Kaye Thornbrugh's Blog

March 24, 2015

I recently had the opportunity to watch Song of the Sea, a fantasy film from Cartoon Saloon, an Irish animation studio. Here’s the summary:

"Based on the Irish Legend of the Selkies, Song of the Sea tells the story of the last seal-child, Saoirse, and her brother Ben, who go on an epic journey to save the world of magic and discover the secrets of their past. Pursued by the owl witch Macha and a host of ancient and mythical creatures, Saoirse and Ben race against time to awaken Saoirse's powers and keep the spirit world from disappearing forever."
I’ve been looking forward to this movie for a long time—but not as long as my sister! She’s intensely interested in selkies, and she’s a big fan of Cartoon Saloon’s last movie, The Secret of Kells. Naturally, she was thrilled when Song of the Sea was announced, and she’s followed its production closely for the last few years.
If you enjoy my books—and chances are that you do, or you probably wouldn’t be reading my blog—then I think you’ll find a lot to love about Song of the Sea. Looking at it as a writer, it’s exactly the kind of story that inspires me and gets me excited about storytelling. In particular, it got me excited about the stories I’m telling right now, because it’s a shining example of what a story in my current genre can achieve.

Yes, Song of the Sea and the Flicker series are stories in the same genre! They’re both urban fantasy. More specifically, they’re both urban faerie. I’ve never seen an urban faerie story told in this medium, and I think this movie opens up a whole realm of possibilities for other projects like this. (You know, if Flicker were ever adapted into a movie, my dream would be for it to be animated. In my head, the story has always looked like an animated movie.

Let me tell you: Song of the Sea is full of faeries—the otherworldly, folkloric kind. There are selkies, of course, but there are also members of the Daoine Sidhe (specifically stated to be such, too, which came as a pleasant surprise to me). A few other figures from Irish mythology appear, including Macha.

The movie is an interesting take on traditional selkie stories. Those tales tend to be romantic tragedies, and while Song of the Sea does touch on those elements, at its heart, this is very much a story about family. (I’m sticking to my usual advice, though: Don’t marry a selkie. Actually, it’s probably best not to marry any of the faerie folk. It never works out.)

Previous knowledge of Irish folklore and mythology isn’t necessary to enjoy the movie. But if you’re a bit of a folklore buff like me, I urge you to check it out for the references alone.

I would be remiss not to gush about the animation: Song of the Sea is an absolute visual treat, lovingly animated by hand. Animation aficionados, take heed: I promise you’ve never seen anything like it. Personally, I could stare at the backgrounds all day. If you don't believe me, check out the trailer:

Please, do yourself a favor and watch Song of the Sea. You deserve it!
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Published on March 24, 2015 15:44 • 8 views

February 24, 2015

I recently returned from RadCon, where I had the opportunity to speak on a number of interesting panels, with a number of interesting people. One of the weekend’s best panels was about young adult fiction—always a favorite subject of mine, especially when I get to talk shop with authors Alma Alexander, Frog Jones and Robert L. Slater. The discussion was lively, and one topic that came up has continued to bounce around in my head:

Do you write messages or themes into your books?

Actually, I do, though I’d never really talked about it in public before RadCon. While I’m not sure I would classify them as themes, exactly, I definitely write certain concepts into my books: concepts I want to celebrate, as well as concepts I want to challenge or deconstruct. The example I gave in the panel was the romance (and, in some ways, lack thereof) in the Flicker series—and I want to explore that further here.

I wrote Nasser and Filo as direct responses to some of the tropes and trends in YA fiction that have been driving me up the wall for the last few years.

(I'd like to take this opportunity to direct your attention to the absolute goldmine that is @BroodingYAHero. By some miracle, I happened across the account while formatting this blog post, and it points out everything that frustrates me about YA romance, in the funniest way possible.)

Before I wrote Flicker, I was burned out on YA heroes—specifically, I was burned out on what I call “Beautiful Jerks.” You know the kind: broody, mysterious, constantly giving mixed signals. He tends to be overprotective and controlling, sometimes to the point that the heroine is actually scared of him (though this fear often becomes confused for attraction and feelings of love). His only redeeming quality is his smoldering good looks, and that’s supposed to make up for the rest of his terrible personality.

The kind of romantic lead that interested me—genuinely sweet and respectful, from start to finish, basically the opposite of the “bad boy” type—seemed to be considered pretty boring by most people. Nobody seemed to be writing heroes like the one I wanted to read about. I had no choice but to write my own.

And I wrote Nasser. He’s warm and respectful from the very start. He never invades Lee’s personal space or tells her what to do. He makes her laugh. He’s interested in her thoughts and feelings. She falls for him, ultimately, because he treats her well, because she feels safe with him, and because he empowers her.

Essentially, Nasser is the kind of romantic hero I couldn’t find and wanted to celebrate—the anti-bad-boy, if you will. I gave him a bunch of qualities that I think make for a good partner, qualities that were sorely missing in most of the love interests I’d been reading about, so to me, he’s something like the ultimate boyfriend material.

Still, I knew that if I wanted to accomplish my goal of writing the opposite of a Beautiful Jerk, I would have to subvert not only the “jerk” part, but the “beautiful” part, as well. I examined how other books in the genre had played that trope, and then I took stock of how I could play it differently.

When Lee first sets eyes on Nasser, she takes note of his appearance in a general way, but she isn’t paralyzed by his incredible good looks. In fact, in the entire book, Nasser is never described as being particularly handsome. I did that very much on purpose: In YA fiction, nobody ever seems to be attracted to anyone else in a normal way. Every novel is populated almost exclusively by inhumanly gorgeous characters.

I get that it’s all part of a larger romantic fantasy—but at the same time, I can’t help but feel this sends the message that only very beautiful people are deserving of love, and the rest of us are on the outs. Why can’t a normal-looking girl be the object of ardent love? Why can’t a regular-looking guy be a romantic hero? I wanted to see that, so I made it happen in my books.

In Lee’s internal narration throughout Flicker, she describes Nasser mostly in terms of how he makes her feel when they’re together. He’s kind. He’s gentle. He has a warm, inviting personality. She feels safe with him. Those qualities are what attract her, much more than his looks. Which isn’t to say that Nasser isn’t good-looking from where Lee’s standing. Certainly, she’s attracted to him, but that develops over time, along with her other feelings. She’s not immediately drawn to him that way. Her attraction grows as her trust deepens.

