I finished my latest novel! Assassinate away!

It’s called The Italian School for Assassins.

I’d written maybe 1000 words a few months ago, but really started it August 10th and finished it this morning, September 14th. It needs lots of work, but…yay!

Now you can vote on the cover. These are just mock-ups, so relax. I’ll clean up the  colours, fonts and centring on the real deal, e.g., I know you can’t see my name on the stone arch.

italian asian clothed copy

italian asian naked copy

I also finished recording my first audiobook yesterday (The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World). w00t! Now I just have to figure out how to edit it. Yoiks.

Terminally Ill…with Kobo’s Mark (Leslie) Lefebvre and Scarlett Rugers

Hope Sze’s third medical mystery adventure, Terminally Ill, will hit the stands on February first, 2014, with a kicking cover by Scarlett Rugers, commissioned by Kobo:


And a mini picture of the upcoming print book:

Terminally Ill POD cover

As I mentioned in the Kobo interview, I was very excited to win this cover, since the last thing I remembered winning was a very nice set of bath soaps. More details here: http://kobowritinglife.com/2013/08/20/meet-the-winner-of-kobos-win-an-ebook-cover-contest-melissa-yi/

And here’s the blurb:

Magic? Dr. Hope Sze steers clear of magic.
But when “Elvis the Escape King” chains and nails himself inside a coffin and lowers himself into Montreal’s St. Lawrence River, he can’t break free.
So Hope restarts his heart and saves his life. But now Elvis demands to know who sabotaged his stunt.
Hope hung up her amateur detective badge two months ago, in order to tend to cancer patients on palliative care. The only cases she solves right now are case studies on pain and over-stuffed emergency rooms.
Which gets just the tiniest bit boring.
Hope could escape Montreal any day now. She could transfer to Ottawa to join her beloved ex-boyfriend, Ryan. No more unspeakable Montreal drivers and stymied medical care. No more working with the charming yet infuriating Dr. Tucker.
Hope the Escape Artist can afford to act generous. As parting gift to Montreal, city of festivals (and murderers), she could help Elvis out. Just asking a few questions won’t hurt anyone.
And so Hope plunges into her most unconventional and, possibly, her most terminal adventure yet. Where the magical art of escape and the dastardly art of crime vie for centre stage, and the better man may lose. Forever.


I got to meet Mark Lefebvre, Kobo‘s director of author relations, at the Advanced Master Class in Oregon in July. I hadn’t realized that he was also Mark Leslie, the editor of Tesseracts 16, who’d recently published my short story, “Burning Beauty,” which just meant I liked him even more.

I could fawn all over Mark, who’s one of those guys that you just meet and you’re like, yup, I like you. I could give a shout out to Kobo, with it’s beautiful and simple interface, writer-friendly approach, and Canadian roots, but that sounds totally self-serving now, right? So you can read J. Steven York’s much more informative Kobo post here, and I’ll just show you some pictures of me and Mark L, hanging out on the Oregon Coast.

First, we did the traditional standing side-by-side thing. You can see that a) he is much taller than me, b) Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith own a lot of books, and c) I am fake-smiling.IMG_0812

So then I suggested that we do more crazy pictures. Those are more fun. Mark immediately decided to pick me up, which is great. I love wacky people. Also, you can now see my surf shoes. Unfortunately, Kobo chose to run the picking up picture of me where I seem to have giant hips, but what can you do? (This one is a little better.)


We brought out a chair next. Props are always fun, and we reprised a classic pose. Clearly, he was saying something fascinating, like “Rutabagas, rutabagas.”


Then we realized we had much better props–books! And what if we looked fascinated, reading each other’s books? Fortunately, Chris York happened to have a copy of her latest Christy Fifield book. And who wouldn’t jump on Mark’s books, like Haunted Hamilton?


Which was cool, except I was like, Are we supposed to pretend to read while surreptitiously displaying the covers, or what? (I just think that Sean Young, the photographer, captured a pretty funny expression, so I included it.)


And then we said, forget reading, we’ll just strike a pose.


Back to the classic stance again. Everything comes full circle. Except see, now I’m the taller one. I think Max’s Magic Hat did the trick.


