Writing about Writing


Book Covers!

Today I’d like to talk about book covers. I’ve been working on mine off and on for the last few months and I think I’m close to deciding on a final version.

When I started thinking about what I wanted to do for the cover, I didn’t have a lot of ideas. All I really knew was I wanted it to feel dark and moody, something that suited my novel title, What Dark Passages, as well as the content within.

So I began to scour stock photo websites looking for an image I could use. Not wanting to do anything illegal, I made sure that I only searched images with explicit open licences or ones where a licence could be purchased. There are a lot of options out there, both for paid and for free. Finally, after searching through what seemed like thousands of images, I came across one that evoked exactly the kind of feeling I wanted: a dark alley filled with shadows.

This is the original image:

Original Image I found to use for my book cover.

Pretty cool right?  After finding the image, I set about making the cover. I won’t get into the steps here, as there are a number of helpful sites out there that cover those (I used them), and it was surprisingly easy!

The next step was to try and find a cool font for the title and my name. A lot of guides I found online recommended against using the stock fonts in Word, something I definitely agree with. Word is great, but the fonts included can be…lacking in emotion.

A few dozen downloads later, I had a series of options. Once again, I had to check the licence info for every download and for anyone else using fonts I recommend you read up on it too. Some websites may host a font for free, but don’t actually have the right to distribute it. The best place to ensure you have the right to use a font is to get it directly from the source.

Next up was playing with where to place those fonts, what size to make them, and what colours to use. I experimented with a white font for the title but realized that simply wouldn’t work, as I wanted the title to be at the top and name at the bottom.

Tried the title in white, didn't like it.

Tried the title in white. Didn’t like it. This was also with a boring stock font.

The white light at the end of the alley negates any attempt to use a white font for the title. I needed to pick a colour that would stand out. Red was the obvious choice. Eventually I came up with a series of covers, some I like, some I don’t. I’ve decided to post them all here for your perusal. Here they are:



Beta Cover 1

Option 1 – Title near the bottom, was worried about the light at the top being a problem.


Beta Cover 2

Option 2 – Decided to spread the title over three layers. The alley light isn’t as much of a problem as I feared, but it still interferes with the ‘a’ in Dark a bit.

Beta Cover 3

Option 3 – This one seems to work really well. I don’t think the light is a problem, and I kind of like the messy writing. Almost looks bloody.

Beta Cover 4

Option 4 – Tried another font, also tested reducing font size across the three layers.

Beta Cover 5

Option 5 – Darkened the red by about 30 points to get out any orangish hue, also added a slight dark to light gradient. Font is cleaner than the other messy one, but still has similar elements. Probably my front runner.

And there you have it – 5 different cover options, ending with my current favourite. Feel free to let me know which ones you like (or don’t like) and why.


A.A. and Intellectual Property

While writing my book, What Dark Passages, there was a point where I was going to reference a song. It was going to be something just in passing, a character singing the lyrics at work. But right before I started typing, I had a feeling I should check if I was allowed to quote those lyrics.

Turns out, I wasn’t. If I wanted to quote lyrics, I was going to have to get permission. So I cut the reference down to a simple ‘she sang this song, people laughed at her’.

Whew, dodged a bullet there.

Unfortunately, my research skills failed me later.

In the course of the novel, one of my primary point-of-view characters, Richard, goes to Alcoholics Anonymous. I downloaded various freely available pamphlets and information about A.A. and did all sorts of research to make sure I was portraying it as accurately as possible. On the pamphlets and booklets, I didn’t find anything copyright related, so I thought it was ok.

My editor, however, knew better (thankfully!).

Turns out A.A. has an intellectual property policy that states I’m only allowed to freely use their material if I am a member of A.A. writing material specifically for A.A.. Otherwise, I need to get permission from their IP Policy group.

I’ve been in contact with them and, at this point, I’m still hopeful I’ll be able to get this ironed out before my planned release next month. If the approval takes too long, however, (or if they flat out say ‘no’), I’ll be forced to remove the quotes and rewrite those sections. Not something I want to do.

So let this be a lesson to always double, triple, and quadruple check for relevant IP policy anytime you ever want to quote something when writing!

Writing Something Different

A few months ago, some friends and I went to a place called Xcape, which is billed as a ‘real-life escape experience’. Essentially, there are different themed Xcapes where you are locked into a room, or rooms, and have to solve a series of puzzles to escape from the room. If you don’t make it out in time – you lose and get to take a picture holding a sign that says “Failed”. Fortunately, we succeeded!

It was great fun and we all resolved to do it again.

