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!

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 (, 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 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

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