The Most Notorious People Have Spoken

My peeps have weighed in about the Notorious D.O.C. cover. One line stood out to me. “The grey is more serious and the red is more sexy.” (Unrelated photo below, demonstrating serious +/- sexy.)




Better angle

One shoe on, one off makes it clear that she’s hit “instead of tinkering under the car”

Some like the tire tread and blood

Works as a thumbnail

Red draws attention to the title


“I don’t like her body.”

“I don’t like her butt. It should be more toned. Is she someone who works out?”

“What’s with the panty line?”

“I don’t like the dress colour.”

“Yeah, the grey on grey.”

“I can’t tell at a glance if she’s face-up or face-down.”

“I don’t like the reflection in the car—it took me a minute to figure out what it was.”

“Why is she wearing flip flops? Why is she wearing a dress?”

Tire tread not realistic-looking

Paw print on the book spine (Olo Books logo)—unclear what this is



Red top draws the eye

Red is the colour of blood (and is sexier!)

Model has Asian background, like the Lisa Lee character in the book (very important to me, as I hate whitewashed covers)

Shot in the rain, also like the book

Rollerblades in the background (part of the book—Lisa Lee was blading in the wee hours of the morning)

Model wearing work-out clothes


Body angle not as eye-catching

Car wheel distracting

“Looks like it was shot in a garage with a reflective floor”

Not clear what the Rollerblades are in the background

No tire tread

Both shoes on

My take?

Both covers have strengths and weaknesses. But, in the end, my two covers are not so much competing against each other as competing against every other cover in the world.

The people who really disliked the grey cover were the ones who saw it in person. So it’s entirely possible that the grey works better online and the red works better face to face.

Which is a tricky question, since most people will buy this book online. It will be available to order in bookstores, but most people will see it on Amazon or as an e-book first—the opposite of the days of yore.

Which makes me wonder if I could have a different cover for e-book or print—or if I just have to choose the one that looks better as a thumbnail rather than in real life, which is an interesting reversal of fortunes.

First I have to get a copy of the red in print. Then I’ll decide. However, my decision will not be set in stone. And this is not a democracy. (Even if it were, only 22 people have voted so far, with the vote 13 to 9 in favour of the grey, which is not a stunning sample size.) Ultimately, I will choose the cover, and I may be crazy enough to do it differently for e-book and print book, or make one cover special order. Through the miracle of technology, I can also change my decision later. Hooray for indie publishing, and thanks for taking the time to vote!

The Most Notorious Cover

I showed off my new print book covers to my book club. Everyone liked Code Blues. High School Hit List‘s overlays confused one person, but the real drama came with  Notorious D.O.C.. To my surprise, they told me  to Photoshop the body, the colour, the clothes….I mulled this over, but since a) my Photoshop skills aren’t up to all that, and b) I’ve always objected to manipulating magazine shots to make women look like sexy robots (did you see the no-knees Lady Gaga cover?), where do I draw the line on my own designs?

Ergo, I made an entirely new cover. I’m not going to say which one is the original and which one is new. I don’t want to bias you any more. But if you could take a second to click and vote on your opinion and/or comment (politely), I’d love that. Thanks!

“Buddhish” Cover

I’d like some feedback on some potential covers for ‘Buddhish’:  the Unfeeling Doctor’s Freefall into Buddhism, Grief and Grace. (Yes, Buddhish, as in a little bit Buddhist.)  I want to convey grief and hope as well as Buddhism. They must work as thumbnails (teeny ebook pics) as well as larger sizes. Matt suggested I drop the subtitle for the thumbnails. Thoughts?  Many thanks!

Hallowe’en, Part I: Wolf Ice

My friend R.G. Hart wrote a Hallowe’en blog, thus inspiring me to write about Hallowe’en and my horror-flava-ed books.

This year, my son Max wants to be Superman.  Fingers crossed that there will be a suitable costume left in Cornwall by Friday. Last year, he was Batman.  Fortunately, our baby will just let us dress her up in anything.

I never had too much fun as a kid on Hallowe’en because my parents were too cheap to buy me a new costume.  I was a princess for, like, five years in a row. Ah, well.

