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Keeping It Consistent

We’ve covered and emphasized and delved into the whys of good book cover design for the individual book. But what about your second or third book? Even though you attracted readers to previous books, you can’t slack off on the book cover design, hoping your name or your series’ popularity will carry you along.  But even if the design from book cover to book cover is solid, completely changing your cover from the first book to the second could confuse the reader. They may start second guessing, asking questions such as “Is this the same author as last time?”, “Uh oh. I hope this book has the same stuff I liked in the previous book.”

When readers buy a book with your name on it, they are counting that the book is the same, if not higher, quality than what they enjoyed the first time. One subconscious way you can hint, “Hey. You liked this book. This one is even better!” is through consistency in design throughout the series. That’s when you start investing in something called branding: giving your book covers a cohesive identity that spans across your entire series.



Even if it’s not the same series, you always know what to expect in a Nicholas Sparks novel.

Now, the Nicholas Sparks example doesn’t mean that you need to make every book you ever write look similar. If you write a fantasy trilogy, then move to writing investigative non-fiction, you actually don’t want your books to look eerily similar (see: Designing by Genre) because it will hurt attracting new readers.

So instead you’re working on keeping your series’ book covers recognizably consistent while still distinct from one another.  What should change? What should stay the same?


Keep the same fonts, same sizes, and even same general placement. If your title is on the top and your name on the bottom, try to keep it like that. For that matter, you should keep that in mind when figuring out the imagery from book to book. If you are commissioning an illustration, give that information to your artist so they know to allow enough space so you can keep your books consistent.


Don’t have different styles from cover to cover.  (See the types of covers to choose from). Even if your first book was so successful you now have the budget to afford the best artist in the world, don’t change the style. This applies especially to illustration. If you aren’t able to get the same illustrator, find someone who can replicate that style. Or rebrand your series completely so they match.

Also, if you suspect you will be writing more than one book in the series, start thinking of imagery that can carry over multiple books. Think about shapes.  Think of camera shots (close ups, wide shots, etc). The Hunger Games books are an excellent example of cohesive imagery. Once you’ve seen one book, you immediately associate it with the other books.



Depending on what you decided for your imagery, color can be crucial to your series branding. While the Hunger Games example above changes most of its colors from book to book (except for the white lettering), series like Twilight rely extensively on its color choice. All the Twilight books feature dark red and white. The imagery might change, but as long as its keeping the same color background and striking red and white color scheme, you can still tell they belong in the same series.


Actual design aside, which edition of The Nanny Diaries says “We belong on the bookshelf together”?

By considering these factors when designing the books in your series, you can develop a strong identity and branding for your series as a whole. When you do that, your book covers work in harmony, showing a potential reader that they can trust you; if they invest time in your books, they’ll walk away for the better.

What Is “Hidden Story,” and Why Do You Need One?

frenchheadshot2Hey there, happy writer people! Today we’re going to discuss a part of your novel you might not even be aware exists. This elusive element of your writing is called the “hidden story,” and it’s essential to delivering a tale that will keep your readers up way past their bedtimes.

Hide and Seek


In your story, things happen “onscreen” and “offscreen.” Onscreen, your readers see your main character settling in for a cozy evening, when suddenly a ton of dwarves show up on his doorstep. Onscreen, your readers see your main character frantically trying to contain the situation while the dwarves make short work on his pantry and then get down to the business of plotting a hazardous quest. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this and this.)

Offscreen, a wizard is marking your main character’s front door. Offscreen, a scrawny creature is using a magic ring. Offscreen, a necromancer is amassing his power. Offscreen, a dragon is dreaming.

“Offscreen” is another term for “hidden story”: all the things that happen in your story that the reader doesn’t see. You could also call it the “offstage action”: costume and set changes that move your character along in the plot. The audience doesn’t get to see these things happen, but when the curtain rises again–when you, the writer, bring your characters out before their audience again–your readers see that your characters have moved from one place to another, time has passed, changes have taken place.

Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek


So why is any of that behind-the-scenes stuff necessary? If the reader is never going to see it, then why in heaven’s name should you, busy wordsmith that you are, have to hammer it all out?

