Friday, May 31, 2013

Interview with Cover Artist Cali MacKay

Instead of the usual author interview, I thought I'd ask some industry experts to explore some topics this summer.  I reached out to Cali MacKay, cover artist extraordinaire, to talk about the all-important cover to your masterpiece.

Thanks, Cali, for taking some time to share your thoughts.  So, here we go:

1)      What makes a compelling cover?
I think it’s a combination of the right composition and also finding/using stock images that will make an impact.  Also, I often think less is more when it comes to a cover, since most readers browse through thumbnail images, and too many elements in a cover will look cluttered and will lessen the impact of a few bold images.
2)      What is the importance of types of fonts/sizes of fonts?
Fonts are extremely important, in my opinion, for giving the reader a sense of the genre and also the feel of the book.  Also, I think it’s important to use fonts that feel “current,” since it’s very easy for a font to make a book feel dated or old-fashioned.  Too often, I think not enough attention is paid to picking the right font.
3)      How important is a blurb on the front of a cover? 
Honestly, I seldom put a blurb on most of the covers I make, since they’re usually ebooks.  It goes back to not wanting to clutter the cover so that it makes the most impact when readers are browsing thumbnails.  I think different rules apply for paperbacks, however, especially if they’re going to be purchased at a book store, where the reader can see the full-size cover.
4)      Describe what you would consider a cardinal sin for a cover.
I think it’d be going with something that looks “homemade” or unprofessional, and also putting a cover out that feels dated. However, one of the biggest mistakes that I think authors will make when designing a cover (or having one made) is to try to have their cover represent their story exactly.  I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but a cover’s main purpose is to get a reader to click on the cover to find out more about the story.  It’s the author’s biggest marketing tool.  But often times authors will sacrifice design for accuracy, and because stock photography can be limiting and most authors can’t afford a photo shoot, accuracy often means going with stock that has far less impact.  Often times, it also means that the cover will become cluttered with all the “important” elements in a story—a dog, a porch, lightning, a cottage, the sea, etc.  Put all those elements in a cover, and you end up with a mish-mash of images that will lead to a cover that looks unprofessional, cluttered, and has little impact.
5)      Describe what you would consider essential for a cover.
The cover has to be bold enough to stand out in a sea of covers when the reader is scanning through hundreds of covers at an incredibly fast speed.  If it doesn’t “pop,” then it will often times get over looked, which means you’ve just lost a potential reader.
6)      When should an author reach out to a professional cover artist?
If an author doesn’t think they can pull off a cover that will have a bold impact and look professional and current, then I think it’s worth finding a cover artist.  The right cover can have a huge impact on sales.
7)      How can prospective clients reach you? 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

An Editing Nightmare

Now, don't get worried...I'm not about to throw some author under the bus for a manuscript.  I'm going to tell you about an actual nightmare.  Well, maybe not a nightmare...just a bad dream.

I was sleeping in my dream and a call on my cell phone woke me up.  A bit groggy, I looked at the number and recognized it as one of my authors.  Not sure why they were calling, I answered with a panicked, "Hello?"

Right away, Mark (and I have no idea how I knew his name) started in on me.  I realized this wasn't actually one of my authors but her husband calling me.  He was ranting and raving about how the books were getting slammed in the reviews, especially for typos.

I asked him what specific book he was talking about as I am now magically in front of my computer, trying to start my accounting program and check what titles I had actually done for his wife (I'm not that good at remembering every title I've ever done when I get woken up by a phone call, apparently - even in my dreams, I'm not that good!).

He rattles off a title.  And then he says something to the effect of well, you might not have worked on that title.  I'm still fumbling with my password, so I breathe a small sigh of relief.  I ask what the next title is that he's seeing the negative feedback on.  He rattles off another title.  I'm starting to engage my brain at this point and the title doesn't sound particularly familiar.  He stops for a second and admits I might not have worked on that one, either.

By now I have my program open.  I click the customer section and find the author's name.  One title.  That's it. I've only worked on one title and yet the guy is yelling at me (either very late at night or very early in the morning) for things I haven't worked on. EVER.