My first featured book is not strictly about Hallowe’en, but it is about werewolves.  I’m a werewolf fan.  Team Jacob all the way.  Like my Bewere the Night bio states, I prefer werewolves (warm, furry) to vampires (cold, dead).

Wolf Ice

Wolf ice killed Leila’s best friend.  And now it’s stealing Leila’s self-control.

Wolf ice disinhibits werewolf brains:  it makes them act like animals.  Lusty, angry, hungry animals.

Wolf ice drives Leila straight into the arms (and on to other anatomical parts) of her ex-boyfriend.

Wolf ice could slay all Montreal wers–in fact, all wers around the world–unless Leila stops him.

Can she fight past the lust in order to save her species?

Available on the KindleiPad, Kobo, Nook & Sony ereader formats

Contest! Code Blues/The Devil’s in the Details


Do you have funny/sad/horrific/otherwise memorable medical detail that you noticed, either as a patient or a health care practitioner, that you’d like to share?
Dr. Greg Smith wrote to me after reading my medical thriller, Code Blues:
I really enjoyed Code Blues.  A bit surreal reading and picturing the areas of [our hospital] that had influenced things….I wished that the oven mitts as obstetric stirrups had made it in, but one can’t have everything, I suppose.  Maybe that was only my exam room….
In mine, they were oven mitts.  Mismatched oven mitts.  With no light, so you had to use one of those sproingy desk lamps things to case into the mysterious cavern.  When I started practice and had an actual light on my speculum, it was a true revelation when I could actually SEE the cervix.
I don’t remember any oven mitts in my exam room.
But I remember plenty of grotty details I’ve seen before and since!  Would you like to share yours?

Post your detail in the comments section at Olo Books by midnight on October 31st to win!

If you want to be anonymous, Tweet me your entry at dr_sassy and I’ll strip your ID before I post it.
If you post here or on Facebook instead, that’s fine, as long as you know that I will amalgamate all details on this page of the Olo Books website.
No purchase necessary.
Anyone aged 18 & over may enter to win.
Second & Third Prize:  your detail will be included in one of my upcoming essays/stories. In other words, everlasting literary fame and fortune.
First Prize: not only will your detail will be included in one of my essays/stories, but you have the right to name a character after yourself or someone else (slander excluded).  So, even more fame and fortune.  And…a free e-copy of Code Blues!  If you already had the good taste to buy Code Blues, you may substitute a free e-book of your choice from Olo Books.
If you want to see what details are already included in Code Blues, it’s available on the Kindle or Smashwords (the latter does all epub formats) with free samples.  The sequel, Notorious D.O.C., has just been released as well on Kindle and on Smashwords.  Or right on this website, I’ve got the first three chapters of Code Blues and Notorious D.O.C.
Just in case you were wondering, the sequel is called Notorious D.O.C. both because Hope has already become a notorious doctor and also as a reference to Notorious C.H.O., Margaret Cho’s hilarious tour, who was of course riffing on Notorious B.I.G.
Thanks for reading this, and good luck!

Indie Publishing, Buddha Style

You’re a writer and you’ve decided to start your own publishing company.  But in the first three months, you’ve only sold three copies of your book.  You

a) start making fun of all the bestsellers. A bunch of hacks. They all sell their stuff for 99 cents. And the traditional publisher’s fat cats have publicity machines behind them. They’re all bastards;

b) start hiring people to make more beautiful, sophisticated covers or edit your novel again–the first two versions obviously didn’t cut it;

c) run to the Kindle boards and start posting and PM-ing, meeting writers, tagging each others’ work, trying to get a review or make friends with a self-professed avid reader who has 5 bucks to spend on one book (but you’d give them a coupon from Smashwords to they could save that 5 bucks!). Just, somebody, somewhere, buy my book!  Please!

d) start troubleshooting. So many things could be wrong. The cover. The formatting. The language (how unfortunate that most Estonians don’t seem to have e-readers yet). The lack of reviews. The one two-star review. Should you make it free? What about 99 cents?  Is that too much?

e) realize it’s a waste of time. No one makes any money at this anyway. Take the book down and walk away.

