I love--and hate--working on book covers. I get very excited, and very anxious. I spent too much time yesterday toying with all sorts of ideas. Here's where I began.
I liked it a lot, but I was told it felt too middle grade and not scary enough to be YA. I toyed around with different versions of this cover, as you'll see below.
But this just seemed to complicate things. So, I decided to simplify. Even though the book is called "Pumpkins," I decided to pare it down to just one. This is how it came out.
For font aficionados, the title font is from the original Halloween movie, and the series title font was used on a lot of old Stephen King novels. (Speaking of which, the font for the original cover is from the movie Scream.)
I really like this cover. It's simple and emotive, but after showing it to my kids--two of whom are in the YA market, they kiboshed it. They didn't feel it was scary enough or that it told enough of the story. They also felt it still skewed too young for my intended audience. Perhaps a scarier or different style pumpkin would help, but ultimately, I decided--woefully--to go in a completely different direction. However, I may still test a version of this at some point. I'll update you on that process as well. Right now I have an artist and a cover designer working on two separate versions of the same concept.
I've never featured an interview on this blog before, but it's something I plan to do regularly this year to help feature some of the other great middle-grade authors and series out there.
First out of the gate is fellow Canadian author and British Columbia resident Rae Knightly (although she's also lived in Mexico City, Brussels, Tucson, Edinburgh, and Cape Town), author of the Alien Skill Series. Below is a quick overview of the series, followed by my interview with her.
When UFOs crash into the fields next to his grandfather’s house, twelve-year-old Ben Archer becomes a cumbersome witness in the eyes of the government. Not only that, but Ben discovers he has been entrusted with an alien power, the significance of which could jeopardize human life on Earth.
Hi, Rae. What was your initial inspiration for the Alien Skill Series?
My aim was to create a story set in the real world where a young protagonist is faced with fantastical situations. I figured that idea alone would allow readers to be transported from their normal lives into a world of adventure and wonder.
Based on that, I either needed to enter the realm of fantasy or science-fiction, and since I have a soft spot for aliens (because I’m sure some form of alien life exists out there), I decided this fantastical element would come from an encounter with an alien being. My main character (Ben Archer) goes on the run from government agents with this alien (Mesmo), without knowing the extraterrestrial’s true intentions.
From there the story began to unfold as I wrote it, with Mesmo’s mission on Earth becoming ever clearer and linked to current events in the real world.
What I enjoy the most, though, is developing interactions between characters and finding out who they are, what their goals are and what it means to become a hero.
Who were some of your early inspirations as a writer?
As a single child, books were my companions, and I devoured all the Famous Five, Secret Seven, Nancy Drew, and Hardy Boys books. The Dark is Rising trilogy by Susan Cooper definitely topped my list. I also read and reread many books by Monica Hughes (such as Earthdark) and Lois Duncan (such as Stranger with my Face). I devoured Terry Brooks’ The Shannara Chronicles, The Ice People by Rene Barjavel, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell,and Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist.
What draws you to write for middle-grade readers?
To be honest, I thought I was writing for young adults, but after consulting with more experienced authors and editors, I heard about middle-grade books. I was thrilled to fall in that category! After all, it’s at that age (around eleven or twelve) that I discovered a love for reading, so it seemed fitting to deliver magic and adventure to that same age group.
What made you decide to self-publish your series?
When you’ve never written or published anything before, it’s hard to know if your stories will strike a chord with readers. I figured that going the traditional route was a long shot, so I decided to self-publish instead and get some feedback. Things grew from there and I’m over the moon with the way things are going!
What are some of the biggest benefits of being a self-published author?
The biggest benefit is that I have total control over my work. Since writers are creative people, self-publishing allows us to express our creativity in any way we wish, not only in terms of writing but also in terms of marketing. For example, I love to post pictures of nature but don’t enjoy taking selfies. That means Instagram is a good platform for me, whereas I struggle with TikTok.
Fortunately, I discovered that I enjoy marketing just as much as I enjoy writing, which is a blessing because marketing books can take as much time as writing them! I am my own boss, I adjust my working hours according to my family’s needs, and I have learned to treat my writing as a business.
What are some of the biggest challenges of publishing independently?
