Tag Archives: writers week 2012

Writing Contest Finalists – Vote For Your Favorite

Writing Contest Top 10Special thanks to the writing contest judges, Dan and Jenny, for evaluating this year’s writing contest entries. I know you’re all dying to find out which entries made the cut, so here they are:

A. A Good Story
B. Afterlife
C. Frying Pans and Fires
D. Mask of Innocence
E. Sally
F. The Farmhouse
G. The Gnome Conundrum
H. The Lemonade Dialogues
I. The Unobliging Princess
J. The Voicebox

Congrats to those of you moving on to the online voting portion, and a huge, heartfelt thanks to every one of you who participated!


In case you’ve forgotten, the prizes up for grabs for  first, second, and third place include:

  • First Place: $100 Amazon.com gift card and a copy of Scrivener software for writers.
  • Second Place: $50 Amazon.com gift card and a copy of Scrivener software for writers.
  • Third Place: $25 Amazon.com gift card and 50% of Scrivener software for writers.

Vote For Your Favorite

Since the finalists are being announced a day late, I’m extending the online voting period just to make sure everything is as fair as possible. To vote, you must make your selection by October 24, 2012 at 12:00 noon Eastern. (One vote allowed per IP.)

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Meet Your 2012 Writing Contest Judges

When it comes to the writing contest, I rely on volunteer judges to select the finalists and public opinion to choose the first, second and third place winners. Why? Because I’ve come to know a lot of the writers and bloggers who participate in the contest, and there is just no way I could ever impartially evaluate the entries by myself.

So today, I’ve asked the Writers’ Week Writing Contest Judges to introduce themselves to you.

Jenny Bones

Jenny BI’m Jenny Bones and I have been writing since I was old enough to spell. While the quality of my writing has probably diminished significantly since that time, I’m still just as passionate about the written word. I believe words hold mystical, magical powers and when used correctly, can heal and soothe a world in pain.

Currently earning my daily bread as a copywriter and consultant, I am the resident Word Witch over at Up Your Impact Factor. You can Tweet with me, connect on Facebook or throw freshly-baked cookies at my head. Whatever floats your boat.

Dan Meadows

watershed-cover-copyHi, I’m Dan Meadows and I’ll be your judge. Over the past 15 years, I’ve been an editor, managing editor, publisher, etc (and I mean etc. They don’t make hat racks big enough for all the ones I’ve worn at one time or another). I signed up for this because I’d thought it’d be cool to judge a writing contest, and I think Emily does damn fine work, so here I am.

I’ve been thinking about what to say, but honestly, with all the hubbub about sockpuppets and reviewing whatnot, the last thing I feel like doing right now is self-promoting in any form. You could Google me, I suppose, I’ve got no way of stopping you, just don’t tell me about it, please. I cringe every time I hear that phrase, always being in reference some some grimy politician. No, thank you, I don’t want to Google Rick Santorum. Eww

I’m just here to read some stories and give my humble opinion. Beyond that, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. I’ll only be judging you.

 

Don’t forget to submit your blog entries by September 30, 2012!

The Cover’s the Thing

By Claire Ryan

…the play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.
—Hamlet

Shakespeare was talking about theater, but the principle is the same: just like a play is a reflection of real life, a book cover is a reflection of what’s in the book.

At least, it should be.

I honestly believe that every book needs a good cover. Some indie authors like to publish with a serviceable cover and upgrade it to a better cover later, after they’ve made some sales. I think this is horrible advice. The cover is the first point of contact for most readers – going with a merely adequate one is just going to make it that much harder to get those initial sales. Authors should strive to publish with a cover that gives their book the best chance it can get from the very start, depending on their budget. Sometimes this does mean creating their own, but it’s not a job that can be done in a few minutes. A couple of days is not an unreasonable amount of time to spend on a cover for a book that took a couple of years to write.

Covers are tricky as well as important. They have to communicate a lot of information, consciously and unconsciously. If you’re going to create your own, you probably already know the basics – readable title and author name, looks good at scale, etc. Unfortunately, a truly effective design takes more than just the basics.

Visual Cues

It’s very interesting to examine what kind of visual information people pick up on when they see a cover. Little things make a lot of difference in how the book is perceived, and perception is everything. The cover should entice the reader to look at the blurb. The blurb should interest them enough to read a sample. The sample should convince them that the book is worth buying.

It’s obvious that the blurb and the sample can’t do their part if the cover doesn’t pop.

The visual cues of a cover are things like the fonts, the placement of text, the colors, the focal point. They can be simple, but they should never look unprofessional. Here’s an example:

writers week cover design

This is by far one of my favorite examples of good cover design. You can see that it’s quite simple at first glance, but there’s a lot going on there that you may not even realize you’ve processed.

The illustration is the focal point. That’s the first thing you see when you look at it, as it’s a large, centered block of color, and it tells you exactly what the book is about. It’s about struggling with questions. (The book is a literary work in which every sentence is a question.) Now, look at the position of the figure and the way his arms curve in the same rounded shape as the upper part of the question mark. He is effectively a bigger question mark that surrounds and emphasizes the smaller one.