The five Buddhist hindrances (mental mind states that lead you away from enlightenment) are

Aversion (anger, ill will)

This one is pretty self-explanatory. It’s easier to blow up at other writers than to deal with the fact that no one wants to read your book.

Lust (sensual desire)

Everyone else has a nicer cover, a better proof-reader, or a more dedicated bunch of friends who buy their books and tweet about them.  If only you had that, or the money for that, someone would read your book.

Restlessness (worry, remorse)

I can’t stand it. I’m checking my numbers again. Argh! Still no one’s bought it in the last 12 hours! I hate you all! I’m going to call my friend! Shoot, no one’s home. I’m going for a run. Okay, now let me check my numbers. Still nothing! Aaaaargh!!!!!!!

What’s wrong with my book? I should post it and ask people for help tweaking my cover.

Again, it’s easier to stomp around, creating a lot of sound and fury, instead of dealing with the fact that no one has bought your book in the past 8 seconds.


Because everything from content to cover to publicity is under your control, that leads to a lot of doubt and a lot of things you can fiddle with while waiting for people to buy your book.

Sloth and torpor

It’s easier to pull up your stakes and walk away than deal with the fact that very few people are buying your book.

Okay, so I’ve gone through all these things myself.  This is what I’d advise intellectually, in a “do as I say, not as I do” thing:

1. Low expectations.

Three people bought your book? Wow! Good for you! They spent their hard-earned cash on your words. That’s an honour.

Nobody bought your book? Well, that will just make it even more exciting when someone does!  (And by the way, if you go through Smashwords and wait for their premium distribution, etc., it will take six months to hear about any sales, so you may be selling without knowing it.)

2. Take the long view.

You have years, not days, to connect with readers and make your money. Your copyright lasts for a lifetime plus 50-70 years. Dean Wesley Smith points out that five books sales a month on the Kindle can equal $10,000 after 10 years; one book a day for 10 years can equal $30,000. (I can’t find this link right now, so please ping me if you can find it.) Sounds good to me.

3.  Stop letting the numbers determine your self-worth.

From what I see, writers used to obsess about rejection by editors and agents. Now that we can easily publish ourselves world-wide, we’re obsessed about our sales.

You are not your numbers. They’re just numbers.

My husband told me to stop looking at my numbers.

This just made me more desperate to look at them and fret, and no matter how good or bad they were, I wasn’t satisfied.

I know some people input their numbers into spreadsheets every day. It’s just data. My friend Genevieve encouraged me to do this, so it would be like, “Oh, do I have to input my numbers again today?” Since then, I haven’t looked. It works better for me.

4.  Write more.

The more content you get out there, the better.  My Kindle sales jumped as soon as I put up a bunch more short stories. And it just feels good to create something brand new that hasn’t been rejected yet.

5.  Publish more.

Now get your work out there. They can’t buy it if they can’t see it.

This takes courage. I didn’t want to go indie. I dreamed of traditional publishing, with an advance and a beautiful book I could hold in my hand. Just jumping in, with no guarantee anyone would read anything I wrote? Especially when I only sold three stories in my first two months? Yikes.

Two sayings I hung on to were a) “past performance does not predict future performance” (so even if I sucked now, I might not later), and b) “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Independent publishing is rising. I can see it lifting all the boats. It’s a beautiful thing.

Copyright Melissa Yuan-Innes, 2011

P.S. I’m writing a book about the Unfeeling Doctor and Buddhism and decided to detour into Buddhism and indie publishing. If this article helped you, please consider buying my books. Thanks!

Cover+me? Yes, you!

I’m not a graphic designer, nor do I play one on TV, but I do have some cover tips for writers entering the wild and woolly world of indie publishing.

1.  Start with a good image.

I look at free sites (http://www.sxc.hu/http://morguefile.com/), but I also pay for images.  First of all, they’re artists who deserve to be compensated; secondly, they do a better job than me; and thirdly, at this point, it’s not worth my time to keep looking around or trying to shoot photos myself.

