Publishing

Missing the “B”

Have a close look at these two images and see if you can spot a significant difference between them.

The Nexus corrected

Image #1

 

The Nexus

Image #2

OK, the title and the author’s name are a lighter colour in #1, but that isn’t it. No, it’s the typo in the subtitle. “A portal to the Herert West Series.” A typo on a cover image! A cover image designed by the author herself, i.e., moi.

AAARGH!

I published this short story in September — six whole months ago — and didn’t notice that error until last night, when I ran across the cover image on some website. I was admiring how all the elements worked together, when I saw it. “Herert,” not “Herbert.” I messed up the name of the main character of my series. How bad is that?

I’ve seen typos on other authors’ cover images or in their book listings, with a mixture of pity and contempt. “Look how that poor schmuck screwed up! Haste makes waste. Ha, ha!”

OK, it could have been worse; at least the typo isn’t in the actual title or the author’s name. And the font I used for the subtitle is called Sacramento, described as “a monoline, semi-connected script.” It’s pretty, but barely legible in thumbnails and other small images. At least I spelled everything correctly in the book’s listings in ebook stores. Maybe most people don’t bother to enlarge cover images and scrutinize them.

I have, of course, corrected the error and uploaded the corrected image to the relevant sites. But it takes a while for a change to trickle through the internet, and quite a few copies were downloaded before I found the mistake. Which means the flawed image is still out there, waiting to be noticed.

I did manage to find a couple of positives in this irritating little situation:

First, it’s a reminder to pay attention. Always double, triple and quadruple check the spelling of titles, subtitles, author names and any other text that appears on a cover. Whether it was designed by you, a friend or a professional designer — before you approve it, check, check, check!

Second, those error-bearing covers may become valuable rarities sought by collectors, sort of like postage stamps with a monarch’s head printed upside down. “Ah yes, the rare ‘Herert’ edition. Very few exist.” Well, maybe if I become posthumously famous. You never know.

The Small Stuff

Proof that the left and right sides of the brain don’t always communicate…

A few weeks ago I published three Supplements to the Herbert West Series. I added information about, and a link to said series at the end of each one.

A week or so later, I decided finally to change the url to the HW Series page on my blog. It used to be audreydriscoll.com/the-herbert-west-trilogy, because in the dim past, there were only three books. Thinking the middle one, Islands of the Gulf, was too long, I clove it in two and published it accordingly, thus turning the trilogy into a… tetralogy? Ugh. Quartet? Too pretentious. I settled for the rather mundane term “series.” But I didn’t think to change the term in the url linking to the page that has all the information about the series and where to aquire it. No one ever really looks at urls, do they? In blog posts I attach the link to text; someone clicking on that would never see the actual url.

Recently, though, it occurred to me that it was dumb to have misleading information floating around. It’s not a trilogy, so why suggest it is, even in an obscure bit of text such as a url? I changed it to: audreydriscoll.com/the-herbert-west-series. Self-congratulations all around. I even went back to old blog posts linked to that page and updated the link there. Take note: when you change the url for a page, WordPress doesn’t propagate the change through all the posts linked to that page.

small-stuff-chain-297842__340

But, of course, I had just invalidated the link I had added to my three new ebooks (the Supplements). To make matters worse, I didn’t pick up on this until after a considerable number of those ebooks had been downloaded by potential readers during a free promotion. Aaaaargh! Now I’m imagining annoyed readers clicking on the bad link, saying “Nuts to that!” when they get an error message, and thus missing out on the delights of reading the main series. All because I (the author and publisher) didn’t bother to change the url as soon as the trilogy became a series, or at least think to upload corrected versions of the ebooks before the free promo days.

I shall refrain from pointing out the obvious.

Well, no I won’t. Because maybe it isn’t all that obvious: Sweat the small stuff.

Like these two guys.

small-stuff-scientist-1332343__340

Images courtesy of Pixabay.

 

All in One, All at Once

So many books…

You know how it is — you read an ebook, think it’s pretty good, wonder if there’s a sequel. In a day or two, other books and life in general overlay the memory. Weeks later, something reminds you of that book. Now, what was the title? The author? You try to find it in your e-reader and your computer. So many books… You pick one that looks interesting and start reading, the book you were looking for forgotten.