Well, y’all, “hidden story” is important because what we’re really talking about here isn’t an extra set of stories behind the scenes. What we’re really talking about is solid structure. Your hidden story anchors your “onscreen” story so it can feel realistic to your reader. Your reader doesn’t need to see all the behind-the-scenes or between-the-scenes stuff. Show all of that, and you’re going to take all the magic and suspense out of your tale. Your readers will get bored. Why play the game when nothing’s hidden and you’ve taken all the fun out of seeking?

There. You’ve told me all the details of how he ate his breakfast and drove himself to work. By the time his path crosses with Tawanda the Amazon Queen in the mailroom, I’m bored.

There. You’ve told me everything her singing rival has done to sabotage her audition. So when she gets up and can’t croak out a single note, I already know who and why and how. No mystery here.

There. You’ve told me all about the goblins’ hidden passageway. I’m going to skip the part where they abduct Bilbo and the dwarves, because I’ve already guessed that’s what would happen.


What happens in the hidden story has a direct impact on what happens in the visible story. If you don’t work out the hidden story, the visible story is going to make very little sense.

You’ve got to strategize. If Our Heroine is to encounter an assassin in Chapter Three, you have to know that her antagonist hired the assassin in Chapter One. You don’t have to show the hiring process, but you do have to know when and where it happened so that the assassin and the antagonist can show up when and where they’re supposed to.

If you don’t plot out the hidden story–if you don’t know when and where the assassin was hired–it’s going to feel very deus ex machina to your readers when Hired Goon leaps out at Our Heroine and tries to knife her. If you’ve plotted your hidden story, you’ll have dropped all the hints necessary for building suspense and letting readers know that something is going to happen without boring them by detailing what the something is.


Whether you’re prewriting a story or already smack dab in the middle of one, you need to evaluate your hidden story. Figure who is pulling what strings. Make sure characters’ choices are logical within the story context. Know what’s happening between your hero’s feats of cramazingness. Manage your antagonist’s contributions without letting the audience (or your hero) peek behind the curtain.

Tell your visible story well…but put at least as much effort into the story you’re not telling. And when your readers are poring over your work at 3:00am with flashlights under the covers, they will thank you.

Guts and Bolts: An Immodest Proposal

As you’ve probably noticed, this month we’re looking at non-fictional books quite a lot. This turned out to be a really spectacular Josh-1marketing opportunity because, in looking at non-fic books, I discovered that they are the Holy Grail of book marketing how-tos. Do you disbelieve me? Let me take you on a tour through Wonderland.

Sunrise on LagoonCovers Beautiful as a Blazing Sunrise…

…are for garish movie theater lobbies, not for important works of non-fiction.

This is so obvious I’m not sure how I missed it. The key to covers that will entice and entrance new readers is to have as little actual art as possible on them. Make them lovely, Corinthian faux-leather with the title stamped into it with the most conservative font available. Make the title as utilitarian as possible. Some might call this boring, but we call it solid and trustworthy. We don’t need to do flashy magic tricks to get people to look at our books. Those who want us, will find us. We are here, waiting patiently for our inevitable sales.

Promotional Copy to Stir the Heart and Soul…

…are for lesser works like fiction.

Similar to the cover, there’s no reason to try and hoodwink unsuspecting new readers into getting interested in our topics. We are not a speedboat dashing around demanding attention like a hyperactive five-year-old. We are a yacht, plodding along with dignity of a stately dame. Fascinating word choices or clever turns of phrase have no place here. We are an information sandwich, only mayo and white bread need apply.

Advertising? No. No, thank you.Carney

We are not carnival barkers bellowing disarming pitches at passing rubes in hopes they will step into our sideshow and ogle the freakish two-headed calf of our prose. We are a beautiful cathedral full of blessed frescoes and haunting, ethereal melodies. Oh, perhaps we’re tucked off the beaten path and maybe a frowning clergyman waves potential readers away from the delights within. But we will not resort to hucksterism. Merely building the beautiful edifice will, eventually, bring people to it.

My Proposal

Stop wasting your time on so-called “marketing.” True authors, important authors, create important works that speak for themselves. The people in the world who would find you interesting will discover you strictly through the gravitational pull of your work’s power and importance. Take to heart the non-lessons of non-fiction! Submit to non-marketing! Enjoy the legitimization that poverty and lack of sales gives to authors of importance.

The Characters in Flux

There’s a certain amount of method acting to the madness of creating our characters. We have to understand them inside and out, then embrace the actions and dialogue that fit their personalities even if they aren’t what we authors would necessarily want for them. This leads us to the most important aspect of character creation.