In the meantime, I resolved to attempt writing up something along those lines. Not an escape scenario, instead something more like a murder mystery dinner, except with more moving around and opening locks.

Writing this has been a very different experience from anything I’ve written before. Not only have I never attempted a crime/murder novel, but coming up with something fun and interactive was…interesting. Throughout the entire process, I kept thinking to myself: “How can I turn this story-element into a clue that fits on a lock and goes inside a small box?”

By the time I finished writing out the storyline, I’d come up with 4 ‘locked’ clues, a clue hidden in a room, and a few verbal clues.

The verbal clues are going to be the toughest, I think. See, I was trying to think of alternative ways of giving clues instead of depending on locks and hiding places, and I came up with an interrogation. Basically, the participants are going to interrogate a series of suspects (all played by me) and if they ask the correct question, or say the right thing, I’ll give them a vital clue to move on to the next stage. I thought it would be a neat way to change the system a bit. But I’m also facepalming myself for creating a situation where I have to act like 5 different people. This could be a hilarious disaster, or just a disaster.

In any case, it was fun to tackle a different type of writing. I can’t say yet if I was successful or not (I’ll find out tonight!), but at the very least, it was nice doing something different after all the time spent editing my novel the last few months!

The Books That Have Stayed With Me

I thought this list was interesting. Top 20 books that people say ‘stayed with them in some way’, according to a Facebook poll.

I’d say I’m both surprised and not surprised by Harry Potter at #1. Not surprised because it’s still fairly recent and has become a massive part of pop culture. On the other hand, I really don’t think the books were that great, if I’m being totally honest.

I will have to agree with some other entries though. Lord of the Rings for sure. Yes, it had its flaws (this one probably negates my above comment about Harry Potter), but it was huge in steering me toward fantasy as a kid. While I agree with LOTR, I don’t agree with The Hobbit. Because frankly, The Hobbit wasn’t a very good book.

I absolutely agree with 1984 though. I read that book around 17 years ago and still talk about it. I’m still recommending it to people!

If I was going to add a few of my own, I might add Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson. That book had one of the saddest and most shocking losses I’ve read in a high fantasy novel. I actually found it more powerful than the Red Wedding in ASOIAF.

Just about anything by Guy Gavriel Kay. One of my favourite writers. That man can weave a tale, let me tell you. Tigana, A Song for Arbonne, and The Lions of Al-Rassan are some of my favourites.

Anyone have others to add?

Johnny Reads

Don’t worry, I’m not going tell you about ten books that have stayed with me. Cause I don’t think I have ten, or five even. But in the name of kinda sorta not really participating in this little Facebook tag that seems to have sprung up out of nowhere, I’m going to talk about it.

I’ve just read an article that states that Facebook has determined the book included the most in responses to the tag is…can you guess it? I could have. Easily. I’ll give you a second to think about it.

Here’s a hint if you’re still thinking. The main characters in the book go to a special kind of school by the name of Hogwarts. The most common response to this particular Facebook tag was the HP series. I think it’s understandable considering who I think is more likely to be on Facebook responding to these kinds…

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Single Space vs Double Space

In my search for an editor, I happened upon a piece of advice on manuscript submission – always use single spaces after a period. I’d heard about the single space vs double space battle, yet even though I’d heard about it, I’d never really thought about how it might affect my own work.

According to an article on Slate.com, typographers decided on the single space long ago. It is recommended by both the Chicago Manual of Style, and the Modern Language Association Style Manual.  However, due to typewriters and their monospaced fonts, double spaces became the norm in the interest of readability.

Monospaced fonts are few and far between these days, however, so why do we still double space? With modern fonts it isn’t required for readability anymore. The truth is – it is a waste of both space (consider a book or magazine publisher – space is money – so best to save it any way possible!) and keystrokes (think how many keystrokes you could save a day, a week, or a year).

For me, it is pure habit. When I learned how to type on keyboarding class, it was drilled into our heads to use two spaces after a period. My thumb taps that spacebar twice before I even have time to think about it. Muscle memory is fast!

So where do my readers stand? Single or double?

I know I’m been firmly on the double space bandwagon for years, but I’m switching now, as hard as it is.


P.S. In spite of attempting not to – I still double spaced after every single period while writing this post, except for this one (I hope). 

P.P.S. Whoever came up with the Find/Replace function is a lifesaver! Fixed thousands of double spaces in less than a minute, whew!

Finding and Selecting an Editor

I’ve reached the stage of my self-publishing saga where I need to find an editor. And, like most things, it’s turned out to be more complex than expected.