I'm starting to boil inside.  I can take criticism. (Well, maybe.)  I can admit I'm not perfect. (Unless my husband asks, in which case I am perfect.)  But I certainly don't have a magic wand that, when I work on one manuscript, fixes all the others that are ALREADY PUBLISHED.

So, just as I'm getting my dander up and getting ready to try to politely tell this author's husband (not even the author herself!) to go pound sand...

Dudley jumps up on the bed and wakes me up from my nightmare.  He gives me a lick, settles down between me and the hubby, and stays there from 1:41 a.m. to 6:30 or so (when it's clearly time for breakfast).

And that was the end of that.  I hope.

What about you guys?  Have you ever had any dreams about readers giving you a hard time about your books?

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Long and Short of It

No, I’m not going to make short people jokes (I’m sensitive that way!).  Let’s make some hyphen jokes instead. 

Umm…I can’t think of any hyphen jokes.

Okay, instead let’s talk about the difference between a dash, en dash, and em dash. (And have you even ever heard of a 2-em dash or a 3-em dash?)  Turning your trusty copy of the Chicago Manual of Style to section 6.75, you see the following:
Hyphens and dashes compared
Hyphens and the various dashes all have their specific appearance (shown below) and uses (discussed in the following paragraphs). The hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash are the most commonly used. Though many readers may not notice the difference—especially between an en dash and a hyphen—correct use of the different types is a sign of editorial precision and care. (And hey, I'm all about editorial precision and care!)
hyphen -
en dash –
em dash —
2-em dash ——
3-em dash ———

A hyphen is used in compound words and names and in word division. A hyphen is used to separate numbers that are not inclusive, such as telephone numbers, social security numbers, and ISBNs. It is also used to separate letters when a word is spelled out letter by letter, in dialogue, in reference to American Sign Language, and elsewhere. Hyphens can also appear in URLs and e-mail addresses. A hyphen must not be added to such a string when it breaks at the end of a line.

The principal use of the en dash is to connect numbers and, less often, words. With continuing numberssuch as dates, times, and page numbersit signifies up to and including (or through). For the sake of parallel construction, the word to, never the en dash, should be used if the word from precedes the first element in such a pair; similarly, and, never the en dash, should be used if between precedes the first element. In other contexts, such as with scores and directions, the en dash signifies, more simply, to.  An en dash may be used to indicate a number range that is ongoingfor example, to indicate the dates of a serial publication or to give the birth date of a living person. No space intervenes between the en dash and the mark of punctuation that follows. The en dash can be used in place of a hyphen in a compound adjective when one of its elements consists of an open compound or when both elements consist of hyphenated compounds. This editorial nicety may go unnoticed by the majority of readers; nonetheless, it is intended to signal a more comprehensive link than a hyphen would. It should be used sparingly, and only when a more elegant solution is unavailable. The en dash is sometimes used as a minus sign, but minus signs and en dashes are distinct characters (defined by the Unicode standard as U+2212 and U+2013, respectively). Both the characters themselves and the spacing around them may differ; moreover, substituting any character for another may hinder searches in electronic publications. Thus it is best to use the correct character, especially in mathematical copy.

The em dash, often simply called the dash, is the most commonly used and most versatile of the dashes. Em dashes are used to set off an amplifying or explanatory element and in that sense can function as an alternative to parentheses, commas , or a colon especially when an abrupt break in thought is called for. An em dash is occasionally used to set off an introductory noun, or a series of nouns, from a pronoun that introduces the main clause. An em dash or a pair of em dashes may indicate a sudden break in thought or sentence structure or an interruption in dialogue. (Where a faltering rather than sudden break is intended, suspension points may be used.) An em dash may be used before expressions such as that is or namely. In modern usage, if the context calls for an em dash where a comma would ordinarily separate a dependent clause from an independent clause, the comma is omitted. Likewise, if an em dash is used at the end of quoted material to indicate an interruption, the comma can be safely omitted before the words that identify the speaker. In modern usage, a question mark or an exclamation pointbut never a comma, a colon, or a semicolon, and rarely a periodmay precede an em dash.