This shouldn’t happen to readers of the Herbert West Series, because now they have the option to acquire all four novels at once — the complete series.

I started writing the first book on November 7th, 2000. November 7th, 2016 is Herbert West’s 130th birthday. In honour of the occasion, I have published a “box set” of all four novels, with a bonus — Chapter 1 of the as yet untitled sequel to the series.

It’s in the works at Amazon and Smashwords, and will be widely available soon.

Complete information and links may be found here.

From ancient Arkham to the agony of the Great War, from Acadie to the islands of the West Coast, a brilliant but amoral physician is subjected to travails and entanglements, to become a source of healing — and of peril.

hws-complete-1

 

Why a “Box Set?”

“Box set.” An unwieldy term, by any standard — two nouns that jostle along together without anything to link them into a meaningful concept. But, for some reason, that’s the term used to describe a set of books or music recordings with something in common (author, composer, performer, theme) issued together as a special edition.

“Boxed set” actually makes sense, referring to the fact that the separate works are contained in a box or slipcase especially designed for the collected edition. But it looks like “box set” is here to stay, for a number of excellent or dubious reasons.

Another term I’ve seen applied to collected editions is “bundle,” but that sounds blunt and indiscriminate. Does anyone really want books that come in bundles, like lumber? Or “omnibus,” which I’ve seen on single-volume print books containing a number of separate works? That sounds clumsy and menacing.

So box set it is.

The publishing trajectory that culminates in a box set goes like this: an author writes and publishes a novel. Then they write and publish another. And another, forming a trilogy, or even more novels, forming a series. Once the series is complete, the author goes on to create other novels or series. They gather a following (maybe), and eventually it makes sense to make the trilogy or series available as a set — a box set.

The box set may include a bonus of some sort, a story or two not otherwise available, or even the beginning of another novel. This is a good idea, because it may entice purchasers who already own the separately-published books. So might a new, striking cover image for the box set. Readers may not be able to resist the look of a spiffy new package to replace their dog-eared copies, and some new writing from an author they already like would be icing on the literary cake.

Ebooks are often sold as box sets (without an actual box, of course). A new, purpose-designed cover image is essential here. Taking the easy option of pasting reduced versions of the original covers together results in a muddled mess, not an eye-catching novelty.

Box sets may be something besides a collection of works by a single author. Several authors writing in a specific genre may contribute books from their backlists to form a set with a common theme — cozy mysteries or supernatural thrillers, for example. Box sets may also be created to support a charitable cause, in which case all or part of the proceeds go to that cause.

I have to admit, I always thought box sets (the physical kind) were a good idea that didn’t quite work. Anyone who really liked an author’s books would have them all anyway. Buying a box set for a friend would be a risk if they weren’t a fan and superfluous if they were. The only motive to buy a box set would be the spiffiness factor.

But here I am, about to publish a box set of the Herbert West Series. It will include all four novels, along with the first chapter of a new novel intended to be a sequel to the series. “Intended” because so far I’ve written only that first chapter. Putting it out there will give me incentive to write and publish the rest. That’s the idea, anyway.

The Herbert West Series Complete will make its appearance through Smashwords and Amazon, in ebook form only, on November 7th — Herbert West’s 130th birthday.

hws-complete-1

Image designed by Audrey Driscoll with Canva

The Supplements Are Live!

The first three Supplements to the Herbert West Series are now available on Amazon.

These short pieces explore side-paths not pursued in the novels, or fill in chronological gaps.

 

The Nexus corrected

Herbert West Series supplement 1

Nearing the end of his long life, Miskatonic University professor Augustus Quarrington retraces the path to his entanglement with one of his most interesting – and dangerous – students: Herbert West.

 

Herbert West Series supplement 2

Herbert West Series supplement 2

Miskatonic University librarian Charles Milburn was Herbert West’s assistant and closest friend. He has already revealed much about their association in The Friendship of Mortals. But not everything. This is the part he left out.

 

Herbert West Series supplement 3

Herbert West Series supplement 3

Reformed necromancer Francis Dexter (formerly known as Herbert West) and his servant Andre Boudreau visit Luxor, Egypt in the year 1935. A climb up el-Qurn, the sacred mountain behind the Valley of the Kings, leads to an encounter with bandits, and with one who “was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh.”