Look at the choice of font, and how the question mark itself is a different, probably serif font to the sans-serif of the title and author name. Using a serif font there is less harsh, and more elegant, and this communicates that the question he is wrestling with isn’t entirely serious.

Now, look at the placement of the text. Why would the artist offset the first and third words in the title instead of centering them all? To leave more room for the illustration? No, that would be too easy. Instead, look at the sight lines of the cover – this is examining where and how the viewer looks at it as a whole.

writers week cover sightline

The eye starts at the focal point, then is pulled up to the title, which is the biggest text and the next most obvious thing. The offset of first and third words pulls the eye to the side and down, where it crosses the little description – “A Novel?” – and ends at the author’s name, which is centered.

Notice how the sight line also makes a curved shape like the top of the question mark?

All this and I haven’t even mentioned the obvious information, like who the author is and what the title is. Visual cues are just as important in describing a book as that. A viewer can follow the sight lines of a cover in a single glance without realizing it, and it’s up to you to make the most of that glance and make sure your book is reflected in it.

This is why nothing about a good book cover is accidental or done for convenience.

What Information?

Okay, knowing all that, the next question is what information should you convey about your book. The title and author’s name is obvious, but the choice of visual information isn’t.

It comes down to what your book is about in a couple of words. It’s about the big ideas, and there are always big ideas. I don’t mean what actually happens in the book, although you can use a scene as the illustration, because the plot is just a means of delivering the big ideas.

Think about this example: the sci-fi classic, Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke.

Rendezvous with Rama

Rendezvous with Rama is about encountering something far beyond what we have ever known. It’s about the wonder of a technological marvel, and the fear of what it might do to us. This is reflected in the cover. The strange, cylindrical Rama dwarfs the human spaceship, beautiful, threatening and fascinating at the same time. This is what I mean by the big ideas of a book.

Fantasy and sci-fi books sometimes fall into the trap of putting a scene on the cover without any kind of context and without really saying anything about the big ideas of the book. (The original covers for Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series are guilty of this. The most interesting one is The Dragon Reborn. The rest are generic and mainly consist of people standing around or on horseback. They don’t do any kind of justice to the rich world Jordan created or the major themes of sacrifice and epic destiny he incorporated into his writing.) Now, it’s certainly important to follow the trends of your genre and develop a cover that will play to your target readers, but there’s a difference between having a good cover for a particular genre and having a cover that could be put on ANY book in the same genre if you changed the text. If your cover is too generic, you’re not making the best use of it.

Start with an elevator pitch, if you like. Think about how to describe your book in as few words as possible. Think about how you want the reader to feel when they read it. This is what the cover needs to convey.

Useful Resources

Here’s my round up of the best resources to help you dig in to cover design:

Inkscape – I know plenty of authors make their covers with Photoshop, but my preferred program of choice has always been Inkscape. Just watch out for the steep learning curve, and the filters tend to slow it down considerably if you overuse them. Inkscape is a vector program, so you need to have your photo or illustration ready beforehand, but it makes the actual construction of covers very easy once you get used to it.

Google Webfonts – here’s a couple of hundred free fonts. You’ll find something there you can use if you want a particular look for your cover.

Color Scheme Designer – mostly used for websites, but I also like to use it for testing different color combinations and for getting ideas. Just be aware that the color in print (if you’re publishing on something like Createspace or Lulu) will not be exactly what you see on the screen.

The Book Designer’s Ebook Cover Awards – good for looking at a snapshot of different trends from month to month, and you can submit yours if you want.

ConceptArt.org – the pit of sharks itself. If you want to get brutally honest feedback from design professionals, post your cover in the Graphic Design forum here. They may not be able to tell you what’s right for your genre, but their feedback will help you make your cover look as good as it can be.

TutsPlus – this can get you started on the nuts and bolts of design. Scroll down to the very bottom of the screen and you’ll find the Tuts+ Network, which has hundreds of tutorials (free and paid). They concentrate on Photoshop and Illustrator so their usage might be limited, but they’ll definitely give you ideas.

Noupe.com’s Graphic Design Primer – interesting reading if you want to dig into more of the theory behind design, with examples.

Claire Ryan is a graphic/web designer, all-round computer expert, programmer, data analyst, and aspiring writer. She currently lives in Vancouver, Canada, having escaped from the untamed wilderness that is the south of Ireland. Claire currently runs the Raynfall Agency, a publishing business that handles technical things for writers. 

Writing a Book? Set Goals and Stay Motivated.

WriterBy Stacy Ennis

Once writers have a book idea that takes hold, the urge to write can be an unstoppable force. Many go into the book-writing process with a high amount of energy, ready to write until their fingers fall off. They envision their stories, ideas, or business concepts flowing gracefully and concisely onto the computer screen. Many make such claims as, “I don’t ever get writer’s block!” or “I don’t have trouble sitting down and writing every day.”

When I hear statements like these, I usually offer a knowing smile. And behind that smile is the knowledge of two things: 1) Most writers will hit a point when they just can’t write another word, and 2) Many aspiring authors never finish their book projects…and if they do, it’ll take them longer than they ever expected.