A 2-em dash represents a missing word or part of a word, either omitted to disguise a name (or occasionally an expletive) or else missing from or illegible in quoted or reprinted material. When a whole word is missing, space appears on both sides of the dash. When only part of a word is missing, no space appears between the dash and the existing part (or parts) of the word; when the dash represents the end of a word, a space follows it (unless a period or other punctuation immediately follows). Although a 2-em dash sometimes represents material to be supplied, it should not be confused with a blank line to be filled in; a blank in a form should appear as an underscore (e.g., ____).

In a bibliography, a 3-em dash followed by a period represents the same author or editor named in the preceding entry.

When I'm proofing a manuscript, I often find myself fixing hyphens to em dashes.  I do this by using the alt code for it.  Simply put, I hold down the Alt key and type 0151 while that Alt key is still held down.  This way, I know for sure the author will have a true em dash, not just what looks like a em dash. 

And I have to say, I love the versatility of the em dash.  When one character interrupts another-time for an em dash.  When a character's dialogue is stopped short by something they see-time for an em dash.  When it's time for an appositive-you know, something too good to leave out-time for an em dash. 

And to reward you for reading this entire post, here's a little something that made me smile.  Of course, I'm just twisted that way.

Want to learn more exciting rules for punctuation? Check out the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition.  Or, you know, hire a freelance proofreader like me AND I'll look up all the rules!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

It's a Family Trait

When I was little, I lived across the street from my grandparents.
Me and Grandma. Yes, I still have those chipmunk cheeks!

I would spend each Saturday with them, rotating between grocery shopping one week with Grandma and going on Grandpa's mail route the next (it totally rocked being "Charlie's granddaughter" - I got to play in the mail bins and get soda and candy from vending machines).  I would also spend time there when I was bored at home.  They had so much stuff - games, toys, and fascinating odds and ends - that I could spend a week there and find something different to look at or explore every day!

After my grandmother passed away, my parents and aunts and uncles (my grandparents had five kids) started to clean out the house.  I suppose they did it to make things easier for my grandfather, but I'm not really sure it did that.  But what it did do is open my eyes to a family trait: hoarding.  Now, to be fair, my grandparents were of the Great Depression era, so they never wanted to throw anything away.  That aluminum pie tin - keep.  That tin foil that was falling apart - keep.  That plastic top to a jar you couldn't find - keep.  Newspapers from last month - keep.  Pencils too short to hold on to: keep.  Pens that didn't work: keep.

And there was an accessory to the hoarding: stacking.  My grandmother was a stacker.  There were piles of things everywhere.  Not a clear surface in sight: Newspapers.  Bills. Catalogs. Receipts. Drawings from grandchildren.  You know - treasures.

But family treasures are not really what I wanted to talk about today.  It's the hoards of family treasures as opposed to the hordes of family.  So let's look at hoards and hordes:

Hoard: collection or accumulation or amassment of something usually of special value or utility that is put aside for preservation of safekeeping or future use often in a greedy or miserly or otherwise unreasonable manner and that is often kept hidden or as if hidden; a supply or stock or fund of something that is stored up and closely and often jealously guarded <a hoard of money> <a hoard of provisions> <a hoard of facts> often : treasure <dug up a hoard of gold and jewels> <a hoard of old coins>

Horde: an unorganized or loosely organized mass of individuals : a vast number : crowd, swarm, agglomeration <circling hordes of mixed insects — B.J.Haimes> <unpolluted … by their brief contact with the touristic horde — Arnold Bennett> <hordes of Irish … came to the American shore — American Guide Series: New York> <most companies today take hordes of pictures — W.B.Eidson>

Maybe the easiest way to remember the difference is to think of the e in horde with the e in people.   After all, you don't want to hoard people, do you?


Friday, May 3, 2013

29 Ways to Stay Creative

I have this posted on my cork board and thought I'd share it with you creative types. I can't take credit for it, but darned if I can remember where I got it from!