If you go reading through Courtney Cantrell’s prewriting blog posts (never a bad idea), you’ll find reference to the story question. Every character has a question that needs answering. He wants something; can he get it in spite of his obstacles?

Our focus today is a corollary of the story question.

Your character has a flaw; can he change?

Let me tell you about Roy. Roy spent his childhood in a military boarding school and had some difficult experiences there.

Then I edited his book. His main character, Roy, spent his childhood in a military boarding school and had some difficult experiences there.

We previously discussed the dangers of making your main characters into little copies of yourself. But I also want to discuss this book because it is a glaring example of why characters need flaws.

Protagonist Roy was perfect in every way. He was smarter than the other students. He was stronger, even though he was smaller and younger. He made no mistakes. Ever.

And—my blood boils just thinking about it—he had this cutesy smile thing that he would do to make adults swoon over him. He was like a toddler with a tiara, except he wore a military school uniform. It made sense when he started the book as a six-year-old brat. But when he finished practically an adolescent, it was just absurd.

I said, “Look at what you’re doing to this kid. You ruin his life. His own parents reject him. He gets beaten up and sent to the hospital multiple times (each time healing unnaturally fast). Why is he always nice? Stop making him nice!

I explained to him that a character needs flaws, and the point of a good book is to see whether he can grow out of them or not. If he doesn’t, then the book is a tragedy (see Captain Ahab and his relentless quest for Moby Dick, or A Streetcar Named Desire and Blanche’s compulsion to be a damsel). If he does, then it’s a comedy (Lizzy Bennet gets her happily-ever-after because she overcomes her prejudice; Tony Stark saves New York City from a nuclear missile because he accepts his role as protector rather than playboy).

Author Roy wrote his book to give Protagonist Roy a happy ending. But when adolescent Protagonist Roy stands on stage accepting an award and he gives his cutesy smile and the audience accepts it, we see that Protagonist Roy never grew up. He will be a child eternally. Author Roy effectively wrote a tragedy.

The greatest tragedy of all was how Author Roy failed to capitalize on the opportunity to improve his book in editing. It ended up in shambles.

There are success stories. Bill was writing an Epic Fantasy/Christian Allegory, and he had a book full of perfect characters. I gave him the same talk, “Look at what you’re doing to these poor people,” and, because I thought he was ready, I mixed in some, “Your characters’ outward struggles are reflections of their inward struggles. When Gollum dies, the part of Frodo that could become Gollum also dies.”

Dude nailed it. When I got his next draft, his perfect little princess was a self-doubting, dramatic mess. The fisherman raised by an abusive father struggled with meaning and purpose. And the tarnished knight had to learn to care again. The effort took his work from meh to yeah!

Now, let’s apply all this to the two characters we’ve made, Nathan and Erin. Upon reaching adolescence, Nathan becomes plagued by disturbing images. What does that do to him? Well, since his intrusive thoughts include demons, it might chase him toward religion. He feels as though he needs to make penance for things he can’t control. Maybe he’s driven to study the dark depths of theology, looking for some solution. And, as we decided that he’s more athletic than scholarly, it’s not a good fit. Not only does he lack control over his mind, he’s making himself miserable by filling his life with things he doesn’t enjoy.

Erin, on the other hand, is a fixer. She wants to work in physical therapy because she wants to be able to help everyone. If she can’t help someone, it makes her feel worthless.

So, we have potassium, and we have water. Let’s see what happens when we throw them together. I’ll set this scene after our two characters meet and get to know each other.


Erin snorted at Nathan’s joke, which made him laugh even louder. They’d left his bedroom door open a little, and she was sure their voices carried through the house.

Nathan’s voice cut off, almost like someone was strangling him. The smile vanished from his face. He looked afraid.

Erin followed his gaze, but she saw nothing. “What is it?”

Nathan shook his head and forced a smile. “Nothing. Sorry.”

She tried to relax, but she couldn’t. Nathan looked disturbed. She followed his eyes again, but all she saw was a cabinet. Was something in there?


His breathing was shallow, his face pale. “Excuse me just a moment,” he said, standing and walking stiffly out of the room.

What did I do?

Erin hesitated, wondering whether to follow.

Maybe he needs me.

So she did.