Covers Revealed!

Here are cover images for three short fiction pieces related to the Herbert West Series. I designed these images myself, using Canva, which has been dubbed “The easiest to use design program in the world.” Not having used any other such programs (unless you count Microsoft Paint), I can’t verify that, but I was able to produce what I consider usable images with Canva, after a short and not too steep learning curve.

Each image is followed by its book description, and then my comments on how I put it together, for what they’re worth. Keep in mind that these are simple images to accompany brief, simple stories, and I’m a total amateur when it comes to design.

The Nexus corrected

Herbert West Series supplement 1

Supplement 1. The Nexus

Nearing the end of his long life, Miskatonic University professor Augustus Quarrington retraces the path to his entanglement with one of his most interesting – and dangerous – students: Herbert West.

The narrator is an alchemist as well as a professor, and Miskatonic U is famous for weird goings-on, so the alchemical symbol for sulfur is a good motif for this image. The moody blue background and twisty shape in purple say “supernatural,” and the intricate gold frame hints at complications. The line of green diamonds complements the other colours and finishes the image. The gold line with circle ends is an ornament I find visually pleasing. Rotating line elements to a vertical position makes them usable in ways other than the obvious.

 

from-the-annexe

Herbert West Series supplement 2

Supplement 2. From the Annexe

Miskatonic University librarian Charles Milburn was Herbert West’s assistant and closest friend. He has already revealed much about their association in The Friendship of Mortals. But not everything. This is the part he left out.

This is an addendum to The Friendship of Mortals, the first novel of the Herbert West Series. It explores an aspect of the relationship between the two main characters that was hinted at but not developed in that book. The relationship is, of course, a romantic one. Romantic but not terribly happy. Thus the same moody blue background and purple twisty shape, overlaid with a caduceus (to represent Herbert West as a physician) and a misty pink transparency of a rose (a photo of a rose in my garden). I added the drops of blood (free from Canva) to counteract the pink sweetness and hint at troubles. Another line, this time of pink triangles, provides the finishing touch.

 

1

Herbert West Series supplement 3

Supplement 3. A Visit to Luxor

Reformed necromancer Francis Dexter (formerly known as Herbert West) and his servant Andre Boudreau visit Luxor, Egypt in the year 1935. A climb up el-Qurn, the sacred mountain behind the Valley of the Kings, leads to an encounter with bandits, and with one who “was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh.”

In this case, the background is weathered stone (rather than blue-tinted concrete) to represent Egyptian antiquities, with an excerpt from the Papyrus of Ani (from Wikimedia Commons) and a cobra shape (from Pixabay), because the story contains references to cobras. The lines of blue squares and the gold and blue twisty shapes say “ancient Egypt.” The line of green triangles (pyramids) at the bottom is another gesture to “Egypt” (although there are no pyramids at Luxor). The reversed green triangles at the top fill up some empty space and enclose the whole thing.

This was the first story for which I did a Canva design, so I ended up with multiple versions as I learned how to put elements together, move them around, etc. Once I worked up images for the other two stories, I decided I wanted the three to have a “family resemblance,” created by the twisty background shapes, the fonts for title, author and subtitle/series and the use of horizontal lines of geometric shapes. Here are two of the early versions of the image for this story.

3

OK, the snake is a rattler, not a cobra, and the columns (hinting at Karnak) are actually a bar graph dressed up with different lines and fragments from the Papyrus of Ani. I added the pyramid shape as a unifying element that says “Egypt” if not “Luxor.”

2

This one features a photo (from Wikimedia Commons) of el-Qurn, the pyramid-shaped peak behind the Valley of the Kings near Luxor, with an image of a carved pharaoh (from Canva’s image database) embedded. Then there’s a transparent overlay of another photo, actually of a railway station interior (free from Canva), to add texture and that radiating effect, and a transparent pyramid shape as well. The “rising sun” thing at the bottom fills up space and adds yellow to balance the title colour. I was quite pleased with this assemblage, but abandoned it in favour of the one with the “series look.”

