Judging a book by its cover

How often are we told not to judge a book by its cover? How often are we told that first impressions count?

If first impressions count, then we ARE judging by the cover if the cover’s the first thing you see on a bookstore shelf.

That contrariness is just another thing to make writers nervous. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, right? And panic starts to set in when you see other covers that are just awesome and your brain’s hit a creative brick wall.

Many of my novels don’t even have titles, let alone time spent on wondering about cover design. But when I did a self-publishing course run a few years ago (which actually set me on this self-publishing treadmill), one of the classes was on covers and suddenly I was checking out designers and images and going into overload. Sort of forgetting about the novel behind the scenes too. I covered this new addiction in a previous post Covers without stories.

Mackerel Sky – first cover
But… getting sidetracked in that manner led me to the MC of Mackerel Sky. I’ve been writing his story for years but I knew very little about what he looked like. Not helped that he’s a first-person narrator who doesn’t like to stand in front of mirrors and ruminate on his looks. Anyway… on SelfPubBookCovers I found a cover by Shardel. The general design didn’t relate to Owen’s story, but the young man on the cover was Owen to a T! ‘There you are,’ I said. ‘I’ve been looking for you for a long time.’

Out of that discovery and some wonderful work by the artist came the first cover for Mackerel Sky (and I was stoked that one of the three main images was mine!)

Shardel’s covers can be found on Facebook and on SelfPubBookCovers

Mackerel Sky – second cover
This one doesn’t exist, but fragments are whirling in my head. Why am I looking at having a different cover? Because I had a look at other books in the LGBT/Teen and Young Adult genre(s), and the original cover doesn’t come close to being similar. Of course, I want something different but I don’t want it so different that it doesn’t ‘fit’. And, well, even though the Pantheon is still part of the story, I’m thinking it’s not really big enough to be on the cover. I’m also not going to use Owen – at least not this lovely version.

I’m still going to use clouds, but the mackerel sky formation is a key aspect of the story, but I’m thinking clouds, mackerels and the Chicago skyline. The story’s set there so I’d like the skyline somehow in the picture.

I’m a terrible artist so it’s not easy to translate what’s in my head onto paper, but I’m hoping I can get the basics right enough that someone might be able to see where I’m going and help out. At the moment, I’m still thinking photographic images, or at least half of that, but I don’t mind hand-drawn either. They are just as notable in the genre as photographic images are.

I’ve got four months to sort this one

Turning a chimera into…

Well, it’s about turning a 150K word novel with three first-person narrators and multiple themes into a no-more-than 250 word description for Amazon.

Mackerel Sky is twenty-two today, hence my posting. Even if I’m not writing, I know the anniversary date. Twenty-two years is ridiculous, but in all honesty it has really only been since November 2016 that I really picked up the novel and ran with it. And though I had the bones of the draft written prior to that (so many bones that there are now two books) I’m pretty sure that my re-writes and new writes constitute more writing than in the last ten years total.

Anyway, since I’ve chosen my publishing date (June 27, which is Owen’s birthday) it has hit me that that’s really not that far away and I don’t know what I’m doing. I went to my writing/publishing group on Saturday seeking ‘what’s on my checklist’ advice. The three main ones were cover, description, categories (the latter two relating to publishing on Kindle via Amazon). And, honestly, two things I’d totally not thought about. But added to that list were front/back matter and sorting out the ISBN. At least those two things shouldn’t take me too long.

I am going to get a new cover. I love the one I have but I’ve decided it is ‘my’ cover and it won’t be the one on the book. So that’s probably going to be the toughest of the three – finding someone who can put my awesome-in-my-head design into reality (or something close to it). I’ve got a pin-board of covers from books of the same genre. Mine will fit that overall look and also be different.

The categories I’ve also sorted, and the keywords. I even got looking at the numbers of items in the keywords to see what would be the better ones.

The description… this is causing me angst! Back before November 2016 my giant novel really only had one narrator, and so it was fairly easy to put together a description but I really only had to focus on him. After all, his story. But now having two extra narrators (both pivotal to the plot) I feel like I have to give them description time, even though my initial narrator is still the MC. I’ve got about seven drafts of descriptions at the moment and they’ve all got good points (I think) but not the absolutely right points. Furthermore, the chimera in the title. A chimera is a beast made of several different animals. I feel like Mackerel Sky is like that and I’m not sure what I should focus on in the description because I don’t want it to come across as one thing when it’s also other things and people want those other things more.

I think I’m going to narrow the drafts down to maybe four and then put them out for consultation. I know the description can be modified post publishing but I’d rather hit the nail on the head (or as close to it) straight up.

One other thing mentioned (my head was swirling by this time) was marketing. I was gonna push the publish button and then run away. I mean, I’m not publishing for the money (even though a little part of me is saying ‘OMG, making money from this would be AWESOME’) so I’d never thought about marketing or that sort of stuff. One way around it was, I’ve decided, to make more use of this website. Paying for the thing after all and in two-and-a-half years I’ve written six posts. Oh, money well spent. So… not really marketing, but hopefully once a month until publishing time I’ll post on here about how things are going.