So, as you set out to write your best-selling cookbook or the next chart-topping young adult vampire novel, do some planning. A proactive approach to writing the first draft of your book will help you maintain focus and motivation as you accomplish a pretty impressive task. The following tips will help you overcome some of the major hurdles authors face:

#1: Choose a consistent time and space.

Figure out where you write best. Is it at a busy coffee shop? At the kitchen table, with a cup of tea and soft music playing? At the office, once your work is finished and colleagues have gone home? Wherever it is, make sure you have consistent access to that space.

Then, sit down with your calendar and determine how much time per week you have to devote to writing your book. Choose specific times each week that will be given exclusively to writing. If you keep a planner, schedule yourself out to write. Treat that time the same you would any other important appointment.

#2: Outline, outline, outline.

Now that you have your designated writing space and time set aside each week, it’s time to outline your book. Even if it’s just a loose outline, and even if you’re a fiction writer who likes to go with the literary flow, an outline can be a make-or-break thing. Proper planning can help save hours of rewriting, since the structure and main concepts (or story elements) are already established. You know all of those brilliant thoughts that strike you from time to time? How about those pages of notes you’ve been saving to eventually use when you write your book? An outline helps you place your notes, ideas, and research into the right places, as well as helps you visualize where you are in the book-writing process. It also helps you see that the end is in sight when you’re halfway through your draft.

#3: Set goals.

Goal setting isn’t just for losing weight and financial planning; it can be used while writing the first draft of your book, too. Do some research into the word count of typical books in your genre. Then, determine an approximate number of words you can write in the amount of time you have available per week (which you determined in step #1). For example, you might be writing a nonfiction business book and find that your specific niche tends to be in the 30,000-word range. Let’s say you have four hours available per week to write, split between two days, and you can write about 2,000 words in that amount of time, or 1,000 words per session (since you have two two-hour sessions per week). With our example above, it would take 15 weeks, or less than four months, to write a 30,000-word book. Not bad, right?

Next, look at your outline and assign loose word count totals for each chapter. The easiest way to do this is to divide evenly. In our example, let’s say there are eight chapters at 3,750 words each. So, it would take about two weeks to write the first draft of one chapter. Determining per-chapter word counts will help you gauge the approximate amount of time you should be spending on each chapter.

Finally, use these goals as you work on your book. Each writing day, set out to complete 1,000 words, or whatever goal you’ve set. Try to not spend more than the budgeted time on a chapter, unless you really need to. You can always go back later and expand, rework, or revise the chapter. The key is getting the first draft done. You can unleash your perfectionism in later drafts.

Setting small goals helps you accomplish little victories along the way—which can be very important in maintaining motivation to achieve the bigger goal: writing a book.

#4 Tell your friends and family.

Writing is a solo affair, but it’s rarely successful if the author works in absolute isolation. Accountability is one of the best motivators for success. Ask your friends and family to support you as you work on this big goal. Let them know that you need their help to stay motivated and focused, whether it’s verbal encouragement or helping with life tasks. The kids can do some extra chores for a little while, right? And your mom would be happy to help pick Foo Foo up from doggie day care once a week, now wouldn’t she? Just don’t forget to thank them in the acknowledgements section of your book once it’s published.

#5 Take it one bite at a time.

A colleague once told me that writing a book is like eating an elephant—you have to take it one bite at a time. Eat too much, too fast, and you’ll most likely find yourself getting overwhelmed. When you’re working on chapter 1, let it be the only thing in your writing world. Let yourself focus fully on developing that chapter, without getting distracted by the larger project ahead of you. On a smaller scale, focus on the daily writing goal. If you’re aiming for 1,000 words in two hours, then focus on finishing that goal.

#6 Sacrifice: get your butt in the chair.

You weren’t expecting that one, were you? Well, here’s the truth: Writing a book takes sacrifice. It won’t write itself…even if you ask really, really nicely. This sometimes means making personal sacrifices. Dinner with friends or monthly wine tasting may have to be put on hold until you accomplish your goal. But you can do anything for a few months, right? Stick with your goals, get your butt in that chair, and write your book.

#7 Remember: It’s not done.

Many writers make the mistake of believing that their first drafts have to be perfect. This tendency toward perfectionism can be crippling as new authors try to get the first drafts of their books finished. But the truth is that all books go through several drafts—heck, mine took six drafts over seven months! What you are writing now is just the beginning of what your book will eventually become. During later stages, your editor will help you take your book from good to great and transform your first-draft prose into the well-written book you envisioned when you set out on your book-writing endeavor. So don’t get so hung up on writing the perfect book that you never get done writing it.

Thomas Edison must have been talking about book writing when he said, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” By setting goals and taking steps to stay motivated, you will be able to put in the work required to finish your book—and achieve a pretty awesome lifetime accomplishment.

Stacy EnnisStacy Ennis is a book and magazine editor, book coach, and speaker. Her book, The Editor’s Eye: A Practical Guide to Transforming Your Book from Good to Great, will be released in September 2012. Visit http://www.nightowlspress.com/e-book-store/the-editors-eye/ for more information.