Images Aren’t Only for the Outside of Your Novel!

In the quest for reader respect, self-published authors are always struggling to make our books as visually appealing as those of our traditionally published colleagues. Book cover artists can design a great cover that is formatted correctly for both digital and paper editions. One thing that I hadn’t considered was using artwork to spruce up book’s interior!

The idea came to me when I was reading a book that I can’t put my hands on. (How embarrassing.) So, I looked in another book, One Foot in the Grape by Carlene O’Neil. I’m obviously not a genius, because I straightened the image and it’s still sideways, but you can see the cute grape under the title.

Inside, at the beginning of each chapter, is another cute vine and grape leaf image. (Notice that I’m getting better, and the picture is only upside down.

Anywho, I wondered, why couldn’t I use images to spruce up my Pet Psychic books and my new novel, Civility Rules? Maybe paws for the pet psychic and a bow tie for the civility series? First, I needed artwork that I could use. I visited several sites.

Dreamstime 
Can Stock Photo
Shutterstock
123RF 

I finally decided on Dreamstime, which allows me to use the images I purchase at the Standard License level for up to 500,000 print copies of my book. Ebooks aren’t counted. WARNING:  Be sure to read the fine print v-e-r-y carefully to make sure you are purchasing the size you want and that it is available for commercial use. Some images are only available for blogs and other non-commercial use. SECOND WARNING: Make sure you don’t purchase a vector image unless you have the appropriate (and expensive) photo software, such as Adobe Photoshop.

The pricing system can be confusing. Most sites sell their images by points, so you have to purchase points before you download the image. My two images cost 30 points, or $34.99.

I’m not a formatting expert, nor am I a technical wiz (see above photo disasters), but to test it out before I bought the images, I merely inserted clip art and found that it worked, as least in the ebook copy.

Here is the Kindle preview page.

Just this one little step helps with reader perception by giving my books the look of traditionally published novel.

Sometimes, it’s the little things.

The Birth of a Book

Jacqueline Vick is the author of over twenty published short stories, novelettes and mystery novels. Her April 2010 article for Fido Friendly Magazine, “Calling Canine Clairvoyants”, led to the Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic mysteries, Barking Mad About Murder, and A Bird’s Eye View of Murder.  Her latest mystery, Civility Rules, comes out this February. To find out more, visit her website at http://www.jacquelinevick.com. 

THE BIRTH OF A BOOK

I’ve never had the privilege of giving birth, so I can’t speak from personal experience, but I think the event has been captured in enough books/movies/conversations that I don’t feel unqualified to compare the novel-writing process with a that of a full-term pregnancy. Both are exercises only attempted by the delusional, and the mistakes made along the way range from comical to painful, but the results are original and, one way or another, extraordinary.

I will make the author in my example female because writing “his or her” and “he or she” over and over again is a pain in the side.

The Spark of Life 

BABY: The minute the couple finds out they are expecting a baby, joyful laughter follows them wherever they go, because they are telling anyone who will listen that they are having a child with the expectation that the good news will bring forth reactions of awe and wonder. In their excitement, they seem to forget that billions of people have accomplished this same goal.

BOOK: When the author comes up with a killer idea, her first instinct is to share the idea, though often with more reticence than the happy couple. The author might toss out the idea to a group of friends or a writer’s group with the hope that her peers will be stunned into speechless envy. In her excitement, she forgets there is no such thing as a completely original idea and that her writer friends have probably have had similar ideas and tossed them out.

The Excitement Grows

BABY: Lacking sense, the happy couple will NOT keep their dreams for their child to themselves. For example, Uncle Sam, who once had hopes of becoming an All-Star baseball player until he tore his rotator cuff, won’t appreciate hearing over and over how this little wonder will someday be a member of the Hall of Fame. Foolish comparisons are made. “He’s going to be an athlete, just like his father,” even though the only reason the patriarch of the family wears sweats is because they have an elastic waste band. Mom will pipe in that their little girl will surely be at the top of her class, because Mom is still proud of the passing score she received on her dissertation about the effects of cow flatulence on the ozone. Then, to ensure their child receives a good head start, they will immediately apply at an elite preschool.

BOOK: The author, still under the delusion that her idea is original, witty, and worth millions, will start preparing her acceptance speech for the Academy, because, naturally, producers will fight to put her best-selling book on the screen. She has clear ideas of who should play her lead character. This taints her selection process of agents to whom she plans to submit her finished manuscript (which she hasn’t started writing), causing her to narrow the field to representatives of New York Times best-sellers.

