How To Get A Unique Illustration For Your Book Cover

With the explosion of creativity that is the indie publishing revolution, you may have noticed the array of book covers that use similar stock photos in their designs.

99DesignsKeys1

Selection of the initial key designs submitted. All copyright belongs to the designers.

Some authors these days have private photo shoots to ensure their cover images are unique, but what about if you have a smaller budget, or you want something uniquely special in terms of an illustration?

This type of approach can also work for art that relates to your book, e.g. world building and maps, or artwork for marketing purposes

Using 99 Designs to get a custom illustration

Full disclosure here. 99 Designs now sponsor 50% of my podcast, so I was encouraged to try them out. After hearing great things from other authors, I thought I would do something a little different.

99Designs_vandamme99

FINALIST: Copyright 99 Designs designer lucky bast(art), previously vandamme99

I already have a book cover designer in the wonderful Derek Murphy from Creativindie, so I decided to get an image done for my next book, Gates of Hell. I’m just heading towards the end of the first draft and the book features a hunt for the Key to the Gates of Hell. It should be out before Christmas if you’re interested!

My original brief: Create a key to the Gates of Hell. Let your creative darkness loose!

99Designs_BelleIllumina

FINALIST: Copyright: 99Designs BelleIllumina

I wanted to be quite open with the brief, as at that point I hadn’t decided what the key would look like. Here’s what I wrote:

I want an illustration of a key to the Gates of Hell – with the aim that the image is used on the book cover of the book, titled “Gates of Hell,” and also in promotional material.

And also that I can use the illustration to get a pattern made to actually 3D print the key.

I have visions of screaming open mouths and mis-shapen deformities and demons and oozing blackness – but basically, I want a creative image that is still recognizably a key and I want you to use any images that conjure up hell. I am using a group called the Misshapen in the book, so that word may also help. The book is a thriller with a supernatural edge, so dark/scary is good – edge of horror is fine. I don’t mind black & white or color.

Changing my mind based on the designs

Copyright 99Designs designer josephnovi

FINALIST: Copyright 99Designs designer josephnovi

As the designs started to come in, I realized that I was confusing the issue by saying I wanted to turn the image into a 3D printed design as well as a book cover. The two are quite different, and the book cover was always the most important thing, so I narrowed down the requirements as the competition progressed. I also created a Gates of Hell pinboard on Pinterest for the book to give another flavor to the design.

99Designs_MadMaxx

FINALIST: Copyright 99Designs MadMaxx

I had 125 entries from 48 designers in the end, ranging from some really amazing elaborate designs to some striking images.

You get to rate the images as they come in, and that helps the designers consider another iteration. You can also engage in private or public conversations which helps everyone move closer to the desired result.

With 99 Designs, you only pay if you are happy with the design, so there is no risk. Of course, guaranteeing the payment may make the competition more attractive :)

You can also do Polls by selecting the images and then enabling a shareable link for email and social media so people can vote on the designs. I sent the link out to my J.F.Penn fiction newsletter subscribers, as well as sharing on social media and had several hundred votes on the final Poll.

key to the gates of hell

WINNER! Thanks D.C – Danniel Soares

The Key to the Gates of Hell

And here’s the final design, which I love!

It looks like a real key but also captures the desperation of a soul in Hell (in my mind at least) and it came out top of the final poll as well.

Next, I need to finish the book and we’ll work on the full cover design. Since it will be ARKANE Book 6, there are elements of the cover that are fixed. This illustration will just add another dimension, and in fact, provided a story twist that I’m currently writing!

It was an added bonus to have other creative minds that jump-started my own thoughts as I wrote! I just LOVE collaboration with other artists – it’s so rewarding.

I asked the fantastic designer of the winning illustration, Danniel Soares, a couple of questions:

How did you come up with the design based on the (very loose) brief?

