Writing Tips with Laura Mizvaria Video

Check it out! A collab I did with Chris Howard from his channel Pun Diddley! I hope you like it!

 

Questions:

Have you struggled with any of these issues?

What tips have you found to be most useful that you’d like to share?

 

 

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Story Sparks #4

You can use these ideas but rephrase them in your own words. If you use the exact idea credit me, but if you use your own version of the idea no credit required!

Dialogue

“I make it a point to become friends with people’s enemies.”

“I will either live gloriously or die gloriously. There is no in between.”

“I have nothing to apologize for. And even if I did, I wouldn’t. So there.”

“I’d been turned down so many times I figured that by now, chance HAD to be on my side. It doesn’t even make sense mathematically that someone could fail so many times and not get lucky even once.”

“I’m glad salvation isn’t through works, because today I’m not gonna be perfect.”

“What’s your favorite color?”

“Gunpowder grey.”

“I’m sure you meant that to sound all tough and manly but that sounds like a Crayola color name.”

Scraps

The city’s air was thick and smelled of wet leaves and old coins.

Everyone always bewares of the quiet broody ones in hoodies. But the really scary ones are the chatty, kawaii, bubbly ones you never see coming.

“One has but to look at you and one sees, here’s a woman who may be happy or unhappy, but isn’t bored.” –quote from Anna Kerenina.

The world rushes past the car window. Trees flicker by, blurred like looking out from a spinning carousel. The wheels churn the ground leaving a trail of gold dust in the air and light paints the tops of the trees in orange as the sun recedes behind the mountains. I will it to linger, for those lighted canopies are the last thing my hungry eyes can hold on to.

A very Sherlock style deduction: if someone watches one channel a lot, the logo watermark of the channel may be burned into the person’s TV screen.

“The Worst of Both Worlds” (would be an amusing book title)

A guy who is so antisocial he goes into a drive-in instead of a theatre to see movies, so he can sit inside his car, not next to people.

A guy has a cat and often brings the cat to visit his mother in a very nice care facility that he provides for her, where they have nice rooms and windows and sunshine. His mother has a fixation with painting flower pots, so he brings her flowers to put in the pots. He also brings his cat there to visit her which she enjoys very much. The sad part? His mother has severe memory loss and doesn’t remember her son, and ends up remembering the cat more than him. So he ends up being jealous of his own cat, but still faithfully visits his mother. (This was actually an idea I had for an antagonist…because I believe in rounded antagonists and wanted to show a soft side!)

“ Delusional disorder is an uncommon psychiatric condition in which the patients present with delusions, but with no accompanying prominent hallucinations, thought disorder, mood disorder, or significant flattening of affect.[1][2]Delusions are a specific symptom of psychosis. Non-bizarre delusions are fixed false beliefs that involve situations that could potentially occur in real life; examples include being followed or poisoned.[3] Apart from their delusions, people with delusional disorder may continue to socialize and function in a normal manner and their behavior does not generally seem odd or bizarre.[4]However, the preoccupation with delusional ideas can be disruptive to their overall lives.” –Wikipedia

Do You Love Your Story Enough to Commit to It?


Today the this blog is honored to welcome a guest post from a young author, Rachelle O’Neil!

Relationships take work, whether they be with a parent, sibling, friend, or spouse. It is universally acknowledged that, in order to have a successful relationship that goes beyond the barest superficiality, you’re going to need to invest some hard work into it. And that requires a commitment to the relationship. Writers have another type of relationship that they cultivate: the relationship with their stories. And our stories are like some of our deepest relationships with people: they depend upon an intense commitment. So the question then is this: Do You Love Your Story Enough to Commit to It?

Commitment, though an easy enough word to say, is a difficult concept to truly understand. According to dictionary.com, “commitment” is a “a promise or pledge; an obligation.” So how does it apply to our stories?