Nathan pulled a mug from the cabinet. His hands shook as he filled it with water, shoved it into the microwave, and slammed the door. This was always the longest minute of the day.

He couldn’t shake the image of a demon standing over Erin, choking her with one hand, yanking out her teeth with the other.

She’ll go to hell toothless.

He jumped when he heard her voice over the microwave’s hum. “What’s wrong?”

He didn’t answer. He squeezed his eyes shut and gripped the kitchen counter. She put her hand on his shoulder, but he couldn’t bear for her to touch something so filthy. He pulled away.

“Just go,” he said through clenched teeth.

He reached up and took the cup out of the microwave two seconds before it beeped. He brought the steaming cup down to his face and breathed in. The steam rushed up his nose, up into his brain, washing the demon away.

“Nathan, please.”

And she had seen what he did. But he could never explain why. The shame ran deep, too deep.

“Just go.”

“I want to help.”

“You can’t.”

Sometimes he wondered if even God could.


There it is, the core of our story. Can Nathan learn to accept what’s happening to him? Can Erin learn to accept things she can’t control? Those are part of our story questions for each of our characters.

That’s how you make characters who can drive your story. You figure out who they are at heart. Then you let them figure out what they say and do. Then you use this information to decide what their flaws are, what they want to achieve in life, and how they can overcome the former to obtain the latter.

Your story needs to be filled with damaged people because life is filled with damaged people. Following this process will give your characters realism, direction, and heart.

This article took seven read-throughs.

Who’s Your Reader? Designing Your Cover for Your Target Market (Part 2)

Last week we scratched the surface of what a target market is. I introduced you to the concept of demographics and psychographics of finding your reader audience. But how does knowing your demographic info translate into a cover design? It’s one thing to know who would be interested in your book, but another to translate that information visually into something that will appeal to them. This week, we’ll go a little more in depth into a few of the categories in demographics  and with a few thoughts to consider how your cover should speak to them.

Age Group?

What sort of age group would be most interested in your book?  Think of Harry Potter. The target audience was for children between the ages of 8-12, but once the books became wildly popular, all ages loved the book. The cover designs still reflect their core group however with illustrations that are clearly aimed at that age group.

Here are the different age groups to consider. If you can’t exactly pinpoint it, try crossing off what doesn’t fit and see what’s left.

  • 3-to-5-year olds
  • Middle schoolers
  • Teenagers and young adult
  • Echo boomers born between 1979-1990
  • Gen X-ers born between 1965-1978
  • Boomers born between 1946-1964
  • Matures born between 1909-1945

What does your age group connect with? What imagery (both styles and content) are they familiar with and find attractive? Consider these questions when designing for your age group.


Many readers are more comfortable with locations they can have some experience with (whether through personal experience or other media). Lifestyle, customs, manners of speech, and pace can play a significant role in what your target market is comfortable with on a book cover.  It can also help to do some digging into the standard demographics of your genre. For example, according to one survey, 35% of mystery books were read by women from the South. So you might want to plan your cover to call out the familiar, yet add enough mystery to attract interest.

Male or Female (or Equal Split)?

This might be one of the easier categories, since women buy more books than men do. Not many genres can claim to be predominantly read by males, so if you’ve written a book that has a male target market, be sure to avoid putting anything on your cover that might turn them off. That applies for genres like fantasy where the girl/guy ratio is fairly even. If you really think your readership is gender-neutral, than you need to think what will appeal to both without driving one or the other away.


Just one example of knowing the gender of your target market

Education level?

Knowing the education level of your target market can influence your book cover. If you are targeting college educated readers, then your cover can use imagery that requires a little intellectual
mind stretching. It’s still crucial to have an eye-catching image, but you don’t need to shout the theme and content with obvious imagery.


Like education level, occupation can give you a little more freedom of imagery, especially for specialized non-fiction books.  Your cover can reflect the profession’s artistic ideals as well as any more nuanced content. You would want to convey to your reader that “Hey. This is a book that knows its field.” For example, my scientist husband likes to joke that scientists take pride in making their posters and websites ugly, sparing prettiness for functional and useful content. How does this reflect in a book for scientists? Since scientists are more concerned about content, if you’re writing a technical science book, you probably don’t need to spend a ton of money on a pretty book cover.

