Evolution of a Cover

My summer release, White Lies, will be published on 27th June.

This is my second, full length novel, following on from my debut The Flower Seller which was released last year.

I loved the cover my cover designer came up with for The Flower Seller. The very talented Berni Stevens http://www.bernistevensdesign.com/

the-flower-seller-cover-small
http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

For White Lies, I asked her to come up with a cover that would help me to build a brand. I wanted something that would be recognisably an “Ellie Holmes cover”.   Pinning down that elusive idea was never going to be easy. We made a few false turns on the way but I thought you might find it useful to see where we started and where we finished up.

In order to build the brand we used the same font for my name and the title of the book but not the same colours – hard to use cerise pink for the title when the book is called White Lies. We also used an image of a woman walking away as another echo of The Flower Seller.White Lies Contact Sheet 1

My two favourites were the lower two images. I love the autumnal colours of the image on the left but I was initially drawn to the image on the right. We almost went for the summer image but at the last minute I became worried that it was too similar to The Flower Seller.

I wanted to build a brand, remember but The Flower Seller and White Lies are stand alone stories. They may be set in the same location and feature some of the same places and minor characters but they are not part of a series. I was concerned that if I went for the summer cover it was actually too much like The Flower Seller and readers may think I was indicating the books were part of a series. This brand building stuff is complicated!

It took four more contact sheets of the lower two images, with various tweaks along the way, before we finally hit on a version that worked. I think when a reader sees The Flower Seller and White Lies side by side they will identify a brand through the fonts and the figure but not be misled into thinking they are part of a series. I hope so, anyway.

Here is my new cover. I love it. What do you think?

White Lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes

Can anyone be an indie author?

Technically, the answer to that question is yes. Not everyone, however, is cut out to do it and fewer still can do it and enjoy it.

As with so much, it comes down to how much you want something and how much time and effort you are willing to put in to achieve it. Too many people say they want something but baulk at the work it takes to accomplish it.

author
From affirmation to reality by Joanna Penn courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/akqpa3 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Being an indie author is not easy. Whilst you can build up a support network, you need to have a strong sense of who you are as an author and where your books sit in the market place. You need to be able to trust your own judgement. You are the only one who has your back.

As an indie author, even if you hire others to do some of the work for you, the ultimate responsibility for what they produce lies with you. You have to check and recheck and check again to ensure a quality of output is achieved that you are happy with. You are the Managing Director, the CEO, the buck stops with you.

The boss
The Boss by GDS Productions courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/aWS8c2 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The glory, however, needs to be shared. Remember to thank people for the work they have done. It costs nothing to be nice. If people pay you a compliment on your cover, don’t forget to mention your cover designer. If people praise the professional look of your book, namecheck your editor and others who have contributed their time and talent to making your dream happen. Always, always acknowledge and thank and pay it forward.

And Don’t rush things. Your goals should be to produce the best books you can and build a sustainable career for yourself. That won’t happen overnight. Have patience and plan out a schedule that is achievable. Remember there are only 24 hours in every day and you should be sleeping for eight of them! You might want to do it all, you may even succeed for a while but eventually you will crash and burn. Remember that story about the tortoise and the hare from when you were a child? A slow and steady approach is better both for achieving longevity and for your health.

http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

 

 

The End – And a feeling of relief

end
End by Hitchster courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/9orz8V https://goo.gl/sZ7V7x

I finished my novel last weekend. High fives and glasses of wine all round. It’s gone off to my editor. Before I know it, it will be back with a myriad amendments to be made but for now, I have planted the words ‘The End’ like a flag on a mountain top.

prayer-flags
Prayer Flags by Valcker courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/mJDy3r https://goo.gl/sZ7V7x

Whenever I reach the end of a novel I always feel a huge sense of relief. Relief that I went to the well and there were words there to find. Relief that I had an idea and a half decent novel emerged from it. Relief that those characters that I thought about and worked so hard to create have taken on lives beyond those I imagined for them. I gave them wings and away they flew. Relief that I can still do it. I can still pull it off. I can still spin a plot and weave the magic. The muse hasn’t abandoned me. Yet.

happy-feb
Happy by Carmela Nava courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/78jzSv https://goo.gl/sZ7V7x

Am I alone in my feelings of relief? I often wonder about that. Do other writers experience joy, happiness and pride when they reach the end of their novels? I am always so drained by the end of the writing journey that those feelings occur further down the road to publication. At the instant I finish and for the immediate days after, relief is all I feel.