Commitment is being faithful:

In a successful romantic relationship, each member is faithful to the other. As marriage vows go, “forsaking all others…” I’ve heard many writing friends describe the way they jump around from story to story, and I’m no stranger to the tendency, either. When we get slightly bored with our current story, we tend to work on something else and let the current work slide. Now, understand that I’m not saying you can’t work on multiple projects at once. I do urge caution, though, since you can only spread yourself so far. But the important part is that you’re actually seeing each of these projects through to completion, not just playing with different ones until you get bored. In human relationships, that’s called cheating or playing the field. Don’t get sucked into the trap of being unfaithful to your story. “The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating – in work, in play, in love.” – Anne Morriss

Commitment is sticking out the messy and hard times:

Sometimes, you get stuck in a rut. And that rut isn’t always pleasant. In a marriage, it may be the daily grind of diapers and 3am feedings. In writing, it might be times your characters aren’t behaving or the plot gets stuck about halfway through the draft. It can also be research and editing; I find myself slipping away from my story now that I’m ready to edit. And I can’t let myself give up on all the work I’ve done. Besides, I still love this story; it’s just hard. It’s so tempting to give up on your story when nothing seems to be going right. But that’s when your commitment (or lack thereof) shows through. Anyone can want to write a book; you must prove that you WILL write that book. Besides, if writing was easy, everyone would do it, and where would the fun be in that? In addition, the trials you go through to write will make your story unique. As the grandmother in the movie Letters to Juliet says, “Life is the messy bits.”

Commitment is reminding yourself why you fell in love:

At the beginning of a relationship, everything is fun and exciting. Those moments when you first get the inkling of this story idea, figure out your main character’s backstory, and come up with a brilliant title. Those are the beginnings of your story, and they are incredibly fun. They’re when you fall in love with your story and decide to make this a long-term thing. But as the actual writing and editing processes go on, you forget what made you so excited. You get frustrated and confused and maybe even bored. When those times come, you’ve got to remind yourself what was so neat about this idea. Why did you light up when it came time to work on this story? Why did it make your creativity bounce all over the realms of possibility? Why did it fill your heart? Look back; rediscover your character sketches and drawings; delve into an aspect of the story that always fascinated you. I love designing outfits on Doll Divine, and, though I tend to get distracted on there, the time spent usually does get me excited about my story again. Create Pinterest boards for your story; do freewriting exercises; deepen backstory. There are many things you can do to remind yourself why you love it. Take advantage of them. “When work, commitment, and pleasure all become one and you reach that deep well where passion lives, nothing is impossible.” – attributed to either FranĀois de la Rochefoucauld or Nancy Coey

Commitment is choosing your relationships wisely:

Not every person you’re attracted to will make your perfect mate. In the same way, not every story idea that pops into your head is meant to be. I have story ideas overflowing from my mind, but not every one of them can support its own story. And, honestly, I’m not really in love with some of them. Writing a book is a long-term commitment; you can’t just choose any story idea that pops into your head. Single out the ideas that make you glow with excitement, the ones that have the potential for depth, and the ones that can stand the fires of writing. And then commit yourself to those ideas. “There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstances permit. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.” – Unknown

So, are you committed to your story? How hard has it been to work on it through good times and bad? How do you cope with the struggles inherent in the writing and editing processes? Let me know in the comments; I’d love to hear your thoughts!

_____________________________________________________

Rachelle O’Neil is a young author with a passion for Tolkien, temperaments, and Truth. Though she’s always loved writing, she took her first plunge into serious storytelling with the One Year Adventure Novel (OYAN) program and has just continued to learn since then. She has a thousand stories in nearly that many different genres floating around in her head, on her computer, and scattered across various notebooks that she dreams of one day bringing to life. She blogs every Friday at The Ink Loft and can be found on Twitter and Pinterest.

11 Awesome Websites for Writers

Here I list some of my favorite online resources for fiction writing tips and inspiration! And no, nobody’s compensating me in any way to promote these.

GoTeenWriters.blogspot.com

Other writers I follow are constantly posting articles from this site, and for good reason! You don’t have to be a teen to take advantage of their extensive writers-education articles on topics like character background, getting published, how to get good inspiration, developing ideas, writing prompts, and much more! They’ve also got a great Pinterest account and a Facebook group with a fun and helpful community.

WritersWrite.co.za

If you’ve been in the online writing community long, chances are you’ve come across Amanda Patterson’s Writers Write blog. She has many posts on everything writing related, from plotting to book promotion and author quotes to writing humor. One of the best things about her site is that in addition to her posts, she has many guests posts from other experienced writers. This site also serves as a promotion for Writer’s Write courses for purchase.

