A Gentle Breath of Ink

The website of author Jordan R Murray

Treat Yourself This Valentine’s Day

Treat yourself well this Valentine’s Day; and I’m not just talking about buying flowers and chocolates or having that second cup of delicious coffee.

Valentine’s Day has me thinking of how often I forget an essential truth: One of the most important relationships I have in my life is with myself.

It’s so important to remember self-worth on a day like today. The love I put out into the world begins with how I measure my own value. Without valuing who I am as a person, how can I bring honest love to others and the world around me?

Self-deprecation is a dangerous habit that’s hard to break. I don’t get enough work done. My to-do list constantly replenishes itself until some days it feels unmanageable. Some days, it’s easier to admit defeat than shrug off the stress. But not today.

Today, I declare a kindness day. A day of compliments. No matter how small the task or how mundane the accomplishment may feel, congratulations on a job well done.

I propose an unconventional challenge on a day better known for couples and crushes: Bring more love to those around you by starting with you. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a relationship or not.

Treat yourself kindly. Think of the last success you had and hold onto it.
Treat yourself well too, my friends.

Make Your Summer Reading Adventurous

Still updating your summer reading list?

You’re in luck! I’ve decided to put The Emperor’s Horn on sale for only .99 cents this weekend. Please share and spread the word.

Meanwhile, there are several writing projects that keep me busy this summer. Book two of the Magic in the Imperium series is well underway. I’ve put up a progress bar on my website so you can check in and see how it’s coming. Deciding who lives or dies is no summer picnic, I can tell you that much! Then again, I’m not as gleeful as George R. R. Martin when it comes to gutting my characters.

I’ve also been working on a few sci-fi pieces. The first, titled “Indenture,” is a lighthearted adventure with rogues, thieving, and some good, old fashioned blackmail. It’s with my beta-readers now. With their feedback, I’m hoping to decide whether I will expand it into a full novel, or stick with a series of short stories.

The second is a more serious piece. Space exploration with some nostalgic Rad Bradbury style thrown in for good measure.

Yesterday, I picked our first ripe tomato of the year. Our basil is so happy that soon it will be no longer an herb but a tiny forest. Herbert would be proud of all the edible greenery, that’s for sure.

Hair clip for scale, naturally

As for my own summer reading, I’ve been tearing through The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe and wow, it’s exceptional. One of the best fantasy books I’ve read in years, and I don’t say that lightly.

Hopefully you’re able to fit in some vacation time to relax and do some good reading. Make sure you add some fantasy and sci-fi books to that list.

Fair weather and happy adventuring,

Jordan R. Murray

7 Reasons to Fall in Love with Scrivener

“Have you tried Scrivener?” asked my sister.

Smiling, I shook my head and said I wasn’t interested. If she uses it to write academic papers, I reasoned, how would it help me write fantasy novels?

Well… to be honest, I didn’t want to have anything else on my plate. It had taken days to format my first book with Adobe InDesign and Microsoft Word. I didn’t want another challenge right before my first book release.
 
Then I started to write the first draft of my second novel. I had scattered outlines in written journals and random word documents. Several chapters took shape.
 
Things were going well, until my creative mind went from this:

silhouette from pixabyTo something like this:
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Characters and subplots spiraled out of control. I tried to work on too many chapters at once and lost track of my changes.
 
I turned to old habits. Soon, note cards and colored sticky notes consumed the doors and floors of my apartment. It wasn’t pretty. The cat was in paper-shredding heaven.
 
When I was confronted by my own mess, Scrivener became a much more appealing avenue to explore.

So, what is Scrivener?

Scrivener organizes ideas and keeps the writer on track until the final draft. It stores outlines, allows you to take notes, and make extensive changes without effort. All in one place.
 
There are many things I appreciate about this shiny piece of software, but I admit I am only a beginner!
 
Here’s what I love so far:
 

1) Less clutter on my actual writing desk

 
One of life’s great pleasures is in making messes you don’t have to clean up later.
 
With Scrivener, you create as may lists and notes as you like. The sky is the limit. Also, you get to rip up and throw away your old pile of note cards. Very satisfying.
Good for the environment, too!

Good for the environment, too!

 

2) Keeps your inspiration close

 
There’s a separate section for “research” in Scrivener. Photos, websites, music, all available.
 
