Judging books by their covers…

Do you judge books by their covers? We’re admonished not to, but I have to admit that’s the first thing that attracts my attention when I’m browsing for a new book to buy.

Certain covers instantly catch my attention in either a negative or positive way and I’ll either reach for it, or turn to something else. My hubby says this is true for him, too. Taste is dictated by personal ideals and I know what appeals to me doesn’t necessarily appeal to someone else, but I don’t really understand why. That’s probably the reason I could never make a career out of designing book covers.

Oh, but wait! I DID design one! Now if I could only figure out why I chose certain of its elements perhaps I might better understand why some covers appeal to me and others don’t.

Johnny_Front_CoverThe book, THE ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY AND MR. FREDERICK, was the dream of my aunt, Norma McGuire who had collected the fanciful stories told by her late husband to their three boys, and decided it would be nice to make them available for others to read. I assisted with the editing and a year-long process of querying various Canadian agents and publishers, but then decided the uncertainty of obtaining traditional publication wasn’t worth the indefinite wait. With a son-in-law in the printing business, there was another option — self-publishing.

In this case, it became not-self-self-publishing because it was done by the family as a surprise Christmas gift — and what a surprise it was! — so I couldn’t consult with Norma about any of the decisions she normally would have made herself.

Formatting the interior pages was a straightforward task, but the cover…? All the book’s illustrations were paintings or sketches done by my aunt and there were any number of the story’s whimsical characters who could have been featured… but which to choose?  Copies of the book wouldn’t be on real shelves in bookstores for children to select, but would be available for ordering online or directly from Norma, so it seemed wise to also make the cover appealing to the adults who would buy the book for their children and grandchildren.

Since the stories were about a young boy and an old fisherman and mostly took place on a fishing boat, the fishing theme was a good place to start… except Norma hadn’t created any fishing illustrations that would fit the vertical cover format. That’s when I asked for assistance from my daughter, photographer and fellow writer Shari Green, who lives in an oceanside town. With camera in hand she visited a local marina and shot several photos, one of which instantly caught my attention and became the chosen background.

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Photography by Shari Green

There was an island in the background, and an island also plays a prominent part in the stories. There were colourful elements that could be repeated to make the text child-friendly. Voila! A cover was born. Do I know why it appealled? No, but I trusted my eye and instinct.

Another fellow writer and graphic artist makes a business out of creating covers. One of her e-book covers just won first place in a cover design contest. Maybe I should ask Rachel Elizabeth Cole of Littera Designs for her opinion on what makes a good one.  I think that may be a subject for another post. 🙂

What elements of a book’s cover appeal most to you?

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Welcoming a Debut Author

If you aren’t a writer you may not understand the strange passion that storytellers experience when they create with words. Spending time with fictional characters may seem like a frivolous pursuit… just as frivolous as splashing paint on a canvas or producing a series of musical sounds. Trivial stuff that any child can do, right?

But for the artist who struggles to express his creativity, the passion is a byproduct of talent stirred by emotion. I’ve always believed there is a subtle difference between talent and ability, talent being an aptitude or gift and ability being more of an acquired skill.  I’m beginning to think perhaps it’s just a matter of different semantics.

Norma McGuireMy aunt, Norma McGuire, has been heard to say, “My husband was the artist; I paint.” Well, in addition to being an artist, he was a storyteller. Years ago he created a cast of characters for a series of bedtime stories that entertained his sons and later his grandsons.

After his death eight years ago, Norma began transcribing his stories, embellishing them and adding her watercolour sketches to produce a chapter book for young readers. Her goal? “I would like [the manuscript] published as my gift to all children.”

With two friends assisting her in the editing process, she went through nine drafts before beginning to approach agents and publishers. All authors know how long the querying process can take. Finding an agent who will represent you can sometimes take years, and then finding an interested publisher can take the agent many more months.

Steve Laube, president and founder of The Steve Laube Agency, and a 30 year veteran of the bookselling industry, provided this rough guide to the average length of time it takes to get a book published.

  • “From idea to book proposal to your literary agent: 1-3 months;
  • “from agent to editor and book contract offer: 2-5 months;
  • “from contract offer to first paycheck: 2-3 months;
  • “from contract to delivery of manuscript to editor: 3-9 months (sometimes longer);
  • “from delivery of manuscript to editor actually working on it: 2-5 months;
  • “from editor to publication: 9-12 months.
  • Total time from idea to print: approximately 2 years.”

My aunt will be ninety this spring, and her family wanted to make her dream happen sooner rather than waiting for an indefinite later. So… we had it self-published as a surprise Christmas gift for her.

(All photos courtesy of Ra McGuire)

(All photos courtesy of Ra McGuire)

Now that she has had time to recover from the surprise and decide on marketing details, THE ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY AND MR. FREDERICKS is available to order. Information is on her blog, ‘Nonie Grace’ and also on the book’s website here.

I hope you’ll stop by to welcome this very special and talented debut author to the writers’ community and check out her new release.

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