I particularly like this sort of brief, giving enough direction ideas, while not being strictly defined. The downside is that you’ll probably need to narrow down on one or two ideas relatively fast, in this contest scheme, so you can present something that already have a reasonably good rendering. Other important consideration is the time it will take to develop it.

Unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to do a 3D sculpture in the foreseeable time (I’m not really “fluent” with the 3D software I have, and I’m not sure my current hardware would be powerful enough for this sort of thing as the 3D mesh grows in complexity), even though this consideration also had some influence on that particular idea, which is relatively simpler, while still at least just as good. The other idea, actually came first, and morphed more or less gradually into the final one.

What are your tips for authors who want to get designs for their books?

An important thing to have in mind before anything are the different sub-domains of graphic artists. In an ideal world people wouldn’t take jobs they don’t really feel ready to do, but that can happen, and the final product will probably suffer as a result.

The main distinctions among professionals who would do the final work are perhaps “illustrator” and “designer” (who will often have their sub-specialties, based on genre, technique, and intended use). The latter deals more with the overall layout and structure of the whole, while the former is more concerned with “isolated” details, even though it’s helpful to have a notion of the planned design, to make it match appropriately — but perhaps some designers would prefer to have the illustrations roughs to see how to layout things around it! The specialty of one will tend to be the weakness of the other, even though there will be some people who do both equally well.

The best way to proceed then is to take some time to look through several artists’ portfolios, trying to find a few who work in styles that match the book.

Maybe while still writing the book, perhaps it could turn out to be a form of inspiration. And make some inquiries along the way, or at some allotted time.

Established professionals, whether they’re solo, a team, or subcontractors of an agency, will likely have a well defined process, describing their obligations and conditions in a more or less standardized contract. With people who are just starting out things can be probably be somewhat more complicated and insecure, due to inexperience, and a natural lack of expertise in the business and administrative side. But that probably can be dealt with some precautions from the author, like coming up with a reasonable contract beforehand, to be filled in eventually. That’s definitely somewhat more complicated, but may worth the extra work.

Services like 99designs can be seen as an intermediate way, since they’re literally being the intermediaries between the artists and the client, offering some aspects of “insurance”, even though I’m not totally sure about the details. I hope it didn’t sound too much like some sort of infomercial, because I’m not being paid to make this sort of advertisement. But even with this sort of backing it’s perhaps interesting to study how to do a briefing that is specific enough and clear in scope, in order to avoid misunderstandings and frustrations from both sides.

What else can you use 99 Designs for?

99designsIf you need visual work done, then there are lots of options for what the designers on 99 Designs can do for you. The services include:

  • Book cover design and custom artwork and illustrations
  • Logos and business cards
  • Web page and mobile apps as well as banner ads
  • T-shirts (I am seriously considering this at some point!)

You can get a PowerPack upgrade if you use my sponsorship link: 99Designs.com/joanna which will supercharge your contest by highlighting your listing, bolding its font, and bumping it to the top of the page. Basically, you can get more entries from better designers.

I found the whole process pretty addictive and since I love collaboration, it’s definitely on my list to do again.

OK, I’d love to know what you think of 99 Designs, or if you have used custom designs/illustrations from other designers.Please leave a comment below and join the conversation.

 

The Self-Publishing Revolution Is Only Just Beginning. Reflections On My Stockholm Trip

I spent a couple of days in Stockholm last week, and did three events in just over 24 hours for Lava Forlag, meeting authors at all stages of the journey. Here are my reflections on my time there.

flying into stockholm

Flying into Stockholm

The indie revolution is expanding… and it is incredibly exciting to see the light dawning in people’s eyes.

The Swedish publishing industry is still in the old traditional, print dominated way of doing things right now. Ebooks haven’t taken off yet, Amazon hasn’t opened its .se store and authors are still focused on the route of agents and publishers to reach readers.

I was told that the biggest publishers are integrated with the media companies – in the same way as Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp owning Harper Collins, the Fox Network, The Times and the Wall Street Journal.