2.  Convey the information:  the title and author name.

a)  It must be clear, even as a thumb-sized image.

b)  Avoid pitfalls.  Kindle used to put a logo in the bottom right hand corner over the cover; don’t let them cover up your information.  Having just gotten a Kindle myself, I see how different covers look in black-and-white and now I’m doing high-contrast covers for the Kindle alone (which is worth it for me, since I sell much better on that platform right now).

c)  Play with the fonts.  I use dafont.com and I adore it (again, I am willing to pay if need be).  So much of the spirit of your book is transmitted by the font, which is really part of the art.

3.  Play around in general.

Get a good graphic software (I’m using Mac’s GraphicConverter, but it doesn’t do layers or transparency for me, so I’ll try to figure out another one.  Gimp seems too hard.  I’m open to suggestions).  Then just move stuff around and see what you think.  Save multiple versions and ask for feedback.

One beginner error I notice in myself and others is the fear of running text over the image.  Here is an example of me demonstrating The Fear.  See how the info is pushed to the top and bottom:

Now I look at how graphic designers break that rule, but do it right.

Since I am still a beginner myself, without much free time, I search for images where I can add text without messing around too much.

4.  Train your eye.

I look at books to see not only what’s done right, but wrong.  I sometimes pick up (sorry) small press Canadian books and say, “Hmm.  This looks bad.  Why?” and try to analyze it.

I also found myself paging through magazine ads, which I used to consciously ignore, but they are masters of conveying information with a strong graphic.  Bored panda is a guru.

5.  Keep it simple and focused on the visual.

For example, last night I was playing with the cover for High School Hit List, my YA thriller about a high school bully who terrorizes the school vs. a Mohawk kid who talks to animals.

I couldn’t find a Mohawk visual that satisfied me.  Jimmy is not super into his culture and mostly I found stereotypical images of teepees and pow wows, some of which are beautiful, but not “him” at all.

So I went for a high school image.  I paged through lots of them before I chose this locker, which, for me, a) conveyed the claustrophobia of high school, and b) was easy to add text to.


I went through a lot of fonts, including punk’snotdead, which I loved but couldn’t make it really legible as a thumbnail, so I killed it.  My husband Matt voted for this font, Arslan’s blood (no, that’s not a creepy title at all!).

I still wanted to incorporate Mohawk culture, but didn’t have confidence that I would do it well, between my basic photo editing skills and the fact that I’m an outsider.  But upon reflection, I realized that I needed to bring in animals more than Mohawk culture.  So I searched for animal dingbats and ended up using Animal Tracks as punctuation.  And I lurve the final version.

Feel free to disagree!


6.  Keep a list of the pertinent info.

As the very intelligent Annie Reed pointed out, you should maintain a log of where you got the image, do you need to give credit, what font(s) you used, so if you do a series, you can maintain continuity.

For more wisdom, check the comments on Kris Rusch’s latest post here, where Carolyn Nicita gives a great rundown, as well as offers cover links on her own website.

Copyright Melissa Yuan-Innes, 2011

I got the blues. Code Blues.

Code Blues

Dr. Hope Sze rolls into Montreal with three simple goals:  1) survive her family medicine residency, 2) try pain au chocolat, 3) go on a date sometime in the next two years.

Then she discovers a doctor’s body in the locker room.

When she tries to uncover his killer, two men are more than willing to help her.

The one man with charm to burn, the one man who makes her melt, has zero alibi.


Code Blues.  Sex, drugs, and doctors.


Written by an emergency physician trained in the crumbling corridors of Montreal.


In the tradition of J.K. Rowling, I wanted to release my first novel on a significant date and chose August 15th, 2011, our 13th wedding anniversary.

Since I just got the edits last night from Camden Park Press and the 300 dpi image from Nicolas Raymond a few days before, it’s been crazy, but I did it.  Code Blues is now live on Smashwords and will take 24-72 hours to make its way into Amazon’s Kindle system.  I plan to release it on paper too, but not today.

P.S.  My children are still alive.  Matt and I did manage to celebrate by doing lunch at Ban-Lao Thai and going to DHC to view disturbing horsehide and wax sculptures by Berlinde De Bruyckere.

Why I’ve joined the indie publishing revolution

I did not want to join the independent publishing revolution.  No, I wanted New York to discover my genius and send my books on to bestsellerdom.