The Feedback 

BABY: They asked for it. After turning every conversation  back to the subject of their upcoming child, and even flashing pictures of the ultrasound at startled relatives, the couple is surprised when their listeners fight back. They begin to receive advice, and their every movement is monitored. Subject that were formerly considered private are now everyone’s business, from gastrointestinal difficulties to their lovemaking habits.

BOOK: Everyone’s a writer! After testing out ideas, plot points, and characters on strangers in the grocery store line, the author is surprised when her listeners fight back. Advice ranges from suggestions that she include graphic sex scenes to an insistence that she pepper the story with zombies, even though she’s writing historical fiction.

The Hard Work

BABY: Morning sickness. Back pain. Strangers asking,  When are you due?  The mother’s overwhelming desire to have this alien life form removed from her body.

BOOK: Writer’s block. Grammar errors. Strangers asking, When does the book come out? And will there be a cheaper ebook available? The overwhelming desire to delete the entire  manuscript from the author’s computer hard drive.

The Final Push

BABY: This baby is coming. After nine months, the mother finally reclaims her body, but the next 18 years are booked. I’ll never do this again!

BOOK: The book is finished.  After nine months, the author types THE END. Now it’s time to market the manuscript. Maybe I can get a job as a receptionist at the car dealership.

The Best and Worst of Christmas Presents

All the way back to childhood, this is the season when most of us expect to receive gifts, whether wrapped in green and red for Christmas, blue and silver for Hanukkah, or black, red and green for Kwanzaa. Sometimes those gifts are amazing. Sometimes they are…surprising. And sometimes they are intangible items that can’t be wrapped in paper and bows. We’ve pulled out some of our WinR memories to share with you.

One of the best, or most memorable, Christmas presents I have received was my first Christmas after I moved to Los Angeles from London. I was house-sitting on my own in a half-finished house – just basically one unfinished room – no dry wall yet installed – with a camping-cot. I was also working as a waitress and had the Christmas Day shift. Phone calls home to my mum were VERY expensive in those days, but I spoke briefly to her before I went to work. When I got back, there was a parcel from one of my new-found British friends, who clearly understand my situation. The parcel contained a stack of airmail envelopes, writing paper, pens and international postage stamps (expensive for me) – so I could write to my family in England. Plus…. a bottle of vodka and a bottle of tonic!!! I spent the rest of the day writing letters home – and enjoying a plastic cup of vodka-tonic, no ice.

                                                                
                                                                                         – Rosemary Lord

The worst Christmas gift I ever received was a cookie jar: a big ceramic thing in the shape of a grinning brown bear, given to me by a family friend, a kindly lady who’d known me most of my life.

What’s so awful about that? Well, here’s what happened: I was a newlywed that year, in a low-rent apartment with the world’s smallest kitchen. No room for cookie jars, so I stashed the gift in a closet. I didn’t bake back then anyway—my culinary specialty was spaghetti.

Fast forward several months: my best friend Susie got engaged, and of course I had to get a gift for her bridal shower. Susie was quite the baker, and I thought of that cookie jar, gathering dust in the dark closet. My husband was still in school so we were subsisting, barely, on my tiny salary as a secretary for a small company. Therefore, I thought, it made sense to “re-gift” that cookie jar, which had never been used. Two problems solved: I had little money for a gift, and it seemed a shame to let the cookie jar go to waste.

It would have gone over just fine, except . . . Susie unwrapped the gift and laughed at the smiling bear. Then she lifted the lid. The well-meaning lady who gave me the jar had also given me a bag full of home-made oatmeal cookies, but I didn’t know it because I’d never looked inside the jar. Those cookies had been sitting there, turning to rocks, all that time.

I saw Susie’s bewildered expression as she held up the bag of cookie-rocks, and before I lost my nerve, I snatched the cookies and muttered something about my husband being a practical joker. I’m sure my face was scarlet, but my remark got a laugh at least.

Susie and I are still friends after all these years, and I’m sometimes tempted to ask her if she believed my fib back then. Most days, though, I’d rather not know.

The morals of this story: (1) if you ever recycle a gift, be sure to look inside first. You never know what you might find. (2) when in doubt, blame the husband.


