Cover Design Tricks

There was a story in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday, showing that it’s still possible to make great sales from ebooks. I’d love to know how the successful author Sheila Rodgers tackled the problem of getting her first novel known online. This is called ‘the process of discovery’, and basically means that if people don’t know about your book, they won’t be buying it.

Most people think that if you write a decent story it will sell, simply because it is good. But it’s not that easy, as I’ve been finding for the last 18 months. There are 342,000 titles on Smashwords alone, and they distribute these to a dozen other vendors of ebooks, including Apple. Amazon stock millions of ebooks, including well-known classics. The article makes it sound like she wrote it for fun, couldn’t be bothered with approaching traditional agents, so stuck it on Amazon and she was instantly successful – just like that!

Hope and Cynicism walk hand in hand when you’re a self-published writer.

One of the huge drawbacks with e-publishing is that because no physical object exists, be it a CD, film or book, buyers expect the digital version to be much cheaper. In other words, instant devaluation – and in more ways than just monetary. It leads to a certain stigma, with e-publishing seen as just playing at it, or vanity publishing – with paper books being the real thing.

I did a search for how bestselling author of ebooks Sheila Rodgers/Rachel Abbott marketed herself to success. In an interview, she talks about coming up with a marketing strategy, without revealing what that was. She also signed to a literary agent, though quite how isn’t said as the agency is one of the snootiest around. David Higham Associates are one of those who is still stuck in the nineteenth century and doesn’t accept submissions by email, so I didn’t approach them. The thought occurred to me that it’s possible to buy an agent’s services, (of course it is) and that this writer bought herself some influence. I’m anticipating that she invested money in expensive advertising – there aren’t many paupers on Alderney, where she lives.

This isn’t sour grapes, as I know that speculating in promotional expenses can accumulate earnings. One thing that I took from the interview with her was the design of her book covers. It’s a necessary evil that the look of ebook covers is deliberately heavy-handed and obvious, as they’re shrunk down to tile size on Kindles etc.

Cover of Only The Innocent by Rachel Abbott

Hers use CAPITAL LETTERS, as well as a teaser subtitle. I’ve been meaning to add such a phrase to my covers, so did so at the weekend and will upload the new versions soon – Lord knows what difference it will make. See the current and updated covers of a novella called ‘Burpwallow Holler’. I think that the copied layout looks better.

The old version looks more artistic and might work well on a book in a shop, but the new cover with upper case lettering grabs the eye more when shrunk down to the size that Kindles display.

I’m fortunate to be quite creative artistically, so have tackled all of the book cover design myself. I use the free IrfanView photo editing software. This does all that I need and is quick and intuitive to use.

14 reasons why you shouldn’t dream of being a full-time author

The British government’s YouGov poll on which is the most desirable job prompted several articles in the newspapers from authors.

Chas Newkey-Burdon discusses the reality of being a writer in this article from The Daily Telegraph :

In the last few months, since I’ve been chasing a traditional publishing deal, I’ve come across two rather startling, not to say depressing statistics about the process of getting one’s work known.

It’s said that out of 1,000 submissions made to a literary agent or publisher, only one will be given any serious consideration.

Mirroring this figure, out of 1,000 downloads of an ebook on Amazon only one review will be made by a reader.

I keep saying it, but being a writer is tough!

The Bad Sex In Fiction Award

Writing about any form of sexual activity in a story causes all sorts of problems. Not the least of these, is that the delight gained from sex is just about the most subjective thing one can do – what pleases one person might disgust another.

Just finding the words to describe any act of sex is awkward. Should one be earthy and use coarse expletives and four-letter words, or be discreet with vague allusions and metaphors used to indicate the action and thoughts of the lovers ?

Even the finest authors stumble over this predicament. This led to the Literary Review founding an award in 1993 to acknowledge what they consider to be the worst description of a sex scene in a novel published in the preceding year. The given rationale is “to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it”.

It’s aimed at literary authors, who are a bit up themselves, as an Australian might say. There’s reams of pornographic/erotic fiction in book form and online, of course – but this award appears to be trying to puncture pseuds who try to elevate their descriptions of copulation to an art form. Brits are prurient about sex anyway, so as soon as somebody starts to talk about it, let alone write about it, the sniggers begin. Some of the winners did produce some hilarious descriptions, however.

Mind you, if you think about ways of describing any intense physical sensation, it’s tricky, isn’t it? Stuff like taking a motorcycle ride, eating a tasty meal, being moved by a favourite piece of music or having an orgasm is best experienced internally. Once you put them into words, it’s bound to detract from their power and pleasure.

This is partly why I wrote an unusual, out of left field, huh? sex scene in my first novel ‘The Perfect Murderer.’ I’m laughing up my sleeve a bit, imagining what readers will think about it. The activity involved is a paraphilia. I won’t say any more about it at the moment, as I’m still mulling over ways of publishing the book.

I haven’t tried writing anything erotic recently, though I feel that simple and concise would be more effective than anything too flowery. Years ago, I wrote erotic short stories to commission through an ad in the Erotic Folio Society (long gone bust), and the strangest one was for a woman who was sexually drawn to wardrobes – having sex inside them, on them and with them!