When big media owns all the publishing channels, there is little chance for the independent voice against such established behemoths. But change is coming …

I was asked to Stockholm by the lovely Kristina Svensson, an indie author who sees the digital future coming to Sweden in the next few years. I spoke to the audience of authors about my reality, the world I live in, where authors are writing what they want, publishing what they want, and in many cases, making a decent living from their words.

In my world, authors sell books globally, in ebook, print and audiobook format, they are paid monthly and they have creative freedom and control over timing – all without a publisher.

Joanna Penn speaking

Speaking passionately in Stockholm. Photo Credit: Petra Rolinec, www.8tiesbaby.com

When I spoke at a packed gallery space in downtown Stockholm on Monday night, I saw the light dawning in some people’s eyes at the possibilities.

Some of those authors saw their future in my current existence – and that is truly exciting.

We take for granted our incredible reality these days and it’s only by stepping outside, to those places where the change hasn’t come yet, that we can really appreciate how far we have come.

I didn’t enter this author life via the traditional publishing route. As a business woman and an entrepreneur, I only pursued this author route when it became a viable business option as a self-publisher.

Embracing the indie way was natural for me, as someone who doesn’t like asking permission, who has no patience with waiting, and no love for power imbalance.

I have stopped speaking at events where the industry tries to cut authors down to size, where they negate creativity and try to crush us back into the box where they once controlled the rules. I don’t want to speak to groups that aren’t delighted at the explosion of expression that is happening now.

I don’t want to argue with people who don’t see my way of life as a valid choice. I don’t try to convince people that going indie is fantastic anymore. I only want to speak to those who are keen to learn about the new ways of being a creative in this exciting digital world.

Entrepreneurs create new things out of their heads – and the world we live in right now embraces entrepreneurs. It worships Silicon Valley startups. Well, we’re entrepreneurs too.

Writers are artists and creatives and entrepreneurs, just as the painter, the sculptor, the dancer, the dressmaker – and anyone who creates new things in the world.

Entrepreneurs don’t wait for permission, they try new things, they fail, they pivot, they keep going in the face of criticism.

The next big opportunity: Joint ventures with other creative professionals

Stockholm old city

Stockholm Old City

One of the sessions I did in Stockholm was a lunchtime seminar on “How to sell more books.” As none of the authors who were present actually self-published direct on KDP, discussions on metadata and keywords fell on rather confused ears. So I started with what seemed to me like the biggest issue.

There are 9 million people who speak Swedish. There are over 400 million who speak English. If you want to sell more books, then they need to be in English. Luckily, Swedes mostly speak excellent English but they still need help with translation and editing. I had the most number of questions about how this would be possible without paying half a years salary to a translator.

Here’s what you have to consider: the world has changed!!

Not just for you, but for everyone involved in the publishing industry. Editors and cover designers, who were laid off from big publishers, now happily freelance for indie authors. Many of them continue to work for traditional publishing, well as freelancing on the side.

In the same way, translators are discovering the joy of working in collaboration with authors. For years, they have been undervalued by publishers, treated as ‘workers’ rather than creatives in their own right. I’ve now partnered with six translators and I can tell you, translation is an art, it’s definitely a creative process.

You don’t have to follow the rules anymore. In fact, there are no rules!

Joanna Penn

Joanna Penn with Cas Blomberg, fantasy author, in Stockholm. Photo Credit: Petra Rolinec, www.8tiesbaby.com

I’m about to start working with a Portuguese translator, who has books of his own in a genre similar to my ARKANE series. He wants to translate mine alongside his, so together, we can mutually promote, and it will be quicker to have more books out if he translates at the same time as writing his own. He’s currently working on Terry Pratchett’s books – and we’re doing a 50:50% royalty split, as I have done with all my translators.

This is only possible in a world where creatives just try stuff, take risks and ‘play’ together.

Other creative industries do this very well – look at musicians and dancers, film-makers, actors – most other creative industries collaborate in every work. Authors seem to default to timidity. They say “but I can’t do that .. no one would work with me.” Really? Have you actually tried asking?