If you have your target market already picked out, it can help you in deciding what cover design would appeal to the people who will have the best experience with your book. You wouldn’t want to design a cover for a teenage girl while your book’s contents, in reading level and plot, are geared for a middle-aged man. Hopefully the above gives you an idea how to begin using your target market to create the best cover design for your book.


In case you’re still having some problems narrowing down your target market, MyBestSegments is my favorite resource for different market segments because, with over 60 different segments showing ages, income, stage-of-life and purchasing habits, you can probably figure out one of a few segments that your book’s readers belong to. Then you can use their similar purchasing habits to think about their cover. Not related, I also enjoy that you can type in your zip code and find out what types live in your district (not book cover related at all, but still fun.)

(W)riting, Relationships, and Romance

Greetings, lovely people! This week at Unstressed Syllables, we’re focusing on contemporary romance and chick lit. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that these aren’t my wheelhouse genres. So, I’m kicking off the romance by sharing with you a few tidbits I’ve picked up from expert Nora Roberts*.

Just Tell the Story

“My only job is to tell the story. I think that if more writers focused on that, they’d be better off and probably more successful.”

~Nora Roberts

As far as I’m concerned, Roberts hits the nail on its proverbial little head and pounds that sucker so deep into the ground, it might as well be Excalibur wedged into rock of legendary proportions. Tell the story. It’s just you and your story, people. It’s just you and your storypeople. Roberts says you “go into a box” with that story, and you don’t come out until it’s done.

Until the story is done, you don’t worry about what it looks like to other people. Until the story is done, you forget about all the trappings and trimmings that will eventually help you sell it. Until the story is done (if even then), you don’t concern yourself with its possible themes and morals. Just tell the story. That’s your only job.

Obviously, this applies to writing any genre, not just romance!

It’s All About Relationships

sunfiremeganAccording to Roberts, the most important part of writing romance is the relationships.

“It’s all about the relationships…interesting, dynamic people…developing a relationship with its problems and its complexities and its conflicts…. Whatever plot there is…it is all about who these people are and what they’re going to bring to each other.”

~Nora Roberts

Okay, so I fibbed a little in my first paragraph. I said that romance isn’t in my wheelhouse, implying that it’s not a genre I’m familiar with. But I kinda am familiar with it…because I spent my entire teenhood reading Sunfire Romances.

If you’re a 30-something female, chances are pretty good you know what I’m talking about. The Sunfire Romances were a series of YA novels that had three things in common:

  1. Each title was its heroine’s name.
  2. The background plot was a major historical event.
  3. Each heroine spent the course of the novel overcoming the adversities inherent in the historical event and choosing between two vastly different love interests.

It’s been almost twenty years since I’ve read any of those stories, but I still remember those girls and their dashing guys. Danielle had to choose between pirate Geoffrey and richboy Paul. Merrie had to choose between pilgrim Zachariah and sailor Luke. Victoria’s guys were landowner Luis and Texas Ranger Cade. Megan felt torn between fisherman Ivan and emporium boy Adam.

In each of these novels, the author introduces the heroine and the love interest she “should” choose if her life goes as planned. The historical events complicate matters, as does the introduction of the alternate love interest. Whom does the the heroine choose? Well, sometimes it’s the first guy, sometimes it’s the new guy. Sometimes, her decisions about how to weather the historical storm affect her choice of love interest. Part of the fun in these stories was not being able to predict the course of each relationship.

But though the historical events created complications for the heroine, the driving force of each novel was her relationship with the two guys. Each offered her a different kind of validation and a different life. Twenty years later, I still remember those relationships–they were that vivid and that well-written. I remember the fierce joy in reading how these smart, resourceful young women thought for themselves and made their own choices, instead of getting “swept off their feet.” Well, Danielle kind of got swept off hers for a while. But she came around and stood up for her principles in the end. ; )

Stormy, passionate, believable relationships are memorable. Novels crafted around such relationships are also memorable.

Back to Your Storypeople

“Character is key. Character is plot–character is everything and the story wraps around them. Your characters have to jump off the page. …It’s all about who these people are.”

~Nora Roberts

You can’t write believable, memorable relationships if you don’t have believable, full-of-life characters.

norarobertsThese people need to live, y’all. You have to find out who they are so that you can communicate them heart and soul to your readers. Each character must have a driving motivation, the thing s/he wants most. Make this desire crystal clear and let that be what moves your character through every situation, every interaction, every decision.

