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I'm glad you could stop by. Pull up a chair and pour a cold one. (BTW, it's pronounced "sawl-ya", which is Irish for "S") Scroll down to see what I've been up to, lately. Leave your comments, but understand: all comments are moderated and spam is deleted, unread. Site design information is all the way down at the bottom of each page, as is direct contact info. Sign up for our email news for latest titles and advance review availability. All of our titles are always available in print and in every eBook format from a variety of book sellers.
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Jul 31 15

The O’Deirg Legacy Bundle Now Available!



“Immersive, transporting reading with an authentic period voice for a perfect Irish Summer reading destination.”

The O’Deirg Legacy, a bundled Kindle version of the first two books in the series, is now available at a very special price: $3.99. It brings together brand new editions of the award winning, beloved books, The Red Gate and The Gatekeepers. These books introduced readers to the O’Deirg and Quinn families of Western Co. Mayo and their struggle to preserve their farm and protect its ancient secrets. It will only be available on Amazon for Kindle. Watch this spot for the update announcement and the date of the launch party. There will be special giveaways also, so sign up to my RSS feed or follow me on Twitter, to be sure of the launch notice.


redgateawardAmazon Review of The Red Gate by Bersaba…

“A beautifully written historical fantasy set in the early years of the 20th century.

I think I love the writing in this book even more than the story. It’s lyrical and descriptive and that alone made this book a joy to read. That being said: I also loved the story. It’s intriguing and suspenseful with very likeable as well as despicable characters. The viewpoint switches from time to time to give you an overall picture of events and I felt myself fuming when seeing things from the viewpoint of one of the characters I didn’t like. All in all Sutton managed to get me totally engrossed in the life of the O’Deirg family (especially Finn, my favourite character) and although the book luckily doesn’t have a cliffhanger ending, I’m curious what’s next for the O’Deirg family and their sheep.”

gatekeeperscoverrgb96Amazon Review of The Gatekeepers by Author Doreen McGettigan…

“In this sequel to the Red Gate author Richard Sutton seamlessly continues the saga of an Irish family charged with keeping an ancient secret.
The O’Dierg’s lives are rich with love and hope but also have their share of tragedy, sacrifice and old family skeletons. Their story of war, cousins arriving from America, strange connections and the old family secret flowed, blending fiction and history nicely. The author’s descriptions in this novel are poetic. I wanted to be there…”

All of Richard Sutton’s books are available from Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, Sonybooks, Applebooks and many other booksellers both online and on the street, but the new bundle is exclusive for Amazon and Kindle Readers

Jul 22 15

The Care & Conservation of Beta Readers…


Several years ago, a new phrase crept into my vocabulary. I wasn’t sure where I first heard it, but it was repeated regularly among writing circles in online conversations such as, “Three of my Beta Readers agreed on it, so I revised it.” Beta Readers sounded like something I could use, so I set out to discover them, wherever they were hiding.

Caution! Beta Crossing!

Caution! Beta Crossing!

I had an editor, and a proofreader. Or two or three… but my pockets were already running pretty thin, so I was concerned about what an additional pair of eyes would cost me. After conversing with a few authors of Honest-to-God Stature, I realized that instead of an additional staff item, Beta Readers were actually a rare species that writers needed to treasure  and conserve once found.

There was a time when their species was restricted to the narrow spaces in publishing office cubicles between desks of editors and the place where the mailcarts were stashed, next to the slushpile. They were never very abundant, but once they were discovered, they usually were treated pretty well, unless they mentioned they really wanted to grow up to be editors.  Then they were worked to the bone and fed scraps only. Some of them migrated to the darker halls of academia where the majority scraped out a thankless, meager existence while a few flourished, once shown a modicum of appreciation.

The point is, for self-published authors today, finding readers who would be willing to read your novel before it is actually published and then report back to you is a critical part of putting the final polish on a project. However, there are some writers who seem to be of the belief that if you throw an unedited manuscript at a group of beta readers, you’ll get a group edit at a cut rate. That is not the case. Group edits are a terrible thing to indulge in. In order for your project to actually read like something you’ve written, it’s critical that you and your editor have a solid relationship defined by trust. You don’t get that from “friends” who’ll “take a look, no problems”. Editors have some cred that comes from experience as well as some connection to the industry to give them a useful viewpoint. Beta Readers, on the other hand, provide a completely different service.

A Beta Reader is a reader who enjoys the genre of your project, is vetted to be worthy of your trust, but is still seen as a reader. It isn’t a beta reader’s job to proofread a sloppy manuscript and write notes all over the margins so that the writer can clean up the mess. Nor is it a Beta Reader’s job to pinpoint all the glaring dead-ends and red herrings in a meandering novel and suggest every fix. A Beta Read is supposed to be a pleasure read. It should be a finished novel, not a manuscript. That means all the tidying has already been accomplished and that the story is almost as completely polished as it’s going to get.

Some Beta Readers are personal friends who just enjoy reading, but don’t mind jotting down a few overall impressions or annoyances. Some of them even know how to write well and may be authors themselves. Beta Reading is not a job description, because it’s not supposed to be a job. A Beta’s report isn’t a high school book report. It may only be two paragraphs, or even two sentences, but sometimes, those impressions, when compiled along with impressions from other Betas, can create just the right bit of suggestion for a writer to get an even higher shine on the project before it goes to pitching or to production. Of course, if they catch a few instances where the spell-checker bounced over real words in the wrong places, that’s even better.

The real value is in learning how to separate out one reader’s unique impressions from the shared findings of a group of Beta Readers. I’ve known some authors rely upon as many as six of them. These are readers who know and enjoy the writer’s work and voice and can share their impressions with enough clarity that together, they can be parsed down into a few discrete ideas. The writer may or may not see any or all as something the project needs. For example, if the Betas are all over the map, but sparing in their criticism, many writers will simply see that the read went pretty well. If, however the Betas’ comments connect with each other and are directed, then there may be an issue at the heart of their impressions that needs to be addressed. It’s not a checklist kind of thing, more of an interpretive art that gets better with age and repetition.

