Tip #4
Tip #4

Do people judge a book by its cover? Absolutely. In fact, while looking at marketing options, I discovered that book covers are scrutinized by the powers that be as a reflection of content. In other words, the cover can make or break your book’s success.

Self-pubbing fiction authors tend to overflow their covers with images and words. There is an old computer adage called KISS that applies here: Keep It Simple Stupid. What is your story’s main theme? Pick an image that easily conveys this to your reader.

Next, hire a graphic artist. I know, I know. I cringed every time I heard that too, but it will pay off. There is a certain magic that an artistic eye lends to the cover. Not many of us possess that, but it’s ok because there are scores of freelance graphic artists out there willing to be hired.

Here is how to go about it: First, find covers that you think are beautiful or have design elements you like. Find out the artist’s names (usually listed on the rights page of the book) then check them out on-line. Do they work in your genre? Look at their other covers, see if they are available, and what they charge. As you are gathering info, see what strikes your fancy, and start developing an idea of what you’d like on your own cover.

A range of $30-50 an hour is very reasonable. The more you know what you want and can describe it to the graphic artist, the less time it will take him or her, and the less money you’ll spend. It’s ok even if you are clueless as to what you want; the artist will work with you until you are satisfied. Usually the artist will give you three versions to choose from as a jump off point, and the adjustments follow. Don’t be afraid to speak up. They are used to making changes. But also be flexible to the artist’s vision and creativity, i.e. let the magic happen. This is what you are paying them for. Note: If you are writing a series, think ahead as to how successive covers might look. Get your artist’s input on that as well, and ask if he or she would be interested in working with you again down the road. Most artists will jump at the chance for future work if the experience with you has gone well.

Before you make the final decision: Think beyond just your book cover to promotional materials and swag. How will your cover look on them? You can also ask the artist for different sizes of the images you will need, e.g. for the cover, your website, promo materials, etc. The book cover requires a higher density of pixels but the others can be less dense. Graphic artists are aware of all these specs and what they mean, but you may have to supply them with the necessary sizes. These are given on each website so it’s easy to find out (e. g. Amazon’s Book Cover Requirements page, or Staples postcard ordering page). But get the images upfront so you will have everything ready to start marketing.

One more thing: It is usually inherent in hiring an artist that you own the rights to the work, but to be safe, get it in writing from the artist. An e-mail will suffice. Save it, print it, file it. That way you have all the rights to reproduce the cover on postcards, T-shirts, or whatever you want to market your book.

Again, creating a quality product shows you care about your work. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by slapping a cheap-looking, cheesy cover on your hard work. Your book’s success depends on it.


Tip #4: Invest in a Good Cover


Formatting an e-book is very different than formatting a paper book since digital content is fluid. Page numbers, footers, headers, and fancy fonts become irrelevant. Yes, as an e-pub author you can add them but there is no point as e-reader devices and apps allow readers to customize their reading experience, such as allowing readers to change to their favorite font and font size. Hence, these things are unnecessary in the digital world. The up-side for the e-pub author is that this makes things easier.

Tip #3
Tip #3

One thing that is helpful to the fiction reader is for the author to place a marker in the text to denote a scene change. If, like me, you prefer something a little fancier than a boring asterisk or two, then check out Unicode. Almost every word processor program has symbols that can be easily combined and inserted to make a neat scene-changing icon in your book. (In MS Word, it’s under the Insert tab, then click on Symbol on the far right end.) These symbols have been standardized, meaning that at some mystical time and place a group of people sit down at a table and decide what symbols get what bit numbers. This set of standard symbols coupled to their bitmaps is known as Unicode. The point is for computers across the board to understand that specific bit patterns mean specific characters. (Side note: Books of old could not be scanned into digital if the computer was unable to recognize the characters. Unicode was created so that people can produce digital books in all different languages.)