Collaboration is a (not so secret) weapon for indies. When you own your own rights, you can do anything you like.

You can put 12 books in a box-set and together, you can hit the New York Times and the USA Today bestseller lists. You can co-write with multiple different authors. You can write a single book with multiple authors. You can do promotions together. You can write books that feature each others’ worlds. You can do anything you like when you own the rights. Other creative professionals work together collaboratively. It’s time for authors to do the same. Try asking and see what happens.

Stop waiting, stop asking, stop begging to be picked. Embrace the opportunities in front of you. Create!

Photo credit: Petra Rolinec,www.8tiesbaby.com

How To Write A Novel With The Snowflake Method With Randy Ingermanson

If you write fiction, or you want to, sorting out your writing process for a book is a core task.

snowflakeAre you a pantser? Are you a plotter? Or perhaps, you might be a Snowflaker …

Today I talk to Randy Ingermanson about his book, How to write a novel using the snowflake method, and how it can help those people who fall through the gaps. Plus, how to write 500 words a day as a habit, dealing with panic disorder and how our flaws contribute to our writing.

You can watch the video below or here on YouTube. You can also listen to the audio below or here on SoundCloud.

Randy Ingermanson is a physicist and award-winning geek suspense novelist, known as the Snowflake guy, America’s mad professor of fiction writing. His site, AdvancedFictionWriting.com is packed with loads of information and inspiration on organizing, creating and marketing your work.

We discuss:

  • How Randy established his brand when he wanted to talk about the process of writing, as well as the aspects of his novels. He brings the scientific approach and step by step process to writing a novel.
  • How the Snowflake method works – from something simple and small, to growing it out bit by bit to something complicated and beautiful. The book is told as a parable, which ‘shows’ the method through a woman at a writing conference who wants to learn how to write and is frustrated when she can’t use the pantsing or plotting approach.

The importance of only using writing methods that work for you as an individual.

  • Tips on writing the one line that sums up your book.
  • The scene list and what a scene actually is. [This really changed my writing life when I understood the concept of scene.] Scene vs chapter. How to write a perfect scene. A chapter is a fundamental unit of reader decision.

“Most fiction writers have a major bottleneck in their process. That bottleneck is that they don’t produce enough first-draft copy.”

  • On writing 500 words a day as a matter of habit.
  • [25 mins] Randy talks about his panic disorder which affected his public speaking opportunities. We talk about our flaws and how we deal with them in a really honest way.

You can find Randy at AdvancedFictionWriting.com where he has a brilliant free ezine, as well as loads more information on writing fiction. You can find his book, How to write a novel using the snowflake method on Amazon here.

Have you tried the Snowflake Method? Do you have any questions for Randy around writing fiction? Please join the conversation and leave a comment below.

The Lion’s Gate, Fighting Resistance And Mental Toughness For Writers With Steven Pressfield

I’m super excited to bring you this interview with Steven Pressfield, who has been one of my ‘virtual’ mentors for many years through his books and his blog. I’m definitely a fan girl! We talk about Israel and his latest book on the Six Day War, The Lion’s Gate – and we also go into the Resistance and some of his tips for writers around habits and mindset.

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.

Steven PressfieldSteven Pressfield is the author of screenplays including The Legend of Bagger Vance, novels around the classical wars of ancient Greece and modern warfare like Gates of Fire, and non-fiction works including The War of Art and Turning Pro, which I know are on the desks of many writers listening. His latest book is ‘The Lion’s Gate,’ a hybrid history of the Six Day War.

