How I Design my Book Covers

So, this month, I would like to delve into how I design book covers. Despite the famous adage, books are very much judged by their covers, and while it can seem overwhelming, there is a process that can narrow down the best cover to suit your genre.

I recently decided to spruce up my covers to the Goddess Saga, so I thought it would be fun to share how I did it. I do want to focus more on the mindset of choosing a cover, rather than the technical details, so I won't bore you with endless techno-babble.

And if you don't write, I hope you enjoy the behind-the-scenes peek!

1. Know your genre

This seems so simple, right? But it's easily the most important part. When you write a book, you should know the genre (and/or subgenre) it belongs to. Once you have that down, you need to look at current books of the genre and get a flavour for what the covers are like. Most genres have specific conventions that scream 'I am x genre' which is sure to attract readers who like to read it.

In my case, I write YA Fantasy, and this has two distinct designs; one with people in a fantasy setting, or one with a symbol/ object with magical glow effects. I lean more towards symbolic covers, so this is what I chose for my books.

A useful tip is to look at the Top 100 Amazon sellers in your genre category, download some covers and make a collage to see similarities and what makes them stand out. 


A mix of covers in the YA Fantasy top 100, with my own thrown in to compare!

2. Gathering resources

With the most essential step done, next is to generate ideas for the cover. You might have become inspired by the covers you've seen so far. Pinterest is great for getting the creative juices flowing (just don't fall too far down the rabbit hole!).

Once I have an idea, now comes the most laborious part- looking for stock photos and Photoshop brushes. These must be for commercial use (as you're selling books) so double and triple check you have the right licences.

3. Fonts, fonts, fonts

What makes book covers different from other types of digital art is the fact you need typography. This is another part of the process that will make your book ooze your genre. Like with stock photos, if you download fonts, they must be for commercial use.

I use a different font for the title and author, and to add some flare I have a more elaborate font for the first letter of the main title.

I also use a gradient effect to make it pop more.
 

This is from my next book, but I use the same fonts and gradient effects...

4. Putting it all together

Now the creative part begins! This is where I combine the stock photos, add lighting effects, decide on the composition and font placement. It also helps to have some knowledge of colour theory and contrast, as the covers need to stand out when reduced to a scrappy thumbnail (such as if you're looking for books on your Kindle device).

And so here's the final product:
 

And there you have it! That's how I make my book covers.
 
Which are your favourite book covers? Post them, I'd love to take a look!

Why I Abandoned My First Novel

Hello everyone! Hope you're all doing well. I've been working hard on my next YA Fantasy trilogy, The Sorceror Saga. Set 300 years after the Goddess Saga (available here), these next books will follow the journey of Jessie Balthanders, a prodigal Magician born into an Azaria now imbued with the magic that was sealed away for a thousand of years.


You'll get to meet Jessie soon...


The original idea for this story, however, was set in its own world, and it was one of the first story outlines I ever wrote. I've always had an interest with writing, starting in my early teens with a short story about two boys who were sent back in time to help Edward Jenner invent the vaccine, then diving into fanfiction, before braving ideas with my own original creations.

But the first idea I attempted to put together was a story called 'Legend of the Zodiac', when I was 18 years old. I started getting into astrology when I was 17, as I found the symbolism and character typing intriguing, and my Dad had a fascinating book on the subject. Now while I don't believe movement of the planets can affect the future, I do feel a lot can be gained through self discovery and identifying your own weakness and strengths. Like the analytical Virgo I am ;)

Anyway, my story was about an orphaned pirate named Nick, set in a post-fossil fuel future where technology had regressed and sea travel and trade dominated the world. Given that my main source of inspiration for this was the game Eternal Darkness (a Gamecube game whose story spans all of human history), I wanted a story that explored ancient civilisations. I also devised 'Zodiac monsters' which also played a key part.

Apologies for the watermark but this piece was stolen and is still plastered all over the internet!

My first attempt to write the story gave me a 375, 000 word manuscript that, let's be honest, was a disaster. My idea was to have each chapter be about each Zodiac monster, so there was no character development, no scene breaks, poor dialogue and an inconsistent tone. Not to mention chapters that were long enough to be their own short stories!
 