There’s nowt as strange as folk.

But you and I are completely normal, of course….

Here are two examples from the 2009 nominees, including the winning entry (no pun intended !) by Jonathan Littell

Nick Cave, The Death of Bunny Munro

“He slips his hands under her cotton vest and her body spasms and slackens and he cups her small, cold breasts in his hands and feels the hard pearls of her nipples, like tiny secrets, against the barked palms of his hands. He feels the gradual winding down of her dying heart and can see a bluish tinge blossoming on the skin of her skull through her thin, ironed hair.

“‘Oh, my dear Avril,’ he says.

“He puts his hands under her knees and manoeuvres her carefully so that her bottom rests on the edge of the settee. He slips his fingers underneath the worn elastic of her panties that are strung across the points of her hips, slips them to her ankles and softly draws apart her knees and feels again a watery ardour in his eyes as he negotiates a button and a zipper. It is exactly as he imagined it – the hair, the lips, the hole – and he slips his hands under her wasted buttocks and enters her like a fucking pile driver.”


The Kindly Ones by Jon Littell

“Una had stretched out on the bed of the guillotine; I lifted the lunette, made her put her head through it, and closed it on her long neck, after carefully lifting her heavy hair. She was panting. I tied her hands behind her back with my belt, then raised her skirt. I didn’t even bother to lower her panties, just pushed the lace to one side and spread her buttocks with both hands: in the slit, nestling in hair, her anus gently contracted. I spit on it. ‘No,’ she protested. I took out my penis, lay on top of her, and thrust it in. She gave a long-stifled cry. I was crushing her with all my weight; because of the awkward position – my trousers were hindering my legs – I could only move in little jerks. Leaning over the lunette, my own neck beneath the blade, I whispered to her: ‘I’m going to pull the lever, I’m going to let the blade drop.’ She begged me: ‘Please, fuck my pussy.’ – ‘No.’ I came suddenly, a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg.

If you’d like to read about the last round of the Bad Sex In Fiction Award for 2014, have a look at this link :


I freely admit that I’m intolerant of commercials on television, and I always mute the sound or change channels to avoid them. I’m similarly averse to advertisements in magazines, newspapers and online. My ally in avoiding them on the computer is the free app called AdBlock, which I’ve added to Google Chrome to prevent ads loading – it helps speed up how quickly pages load in this way.

Strange then, that I should rise this morning with the name of Adrian Wapcaplet on my mind. This enterprising ad executive features in The String Sketch by Monty Python, which sums up the madness of the advertising industry for me. Perhaps it’s all of the research that I’ve been doing recently in how to sell my books, by raising my profile as a writer through blogging, Twittering, making FaceBook posts and comments on writers’ forums that has made me more aware of the power of advertising.
This sketch is brilliant.
The String Sketch
( from Monty Python’s Instant Record Collection )
Adrian Wapcaplet: Aah, come in, come in, Mr….Simpson. Aaah, welcome to Mousebat, Follicle, Goosecreature, Ampersand, Spong, Wapcaplet, Looseliver, Vendetta and Prang!
Mr. Simpson: Thank you.
Wapcaplet: Do sit down–my name’s Wapcaplet, Adrian Wapcaplet…
Mr. Simpson: how’d’y’do.
Wapcaplet: Now, Mr. Simpson… Simpson, Simpson… French, is it?
S: No.
W: Aah. Now, I understand you want us to advertise your washing powder.
S: String.
W: String, washing powder, what’s the difference. We can sell anything.
S: Good. Well, I have this large quantity of string, a hundred and twenty-two thousand miles of it to be exact, which I inherited, and I thought if I advertised it–
W: Of course! A national campaign. Useful stuff, string, no trouble there.
S: Ah, but there’s a snag, you see. Due to bad planning, the hundred and twenty-two thousand miles is in three-inch lengths. So it’s not very useful.
W: Well, that’s our selling point! “SIMPSON’S INDIVIDUAL STRINGETTES!”
S: What?
S: For what?
S: Such as?
W: Uhmm…Tying up very small parcels, attaching notes to pigeons’ legs, uh, destroying household pests…
S: Destroying household pests?! How? W: Well, if they’re bigger than a mouse, you can strangle them with it, and if they’re smaller than, you flog them to death with it!
S: Well surely !….
S: ‘Ospitals !?!?!?!!?
W: Have you ever in a Hospital where they didn’t have string?
S: No, but it’s only string !
W: ONLY STRING?! It’s everything! It’s…it’s waterproof!
S: No it isn’t!
W: All right, it’s water resistant then!
S: It isn’t!
S: You just said it was waterproof!
S: You’re mad!
W: Shut up, shut up, shut up! Sex, sex sex, must get sex into it. Wait, I see a television commercial- There’s this nude woman in a bath holding a bit of your string. That’s great, great, but we need a doctor, got to have a medical opinion. There’s a nude woman in a bath with a doctor–that’s too sexy. Put an archbishop there watching them, that’ll take the curse off it. Now, we need children and animals. There’s two kids admiring the string, and a dog admiring the archbishop who’s blessing the string. Uhh…international flavour’s missing…make the archbishop Greek Orthodox. Why not Archbishop Makarios? No, no, he’s dead… never mind, we’ll get his brother, it’ll be cheaper… So, there’s this nude woman….