I sent my novels to editors and garnered some interest, including one editor who asked for a three-book proposal so she could sell it to her boss and many, many other editors who asked for partial or full manuscripts.

Funny thing, though.  These hard-working, intelligent editors were disappearing.  Losing their jobs.  Mutating into agents.  Being replaced by junior editors who didn’t respond to my queries, probably because they’d just taken over two people’s jobs and didn’t have time.

Two of my writing mentors, Kris Rusch and Dean Smith, had written extensively about indie publishing.  It seemed like all of my Oregon friends had joined the revolution but, to be perfectly honest, I was afraid it would be like a Tupperware party where we all tried to sell to one another.

I resisted.  I wanted a “real” book.  But I kept seeing good editors vanish.  Magic 8 ball said:  bad sign.

So, in 2010, I said, This is my last-ditch effort to do it the old-fashioned way.  I attended three major conferences:  NJ SCWBI (3 months pregnant), RWA Nationals (5 1/2 months), and the Rutgers One-on-One (eight months–my new friend Karen was secretly afraid I’d go into labor).  I shook hands, I attended panels, I made friends with an agent or two.  I also marketed two of my books as radio dramas.

On November 19th, I delivered my baby girl, Anastasia.

In January 2011, I got a deal for a radio drama pilot with the potential to go national.  Aaagh!  Two major dreams coming true almost simultaneously.  I was so happy, I could hardly sleep.  Matt looked after Anastasia while I wrote and developed my radio drama.

I kept an eye on indie publishing, sort of.  But when the CBC decided not to pick up my series, I had to sit down and take a serious look.

This is what I understood, filtered through Kris and Dean and The Passive Guy:

1.  Borders has collapsed, taking down 10 percent of the bookselling market in the U.S.

Other big box bookstores have moved away from selling physical books, e.g. more than one person has said, “Chapters now seems to specialize in gift wrap.”

Ergo, even if publishers are willing to gamble on my book, book-selling space is fast disappearing.

2.  The publishing industry survives on about 4-5 percent profit (and just lost 10% of its physical sales in the U.S.).

Publishing is now run by bean counters and sales teams who want a quick profit on a book instead of letting editors choose books they love and keeping books around to build word of mouth.

So it’s increasingly difficult to sell your book and to get a decent contract (they want rights in all media; 25% of ebook sales is a non-negotiable term; royalty statements need auditing, etc.).

3.  Readers still want to read.

Thanks to the miracle of the Internet and other new-fangled technology, I can now sell my work directly to readers and keep most of the profit myself by acting as publisher and writer.  Sure, the perpetual party question will still be “Are you a real writer?” but as Dean points out, as long as I’m a good writer putting out a good product, willing to wait for years of small sales instead of getting it as an advance, at least I’m in control over the content, cover, and to some extent, the distribution.  Truthfully, I love doing my own covers.  I think of it as an extension of my creativity.  But if I ever decide they are too primitive, I can just hire someone to redo them.  I have also hired proofreaders.

(BTW, now that I think about it, the who ask me “But are you a real writer” tend not to be readers.  They tend to more interested in status.)

4.  I believe we are at, or near, the tipping point for e-publication.  The space for physical books is dropping while the e-reading audience is growing.  For obvious reasons, I want some of my children’s stuff out on the market before J.K. Rowling makes her debut in October.

5.  I no longer need New York or anyone else to tell me if my work is good enough.

What the CBC really did for me was give me confidence in my own writing.

As Rumi wrote,

Something opens our wings. Something

makes boredom and hurt disappear.

Someone fills the cup in front of us.

We taste only sacredness.

Full poem here.

What is important to me is not so much the form (paper or pixels) or the prestige.  I just want people to have access to my stories.  When the CBC paid me thousands of dollars to develop a pilot, it soothed my hurt and insecurity.  I no longer thought “I’ve only published short stories and non-fiction.  I’m not a real writer until these novels hit the shelves.”  I thought, “We’re all real writers.  I just need to get to the real readers/listeners/customers.”

And that, my friends, is why I have joined the independent book publishing revolution.

Copyright 2011, Melissa Yuan-Innes