I’ve split the interview into two on video: you can watch our discussion about The Lions’ Gate here, and another on tips for writers here. You can also listen to the audio above or on the podcast feed on iTunes or Stitcher, or read the transcription below. In the interview, we discuss:

  • A brief overview of the Six Day War and the events that feature in ‘The Lion’s Gate’ as well as why Steven wanted to tell this story, after many years of writing books around classical wars
  • The concept of ‘en brera.‘ Why the Israelis had ‘no alternative’ at that time and perhaps, still don’t?
  • Our mutual love for the country of Israel, and the places that particularly resonated with Steven
  • Why Steven chose to tell the history in the first person POV, and his interview research technique, plus using the techniques of fiction in writing narrative non-fiction
  • the lions gate pressfield“The Lion’s Gate’ as the book Steven has been avoiding writing, and how resistance manifested during its creation
  • I have a quote by Steven  from The War of Art on the pinboard by my desk. “On the field of the self stand a knight and a dragon. You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon. The battle must be fought anew every day.” How we can fight resistance as authors.
  • How spirituality plays a part in Steven’s writing life and books, including his prayer to the Muse
  • From Turning Pro, “The difference between an amateur and a pro is in their habits.” The habits of a pro writer and the discipline to keep to the path.
  • Defining success as a writer– after multi-million books sold, being on Oprah, movie hits and more. ‘You have the right to your labor, not the fruits of your labor.’ It’s not about the rewards of writing, it’s about the writing itself. How it took 10 years for ‘The War of Art’ to find its audience.
  • On comparisonitis. Getting a handle on jealousy.
  • Balancing the demands of ego against fear and self-doubt – and how to stop self-censorship.
  • Mental toughness and being a warrior as a writer. This is not easy work. It’s a battle, and mostly, you’re on your own.
  • Thoughts on the changing world of publishing
  • You can find lots more about Steven’s writing process in his FAQ here

You can find Steven at StevenPressfield.com and also BlackIrishBooks. You can find The Lion’s Gate on Amazon here.

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Happy Father’s Day! A Father-Daughter Self-Publishing Story

One of the great things about self-publishing is that it enables the fulfillment of dreams.

Arthur J Penn and Joanna Penn

Arthur J Penn with Joanna Penn, celebrating!

A physical book with your name on the front still holds a magic that ebooks can’t compete with. It’s proof that your work has turned into something that people may even read!

Last year, I helped my Dad self-publish his historical thriller, Nada, set in Sardinia during the Second World War. After querying agents and generally not even receiving a reply, I suggested we move forwards and do it ourselves for his 65th birthday.

When Amazon came and filmed me earlier this year (the full video should be out next month), my Dad came too – the Penn indie author dynasty! In the video, or here on YouTube, you can see a glimpse of our journey, with thanks to Amazon KDP and Createspace.

You can also watch the unboxing of Nada in the video below or here on YouTube.

In this article on Later Bloomers, Dad talks about his love of Sardinia and the real, historical characters that inspired Eleanor and Marco, as well as the dark history of Fascism.

If you like historical fiction, you might like to check out Nada.

A young woman’s struggle to free herself from the manacles of fascism and the bigotry of faith.

Nada CoverSardinia, 1934. On her eighteenth birthday Eleanor Cardinale is relishing the warm embrace of local festivals, red wine, and her first lover. Her passion is set against the backdrop of the island’s crystal seas, mountain crags and ancient magical legends.

But her joy is fleeting, for dark forces gather as she openly challenges her suffocating religion and Mussolini’s twisted vision of a new fascist Italy. The Duce is at the height of his popularity and Eleanor finds herself dangerously alone in her dissent.

Eleanor’s simple Sardinian life is shattered by a series of hideous crimes against her loved ones; savage rape, atrocity and finally murder by masked dancers in the fire and shadows of a demonic festival.

Is Eleanor willing to pay the ultimate price for freedom and independence?

NADA is a story of love, murder and revenge set in a time of Italian fascist expansion and ending in the early days of the Spanish Civil war. A historical novel, for fans of Robert Harris and Louis de Bernieres Corelli’s Mandolin.

Buy now in ebook or print format on Amazon

 Happy Father’s Day all the Daddies out there :)