And yet, later on, I was both puzzled and interested to notice that a number of readers and reviewers described Nasser as very handsome, when that was never explicitly stated in the book. I see two possible explanations for this:

1) Readers assume that Nasser is attractive because Lee falls for him (i.e. they have been trained by other books in the genre to assume that all love interests are traditionally attractive).

2) Readers come to perceive Nasser as attractive over time, while Lee falls for him.

Personally, I hope it’s more the second possibility than the first.

Of course, all of this doesn’t mean that a Beautiful Jerk doesn’t make an appearance in Flicker, because one does. But he’s not Nasser. He’s Filo.

Throughout Flicker, Filo exhibits most of the qualities of the Beautiful Jerk. He’s moody and mean. He refuses to answer questions. Just when he starts to act a little friendlier toward Lee, he starts acting abrasive again. There are times when Lee feels genuinely scared and threatened by him—because, well, he’s behaving in a scary, threatening manner and she recognizes that for what it is.

Filo is only missing one trait that would make him a true Beautiful Jerk, and thus, a potential romantic lead: Lee, the heroine, isn’t attracted to him. In fact, for much of the book, her feelings for Filo can best be described as: NOPE.

When you take a male character with all the qualities of a Beautiful Jerk and take away the attraction factor—all the illusions, the romantic fantasy—what are you left with?

Just a jerk. And for most of Flicker, that’s what Filo is.

What makes him more palatable to readers, I think, is that he’s also a POV character. Instead of only seeing him from Lee’s perspective and guessing at his motivations, we spend a lot of time inside his head, and we discovers those motivations ourselves, first-hand.

Again, this is something I did on purpose: I wanted to dig deep and examine what might create this sort of person, without spinning his destructive behaviors as romantic. I’ve read too many heroes who get away with appalling (even blatantly abusive) behavior because their tragic back stories are accepted as an excuse by the people around them.

My intent was for Filo to be a deconstruction of this kind of supernatural bad boy. Through him, I tried to challenge the notion that “dangerous and tormented” also equals “sexy.” (Of course, how successful I was can only be determined by individual readers!)

Filo hurts a lot of people because he’s hurting—people he loves, and people who love him. And it’s not romantic or sexy or alluring. It’s messy. It’s miserable. It’s exhausting and painful for everyone involved. He’s not a “fixer-upper” who just needs to be loved by the right girl. Ultimately, Filo has to do the real work of overcoming his trauma himself, even if he does it with the support of other people. Nobody can do it for him. Not even someone who really, really loves him.

A friend and fellow author, Frog Jones, is one of Filo’s staunchest defenders. I absolutely love him for that, because I think he really gets Filo—gets that this boy didn’t get the way he is by accident, that he’s broken almost beyond repair and that everything he does is a result of the trauma in his past. But what I really love is that Frog makes no excuses for Filo, even though I suspect he may be Filo’s biggest fan. That’s what I hope all my readers will do, actually: know that Filo’s past is an explanation for his behavior, but by no means is it an excuse.

(Also, if you’re interested in traumatized, emotionally damaged teenage protagonists who do magic, look no further than the Gift of Grace series, which Frog co-authors with his wife, Esther. I love this series. It’s got pretty much everything I want in an urban fantasy, and it also delivers one of my favorite tropes, rarely seen in the wild: a tough young guy whose mentor is an older woman. Just do yourself a favor and read the first book, Grace Under Fire. You deserve it. Treat yourself.)

Despite everything, when Flicker had been out for a while, it became clear to me that a number of readers shipped Lee and Filo. That is, they wanted those characters to become an item. (What would that ship be called? Filee? Leelo? Actually, never mind. My characters’ names don’t really lend themselves to ship names.)

And, okay, admittedly, I was a bit disappointed by this. But I wasn’t very surprised.

Readers of young adult fiction, especially paranormal and urban fantasy, have been trained to pick up on certain cues as indicative of an impending romance. Unfortunately, these cues would often be big red flags in a real relationship. If a guy is rude to a girl, it means he likes her. If a girl flat-out tells a guy to stay away from her, it means she likes him. If she’s afraid of a dangerous, unpredictable guy, they’ll probably fall in love (but only if he’s hot—otherwise it would be gross). And on and on, infinitely.

(A great post at University of Fantasy explores this topic in-depth: “Hush Hush, the Designated Love Interest and Gender Relations in YA.”)

But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. For every reader who interpreted Filo as a potential love interest and was surprised when he didn’t turn out to be one, more readers found Nasser to be a refreshing change of pace.
I remember, with great fondness, one reader who wrote that she was a Lee/Filo shipper when she first read Flicker. But when she read the sequel, Brightly, she found that she didn’t want Lee and Filo to be a couple anymore. She had come to love their friendship more than the romance she had envisioned for them. I was thrilled when I read that, because it’s exactly what I hoped readers would take away from the story.
Over the course of two books (and almost a year of driving each other crazy as roommates, in book-time), Lee and Filo have come to understand each other on a deeper level. (Made possible by the fact that Filo’s cooled it considerably and made some personal progress.) They have developed an intense, intimate relationship that is not romantic at all. And that’s okay.
I’m overjoyed to see that many readers—even those who shipped Filo and Lee at one time or another—find their friendship as emotionally satisfying as a potential romance between them, if not more so. At its heart, the Flicker series is really a celebration of love, in its infinite variations. It’s also a study of love, a deconstruction of it, as I hope I’ve shown here.
No matter what it may seem like, I know from experience that there’s a whole audience of readers out there who are just like me: yearning for healthy romances and supportive love interests. I’m happy to continue writing books for this audience.
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Published on February 24, 2015 16:21 • 10 views

October 27, 2014

National Novel Writing Month is almost upon us! To help you prepare, I want to talk about my favorite writing tool and the best ways to make it work for you this November: Scrivener, the best word processing program out there.
Anyone who has tried to write a novel using Microsoft Word knows that it’s not designed for long projects. Moving a chunk of text from one part of the document to another is a frustrating exercise in copy-and-paste. Looking at two scenes side-by-side involves a lot of clicking between windows. Referencing research materials means sorting through documents in other programs.
In general, Word is a clunky, cumbersome program that just isn’t suited for big projects like novels, or for writers who don’t work in a strictly linear fashion. Microsoft Word assumes that everyone writes in chronological order, from beginning to end; Scrivener makes no assumptions at all. It’s designed to work around you, not the other way around.
Scrivener has tons of features, and I certainly use many more than the five I detail here, but these are the ones I think will be most useful during NaNoWriMo.
Note: I’m not associated with Scrivener in any way, and I’m not getting any kickbacks or anything of the kind. I’m just in love with this program. I even wrote this blog post in Scrivener! It transformed the way I write, and I think everybody should at least give it a try and see what it can do for them.

