Book Cover Design And Entrepreneurship With Derek Murphy

There are two things that are non-negotiable in my opinion for indie authors who want to sell books.

derek murphy coversProfessional editing and professional cover design.

In today’s episode, I talk about book cover design with Derek Murphy, who designs all my book covers, plus we discuss the importance of artists also being entrepreneurial.

In the intro, I talk about my writing updates on Gates of Hell and One Day in New York, as well as the STORY conference I am going to with Robert McKee. I also mention the Christmas thriller giveway – win 12 print books here. I’m speaking in Auckland, New Zealand on Tues 16 Dec, click here for more details, as well as at PubSenseSummit in Charleston in March 2015.

This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets kobo writing lifethrough the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

Kobo’s financial support pays for the hosting and transcription, and if you enjoy the show, you can now support my time on Patreon. Thank you!

Derek MurphyDerek Murphy is an author, cover designer and entrepreneur at, as well as working on his PhD in Literature.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the interview on YouTube, or read the notes and links below.

  • Derek talks about his background in writing, studying at Taiwan University and his life abroad studying and writing, as well as fine art. He explains how he started an editing business and then moved into book cover design. In terms of marketing, book cover design business builds by word of mouth, whereas many authors won’t talk about the editing process. He’s traveled a lot internationally although he is American, studying in Malta in philosophy and theology and is now doing a PhD in Literature. We discuss academia vs entrepreneurship, and how to foster the latter by learning over time.

It’s important for artists to learn how to sell, as well as create, if they want to make a living from this.

  • book cover designWhat are the trends right now in book covers? For non-fiction, Bebas neue is being used a lot, and in fact, using fonts and words is prevalent in non-fiction in general, instead of being image heavy. For fiction, it depends on the genre.
  • A big mistake for fiction authors with covers – trying to convey the whole story of the book on the cover with aspects of every scene, so it is very over-complicated. You really only have a couple of seconds to catch attention, and that’s the job of the book cover. It needs to convey genre, and be good looking so the reader knows they want more. If the reader is attracted, they will read title, book description and then get a sample.

person-on-coverUsing a person on the cover vs using a theme on the cover.

  • We talk about the different cultural perspectives on covers – American covers vs European vs Asian. Cultural snobbery around literary covers in Britain does impact the design but may mean they don’t sell as well in America. Think about your target market and browse the categories in the country store for that market and make sure that your cover appeals to that market. Right now, we can’t upload different covers by market, but hopefully that will come at some point
  • Big name author book covers and big name author websites – often they are not optimized to sell books, because those authors will sell books anyway. Over-complicating your covers and website is a bad idea for indies. The point of the cover is to get attention in the genre. The point of the website is to attract people to your email list and show up in search.

The most beautiful thing on your website should be your book covers.

  • On color palette, emotional resonance and genre. It’s basic color psychology, which works all over the place e.g. what colors are used in hospitals vs boardrooms.
  • Top 3 bad things about indie book covers. Colors are a really obvious issue, and a color wash to neutralize the elements will help a lot. The font choice and effects are also important, and using drop shadows to make the font stand out is a classic error. You should use shading and font book marketing is deadchoice to make it stand out. An another issue is the amount of text on the cover. You don’t want to cram it full of text, especially for fiction in terms of quotes, sub-titles etc. We talk about the eBook Cover Design Awards on The Book Designer which is a great site to find designers and see what works.

Finding and working with a book cover designer

  • It’s not necessarily about them being nice! You don’t want to be the one doing the design, you don’t want them to do what you want, because you don’t know about design. Trust your designer because of their experience. I have a list of book cover designers here. To get a good cover design, you will be paying quite a bit.

On becoming more entrepreneurial

  • This is critical for authors and artists. You need to think about the reader, the product, the marketing, the business side – once you’ve at least written that first book. Marketing doesn’t work if you have a product that nobody wants. Think about creating value for other people. How can you improve other people’s lives? How can you entertain, educate or inspire? Derek talks about some of the ideas he has at the moment – he’s an entrepreneurial machine! We also talk about fear of failure and how you have to get past that as an entrepreneur.
  • Derek talks about his own novel, Shearwater, and what he’s doing with his own books going forward.