Besides those you know and love, finding Betas in the wilds of the internet can be difficult if you haven’t done lots of research first. One of the best ways to research potential readers is to join reading groups and spend a lot of time listening and reading posts about other writers’ work. It also behooves you to keep your own writing close to the cuff. Online Reader Groups tend to make revealed writers about as welcome as a Baptist preacher at a poker game.  Do, however, take part in conversation about the kind of writing, stories and characters you like within a specific genre and see who engages with you. Mention books you’ve read that you really love. Provide lots of opportunities for group members to find common ground with you. When you find honest points of agreement and can honestly say you enjoy communicating with another member, you may have found a potential Beta Reader. But remember, it takes time and patience. Don’t just run out there beating a drum while offering free books. If you present it as a sideshow, those are the kind of results you can expect. It’s more like leaving a trail of crumbs in the moonlight than a flashing neon sign with big arrows.

Finally, after all a Beta Reader can do for a writer, there are just a few things a writer can do to make the Beta want to hang around and keep in touch. Beyond not asking for a Beta Read and then expecting a free proofread and edit, acknowledging their help and critical suggestion is very important. Some writers do it in a section of the book along with all the other thankyous. At the very least, it should include a free drink or five and a copy of the finished book along with the toast. If the Beta is another writer, you will need to keep reminding yourself that you owe a reciprocal favor of their choosing. While the world may see writing as a solitary profession, those of us who do it, know better. There are so many people who help a writer in the process of creation and perfecting a project, we need to do whatever we can to remember them and give them our sincere thanks. In part, we do it because we want to cultivate their help for use in future work, but in part, there’s a bit of their spirit in the final mix, and it would really annoy our muses if we didn’t acknowledge that. Where would we be, then?

It isn’t always easy to coax Beta Readers out in the open to rally around your current work, but make sure they know that you’re not asking them to muck out a neglected stall. That’s a good start. Once they emerge and are willing to share the ride with you, even only a short distance, it will mean better writing for you and for all your eventual readers. If you are really lucky, they may even stick around long enough to share the next ride with you, too. Good luck in your hunting.
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As usual, your comments are encouraged and appreciated…

Jul 18 15

Wearing Two Hats At Once…


Production Formatting for Writers — How you can wear more than one hat at a time and not even be aware of it…

Last night I watched a film with my wife that involved writers passing reams of manuscript paper between themselves for the purpose of “notes”. I laughed as it seemed pretty anachronistic. I may be wrong, but at least my own little niche of the Publishing Industry exists almost completely paper-free. I’m also at a point where I don’t do a lot of cold pitching of my work; which means that some of the old pitfalls I remember in having to convert page sizes, line spacing, margins, etc. to meet the requirements of various industry readers/editors needs is gone. Almost completely.

Remember these?

Remember these?

My mental notion of a “manuscript” has gone from 500 pages of double-spaced typewritten text, to 60K words in a compatible doc. file. Except in the movies, where the old concept of lugging around all that paper seems to endure. Well, piles of stacked sheets are more interesting than a thumbdrive lying upon a desk, I guess. But thinking about all the time I’ve had to pare down the processes to their most basic, from first draft through to print pages, has brought me to a few points about the actual time on keyboard. Here are some tips, if you can call them that, that have removed error and reduced time overall in making a written idea into a viable product…

Page Size…
I set up my copy of Word to default to the nearest page size I most often use in my print books, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2. I came to this size after seeing that a print book of 60K words looks kinda like a pamphlet in the 6×9 trim, but reducing the trim size down to the old pup-fiction paperback size usually gives me a more substantial looking page count. That wouldn’t matter for younger readers or for eBook publication, but for my own work, which is also read by older readers who like paper books, it is a real consideration.

Another benefit to getting away from letter sized manuscript pages is that the word flow is much easier to control when formatting for print and eProduction. There are very few surprises with widowed words, or ugly page breaks, or poor word-spacing when you are writing a draft in actual production size. If you have a sudden need to send out a pitch sample on paper or in an agency-requested format, you can always create a new filename with those specs, whatever they may be.

Which leads me into another trick I use to fool myself into keeping on top of which version of my work I’m revising, submitting, uploading, etc. My first book, I uploaded my interior file; then realized after an early review came in listing multiple, grievous errors, that I’d sent up the old version of the file! I quickly renamed the file after re-checking all the known (at that time…) edits and proofreader’s notes. Now, each time I even make a single revision to a file, it gets a new, numerically sequenced filename. I usually only keep the original draft file and the three most recent versions to make sure I don’t confuse myself any more than is needed. That first book, The Red Gate (2006), went through eleven rewrites as well as three proofreader passes and still was messed up when launched. I never want to repeat that and renaming the files helps keep me honest.

Text Type Size…
Another default setup in Word that I use is the size of my text. I never draft anything in smaller than twelve point type. My eyes are too old now to read comfortably smaller than twelve point. I have that point brought home regularly when I receive an Advanced Reader Copy of a new book — usually a bound galley proof — to review. Often the publisher wants to set these in 10 point type to save on paper costs. In that size, a print book is almost impossible for me to read more than a few pages of, even with my reading glasses. For my own readers, it would be a very poor idea to save paper. Several of my reviews have been slowed down while the publisher’s publicist figured out how to get an eBook ARC to me, since they don’t provide them in big numbers, partly for security reasons. I’ve ended up purchasing early release copies for either ePub or Kindle formats because the ARC I received was just too hard to read to review without prejudice.

The Sequence…
The way a self-published writer can envision the launch of a new title is significantly different than the way an industry-published writer thinks about it. I’ve learned to setup my draft defaults to eliminate potential conversion issues later on, but the sequence of release is a player, too. Since I’m not a series writer, I’m not strictly locked into Amazon Kindle as my preferred vehicle. I actually like the flexibility that ePub formatting allows between devices.

