Showing posts with label cover art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cover art. Show all posts

18 December 2017

Less is Hard


by Steve Liskow

When people at events ask why I'm self-published, I can spot the other writers in the group with my standard answer: "So I don't have to write another synopsis."

Condensing your 300-more-or-less-page novel to five pages (some agents want only two or even one) is like gift-wrapping the state of Michigan. Remember, there are two peninsulae (or is it peninsulas?), and they're both pretty big. Lots of ribbon and tape...

Agents want your protagonist, setting, and conflict. They also want the plot and emotional stakes. They want to know how the story ends, too, and a sense of your style. In one to five pages. Maybe that's why Dickens, Hawthorne, Twain and Thoreau are among those famous writers who published at least some of their own work. I'd love to see Tolstoy's synopsis for War And Peace or Joyce's packaging of Finnegan's Wake.

But wait, there's less.

When I started self-publishing, I found a genius cover designer, a guy I worked with on dozens of plays. He designed posters for several shows I produced and most of the shows I directed.
We discovered that we could understand each other so he could create a poster that did all that synopsis stuff with a well-chosen graphic image. His covers prove that the cliche about a picture being worth a thousand words is still true.

But I still need to write a cover blurb. If you think a one-to-five-page synopsis is hard, try the postage-stamp-sized pitch on your back cover.
Mine run between 125 and 150 words, and they have to do everything that synopsis does except reveal the ending. Once a buyer looks at the cool cover picture, she's going to turn the book over and read the back (I hope). My portrait isn't going to sell the book (although I'm still frequently mistaken for Brad Pitt if it's dark enough), so it's up to that blurb.
How do you do it? Think Tarzan on steroids. Shun adverbs, adjectives and passive verbs. Use concrete, evocative nouns; precise active verbs; and all the voodoo you can conjure up. My designer usually shows me the cover image after reading my outline/synopsis (he'll read up to ten pages, bless him) and asking questions. He can shrink the font, but he's a good enough writer to tell me when he thinks I need to do better.

Before You Accuse Me, my fourth Woody Guthrie novel, will arrive in January. I started struggling with the blurb last June. I thought the cover image was strong enough so we didn't need a tagline, but I like to start the blurb with something punchy. I was playing with Frost's "Good fences make good neighbors."

"Old offenses make bad relations" was too vague, not to mention stupid. That was the third or fourth try. We changed it to "old betrayals make bad relatives," only slightly better. Maybe. Peter dug into the outline again and told me to specify the relative. We played around with that for another two months and finally agreed on "Bad exes make bad clients." Then we changed and cut and added until we could both live with the rhythm.

We could probably do more with it, but we were both exhausted and I was still revising the MS, too. Maybe the second "bad" should be "worse" or some other monosyllable. We knew we were pushing our luck when we used early backstory and an adverb to fill out the rhythm in the closing sentence.

Here is the ninth revision, which we agreed to use:

Bad exes make bad clients.

Years ago, Sarah McKinnon dumped Chris Guthrie and moved hundreds of miles away for a new job and, eventually, a new husband. Soon after that, Guthrie nearly lost his leg in a shoot-out that cost him his job as a Detroit cop.

Now Sarah's new husband is in trouble and she wants her PI ex- to get him out of it. Against his better judgment--and that of his new companion Megan Traine--Guthrie flies east, where he and Megan find Sam Henderson accused of killing his mistress. He has a motive, the opportunity, a weak alibi, and maybe the murder weapon--which has disappeared. when they dig deeper, they find an even more damning motive.

Unfortunately, someone else has found it, too.

It's 128 words, about my average. It has no passive sentences and it reads at about seventh-grade, seventh-month reading level. I aim at fourth or fifth grade, but summaries tend to skew toward more passive verbs, so I'll take this.

someday, maybe I'll learn to write a blurb. Then I'll bottle the secret and sell it to other writers and make the fortune that continues to elude me.

03 September 2013

Sing Me a Siren Song


by Terry Faherty

Dale Andrews' very enjoyable piece on the Hardy Boys from last Tuesday evoked a lot of memories for me.  My first completed story, written in the sixth grade, was an thinly disguised Hardy Boys mystery complete with illustrations.   I still have the one and only copy, and it's conclusive proof that my taste for run-on sentences is a congenital condition.


Motif the First
Motif the Second
Even more evocative than the book excerpts Dale included were the book covers he reproduced.  The Hardy Boys editions published in the 1950s and early 1960s had wonderful covers, siren songs done with a brush.  Those covers were always snapshots of some suspenseful moment, often night scenes.  Two recurring motifs were "Hardy Boys Observing Something From a Place of Concealment " and "Hardy Boys Engaged in Foolhardy Enterprise While Someone Sneaks Up Behind Them."   Examples of both types are reproduced here.

A favorite subject of discussion among mystery book authors is book covers.  I could just as easily have typed "subject of complaint."  Bestsellers can complain about the way their books are translated onto film.  The rest of us have to be content with complaining about how our characters are depicted on book jackets.  That's not to say that every author dislikes his or her covers, but it's a lucky writer who's never been let down once by a cover designer.

When my Owen Keane series started, St. Martin's commissioned covers that were dark, moody, and, I thought at the time, rather artsy.  Keane is a failed seminarian whose investigations often involve metaphysics, so I couldn't exactly blame them.  I liked the covers, but I still felt a nameless void.  I didn't diagnose it until Worldwide began bringing the books out as paperbacks.  Then I realized what I'd been longing for:  Hardy Boys book covers.  With the Worldwide editions, I got them.
 

Compare the two covers for Live To Regret.  They're very similar in subject and composition, but the cover on the right is recognizably from the Hardy Boys school.  The second figure, the follower, is represented only by a shadow.   The implication is that the first figure (a very small one at the top of the boardwalk) has someone sneaking up behind him, as in Hardy Boys Motif #2 described above. 




The sinister shadow would appear often on my subsequent Worldwide covers.  It's an authentic variation on Hardy Boys Motif #2, as the cover on the right demonstrates. 





Hardy Boys Motif #1 (see example on the left) was also represented in my Worldwide editions, by the cover for The Ordained.  That's Keane concealed behind the tree.  It could easily be the cover for The Twisted Claw or The Hooded Hawk.
 


I had one more brush (no pun intended) with a Hardy Boys cover, and that was when Hayakawa brought out a Japanese edition of The Lost Keats.  Its cover shows Keane leaning against his faithful Karmann-Ghia, which looks showroom new despite being described in the book as being equal parts rusted steel and body putty.  Keane doesn't look like his description, either, but when I saw him, I smiled.  He looks like a close relation of Joe Hardy after Joe had gotten his late '60s makeover.  Come to think of it, Keane is a relation.  Maybe a first cousin, once removed.  

Owen Keane returns to a book jacket this fall.  It will be wrapped round his first book-length adventure to be published in fourteen years.  I'll have more to say about that adventure, Eastward In Eden (and its cover), in a later post.  For now, thanks again, Dale, for the Memory Lane trip.  And, Frank and Joe, look out behind you!