You can find Derek at his website and also at as well as on twitter @creativindie

Please do leave any comments or questions on book cover design below and join the conversation!

Beating Self-Censorship And How Embracing The Shadow Helps My Fiction

I recently did an all-encompassing interview with the lovely Deb Ozarko about changing the status quo.

red wineWe talked a lot about going indie, self-publishing and creative entrepreneurship, but we also got into some deep and meaningful topics.

I must admit to being fueled by pinot noir for the interview, so I opened up a lot about some of the things that really matter to me :) If you’d like to listen to the whole interview, I suggest joining me for a glass!

You can listen to the whole interview here [1 hr 44], or you can watch or listen to the 5 minute clip below or here on YouTube.

desecration deliriumIn this part of the interview, I talk about:

  • How I finally stopped self-censoring, and how my fiction helps me work out what I believe
  • The theme of good and evil is resonant in all my fiction, as well as aspects of my own travels and experiences
  • How I want to tell a good fast-paced story to keep people reading but that I also want to tackle deeper topics that leave you thinking afterwards
  • Carl Jung and the Shadow side, and how embracing it can make a person whole

I also talk more about Desecration, London Psychic Book 1, and what it means to me. You can find Desecration in ebook, print and audiobook formats here. The sequel, Delirium, is also available.

Do you use the Shadow side in your creative work? I’d love to know your thoughts so please share them in the comments below.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons red wine by Wes Peck

Why The Writing Journey Is Just Like Skiing

Everybody wants to know the best way to write, to publish, to market.

skiingBut although there are tracks to follow and experts to emulate, there really is no single right way to do anything in the author life. We will all have a different journey.

Imagine that you want to ski down a hill.

Even if you don’t ski, hopefully you’ve seen enough Bond movies to know how it works! It’s similar to our journey through life and also applies to writing, marketing and any kind of business or career.

Here’s why.

(1) Your path is not a straight line. You have to zigzag.

Even though you know the general direction you want to head in, you can’t direct yourself straight down the mountain, or you will certainly have an accident.

Even pros have to change direction and turn their skis across the slope. There is no direct path, so don’t expect there to be.

There’s also not just one path – everyone has a different route to get down, so you can try to follow other people’s example but you will end up carving your own path. In my book, Career Change, I talk about all my various failed businesses before I found my true path as an author. It’s a zigzag journey for us all.

(2) It’s easier to turn once you’re moving.

You need some momentum in order to turn on skis, so you actually have to get moving before you try.

In the same way, you actually have to start writing in order to have something to edit and improve. You have to start with a crappy website so you can learn how to make it better.

You have to start marketing somehow so you can learn what works for you and improve over time.

(3) You can’t learn it all from books: you have to get on the slope.

You can’t be a great skier by reading about it or going to seminars or watching YouTube videos. You actually have to put in the hours skiing.

The same applies to writing, publishing and marketing. People often assume that I have some kind of degree in marketing, but I don’t. I’ve just been out there every day for five years learning on the slopes – emulating the pros, yes – but mainly doing it for myself.

(4) You’re going to fall over and it’s going to hurt. But you get better over time.

If you’re afraid of falling over, you will never be a good skier. Because you will fall, it happens a lot and it has to happen if you’re going to push yourself to get better and go on more advanced runs. So be prepared to fall, to fail, and to just get up again. Keep writing, keep putting your words out and keep experimenting with marketing.

(5) Some days, the weather is perfect and you can see for miles and the sun is shining and it’s amazing!

This is meant to be fun!

Yes, being an author can be a career and an income, but it’s also a passion. The reason we keep going back to skiing, keep going back up the slope, is that there is exhilaration and joy in the process, not just the outcome of getting to the bottom.

Some days, the weather will be perfect and we will have amazing runs on pristine, soft snow. Other days, the icy cold will make us grit our teeth to even manage one run and we wish we hadn’t bothered. But we keep going back because we love it, and those amazing days when it all falls into place make it worth it!