Since I don’t usually enroll my books into KDP Select, I begin the process by writing my draft in a format that will work in an ePub conversion. That means I don’t use heading defaults in Word or tabs, either. I set up a simple first line indent with no intra-paragraph spacing added, and flush-left chapter heads. For chapter head spacing, I use only three or four consecutive returns, and always end a chapter with a page break. This minimizes the oddball, hidden formatting that Word employs to only a few instances. Later, I’ll make my chapter heads bold faced and/or italic. I’ll do it not with a “heading default” but by selecting the text then choosing bold/ital and a larger size from the Home tab in Word. I turn on the “reveal hidden characters” switch, too, just in case there are the occasional tab or other gremlin. Tabs cause all kinds of issues in an ePub conversion that you won’t get in a KDP Kindle conversion. That’s because the ePub is a very different animal from a Kindle file. Kindle converts from a pdf file, which is, in effect, a snapshot of the formatted page, complete. A Kindle file can re-sample (re-size) the individual pages through the Adobe Reader software, to the widths of different devices, but an ePub (which is the root file format also for Sony and iBook, Kobo, etc. ) actually re-flows the text and word-wrap according to the reader used. It is a much more flexible format, but one which requires less hidden MS Word-junk to run properly.

Another place that trouble often crops up in conversions is that for ePub conversion, your Word file should show no headers or footers or page numbers, since these are created “on the fly” in the reader. It also means that a working Table of Contents linked to bookmarks within the document is absolutely critical. Word, however, generates a TofC from its own proprietary heading default tags. This can work adequately in a pdf to Kindle conversion, but not if you want to covert after the fact, to ePub. So, to make the sequence as trouble free as possible, I format my drafts according to ePub needs, first. It’s always a small matter, later, to format for print, adding the headers and page numbers. Since the page size is the print trim size I get few surprises in page breaks, word flow, and can massage my margins to achieve the best word spacing on a justified (flush left and right) page. Justified type, I’ve pointed out before, can create visible white gutters or vertical rivers through the page as a result of irregular word spacing that can occur if the type size and/or margin widths are not set up to work together. That causes eye strain and slows down a read, so I try to minimize any of these problems. Once I have a print file, it’s easy enough to convert to pdf for KDP Kindle and to send off the interior to print production, to my Print on Demand producer, CreateSpace. There are other providers a self-published author can choose as well. Find one you fit well with and stick with them, as long as they have real distribution.

Cover Design and Production…
I always begin my sequence of cover design by setting up the front cover to the trim size at 300 dpi resolution, for print. I also set up any images I import as bitmaps, to 32-bit, CMYK* image formatting. This is the color “space” for print. It means larger file sizes, but it is easy enough to “re-sample” the image down to 24-bit RGB* for eBook covers later. That way I’m always working from larger to smaller, making the best resolution images work into the design as well as possible. I also work in a vector-based program, for the page layout and typography so that the clarity of overlaid text and titling is independent of the resolution of underlying illustration or photo imaging. Since my books all go into print, I will choose images that wrap around a print cover so that I can carry the reader’s eye around the spine to the back to read the blurb and the “buy this” motivator. I can easily crop the results to the page size and resolution for an eBook cover, and it creates a nice continuity of design between the two kinds of books among my titles. I realize that not all writers are equipped to do their own cover design and production, but every writer should take some time to learn a bit about the process and try to be conversant in “design-ese” for more effective communication with the design and illustration pros you will engage.

The Results…
At the end of the day, you can wear more than one hat at once, it turns out. If you can keep the end results in mind, while focusing upon the writing by implementing some of the downstream basics in your default draft writing setup, you’ll save yourself a lot of aggravation later. In this way, you can write your drafts as free as a writer, but invisibly constrained for eventual production needs by your clever choices of defaults in your software. Give it a try and see.

Late Addition…

Word loves to make everything easy for you. It gives you all those neat, pre-formatted “buttons” on the toolbar with different kinds of headings on them so one-click will be enough to set your chapter heads and titles, etc. apart from the text, visually. Unfortunately they come with a lot of baggage. When Word sees a heading, it automatically creates a hidden, numerical bookmark. Those bookmarks exist in the document whether you link to them manually in your Table of Contents, or not. They don’t affect the creation of an appropriate pdf file to upload to Kindle KDP, but they do create serious issues with a working, linked TofC in an ePub or many other formats and have to be removed manually from the file in order to convert properly to these additional eBook formats. Of course, if you want to put all your eggs in the Amazon Basket, no problems. If, however, you’d like to make your books available to people who read using a Nook, Sony iPhone or other reader, you’ll need to make sure these are not present in your compatible .doc upload interior file. The way I do it for my own work, is to write the entire draft using only the normal text designation/format. I then, go back and select each title or chapter head and add the larger point size, bold and ital as needed, from the HOME tab, not using the Headings buttons. This way, there are few Word fingerprints on the resulting file to confuse and annoy conversion processes in various formats. Jus’ sayin’.

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*CMYK v. RGB These are the two color models used to reproduce images. CMYK — named for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow Black. These are the ink colors used in industry-standard color printing for a paper book. Their visible transmission of the light is reflective. RGB — named for Red Green Blue. These are the primary colors of the three beams of light used in a monitor to create 16.7 Million colors, plus. From a monitor or reading device, the light that is visible is transmitted directly to the eye, not reflected off the page. These two color models are different but they can be easily manipulated individually and optimized for their intended use.

As always your comments and questions are always welcome!

Jul 12 15

Easter Sunday in New Mexico


A short memoir story…

(c)2015, Richard Sutton All Rights Reserved by the Author

Easter Sunday! We’d decided to take a ride some 40 miles west, into the Jemez Mountains. It was a beautiful, crisp day. Warm enough for a hike. Forty-five minutes later, we drove through the little village of Jemez Springs. Passing the church, we saw carloads of kids in their Sunday Best piled in with their parents, pull out headed in the same direction we were. Gotta expect company on Easter, I said to myself.

