Thursday, September 17, 2015

3 Reasons the ‘Look of Your Book’ is important

My own experience is that the look of a book is second only to the contents of a book in importance. It’s that other artistic expression that will sell it, explain it, express it, and hold it in the readers’ imaginations. Tonight, I’ll be appearing on a panel discussion titled, “The Look of the Book” at the Writers League of Texas. I’m looking forward to hearing what my fellow panelists have to say. Here’s why I think the design and cover art of a book is so important.
1)   The cover is the number one marketing tool.
I happen to be a published author as well as a book designer. I’ve been through the marketing paces, so to speak. For my first published book, The Legend of Juan Miguel, which was an bestseller in 2014, I was an integral part of the marketing planning. I learned a great deal from the woman who actually did the marketing. One of the first things she asked me when we began was, “Do you have a good cover? A good cover will make or break a book.”
            Many authors these days concentrate on ebook sales because, frankly, for many of us, that’s where the money is. And ebooks are sold online, mostly through book marketing sites. The first thing browsers of those sites see is the book covers. Sometimes that’s all they see. Many of them judge the books solely on the covers. Or the covers and the first few lines of the sales blur. If the book cover doesn’t catch their attention, the book has no second chance.
2)   The cover image kick starts the reader’s imagination.
Writers—especially fiction writers, but nonfiction writers too—have to catch the reader’s imagination within the first few pages. The story should begin to live in the reader’s mind very early in the process or the reader will close the book and never open it again. The characters and how they look and sound need to come alive in their heads and the book cover often kick starts this process. The reader uses the image on the cover to set the scene in his/her own mind and begin to visualize-fantasize the story. Even a nonfiction book needs to present a good visual for the reader. Thus, all of the photos, charts, and lists often contained in a nonfiction book.
      Without this visual advantage, your readers are swimming in uncharted territory. They’re relying solely on your word descriptions and we all know how tricky description can be. Too much or too little loses the reader. A good descriptive cover image, along with a compatible back cover and inside design, are the author’s main visual aids.
3)   A professionally done design makes your book look professional.
Nothing says “amateur” like a homemade, not-very-good book cover. It’s like broadcasting to the world that you’re just “dabbling” and are not a serious author who’s willing to put time and money into the book’s presentation. Don’t brand your book as a throw-away, unprofessional, amateurish effort by throwing together your own book cover. Your book and you as an author will be forever branded that way.

Visit my book design website, www.idbks.comMy published novels, The Legend of Juan Miguel and The Passion of Juan Miguel, are available on 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

I am the defector, out of step with the walking dead

Leonardo da Vinci famously said, “I awoke only to find that the rest of the world is still asleep.” I know what he means. Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, there’s just no stuffing it back in. Once you’re truly awake, you can sedate yourself, you can hit yourself over the head, you can try lulling yourself with falsehoods, but you just can’t fall back to sleep.
I woke up seven years ago after a severe illness and I’ve been blindingly awake ever since. I awoke to how absolutely unimportant were the things I’d striven for, how empty were my ambitions. What is really important in this life became crystal clear and now it smacks me in the face every day.
That point was driven home to me a few days ago when I tried very, very hard to backslide. I took a job working for a company that does layout and design for hundreds of newspapers all over the country. Actually, I was recruited, so I have somewhat of an excuse for dabbling in the dark side. I worked exactly one day and believe me, I barely made it through those nine hours. Rows and rows of people staring into their computer screens—on deadline—under pressure—in an industrial-style facility akin to a modern sweatshop. During the training, I kept distracting myself by trying to see through the door, over the heads of the workers, through another door, and out a window that looked out on a parking lot with one lone tree. Whew! Enough of that nonsense.
I went home, grabbed something to drink, and sat down to write. Thank you, Lord, for the sanctuary of writing and the blessed freedom to think.
To what do I attribute my defection? A roadblock in my soul with a sign that says, “No turning back. You’ve come this far, don’t be afraid to go farther.” I’m like Siddhartha of old, who by the end of his life had shed the layers of his worldly skins, leaving him defenseless and capable of little else but being aware. And what a big job that is.
If there are others like me, then fine. If not and I am alone, then fine. If I’m just that crazy lady who writes, then fine. God didn’t put me here to march in lockstep with the walking dead. He put me here to connect to the divine in my nature and once I did that, I became authentic. For that there is no cure.
I’m sure you know “I am the defector” is from the song, The Great Defector, by Bell X1. It goes on: “The accountants have taken the movie, Yeah, they’re on the set.” I don’t know exactly what the songwriter meant, but those two lines are pretty descriptive of American life as we know it right now. 
My published novels, The Legend of Juan Miguel and The Passion of Juan Miguel, are available on