With my prior writing experience amounting to that short story and Sonic fanfiction, along with being an overly ambitious teenager, this was no surprise. A friend even gave me an email address of an agent to send it to, and of course I was politely turned down.

At this point I had the insight to realise I needed to work on my craft, so I continued with fanfiction and reading my favourite genre of books. Then I started to refine the original manuscript. I split it into three parts to make a trilogy, totally overhauled the characters, parts of the setting and plot, and added a lot more depth. I still have the Notepad file detailing all the necessary changes and set to work applying it...

A cover mock up I made...

I kept at this on and off for years, in between completing my A-levels and getting into medical school. During this time I also found an online writing community called Authonomy. This was a now defunct website run by Harper Collins where you could post your work, get feedback and climb the rankings. The top 5 ranked would get a professional critique from Harper Collins themselves.

While I was never interested in getting into the top 5, I did connect with other fantasy writers and made some great friends. One of them was a paranormal romance author whom I swapped a critique with, and we seemed to get on well. We got talking about our books, and I had to admit something.

After 7 years of constantly trying to polish and improve my original idea, I was going round in circles. I'd gotten half way through the second book and was losing interest, constantly going back to the beginning and refining and revising. My friend therefore suggested I take a break and write something else.

Now as you can imagine, I was very reluctant to go ahead with this. After all, I'd grown so attached to my idea, and I'd been working on it for so long, how could I just leave it behind? However she eventually convinced me, so I opened a new document and wondered what my next idea should be.

Since my friend was a romance author (and I am generally not a fan of how traditional romance is written), I decided to try my own take on the genre. Hence I came up with a magical spell that curses people to fall in love; a slight dig at the instalove trope which is widely despised.

And thus the Goddess's Binding was born...

Today, I have no plans to go back to Zodiac. While it was painful to leave behind, it was ultimately the best choice. I've learnt a lot more about the writing craft, have thousands more words under my belt, expanded my media consumption and so I'm in a much better position to write the stories I want to tell and present them in fresh and interesting ways. Zodiac was too ambitious for its own good, and I lacked the skill to pull it off. There's still potential to simplify it into a middle grade story and streamline things, but I'm happy just to keep it as a failed first attempt, an important stepping stone in my writing journey.

Thus I'd advise if you are a new or young writer is try not to get too attached to your first idea. By all means write it and have fun, but if you're serious about publishing and your idea is precious to you, it might be worth testing the waters with an idea you're not so passionate about first. That way it can be a learning experience, and help you make your most important idea as good as it can be. This was my experience, and I'm glad my friend pushed me to change.

Did you ever have to abandon a writing project? Did it break your heart, or were you relieved to move on? I'd love to know!


Goddess Saga Sale!

 

My trilogy of YA Fantasy novels, The Goddess Saga, is on sale this week! Click here to grab the whole series...


Cursed by the Goddess, a healer’s daughter must fight for her freedom…even if it means unleashing a forbidden power that could destroy her.

Seventeen-year-old Eliza dreams of becoming a healer. Yet over her shoulder looms the Binding; an ancient spell that can seize anyone’s heart against their will. It already took her sister, and she’ll do anything to avoid the same fate.

Her nightmare is realised when an accident strands her with Ryan, a bounty hunter on the run. Now Eliza has no choice but to join his game of cat and mouse.

As a relentless tracker edges ever nearer, a blood-thirsty cult hungers for revenge, and her own feelings turn against her, Eliza must find a way to break free.

But overcoming a thousand-year magic has a price.

The kingdom…or her life.

Outlining versus Discovery Writing

 

Hello again! Today I'd like to dip into the writing side of things and discuss the two main methods of plotting out a book. This is an essential step when thinking about how to get a story on paper, but there are two extreme ways to go about it.

The first is outlining, which is the side I fall on. Writers who outline can write out exact plot beats, character moments, scenes and list out things usually in chronological order. This gives a clear map of the entire story, which can then be expanded upon. Outlines aren't rigid, however, and can still be changed further down the line if things develop differently to planned.

The second is discovery writing, or 'pantsers' (people who write by the seat of their pants). Here you write the story and see where it naturally goes, coming back to edit for consistency or changes. It's more free-form, and some people prefer the lack of structure to get their ideas down.