The biggest challenge is that I have total control over my work. Yes! You read that right! Because I have total control over my work, it also means I have to do everything on my own: come up with story ideas, write them, find editors and book cover designers, find readers, figure out publishing platforms, such as Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and IngramSpark, study marketing strategies, figure out tax issues, maintain active social media platforms and a functional website . . . The tasks are endless! Sometimes I wish I could clone myself, so one person could write and the other could do all the administrative tasks.
How do you go about creating your book covers?
I found my book cover designer on the website 99designs. It turned out to be the best investment I ever made. I ran a contest on 99designs and received eighty book cover submissions from which to choose. I chose four covers and asked reader groups to vote for their favourite. In essence, I let the public pick the book cover, which is how you are going to capture readers; attention in the first place. Sometimes it’s not about what the author wants but what readers want, and nothing is truer than for a book cover.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently wrapping up book 6 in the Alien Skill Series. It’s been a wonderful, emotional adventure, but I must now tell a story of another hero in The Lost Space Treasure Series, which has its roots in the same universe as the Alien Skill Series. I plan to publish this new series in early 2022.
I usually have a pretty clear idea of how I want the covers for my books to look. The same goes for interior illustrations and comic book panels. The problem is communicating my ideas to the artist I'm working with. Considering my limited artistic skills, that's always a significant challenge.
Right now I'm in the midst of writing book 1 in the Uncanny Icons series, which I'm developing for YA (young adult) readers. Each book in the series is based around a different Halloween icon, the kind you see in windows and in classroom walls around that time of year. For example, book 1 is called Pumpkins, book 2 is called Brooms (it'll be about witches), book 3 is called Fangs (vampires), and so on.
I'm in the midst of writing Pumpkins right now (nearly halfway through my first draft). I'm very excited about how things are going, so I thought it was time to bring in a cover artist to help usher the book into reality. For this book (and hopefully this entire series) I'm partnering once again with Hannah Doerksen, who did such a great job on illustrating Randolph the Yellow Snowman.
I tried to describe what I was looking for in a cover, but when Hannah's first draft came through, I realized I hadn't done a very good job of communicating. So, yesterday I took pen in hand and produced the following.
I realize it's not brilliant, but I was actually surprised at how closely I managed to replicate what I was seeing in my mind (minus a few details, which I communicated to Hannah in writing). We'll see if this helps the process along.
Creating covers is always a stressful process for me, but it's always exciting when things finally come together. I'll post subsequent drafts as they come in.
Randolph the Yellow Snowman is a quirky children's picture book that was so much fun to create. So, it's always gratifying to see how it's received by others. So far it's generating a lot of great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Here are a few excerpts.
Due to the pandemic, I'm really going to miss the opportunity to tour across Western Canada doing author visits, but that doesn't mean I can't visit your school. I'm happy to announce that I'll be doing virtual author visits via the digital platform of your choice. The good news is, that also allows me to expand my reach well beyond Western Canada. If you're interesting in having me broadcast my smiling face to your classroom, just contact me, and we can work out the pricing and logistics.
The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and the Regina Leader Post just published a short article I wrote about Snowbound! and Randolph the Yellow Snowman. You can read it here.
While the pandemic has been great for book sales, it's really cramping my style when it comes to doing author visits and writing workshops at schools, which I have done throughout Western Canada over the last five years. I'd say such things are virtually impossible right now, but "virtually" could be the only way I'll be able to do it. It's not nearly the same as spending a day at a school and interacting with hundreds of students face-to-face, but I want to at least make myself available online, so look for an update soon on how this will look. I'm thinking of a combination of live events on Zoom or a similar platform as well as short lectures on different aspects of story development that I can record and then upload to YouTube, making them available for schools as a bonus for ordering my books. If you're a teacher, and there's some specific content you'd like to see to help your creative writing and/or language arts program, just let me know.
I have a "light horror" novel for teens (think Stranger Things) called Pumpkins that I've been planning to write for a couple of years, and I'm finally ready to pull the trigger. To help prime the pump and inspire me to keep going, it's always fun to see what the finished novel will look like. So, I spent a bit of time coming up with a new design. Check it out here, which will also allow you to read the first chapter.
Brief thoughts and updates on writing, publishing, and life