Springhole.net

Plot generators, character quizzes, articles on world-building, name generators, the Mary Sue test–this website has it all! Note that it also has a lot of role-playing related stuff, but has a large emphasis on writing fiction. Springhole.net provides all kinds of writer-resources, from a town description generator and articles on naming characters, to a science fiction plot generator and tips on how to create better fantasy species. So check it out; there’s a lot to browse through!

HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com

K.M. Weiland’s website is a favorite of mine, with tons of helpful articles. She covers a wide range of topics with in-depth quality content. While beginners can benefit, she goes beyond the basics in order to help you take your writing to the next level! She also an awesome YouTube channel with writing advice and has several books on various aspects of writing, which look excellent though I haven’t read them yet.

BehindTheName.com

This is my go-to website for name meanings and history, and their random yet customizable name generator is a favorite of mine! With a forum all about names, name meaning theme lists, and more, it’s a haven for naming characters.

WritingForward.com

Prompts, grammar tips, exercises, publishing advice, inspiration, and much more for all types of writing! Taking advantage of this site could make you an expert on all things writing! The site has great organization to help you discover what interests you from their archives.

Creative-Writing-Now.com

This site covers novel writing, but also has resources for other types of creative writing, even scripting. The site is well-organized, so just browse around for whatever writing type, genre, and topic you are interested in! Similar to Writer’s Write, this site also promotes writing courses for purchase, but has plenty of great free resources.

BeKindRewrite.com

This site covers all things fiction, including writing prompts, writer resources, tips on character development and exposition, writing inspiration, “fiction philosophy,” and more. While this site may not be as polished as some of the others, it’s fun and bubbly with a lot of interesting articles and posts to check out!

JodyHedlund.com

Jody’s author page includes a blog that has many articles for writers on topics such as editing, getting published, developing characters, time management, mechanics, and pre-writing.

Tumblr.com

Nope, Tumblr isn’t just SuperWhoLock and weird GIFs, it actually has a lot of great writing blogs. Here’s a few to get you started:

prompts-and-pointers.tumblr.com

writing-questions-answered.tumblr.com

a-writers-help.tumblr.com

its-a-writer-thing.tumblr.com

thesarcasticmuse.tumblr.com

thewritingcafe.tumblr.com

referenceforwriters.tumblr.com

idareyoutowrite.tumblr.com

 

Pinterest

It’s not just for cupcakes and wedding dresses, Pinterest has a huge writing community that pin a bevy of resources—from character inspiration to info about various ways to poison your protagonist, to the proper way to write a villain. This is my main source for writing inspiration and tips. Here are some Pinners who have some good pin boards for inspiration and tips:

@writersreleif

@jesskhoury

@amandaonwriting

@brennach

@writingmaverick

@kmweiland

@stardaniels

@novelistunite

@drcrusher

@xdamselflyx

@sarahselecky (her writing prompts board!)

@ellastark

@thescorpioracer

@sjtesh

Disclaimer: Not all of the things recommended here are guaranteed to always be 100% appropriate in terms of mature content, language, topic, etc. View at your own discretion.

What are some of YOUR favorite online writing resources or people to follow? Comment and tell me!

Story Structure: Plot Points

 
 
 

A story without structure is like a body without bones: it’s messy and won’t get very far. Structure gives both you and your readers a clear sense of direction and purpose. If you check around for story structure outlines, many of them will based on Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet. It is a basic plot structure, typically used in screenwriting. However, it can really apply to any media form because it follows a basic three act structure. This one is somewhat based on Snyder’s outline as well. Note that all of the elements of this outline are not completely set in stone, but this is a good structure for sequence of events. Sometimes it’s hard to analyze exactly where every point of a story falls into the beat sheet, but you’ll get the idea. The three most basic ingredients you need before you can fill out the details of this structure are: a protagonist, a goal, and an adversary. It also helps to have ideas about your story’s theme, your character’s hamartia, and your character’s plan to get whatever it is they want. (Note, I’m gonna talk about Disney’s Tangled a lot, and I’m not exactly sure if I lined up all the plot points right, but they make good examples.)

Act I

Opening

Your opening should be attention-grabbing and set the tone for the rest of the story. For example, in Tangled, we see a wanted poster in a shadowy forest with a humorous illustration of the co-starring character of the film, Flynn Rider, who is giving a narrative epilogue which denotes that the preceding story will be a lighthearted and amusing off-beat fairy tale.