The idea behind Scrivener is that writing a long document like a novel is easier when it can be broken into manageable chunks. These chunks can be as big or as small as you want, and can be divided any way you choose. You might, for instance, desire chapter-sized chunks. I prefer scene-sized chunks. For NaNoWriMo, you might make a new section for each day and label them accordingly.
Every document of your Scrivener project has an associated note card. You can view all the note cards together on a corkboard, and rearrange them easily by dragging and dropping. This feature alone revolutionized my writing process.
You can assign color-coded labels to your cards, in the form of either a push pin or a corner mark. In my current WIP, I use the pin colors to indicate the POV character of each scene. This makes it easy for me to make sure nobody has too many POV scenes all in a run, and that nobody goes too long without a POV scene. Different writers use the pin colors for many different purposes.
If you want, you can add a status stamp across each note card to show you at a glance, how complete each piece is. Scrivener provides a few default stamps, but you can change these and add your own. My stamps are: To-Do, Incomplete, First Draft, Revised Draft and Final Draft.
Come to think of it, you don’t necessarily have to use the stamps to indicate the status of the section you’re working on. Experiment!
Here’s a screen shot of part of my corkboard for Lights (Flicker #3). I’ve edited out the scene summaries, because they’re all major spoilers, but you can see how I’ve arranged them: titles show POV character and (current) chapter, followed by a short summary of the scene, with a stamp to show how complete the scene is and a color-coded push pin. (Flicker readers may be interested to see that a new POV character will join the party in Lights!)
A screen shot of my corkboard and binder for Lights (Flicker #3).To the right of the corkboard, you’ll see the binder, which is a list of all the documents and folders in your Scrivener file. You can drag and drop your documents in the binder as well, just like on the corkboard, and you can show or hide the binder at any time. You can also see some of my other folders: plot-related stuff, related writing I've imported from Microsoft Word, my "idea jar" where I keep small notes as they occur to me, and my folder for writing that's been cut from the manuscript. And those are just a few folders. These are part of my Scrivener project file, but they're not part of the actual manuscript.
Basically, Scrivener makes it very easy to see your project as a whole and as individual pieces, depending on your needs.

#04: Word Count Tracker
This is one of my favorite Scrivener features. It tracks your word count—but more than that, it also lets you set word count goals, both for your entire draft and for your individual writing sessions. I don’t really use the draft target option, but I almost always set a session target when I sit down to write. I usually challenge myself to write 1,000 or 1,500 words per session, but you can set your target as low or as high as you want.
I set a session target pretty much every time I sit down to write.For NaNoWriMo, being able to track your daily progress like this is invaluable. No more math! Just plug 1,667 into the box and start writing!

My favorite part is how the progress bar fills up as you write, turning from red to orange to green as you near your target. Seeing my progress really motivates me to write more and to write faster.
#03: Full-Screen Mode
This is a feature I use regularly. There are two ways to enter Full Screen mode: Go to View < Enter Full Screen or simply hit F11. (Hit F11again to exit Full Screen mode.)
Full Screen mode is exactly what it sounds like: The document you currently have open fills the entire screen. There are no sidebars, icons or buttons to distract you. Full Screen mode leaves you alone with your words. You’re fully immersed in what you’re writing—perfect for NaNo, when you need to be a super-focused writing machine. Basically, it looks like this:
When I write in Full Screen Mode, I make that bad boy as opaque as possible.Once you’re in Full Screen mode, you can customize its appearance to suit your preferences—say, make the “paper” wider or narrower, and make the background more or less transparent. You can even import your own image to use as the background. Play around and find a configuration that looks beautiful to you!
#02: Export to Different Formats
When you’re finished with your manuscript, Scrivener makes it a breeze to compile your documents into a single file and export the whole thing into a bunch of different formats—Kindle, ePub, Word document, PDF, and pretty much any other format your heart can possibly desire. Then you can print your novel, email a PDF to your beta readers, load it onto your ereader and so on. That last one is great for me: Reading my drafts, in full, on my Kindle helps me think less like a writer and more like a reader, which is vital to my editing process.
#01: It’s Free to Try
This might be the best part: You can use Scrivener for free for thirty (non-consecutive) days. Sounds perfect for NaNoWriMo, right? And if, at the end of the trial, you decide you don’t want to keep using Scrivener, it’s really easy to export your work into other formats (say, one that’s compatible with Microsoft Word), so you don’t lose any of the writing you did with Scrivener.
After you’ve gotten a taste of Scrivener, though, I seriously doubt you’ll want to go back to the Dark Ages. All the better, Scrivener is pretty inexpensive: The Windows version is just $40 (and $35 for students). Compared to other writing programs, that’s dirt cheap. Really, it’s a relatively small investment with a really big return, because Scrivener will improve your writing life.
Learn more about Scrivener and get started on your free trial on the website, Literature and Latte.
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Published on October 27, 2014 14:54 • 15 views

October 20, 2014

Are you going to be in the Coeur d'Alene area this Saturday, October 25? If so, be sure to drop by Hastings between 1:00 and 4:00 p.m. for the Thrills and Chills Book Signing!

I'll be there, along with four other local authors: Brooklyn Ann, Shelley Martin, Bonnie R. Paulson and Frank Zafiro.

I can't think of a better way to warm up for Halloween, or a better opportunity to meet some very interesting authors and pick up a few new reads! Think: vampires, gargoyles, serial killers, zombies, fey and plenty more! Plus, there will be plenty of swag and prizes up for grabs.