I’m one of those weird Capricorns who won’t say a thing, until I’m prompted and then I’m like a volcano spewing forth. Probably because I’ve kept it back for so long. It’s kind of ridiculous, since we’re told over and over to be open and communicative. I feel like being a writer puts me in a rock and a hard place with communication. Writing is solitary but the outcome is for the masses. Writing is personal but everyone sees the outcome. It’s tough if you lack confidence or don’t have a thick skin or are simply a heavily encumbered introvert.

I’m an introvert, though not heavily encumbered. When I get going, I get going, and I’m an extrovert around people I know or on subjects I know. But when all is said and done, I like my own company. The problem with that is, arguing with one’s self over characters or plot holes isn’t that bright because I don’t push myself to fix things that I know are wrong. Or, at least, they’re not things I have to focus on NOW. Capricorns are laid back. Sometimes I’m at the extreme end of that.

Anyhooo… recently I had the great pleasure of chatting with a friend of mine from Writing.com, Elle. She has been interviewing several authors, poets and bloggers from the site to use on her own personal blog The Road to Elle. Introvert I may be, I do love to talk writing with anyone who shows interest! When I saw her questions, for some of them I really had to think. More importantly, face up to myself on why I was writing and why it was taking so long to actually get anything finished. If you like, you can check out the interview  (and don’t forget to check out the others!), but the thing I most want to get across was that talking with her and answering the questions was really helpful.

Talking with friends, family, and a writing coach (more about that another day) about writing is helpful. I’ve sorted out some huge plot holes recently (yep, that I’ve been ignoring a long time) through talk. And I didn’t feel stupid going through the issues my characters have as if they’re real. They are real, to the characters. And they’re real to me, and now I have a better understanding how I can fill in gaps, solve some issues, and make my fiction stronger.

The point is that sometimes writers need to talk instead of write, and they shouldn’t be afraid of doing so. It helps!

Covers…. without stories to go with them

I visit Pinterest and Pixabay etc to get ideas for covers for stories I’m writing. But mostly I come away with ideas for covers that have no character or story for them. I try to stop myself but it seems I’m an addict. Actually, there’s no ‘seems’, since I have purchased a couple of covers from SelfPubBookCovers without a story to go with them. And this morning I proved it all again by purchasing a set of 100 downloads from Depositphotos. Which is really kind of stupid since my cover ideas are awesome in my head but suck entirely when I try to make them myself.

But I’ve told myself it was all okay, because when I’m ready I can go to a designer with images and ideas and they’ll work magic. Right?

Perhaps the biggest issue is that as I glance over images I keep getting ideas for new stories and characters, which seems to push my existing NIPs a little bit out of progress. They rather become NLPs – novels lacking progress. This is an issue I’m well aware of but just can’t seem to control. I love looking at images and covers and all those things. It’s the same with prompts – I gather them like air in my lungs – even if I may never use them.

Clearly I have little self control when it comes to these things, but I enjoy looking. Ideas spark, and sometimes a miracle occurs in the form of an image that is to die for for an existing story.

Happy 21st birthday, Mackerel Sky

Today, 24 January, marks twenty-one years since I started writing Mackerel Sky. Aka Watching Clouds, which is what the story had always been called up until about six months ago. Mackerel sky is a cloud formation, my favourite as it happens, and so it seemed a reasonably appropriate swap for Watching Clouds.

Owen still watches clouds, and he learns about the mackerel sky from Andrew during a peaceful moment (as yet written only in note form).

Twenty-one years. When I started (I was only half my current age!) I had only a thought to write the story of a young man who chose a slightly oddly path to follow in order to provide for his brothers and sisters. It was always going to be a romance, but it also contained a fair amount of anger and grief. I still have the very first words I wrote (back when I hadn’t yet happened upon the name of my MC) and I am quite thrilled with the fact that a good chunk of the initial ideas remain in the story. Not that it hasn’t changed over the years. Believe me, the opening section has had several re-writes and new-writes, and yet I keep coming back to starting where I’d always started it. I like to think that means it starts in a good spot, rather than me being resistant!

I think on the story a lot, even if I don’t write or am not editing. I even have a cover designed, which I have posted in several places around my house as inspiration. However, I find I’m just not feeling the finish. I want to publish this story but I also think I wouldn’t die in a ditch over that not happening. I’ve loved the journey, and I do actually have a full draft pretty much written (oh, let’s be honest – I’ve books two and three written as well, which stemmed from the fact that I kept thinking about an alternate ending and, voila, two extra books. I could condense them all into one but it’d still be a mammoth tome).

I know that publishing doesn’t mean I can’t ever edit or re-write or write anew. So, perhaps I just don’t want to let the story go. Perhaps I want to protect Owen, because I’m pretty sure people are going to think he’s on drugs or something over some of the things he does and thinks. He isn’t, by the way.

If I were disciplined (I’m a Capricorn, you’d think I’d be there with bells on) I could get the first draft done and to beta-readers by mid-year, and official editor (if needed, since I’m actually qualified myself) by end-year.

That’s kind of the reason for this post – a name and shame, if you will. Twenty-one years is ridiculous!!! I wrote 50,000 new words during the last NaNo and enjoyed it, and it wasn’t really rocket science. Though… I’ve not written a new word in the time since, instead writing for other novels and engaging in short stories on my writing site (not ‘mine’, but you know what I mean).

Off to set this website as my home page, to guilt myself into writing every time I see this post wishing my favourite novel a happy 21st!