Fonts

I regularly peruse the Monthly e-Book Cover Design Awards at the Book Designer website. From the comments on submitted cover images, I gather that fonts are a weak spot in DIY cover designs. So I’m a bit uneasy about my font choices for these images. I selected from the ones available on Canva, rather than looking more widely. I settled on a font called “Sunday” for the titles, “Sacramento” for the subtitles and series statements, and something called “IM Fell English Small Caps” for the author name. There are probably better choices (“Sacramento” isn’t the most legible, especially in smaller and thumbnail-sized images), but I found these visually pleasing.

Oh yes…

In case you’re wondering, all three stories are available as pre-orders on Amazon, for an October 1st release date.

Finding Your Inner Designer With Canva

Cover images are one of the weak spots of self-published ebooks. Indie authors are encouraged to obtain professionally designed covers to make their books look professionally published. The trouble is, good designs aren’t cheap. You can settle for cheaper images that may look cheap. Or you can buy graphic design software and learn how to use it. Or you can experiment with Canva.

I tried Canva when I decided to publish three short fiction pieces related to my main book series. I did not think they warranted the cost of professionally designed covers. Basic Canva is free, so I decided to see what I could do with it. Good, fast, cheap — pick two.

The basic tools are quite easy to use. There is a database of photos, images, shapes, lines and text aids, as well as a catalogue of pre-configured layouts you can modify. I didn’t bother with those; I had my own ideas about what elements I wanted in my images, so I stuck with assembling them myself.

So, keeping in mind that I am the rankest of amateurs, here is how you can design an ebook cover image with Canva.

  1. Think simple and abstract. Don’t try to reproduce a scene or paste together a whole lot of images representing your characters or plot elements. Boil it down to a single image, colour palette and layout.
  2. Select a background. Backgrounds provide colour and texture. Texture is a subtle but crucial element that makes the difference between amateurish and polished effects. Canva has a huge repertoire of background images, ranging from stormy skies to lemon slices or coffee beans to grungy paper, rusty metal or concrete wall closeups. The neat thing is you can change your background at any time, but the other elements and colours you use have to play well with the background, so it’s best to settle on one early in the process.
  3. Practice working with layered images. Learn which ones allow changes to colours and degree of transparency and apply them before or after the ones you can’t modify that way, depending on the effects you want to achieve. Using transparency and layering is another key factor in designing effective images. Be aware that the more interrelated layers you pile up, the messier things get if you want to make changes. On the other hand, it’s not nearly as messy as working with real paint, glue, etc.
  4. Don’t underestimate the Lines and Shapes (in the Elements section). They can be used to create quite complex, textured effects by rotating, layering and using transparency. And most of them are free.
  5. Text is best added after the pictorial elements are complete. It’s not usually a good idea to apply layers over text (unless you’re doing it to create an effect). If you decide to remove a layer or two from under text and replace them with something new, the something new will overlay your title.
  6. There is a wealth of free images (especially the Lines and Shapes), but the better backgrounds cost $1 for each use. Note: you pay for the non-free elements only when you are finished with an image and want to download it. The Canva watermark is removed at that point. You have 24 hours to make any changes to that image; if you make a change after that, you have to pay for the non-free elements again when you download the altered image.
  7. You can find images and effects by plugging words into a search box. Each element is tagged, some with dozens of terms, so you never know what a search will retrieve. Example: search on “blob” to find amorphous shapes that can be used for texturing and splatter/scribble effects. Each element has a little “i” you can click on to find out what it is and what keywords have been applied to it.
  8. You can upload your own photos or images you obtain elsewhere and use them in your designs. The usual copyright considerations apply, of course. The image elements you pay for are licensed to you by Canva.
  9. The Help function is pretty helpful.
  10. You can take mini-courses focussing on different aspects of designing with Canva. Have I done that? Only the first couple, but it’s good to know they’re there.

I designed the featured image for this post in a couple of hours, using a $1 background, a “line” which is actually a very useful twisty shape, a “blob,” a fancy circular shape, and two text fonts. Total cost: $1. (The Mercury symbol in the middle is a public domain image from Wikimedia Commons that I added to my uploads on Canva).

In the next few weeks, I’ll be doing a “cover reveal” of the images I designed for the three stories I plan to publish in October.

A final word of warning — learning how to use Canva and fiddling around with it can eat up hours. And not because it’s hard or frustrating, but just because there are so many things to fiddle with, and it’s fun.