As a fantasy author, that means I can take the several folders I have in many different places and get rid of them all.
 
Photos of places I love. Book cover ideas. A great online article on character development right next to my thoughts on medieval weaponry, and what kind of hat Praelor Thurst would wear. Storing it all in the same folder is magical.
 

3) It travels well

 
I’m also excited that I can take Scrivener with me when I travel. All that research material can come, too.
 
Did you put Scrivener on your desktop, and not your laptop? It’s not unreasonable to buy a second copy. Which leads me to…
 

4) It’s not expensive

 
$40 for one download. You can also save a few dollars by buying multiple licenses for your devices.
 
I’ve made my fair share of interesting purchases to try and speed up my success. This one is worthwhile.
 

5) Try it for 30 days of use before you pay a cent

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As a self-published author, I’m bombarded by services and offers all the time. Spend money on marketing services. Facebook advertisements. It’s endless.
 
Having a free trial of anything is a nice change. Scrivener not only gives you 30 days free, it’s 30 days of use. That’s right, use. Did you sign up and then forget for three months? It’s okay, you can come back and keep working for 29 more days.
 
Personally, I tried it for a few hours before realizing this was a valuable investment with the way I write. I’m also a very visual person, which is helpful to know. Visual aides keep me focused and motivated.
 

6) It’s easy to move over works in progress

 
In the middle of a project? Worried you would mess everything up by switching to Scrivener halfway through? I was, too.
 
But it was easy.
 
Click the import button. Select ‘file’. Find your Microsoft Word document. That’s it.
 
Now, it would import the whole thing as one, uninterrupted document. And if you’re writing a novel, you have chapters. So, here’s a tip I learned to automatically move your book and separate those chapters:
 

Put a # before each chapter title or section break. When you import, click ‘import and split’ using # when it asks what to look for. There you go. All your chapters will separate and you can keep organized!

 

7) It keeps your writing goals on track

 
Authors love to use Scrivener during Nanowrimo. Why? Because you can customize your writing goals and set reminders.
 
For each chapter, you choose how many thousands of words you want. You can even set a date by which you want to have it finished.
 
Progress bars turn from red to green when you reach your goal. Finally, a visual pat on the back for all that hard work.
 
It’s a great feeling to see measurable progress on long projects.
 

A Word of Caution

Now, I know it’s easy to get carried away by initial enthusiasm. It’s important to keep in mind what you need for your own writing style.

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I’ve heard authors have a hard time formatting their books in Scrivener.

It’s not a seamless transition when you’re ready to publish- few things are, really.

If formatting is your main reason for buying new software, I would recommend you look elsewhere at software like Adobe Indesign and Vellum.

For staying motivated and organized, though, I’m enjoying Scrivener. We’ll see how long that lasts!

Anything that makes productivity better is well worth the investment

It leaves time for other important things, like family trips and enjoying the summer sunshine.

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Write well,

~Jordan

 

Cheers to the Ridiculous- An Exploration of Creative BS at BAH Fest 2017

What is BAHFest?

Until a few days ago, I would have believed almost any explanation that had to do with a sheep and wool festival. But when my boyfriend explained that BAH in fact stood for Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses, I immediately agreed to go with him to MIT and see what it was all about.

Who would turn down the chance to witness intelligent, articulate people discuss unique and bizarre and, most importantly, utterly wrong scientific theories?

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Wait, Wrong Theories?

Not only wrong, but spectacularly so. The brilliance of this festival is that the theories of the six presenters are wacky and off-the-wall and the best part? The best part is that with a slightly creative interpretation there are scientific and psychological studies that back up their “research”. Mathematical equations can and are used to define the parameters of their theories. Four judges with varying degrees of science expertise question your theories and entertain every interpretation.

Charts, graphs, and photos provide the audience with presentations whose lacquer positively glows with “what if” promise. If you squint hard enough it might just be the next breakthrough discovery.

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The First Ad Hoc Hypothesis

To set the proper expectation, let’s take a look at the first theory, presented by Zach Weinersmith, also the creator of the festival and author of webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Weinersmith postulated that babies had a similar shape to that of a football, and therefore could be punted over long distances, explaining why populations of nearby villages might share hereditary material.