                                                          – Bonnie Schroeder


I can only think of one gift that I knew instantly I would never use. It was a satiny pink blouse with a huge bow at the neck. Not my style, color, or fabric. It was the type matronly ladies wore at the time. I was 27. It made me look like a clown. My brother’s wife had picked it out. It was actually a designer label. She didn’t know my tastes at all since she lived in Ohio and I was in California. But my elderly landlady looked terrific in it. She got two gifts that year.

                                                                         – G.B. Pool


                                                       
I have a huge extended family, and therefore, we pulled names for Christmas. The first year, my uncle, who was my age, forgot about me. That night, when they pulled names, I was forgotten. He came up to me later and gave me twenty bucks! The next year, my aunt, who was in college at the time, forgot me again. She sent me a pair of Saluki sweats that I lived in for the next few years. I loved those sweats, and the twenty bucks came in handy. Sometimes, being forgotten isn’t all that bad.

                                                                        – Jacqueline Vick 


May you all have a wonderful holiday season!

What the Writers in Residence are Grateful for this Thanksgiving


Yes, yes, I am grateful for all the usual stuff – all the stuff we should be grateful for. But I am grateful for Pain and Loss, too. When the Bad Stuff is there, the balance is there, and the balance is what keeps us on an even keel in a world that doesn’t always make sense. 

I am grateful for Pain.

When I was in the Army, the Marines used to tell us that pain was weakness leaving the body. Nice idea, but that only applied to exercise and physical endurance. Real pain, the kind you feel in your body when there is something terribly wrong, is a constant reminder that you are alive and need to do something to alleviate that pain. See a doctor, take your medication, do all you can to feel better so you can really live. Do distracting things, like helping others, to get your mind off any pain that your doctor cannot fix.

Real pain of the other kind, the broken-heart kind, also reminds you that you are alive and human. You only feel that kind of pain when you have a depth of feeling which is in itself a gift. Tears can help you through it, but recognize it for what it is: a common experience which binds us together and reinforces our humanity. Pain shared is pain lessened.

I am also grateful for Loss.

Loss teaches us the value of – and fleeting nature of – all things. All things. Our loved ones, ourselves, our world, everything. How many times must loss teach us the same lesson? Every day we learn it over again. Live each day fully, appreciate each moment, live without regret. Know that Loss will touch you as it touches everyone, so be ready. Live with sincere love and caring every day, and don’t be afraid to show it.

I am grateful for Inconvenience.

Inconvenience is the niggling teacher of patience. A little patience can go a long way in overcoming Pain and Loss, so embrace it as a way to slow down and see the very real wonder of this world.

Moderation is key to appreciating Pain, Loss and Inconvenience. There is nothing at all to be gained from wallowing in them. But remember their useful qualities the next time you must experience them. And be grateful you are able to feel. It means you are alive and human, which is a very good thing.

                                                          Kate Thornton



I’m grateful for so many things, but to me, the “basics” are very important, and are the foundation that enables me to write. Very thankful I was born in The United States of American during this era, with all it offers on every level, have decent health, and people and animals with whom to share love and experiences. It is with that support I am able to write.        
                             Madeline (M.M.) Gornell






I am grateful that I was taught how to read; reading sparked my interest in writing. I often take it for granted, but there are many places in the world where people don’t have this skill. The work of other writers, in all its variety, is one of the best writing teachers in the world.

Bonnie Schroeder

For me, I truly believe that any talent I have to write, whether seriously or tongue-in-cheek is God-given. I’m also thankful for curiosity and nosiness, which helped me as a newspaper writer, and the love of reading which helped me build a good vocabulary.

Jackie Houchin

I am thankful for the rich inheritance I received from my family which includes: a smattering of my father’s witty sarcasm, some of my mother’s artistic talent, my grandfather’s love of history, my grandmother’s stubbornness (when it counts), my Aunt Mollie’s love of writing, and a pinch of sewing prowess from Aunt Dottie. I hope everyone has a few people from whom they learned wonderful things.

Gayle Bartos-Pool






I’m grateful for my husband

                       and family,

                                my friends

                                             and good neighbors.


                                                             Miko Johnston



I am grateful for the ability to be grateful. Many people have gifts and blessings, but they are unable to recognize them. That is what makes Kate Thornton’s post above so beautiful. It’s easy to be grateful for the good stuff, but it takes an open heart to find the redeemable qualities in the poop. Gratitude means getting out from under the weight of entitlement and embracing the fact that I don’t deserve anything, but that the Bon Dieu (as Hercule Poirot would say it) has seen fit to grace me. And then saying Thank You. 

