So You Need to Synopsis

Not nearly as terrifying as the live pitch, nor as frustrating as the query letter is the dreaded synopsis. I say dreaded because it feels like you’re taking delicious farm fresh veggies and freeze-drying them, later to be consumed by someone else who won’t get the farm fresh taste your whole novel has.


Plus even though you get a few pages instead of page (a la query) you still must condense all that info into a nice freeze dried package AND still make it appealing.

Look! Just as…appealing… (via

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The Live Pitch

If you’ve followed the blog for any amount of time, I’m sure you’ve heard me whine about how ridiculously hard the query writing part of the process is. And. It. Is.

But if it’s really true that more people would rather die than speak in public, then a truly terrifying part of this writing process comes in the combination of public speaking your query.

Only you don’t have a nice page to explain your book. You have about a paragraph + answers for questions, some you might have expected, many you haven’t.


Seriously? Why wouldn’t you? Okay, I know it can be very intimidating if not terrifying, but realize this: a live-pitch is like moving your query from the slush pile to the front of the line. You are guaranteed that agent’s full attention for a few minutes. Your story gets the best possible consideration amidst the hundreds if not thousands of queries they get on a regular basis.

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All the Progress

No, no, no! It wasn’t saved!!!

Before I begin, let me say how extremely GRATEFUL I am that WordPress has a rabid autosave feature. Why? Oh, there I was trying to get this post together when WHAMMO! The power goes completely out. Ack! Argh! Eeek! I hesitated even opening this to get it posted. Thank you WordPress!

The final part of Pitch Wars is underway. Yesterday I was super happy dappy thrilled to receive a request for more on SHADE—a full manuscript request in fact! For those new to the game, what this means is the agent wants to see your whole book. Sometimes they request partials, which is often the first 3 chapters or so. This is something you definitely want, whether partial or full, and it’s the step prior to receiving representation.

But the thing you also have to keep in mind is the agent can still pass on it. Most agencies I’ve researched will take anywhere from 3-6 months to get back on a full request, sometimes longer depending on their schedule. So while I’m hopeful and extremely grateful, what this does not mean is to put anything on pause.

There are a couple upcoming contests I’m looking into. One is Pitch Madness where you can hop on Twitter and pitch to participating agents using the hashtag #pitmad. That means you have 133 characters (you have to include #pitmad) to pitch your book. They also recommend having different pitches so you don’t sound repetitive and most importantly is be polite. These are agents after all and this is your reputation after all.

The other is the Cupid’s Literary Connection contest (deets here). This one requires a $10 donation, but you submit your pitch, some “bouncers” judge it and if you make it into the final round the participating agents duke it out over the entrants. As always, it’s no guarantee you’ll get an offer, but I think it’s always helpful to get front of the line access to agents vs. hoping your query navigates the slush pile.

Then perhaps querying in the near future. I may look into other contests too. I have a couple I should hear back on soon. One February 6th, and the other I believe is the 23rd or so. Of course I’ll post any news here.

In the meantime, as always, more writing.

That’s my progress. How are you doing on your projects? Any breaking news? Any contests you’re planning on entering? Requests on queries? Let me know!

Helping Your Designer

This is the 4th post in the How to Design a Book Cover series.

Now that you’ve learned about all that goes into designing a fabulous cover for your novel, hopefully you’ve also realized hiring a professional to do it for you is exactly what must be done.

First and foremost, don’t just hire any designer.  When you’re looking for a designer, ask for samples of other work that they’ve done.  If they’re a professional, they should have a portfolio of work to share with you.  Be clear on the terms of how much it will cost you up front, including if they charge for any changes like typos or the wrong photo, etc.  Some professionals will charge a flat fee, some will do it per hour.  According to Scarlett Rugers, a book cover designer from Australia, if you want the kind of cover you see from the major publishing houses, you can expect to pay somewhere between $500 and $1200.

johnny automaticWhy is it so pricy?  Often you’re getting unique materials, basically stuff you won’t see on other covers.  They won’t be using templates, your cover will be completely unique.  However, you can it done for a lot less, just remember the other adage: you get what you pay for.