Jemez Soda Dam, Santa Fe National Forest

Jemez Soda Dam, Santa Fe National Forest

We drove past the turnoff towards a series of rail tunnels blasted through the sheer cliffs above Jemez Creek. Now abandoned, they’d been our destination a few times before, but today we were going to visit the Soda Dam, a few more miles ahead. We passed the ruins of the colonial Spanish Mission Church, then the retreat next to the trout stream that the Church hid away for priests afflicted with pederast tendencies. We even saw one of the sisters who provided for the afflicted brothers in her blood red, head-to-toe, burka-like, habit heading down a trail through a pasture.

The road up to the giant caldera nestled in the mountains was never without lots of unusual sights, and up ahead, we saw the one we had decided to visit, surrounded by parked cars and trucks. The Soda Dam is a huge, natural domed outcropping of calcium carbonate which has formed from the volcanic springs nearby over probably millions of years. It rises right next to the highway and climbs some fifty feet into a roughly bread loaf shape which actually crosses the creek. This time of year, the creek runs hard and roars as it passes under the natural dam. Inside, there are lipped pools of heated, mineral rich water and the echo of the roar of the creek flowing beneath your feet is a constant companion. Since it’s a popular spot, we had to wait to climb up and in. That’s when we noticed a bunch of kids in cut-offs and swim-suits jumping and bathing in a roadside trough with steam rising all around. It looked like a party, so we walked over to take a look.

We’d heard of the Jemez Hot Springs, of course. Back in the village, at least one entrepreneur had ages ago, created a resort for soaking in 100 degree water, straight from the Earth’s bounty. The kids in the hot water kept changing out, making sure everyone in each family had a chance to soak their feet at least. When my turn came, I pulled off my shoes and stepped in. The slightly sulphurous smell wasn’t a problem at all. I wished I could have just settled my whole body into those therapeutic waters, but there was just no room. I did overhear someone mentioning they were going up the mountain to the big pool, whatever that meant. They walked off and we followed behind them, getting into our car.

Of course we lost them, but a few miles further up the mountain around a big bend, high above the creek, we saw dozens of cars and trucks parked along the guard rail. Slowing, we found a spot and watched as several families jumped the guardrail in a certain spot and disappeared over the side. Turned out there was a rough path that looked like a game trail. We followed; this time, carrying a basket with some lunch and a couple of towels. Up ahead, once we’d crossed over the creek on a big log, we could hear happy voices up the slope above us. We hurried to find them and climbed up and over a shallow rock lip to a larger pool.

The steam rose in wisps that caught the noon sun while dozens of happy families soaked away their troubles in the stinking, hot water. No room for us. We must have looked disappointed, because one fellow told me, “You could head up further, you know. There’s a couple more pools up the mountain, above that talus slope behind all those trees. It’s hotter, too.” I got as many details as I could from him and he told me to, “Keep the exact location to yourself, once you find it. It stays pretty uncrowded, if you know what I mean.”

He smiled at my wife in a kind of funny way, then started to peel off his pants as he slid down towards the crowded pool. We saw there was a faint track through the pine needles in the general direction he’d told me about, so we took our leave.

An hour later, our canteen getting pretty empty, we neared the top of a partial ridge. We’d climbed over a slope of loose talus rubble, and found another pathway up through the trees and over the numerous limestone hoodoos. Behind us, we could hear the faint voices of children. I guessed it wasn’t as remote as the guy at the lower pool though it was, so we hurried as much as we could to make sure we got a spot to soak.

Finally, up ahead the path rose to a stone lip. Above it floated some plumes of steam and the now familiar sulphurous fragrance floated down to us. We heard no voices, so we climbed up. I started to unbutton my shirt, looking forward to a nice, long soak. My muscles were now crying out in protest from the forced march they’d been subjected to. “Won’t be long now!” I told my wife with a big, toothy grin. “Hope not,” was all she said as she passed me on the last few yards separating us from the glorious hot spring.

She popped up over the pool’s lip above me then returned very quickly to sit down beside the trail on a flat boulder. I gave her a quizzical look and went on up, tossing my shirt over a bush and leaving the basket. My field of vision was obscured until the last few feet. I rose above the pool’s lip at exactly the same time that one of the two, naked bearded men who’d been soaking in the pool rose up out of the water. My eyes were also at the same level of his dripping member. He gave me a big smile and a welcome, nudging his partner to slide over to make more room. I stuck a toe in the water just to be sociable. It was very hot, and the smell was really pronounced. I shook my head and nodded back down the trial towards where my wife sat with a now, sardonic grin on her face. “Thanks anyway,” I told them as I turned to head back downhill. “Suit yerself!” was the cheery departing shout.

A few hundred yards back down the trail towards the lower pool and the highway, we met the two families we’d heard heading up the trail and told them what to expect ahead.

IMG_0041There’s always somebody in that one,” we were told. “It’s just big enough for two, really.” They were going up to the really big pool further up. The children were still wearing their church clothes, dusty street shoes with their towels over their shoulders. Undaunted. Willing to work for their renewal. No matter what obstacles may lie in wait. I found some new respect for the traditional Easter Sunday outing that day. Later, we found the renewal we had sought with two tall cold ones in the privacy of our own back yard. Ahhh, nature!

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Jul 12 15

When “self-published” becomes an insult…


I don’t often re-post articles, but this little gem was just too important to neglect. It’s from the Fussy Librarian’s blog. Jeffrey B. has pared it down to the meanest, most annoying, damaging truths…

If you're gonna sling it, SLING IT!

If you’re gonna sling it, SLING IT!

There was a thread on a website the other day about how a mainstream media outlet went out of its way to make clear that a book was self-published. “Do you think they meant that in a derogatory way?” they debated.

I can answer that: Yes.

Or if you want a longer answer: H*** yes.

I spent 25 years working in the media, so I can speak to the mindset of reporters. It breaks down by age group for the reporter.