Give each character at least one distinct, defining trait. A habit (good or bad), a quirk (verbal or nonverbal), a foible, an obsession–something that distinguishes that character from all the others. Know in your mind from where in the character’s backstory that habit, quirk, obsession originated. This personal history might or might not end up as part of the story…but either way, it will help you paint your character at least a dozen shades of more believable.

Even more important than quirks and foibles, though, are your character’s flaws. Maybe her quirk is always wearing the color red, her foible is being a picky eater…and her flaw is extreme jealousy. Maybe his habit is picking his cuticles, his obsession is coin collecting…and his flaw is consistent self-destructive behavior. Picky eating and coin collecting aren’t likely to catapult a character into an adventure (although I daresay it could happen)…but green-eyed monsterdom and self-sabotage can be strong determining factors in the course of relationships.

Especially in the relationships Roberts encourages us to build our romances around.

* “Romanced by Nora Roberts,” Writer’s Digest Vol. 81, #6

The Second Draft: The Beginning of Editing

Writing a novel is hard work, and it takes a lot of time. And by the time you’re done with your first draft, you’re going to have one of two thoughts:

  1. This is the best thing ever! I can’t wait to share it with the world!
  2. This whole thing is crap. I should chuck it in the bin and never write again.

And let’s face it, we usually think of the second one. We think back on everything we’ve just poured our heart and soul into and realized that nobody wants to hear our pathetic voices.

Whether you think you’re amazing or a load of bull, both of these perspectives are completely miscontrued from reality. The fact of the matter is, your manuscript is a mixture of good and bad. You just aren’t able to differentiate the two yet.

That’s why you need to step back, take a drink, and not look at your manuscript for a while.

Stepping Back

After you’ve typed “The End,” clse your document and don’t look at it for a while. How long? I recommend a month or two. If you’ve ever participating in NaNoWriMo or another form of flurried typing, you understand how tired of your manuscrpt you can be after a while. No matter how much you want to start fixing your novel, let it simmer for a bit first.

But don’t let your creative juices dry up in the meantime. Work on a new project in the interim. Whether it be starting a new novel, knitting a Dr. Who scarf, or painting a mural on your kid’s bedroom wall, get up and create something. It’ll keep the wheels greased for when you come back to your manuscript.

Stepping Up

When you’re ready to edit your manuscript, pull out the paper and set it in front of you. Or pull the file out of the folder and open in on your desktop. Crack your knuckles.  The best part is about to begin! Here’s some different ways you can approach the process.

  1. You can read the entire first draft, first word to last, to reabsorb what all you’ve written. This helps you get an overall view of what works and what doesn’t. Make notes to yourself as you read about big plot points you want to change, probably in a separate document. Smaller changes, like paragraphs you want to rearrange or a conversation you don’t want your characters to have, you might want to note within the document itself. Then when you go back through the second time you can fix it so that it is seamless with the new draft.
  2. You can go through the first draft and edit as you go. If you find a sentence you don’t like, rewrite it. If a paragraph strikes you as unnecessary, cut it out (and put it in a new document for later, just in case you decide you need it later!). Bigger plot changes will be harder to make this way, but it can be done. Just make sure when you get to rearranging and cutting and pasting that you have everything organized well.
  3. You can do a strange mix of the previous two options. I don’t know how common this choice is, but it’s the one I prefer. You see, no matter how long I wait between drafts, I can’t stand to read my work straight through. I get anxious and start trying to edit within the original document, and that’s just bad. So after my month of respite (okay, sometimes even during),  I think back to my plot. A lot of times I look back at my original timeline. I try to figure out what is it that I didn’t like, what parts I need to add in, and what parts need to be taken out. I write it down in great detail for myself. Basically it’s like option one, only I’m noting my revisions from my memory of the text rather than actually looking at it. Then, when I come back in to start editing in a fresh document, it feels like I’m making immediate changes. But really I have a plan for myself.

Whichever route you choose to take, just remember to always take a break between drafts. Your eyes and your mind will thank you.

Readers in the Reticle

Recently, I talked about BISAC headers and their simultaneously freeing and restricting abilities to target broad swathes of readers.

Broad Across the Beam

How broad? How about things like Fiction or History or Humor? Yes, things as disparate as Dune is from Sense & Sensibility, or The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is from Meet the Beatles: A Cultural History of the Band That Shook Youth, Gender, and the World, or Jeeves & Wooster is from The Bathroom Joke Book all sit very close to one another in those BISAC headers.