If you are going to go the cheaper route, make sure you do ask for samples of previous work.  It also never hurts to Google their name to see if they’re legit, or at least see that no negative hits show up in your browser.  Get all the terms up front, and at the very least have them send you all this information including total cost in an email, then print it out for your records.

Having both worked with freelancers and worked freelance myself, I find it’s always a good idea in any sort of transaction.  Often in the graphic design world, this is called having them send you over their bid—although that’s usually with business professionals vs. freelancers.  But the point being, get it in writing before you surrender any of your $$$.

We’ve already discussed a few things you can do to help your designer help you, but let’s pull it altogether in one spot.  Your designer likely doesn’t have time and unless they’re a really good friend probably won’t read your entire book before designing your cover for you.  But they don’t necessarily have to.  This is where your own preparation will come in handy in getting you the cover you want.


Bright colors, swirling magical sky, lightning, and a bus. Appeals to the right age group while incorporating elements from the actual story.

One of the things you should have ready right away for your designer is the book blurb they’ll put on the back or that you’ll use to describe your book for the e-reading audience.  In addition to a book blurb, prepare a one-page summary that gives them an idea of what kind of story it is—not necessarily a synopsis, but something that helps them know what the book is about.  Imagine you’re telling them about one of your favorite books or movies they’ve never seen.  What kinds of things would you point out to them if they were designing a cover for that?  What kinds of things would you point out for them to design your cover with?

Bring your list of adjectives and any other descriptive words to give them an idea of the kind of mood you want to convey on the cover.  You’re a writer, so descriptions should be old hat for you. 😉

You might also consider finding covers you like or even art or advertisements and bring them as samples of what you’re hoping for.

cowboy boots

If your book is a western, a picture like this could be great inspiration for cover design. They might use that leather look as a book border or to stylize the font, etc.

At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask them to contribute.  I worked with a videographer where I told him what we definitely needed for footage, but told him more of the kind of mood we were trying to convey and expressed I was totally open to him bringing his own artistry and creativity to the table.  He came up with shots that I wasn’t sure about at first, but looking at the footage later I realized were fantastic.

Graphic designers are creative people too with their own fabulous ideas.  Do your best to strike a balance between the two of you.  You don’t want to end up with a cover you don’t like because you didn’t say anything, but that can also happen because you were too controlling.  Again, it’s all about balance.

Remember that cheap and fast usually never equal great.  So if you must go the cheap route, expect that it could take a little longer than you’d like.


Do some preparation work so that you can clearly tell your designer what your story is about and the mood you want to convey. Bring the following to your designer:

  • Book Blurb
  • One-Page Book Summary
  • List of Adjectives and Other Helpful Words
  • Samples of the Look You Want

The difference in using a professional can be massive.  You’ve already seen what even the slightest bit of thought can do to improve a book cover in my previous post.  Remember Dark Midnight?

litandscribbles jae deon richmond

But do self-published authors really put that much effort into their covers?  Do they really go out and find a good designer?  Many I could find on the Twitterverse hadn’t and I was feeling a little discouraged for the self-publishing industry.  That was until I came across a book called Sempre by J.M. Darhower.

sempre darhowerMs. Darhower was kind enough to let me feature her cover here as what I think we can all call a success when it comes to book cover design.  Not only is it very appealing, but it tells us a lot about her story before we even read the book blurb.  The cover is white, probably to portray innocence.  Yet there’s a gun and a bloodied rose.  So we know there will be some kind of danger involved, likely life-threatening.  Then the bloodied rose… Since roses tend to symbolize romance, we infer there’s probably some kind of threatened or fading romance along with the loss of innocence.

I read her GoodReads book summary, and yep, pretty much her cover is spot on at giving us a sense of the story.  (And both the summary and the cover make it so tantalizing, don’t you think?  Grab it on Amazon here.)

She did it right.  So should you.

Tomorrow we finish up the series with the Bottom Line.  See you then!