If this isn’t enough to capture your attention, I would suggest spending some of your day exploring the wonders and scientific face-palms for yourself. Thankfully, some of the best presentations are available to be viewed on the BAHFest website and on youtube.

 

Why is BAHFest so Amazing?

Brainstorming with creativity and intelligent humor is essential to our daily lives. Sure, the measurable scientific progress of BAHFest is, well, zilch so far. But it forces us to effectively sort through the preconceived notions we have formed out of our own ideas and opinions on life. It’s healthy to reexamine what we believe to be true, and recognize just how far some of our scientific studies have gone to prove a point.

I loved the theory by Jerry Wang, that babies should become cryptographers due to their clear knowledge of babble. Free government daycare is no small offer, and it’s not as if the babies would remember being brainwashed anyway!

I laughed at the suggestion by Ben Tolkin that baby animals were so cute that the human reaction could turn from affection to rage if overwhelmed with too many cute images. A crowd pleaser for sure with all those baby animal pictures.

Despite strong competition, the winner this year at MIT was well chosen. The GRE, or Gravitational Reversal Event, held just enough reason to it for the explanation of a sudden, mass dinosaur extinction. What really got me about this presentation? During questions, Jim Propp and the judges supposed that it was inevitable that discovered fossils were flat; how could they not be when the dinosaurs were brought back to earth with such great impact after the sudden loss of gravity? Kersplat.

In a few months Sydney, Houston and eventually San Francisco will also join London and Boston with presentations in 2017. BAHFest has grown in wonderful ways since it’s inception four years ago, and I hope that more events like this are encouraged.

So today, I raise my mug and say cheers, ridiculous BAHFest. Long life, and keep the creative BS coming.

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Spring Travel and Self-Publishing Confessions

At last, warm spring sunshine. Flowers are emerging with delicate blooms, but I confess that I am still surprised that April is almost gone.

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I’ll write more about my travels this month shortly, but for now I wanted to share that poet, author, and friend Marly Youmans wrote a wonderful post on The Emperor’s Horn!

Our conversations about self-publishing and writing continue to pave my way with pearls of wisdom and inspiration.

Read it here, and I highly recommend you follow her blog. Marly shares a wealth of knowledge on everything from travel to art appreciation-and of course, the heart and soul of language reflected in the written word.

The path she walks to research and write her stories is valuable to any writer searching for inspiration and companionship.

Now go, gentle reader, and enjoy some of that lovely spring weather.

~Jordan

It’s a Book Giveaway!

Haven’t ordered your copy of The Emperor’s Horn yet?

That’s okay. We’ve all been pretty busy. But what’s even better than picking up a copy? Getting one for free!

For a limited time you can Enter to win one of five free ebook copies on Amazon.

Just another way of thanking you, my readers, for all your support and interest.

Now, onto picking up the pen for book two…

Happy reading,

Jordan R. Murray

 

Beautiful Music and Anuna – Inspiration Corner

Finding music to listen to while I work is a challenge. As a musician and music lover myself, I have to search long and hard to find something pleasant to listen to without it being distracting.

 

Credit to Pixaby Public domain

 

Instrumental and classical music tends to work the best, as words can be distracting. But, occasionally I get lucky and find choral music that is hauntingly beautiful. Foreign languages seem to help me tune out what is being said, and I look for more of an immersive experience to help me focus and find a good level of consistent energy to get my work done.

One of my latest discoveries is an Irish choral group by the name Anuna. I’ve heard they are most famous for being featured early on in ‘Riverdance’, which was wildly popular in the 90’s. Since then they’ve produced several albums of their own.

If you’re looking for something soothing to feed your soul, I highly recommend you look them up.

They have several songs up on youtube to listen to for free, and several albums are free or available to purchase with Amazon Prime Music. I buy the albums I love to support the artists, but you can also get to know them on their own website. Happy listening.

 

Note: links are affiliated with Amazon or other companies; thank you for supporting me and the artists above by using them!

The Battle Between Free Time and Mental Energy

A major battle in life is how to best use the time we have. It’s a common problem, and not just for writers.

No matter the hectic pace of a day, there are moments of free time that fall into our laps. But, just because the clock grants you a moment or an hour of free time doesn’t mean that hour will be a productive one. It doesn’t mean you’ll have the mental energy to do good work. You may spend that hour starting at the screen, desperate to write a single sentence! Why does that happen, anyway?