But they are able to drill down to specifics, although the trick there is getting everyone to agree on definitions. Fiction can become something as on point as Mystery & Detective/Women Sleuths. History can hone in on Canada/Pre-Confederation (to 1867). And Humor can dial up Form/Limericks & Verse if you absolutely must know what happened to that guy from Nantucket.

But what happens after BISAC?


So you’ve read all the stuff Rachel has been talking about with covers, right? And you’re up to date with my own stuff, especially the bits about promotional copy? If you haven’t, I’ll wait here for you. Go do that, then come back.

Ready? Okay, good.

That’s what happens after BISAC categories. I know, it feels like just nailing Fiction down rather than Gardening or Self-Help should be worth half the battle. And it is worth a lot. After all, you just cut the ocean down to Lake Michigan. Now, though, it’s time to actually get people to take a drink.

That’s where the cover and promotional copy come in. Once somebody goes looking for Fiction/Mystery & Detective/Women Sleuths, you use your cover and promotional copy to tell them whether they’re dealing with an aging writer living in a Maine coastal town with a death count higher than cholera or a hard-bitten daughter of a Chicago cop solving white collar murders.

What I mean is, if they’re in your category, you know they want books like yours. Now you leverage your cover and promotional copy to let them know actually want yours.

Targeting THE Reader

So you’ve drawn a bead on the category and put readers in your sights. Next, we’ll talk about putting the bullet of your story right through the brain pan of THE Reader. It’s the High Concept, the five sentences and fifteen seconds that will convince any single person to check out your story. It’s the Elevator Pitch…and it’s a lot harder than it looks.

Re: Write – My Own Excerpt

There’s a certain amount of power in editing someone else’s work. In that moment, you are the expert. It can, and should, be a much more humbling experience to edit your own.

It took me a long time to learn to edit my own work effectively. And I realized a few weeks ago that, since this is at least in part a blog about editing your own work, I should show you how I do it.

So I sat down over a cup of coffee and some eggs over easy and I hammered out a 500-word excerpt using a character I’d done a little fleshing out on not long before. I combined him with two separate milieu ideas, then let him do a little improvisation (see previous articles). I ended up with something that I would very much like to explore at a later date.

You’d be amazed at how hard it is for me not to edit my work as I write it. Editor Thomas is constantly in my mind, rereading what I write and nitpicking every little detail. Most of the time it’s grammar or phrasing. I had to tune him out this time. I now leave that polishing for you, my adoring fans.

Struck-through text is a recommended deletion. Blue and italicized text is marked for rephrasing. My direct additions to the text are in blue font, and my notes are in [bold with brackets].

Stick ducked behind the box and exhaled.

Every good soul stands strong.

The arbiters’ hymn rustled through his memories mind. His mind even added his father’s sonorous bass running underneath it. It was an odd moment of nostalgia in the middle of the end of the world.

The sound of grating stone drew closer. Stick had to get to his boat.

He counted to three, then sprang forward. He was maybe fifty paces from the pier. His soft shoes struck the wood of the dock in soft staccato. Immediately the sound of grating stone grew more intense. The golem was giving chase. [I don’t like golem. Too cliché. Eidolon, maybe? Or some original term, like stonefist.)

Stick listened close to the resonance of his footsteps on the dock. They rang out in low E. He hummed the E an octave above the wood’s song, then layered a B over top of it. The two notes from his voice blended in a holy invitation.

The golem’s stonefist’s footsteps resounded on the dock behind him, stiff and strong and furious, a driving marcato. However Whoever had ordered this golem stonefist to pursue Stick was a strong singer indeed.

Twenty-five paces, and it was obvious that his boat had already pulled away from the shore. She was leaving without him.

Stick dropped the B to an A, then layered a D above it, the quartal harmony pleading for action. He opened his mouth and sang, “Fall.”

Louder, louder came the drums of death behind him.

Twenty paces. He wouldn’t make it.

Stick added an F# and thanked the rains, not for the first time, that he was one of the lucky few who could sing more than a triad[Too cut and dried for my taste. I don’t just want to give away information. Perhaps I can show him straining to layer a fourth note on the chord, then later show that others can’t do it. Take Treebeard’s advice when using exposition: “Don’t be hasty.”)