Unicode example
Unicode example

Unicode also has to be backward compatible, which in computer jargon means it has to work on older computers too. But that is not always the case. As the number of characters for all these languages increased, so did the lengths of bitmaps. And older computers might not have the capability to understand them. How does all this affect e-pub? It means you have to be careful which symbols you use. I found all this out because the symbols I chose resulted in the dreaded “square containing a question mark” – translation: “what in the world is that?” – on the oldest versions of the Kindle. To solve the problem, I attempted to try a graphic version of the symbols instead. It seemed to work, as it showed up correctly on all devices, but, and this is big, it did not translate in the same size to all devices: on some the graphic looked fine, but on others it was teeny-tiny.

Bottom line for Unicode Symbols: can be a nice addition and does not take up much space, but be sure to pick symbols that translate to all devices by checking it not only with the Previewer Tool but testing it with multiple fonts as well.

Bottom line for Graphics: look nice but be warned that the scaling/appearance may change from one device to the next. Use the Preview Tool to check that it looks the way you want across devices. In addition, overuse of graphics can add a lot to the size of your manuscript. So choose wisely and use sparingly.


Tip#3: Think Digitally

Tip #2
Tip #2

Just a glance proves which authors didn’t use the tools to test the quality of their e-books before publishing. From my previous career as a systems analyst, I gained a healthy respect for testing to be sure all was well before I signed off on a project. The handy tools for e-pub make testing a no-brainer.

Amazon provides the would-be author with the following tools:
Spellchecker: After uploading a book, you’ll be given a list of possible spelling errors, including words not recognized by the spellchecker. Step through these and fix any you find in your document and upload your book again. Repeat until all clear. (Note: The check is done every time you upload a new version of your manuscript, but you can click a single button to skip the list. This comes in handy when you’ve moved on from changing content to making only format changes.)

Previewer: This nifty on-line tool allows you to see how your manuscript looks on several different devices. Here you can view your formatting, including scene separators, and also test your Table of Contents links to be certain they are set up properly. This formatting hump appears the most daunting, but in essence is really pretty simple. Check out YouTube.com for videos on “how to” format for Kindle with your word processor. The investment is in the time but is totally worth it. I should also mention that there is a downloadable Previewer as well, but it only gives views for the Kindle Touch and DX. The on-line version is much more robust in that it gives views for various Kindles, as well as Apple and Android devices. So unless you have a compelling reason to download the Previewer, like wanting to work on your formatting without Internet access, don’t bother – you’re not missing anything.

Take away: No one is going to love your baby as much as you do. So, give your baby the love it deserves.

Tip #2: Use the tools

Next time: Formatting fun.

Tip #1
Tip #1

For the past few months my mantra has been: Eat. Edit. Nap. Repeat. At last, the time came to e-pub.

I created a new “author” account on Amazon (i.e. separate from my personal ones) and at once was smacked by the enormity of it all. Not only was I clueless as to “how to” but also being forced to go beyond the comfort zone of my inner circle to offer my story to the world – hello – left me quite intimidated. What’s an introverted hermit-type to do?

Tip #1: Start small with “divide and conquer” approach.

There was too much to learn in just a day or two. Sure I could dash through it, but because I plan to continue to e-pub, I knew I needed to take alittle time to actually learn how it works. I set my goal to create a quality product, and quality comes from putting in time and allowing myself the luxury to think things through.

Amazon makes the process pretty easy via guidelines set up for each part of the process. Starting small, I only read the guidelines that referred to the step I was on. This kept me from feeling overwhelmed.

I should note that I felt compelled to start with blank number 1 and fill in the required info in the order presented, but in reality, the blanks can be filled in any order, even leaving some unfilled. For example, it’s possible to upload a book and tackle the formatting even before entering the proper title. (To save, you will need at least some sort of title but you can save it as “test” or whatever you wish to call it. Note: When you click the “Save and Continue” button, you will be prompted for all the bare necessities required to save.) The beauty of digital is that anything you wish to defer can be added/fixed later. Nothing is written in stone as it is for paper.