Theme Stated

I’m not really sure how frequently novels do this, but I know that in screenplays the “theme” of the film is in some way presented, either as a statement or a question, within the first five or ten minutes of the movie. This statement is the premise which the rest of the story addresses, an obvious example being Pride and Prejudice’s opener: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” In Freaky Friday the “theme stated” is where the mother and daughter state that her life is much harder than the other’s. By the end of the story the statement can be proved, disproved, or if it’s question it can be answered—but the protagonist must not know the full truth or untruth of the premise until late in the story.

Set-Up

Nothing has happened yet, the character’s world is still business as usual, but the stage is set and ready for something life-altering. Showing your character’s life struggles and desires is important here. This is where we see how angsty yet self-conceited the socialite’s life is, how invisible the youngest daughter feels, how the 30 year old wishes he has someone to marry and start a life with him. In The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe this is when the four children go to live with Professor Kirk. In Tangled, Rapunzel wants to see the “floating lights” but Mother Gothel will not let her, saying that the world outside Rapunzel’s tower is too dangerous. So, while nothing has changed, the stage is set for action.

The Catalyst:

This is the inciting incident, the big moment, the spot where the story really starts. This is where the world is flipped upside down: the protagonist gets superpowers, the car accident happens, the protagonist discovers a mysterious old box in the attic. In Rapunzel’s case this is when Flynn comes into her tower, and in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe this is when Lucy first enters the wardrobe. The catalyst thrusts the protagonist into action and is the first key event.

Debate

This whole new world the protagonist was just thrown into can be a lot to handle, and your protagonist may not know how to deal with it. He or she usually questions how to go on, or whether to go on at all. For example, maybe he thinks he found the perfect girl, but doesn’t know if he is good enough to pursue her. Or she was offered a place as queen, but doesn’t know if she can handle such a duty. In Tangled, Rapunzel has much indecision about continuing with her adventure—she longs to see the outside world, but worries she is doing wrong to Mother Gothel by running away from the tower. In the debate stage, the protagonist still has time to turn back. Rapunzel repeatedly considered forgetting the whole thing and going back to her tower before Mother Gothel even knew what happened, but at the same time loves her newfound freedom and wants to go on the adventure. She goes back and forth like, a dozen time. Not all debate scenes have to be this extreme, but you get the idea.

Transition into Act II: The Decision

The protagonist is done debating and makes a big decision: she will get revenge on the man who killed her family, he will find the girl he loves and woo her, she will use her newfound talent to change the world, he will find the cure for the disease. In Tangled, Flynn takes Rapunzel to the Snuggly Duckling Inn, and Rapunzel is inspired to follow her dream to see the floating lights. In this section, Rapunzel commits to the adventure and there is no turning back. In The Lord of the Rings this is where Frodo decides to journey to Rivendell. The world your character knew before is gone and they are officially committed to the new journey or goal.

Act II

 
 

B Story Comes Into Play

While this comes in at different times, the B story should be introduced no later than at this point. Perhaps your A story is stealing the crown jewels, but your B story is a love story (a very common B story)—now is the time to start bringing that love story into play. In Tangled, the A story is seeing the Floating Lights and the B story is Rapunzel and Flynn’s romance. The B story begins when the friendship between Flynn and Rapunzel begins to develop into romance as they share heartfelt moments in revealing personal secrets to each other around the fire. The B story is often used to observe the A story and give insight. In the Star Wars prequels, the friendship between Anakin and Obi-Wan (the B story) plays an important role in the A story (Anakin’s turning to the dark side), but also discusses the main plot, as in where Anakin complains that Obi-Wan is holding him back (just as he believes the Jedi as a whole are holding him back from saving Padme) and where Obi-wan tries to set Anakin straight on the burning planet, but ends up mourning their lost friendship.

Fun and Games/Promise of Premise

This is what you sold your story on, the fun part that the readers want to see. If you sold your story on action, we better see a thrilling car chase, and if you sold it on romantic comedy, we better see all kinds of awkward situations with maybe some kissing thrown in. This is where we see the highlights of the genre. By choosing a certain genre, you are promising to come through to your readers on certain elements. So in a mystery story this is where we see all the cool Nancy Drew detective work, in a fantasy story we explore the strange new surroundings and creatures and in a sports story this is where we see training and maybe even minor competitions in preparation for the big game.