Over 40: They’re old enough to remember the piles of cheaply produced, rarely edited paperbacks that came from people who paid a vanity press to take their floppy disk and output it onto paper. A few were good but most were terrible and barely readable.

And unless these reporters have been paying attention to book publishing over the past 10 years, they aren’t aware that an entire freelance army has emerged that can make any novel look and read just as well as anything published by the New York City giants.

Under 40: Journalists are an insecure bunch and it’s only gotten worse during the past decade of never-ending layoffs, furloughs, and wage freezes. A good number of them are convinced they have The Great American Novel in their head, which they will write just as soon as they finish a 60-hour work week, analyze their web metrics, engage people on social media, and complete the list of house chores.

If they can make themselves feel better by knocking someone else down a peg, they’re going to do it because it’s cheaper than buying another bottle of wine.

You know what? Forget ’em. Or as the philosopher Taylor Swift once said: Haters gonna hate. Shake it off.

Don’t let others define you. Define yourself. If you invest time in your research and craft and find talented people to edit and design your book, no one will know how your book was published  … or for that matter, care.

For another example, check out What Beyonce has to do with ebooks.

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Your comments, as always, are more than welcome.

Jul 3 15

Online reviewer offerings falling like a hard rain…


There are so many online book discussion and reader interest sites now offering to review an author’s book, that it can get really confusing… or expensive. Advance Review Copies are never free, but the cost is felt more acutely by a self-published author. The greater industry has known what a phenomenal marketing tool a good review can be, so they have taken to the time to learn about who their reviewers are before they send out “Free Books”. I was reading through an appropriate review offering section on Goodreads the other day, when I came across a new “reviewer” offering to review books, but keeping their profile private with no way to check to see if they even enjoy the

Somethin' fer nuthin'?

Somethin’ fer nuthin’?

genre I write in. I then posted the following short article about what reviews are and why they are needed, as well as how a self-published author can use industry standards to find the right reviewer to send a free copy to…

Jun 14 15

And The Winner Is…


One Author’s unique experience with cover design…

Mike Jastrzebski, the author of The Storm Killer, a compelling historical thriller, has just released a new novel, Stranded Naked Blues from his tropical writing desk in the Florida Keys. I found his first book The Storm Killer was a well-paced romp into the pulp mystery fave genre of my own youth. It reminded me a lot of the late, great Elmore Leonard’s work as well. Seeing that he was releasing a new title, I thought about his unique developing brand. Along with the endless rewrites and polishing, comes the need to plan the book’s marketing. One of the key components of marketing fiction is the book’s cover. I’ve addressed my own take on cover design and production several times in these pages, but today I wanted to talk with Mike about his perspective and the design process he just completed…

Author & sailor, Mike Jastrzebski

Author & sailor, Mike Jastrzebski






Mike, I’m glad you had the time to share your experiences with my readers. Creating an original cover for a new book can be a lot of fun or very intimidating. let’s start with revealing your new cover itself…

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00004]





















I understand that you’ve gone through this whole cover design process before, and that the process that culminated in this newly chosen image was very different from your previous cover projects. Let’s discuss those earlier covers before we reveal the unique way the new one came about. How did you begin the process with your very first book cover? Did you go it alone, or did you bring in the big guns right away?

A: When I published my first book in 2010, The Storm Killer, working on a book cover was completely out of my comfort zone. I had no experience or any idea how to find an artist, so I turned to a fellow writer I knew from the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers’ of America, Vicki Landis. Vicki is a writer, but she is also a professional artist. I was glad to have Vicki’s help with that first cover, but it was a first for her too. That cover was a learning experience for both of us. I paid her $200.00 for that cover and she did the next four covers for me. I was happy with all of them.

On your blog, Write on the Water, you posted that you wanted to find a new designer for the current release. What prompted you to consider a new approach and new hands in the mix?

A: Vicki’s cover for Key Lime Blues is still my favorite cover, but there were two factors that led me to look for another artist.  First was the fact that Vicki became much busier not only with her cover business, but with her art business in general. The second reason was that I was having trouble visualizing a cover for Stranded Naked Blues. In the past Vicki and I had sat down together and came up with a basic idea for each cover. This time, I just didn’t have a clear vision of what I wanted for a cover.

I understand that you “auditioned” 38 different designers to find the perfect cover design. It sounds really complicated. How did the logistics work?

A: I guess I just wanted someone else to come up with the idea for the cover, leaving me with only having to suggest minor changes like fonts and coloring. I got a referral to a design service called 99 Designs from another writer. Their premier level service costs $499, which was a bit rich for my wallet, so I chose a lower priced contest approach that still let me have many different versions to choose from. Auditioning 38 different artists for the new cover was quite easy through 99designs. I paid $299.00 to fund a contest. 99designs keeps a part of that money and the rest goes to the winning artist. 99designs had me fill out a form, including a description of the book and any input I wanted to add. They have a list of designers that they invite to enter into the contest, and within a week or so I had 38 artists enter who, in all, provided over 330 designs.

Now these were not all completely different designs. When I received a design I was able to instantly turn it down or offer feedback on the cover. Many of the 330 designs were redesigned covers based on my feedback. Overall, I was extremely pleased with the results.

What design concepts did you provide the artists before they began?

A: In the contest applications I stated that I wanted a cover that was slightly humorous with a nautical theme. I wanted a slightly humorous cover to tie into the humor in the previous two covers. I gave them a brief description of the book and I sent along copies of the first two covers in the series.

How did the presentation happen? Was communication an issue?

A: We had no contact until the first covers came in, then we were able to email back and forth. All emails were done through the 99designs site. I could tell them what I liked, what I didn’t like and what I thought they could do to make the cover better for me.

After the presentations, once you made your final choice, did you find the designer chosen fully conversant in the technical details of production? Did they also render the illustration or was that from another source?

A:The designer I chose was very easy to work with and knew what she was doing. The fee I paid to 99Designs included everything, including the photography.