What do you think about this? Does a zigzag journey accurately reflect your writing life? Please do leave a comment and join the conversation below.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons ruapehu skiing by Airflore

The Christian Publishing Market With Jeremy Bouma

I have a degree in Theology and my interest in religion is enmeshed in my fiction.

I write books that can be described as religious thrillers, and yet I’m not a Christian, although I do describe myself as spiritual. In today’s show, I interview Jeremy Bouma about the complexities of the Christian publishing market, and you’ll learn a lot about the sub-niche as well as customer targeting and much more, even if you’re not a Christian author.

In the introduction I mention my personal writing updates, as well as the Goodreads event on Nov 15th when you can join me and other authors for chat and giveaways, plus the Christmas mystery/thriller giveaway when you can win 12 print books (let us buy your Christmas presents for you!)

99designs-logo-750x200pxThis podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to:

Jeremy BoumaJeremy Bouma is the author of non-fiction and fiction books, as well as an entrepreneur. Jeremy was previously an evangelical Christian pastor and writes for HarperCollins Christian Publishers, as well as dealing with the questions of faith in his books and on his blog. Today we’re talking about aspects of the Christian publishing market.

You can watch the video here on YouTube, and listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, or read the show notes below.

  • Jeremy talks about his background in politics and religion, starting in Washington DC working with a Senator and then became a pastor for politicians. After a crisis of faith, Jeremy found himself getting deeper into his Christianity. He began blogging and did post-grad studies in Theology and then started writing books. His first being ‘The Unoffensive Gospel of Jesus.’ He now does content marketing with Harper Collins Christian publishers.
  • On how writing helps us work out what we believe. I work this out in my fiction, and Jeremy talks about how his non-fiction books have helped him. We discuss the academic side of writing vs the kind of thing that appeals to the wider public. It’s important to consider who your audience is and how to connect with them.

unoffensive gospel of jesusThe spectrum of the Christian publishing market.

  • The Christian market is a $1.2 billion market, around 10% of the broader US publishing market. Christians buy more books and spend more money on books than the average reader. This explains why the big publishers have bought out many of the independent presses in this area.
  • When we talk of the Christian market, it is usually catered towards the Evangelical side of things and they often purchase from Christian stores. Those type of bookstores may not purchase from indie authors, as they are not necessarily known entities whose work has been checked as doctrinally sound.
  • The sub-genres reflect the mainstream e.g. Christian romance, Christian suspense, Christian sci-fi etc. We talk about Amish fiction, often a kind of historical romance. We talk about some more edgy genres as well. I mention Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series in particular, which has sold over 63 million books and is post-apocalyptic with a lot of violence and an edge of horror.
  • We talk about the wider global Christian market, and I talk about the Catholic markets of Spain, Brazil and the Latino, Spanish speaking market in the US which is more Catholic. We talk about the growth of Christianity in Africa, South America and Asia and how the change in demographics will impact publishing.

Is there a mainstream renaissance in biblical stories? (or big stories?)

  • With Noah out earlier this year, and Exodus coming out before Christmas, we talk about a longing for ‘bigger’ stories, and how Hollywood have also woken up to the hungry market for these types of films. We talk about the awesome stories that are in the Bible and how many of them are being adapted.
  • I talk about the gap that my books fall through, as well as others – I write religious fiction, but not Christian fiction. Jeremy mentions the peer acceptance that is needed for books appealing to Christians, they need to be doctrinally sound to be acceptable in that market. Or, books can just be great stories that tangentially talk about religion or spirituality.
  • If you are a Christian writing books for the Christian market, there is an entire eco-system of blogs and review sites etc.

Having an endorsement from a known Christian personality is important.

  • thereandbackagainIt shortcuts the alignment with spiritual convictions. We talk about the changing nature of self-publishing within the evangelical market.
  • We discuss branding around yourself when you’re encouraged not to make it about yourself as a Christian. But a personality is important to build know, like and trust and Jeremy’s discusses how he did this, and how uncomfortable it was at the beginning.
  • Jeremy talks about his coming of age novel, From There and Back Again which will be out early 2015. You can preorder the book and I’ll be interviewing Jeremy about the novel on my fiction site :) We also talk about resonance in titling books and how strong words can evoke themes in people’s minds.