 

Having Metal Energy and Free Time at the Same Time is a Rarity

Like perfect visibility during a meteor shower. Or having all the ingredients on hand when you’re craving that turkey club sandwich and have extra avocado. I love those days.

Or – to put it in a writing context – those days when writing flows. When the gates of creativity get stuck open and your 3,000 word count goal magically turns into 13,000. You blink and realize half the day is gone and you find yourself laughing at the ridiculous quandary your characters are left with when you hit the save button and call it a night. Let’s look at ways to get that flow back:

Do You Multitask Often?

image courtesy of pixaby, public domain

I can juggle a lot in my head all at once. But that can backfire when I take on one task too many. I spiral downward quickly, feel overwhelmed, and the stress prevents me from accomplishing many of the tasks that I set for myself. Sound familiar at all? You may be like me. It’s not very effective to try and multitask when you end up distracted by many guilt-inducing things that you could be doing instead of writing when you work from home.

So, do yourself a favor. Try to accomplish one small thing at a time. The duration of each thing can overlap, and that’s fine. I like to bake bread while I write. A minimal investment of time during the day allows the dough to rise, and then I have a tasty snack when I’m ready to take a break.

If you leave too many things open-ended you will lose focus trying to remember what you started, and, likely gift your mental state a stressed, chaotic mess. Fresh bread is better than chaos. Little tasks will help you to achieve both peace of mind and better focus.

If you’re someone who has to focus on one thing at a time, and easily puts other priorities aside, know that about yourself. It’s a strength as much as a weakness. You can focus more easily on that one thing, even when it’s hard to remember what the next is once you finish. There are many days where I wish I weren’t so easily distracted.

And, if you envy those who always seem to have something to do, and appear to accomplish a million things more than you do, know that just because someone does a lot of things all at once does NOT mean that they do those things well.

Only in the past few years have I really come to terms with that. I used to spend a lot of nights with an overactive mind, always focused on the next thing I should be doing, even guilty when my priorities waged war with my own standards. Start by acknowledging that each and every thing you do matters. Writing matters. Little tasks matter. Take credit for the little things you do every day.

Think About What Times of the Day Make You Tick

Time and mental energy can be your allies if you let them. They work well together, especially if you learn to pay attention to your energy levels.

During what part of the day – or night – are you most productive?

 

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Are you a morning person? Do you get a second wind late at night? Is 8:00pm your magic hour when your brain feels clear and focused? We are creatures of habit, after all.

I’m a morning person. I get up full of energy and enthusiasm for whatever I accomplish in the first few hours I’m awake. With a break around 11:00am for a cup of coffee, I’m usually good to go until lunch, and then around 3:00pm I hit a hard slump and turn into a pretty useless worker bee. I don’t usually recover until after dinner. Some days after dinner I get another spark of creativity around 8:00pm, and some days I just need to shut down my brain and sit with a book or a few hours of Netflix.

How is this helpful to know? Once you recognize your most productive time, take advantage of it! I struggle with following my own advice, but, we all have struggles. Sometimes schedules beyond our control influence when we have free time. But learn when you can influence your schedule. For me, I try to avoid morning distractions like, say, the internet. Sticking to afternoon housework helps me accomplish something small but meaningful when my creativity takes a turn for the worst. Walking or playing with my dog in the early afternoon relaxes my mind and gets me away from the computer screen.

This leads to another useful way to keep your goals realistic:

Recognize When You Need a Change

Measuring your energy level during the day will help you determine when you’re overwhelmed and need to take time to recharge that mental energy bank.

I consider myself an extrovert. Being social and interacting with people enlivens my day, and keeps me positive and happy. But I also value the times when I can seek solitude and a good book. When you work from home, you spend many days with books, rather than people, for company.

Recently, I read Quiet by Susan Cain, which is about understanding a bit more about introverts and how they function. It was a decent read, and I would recommend it for anyone – not only someone who identifies as an introvert.

A part of the book mentions measuring your energy levels, and I found a light-bulb went off in my head when it described what stimulation does to your energy levels. It’s described in the book as harnessing a wave, measuring the highs and lows, and figuring out how to maintain a focused, productive day by staying in tune with how stimulation affects you. The examples they used for both extremes of stimulation hit home with me.