Judge a Book By Its Cover

How many times have you heard the old adage:

Never judge a book by its cover.

Well today, my lovelies, I’m here to tell you that if you’re an author that’s a load of bantha poodoo.  Everyone will judge your book by its cover.  Granted what’s in between that cover should be the gold bomb diggety, but repel potential readers you will if you don’t put at least one-quarter the energy you put into writing the book into creating the cover.

litandscribbles gold diggety jae

Your work should explode into awesomeness every time the reader opens it.

This doesn’t mean you need to design the cover yourself, and unless you’re a graphic designer or artist, please hand that task off to someone else.

I do graphic design among other things for a living.  No, I’m not the greatest graphic designer in the world.  That title belongs to Paul Rand or Milton Glaser.  But I do know horrible when I see it, and unfortunately I see a lot of that in self-pub covers.

But all is not lost!  You can have a good cover, possibly even a great cover if you only take into consideration a few things when pulling it together.
Remember, your book cover is your initial sales pitch to your readers.

These tips will apply mostly to self-pubbers but traditional route authors will also want to take note.  Both of you may work with a designer, and the more direction you can give them the better your cover will likely turn out.

Let’s begin at the core.


As I said previously, your book cover is your initial sales pitch to a potential reader.  You want it to be eye-catching, alluring, intriguing—but to the right audience.  Let’s start with two books as examples: Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Twilight.

These are both well-designed book covers, brought to you thanks to the $$$ the publishing houses had to pay a good designer.  But why are they good covers?  What do they convey?  Even if you’re not consciously thinking it, when you look at a cover, it’s sending you all sorts of messages.  Let’s start with Diary of a Wimpy Kid and you can see what I mean.

diary of a wimpy kidBright, vibrant colors.  This tells us this book is probably for kids, but also promises to be something fun.  It’s fashioned like a real diary with modifications, re-emphasizing this will be the journal entries of some kid.  The font itself looks more hand-written, like a comic.  And you have a picture from the comics inside, torn out and taped on the front, probably the way a kid would design this book.  Then we get a picture of the kid himself, and yep, he does look wimpy—all hunched over and frowning.

TwilightNow compare that with Twilight.  Black background, light or white text.  The arms are pale.  The only color they do use is red, like blood, but still quite muted.  If you knew nothing about Twilight, looking at this cover you would still know it’s a story about something dark.  The apple suggests temptation.  The title has a sort of fantastical/magic look to it.  Some kind of dark temptation involving something magical.  These are things we notice and process—probably subconsciously for most of us.

But let’s take it one step further so you can understand the big difference between these two approaches.  If we were to switch them up, you can easily see why choosing the appropriate colors and moods for your book cover conveys a lot about what kind of story you’ve got.

diary of a vampy kid

moldy cheese jeff kinney

I hope you’re beginning to see how different designs make things funny or creepy or whatever you’re intending.  You’ve just got to put the right elements together (or rather the designer does) and you can have an intriguing cover that tells you something about the book.  It honestly doesn’t even have to be that complex.

outliers malcolm gladwellTake this book cover for example.  Simple, but effective.  It’s white, kind of sterile, like it’s all business.  It has some beads on it, one is separate, closer to the title Outliers—purposely conveying the concept of being an outlier.  Granted this particular design it probably more suited to non-fiction, but my point is you can have a good design that isn’t as complex as one of the American covers for the Harry Potter series.

This makes for a good introduction to book covers, and hopefully you’re beginning to understand a little better what kind of thought should go into your cover—whether you’re doing it yourself or not.  You’ve got to think about who your biggest audience is, what kind of story you’ve got and the best way to convey that, and most importantly of all the cover should be something that says, “I put more than 5 seconds worth of thought into this cover.

This is turning into a longer post than I had anticipated, so let’s continue in the following sections:

I’ll share some examples of self-pub authors who did it right, and do my best to recreate some of the less than good covers I’ve seen floating around the Twitterverse.  See you tomorrow with Colors, Fonts, & Photos!