Were you satisfied with what you got for your time and money? How long did the entire process take?

A:Everything from start to finish took less than two weeks but could have been done in 7-10 days. The price included an eBook cover, an audio cover, and a paperback cover. All covers and a written ownership of copyright for the covers were delivered through 99designs as part of the flat fee. All fees were included in the contest and the contract was drawn up by 99designs and digitally signed by myself and the artist. The contract gives me the right to use the images as I see fit. I don’t know if there would be a fee if I wanted the image changed, I think that would depend on the artist. I did ask each artist that I was interested in if the price included an ebook cover, a paperback cover, and an audio cover. Each of the artists I asked this question said yes. As for other marketing graphics, bookmarks, etc. I would expect any artist to charge more for that work.

My chosen artist also did a paperback cover with an estimated spine width. She has agreed to change the spine width to whatever it turns out to be on Createspace. It will be a couple of weeks before I get to that point and I have only her email assurances that she will do it, but since I’m sure she wants me to do more covers, I trust she’ll do it.

Are there a few preparatory steps you can recommend to other authors looking to begin the cover design process?

A: Talk to other writers about their artists. If you find a cover you really like, email the writer and ask for contact information on the artist. I have no problem reaching out to writers who contact me.

I learned several things. First, most artists are willing to work with you. When I didn’t like a font, the size of my name or a color both final artists were willing to make changes. I would not want to work with an artist who was unwilling to offer changes.  I was working with both artists on complete designs and I did not hit them with one change after the other. There are places out there where you can buy a pre-made cover and I wouldn’t expect them to make changes beyond font and color of the title and author info.

Now that the project is complete, have there been any “take-aways” that you can share with other authors engaging in their own cover design projects?

A: Well, don’t go with the first artist you find unless they have good references. Ask for changes, but don’t be over demanding. If you want an artist to be reasonable and work with you, you need to do the same. If you have an idea of what you’re looking for in a cover let the artist know that from the start. Finally, paying top dollar doesn’t necessarily get you the best cover.

Would you use 99 Designs again?

A: I would use 99designs again, but I’m happy with the artist who did the Stranded Naked Blues cover and would use her again. In fact, she’s completed a brand new cover for my first book, The Storm Killer. Anyone can go to the website for 99designs and check out their cover contests.

Well, your experiences through the process have certainly been interesting and very productive. Other authors in the beginning stages of cover design will certainly want to consider following your example. Thanks for all your time. Your new book released June 14th on Amazon for Kindle. What are your plans for print or additional booksellers for more eBook format marketing?

A: Stranded Naked Blues is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Google play, and I’ll be releasing a paperback edition in the near future.

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Mike Jastrzebski

Author of The Storm Killer, Key Lime Blues, Stranded Naked Blues and several others…

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May 30 15



This non-fiction short dates back a couple of years before we sold our sailboat and became shore-bound sailors. It is one of a series of articles I wrote for a variety of marine publications that I uncovered when doing the recent housekeeping…

In harbors, all over the Northeastern US, my wife and I have met quite a few really memorable people. Many of these are cats. Harbor cats generally are friendly, self-reliant and well-fed. Whether it’s the fisherman emptying the remains of the bait-box in a carefully selected location, or the regular meals obtained from a loving home, harbor cats we’ve known, don’t seem to display any neglect.

Negotiating the constant flow of trucks, tourist automobiles and motorcycles surrounding harborside taverns keeps most of them really fit and smart. As does keeping away from the tourist dogs – although too far and all the fun goes out if it. A warier group of cats that can still curl up on your feet, I’ve never seen.

We’re always very grateful for each meeting, especially when the friendships are renewed during regular visits. After a few days aboard, even arriving at our favorite destinations, we get a little homesick for those we’ve left, waiting. As a result, scooping up or rubbing down a friendly harbor cat can really put us in the right mood. It connects us further with the destination. Much more than just hooking into the bottom and rowing ashore would. Among all of these, we’ll always remember Port.

Port, and his sister, Starboard (yes, red and green collars) were a pair of starved kittens rescued from an alley near Greenport, NY’s ancient wharf area. The owner of a chandlery that has been selling shackles at the same spot for well over a hundred years brought them in and his wife, a local Veterinarian nursed them both to perfect health. They grew up comfortable with lots of customers and attention, often hiding in sea boots in the front showcase windows when they needed some private times.

As the genders do vary, the siblings grew into different routines. Starboard, eventually preferring the piles of sweaters or the woven decorative throws where she could safely snuggle up beneath the floor racks while keeping her eyes on the floor action. Port, on the other hand, took up different duties.

Port became the official greeter dockside, across the boardwalk and one of the useful hands inside near the cordage and lines aisle. Whether he was adding his opinion for customers querying which shackle would be best used in their particular situation, or running up as a new boat pulled up to the fixed piers, he became a regular seaside attraction.

We made it a point to pay him a visit each time we were spending time on the boat as Greenport was our homeport for many years. A little bit of time with Port’s special magic would guarantee us a pleasant voyage, and we’d often visit the chandlery, whether we actually needed to make a purchase or not. Occasionally, Port would convince us to overpay for some item or another, so it was clear he was earning his keep. On the rare occasion that we didn’t see him inside or out, we’d always get a full update from one of the rugged men behind the counter.

Port grew into a muscular adult cat with the glow of health and the wisecracking look about the face that Tabbies are known for. He was always friendly to us and everyone else. Knowing that, though, made us uncomfortable. We knew that not everyone he’d run up to on the docks would be glad to see a big Tabby cat run up. But Port behaved as magnanimously to all. On the occasional night when we’d get in long past business hours, we’d click on the glass of those big, dark front windows, until he’d come bounding up, rubbing his head against the glass as if to ask, “Why are you so late? You should have been here earlier!”