  1. Make lists.
  2. Carry a notebook everywhere.
  3. Try free writing.
  4. Get away from the computer.
  5. Quit beating yourself up.
  6. Take breaks.
  7. Sing in the shower.
  8. Drink coffee.
  9. Listen to new music.
  10. Be open.
  11. Surround yourself with creative people.
  12. Get feedback.
  13. Collaborate.
  14. Don't give up.
  15. Practice, practice, practice.
  16. Allow yourself to make mistakes.
  17. Go somewhere new.
  18. Count your blessings.
  19. Get lots of rest.
  20. Take risks.
  21. Break the rules.
  22. Don't force it.
  23. Read a page of the dictionary.
  24. Create a framework.
  25. Stop trying to be someone else's perfect.
  26. Got an idea? Write it down.
  27. Clean your workspace.
  28. Have fun.
  29. Finish something.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Author Interview - Maureen O. Betita

Let's welcome this month's author, Maureen O. Betita.  You can check out The Kraken’s Mirror, The Ship’s Mistress, The Sister’s Story, Something Different, The Pirate Circus, TheChameleon Goggles, and most recently A Caribbean Spell

Maureen, thanks for taking some time to answer a few questions.

1)      What were your favorite books growing up? The Adventures of Robin Hood, everything Alexander Dumas wrote. The Pelucidar series from Edgar Rice Burroughs… Yes, I didn’t grow up on childrens’ books. I was reading Tolkien in fourth grade. And loving it!
2)      Now that you have, let’s say—some life experience, what would you tell your younger self? Get over yourself and have more fun. Having fun doesn’t mean getting into trouble, it just means having fun. Have more fun!
3)      Describe your typical day. *Snort! Well, sleep too late, get up and watch TV I’d DVR’d, get on the internet and fritter away too much time, fix myself an iced Via from Starbucks, fritter some more, work on my elliptical machine. Fritter. Look at the time, scream, open the newest whatever work I’m doing and do something with it. Give into the dog’s pathetic looks and take her for a walk. Get home, fritter…get serious and work on promotional stuff. Husband gets home, eat, watch TV, go to bed. VERY EXCITING!
4)      Who is your favorite character in your books? I’m not shy. Emily Pawes from the world of the Kraken’s Caribbean. Miranda is the central character in my Caribbean Spell series and I adore her, torture her, force her to grow and just do awful terrible things to her. But she still loves me. But…Emily is older, less burdened, knows how to mix drinks, can curse like a pirate and there is something about Emily…she’s my fav. I like her guy, too…
5)      What do you do when writer’s block shows up, settles in, and makes itself comfortable? Get depressed, deny, eat too much, sit in my rocking chair and stare at the TV for hours on end. Then I try to just start small. Took a great class from Hillary Rettig on how to handle writer’s block and I might pull the book out and read it for a nudge…
6)      Do you find yourself pulling details from “real life” or does your imagination rule the roost? Real life only intrudes when I need to vent my frustrations with…people who are frustrating me. Then I might create a character I can bellow at to calm my mind. But generally, it’s all from my imagination. (Scary, isn’t it?)
7)      What was the first manuscript you wrote (even if it never saw the light of day)? Well, the first writing I ever did is in the process of being edited in order to see the light of day. My Caribbean Spell series began in the middle of book three, the very first stuff I wrote. Then I went back and wrote the first 2.5 books, caught up with myself and went on to write the next 26. No, 27. Book three is called The French Gambit and should be out in September!
8)      Have you ever pursued traditional publishing? Or did you go straight for indie publishing? Oh, sure. I still pursue traditional publishing. With other MS I have written that I believe fit them better. I started with indie and am now self-publishing, but hope to keep my options open to all worlds, at all times.
9)      What Works In Progress are brewing?  Any target dates for publication? Well, editing the 27 remaining books of A Caribbean Spell will keep me busy, but I do have some other projects I hope to see out there. I currently have a submission of a light paranormal ménage I’m hoping to see a well-known indie pick up. But we’ll see! June, I’ll put the second book of A Caribbean Spell series out, called Red Sean’s Revenge. From then on, a new book every three months. For 7.5 years.
10)   How can fans reach you? My website is easy, – I’m on Facebook, two pages, one author and one just me being a goof. Look for Maureen O. Betita. Include the O. or you’ll get my distant niece in the Philippines. Twitter – just my name. LinkedIn, I lost my password and can’t find it. Email is and yes… Amazon Author Page
I’m also on Goodreads.