Midpoint

This can either be an up or down on your plot roller coaster, but from here on out things should move fast and be fairly intense—no more messing around, turn up the heat! This is where we bring in false defeat and false victory. The protagonist either thinks he lost it all or thinks he’s won. You can use one or both of these elements throughout your story, and even use them multiple times. For example, in The Princess and the Frog, this is where Tiana is able to be turned back into a human and realize her restaurant dream, but realizes it is a false victory because it is the people that matter, not the restaurant dream. In Tangled, Rapunzel is tricked into believing that Flynn has betrayed her—a false defeat. The A story and B story should also cross here. For example, the villain kidnaps the hero’s love interest (cliché, I know) and the villain tries to force her to either save her love interest or solve the A story. This puts the A and B story at tension, which is an especially good element for relationships (and, as mentioned, B stories are often relationship stories).

The Plot Thickens

Blake Snyder calls this plot point “Bad Guys Close In.” In other words, the aliens have not only landed, but they come armed; the superhero must not only save the city, but save his whole family. Things are really coming down to the wire, and the leads may wonder if winning is even possible. In The Princess and the Frog, this is where the voodoo dude tricks everyone into thinking Charlotte married Prince Naveen and Ray gets killed.

Darkest Moment

The protagonist hits bottom. It looks like things will never work out right. His love interest gets engaged to someone else, or the doctors say she cannot be cured, or he sees no way to stop the bomb from going off. The protagonist often even considers giving up. In Tangled, Rapunzel is heartbroken, thinking that her dreams are shattered and Flynn has betrayed her. She feels that perhaps Mother Gothel was right, and that the outside world really is nothing but cruel—basically, she has gone as low as she can go, to the point that she almost resigns herself to her fate. Likewise, at this plot point your protagonist should generally think all is lost and should hopelessly despair. 

 

Transition into Act III

This is where things start to look up. The protagonist gets determinations and a new perspective, which causes her to see a possible way out. Remember that B story we introduced earlier? The B story often helps give the A story a push in the right direction at this point. The love interest gives the protagonist words of encouragement, the protagonists remembers words of wisdom from his mentor, etc. In The Return of the King, this is where Sam carries Frodo up the mountain. Note that this is very similar to “Transition into Act II” because it is where a decision is made to act and carry on. 

 

 

Act III

 

Climax

This is it, the big moment, the bursting point. Either we win now or we lose for good! In sport movies this is where the whole team either walks away in shame, or wins the world championship. This is where Frodo battles Gollum for the ring, Scar fights Simba, and Luke fights Darth Vader. This is where we see the most action and drama with very little down time. This is the big game, the final showdown.

Finale and Resolution

The miraculous solution arises and is implemented. In Tangled Flynn saves Rapunzel from Mother Gothel and Rapunzel saves Flynn from death. In Batman Begins, Batman lets the train crash, killing Ra’s al Ghul. In The Return of the King, the ring finally gets into the lava in Mount Doom. The final problem is solved and everything is over, one way or another. 

 

 

 

After Picture

The after picture is the final image that shows that a change has occurred since the beginning of the story and gives and may give an indication about how the things will continue after the story is over. The after picture is the exhale after the storm, a denouement. All loose ends should be tied up. Example: Sam gets married and has a family, Frodo goes across the sea with the Elves, Batman starts to rebuilds his parent’s home, Rapunzel gets married to Flynn, and Tiana gets her restaurant where Naveen plays jazz in it. In Princess Diaries, Mia flies over Genovia, narrating her plans for the future. Disco parties and happy laughing friends are a common “happy ending” after picture, but I would encourage creativity in this area. 

Story Sparks #3

Just a few scraps form my writing notebook…

You can use these ideas but rephrase them in your own words. If you use the exact idea credit me, but if you use your own version of the idea no credit required!