One fall, after we’d known him some sixteen years, I caught this shot of the long pier as he came down with his regular greeting. After a few rubs and a purr, he walked off to attend to his waiting cat business. We unloaded and winterized the boat, and although we stopped by during the next six months while the boat was laid up, we never saw Port again, inside or out.

The next Spring, after we commissioned the boat and got ready for the coming season, we’d visit the chandlery on business or just to see Port, but he was not to be found. One day, I asked the man behind the counter how Port and Starboard were doing.

“Starboard’s over under the rugs and throws if you want to see her.”

“How ‘bout Port?”

At my mention of the cat’s name, the big, burly guy behind the counter grew angry. His face reddened and he gripped the edge of the counter as he told us, “Some sumbitch poisoned him last Fall”

Our faces fell and holding onto as much dignity as we could, we extended our condolences. It was all we could do to leave. We walked over to where Starboard was hiding and we could tell she wasn’t quite herself either.

The next trip, I brought the chandlery this image of Port, framed, for the good times and it was tearfully accepted.

Port, the dock cat checking the morning's arrivals...

Port, the dock cat checking the morning’s arrivals…

Animals live their lives either in contact with humans or not. They can display many kinds of emotion and connection, or they keep themselves hidden away and relatively safe from confrontation. Whatever they are, whatever they are thinking, I am certain that intentional cruelty is not among their behaviors.

To this day, Port is still with us in memory, and even if no one sees him, he still patrols those Greenport docks. I really believe it, and I would guess that there are a few others that do, too. If you know a harbor cat, try to spend a little time and give it the acknowledgement and affection it deserves. Their lives are short and fragile but they will repay every kindness many times over.

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As always, your comments are most welcome…


May 22 15

Do-It-Yourself, Book Cover Image Checklist

Old tools make new tools effective.

Old tools make new tools effective.

Many self-published authors want to create their own book covers. It can certainly add to the satisfaction to see a cover you’ve designed wrapped around a book you’ve written. But most of the skills and knowledge that it requires aren’t from the same toolbox as those needed for writing your book. Many writers I’ve spoken to about cover design are apologetic about not being conversant in the language and requirements of the design and the production processes. I certainly don’t expect them to be, unless, like me, they come from an extensive graphics background. Many of the concepts are ones that must be learned hands-on. The art of effective cover design requires a lot of trial and error and learning to use specific tools. I won’t cover the mysteries  of the design process here, except to say that the cover is a critical component of your book’s marketing and needs to be as effectively produced as possible within budget considerations.

Producing an effective cover is more than just choosing the best photographic image or illustration, and putting the titling and author’s name on top of it. There are conflicting technologies at play, so to that end, I’ve assembled a check-list and primer for do-it-yourself-ers to improve their chances of producing a cover to be proud of.

Images selected, now what?

Copyright: Be sure that you own a working copyright release for the use of the image you have chosen. Be aware that when a stock photography or illustration dealers says an image is royalty-free, that it isn’t the same as a creative-commons, public use free license. Royalty-Free means that you pay only once for the use of the image, not each time the image is seen or re-used in your marketing, etc. Some images will release only if such royalties are paid, in addition to the fee for the initial use of the image. Make sure you know exactly which kind of image you will be using and if there is a fee to use it. Don’t try to cut corners by not paying the fee. Infringement lawsuits are no fun at all and are very costly. Even when using Creative Commons (CC) images, or an image you found online, make absolutely sure that the use you have in mind is allowed in the image licensing.

Many CC images don’t allow commercial uses, and a book cover is certainly a commercial use. In cases of original images, contact the artist or photographer and ask them if you can use it. Sometimes, if you offer to publicize their name and work along with the book, they may be willing to release the image to you without hitting you for a fee. Always ask, though.

If you are the photographer, try to obtain releases from any people in the image or the owners of any recognizable properties. While news photos generally don’t require releases for journalistic uses, a book cover is a different kind of use, so it makes sense to protect yourself and get the releases.

Bitmap Resolution: Resolution in a bitmapped* image (a jpeg, gif, tiff or png file) is expressed in dots per inch (dpi). The highest resolution an image viewed on a screen or monitor requires is 96 dpi. Often, 72 dpi will work for thumbnail images in online booksellers listings or reviews, but I prefer 96 dpi for the better detail retention. Resolution and size are different concepts. If you take a 96 dpi image and resize it to a larger print size, it probably won’t look good. It will become jaggy, fuzzy and look worse in print than it did on screen. That’s because a higher resolution is required for print use.

Today most color process book cover printing requires 300 dpi resolution . When I do a book cover design, I always produce it first as a print cover, unless the book is only being published as an eBook. The reason is that an image of high resolution (300 dpi) can easily be scaled down in size without losing detail too much, but if you up-size a low resolution image, the results will be a disaster in print. Most stock photography houses offer images on a sliding scale of fees depending upon factors including size and resolution. They are always expressed separately. If you try to save money by buying a 72 dpi image for use in print, you will end up with a mess (unless that was the style and appearance you wanted. My rule of thumb is to purchase the highest resolution image is as close to the actual printed page width as possible.

Color Model: An image viewed on a screen makes use of a different kind of color technology than one produced for print on paper. The screen image uses transmitted light and requires the RGB (Red Green Blue) color model. Print uses reflected light and requires the CMYK (Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-blacK, named after the inks used in process — full color — printing) color model. A CMYK image will not look the same on a screen as it will printed, and an RGB image will not look the same in print as it does on a screen. For that reason it is very important to use the proper kind of color image and to print a color proof of your print cover, to adjust the colors to your satisfaction. I use a Canon Photo printer for my own proofing. A lot of tweaking can be done to the way colors will print, and it pays to take the extra step so that you’re not disappointed later on. CMYK files are also larger than RGB files as they have more color depth and more information in them.