This is my first multi-author book signing, and it promises to be a real party. Come say hi!
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Published on October 20, 2014 16:36 • 10 views

September 13, 2014

Welcome to my stop on the Meet My Character Blog Tour! Here's how it works:
"This tour highlights a main character from your WIP (work in progress), recently published work, or soon to be published work. The person who invites you will have a set day to post. You will post one (or two) weeks after that, the authors you tag will post one/two week(s) after you, and so on."
Sounds like fun, right? I thought so, too. I was tagged by the inimitable Ren Cummins. Here's his bio, as posted on his site:
I write. I’m a writer, perhaps much the way my act of breathing makes me a breather. Wait, that’s a poor example.
I began with sketching, but my love of music and math turned me into a musician, and from there prose and poetry fashioned me into a writer. My first series, the young adult (steampunk) fantasy series “CHRONICLES OF AESIRIUM” about a young girl who becomes an angel of death, marked my work as a light hearted and optimistic look into death and darkness, but I’m sure that’s just the lip of the rabbit hole. 
I also helped found Talaria Press, a loosely affiliated gang of misfits whose work can be found at www.talariapress.com – come join the parade, there’s space enough for all. 
Also, feel free to follow me on Facebook and Twitter!
And here are my answers!

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historical person?
The main character of my WIP (Book 3 in the Flicker series) is Lee Capren.

2) When and where is the story set?
The story is set in present-day Washington State. I took creative license with some of the locations, such as Siren Island, a fictional island in the otherwise-real San Juans, where mermaids swim in the coves and curses occasionally befall the residents. But you’ll also find a number of real Washington locales, including Deception Pass and the Seattle Underground.

3) What should we know about him/her?
Lee’s a pretty ordinary girl, right up until she’s spirited away by faeries to serve as a portrait artist. Now she’s a girl with a little magic and a lot of determination.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
Lee’s a pretty ordinary girl, right up until she’s spirited away by faeries to serve as a portrait artist. When she finally escapes (with the help of Nasser, a boy whose magic has always been more of a curse than a gift), she discovers that what felt like a few nights in Faerie spanned years in the human world, and her entire life has crumbled away. Lee soon finds herself living above a shop that caters to the city’s beguiling magical crowd and struggling to cope with her new life, all while dodging the denizens of Faerie who will do anything to get her back.

5) What is the personal goal of the character?
At this point in her life, Lee would settle for living peacefully—no evil faeries, no curses, no brushes with death. She’s coming to terms with all the magic and weirdness that have become part of her life. The constant threats her and the safety of her friends that come with it? Not so much.

6) Is there a working title for this novel if it is a WIP, and can we read more about it? Or: What is the title of this novel and where can it be found?
The title of this novel is Lights. The first two installments in the series, Flicker and Brightly, are available now, as both ebooks and paperbacks—and Flicker is free to download on Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords!

7) If a WIP, when can we expect the book to be published?

I hope to publish Lights in late 2014 or early 2015. Check back on my blog or my Facebook page for updates on the book’s progress!

Now, I've been challenged to tag a few more authors. I've picked two of my favorite dynamic duos. First up: Allana Kephart & Melissa Simmons, authors of the Dolan Prophecies.
Allana Kephart has been making things up and bending people to her will from a very young age. She loves animals and reading and spends a large amount of time thinking up ways to torment her characters. 
Melissa Simmons is an avid reader who married her soul mate and is the proud mother of a spoiled cat. She spends her days helping promote independent authors and doing what the voices in her head tell her to. 
They share a love of coffee and the color purple, as well as a brain.
My second tag is Frog and Esther Jones, the minds behind the Gift of Grace series: 
Frog was born at a very young age in a small town in Eastern Washington, where he still managed to grow up nerdy despite all social pressure to the contrary.  Oh, sure; he bucked hay and rode truck with the good ol' boys, but he also played a fair amount of D&D when he could.  An Eagle Scout and a jazz saxophone amateur, Frog came out of his childhood a little twisted, just perfect for an artist. 
At Eastern Washington University, whilst wearing a fedora and a trench coat and carrying a cane, he met Esther, fell in love, and graduated with a couple of worthless degrees.  Frog then went on to the grand University of Idaho Law School, wherein he passed with honors.   
Frog now practices in Washington, and writes from his home in the Olympic Peninsula. He has hand-constructed a Roman onager, which sits in his garage.   
Because it is Frog drafting this website, Esther is the most wonderful lady to have lived ever.  Of all time.  Born and raised in Renton, Washington, Esther began her stay at Eastern Washington University aiming for a degree in creative writing.  She missed, and ended up with a degree in technical writing instead. 
Almost a decade later, Esther once again began writing creatively.  In order to prove to herself that she could still write a short story, she set herself a goal of entering the SpoCon League of Extraordinary Writer's competition.  To do so, Esther consulted with Frog, and began generating the world that would eventually envelop The Gift of Grace trilogy.  The short story produced as a result not only entered, but won that competition. 
Following that, Esther has collaborated with Frog on The Gift of Grace, as well as more short stories.  Her interest in writing has driven the team of Frog and Esther to heights that neither could have reached alone.
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Published on September 13, 2014 14:00 • 26 views

September 6, 2014

Read Part 1 in this series: Should You Self-Publish?
Read Part 2 in this series: Self-Publishing Supplies

It's time for our third lesson! This week is all about book covers.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of a professional, eye-catching cover. If your cover is ugly, cheap-looking or amateurish, that alone will kill your book.

I’m not exaggerating. You might’ve written the greatest book in all of human history—but if the cover is bad, nobody will read it, and all your hard work will mean nothing.

This week, I’m going to show you how to keep your book off of Lousy Book Covers.
Should you design your own cover or hire someone else to do it for you?

This is one of the most important questions of your pre-publication process. If you’re a graphic designer in addition to a writer, or you’re lucky enough to know a good graphic designer personally, the answer is probably pretty obvious. But the rest of us have a very big decision to make.

For most people, hiring a graphic designer is the best option. You won’t have to worry about buying the rights to stock images (as the designer generally handles that part), you won’t have to tear your hair out over Photoshop, and you’ll end up with an attractive, professional cover that will appeal to readers and generate sales.

However, many indies hesitate to hire a graphic designer because of the price. A professional, custom cover made by an experienced designer can easily run you hundreds of dollars. (Not all skilled designers have super steep rates, of course, but it’s safest to budget for at least a few hundred dollars when you commission a cover.) The prospect of dropping that kind of money is scary—and it’s why loads of indies make their own covers, even though they lack design experience.