It is not relief that the writing is over, you understand because I am always writing. There are always a dozen ideas waiting to be developed and explored. It is relief that I can still do my job. I am still a writer.

The relief comes hot on the tail of the fear that stalks me: that one day the words will not come, that the plot will not gel, nor the characters take flight. One day I will have an idea and not do it justice. One day I will not be able to capture lightning in a bottle. One day I will fail.

But that day is not today. Today I am a writer.

the-flower-seller-cover-small
http://Author.to/EllieHolmes
the-tregelian-hoard-cover
http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

The Director’s Cut

During my rewrites of the work in progress I came across a section which has given me trouble from the word go. Rewrites have improved it but I was still struggling to make it sing. Nothing seemed to work. All the usual tools in my writer’s toolkit weren’t able to get to the heart of the problem. Dispirited after another fruitless attempt to bring it up to the level of the rest of the book, I abandoned my study and stomped off.

Needing a boost I decided to watch The Devil Wears Prada on DVD. I’ve seen the movie several times. I can quote my favourite lines as they are being said but it always makes me laugh and I was in need of comfort. When the movie finished I decided to watch the outtakes and then look at the deleted scenes whilst listening to the director’s commentary.

What became apparent with a lot of the scenes that had been cut was that there was actually very little wrong with them. In most instances the point of the scene had been made better in a different scene making the cut scene superfluous or the movie was simply running too long and a scene had to be trimmed with the vital parts of that scene being retained and anything else being cut. Most of the scenes that were cut were beautifully shot and yet had no place in the movie because they didn’t carry their weight.

Lightbulb moment.

lightbulb
Lightbulb by Richard Rutter courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/5neV8y   https://goo.gl/sZ7V7x

I knew I could use the logic of this process on the section I was having difficulty with.

The next day I returned to the study, buoyed up and ready to attack the troublesome section with a pair of metaphorical scissors. For the next couple of hours I transformed the section from flabby to tight. With my Director’s Cut take on things I was able to zero in on the pieces of the work that were crucial and the parts that could be done away with – however nicely written.

scissors
Scissors by Dean Hochman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/r2NyMb   https://goo.gl/sZ7V7x

By the end of the day, the section worked. Up until that point I had been working too closely with it. What I needed to do was take a director’s bird’s eye overview of the piece and then it became apparent where the problems were.

So the next time you are having difficulties become the director and get your metaphorical scissors ready for action.

directors-chair
Directing your Life by Carol VanHook courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/nhSg57  https://goo.gl/sZ7V7x

 

the-flower-seller-cover-small
http://Author.to/EllieHolmes
the-tregelian-hoard-cover
http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

Out of Character?

Before Christmas I blogged about wrestling with the rewrites of my current work in progress. At the time I was using the term “work in progress” in its loosest sense you will understand.

work-in-progress
Work in progress by Kevan courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/auuCWk    https://goo.gl/NoSi5F

I had been worrying away at trying to make a section work and failing spectacularly to understand why the piece wasn’t coming together.

My time away made me realise what was wrong. I was trying to make the characters act out of character to suit the plot.

It was so obvious when I went back it. Suddenly I could see that shoe horning the characters into the boxes that the plot dictated took away what made their characters work in the first place.

It was a salutary lesson. As soon as I stopped trying to make my characters act against their will, the scenes began to come together and the writing started to flow.

No plot is written in stone. It can always be improved upon. As soon as I made the necessary changes and allowed my characters to act in a way that suited the personalities I had built for them I stopped trying to push a boulder up a hill.

pushing-a-boulder
Pushing a boulder by ((Brian)) courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/sjBWi   https://goo.gl/NoSi5F

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking just because you came up with a plot it must always remain as originally thought up. Adapt it, play with it, experiment.

upside-down-world
In an upside down world by Craig Sunter courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/pkF4zP   https://goo.gl/z9hbmG

And the next time you are struggling to make a scene sing, ask yourself if you are making your characters act out of character just so that you can preserve the plot and if the answer is yes don’t sacrifice your characters, change the plot.

the-flower-seller-cover-small
http://Author.to/EllieHolmes
the-tregelian-hoard-cover
http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

Don’t be afraid to walk away

As some of you will know who follow my blog I am in the midst of rewriting a novel I wrote some years ago. It needed bringing up to date – smartphones have rather taken over our lives and I needed to address some inherent problems with the plot. I blogged about it here in Easy Option – https://goo.gl/qPP5SO

Now I am deep in the heart of the rewrites and my confidence is sometimes high but mostly low as I grapple with the mess that was once a cohesive novel albeit a troubled one. I am sure you are all familiar with the saying ‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs’. Well my desk is covered in broken eggs right now and it is hard to keep the faith.

breaking-eggs
Breaking Eggs by Rod Waddington courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/k6Hgsx   https://goo.gl/YmlyOJ

One part of the story was giving me more trouble than any other and I spent a couple of days beating myself up at the keyboard wondering why I just couldn’t make it work. Sometimes you can just be too close to a piece of work and all it takes is a little distance to see where you were going wrong.