The wood of the pier shuddered, creaked, groaned, and then cracked. Stick allowed himself to feel a little relief as he leaped over the gap his song had created in the pier as the wood pulled itself into the water.

He landed in midstride, resolved his chord in a gesture of thanks, then immediately sang in a high falsetto, mimicking the tone of the wind in his ears.

Behind him, the footsteps ceased. Stick’s heart leaped thrilled in his chest. But there was no splash. The footsteps continued, closer than ever. The golem stonefist hadn’t been fooled.

                Its creator was a strong singer indeed.

Stick took a deep breath, then blasted the air with a high, shrill triad. He then added an ascending scale atop it, his voice lifting higher and higher, his lungs straining.

Ten paces, and the golem stonefist sounded close enough to snatch his Stick’s cloak from his shoulders.

Ten paces from the end of the dock, but his boat was another thirty offshore already.

Bear me!” he shouted to the winds.

At five paces, force and pain crashed against his back. His breath caught in his throat; his song broke. He stumbled forward and saw black water before him. He couldn’t react quickly enough to take a new breath to hold.

But as he fell, he felt fingertips of are air on his arms, grasping him and lifting him up and over the water.

Now he heard the soft, alluring voice coming from the boat ahead of him. He breathed and sighed, then winced. A few ribs were at least cracked.

Syph’s song carried him over the water to the boat and deposited him gently on the deck. She thanked the air and knelt beside him.

Stick groaned. Syph clicked her tounge tongue in response. “Good thing I was watching.”

“My dear,” Stick said, “you remind me daily why I divorced you.”

Who’s Your Reader? Designing Your Cover for Your Target Market (Part 1)

How often do you hear this from other authors:

“Oh, I think everyone will like my book if they only read it.”

Well, maybe nobody actually says it, but it’s tempting to think that anyone should enjoy your book if given the chance. In reality, however, different segments of the population enjoy definite types of books. You don’t see too many middle-aged men reading Twilight (or maybe they just hide it).

The group most likely to buy your book is called the target market for your book, and you should consider their likes, dislikes and what attracts them when designing your cover (and writing your promotional copy, marketing your book, and even writing the actual book).

Just like it would not be effective or affordable to purchase ad space everywhere on the web to market your book, it can be ineffective to try to use multiple imagery on your book cover in hopes of attracting multiple categories of people. When you’re designing anything, including a book cover, you need to keep in mind your specific target market.

The overall book market is made up of readers that can be divided into groups with common characteristics. A target market’s characteristics can be divided into two sections: Demographic and Pyschographic. Demographics has more to do with the reader’s physical characteristics like age or gender, while Pyschographics deal their inner workings like behavior and values.

Take a moment to pull out a pencil and paper and figure out what the target market of your book is.



Who will read your book?


  •       Age
  •      Geographic Location
  •      Gender
  •      Income Level
  •      Education Level
  •      Marital or Family Status
  •      Occupation
  •      Ethnic Background


  •      Attitudes
  •      Personality
  •      Values
  •      Interests/Hobbies
  •      Lifestyles
  •      Behavior


Knowing the group who most likely will buy your book can help you tailor your cover design toward things that will interest them. For example, if you know that mainly 20-40-year-old, single, tech-savvy, college-educated women buy your book’s genre, you would use that information to design a cover to stand out to them (see How to Design A Cover by the Genre).

As fun as it is to work out exactly who your ideal reader is, be careful not to break your market down too far. If you’ve painted a picture of your readers being bicycle-riding, python-loving, punk-rock styled, middle-aged, married women with diabetes, great. If, however, there are only 200 such women in existence, then designing your book cover just for them could actually hurt the overall marketability of your book.

Another point to consider is the purchaser of the book versus the eventual reader. For example, you might have a little kid who wants your book but it will be the mother or father who actually buys the book. Depending on what your book’s content are, it might be best to target the actual recipient of the book or it might be best to target the purchaser (think of grandparents who give gifts).

Targeting a specific reader does not mean that you have to exclude readers who don’t fit your group. Instead, target marketing allows you to focus your book cover design (and promotional copy, as I’m sure Josh would attest) on a market that’s more likely to check out your book. It’s a more efficient and effective way to attract readers.

Join me next week when I go into how to use this idea of a target market in your actual design.