Monday, August 24, 2015

Making something out of nothing, the backdrop to beautiful thoughts

Art is made in desolation and in desperate circumstances sometimes. Well, most of the time. Very few secure, comfortable people think about creating something. What do they think about? Beats me. I’m not one of them.
I recently broke my foot, which forced me to sit down and write a book. Maybe I would have written it anyway but definitely not with such pathos. Pain and pathos seem to go together.
Last year, a good friend of mine wrote a book about what was arguably the worst time in his life. And yet, he wrote a wonderful, funny book—so wonderful, in fact, that he sent it off to one—I repeat one—publisher and they accepted it for publication. Do you know how rare that is?
            His book, Loaded South, chronicles his adventures and misadventures driving a cab in Austin during the height of Austin’s hippie-dippy, celebrity-ridden, blues-and-country-band-laden period. It was a lost time in his life but out of it came an endearing tale. He took something bad and made it something good.
            Hailing from Lubbock, Clay was familiar with that whole process of seeing the funny in the ridiculous. (My favorite Clay story about Lubbock is that he once had a history teacher there who told the class that Abraham Lincoln committed suicide. When Clay objected, he was sent to the principal’s office.) People say, even songwriters sing, that “you can’t live in Texas unless you’ve got a lot of soul” and rightly so. It has to do with accepting what you have and making it something wonderful.
Singer-songwriter Sarah Jaffe has got a lot of soul. She’s from Denton, Texas, north of Dallas. If you’ve been there, you know how much soul she has to have. It’s in direct proportion to the loneliness and downright dreariness of that north Texas town. But loneliness and dreariness can be advantages. They can be the backdrop to beautiful thoughts. Sarah’s song, Clementine, is her beautiful thoughts put to music. As you listen, you know there is a problem but you don’t know what it is. She longs to be more delicate. She longs to be named Clementine. She isn’t either of those things. But she is a great artist.
            If you want to see paintings full of longing, look at the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh. The longing is palpable. He had so much passion and he had nowhere to put it except the canvas. He became one of the most famous and celebrated artists who ever lived. But in his life, he had nothing. Nothing but his art. He accepted that and made it something wonderful.

            Kudos to Clay and all of the other creators who create something from nothing.
            My published novels, The Legend of Juan Miguel and The Passion of Juan Miguel, are available on

Monday, June 15, 2015

Archetype and stereotype are a little too close for comfort

            In fiction, as in life, if you try to control people too much, they become tiresome. You have to treat your characters the way you treat your family and friends. Let them solve their own problems. Let them have their foibles. Let them make their own mistakes. Writers know that solving problems too soon or asking your characters to be perfect are the death knells for the plot.
            I recently attended a session for writers given by novelist Paula d’Etcheverry, a former successful romance writer who now has set her sites on other genres. She gave a great talk. I receive a few priceless nuggets anytime I listen to another writer. This time, the nuggets were about characterization and how that relates to keeping the plot interesting.
            “Until we know what a character wants, we don’t know what the story is about,” Paula wrote in her handout. And also, “Until we know what the stakes are, we don’t care.”
            Wise words, indeed. Sometimes we forget that the readers don’t, and shouldn’t, know all that we know about our characters. We have to illustrate their dilemma through their words and deeds.
            Paula has her own way of creating interesting characters. She bases them on archetypes—heroes, bad guys, helpers, guardians, truth tellers, etc. To a certain extent, we all have those archetypes embedded in our psyches from past stories and from our own experiences.
            Here is the danger: the word archetype and the word stereotype are dangerously close in meaning. Besides that, the word type is one-half of those two compound words. And type is the root word of typical. No writer wants his or her characters to be typical because typical is boring. It’s a fine line to walk between typecast characters and real, human, breathing characters who reverberate within the recesses of our soul. It’s up to the writer to walk that fine line so that the reader never discerns the balancing act.
            Those of us who enjoy a more organic method of writing fiction will never sit down and chart characters based on a list of archetypes. For many of us, that is just too pat. But Paula makes the point, and I think she’s right, that without archetypes, stories are too weird for the reader to comprehend.
            Here are some helpful lists she gave us. Interesting goals for characters: win, escape, stop, and retrieve. Interesting characteristics for characters: sympathy, jeopardy, likability, humor, and power. Those are all true but a good plot with good characters is so much more. Sometimes I think that it’s simply a gift of the gods.
             My published novels, The Legend of Juan Miguel and The Passion of Juan Miguel are available on


Monday, March 9, 2015

From John Graves to Rick Bragg, we all write about ourselves

Who is Juan Miguel? Who is he based on? People often ask me about the main character of my fiction series and they are often disappointed when I have to tell them that Juan Miguel is me. As writers, we just cannot escape ourselves. All of the characters, the motives, the feelings, the thoughts, and the language belong to the author.
What many of us as writers don’t realize at first but start to realize later is that everything you write is about you. You can write about the weather. It’s about you. You can write about your mother. It’s about you. You can write a novel. It’s about you. You can write about mashed potatoes. It’s about you.
I give the same advice to aspiring writers, young and old alike, including myself. Tell a good story. You’ll be in there somewhere—probably everywhere.
Goodbye to a River is one of the best stories I’ve ever read. Somehow Texas writer John Graves makes it compelling that he took a canoe trip down the Brazos River in the 1950s, a short time before the river was to be dammed and much of the scenery and wildlife obliterated in the process. It’s a great read and contained within the big story are many wonderful small stories, past and present. His observations and knowledge are priceless.
In this Texas classic that has won numerous literary awards, Mr. Graves managed to avoid the many pitfalls of writing about himself, and he did it quite artfully.
You can usually tell rookie writers because they want to write about themselves in memoir style, as if they were a character in a novel. “I did this, I did that, I saw this, I said that, and then he did this to me and she said that to me and blah blah blah, nobody cares.”
The trick is to reveal yourself to yourself and everyone else while talking about something else. Then it’s interesting. Then somebody cares.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some great memoirs out there. Running With Scissors, Augusten Burroughs’ indictment of his liberal upbringing and the dysfunctional family who adopted him, is one. Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt’s anecdotal retelling of his childhood in Brooklyn and Ireland, is another. My all-time favorite memoir is All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg. It’s a book about growing up southern and I can relate to that. Mr. Bragg, you tell one hell of a story.
What do the great memoirists have in common? They have great life stories to tell. Not all of us do. Were my struggles at Sam Houston Junior High School as interesting as Rick Bragg’s struggles growing up poor, fatherless, and practically homeless? No, frankly they weren’t. And very few of us can write like Rick Bragg or John Graves. Lucky bastards.
My published novels, The Legend of Juan Miguel and The Passion of Juan Miguel are available on