You can find Jeremy and his books at and also on Twitter @bouma

Adapting A Novel And Other Lessons Learned From London Screenwriter’s Festival

A few weeks ago, I attended the London Screenwriter’s Festival which was a cornucopia of fascinating information and networking packed into a couple of intense days.

london screenwritersAuthors can learn a lot from screenwriters, especially in an age where there’s some amazing television. After getting rid of the physical TV six years ago, we’ve been downloading and devouring shows like House of Cards, Game of Thrones and True Detective, and I am always a sucker for action movies!

Let’s face it – more people watch TV and films than read books.

More people devour stories through the visual medium.

So I decided to go and find out a little more about possibly adapting my own books into screenplays, and what the screenwriting world was about. As usual, I am not content to sit back and wait! Here are some of my notes from the days I attended.

“Storytellers need to be passionate, creative people and rise above the resigned and cynical world we live in.”

Chris Jones opened the festival with a rousing speech to get out there and create the stories that ignite passion within you. He talked about how others may think we’re crazy and tell us to get a real job, but at events like this, we are amongst peers. We know each other.

Choose the people you spend time with wisely and they will buoy you up in this creative career.

I feel this a lot in the author community, and avoid any toxic situations/ forums/ people as much as possible. Life is short – it’s important to make good choices about who we spend it with.

lynda la planteScreenwriter and novelist Lynda La Plante gave a great talk about her journey. She’s a fantastic example of an author-entrepreneur, moving from acting into writing and then into running her own company in order to have more creative control over her work.

She talked about ‘going back to Source,’ when researching her work, not in a metaphysical sense, but actually visiting criminals, prisons, police stations and morgues to learn the reality from the people who live it.

“The roots of a good story are in reality.” Lynda La Plante

She suggested always including comedic elements in dark books to break the tension, and that the gore level of the current crime scene will swing back soon as it has gone too far and people are more interested in the hunt than the violence.

William Nicholsonshadowlands, screenwriter for Shadowlands, Mandela and Gladiator, as well as many more screenplays and also novels, talked about his journey in one fantastic session. He talked, as did others, about the disappointment of the screenplays that get sold but never made. Many of the speakers commented on how some of their best work would never see the light of day as it wouldn’t get made but the rights had been sold.

The focus of the session was on heightening emotion, the heart of all great drama. William writes by choosing the emotion he wants the audience to feel, connecting to that within himself and then structuring around that.

“Screenwriters don’t write lines. They write stories.” William Nicholson

He also mentioned that researching too much was a bad thing, as we’re not writing reality, we’re writing stories that communicate values.

William mentioned that he only started screenwriting after several very serious novels, and his writing loosened up when he stopped taking himself and his writing so seriously.

[This advice is something I have also learned from Dean Wesley Smith in his brilliant Productivity workshop.]

William suggested choosing something that other people care about as a theme, and not focusing on yourself as the writer. You’re not as interesting as a resonant theme or topic.

the lost boysThere was also a great session with Joel Schumacher where the film of The Lost Boys was played on the big screen, and he talked about the various shots as the film progressed. We were also able to download the script and read along.

That process was a real revelation to me, and it was fascinating to hear from the Director himself how the story was structured to appeal to the audience. He said, “we had no idea it would be this big,” and Nicholson said the same of Gladiator.

It seems to be a theme, you just don’t know when things will blow up, so just keep creating the stories you love.

“Dialogue is not real conversation. It’s the illusion of conversation.” Claudia Myers

In one session on dialogue, Claudia Myers went through the four key elements. It must:

  • Advance the plot
  • Reveal character
  • Give exposition
  • Set the tone

One of the reasons I wanted to attend the festival was to focus on dialogue as it is something that novelists need to work on constantly. The first solution to revealing character is always action/ behavior, but then it’s dialogue. Not speaking is sometimes just as powerful as speaking.

Good dialogue should also work sub-textually – people often don’t say what they really think. There are forces that make us say things we don’t mean, and we need to communicate that through sub-text. A good example of this comes from the pitching sessions. When an agent says “I’ll get back to you,” without providing their contact details, it’s likely that they actually mean, “No thanks, it’s not for me.”