Dialogue

“Live by the sword die by the sword.”
“That’s why I use a gun.”
“Don’t forget to dot your T’s and cross your I’s”
“How can I fix the world when I can’t even fix myself?”
“I’ve got a problem and I need to be able to get advice on the problem without the fact that I have the problem being criticized.”
“Always forgive. Never forget.”
“When I die I plan to take all my secrets with me, not leave them scattered about.”
“Don’t inflict your nostalgia on me. I’ve lived too much of poverty to romanticize it.”
“I didn’t do it.”
“You mean you’re not the one who made the explosion?”
“Oh, that. Come to think of it I may have had something to do with it.”
“Something to do with it?”
“Well, partially responsible.”
“Partially responsible?”
“Alright, largely responsible.”
“Largely?”
“Okay, it was all me. Me me me! I did it! and I’m not ashamed of it either. Hahaha.”
“People are like electronics: they only act how you want them to if you treat them gently.”
“I once had a DVD player that would only work if you hit it.”
“I am always happy when I wake up and find I’m still alive. Especially with you around.”

Plot Ideas

Someone changes their birth certificate by a year so they are charged as a minor and don’t have to go to adult prison.

Rent-A-Date: There’s a service that will rent out dudes to take on a date who will pretend they are your new boyfriend. A girl rents a date to avoid the rampage of people always trying to get her to hook up when she has to go to a family event. She ends up falling in love witht he rent-a-a-date. (After I thought of this I realized movies similar to that have been done before, but whateve.)

Guy gets amnesia, but ends up living a happy life for a few year, until he finds out that he used to be someone else. This leads him on an emotional roller coaster as he searches for clues about his past life. (Thought this up a long time ago, now it sounds rather like a Bourne movie to me now)

Settings

At night, the dock was a gallery of lights reflecting on the lake.
The sun made the clouds aureate and coated the earth in melancholy beauty.
Periwinkle fields on a grey day.
A house made of doors.
Neon signs flashing on cracked wet pavement as a 40’s song plays in the distance.

Scraps

Skies scarred with jet plane trails.
Blinded by the darkness
I will print out a picture of the sun and hang it on the stars for you
Winged lions with cashmere skin
Trees rush past your shifting starry eyes


Book Cover Mistakes that Sabotage Sales: How to Avoid Common Self-Publishing Fails


Below I analyze why 5 bad book covers fail and how you can avoid common mistakes.

If you’re self-publishing, your biggest selling point is probably your book cover, since you’re probably not very well known and don’t have a huge advertising agency. Before people even pick up your novel to read the description on the back or flip through the pages, they must be enticed by the cover.

Disclaimer: I’m actually not a cruel person, I just sound like one. I understand that writers generally don’t have graphic design training and they are often self-publishing. I commend people who are just starting out with graphics and are willing to try even though their work isn’t perfect. But, as the point of this article is constructive criticism, I’m going to be a little rough.

What They Did Wrong:

No Font Contrast.

The entire cover of the book is confusing because each set of words is approximately the same size. When fonts are similar size and weight, the viewer is reduced to wandering around wondering what to focus on. Not to mention that the background is so busy it’s nearly impossible to read the words–espeically if the cover is a small icon in an e-book store.

Poor Photo Quality

I’m shocked at how often I see poor photo quality in book covers, whether it’s the entire cover or an element of it. You have to use images at the size they are. You can get away with blowing up images just a little bit touching them up, but only to an extent. Don’t think you’re going to sneak by with a slightly sub-par photo. If it’s pixilated or grainy, people will spot it faster than you might think. It’s utterly amateurish. You can solve this by at least having a close idea of what your book cover dimensions will be before you start working, and always ere on the side of too big than too small. And if an image just isn’t big enough? You can try stylizing it, or just throw it out.

Lengthy Title

The cover of “Spring Will Sing of Love Everlasting” is evidence for why lengthy titles are not advisable, in general. You’ve only got a few seconds to get someone to take a closer look at your book, and a title that’s hard to read because of its length isn’t going to help, especially if you’re selling it online where viewers may only see a little icon of your book cover. Long book covers are also hard to format graphically and are a huge pain to the designer. If you use a long title, expect that your title will pretty much end up being the ONLY thing on the cover. There are exceptions where long titles are perfectly fine, but it’s a good rule of thumb to keep titles around 3 words.

What they did right:

Limited themselves to 2 fonts and put a stroke/shadow on the text to help it stand out. It didn’t quite work, and I generally wouldn’t recommend relying on strokes to make text legible, but it’s a step in the right direction.

What They Did Wrong:

Bad Photoshop.

Just plain unconvincing Photoshop is the most common mistake I see. The girl’s hair looks oddly pasted on her forehead and is unrealistically faded out where it meets the edge of her arms. The color of her hair was also clearly done in Photoshop, instead of with dye.