Size: a good size to work with for eBook covers is 5.5 x 8.5 inches (or 14cm x 21.65cm). Be sure to lock in the proportion when re-sizing the images so that the resolution won’t get screwed up in the process, say 96 dpi in width, but 135 dpi in height. This proportion approximates a “portrait” printer format. Thumbnails can provide a lot of extra annoyance. When you plan your cover design, be sure to consider the smallest version of the cover art that will appear online say, in a review post or an online bookseller’s listing page. Make sure your design isn’t so “busy” and cluttered that it plugs up into a muddy mess at small sizes. The tile and author’s name should be legible all the way down to thumbnail size. Plan your typography for good contrast with the background areas and remember that the less detail behind the type, the easier to read it will be.

Print covers, require a larger size. In print, a book cover is printed on a sheet that wraps around the book. It includes a back cover and a spine, as well as an extra 1/8″ (3mm) in both height and width, to allow the cover image to be trimmed off all four sides. You’ll need to know your exact page count to get the actual width of pages the spine has to wrap. Thus, the 5.5 x 8.5 inch cover on a 314 page book has become 12.0625 inches wide and 8.75 inches high. The spine width is 0.8125 inches when CreateSpace does the production, but other Print on Demand producers may use different paper stock, so it’s important to get the exact spin width for the exact number of pages from your specific producer. Once you can print a proof copy it’s not wasted effort to take your cover, trim it, glue it to a book of the same page count, and see how it looks on a shelf with other books in your genre, in a real bookstore. Be sure to ask first, so the bookseller won’t get annoyed with you.

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Here is my basic completion check list for book cover artwork:
Copyright protection & Model/Property releases
Color Model

If you double check these before sending up an image file, you’ll be able to relax a bit, knowing that when you get your proof, it will look the way you expect it to. Usually. Except… stuff happens, so always be prepared for tweaks and finesses before you finalize and sign-off on your book proof. Leaving a little time in the planning for contingencies is always the best idea. If you employ a designer to produce your covers, make sure they provide you with a selection of sizes, models (think: bookmarks, etc. ) and resolutions for your own marketing needs. Now get back to work! Your readers deserve the best you can provide, and they’ll appreciate the extra effort you put in.

*Bitmapped image — there are two kinds of images used in computer-generated design. Bit mapped images and Vector images. To envision a bitmapped image, remember the first time you looked at a newspaper photograph with a lens. The photograph was actually made of tiny dots of black ink. Bitmapped images are made of dots of varying tone (greyscale – 8bit) or color (RGB – 24bit, CMYK 32bit) depending upon their color model. Any given “bit” or dot in a photographic image or illustration will carry a color, tone of grey or black or white. They are collections of actual dots made to order for the size, color model and resolution to be viewed or printed.

Vector images are not size dependent for clarity as bitmaps are. They are expressed not as “map” of dots, but as specific lists of mathematical formulas that describe an object in terms of space occupied, line weights, lengths, angles and shapes filled by specific tones or colors. They are most used for typography and logos or any other non-continuous tone image (not photography), but images that might be re-scaled and must hold their detail with no loss. Vector software is especially useful in building up a design in layers that can be moved independently of each other for the best contrast relationships, layout, etc., then exported combined, as a bitmapped image in exactly the best resolution for the intended use. Vector typography is especially clean for book covers in varying sizes.

Your questions and comments are always welcome…

May 19 15

Mad Men: Toasting the Pitch-Men

Courtesy AMC Media

Courtesy AMC Media




Spoiler Alert! Don’t read this until you’ve seen the Series Finale. Click on Don Draper above to link with the episode streams at AMC…

The seven-year miracle of 60s nostalgia that was AMC’s Mad Men ended Sunday night, on a song and a dream of redemption. Having worked in that biz myself during most of the 1970s and 1980s, I enjoyed immersing myself each week. I recognized people I’d worked with, people whose company I dreaded and those who I listened to intently, trying to improve my art and make a better living. The unfocused bull-pen sessions as depicted in the Art Department coven of Sterling Cooper actually took place and in my own experience became the resource we’d all turn to when our creative juices were ebbing. Sometimes it worked beautifully. Effectively. Sometimes it led us into alleys with no room to turn around once you hit the big dumpster.

While the “pitch” remains ever-present in all our lives, somehow the improved efficiency of multi-level barrage pitching through every medium in play carries less grace, less hand-crafted elegance than it did back in the day. I applaud and lift my beverage of choice towards the creators, writers, cast and crew of Mad Men for the entertainment they’ve given us of course but also for reminding us that many of the values we hold dear as American consumers, came out of the fingers of creative human beings. As richly decorated or magically transporting they might have been, they were at their heart, always about dollars and reducing the number of them in the wallets of those that were targeted.

The last frame showing Don Draper radiating a beatific smile while meditating in a half-lotus high above the Pacific, surprised me, at first. I instantly responded to the idea of Don having found some peace in his constantly reinvented life… but think again. Instead of the smile of Nirvana, maybe Don’s smile had more to do with his figuring out the next angle. Always the consummate pitch man, he always had an eye for trends, didn’t he? He also usually recognized a ready mark. The series writers have led us into a masterpiece ending that began spinning new questions, for me at least, as soon as the strains of the ending music flowed over me. Their consistently high level of quality in both scripting and production deserves several drinks on us all. As do the actors for their performances and ability to commit to a long-term project.

I’ve read lots of comments that refer to Don Draper as a con man. I can’t argue with that, but we love a good con, don’t we? A well crafted game, that keeps participants engaged yet surprised when the expected outcome is reached, is nothing to sneeze at. It has an amazing symmetry all its own. Of course, in the world we’ve built, it’s imperative that we retain awareness of the pitching we are subject to, even if we still kindle a grudging respect for those who can get a message to resonate the way the Greats of Advertising did. Ending the series with the definitive Coca-Cola commercial soundtrack from 1970 was the icing on the cake. Only those of us who remember those days of turmoil, moral upheaval and anger can recall how that entire campaign felt like medicine for the soul… exactly the way it was supposed to.

Coke, anyone?

Be sure to read Advertising Giant Richard Kirshenbaum’s take on the finale, HERE.