Try not to fall into that trap. Be honest with yourself: You probably don’t already have the design skill and experience to create the cover you’ve envisioned—the fantastic cover that your book deserves—and that’s okay. You’re a writer. Nobody expects you to be a Photoshop wizard on top of everything else.

(Mind you, I’m saying this as an indie author who has created her own covers so far. However, I have previous design experience—and, more importantly, I’ve kept my covers very simple. For my current series, that kind of approach works wonderfully—but I don’t doubt that I’ll hire a designer for the covers of future books. More on that later in this post.)

Here’s what you have to remember: The money you spend on your cover is an investment in the success of your book. That’s the crux of it. A great cover can be expensive, but it is vital. Even if you have to save up for months in order to hire the designer of your dreams, that investment will be worth it in the end.

If your book sells steadily, the cover will pay for itself. And if your book has a bad-looking cover, it won’t sell at all.

However, if you’re still hesitant to shell out money to a designer, here are a few options that may prove more affordable:

Seek a designer on Elance: The premise is this—you post a description of your project (including your budget) and freelance designers submit bids. Then you choose a designer and get rolling on the project. I haven’t used this service myself, but from what I’ve read, it’s worked for plenty of indies, so it may be worth looking into.

Buy a pre-made cover: Many graphic designers create pre-made book covers. Generally, they’re much more affordable than a custom-made cover. When you find one that fits your novel and buy the rights, all the designer has to do is plug in your title and pen name, and voila! You have an instant, professional book cover that didn’t break the bank. (Also, the rights to a pre-made cover are sold only once, so you don’t have to worry about another book popping up with the same cover as yours.)

To get you started, here are a few designers with good-looking pre-made covers:

Najla Quamber Designs Jason Gurley Damonza
Understanding Design Trends

Whether you’re hiring a designer or making your own cover, it’s important to have a clear idea of what your cover should look like. You may already have a very specific sort of cover in mind, but don’t marry yourself to that idea just yet. The cover of your book has to be appropriate for its market, and your current dream cover might not be the right fit.

Your cover needs to have its own unique appeal, of course, but it also needs to blend in with the traditionally-published books in its genre, and that means sticking to certain established standards.

How do you figure out the standards? Study the other books in your genre.

When I was planning the cover of my first book, Flicker, I spent a lot of time studying young adult urban fantasy novels to get a feel for what kind of covers were selling and what kind of look readers expected. (In fact, I still spend a lot of time studying YA covers—partly out of habit, maybe, but mostly because I’m a big design geek.)

Gather plenty of inspiration. Check out Amazon bestseller lists and new releases on Goodreads. Pinterest is also a great place for this kind of research, as there are countless boards dedicated to beautiful book covers. Here's mine, for example. When you’ve got a good understanding of what’s out there, make a list of what elements might work for your cover. Should your cover feature models that represent your characters, or should the cover be based more on typography and illustrations? Should you work with dark or light colors? What kind of mood are you trying to convey?

Design trends come and go, of course. A few years ago, for instance, you almost never saw a full human face on the cover of a YA novel. Nearly all the faces were cut off at the cheekbones, so you couldn’t see anyone’s eyes. I think the idea was to leave something to the readers’ imagination. The first three Mortal Instruments novels (published between 2007 and 2009) are a good example of this trend:

These days, while it’s still not unusual to see only partial faces on YA covers, most of the covers you see that feature human figures show the entire face. Take a look at the latter half of the Mortal Instruments series (published between 2011 and 2014):

Taken as a whole, the Mortal Instruments covers are a great illustration (pun fully and enthusiastically intended) of YA cover trends. The six covers all fit together—the overall look is cohesive, and they clearly belong to the same series—but you can see how the design trends have changed over the years this series was being published. Kind of fun, huh?

Sometimes, though, trends change so drastically that an entirely new cover becomes necessary, which brings us to our next section…

Redesigning Your Cover
One of the beauties of self-publishing is the incredible flexibility that it affords authors. If something’s not working—your cover, your title, some other part of your book—you have the power to change it any time you want to. You can experiment and find what works.

I’ve taken advantage of this flexibility from the get-go. Not only did I redesign the cover of my first book, I even changed the first chapter! But that chapter change-up is another story.

Even the big New York publishers redesign their covers from time to time, for a number of reasons. Maybe the original covers don’t accurately reflect the content, tone or genre of the book. Maybe the covers just aren’t enticing enough. Maybe the publisher wants to appeal to a new set of readers. The list goes on and on.

Here are a few recent examples of traditionally-published books that have been redesigned.

The cover of The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa was redesigned before the publication of the second book in the series:
Original cover Redesigned cover
The Curse Workers trilogy by Holly Black has received three different cover treatments, each one radically different:

My first novel, Flicker, originally had a very different cover. I liked it very much, and I still have a soft spot in my heart for it (along with a few paperback copies with the original cover), but I came to realize that it just wasn’t right. It was a good cover, but it wasn’t the best possible cover for my book—and that’s exactly what your cover has to be.

Flicker’s original cover didn’t look like the other books in its genre. When mixed in with the countless other YA fantasy titles on Amazon and Goodreads, it looked out of place. And so, a few months after I published Flicker, I decided to change the cover.

The new cover was brighter, more eye-catching and a better reflection of the fantastical nature of the book. More than that, it did wonders for my sales. If your sales are lagging, ask yourself if your cover could be the problem—and if you made your own cover, it may be time to hire a graphic designer.

Designing Your Own Cover
When I redesigned the cover of my first book, I did it myself. I know what you’re thinking: After I advocated so strongly for hiring a graphic designer, why would I ever try to create my own cover?

It’s because I made a rule for myself and I stuck to it:

Keep it simple.

That was my game plan when redesigning Flicker’s cover. A beautiful photo and striking typography would be the keys to my new cover. No muss, no fuss, just a quality cover.

I have design experience (I’m a former managing editor of a college newspaper, where I designed and laid out about half of every issue), but I’m not a true-blue graphic designer, and I know the limits of my skills. If I wanted to design the new cover myself, I had to keep it simple. Minimalist, if you will.