I have a few qualities I am looking for in an editor.  First, I want someone who is interested in the genre of book I’ve written.  Getting a children’s book editor to copy-edit a psychological literary fiction isn’t necessarily going to be a good fit.  You would prefer someone with experience in your genre.  So that’s my first qualification.  Second, I would like to find someone that either lives in, or has spent time in, the Vancouver area.  A lot of my scenes are based on real locations in the area and I think it would be useful to have someone familiar with the actual location to give input on my descriptions.

Initially, I went to the BC branch of the Editors Association of Canada (EAC) for my search.  They have an online directory of editors where you can input some specific qualities and it spits out a list.  I did this, and picked out 3 editors who looked like they’d be up my alley.  I sent them emails and awaited their replies.  I received responses and, unfortunately, all of them were booked up.  However, one editor was kind enough to direct me to another resource listed on the EAC webpage that I’d managed to overlook – the BC Editors Hotline.

So the gist of it is: I email the hotline my request and key information about my project, the hotline coordinator sends the request out to all of the members, and anyone interested is free to respond to my post.

I didn’t know what to expect with my post, but the response was far greater than expected.  I received 18 emails within a day and a half.  Yay!  People are interested!

So I set about the task of separating out the editors who sounded interesting to me and the ones who did not.  Cutting the list down was easy to begin with.  Three people spelt my name wrong.  My name! How could I ever trust an editor who can’t even spell my name correctly in the email they send asking me to hire them.  It’s not like it wasn’t right there in the hotline post, right above the email address which, by the way, also includes my name.

Boom, down to 15.

Next up was availability.  I posted the date I aim to have the manuscript back by, but a few folks still put their hats in the ring for a later date.  I’m ok with that, and if anything changes they could move up the list, but as is their ranking dropped relative to those who were more likely to complete the editing in the timeframe I need it by.

Next – experience.  Some people directed me to websites, others listed relevant experience in their email.  I tried to pick out the ones who looked like they’d worked on a similar genre.  That relates back to the first quality I posted above.

Then there is attitude – in a tight field of what looks to be really skilled people, I turned to this.  Some emails were very business-like, and that’s ok.  Other’s seemed downright friendly and genuinely interested.  I like kind people, so I gravitated to these emails.

In a related note – I was disappointed with one individual in particular.  I’m not going to name names of course, but I just want to point out that I’m not a fan of overly pushy or rude people.  I’m certainly not going to work with someone who makes me feel uncomfortable just by reading their emails.

Finally – price.  One of the most important and hardest things to talk about is price.  It’s like when you negotiate a salary with a possibly new employer – it’s a little awkward.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much I like someone if I can’t afford them.  And the range of quotes I received has been nothing short of surprising.  The lowest quote was $650USD, while the highest was up to $3700CAD.  That’s a huge range!  And the worst thing is, based off what I’d heard at the self-publishing seminar I attended earlier this year, I was expecting to pay around $600CAD.  Basically, I wasn’t ready for how high the quotes would be, and my bank account wasn’t either.

That said, I slowly whittled the list down from 18 to 3.  And last night I made my final decision.  It wasn’t easy, and I’m really dreading contacting the people I didn’t choose to give them the bad news.  I would probably be a terrible manager – I hate giving people bad news.  And I hope they all know I appreciate their time and understanding.

But I’m looking forward to getting this done.  Judging from the samples I received, this editing is going to be huge for helping polish my novel and ensuring it looks as professional as possible.  And that is something that, in the long run, will pay for itself.

Replacing Books

A few months ago my condo flooded. One of the side effects of this unfortunate event is the bottom portion of my bookshelf was flooded, damaging about 45 books.

Insurance will replace them, of course, but there’s a problem – small to them, big to me:  A number of the damaged books were hardcovers printed 10, 15, or nearly 20 years ago and as such, are irreplaceable.

When questioned, our adjuster simply said to replace them with paperbacks.  While yes, of course I can do this (and am doing so), it really bothers me.

I know there’s nothing I, or they, can really do about it. But knowing that a number of my cherished hardcovers have been scrapped and are being replaced by tiny paperbacks hurts my soul. It really does.

It’s not like I can just accept piles of money and run, either. They have a flat 50% depreciation rate for books, no matter how old or what type. So a $25 hardcover is only worth $12.50 to them.  Besides, I’m one of those people who takes pride in his bookshelf, so not replacing the books was never really an option.

I don’t know if this is something that would bother other people, but it certainly bothers me.

The main lesson here is do not put books on the bottom of a bookshelf. Especially out of print hardcovers!