                                      Jacqueline Vick


Goodness, I have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Where do I start?

Without the friendship and encouragement of my fellow Bloggists (is that a word?) my world would be bleak. We really do laugh together and cry together. They inspire me. Our monthly luncheons are a treasured time to talk of writing, of our home-lives, of cabbages and kings. The time goes by far too fast before we scurry off in our different directions.
I am thankful for the fascinating people and wonderful friends I have made since I found my new life in this ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’


For the amazing adventures life has thrown at me. For the strength and ability to survive.
I am also truly thankful to have my loving family in England. My big sister Annie, my brothers Ted, Phil and Peter, my cousins, nieces and nephews. Although we may be thousands of miles apart, we are very close, speak often and meet up whenever we can – and still giggle together like a bunch of five-year-olds.

I am eternally thankful for the many years I had with my darling Rick, my late husband, who I feel watches over me still. He taught me so much and always helped me to laugh at life’s adversities. I think I am most grateful for the gift of laughter: the ability to laugh with others, to laugh at myself and at life’s absurdities.

And I am most grateful to have this Blog, that gives me the opportunity to formulate and share my thoughts…
                                                           Rosemary Lord

A Pet Psychic, A Gentleman, and an Exorcist Walk Into A Bar

Jacqueline Vick is the author of over twenty published short stories, novelettes and mystery novels. Her April 2010 article for Fido Friendly Magazine, “Calling Canine Clairvoyants”, led to the first Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic mystery, Barking Mad About Murder. To find out more, visit her website.  

A Pet Psychic, A Gentleman, and an Exorcist Walk Into A Bar

It sounds like a joke, but it’s not. These are the characters who inhabit my head, along with a crime reporter, a mother and two daughters with a knack for stumbling into nefarious situations; and a few more who haven’t made it to print.

One of the difficulties with so many different characters is finding a common thread that runs through the various books that can be used to solidify an author brand. What is an author brand?

When you hear Joanna Fluke, you think mysteries and baking. And vise versa.

Is there a common thread among my characters? Well, Evan Miller is troubled, while Deanna Winder IS trouble. Frankie Chandler, Pet Psychic, considers the supernatural an intrusion in her life, while Father Gerald McAllister, exorcist, relies on it. And most of them would be left off the guest list of a dinner thrown by Edward Harlow, author of the Aunt Civility etiquette books.

An author, when coming up with a brand, also needs to consider his or her target market. I’ve never mastered that one. Most mystery readers are women, so I should try to determine who would like my books by age group and other demographics. Let see an example of how well that works.

I took a screenwriting class in Chicago. I wrote a scene that took place in a small town post office, and  a confused, elderly lady at the front of the line was driving the impatient protagonist mad. The person who laughed the loudest was a young, black man. I would have picked the suburban-looking white women as my target audience, but her slight smile seemed reluctant. So much for stereotyping your audience.

Another trick to finding your brand is to brainstorm words that come to mind when describing your books or characters. Unintentionally funny due to the circumstances and  people they are surrounded by. In other words, you and me. That doesn’t narrow it down very much.

Could this be the next
Agatha Christie?

You can always compare your books to others out there, but that’s too intimidating. When I put fingers to keyboard, I always hope to be the next Agatha Christie or Rex Stout, but the results fall far short. As for comparisons to current authors, each one seems so unique to me that I wouldn’t dream of holding my novel up next to theirs. I would feel like the gal on late-night television offering knock-offs for those who don’t care for the real thing.

JA Konrath has said that if you want to sell books, write more books. That I can do. I’ve slowly built up 4 novels, a traditionally published novella, and 4 short stories. Oh, yeah. And a children’s book.  If my timetable holds out, I’ll have Civility Rules, my Harlow Brothers mystery, and the third pet psychic mystery out before the end of the year, and the Father McAllister mystery out at the beginning of 2016.

So what should I do about my brand? I’d solicit feedback from other people on what words they thought best represented my books and characters, but if anyone used the word sassy to describe Frankie Chandler or Roxanne Wilder, I’d throw myself out the window. (It doesn’t matter that I live in a one-story. It’s the intent that counts.)