So, make your account then decide where you want to start, go into learning mode, and tackle each part in steps. Use the guidelines and only read what is related to the task at hand. Delay the other stuff, and address each part in turn.

Relax. Breathe. You can do this. I did.

Tip #1: Start small.

I will be passing on more tips, so follow me to be sure not to miss my next post.


King Richard died in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field in Leicestershire, England, ending the 200 year rule of the Plantegents. He was killed by Henry Tudor thus ending the wars for the throne known as the Wars of the Roses. The Tudors reigned for the next 100 years.

Facial reconstruction of King Richard III Photo ©Getty Images
Facial reconstruction of King Richard III
Photo © Getty Images

In the Fall of 2012, King Richard’s remains were discovered buried under a parking lot in Leicester in the foundation of Grey Friars Church. Now that scientists and experts have had time to study his remains, some startling facts have emerged. Scientists extracted DNA from his teeth while historians tracked down a modern day descendant. The mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down through the female line, continued 17 generations and led to 2 descendants. Their DNA samples proved the connection and identified King Richard; only 1-2% of the population carries this close of a match.

Now King Richard is about to get the works, that is, have his entire genome sequenced. While it may prove interesting to learn more about his physical characteristics such as eye and hair color, there is a much bigger prospect afoot. It was obvious even at the dig site that he had scoliosis: a three-dimensional twisting of the spine. Studies of his bones revealed that he was not born with it but developed it between the ages of 10 and 13. There is no known cure for scoliosis but it is believed that genetics play a role.

One more startling fact is that the remains were found on the first day exactly where they started digging. It almost seems as if the king was meant to be found. Now computers and technology will allow sequencing of his DNA before he is finally laid to rest.

Controversy has surrounded him in both life and death, but perhaps his scurrilous legacy will be replaced by a more positive one, a cure for scoliosis.

For more: Visit The Richard III Society at http://www.richardiii.net


I know you. I know everything about you. You try to hide but I see it all. I nag and poke. I creep into your mind as the darkness descends; the world sleeps but you I provoke to restlessness. And in the stillness your mind rages, screaming “what if?” and better yet “why me?” It makes me laugh. I breed in your isolation, I feast on your doubt until I choke you in my icy grip.

My name is Fear.


In your despair, I wait. My heart breaks with each step you slip, further and further, spiraling, until you succumb. Broken. I am here, little one. Do you not see me? Do you not know who I am? I am the one who hears your cries, who keeps watchcare over you in your darkest hours. I whisper peace, be still. I dwell in the gentle touches of friends, in the soothing arms of your beloveds, and innocent laughter. I shimmer upon you until I break forth into a warming beacon. Bask in the fury of my love.

Celtic Cross, Knock, Ireland

I am Hope.


For: Kathy, Angela, and Jane.


Isaiah 41:10
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.



Modern rendition of a 15th C. war hammer

Also known as the horseman’s hammer since it was often wielded by a knight on horseback, the war hammer was first documented in the late 14th century as a response to the ever-increasing use of plate armor.

Painting by Paolo Uccello, 1438. Image made available by the Yorck Project.
Painting by Paolo Uccello, 1438.
Image made available by the Yorck Project.

Roughly 2 feet (61 cm) in length, the typical war hammer resembles a carpenter’s hammer with a blunt head at one end, and a solid spike instead of a claw on the other. Models from the 1400s began to feature another spike added to the top, creating a tri-pronged weapon. The haft, constructed of wood and iron, or full iron or steel, provided the strength necessary to inflict serious damage. Similar to a mace, the blunt end could stun an opponent, dent plate (or shatter poorly-forged plate) or fracture bones beneath any type of armor. The added benefit? The broad-based spikes delivered blows that penetrated and pierced armor. The top spike provided the coup de grace, allowing for a quick, two-fisted end.