Simple, striking and effective. That’s my mantra when it comes to covers—and if you’re designing your own cover, it should be your mantra, too.

Don’t get too fancy. If you try to make a cover that really stretches the limits of your design ability, it will show. Your cover will not look good and you’ll make it that much harder to sell your book.

If at all possible, hire a designer to create your cover. But if not, don’t get too ambitious. Less is more when it comes to cover design. Better a simple, good-looking cover than a messy, complex one.

NEXT WEEK: Basics of marking your book!
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Published on September 06, 2014 17:03 • 36 views

August 30, 2014

Read Part 1 in this series: Should You Self-Publish?
Welcome to our second lesson! This week, we’re going to discuss how to prepare your book for publication. Editing
I know this seems like a no-brainer, but for my own peace of mind, I want to remind you to make sure that your manuscript is polished and error-free before you publish. Writers aren’t the best judges of their own work. That’s just the way it is. You need objective opinions on your novel.

Find some critique partners to read your manuscript, and when they’ve looked it over and given their comments, hire a professional editor to go through it. Your book will be better for it, and your future readers will thank you!

Formatting Ebooks

This is something you can farm out to a professional or charitable family member, if you’re so inclined, but I’ve never done that, so I’d like to share how I tackle ebooks.

I format my ebooks based on the Smashwords Style Guide, which is available to download for free. Don’t be daunted by the long PDF. The process is fairly straightforward. If you’re reasonably handy with Microsoft Word and follow the directions exactly, you’ll have a well-formatted ebook in no time. Once you format one ebook successfully, every other formatting session will feel like a breeze! Personally, I can format an ebook in a day or two, once I get into the rhythm.

Catherine Ryan Howard has also written an excellent post on how to format your ebook. Get thee to her blog!

Lastly, Scrivener has the ability to convert your manuscript to a number of ebook formats. Though I’m writing Lights (Flicker #3) in Scrivener and couldn’t be happier with the program, I haven’t used the ebook conversion feature yet, so I can’t speak to it personally. However, all the authors I know who’ve used it have been very satisfied with the results, so if you use Scrivener, I think it’s worth a try.

If you haven’t heard of Scrivener, then you are late to the party, my friend. Put simply, Scrivener is a program designed for writing novels (or any other long work, like a screenplay or an academic paper). Just go to their website and check it out.

Pro Tip: When your ebook is formatted, load it onto your ereader of choice and read it from beginning to end. (If you don’t have an ereader, you can download the free Kindle app for your computer and read your ebook that way.) This is the best way to make sure your formatting is perfect, and it’s also a great way to see your book with a fresh set of eyes—more like a reader’s eyes than a writer’s. Oddly enough, reading my books on my Kindle helps me weed out those last few typos that manage escape my previous rounds of editing.

The Smashwords Style Guide should have you pretty well taken care of when you start formatting, but here are a few particulars to keep in mind:

01) Copyright Notice: This goes in the very beginning of your ebook, after your title. Don’t forget it! Note that Smashwords requires you to use a specific copyright notice, which you can easily adapt for use with other online retailers. My general copyright notice looks like this:

Copyright 2014 by Kaye ThornbrughAll Rights Reserved
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not re-sold or givenaway to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchasean additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or itwas not purchased for your use only, please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respectingthe hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’simagination, or the author has used them fictitiously.
02) Links to Other Books and Blurbs: If you have more than one book published, be sure to include links to your other titles. Some authors put these links at the back of their books; I put mine at the front, after the copyright notice. I just go with a simple “Other Books by Kaye Thornbrugh,” with a hyperlinked title listed underneath.

Also, you might want to include some “blurbs” for your book—that is, short quotations from positive reviews. I blurbed a few reviews of Flicker at the beginning of the Brightly ebook. If you decide to include some blurbs, the key thing is to keep it brief. You don’t want to bog readers down in reviews, so choose only a handful of brief, punchy quotations.

03) Author Info: Your author bio and all your links (website, Facebook, Twitter, email address, etc.) will go at the end of your ebook. This makes it easy for your readers to connect with you online.

04) Call to Action: Include this at the end of your book. The best time to get your readers to post a review (or sign up for your mailing list, or do anything like that) is right after they’ve finished your book, while they’re in awe of that fantastic ending.

Personally, I go with a short, simple statement: “If you enjoyed this book, please support the author by leaving a review on Amazon and on Goodreads. Thank you!” (Make sure to hyperlink to your book’s pages on Goodreads and Amazon/Kobo/whichever ebook retailer.)

05) Dedication and Acknowledgments: These are both optional, but I think it’s better to include them than not. Writing the acknowledgments is one of my favorite parts of publishing a book, because it’s my chance to thank all the people who have helped me along the way. It also means that I’m pretty much finished with my current book, so getting started on my acknowledgments always gives me a bit of a boost!

Formatting in Print
I recommend printing your books through CreateSpace. When I first published Flicker, I went through Lulu, but switched to CreateSpace within a few months. It’s much cheaper to print with CreateSpace, for one thing, and the quality of the books is very high. I also like the interior review feature on their website that lets you view your book as if it’s already printed, two pages at a time.

Also, CreateSpace now offers matte covers, so your paperbacks will look better than ever. I still haven’t stopped mooning over my matte copies of Flicker.

As for the actual formatting process, the best program for putting together a printed book is Adobe InDesign.

Now, fair warning: Because of my work as the editor of a college newspaper, I’m an expert with InDesign. My newspaper design knowledge translated pretty easily into paperback design, so I’m able to format my own paperbacks without trouble. However, I recognize that most people don’t have that kind of experience, or access to InDesign, which is a pretty pricey program.

While it is possible to use Microsoft Word to format a printed book, I don’t recommend it. Microsoft Word just doesn’t have the capability to format your book the way you want—that is, to format your book so it’s beautiful and stands up to the other books on your shelves.

If you don’t have the ability to format your paperback, you’ll have to hire someone else to do it. As always, make sure your designer has references and samples of their previous work, so you can make sure you’re hiring the best possible person.

