husband, sister-in-law, and I went on a quest, visiting little towns and their church cemeteries one Sunday to try to find the perfect wooden cross hidden in the weeds and tall grass. We had a great time but when I looked at the pictures, nothing seemed just right. A few days later, I was coming home and decided to stop and check our local parish's cemetery (about a mile from our home.) After taking a few pictures in the cemetery itself, I decided to walk back to my car through the ditch that ran behind the cemetery. It was starting to rain and I slipped and almost twisted an ankle. Then I looked up and saw one of the crosses I had photographed earlier through the trees and thought, "That's it!"

Right now, I'm working on the edits for the fifth book in the series. So far, I don't have the title, but I have an idea for the cover and I'm looking forward to whatever adventure comes my way in finding the perfect photo for it!

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Riches of a Writer

I was scrolling through Facebook last week and saw that the day before my book signing at Treasure House Books and Gifts in Albuquerque another author had a signing scheduled... at a Barnes & Noble in Anchorage, Alaska. The reason I heard about this was because my nieces had attended the signing. I also discovered that fans had waited three hours in line to hear his book talk and get their books signed by him. The author was Christopher Paolini, author of the "Eragon" book series.

It seems to be a given that, once a writer gets their first book published, many people believe that they've "hit it big" and that they have received a huge advance and will have ever-growing royalty checks rolling in ever so often as their book series continues, especially after their books are optioned for a TV series or movie. And that the public gathers in the streets whenever the author appears in order to meet said author and get their books signed, even if it means standing in line for three hours.

I'm not going to lie and say that I haven't allowed my daydreams to wander in that direction, but the riches I've amassed as a relatively unknown author are certainly the ones that, I believe, most writers would cherish.

At my book signing, I didn't have fans lined up for three hours--or even three minutes--to meet me and have me sign their books. Many people who wandered in had never heard of me, although they did stop to pick up a bookmark and a cookie (yes, I bribe customers with cookies. Don't judge.) A few very graciously listened to me tell them about my books and then--wonder of wonders--picked up a copy to purchase. And I wondered if Paolini still did a happy dance in his mind when that happened.

Of course, Paolini doesn't have to work too hard to sell his books anymore. I'm sure he did when he first started out, but now his work is practically a household name (even if his own name isn't.) No, my books don't sell themselves; I have to sell them. I'm in the position of being a matchmaker of sorts... I see a person and I introduce them to a book they've never seen or heard of before and convince them that they will have a great time reading it. When I succeed, it's a moment of triumph for many reasons, mainly that my characters (Corrie, Rick, and J.D.) might find a new friend in that reader who had decided to purchase their story.

I didn't sell a huge amount of books (though the bookstore owner graciously told me that my signings are among the most successful ones that they host), but I did sell books, talk to a lot of wonderful people, and gave away many bookmarks that will, I hope, inspire more sales in the future. But it was a success in that I was able to do what I love and find readers who love what I do.

I had a woman come charging through the door, not long after my event started, her eyes alight and her smile from ear to ear. Not only was she eager to buy two books in the series and have me sign them, she pulled out one of the other books in the series from her purse that she had purchased elsewhere and asked me to sign it. That was a first for me and it made me feel extremely grateful and humbled. Many books I sell at signings are impulse buys for first-time Black Horse Campground readers, but this lady had already read a couple of my books and was hooked on the series. And if she had a copy that wasn't signed, then it was one that I didn't personally sell to her... she had bought it from another source because she couldn't wait to read it.

That's a feeling I can't begin to describe.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Book Covers--What You See is What You Get!

I got home late from a book signing in Albuquerque last night and have an early work day today, so today's Back Deck Blog is a rerun from last June and the subject is book covers!

Often the adage "Never judge a book by its cover" is merely an admonishment to look on the inside before one makes a decision. This advice might work when talking about relationships with people. But if you try to follow that advice to the letter in a bookstore, you might be in there a long, long, LONG time.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The truth is, when discussing works of fiction, most readers admit that the cover of the book is what draws their attention. It might be because their favorite author's name is on the cover, but many times, when one is wandering through a bookstore trying to pick out their next read, it's the book's cover that will draw the eye and pull a prospective reader to the shelf to pick the book up.