  • You know that time, when you’re at a party or in a room full of people, and think “I’m ready to leave now.” That’s a pretty good indicator that there’s too much stimulation, or you’ve had enough of the demands of social interaction.
  • You know that time, when you’re reading and realize you’ve read the same paragraph several times, or can’t remember what you’ve just read? A great example of when you don’t have enough stimulation, and your mind is wandering and unable to focus.

Once you start paying attention to what those reactions mean, it can be a real game changer.

Recognizing which situations stress or rejuvenate you will allow you to relax when you need to recover from over-stimulation, and gear up when you find yourself in a sluggish, mental lull due to a lack of activity.

Conquer Your Mental Stupor

I push myself hard when it comes to my schedule. Once I set a goal, it’s frustrating to have to relent. But I can’t change my own energy level by simply wishing it would change, just like I can’t snap my fingers to recharge my mental energy when I’m tired. I can change my attitude and state of mind to help maximize my own productivity. And so can you.

Don’t invalidate your feelings, but try and learn when to set aside your original goals to focus on something productive that is reasonable to start and finish.

Recognize when you’re most productive during the day or night, and learn to look for what recharges your mental energy so that you can take advantage of the free time you have, and be in that better state of mind.

Think about your energy levels, and the ways in which your mind is stimulated. If that’s reading a book to calm your mind, great. If it’s meeting a friend for coffee, wonderful. Playing with your dog, cat, hedgehog, or red-tailed boa constrictor? Excellent.

Throw yourself a techno dance party to boost your energy, or call a friend or loved one you haven’t spoken with in awhile. Have a tea ceremony with quiet, mellow flute music in the background if you feel stressed or hectic. Build a book case. Take pictures of waterfalls. It’s different for everyone, so find out what works for you, and roll with it.

Go and find the nearest waterfall to where you are. Soothing, right?

Also: If you write from home, get a bread machine. For about ten minutes of work – say, while you’re making that cup of coffee – you’ll have freshly baked bread for the week and your house will smell amazing, whether or not that mountain of laundry is done right away. Take baby steps, and be proud of your work.

What Should I Know About 99designs BEFORE I Use Them?

It can never hurt to look for tips about using a website for the first time. I do this almost obsessively, and most of the time it saves me money, time, and a good number of mistakes.

You have to wear a lot of hats as a writer. Book agent, marketing team, and sales coach. Editor, even (please hire an editor if at all possible. But that’s a separate rant). Remember when you feel overwhelmed during this process that you’re not alone.

It’s okay to get an artist or professional to help you with the parts of self-publishing that you aren’t comfortable doing yourself. Just make sure you do the research to know when someone is taking advantage of you – if an offer sounds too good to be true, it may be. And just because something is more expensive, doesn’t mean the service is better than someone who charges less.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest – here’s what I learned after using a 99designs contest for my own book cover design.

 

The Best Bang for Your Buck

It’s riskier, but not impossible to get a good quality design for their lowest tier, called “bronze” level. I debated for a long time, and then decided to choose the bronze level myself for an ebook and paperback cover, which came out to about $449 total. It worked out well for me, but I have to admit, out of the almost 90 different variations and designs I got, at least half of them were truly awful and not worth a second glance. Maybe even two-thirds.

It’s a trade off when you choose the cheapest package. The pricing will definitely affect the quality of artists you attract. The money you pay goes in a lump sum to the winning artist, so, it makes sense that paying more means that artists who charge more hourly for their services will look for a higher payout, and take more time on your project.

Once you launch a contest, wait a day or two to see what kind of interest you attract before investing more money in extra advertising. The best artists often submit their designs after a few days because they take longer to work on their ideas. Also keep in mind that 99designs wants you to be happy. If you’re at the eleventh hour, and then your contest ends, and you don’t see anything you like, you don’t have to choose any finalists. With their money back guarantee you can explore other options, even with another company entirely.

More Tips and Tricks

When Creating Your Contest, Consider Making it Blind

Heard of a blind contest? It’s easy to miss on their website. Only indicated by a tiny icon, you’ll find on many posted contests and it looks like a closed eye. If you don’t know to look for it then it’s almost impossible to find when you’re just getting to know the website.