In actuality, most writers fall on a spectrum between the two, and I didn't realise at first but I actually do incorporate elements of the discovery method. I thought therefore it would be useful to share my experience to give some insight into how these methods are not as completely opposed as they appear.

The shackles of an outlinePlanning an outline is quite a precise effort...

My first two books, The Goddess's Binding and The Goddess's Parting, I wrote using an outline. The first chapter of The Goddess's Binding, however, was a discovery chapter. All I had was the image of the scene in my head- a girl hiding in a forest because of a vulnerable heart. I didn't know her name, her personality, or anything, so that first chapter was good to explore the girl who would become Eliza. Her voice quickly came through, and after a few revisions I was able to get her down.

After this I fleshed out her backstory and what her journey would be, along with other characters.

A problem with this however came up with the third book, The Goddess's Blessing. I had a seven year break (due to my medical training and falling out of love with writing), so it was difficult to come back to. For this book I ended up re-writing the outline several times, with the last one being a complete depature from the original plot when I came up with a new character.

While it did make the final product much better, I did find it quite inefficient as I was spending more time re-writing the outline that writing the actual book!

So for my next book, I wanted to try something new...

The freedom of discovery

The world is yours to explore...

For my current book in progress, The Sorceror's Lament, it required quite an extensive re-write of the original outline initially (I wrote it several years ago), but even then I found elements lacking. Rather than waste time with a 30th re-write, having gone down that path for my last book, I decided to just keep the main plot beats in mind and write without a guide.

This proved a much better use of my time, as I was able to see Jessie (the new protagonist) clearer, and she's ended up quite different to how I initially planned her. This has also been the case for newer characters who've appeared who weren't in the original outline.

The book is almost done, and I've written the bulk of it in three months- quite an improvement over 7 years! I've also not had to re-write elements as much, given that I only outlined a chapter or two ahead at a time (and the ending), which has also been quite a time-saver.

The best of both worlds

Of course, every author is different and will lean more one or other method, but I thought it would be fun to share that even outliners can wander down an unknown road, and I'm sure there's many discovery writers who appreciate having a bit of stucture to work with!

My advice for writers is to experiment and see what works for you- be wary of books or how-to guides that claim one method is better than the other, as it depends so much on your workflow, personality, other life commitments and much more.

Are you a discovery writer or an outliner? Why do you think your chosen method works better for you? Please share, I'd love to know!

My Top Five Trusted Medical Websites (For Patients)

Hi there! Today's topic is delving into the medicine side, and I'm going to recommend some validated medical websites.

There's an ocean of medical information out there on the internet, but it can be hard to tell which ones are genuine and which ones are pushing dodgy products. Especially in this climate of fake news and social media virality, it can be difficult to know whether you can trust what you're reading.

So there are my top five trusted medical websites:

1. Patient.info (https://patient.info)

This is an excellent resource for both patients and healthcareworkers, as it contains information on almost all conditions and several medications. It also now has videos and other media to complement its detailed writing. I tend to always get my information leaflets from here.

2. NHS  (https://www.nhs.uk)

The NHS website is also quite comprehensive and very easy to access, and is kept quite up to date. It's not as detailed as patient.info in places but its structure is more user-friendly.

3. Lab Tests Online (https://labtestsonline.org.uk)

Want to know what your tests mean, why they were requested, what does a positive or negative result mean? This website is fantastic in explaining test results of all sorts (bloods results, swabs) and provides information in a simple to understand format.

4. Arthritis Research UK (https://www.versusarthritis.org)

I love the resources this charity provides for musculoskeletal disorders. At medical school their examination methods was invaluable, and I love their exercise sheets. They also have excellent information booklets and provide a charity helpline.

5. Live Well With Pain (https://livewellwithpain.co.uk/resources/resources-for-your-patients)

Chronic pain is growing burden and not well understood, though our ideas about it have changed quite a bit over the last few years, with a move away from harmful opiate medication and more focus on restoring function. This website is for both healthcare professionals and patients and provides some great tips and explanations for the condition.

So there are five trusted medical sites I recommend to patients- do you have any to add?