Many times the artwork on the cover gives an idea of what the book will be about. If you look at a cover of a cozy mystery and the cover of a police procedural, you'll be able to tell right away that the stories may be about the same thing--a murder mystery--but the way the story is told will be very different. A cozy will have an ordinary person, usually a woman, who has an ordinary job find herself mixed up in a murder and trying to solve it despite opposition from the police. And the cover art will reflect that: it will usually show an otherwise peaceful scene from the protagonist's daily life with perhaps a hint of the crime being shown. You won't see that on the cover of a police procedural, of which the artwork will often leave no doubt that the story of the investigation is being told from an official viewpoint: weapons, handcuffs, a badge. Certainly not balls of yarn, teapots, or a cute cat!

In my Black Horse Campground mystery series, the cover pictures of all three books were photos that I took myself. The first for "End of the Road" was taken of the road that leads to my home... essentially, at the end of the work day, it was the "end of the road" for me! I wanted to convey a feeling of coming home, which many readers have told me is how they felt once they got into the book and learned about the characters that populate Bonney County and the Black Horse Campground.

The next book, "No Lifeguard on Duty", revolved around a murder taking place in the campground swimming pool. Here is where having a connection to the city pool (my husband worked pool maintenance for the city rec center) allowed me to be there in the wee hours of the morning which helped with the overall "feel" of the book cover:

For the third book, "No Vacancy", I toyed around with the idea of finding a (wait for it) No Vacancy sign hanging outside a campground or other lodging. My husband and I drove for miles through the mountains one Sunday afternoon, looking for just the right scene and never finding it. Finally I decided that was a little too obvious. So how about a scene from the book? But where could I set the stage? I wanted it to look like a cabin in a campground....

Just then we drove by the local KOA Kampground. The owners, Kelly and Sandy Rodwick, were nothing short of lots of fun and good sports. I mean, why would they humor an unknown who shows up on their doorstep and asks to take a picture of one of their cabins for the cover of a murder mystery? 

One thing that's given me great satisfaction and a feeling of pride is how many compliments I get on my covers. It means more to me knowing that the artwork is something I created myself to fit the story inside the book. I have yet to find the picture that will grace the cover of Book Four, but I'm already looking for it. I'll know it when I see it. And I hope my readers will enjoy reading the story as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Circle of Life (Author Edition)--Writing and Selling Books

What does a writer do when, after months (or years) of work, their novel isn't warmly welcomed by the reading public?

Fellow OTP author, Ilene Schneider ("Chanukah Guilt", "Unleavened Dead") posted a "Pearls Before Swine" comic strip (by Stephan Pastis) in which the character, Rat, after deciding that he must write a novel, is crushed when he presents it to an unimpressed world and turns to drink:

That's one option a writer can choose, but I suggest a much better one....

I'll be the first to admit that I, like almost every writer who has been published, had dreams that my first book would hit the top of the best-seller lists, thus propelling me to super-star author status (much along the lines of Stephen King, James Patterson, and Nora Roberts) or, at the very least, allow me to quit the "day job" and make a living off my writing.

Four years later, I'm still very much working a "day job"... and I'm still writing. No, my first book didn't hit it big. Neither did the next three books. And my fifth book, due out in a few months (and still untitled), probably won't either. So why keep writing? Why keep promoting? Why keep trying to sell my work?

One thing I have learned is this: each subsequent book fuels sales for the previous books. I am always meeting new people who haven't heard of me or my book series, but when they find out that I've written and published four mystery novels, they are interested in going back to the first one to see how the story starts.

I've always been advised, from my earliest writing days, that a writer should always be working on the next book, whether it's a series or not. Despite all the work involved in promoting and selling your work (as disheartening as the sales numbers may be at times), there should always be time for writing the next book. Especially if it's a series. For one thing, it shows that a writer is serious about their work. And it shows that they love their job enough to keep doing it, even if the financial rewards aren't that great.

If, like me, you're blessed enough to find one or two people who love your books enough to want to read the next one, that should be reason enough to keep writing. Do it for love, not for money.