If you don’t know what a blind contest is, you should. I found it extremely useful. 99designs will not automatically give you the option of making your first contest blind – nothing to click on or choose – unless you ASK THEM. It literally takes 30 seconds to click on the chat window once your contest is set up, and they will add it for you.

Why is a blind contest helpful?

It’s a free way to get better artists. Making a contest blind means that the artists cannot see the submissions that anyone makes until after the submission phase is over. Why does that matter? Because, like it or not, artists are influenced by one another. And sadly, they can also steal other people’s work in progress, which leads to less creativity and less variety for your contest. I had a few artists contact me when I set up my contest, and request it, otherwise they would not enter a submission for fear of their hard work being stolen.

Why a blind contest may not be right for you

You need to give more feedback to the artists. Once you choose to make it a blind contest you cannot change it back. If the artists can’t see the other designs, they also can’t see how you’re rating anyone, so, they don’t know how they compare at all unless you leave detailed comments.

If you know what you’re looking for in a design (a tree-house with a rope hanging out the window, and a red ball on the ground) it may be good to have the artists see what the other submissions look like, and adjust their work to look similar to the designs you’ve rated highly. It’s less creative and unique, but if you have a very specific vision, then maybe a blind contest isn’t the right kind of contest for you.

For me, a blind contest was instrumental in getting a wider range of designs from artists who could be confident that their ideas would stay their own.

Don’t Launch Your Contest During a Weekend

I did it on a Friday afternoon. Oops. It was pointed out to me by the 99designs customer service team- they’re great, by the way, that they notice significantly fewer artists check on contests over the weekends. If you’re not in a particular hurry to get things done, wait until Monday to post your contest in order to get the maximum visibility.

Also, the 99design customer service team is not available at all on weekends. If you make a mistake with a post or have questions, and you set everything up over the weekend, you won’t have help until Monday to fix things. I say this from personal experience. Make your life easier and launch your contest during the beginning of the week.

Schedule Plenty of Time To Respond with Comments

A quick follow up to not launching during a weekend: keep in mind that it will take quite a lot of time to respond with feedback and comments. Launch a contest when you know you will have the time and be accessible to the artists who have questions or need clarification on your requirements. Be available. The quality of the work you receive will reflect how much time and energy you invest in the contest.

Also, a specific tip – when you get a design submission, click on the actual thumbnail until you see an orange dot appear. You can click specific parts of the design to comment on something you like or dislike. I realized that far too late, and found it quite useful, especially when some of the artists have less than fluent English.

Keep a Close Eye on the Stock Images Artists Use

When you set up a contest, you have the option of providing an insane amount of detail and guidance for what you want on your book cover. And that’s great. The more detail, the better.

One of the selections has to do with stock images. As your research on cover design may have revealed, some stock images are free to use or public domain, while others come with a wide range of fees. You can specify that you would like only free images used, or give permission for artists to use stock images where licenses would need to be purchased when you choose their winning design – yes, this would be an additional cost to what you’ve already paid.

Now, no system is perfect. 99designs doesn’t have the time to verify where stock images come from when artists use them. Can you imagine how long that would take? So instead, artists post a little emblem next to their designs with links to their sources. The text usually reads something like ‘image 1 is free’ or ‘image 1 requires purchase’. Even if you specify that you don’t want to pay for stock images, some artists will still use stock images that cost money, and sometimes they get mislabeled.

Don’t blindly trust the artwork, double check it and click on all the stock image links if you like the design. Trust me, this happened in my contest, and could easily happen in yours. Artists can accidentally, or knowingly use images from unreliable sources or without permission of the original artist. And that opens up a whole can of worms that no one should have to deal with.

 

Have all your information together for a paperback book?

Remember, if you’re doing a paperback book cover design, you need to know how many pages the book will be once it’s formatted, within about 10 pages. Otherwise, the cover will come out stretched and look strange.

You should also have an isbn, and a price for your paperback book, as it goes on the back and the artist will put it all together for you.

What about your back cover blurb? Using a quote from your book? Your author bio? Remember to have it polished, primed and ready to go!

Is the book part of a series? The spine of the book will look better if you pull it together with the other books you have written, or if it’s your first, design it with others in mind so it looks cohesive and together.