Cover Art
I’m actually writing an in-depth post about book covers, which will be next week’s lesson, but in the meantime, let me throw down some basics:

1) Your cover is your number-one marketing tool, so it has to be eye-catching and professional
2) You can design your own cover, but unless you have design experience, hiring a professional is recommended
3) If you feel that your current cover isn’t working, you can redesign it

NEXT WEEK: Creating a cover that will sell books!
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Published on August 30, 2014 15:14 • 13 views

August 23, 2014

Today, I'm kicking off a new weekly series, in which I break down the self-publishing process, one chunk at a time. Welcome to our first lesson! This week is all about determining if the indie route is best for you, and if you've got what it takes to make it work.
Should You Self-Publish?
Naturally, the first step in your journey is to decide if self-publishing is really the right option for you.
Self-publishing is ideal for smaller, more personal projects: For instance, if you’re writing a family history or a memoir to share with your family, then you’d be best served by self-publishing that bad boy and producing enough copies to go around. A project like that just isn’t suited for traditional publishing, or even a small press—but if your dreams are a little bigger, you should weigh all your options. Let’s explore those options together.
Who Self-Publishes?
Until very recently, there was a serious stigma attached to self-publishing: Only lousy writers who can’t get agents resort to self-publishing. All self-published books are poorly-written and poorly-edited. Self-publishing is embarrassing, and just isn’t a viable option for serious writers.
And then, of course, Amanda Hocking made headlines after selling a million copies of her self-published books and landing a sweet deal with a traditional publisher. A slew of other self-pubbed authors have sold like crazycakes, landing on bestseller’s lists. On top of that, more and more bestselling, traditionally-published authors are self-publishing some of their work, such as Rachel Aaron and Beth Revis.
It’s become clear that self-publishing isn’t just for failed writers, and that not all self-pubbed books are terrible. Anyone who tells you otherwise just doesn’t know much about self-publishing.
So who self-publishes? Everyone from established, New York Times bestselling authors to first-time authors who have no previous publishing credits. Maybe even you!
To get started, let’s break down some of the biggest pros and cons of self-publishing.
Extreme flexibility: As a self-published author, you have the freedom to change up your strategies and find an approach that works for you. If something’s not working—be it cover, content or something else—you can change it at any time.
Higher royalties: You’ll keep as much as 70 percent of the royalties brought in by your ebooks. For example: I sell my ebooks for $2.99, and make about two bucks from each sale. It may not seem like much, but when you’re making steady sales, it’s amazing how it all adds up.
Own all your rights: Pretty much what it says on the tin. When you self-publish, all of your rights stay with you, the author.
Set your own schedule: You’re the boss here, which means that you decide what does and doesn’t happen with your book. For example, some authors like to simultaneously publish both digital and print editions, so readers can always find their books in a preferred format. Other authors hold off on producing a printed book until their digital edition “earns out” and they feel confident that they’ll sell enough print copies to make it worth the added expense. Likewise, you might not want to produce an audio book right away, but you can always tackle that at a later date if you change your mind. See? That’s one of the beauties of self-publishing: You can mix and match.
Complete creative control: When you self-publish, you have total control of your book—the title, the cover, the content, the price, everything. For many indies, this is the bottom line and the main reason why they choose to self-publish.
Hard work: When you self-publish, you take on the role of publisher and publicist, on top of writing. As an indie author, you’ll do all of your own promotion, which can be hugely time-consuming. Of course, there are services that can help with this, such as bloggers who will organize blog tours and cover reveals for you to generate buzz for your book. (Personally, I recommend the lovely ladies at Girls Heart Books Tours, who have done great promo work for me.)
Editing: In addition to your critique partners, you’ll have to find and hire a professional editor. Make sure to do your homework for this part: Any editor you hire must have experience, references and examples of previous books they’ve edited.
Cover design: I really can’t stress the important of your book’s cover enough. It will make or break your book, and as a self-published author, you have to choose between hiring a designer to create your cover or making it yourself. (Cover design will have its own post in this series, so stay tuned.)
Formatting: You have the option of formatting your digital and print editions yourself. I do this part myself, but I’m lucky in that I have a skill set that includes expertise with InDesign, which makes formatting my paperbacks a straightforward process. If you don’t have the previous experience that I do, you’ll probably need to hire someone else to format your book for you. Again, do your homework and make sure that whoever you hire is professional, experienced and has examples of their previous work.
Paying your own expenses: Any services that you pay for—editors, designers, book-promotion (including booking blog tours, printing bookmarks and fliers, etc.)—will have to come out of your own pocket. Of course, even most traditionally-published authors have to pay for most of their own expenses, so at least you’re in good company!
Small Press vs. Self-Publishing:
Why self-publish when you can try to be published by a small press? Won’t you be better off with a small press, instead of flying solo?
This is a question that many writers ask—and, indeed, the answer for some is working with a small press.
As we know, self-publishing is a lot of work. A small press, however, will do the brunt of the work for you: professional editing, cover design, digital and print formatting, and distribution. You won’t have to worry about procuring any of these services for yourself, which means you can focus your efforts elsewhere—say, on writing your next book.
However, like self-publishing, working with a small press has both pros and cons. Which one is right for you? Really, it’s a matter of priorities. You have to decide what’s most important to you and then go with the publishing route that offers the most of what you want.
In my experience, many new writers publish with a small press because they see it as a more “legitimate” form of publishing. They want to feel that they are “being published” by someone else, because it gives them a sense of validation. And that’s all right, if that’s what makes them happy!
If being able to say “I’ve been published” is of paramount importance to you, then you’ll probably be happier with a small press than with the self-publishing route. However, if the ultimate success of your book is most important to you, then you’ll want to weigh your options carefully. A small press may not be your best option.
When choosing whether to seek publication through a small press or to self-publish, here is the single most important question to ask yourself:
Can this small press do better for me and my book than I can do for myself?
This is a complicated question, of course. To reach the answer, you’ll first have to ask a few more about any small press you’re considering:
01. Are they professional and trustworthy? What is their reputation? Do your homework. Ask around. Post in forums like AbsoluteWrite to find other writers who have published with them in the past. Are those authors satisfied with their experience?
02. Will they pay me an advance? Some small presses don’t, simply because they cannot afford to.
03. Are their covers eye-catching and professional? Many small presses have talented cover designers on staff—but not all. Check out the books they’ve published and make sure the covers don’t look amateurish. A bad cover will kill your book.
04. Will they publish my books both digitally and in print? Is this important to me? Some small presses are digital-only. Other presses guarantee both print and digital publication, and still others only publish a title in print after it sells a certain number of digital copies. Decide what is important to you. Some authors don’t care about a print run, but if you dream of holding a printed copy of your book in your hands, then make sure the small press you sign with will provide that.
05. How will they promote me and my books? Will they provide promotional materials (such as bookmarks) or will I have to obtain these materials myself? Most authors, even those who are traditionally-published, have to do at least some of their own promotion, but even a small press should promote you in some way. Again, consider what’s important to you: How much legwork are you willing to do? Are you comfortable with that?
06. How will they distribute my books, and to what retailers? This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Make sure the small press will get your book where readers can find it.
07. How much do they sell books for, and what will be my cut? Many small presses price their digital titles at less than five dollars. Royalties vary from press to press, but more than likely, your cut of each digital sale will be quite small. Considering you’ll probably be doing most (if not all) of your own promotion, do you feel that everything else your publisher provides—editing, cover art, formatting, distribution, etc.—will be worth the trade-off of a small royalty?
08. Do I like the books they publish? Read a few of their current titles. How’s the editing? How’s the formatting? Is the story any good? Would you feel proud to have your books on the shelf alongside this publisher’s other titles?
Here’s my take: Personally, I’ve yet to find a small press that I believe can provide better services for me than I can procure for myself. However, it’s worth noting that I am in something of a unique position here. I have the ability to design my own covers and do all my own formatting (both digital and print), and then end up with high-quality, professional product. I have to do my own promotion, of course, but if I were published through a small press (or even through a big publisher), I’d have to do most or all of my own promo, anyway.
Because of this, I’m sticking with self-publishing for the foreseeable future. For me, the benefits of self-pubbing—such as owning all my rights, earning a 70 percent royalty on ebooks (which comprise the majority of my sales) and having complete creative control—outweigh the benefits of publishing with a small press. For you, that may not be the case.
In Conclusion:
By now, I hope you have a better idea of whether the self-publishing route is right for you. Really, it all depends on your goals. And remember: Even if you choose to pursue a different publishing route now (such as a small press), you can always give self-pubbing a try in the future, and vice versa!
That’s the beauty of self-publishing: You always have the option of changing things up.
If you’re sticking with the program, congratulations! Self-publishing is a very exciting journey. Check in next week (self-publishing Saturday?) for a new lesson in Self-Publishing 101.
NEXT WEEK: What you need before you self-publish!
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Published on August 23, 2014 17:40 • 13 views