Are women hardwired to love thrillers?

A report in the Telegraph newspaper last week, written by thriller author Rebecca Whitney highlights how it is women who predominantly read this genre of crime novels.


As Mark Twain observed – ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.’

Some of the research findings quoted in this report, such as 68% of readers of thrillers are women, need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Any survey is dependent for its accuracy on many different factors. What’s produced from a poll taken at a conference of fans of crime fiction would produce different results to a street survey of passing shoppers.

This newspaper report makes a number of sweeping generalisations about how the sexes are hardwired differently, that had they been aimed at proving differences between the races, would have caused outrage. Nevertheless, the writer’s thoughts on how women relate to working out how to resolve an unhappy situation to restore order, is a precise way of summing up what happens in the story arc of a thriller.

Crime stories are one of the best-selling genres of fiction, with a figure of 25% commonly bandied about for online sales. This partly influenced me, when I was thinking about what to write about for my first novel as 2014 began. I’d already written fourteen short stories and novellas, as well as several hundred poems in the previous eighteen months. These tackled love and romance, science fiction, the paranormal, self-identity and thrillers with a twist to them.

I had a number of concerns that I wanted to address about the state of modern society. These included CCTV, the dehumanising effects of video-gaming, exposure to violent images and how demobbed soldiers remain traumatised by what they’ve seen and done in combat zones. Such themes suggested a psychological thriller to me, and as part of the overall atmosphere of paranoia that I intended to create, I would emphasize how the system, the establishment, protects itself with cover-ups when it makes mistakes.

I worked long and hard on ‘The Perfect Murderer’, which took some 4,000 hours to produce. I was pleased with the result while being unsure if it worked as a story that would grab a reader. Fortunately, a trusted friend volunteered to be my first reader. She has a fine mind and keen eyes, so is good at pointing out semantic mistakes and dodgy grammar. I was interested to know what she would make of the plot, as she doesn’t normally read thrillers or crime novels.

The Perfect Murderer - a novel about a serial killer who makes no mistakes.

Writing is a bit like being a magician, in that you know how the trick is done, but you’re not sure if your sleight of hand and misdirection has worked on the audience.
Whether ‘The Perfect Murderer’ will sell is another matter. Its success may be assisted by my bumbling attempts at self-promotion through the social media, and also by my free book giveaway on Smashwords.
I hope that what Rebecca Whitney says about women being the main readers of thrillers is true if the downloads of my erotic verse collection are any indicator of my potential reading public. 1,000 took a collection called What Do You Like? and I suspect that they are mainly female. I pray that they also like crime novels with a psychological twist, and that they remember my name when I publish the novel.
As a marketing strategy, giving away sexually suggestive poetry as a way of selling a novel featuring two sociopathic killers, sounds unlikely to me. But then who knows? As the old saying goes – ‘You have to go fishing where the fish are’, which is what I’m trying to do.
I wonder if my bait will work.

Just one in ten authors can earn a full-time living from writing, report finds

This article was in the Daily Telegraph today :

That only one in ten authors earn a full-time living from writing doesn’t surprise me. I have forty-four titles online at Smashwords and Amazon, and I’m as poor as a church mouse. The report pertains to British authors, but I somehow doubt that the figures quoted would be a lot different for American writers.

I found its references to self-publishing a little confusing, as it looks like they’re not referring to ebooks at all, but rather what was once known as vanity publishing, where writers pay for hard copies of their books to be printed. Clicking on the blue highlighted The Business of Being an Author link in the article will give you a PDF copy of the report.

The statistic that 42.3% of earnings are accrued by just 5% of authors is shocking. That there’s such an imbalance in how readers choose what to read proves people buy what they know, and what everyone else is talking about. The book needn’t have any literary worth, with the Fifty Shades series being so poorly written that they’re pathetically trite.

J. K. Rowling has better technique but was allowed to run roughshod over any editing considerations on the back of her financial success, making the later books in her Harry Potter series bloated. There’s such a thing as being too successful, for she’s gone from being an impoverished mother living on state benefits, to having a net worth of one billion dollars. This means that she needs to employ a team of bodyguards, to prevent kidnapping attempts and terrorist attacks.

Why would want that situation? I’d be happy to just earn a decent living. After writing a 160,000-word psychological thriller in 2014, I’ve spent the last six months researching ways of promoting myself and my books, making social media postings and chasing literary agents and publishers who accept direct submissions. This feels like mixing wallpaper paste each and every day, compared to the joy that I got from creative writing.

I will endeavour to persevere though, for I know that it’s all a case of getting the ball rolling. After all, J. K. Rowling could still be living on benefits, had the eight-year-old daughter of a senior publishing executive not said that she liked the first Harry Potter story – causing him to give it another look. Twelve other publishers had already rejected it.