Promotions That 99designs Offers

Sign up for their emails if you’re doing research. They send you promotions that change about every week or so, some better than others. When I signed up, I was in a hurry and chose the first promotion they sent me, which elevated my listing so that more artists would see the contest (something like a $79 value). Then I ended up paying about $20 to be mentioned on their blog for more views since I knew my bronze level contest wouldn’t attract tons of attention.

To thank me after my contest ended, 99designs sent a referral code that I could share with friends and fellow authors that gives them a $99 powerpack boost to their contests – in plain English? That means an elevated listing plus a mention on their blog, all included instead of additional charges. It’s a better deal than I got at the time, so, enjoy the savings. Some of their promotions seem better than others, and this one will give your contest a higher place among other contests, and their blog reaches a lot of people. Both of these benefits will allow artists to find you more easily. More options are always good.

Note: links may be affiliated with 99designs or other companies, and it supports the author and artists to use them.

Would I Use 99designs Again?

Like Upwork, 99designs is a useful tool for when you’re not quite sure what you’re doing. In my opinion, paying for peace of mind and using a third party guarantee has immense value when publishing my first book. It’s also a safe environment to build trust between clients and customers – or authors and artists, in this case.

You don’t have to do a design contest to work with a 99designs artist!!

There, I said it. They don’t really advertise this, but, the website is primarily a network, after all! If you want to take the extra time to look through portfolios and contact someone about a book cover design to try and negotiate a lower price, go for it.

I also like that you can view past contests and the artist portfolios without signing up for anything at all. It’s a good idea to see what contests and artists have done in the past. Read through other author’s contest briefs to get ideas on what to say about your own project – you’ll get to see if they shared enough, or too much information, by the submissions they received.

Go to their website and click ‘discover’ to explore on your own and get ideas – you can even narrow down the filters until you get to just book cover designs. I don’t know if 99designs still does a 100% guarantees you’ll be happy if you do a one-on-one project with a specific artist, but ask, I’m sure they’ll be helpful.

For me, 99designs is a stepping stool. And I intend to use it for that purpose. It’s educational. It’s a way to connect with an artist and establish a working relationship so that for the next book I publish, I will already have an artist or two in mind. I’ve made those contacts and trust they know my style and taste. That’s a real time saver, and a future money saver now that I know they’re reliable.

Once that trust is there, you don’t necessarily need the hand holding anymore. But the value of a safe space like a contest is a real, measured way of creating a reasonable and enforced deadline in order to create some beautiful, impressive covers.

How Long Will a Book Cover Design Take?

Book Cover Design, Part Three

Let’s do a quick recap:

We looked at starting your research, where you made lists of design ideas, and built your own vision for your book cover. We had a little heart to heart about the different price ranges available to you depending on your budget.

Now, let’s take a look at how long it might take to go from lists and ideas to a book cover in your inbox.

What Kind of Time Will a Book Cover Design Take?

Anywhere from from two days, to two weeks, to eight months.

What kind of an answer is that? Well, every author has a different situation for their ideas and budget. It depends upon the artist or company you choose, and how much research you’ve already done on what you want. Perhaps my own experience will help.

I Thought It Would Take Two Weeks To Find My Own Book Cover

I like to think I’m a pretty decisive person. I was optimistic. In two weeks, I thought I would find and choose a designer, and have at least a draft in my inbox that I liked. Looking back, I realize now that was incredibly optimistic, but not realistic for where I was.

I wanted to publish my book quickly, but I didn’t really know my budget or what kind of design I wanted. I hadn’t really made lists or thought about my ideas for the cover design in an organized way. As a result, finding the right company or artist to with with took longer.

My Own Personal Timeline:

I finished editing my book with my editor in October of 2016, minus small tweaks. I thought that after everything else I had accomplished, the cover design would be quick and easy and then *poof* I would be done. How hard could it be?

Well… let’s just say that my lists became more like a tangled web with lots of question marks, and more than a few expletives. But that’s okay. Lesson learned. It’s February of 2017 and my book cover designs are still being tweaked. Cover design was the last step for me, and one that I definitely underestimated.

Back in October, I was convinced that CreateSpace (a company owned by Amazon) would be able to do a cover I would like. It seemed a safe option. They must have experience with fantasy books, right?