What they did right:

You may notice that the girl has a purplish tint to her skin, which helps her seem to be a part of the purple background. One of the most common mistakes I see is where the foreground is clearly pasted on the background, but this photo would likely have avoided that for the most part if it weren’t for the poorly Photoshoped hair. Also, the title font is an example of a good decorative font, because it’s stylized without being cliché or hard to read.


What They Did Wrong:

The Font.

Pretty sure that’s Segoe Print, which is basically a substitute for the dreaded Comic Sans. It’s not even acceptable for a children’s book, let alone something marketed to teens. This is why you don’t use common decorative fonts and you do make sure you know your audience.

Again, Bad Photoshop.

You can tell the girl and boy are not actually standing together, and definitely not standing in the field, and the sky is oversaturated. This is a pretty simple manipulation, but it can be hard to get smooth edges. I recommend looking up some tutorials for tips and techniques (YouTube has a zillion) for whatever program you are using, or else avoiding the need to cut out difficult things like hair.

What They Did Right:

Used a bar to put the author name on. This is a simple well-accepted trick to give your text a good background without having to have a big blank space in the photo or blurring it out somewhere. Using a solid banner in a complimenting color or a slightly opaque banner in black or white is a good technique. Here’s an example of a banner used more stylishly: 


What they did wrong:

No Text Contrast.

Contrast is one of the most important elements in graphic design. You must contrast font types, font sizes, and definitely make sure your font color contrasts well with the background color so it’s readable. The title here is difficult to read because it doesn’t contrast well with the background, especially on her hair and dress. While on this topic, note that you should NOT use more than 3 fonts, preferable only 2, and limit yourself to 1 decorative font if any.

Bad Font.

Two reasons not to use decorative fonts: They are often hard to read, and they are hideously overused. Basically, if it’s a decorative font and it came default with your word program, chuck it out the window as the scourge of the earth. That’s right, I’m talking fonts like Bradley Hand ITC, Papyrus, Sego Print, French Script MT, and the ever accursed Comic Sans. Please, spare us. As I’ve said before, there’s no better way to date your graphics than a poorly chosen decorative font. There ARE good decorative fonts out there (search online), but you’ve got to be savvy and make sure they are clearly legible, and not overused to the point of looking cliché.

Bad Photoshop

This is probably the MOST common mistake, even semi-professionals get this wrong. While the photo-manipulation for the “Dangerous” book cover is pretty good for a beginner, it fails to be convincing. Real fire doesn’t looks so opaque.

What they did right:

Got a good model and Photoshoped her properly. Sorry, but a beautiful girl with the nice polished look is a selling point. Admittedly, her makeup is a bit overdone and her skin is a bit TOO airbrushed to be convincing, but honestly from the amount of ugly models I’ve seen on amatuer covers, it’s refreshing. (Note that people aren’t inherently ugly or pretty, it’s all about posing, expression, camera work, and post-processing.) Most models for amateur covers look like little more than cell phone pictures of the author’s BFF without even basic editing like getting rid of blemishes and smoothing waistlines to not be lumpy (even skinny people get lumpy waistlines with tight clothes). If you can’t get a good model with good post processing, I recommend using stock.


What They Did Wrong:

Aiming Too High

Not to be a Johnny Raincloud, but cover design is the one place where you should be realistic about what your skills are. If you don’t have the skills to make some complex fantasy photo-manipulation, don’t try for it. Go for something a bit more simple, maybe even minimalist. It might not be your dream-cover, but at least it will look professional. Again, this is purely talking about designing a cover that’s going to get you readers. If you want to, maybe make two covers. One for yourself just to indulge, even if it isn’t top quality, and another just to look professional and sell your book.

Too Busy

This cover would be most accurately described as a jumble. Amateurs often feel the need to cram as much as possible into their covers and forget that white space is important. There’s a difference between a cover that’s interesting and one that’s cluttered. This cover has an uncoordinated conglomeration of images that clearly do not fit together. You should either have a seamless and convincing manipulation, or make it clear that you are not trying to make the images look like they are in the same scene. Take for instance the cover of “City of Ashes.” It’s clear that the woman is NOT meant to actually be standing over the city, because she’s so extremely oversized, successfully avoiding confusion.