The Difficulties of the Back Cover Description

If I know an author well, I will simply pick up a copy of his or her book, confident that I’ll enjoy the read. I’ve seldom been disappointed this way.  But what if I don’t know the author? What will make me lay down my money and take the book home, or even download it at a cheaper price from Kindle? After all, this is the position I have to assume most readers will have toward me when they first discover my books.

The back cover description is the key.

It’s ridiculous, if you think about it, that an author must condense the plot, the character’s arcs, the entire novel into a paragraph or two that will entice the reader to want more. But something on that back cover has to convince me the book is worth my time. Here is the back cover from Elizabeth Peter’s first Amelia Peabody mystery. (It’s a bit of a cheat, as my mother recommended it to me.)

“Crocodile on the Sandbank”

Amelia Peabody, that indomitable product of the Victorian age, embarks on her debut Egyptian adventure armed with unshakable self-confidence, a journal to record her thoughts, and, of course, a sturdy umbrella. On her way to Cairo, Amelia rescues young Evelyn Barton-Forbes, who has been abandoned by her scoundrel lover. Together the two women sail up the Nile to an archaeological site run by the Emerson brothers – the irascible but dashing Radcliffe and the amiable Walter. Soon their little party is increased by one – one mummy, that is, and a singularly lively example of the species. Strange visitations, suspicious accidents, and a botched kidnapping convince Amelia that there is a plot afoot to harm Evelyn. Now Amelia finds herself up against an unknown enemy–and perilous forces that threaten to make her first Egyptian trip also her last…

The basic story is that a spinster goes to Egypt and runs into a lost young woman, two brothers, and a mummy, but notice the adverbs and adjectives:  irascible, suspicious, perilous, scoundrel. The verbs are strong as well: embarks, rescues, abandoned, threaten.

These word choices also work because the characters and situations are bigger than life, which I think comes through.

Radcliffe is described as “irascible but dashing”, which gives the reader a hint of fireworks and romance.

Out of this description, I’ll tell you what would have made me open the book.

“…a singularly lively example of the species.”

I LOVE dry, understated, and usually British humor. What a hysterical way to describe a mummy! That alone would convince me to open the book, because it’s my kind of writing style. I would also look inside to check out the writing style because there are only two authors who are good enough to make me suffer through present tense.

1. Condense the story into a few lines.
2. Choose strong adjectives, adverbs and verbs.
3. Make sure the description reflects the tone of the book.

 Sounds easy, right?

Take your latest tome and apply the rules. Can you improve your description?

Rewrites Are Like the Movie "Groundhog Day" by Jacqueline Vick

Every morning, Phil Connors wakes up in Punxsutawney, PA, and it’s Groundhog Day. He has to relive the same day over…and over…and over…until he finally gets it right. That’s the premise of the movie Groundhog Day.

When Phil first realizes that he has freedom from consequences, he does all the naughty things he’d never get away with if the day didn’t start over fresh at 6:00 AM the next morning, like pigging out on pastries…while smoking. This is the writer at the beginning of the project. Authors read the same thing over…and over…and over again, trying to get the right outcome so they can move on to the next project. When we’re fresh into the rewrites, we might come up with ideas that seem crazy, but we try them anyway.

Then Phil starts to seduce the women of Punxsutawney, sussing out their likes and dislikes day by day so he can bed them. When he finds a woman who is worthy of love, he discovers that he can’t manipulate her into a seduction. It fails every time, and it becomes an obsession until finally he despairs and tries to kill himself every conceivable way, only to wake up in one piece the next morning. In the writer’s next passes through the manuscript, we try to seduce the reader with just the right phrase, but as we work through to something worthwhile, all the manipulation becomes obvious. It reaches the point where we think the whole work is crap and we want to “kill it”and start over.

Phil finally accepts his position,  and he starts to do one thing every day to improve himself. He finds out where danger lurks, and he’s always in time to save the day. He takes piano lessons until he gradually becomes a great jazz pianist. He stops focusing on his wants and looks outside himself, and he becomes the great guy who wins the heroine’s heart.  Eventually, we writers stop working at being funny or pulling heartstrings or making a point, and we just let go and make it all about the reader’s experience, and that’s when things fall into place.

The journey isn’t always as fun as the movie Groundhog Day, but the results are worth the effort. Now if only we could figure out a way to skip the first steps… .