Exhausted by the process of getting nowhere, my brain aching from turning the same problems over in my mind and not reaching any satisfactory conclusions, I decided to take a complete break from writing for a couple of days.

resting
Resting by Γιάννης Σκουλής courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/7vtHAv    https://goo.gl/YmlyOJ

It was a brave thing to do (some might say foolhardy) given I had a self imposed tight deadline but that in itself was adding to my stress levels. When you can no longer see the wood for the trees your writer’s spidey senses are hardly going to be at their best. So I decided to pull the plug for a while.

I stopped being Ellie Holmes the writer and just enjoyed being me. It took a few hours for the white noise of a busy writer’s brain to calm itself. A dose of reality TV and comfort food helped. And once peace reigned, I lived for a few days like normal people live. You should try it some time. I highly recommend it.

As you can tell from this blog, it didn’t last long. A brief holiday from my writer’s self was all I needed to recharge the batteries and rev up the creative engine. But as with a traditional mini break I came back refreshed, reinvigorated and ready for the challenge.

 

the-flower-seller-cover-small
http://Author.to/EllieHolmes
the-tregelian-hoard-cover
http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

Setting a Schedule

When you take the plunge and become an indie author there are lots of things to plan for but having a publishing schedule can sometimes slip down the list.

shedule
Schedule by Tzuhsun Hsu courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/9msfxE    https://goo.gl/mNZO0D

If you were with an agent or a traditional publisher one of the first questions they will ask you once they have expressed an interest in your work is what you are currently working on and what other manuscripts you have. Some careers are built on one book alone but most are not. The professionals want to be assured that there is plenty more coming down the track from you which will make you a viable entity from their point of view.

manuscriptsjpg
Bibliography by Alexandre Duret-Lutz courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/uiC8U  https://goo.gl/mNZO0D

For indies, there is no one to ask that question but us and so it can slip off the radar but it shouldn’t and here’s why. Caught up in the excitement and terror of indie publishing your first novel it can be difficult to look up from the myriad elements you are juggling to take a moment to look ahead but one of the most popular questions I was asked when I did my blog tour for The Flower Seller was ‘When is your next book coming out and what is it about?’. Trust me when I say you want to have the answers to those questions and the only way to do that is to plan ahead.

whats-next
What’s Next? By Crystal courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/4wLaSW  https://goo.gl/NqKzCa

In an ideal world we would have all the time we needed to write, the stories would fly from our minds to our fingertips and out to the big wide world. We would be multi published authors in next to no time. Back in the real world not many of us have that luxury. Writing is something that has to be fitted around family and friends, hobbies and often a day job that pays the bills.

It’s good to have high standards and expect a lot from yourself but you also need a reality check. Consider how many books you can write, edit, polish, publish and market in a year. Don’t skimp on the estimates. In fact over estimate to allow yourself time for the emergencies that crop up in all our lives.

Hopefully before you indie publish your first novel you will have a pretty good idea of the genre you want to write in and that will also help determine the probable length of your books. This will also help you decide on a realistic writing schedule to produce new material and a realistic publishing schedule to turn the raw manuscripts into a lovely, shiny new books. I would recommend you set a publishing schedule across a period of two years at a time – any longer and it starts to lose its relevancy.

schedule2
Paperwork by Chris Belcher courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

https://flic.kr/p/9neAZS   https://goo.gl/mNZO0D

Conscious that the more books you have in the market place, the higher your visibility should become, I set a year one target of one full length novel (100,000 words) and a novella (50,000) which is the first in a three book set. I felt that was a doable target for year one. For year two I have my sights set on one full length novel and, if I can manage it, books two and three in the novella series. Thus reaching my two-year target of two full length novels and one set of novellas. Will I achieve it? I’m going to give it my best shot so watch this space!

the-flower-seller-cover-small
http://Author.to/EllieHolmes
the-tregelian-hoard-cover
http://Author.to/EllieHolmes