Well, that was until I realized I hadn’t looked at exactly what the service they offered included. I wouldn’t be able to provide much input, or change anything without change fees, and the $399 they charged didn’t include any customizing at all. Suddenly, CreateSpace became the worst rip-off out there for cover design. Who doesn’t want to provide input on their book cover? That’s part of why authors self-publish…

At the beginning of November, I spent hours pouring over independent artists on Upwork (See Book Cover Design Part Two to learn more) and I found an artist, Vanessa Mendozzi, whose book cover designs I loved. Of course, they were all fiction – not fantasy. But they looked gorgeous.

I contacted her, but we both quickly realized that fantasy wasn’t her passion, and that would show. To authors publishing more general fiction, I envy you, and recommend you check her work out. (Sorry, no idea on her pricing, we didn’t get that far)

By the end of November, I was making better lists (realizing belatedly how useful they were) and found a company I really wanted to work with: Bookfly Design. They were expensive, but their work was beautiful. I convinced myself that $799 was worth the price to pay for an ebook and paperback cover I loved, plus a few marketing extras.

Then, I contacted them. And they said they could fit me in starting in May. That’s right, this was back in November. Cue spiral of panic that no one good would be available at short notice. If I had waited for them, a book cover design would have taken about eight months.

By December, I had convinced myself that I might get lucky going with a company called Damonza, that had a few gems in their past inventory. Their Urban Fantasy book covers looked decent, so maybe they could pull something a bit more illustrated and classic for me. It didn’t occur to me that the lack of Epic Fantasy covers was pretty evident on their website.

Another lesson learned. I still think their pre-made covers are a great deal for $195 if you find one you like. A few weeks into customizing a design with them, and a few drafts later, I realized that I was looking for something with less CG, and very simple. Damonza does a good job with a lot of their covers, but they weren’t a good fit for my cover.

Now we’re in January. That’s what, at least two months of active searching and working with different companies and people, but with no tangible results. Experience gained? Definitely. Panic inducing? Yep. But I kept searching, and found 99designs through a google search.

I was looking for the guidance and experience that a book cover design company could offer, but with a wider range of artists and different styles from which to choose. 99designs was a perfect balance for me – they have a section of their website for book cover designs, and a fairly active network of artists that design there.

For a first cover, I wanted a little more hand holding, and a little less risk. I didn’t have specific artist in mind, and was open to different styles, hoping to see something that worked.

Their contests are relatively straightforward to set up – by that I mean as an author you create a job or “contest” that tells artists on the website what you want. Say, “Epic Fantasy Novel Needs a Cover” or “Spy Adventure in Underwater City”, or whatever you think will interest an artist in your design. Then, like in Upwork, you wait for artists to submit either a draft or a cover design. It’s pretty interactive. You rate them, give feedback and suggestions, and after a few days you should have a fair number of entries from which to choose.

Honestly, another reason I loved working with 99designs was their customer service. I must have chatted with them online about a dozen times at least with questions about the contest, and to make sure I wasn’t doing anything strange or weird. They gave me the confidence I needed to navigate both their website and communicating with the artists there, and that was extremely helpful.

 

In An Ideal Scenario

Let’s say you have a great list of what you want in a book cover. You know what kind of style, have a number of links to other books that you want to look like, and those lovely lists of what inspires you to show any interested artists.

If you did a design competition right away with 99designs, you could post a job with those links, and artists have about five to seven days to submit designs – for the better designs, a week allows the artists to produce better quality options, some even by hand!

After submissions are made, you have a few days to pick one or two you like, and then another two or three days to make final changes and adjustments with the artist before they turn over the design to you. You own the design. That’s important to know.

They do allow you to extend any of these stages to give you or the artists more time, which I had to do myself to get the best options available. But, in an ideal scenario let’s say you meet every deadline with no extensions. That’s just short of two weeks start to finish. Not bad at all. Ambitious, certainly. But certainly doable.

Congratulations, you have a book cover design.

No Timeline Is Perfect – But That’s Okay

Any planning we do can still go awry. Mine did. But that’s okay. Even websites like 99designs have their drawbacks, but this post is getting long so I’ll share some of the drawbacks I experienced in Part Four soon!

Stay tuned, and I hope you found this window into timing and book cover design helpful for your own research.

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