What They Did Right:

A few of the background images are quality, even though they are improperly manipulated. Also, they left a decent amount of space around the text, not cramming the letters to the edge of the page as many amateurs do. The fonts, pixilation, and colors are still pretty horrendous though.


 

A Word on Author Names

Author Name Size

You’ve probably noticed that sometimes authors put their name in huge letters in caps on the cover of all of their books. Like, the author name is bigger than the title of the book. Generally this is because the author has made a name for themselves and this is their main selling point. I probably wouldn’t recommend this, since chances are people will have no idea who you are (of course, if you’re reading this and you happen to be famous, ignore this part). On the other hand, if your name is of reasonable size this can subconsciously convince your reader that they are getting something from a quality author. If you make your name the the size of Patrick Ord’s, it’ not pretentious but shows that you at least have self-respect, which will in turn cause people to respect you more.

Pen Names

(Take note that is purely Money-Making-Me speaking here, not Anti-Discrimination-Me speaking. Please don’t hit me.) Things like difficult pronunciations, lengthy names, and ethnicity should be taken into account. If your audience is average American teens but you’ve got a name like Leishakajio Muilioa, shorting it to something like “Leish Muil” might be a good idea. Also, if your name is just plain lousy you might want to consider changing it. Names like Bob Lice and Sam Hog are not likely to be attractive to readers.

Unfortunately, gender is an important consideration that can affect sales. Because let’s be honest, if you’re a guy writing Amish Romance novels, or a girl writing historical war fiction, you might just want to choose an androgynous pen name. If you wanna be the first male Amish Romance writer and be proud of your gender instead of hiding it, go right ahead, but don’t blame me when you’re broke.

Good articles on this topic:


How to Get a Good Cover

Software

First recommendation? Don’t use MS Paint. Get yourself a real graphics program. You can get a subscription to Photoshop for around 40 dollars for 1 month, or if you’re really a cheapskate (which is fine) you can get Gimp to do most of what you probably need for FREE. Just Google it and download it from the program with no money or strings attached! Making book covers is hard, but you might be surprised to learn that you actually don’t need as much artistic skill as you may think. It’s more about design rules and using quality images than anything. You don’t have to be a creative geniuses to get a decent cover.

Stock Images

Too often I see book covers flop because the designer tried to use photos of friends taken with the family camera instead of photos of actual models taken with a professional camera. If you can take good photos yourself and know some people would make good models go for it, but if you don’t have a knack for it leave it to people who are at least serious hobbyists.

Good stock images can make designing a book cover easy. Of course, the danger of stock is that the image will likely have already been used somewhere, but that’s not as big of a deal as you might think, especially if you use the image creatively. Even the best graphic designers often rely on stock.

Be really careful in buying stock from a reliable source to avoid copyright infringement. The last thing you want is to spend all kinds of time on your book cover and get it printed, only to find it is stolen artwork. There is no such thing as a free lunch. If the stock is free, it’s probably either lousy or illegal. You CAN find some decent creative commons work, but you have to abide by the rules which often require crediting the artist. Search around for a site that is reliably legal, quality, and has reasonable prices. Prices range from around $10 to hundreds depending on quality and image resolution size, but you can get some good deal if you do just a bit of research. 

Have somebody do it for you.

Now, I get it, you don’t have thousands of dollars to spend. But there are plenty of high school and college kids with good skills looking to get a start in graphic design. If they’re your friends they might do it for a hundred bucks or even just a Starbucks gift card. But don’t expect someone to offer their professional services for nothing in return—especially if it’s not a close friend. Pay them or do them some kind of favor.

If you don’t know anybody, you can always try online. Places like DeviantART are good because they have forums specifically dedicated to commissions, and you can check out the person’s work before committing to use their services.

If you’re working with a professional just let them do their thing and don’t hover over every design decision they make. But if this person is more of semi-professional, it’s often good to give them an idea of what you want by showing them examples of book covers similar to your vision.


Links

8 mistakes to avoid when designing your book cover

Five Dead Giveaways that your Cover is an Amateur Job

http://paperandsage.com/site/category/pre-made-book-cover/ <<< I ran across this site where you can by pre-made customizable book covers. Not all of the covers are PERFECT but they look totally professional and seem pretty darned affordable for such quality work.  I'm sure there are other services like her's, so this is another good route to look into!