The medieval flail – does any other weapon conjure up gruesome battle the way it does? Who can forget that scene in Return of the King when the Witch King swings his heavy flanged-headed flail and smashes Eowyn’s shield to bits? He chose wisely in picking a weapon of intimidation – flails just look nasty.

Modern rendition of medieval flail
Modern rendition of medieval flail

The flail was a wooden handle with a spiked ball or balls attached on the end by either a flange or chain. A single-balled flail was known as a morning star, and while other models featured more balls, they were all rare weapons, only appearing in art in the very late 15th century. Hence, they were likely never used in medieval battles.

The more common type of flail came from the peasantry, namely from harvesters of grain. Used for threshing, the long wooden stick had a flange at the tip which connected to a smaller wooden club. The peasants would beat the grain on the threshing floor to separate the useable wheat from the chaff. When it came time to fight, the peasants would grab whatever weapons they had; hence the flail developed its second purpose. Often, spikes were added to the club end.

The ball-and-chain flails proved just as dangerous to the wielder as to the enemy; due to the chain that could go slack, these weapons were unwieldy (as anyone who’s ever messed with nunchucks can attest). The pole versions were not much better in the hands of a novice, but the peasants who used them day in and day out brought their experience to wielding them as a weapon, and proved formidable indeed.

Peasants threshing wheat with flails
Peasants threshing wheat with flails
Book print, c. 1545-1547  Photo credit: britishmuseum.org © The Trustees of the British Museum
Book print, c. 1545-1547
Photo credit: britishmuseum.org
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Basically a club with a decorated head, a mace served as a cheap weapon that was simple to make. Maces date back to ancient times when the heads were made of stone, which easily broke. In the Middle Ages, maces were comprised of copper or bronze heads atop wooden shafts. The shape of the head could be starred or flanged, the point, literally, being to concentrate the blow into a small area. With the short points and wide base, the heads withstood the blows without breaking.

Metal mace with flanged head, 1500-1550
Metal mace with flanged head, 1500-1550

Used as early as the 11th century, maces rose in popularity as more plate armor was worn, but they proved effective against all types of armor. The crushing blows inflicted by a mace could break bones even through chain mail. Against plate armor it was less effective, serving to dent, damage, and deform or better yet, to penetrate the joints, all in hope of immobilizing the enemy.

Often used by clergy in the desire to avoid the shedding of blood, the mace evolved into an all-metal weapon. Perhaps due to the position of the clergy who wielded them, maces became a symbol of authority. Favored by kings, maces were constructed less as weapons and more as showpieces for royal ceremonies.

Cave: Iona, Scotland

Well, it’s been a rough week in the writing trench. I waited with baited breath for the phone to ring with news of my making the semifinals of a writing contest – nope. Didn’t happen. Didn’t make the list. The next day I heard from an editor that “our team decided to pass” on my book. He’d had my proposal for 7 months. Ok, maybe I should have followed up sooner…blah blah whatever. All my leads have dried up. There is no wind in my sails. I’m dead in the water.

And while I await my scores and critiques from the contest (oh joy), I have to ponder my expensive trip to a writer’s conference last Fall to meet said editor and agents (who also turned me down). Was it worth it? At this point I want to say no. The hardest part is knowing that God wanted me there. I gathered up all my courage, pulled out all my professionalism from my former career, and went in there with my guns blazing. I did the best I could. And in retrospect, I did get an agent and an editor to request my stuff. Not bad I suppose for a first try. But really, what was the point?

And where do I go from here?

I feel kind of like Tim Tebow. Cut loose from the NY Jets, he doesn’t have a clue where he will be playing football next year. And he’s gotta play football. But here’s what he said: “I don’t know what the future holds, but at the end of the day I know who holds my future.”

I feel for you, Tim. I’m right there too. And thanks. I needed to hear that today.

From Psalm 34:

18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are attentive to their cry;

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.