August 21, 2014

I sat down to write a post summarizing my weekend at SpoCon 2014, and quickly realized that we would all be better served by a photo round-up instead. Check out all the cool cats I got to hang out with:

These two lovely ladies having name placards, making my job much easier. Bonnie and Shelley are both author, and I was lucky enough to speak on panels with both of them. They're also fellow Idahoans--which, let me tell you, is a surprisingly rare thing to find at SpoCon! Spokane is just across the border from Idaho, so you'd think it would be crawling with Idahoans, but that's just not the case.
Also, in the background, you can see the charming Jessica Rising (center, wearing a cute hat), who writes some really cool middle-grade novels. (I took a photo of her individually, but, ah, my photography skills are really lacking, and it turned out all blurry, and I'm way too embarrassed to post it. But I wanted to point her out, because she's fantastic.)

Okay, let me talk about these two for a minute: Frog and Esther Jones. I met Esther at my very first SpoCon, before either of us had published any books. We were both finalists in the SpoCon writing contest, and we met at a sort of early-morning breakfast event. Naturally, I adored her. There's not a living person who doesn't adore Esther Jones, because she's actually perfect.
The next year, I met her husband, Frog. (No, his parents were not so cruel as to actually name him Frog, but that's what everyone calls him.) Frog and I are basically the same person. He's a riot, by the way, and I never have more fun at SpoCon than when I'm on a panel with him.
Anyway, Frog and Esther are co-authors of the Gift of Grace series, an urban fantasy series that I highly recommend. The first two installments, Grace Under Fire and Coup de Grace, are out now. They also run the Friday Indie Review, where they--you guessed it--review indie books.
(It's so funny when I think about it: When Esther and I met, we were both unpublished writers hoping to have Real Live Books out there someday--and here we are, both with two novels out! It's wild.)

And speaking of people I met at my first SpoCon.... The beautiful blue lady to my left in this photo is Natalie Rogers, who Esther and I also met at that fateful breakfast event. She wrote a really, really rad short story, so it's no wonder why she was a finalist in the contest. Esther and I are still bugging her to publish a book already! (On a side-note: At least once per SpoCon, I run into Natalie while she's in cosplay, and I am completely unable to recognize her. She's that good.)

This is Sam Knight. I met him at RadCon earlier this year, and let me tell you, it's been a wild ride ever since. He came all the way from Colorado, which seems like a lot of effort to me. (I like my conventions conveniently located. Like, no more than one state away.) I got to listen to more his pearls of wisdom on our Self-Publishing 101 panels, and the two of us palled around outside a bathroom afterward. That's how we roll.

Look at this little moonbeam. Her name is Aascot, and we've been Facebook friends for some time. But we didn't meet in person until last weekend, when we met up at SpoCon! I could not have prepared for how cute and tiny she turned out to be. There's something really special about meeting Internet friends--in particular, that moment when you finally get to hear their voice!
Well, that just about sums it up. I'm already getting excited for next year!
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Published on August 21, 2014 16:25 • 14 views

August 12, 2014

Just a few days until SpoCon 2014! It's shaping up to be another great con. Here's where you'll be able to find me this weekend:

Building Dynamic Supporting Characters - 12:30-1:30 p.m.
Middle Grade Vs. Young Adult - 2:00-3:00 p.m.

Character Motives and Psyche - 12:30-1:30 p.m.
Self-Publishing 101 - 3:30-4:30 p.m.
Sex, Violence and the Modern Young Adult Story - 8:00-9:00 p.m.

Reading - 10:30-11:00 a.m.
Diversity in Science Fiction and Fantasy - 11:00-12:00 p.m.

Don't forget that there will be a giveaway at my reading on Sunday! (Now all I have to do is choose which passages to read. That's always the most stressful part of convention prep for me!)
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Published on August 12, 2014 15:54 • 10 views