“Write a bad scene and then fix it.” Claudia Myers

quotation marksThe ‘rules’ for screenwriting are very similar to novels, and a lot of dialogue can be fixed in a second pass.

Pilar Allesandra did a session on the craft, and used some great examples from scripts to demonstrate how important word choice is for genre. She also suggested picking a small ‘tell’ that reveals what a character is really thinking i.e. subtext.

For example, two people bump into each other, one says “I’m sorry,” but rolls their eyes. You show their annoyance through the physical response, that’s the subtext to the dialogue.

She also had a tip for revealing character without constraining the casting options. Compare the two:

  • Vanessa, a beguiling vamp
  • Vanessa (25) tall, blonde, wearing a cocktail dress

The first option describes the character but leaves the casting open to actresses of all kinds.

“Eventually the book becomes this forgotten thing – a sacred text that nobody looks at any more.” Ted Tally

silence of the lambsThere was a revealing session by Ted Tally, who won an Oscar for the adaptation of ‘The Silence of the Lambs.’

He talked about choosing books to adapt, how he reads a lot and is always hoping to discover something unusual, but usually gets pitched and sent things from agents. He wants to find compelling characters more than anything else, since plot and dialogue can be fixed, but the character is critical from the start.

He’ll read a book several times and work on a treatment, and then a first draft. Subsequent drafts are done from the treatment, rather than the book.

Most execs and people involved in the film won’t have read the book, which is why so many films get further and further from the original text. They just don’t know the material and don’t necessarily want to. The original author and the screenwriter are not usually around on set – although they are in some cases, and Ted was for Silence of the Lambs, as was Thomas Harris, the author.

The adaptation is the screenwriter’s take on the book, their enhancement of the original work.

It’s not just the book turned into the movie.

The choices that the screenwriter makes can change the film into something different. For example, the choice of Clarice as the main focal character meant a lot of the book’s other POV characters were minimized, changing the depth of their characters in the movie. The adaptation screenwriter slashes the book apart and their freedom is that first draft, when they re-imagine. [That part does actually sound pretty fun to me, as I love editing!]

popcornVery occasionally, there is a brilliant book that doesn’t need much work in adaptation. Ted said of All the Pretty Horses, “it didn’t need a screenwriter, it just needed a typist.”

As an author, I felt a real respect for the screenwriters who adapt novels, and I’d be keen to work with someone to adapt my books, as I have done with translators and audiobook narrators.

Collaboration is a powerful way to move a story onwards.

Once again, the writers talked about their disappointment. Ted Tally said “some of the best scripts I’ve ever written haven’t been produced and maybe never will be.” That melancholic statement seemed to be part of the general acceptance of a screenwriter’s lot, and the aspiring screenwriters suggested this was just part of the journey. You work hard until the magical moment of seeing your name on the credits of a TV show or film. That’s what you’re working for, along with the pleasure of writing and the paychecks that (occasionally) come.

My personal conclusions

It was great to attend the event because it solidified a few things for me:

  • I love the control of being indie and I love the speed of getting my creative work into the world. I love reaching readers with my stories and being paid 90 days later for that work. I don’t want to wait years for someone to pick my book (or my script) and I don’t want to give up creative control and be ignored once the work is accepted. So basically, I don’t want to write a screenplay and I won’t be adapting my books into scripts myself. [At least right now! Never say never!]
  • I would LOVE to have my books (properties) optioned for film/ TV and I would be a gem of an author to work with when it comes to adaptation (honest!) I’m enjoying the collaborative process of translation and I think adaptation would be similar. It’s respecting someone else’s creativity and their interpretation of your work.

I had some great aha moments over the weekend and it helped me to formulate my own strategy for the film/TV market. I highly recommend the festival if you’re at all interested in screenwriting, or even if you want to learn some tips from another type of writer. You can find more here: London Screen Writers Festival.

I’d love to hear from you on any screenwriting tips, or whether your works have been optioned. This is a fascinating topic, so please join the conversation below.

Images Flickr Creative Commons: of quotation marks by Quinn Dombrowski, popcorn by Joakim Wahlander