Articles, Writing

Cover Story: Nightmare Tenant/Foundations

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is the traditional adage; however, in today’s self-published and digital world, it’s increasingly idealistic and out of date. In this post I want to go over some of the behind-the-scenes design choices I made when commissioning the Nightmare Tenant cover, and that of its companion book and prequel, Foundations.

Comparison Titles and concept

The first step was to look at my genre and identify some comparison titles for an idea for how I wanted. It’s important to look along your virtual “shelf” to see what comparable books in genre look like so what is commissioned is not incongruous – there’s conventions and standards within each genre that should be acknowledged.

For instance, rainbows and butterflies would not have been appropriate for Nightmare Tenant:

  • Incongruous to the feel and vibe of the story; ergo this could deceive the reader
  • Incongruous to the genre conventions I had identified; the book just wouldn’t sit right as a horror book

I found two such books on the Amazon store when researching my genre that I felt would be great inspiration for the Nightmare Tenant cover:

Book cover comparisons and the Nightmare Tenant concept

I then thought about how I would like my cover to look before creating the roughest of rough concepts.

It was at this point I commissioned Les (aka GermanCreative) to design and create the final cover. We discussed what elements to use and what stock images to use to create the photo-manipulated cover but beside my concept and picking images, I left the “design” largely to her to realise and visualise, based on my concept and the comparison covers.

Adjustments

When I received the first version of the cover I was beaming from ear-to-ear as I was so pleased with how Les had transformed my concept and comparison covers. The added elements – the textures, backgrounds and effects really sold the effect and vibe of Nightmare Tenant and I was pleased that she had gone above and beyond in adding those details.

However, I didn’t immediately accept the first version – I took a day or so to digest and look at it critically before calling it done.

I showed the cover to a couple of author friends who were impressed. But beyond a few minor tweaks – such as moving the Nightmare Tenant title slightly lower, there wasn’t significant changes.

High-res vs low-res

The high-resolution, full size cover image of Nightmare Tenant looks fantastic; so much so I have an art print of it in my office. However, an important note is that is not how a large amount of people will view it.

First version of the Nightmare Tenant cover as resized to Amazon’s display size (desktop)

When I received the initial version, one of the steps I took when considering my revision was to resize the image to the size at which it is displayed on Amazon.com. This was a crucial step – when viewing it at this resolution I noticed that the author name simply wasn’t prominent enough. Why is this important? My author name is my brand so it is important that it is prominent and legible at the resolution that readers will see it on the web when browsing or scrolling – I only have perhaps a fleeting moment to grab their attention in that time so it’s crucial that everything important on the cover is legible.

Nightmare Tenant Amazon search result with the amended cover

These two corrections were made without incident to my satisfaction and the final cover is one I am immensely proud of.

Comparison of the first version (left) and final version (right) covers for Nightmare Tenant

Foundations

Foundations is the free reader magnet I currently give away to subscribers to my newsletter. It also serves as a standalone prequel/introduction to Nightmare Tenant.

I went to the expense of commissioning a cover for Foundations because, even as a free reader magnet, it deserved to be treated as “seriously” as a full paid release. This is the book I use to introduce readers to my author community and it’s an important marketing tool for that reason.

The cover design process was streamlined; as it was a companion to Nightmare Tenant I used a lot of the motifs and layouts to tie the pair of works together visually and graphically.

I did have a late change to the imagery; the initial image with the party scene on the bottom half of the cover just didn’t quite gel for me so I had it swapped out for the crypt scene which I feel worked much better.

When it comes to book cover design – whether covers I design myself or commission, attention to detail is key for not only getting the effect you want but in maximising exposure of your author brand – you may only get one opportunity to “wow” a particular set of eyeballs and those first impressions – and making them memorable – really do count.

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Articles, Writing

What’s in a Chapter?

I’ve been undergoing a bit of an epiphany recently as I plan out some new works and it’s gotten me thinking lately about a fundamental element of story structure and how I approach it (along with how others seem to approach it): the chapter.

Chapters are essential units of storytelling. Do not omit them or try to subvert the reader’s expectations. Chapters create structure which is valuable to both you and your reader.

We all seem to think we know what a chapter is. It’s a unit of story. We all seem to think we know where a chapter starts and ends. But how do we perhaps better define a chapter?

Here’s three main ideas that come to mind initially when thinking about what a chapter is:

  • Length: a chapter is, roughly speaking, no more than 3,500-4,000 words in length. Some may, because of the points below, be considerably shorter. But any longer (and this is from experience), you will start to fatigue the reader whose attention may start to wander from what is happening to when the chapter finishes so they can have a break (for many readers, like myself, are loathe to put a book down mid-chapter). Chapters in themselves are great units of story to consume: I’ll read three chapters before bed..  or I can fit in a couple of chapters before my sister calls.
  • Place and time: This is an approach I take myself: a chapter takes place in one place, at one particular time. It might be, say, four AM at Rachel’s house, and the chapter contains what happens then. If we then wish to switch to three-thirty PM at Roger’s corner shop, that abrupt change of time and place is an almost natural break point for a new chapter.
  • Point of view: One chapter may be from the perspective of the police offer chasing down a wanted criminal. The next, we may switch to the point of view of the criminal who is actually just trying to save his ill daughter. A great combination of both place and time and point of view is the Expanse series of science-fiction novels, whose approach from point of view to dedicate each chapter to the point of view of one of several characters works extremely effectively. I also feel that dedicating each chapter to a point of view is narratively less taxing on both the reader and author as both can be sure through whose eyes the events in a particular chapter take place.

Chapter breaks can be crucial in determining your initial act breaks. A chapter should contain a handful of “events”: aka things that happen. You start with a thing that leads to a character making a change that results in another thing they must then contend or deal with.

But that’s just the fundamentals. What else can a chapter be?

  • A chapter is a logical series of scenes that take place in one place and time through the perspective of a particular character: A chapter can indeed be one scene. Janes gets up and has breakfast. But you could have a series of scenes in which the stakes are upped. Jane gets up, not feeling well. She has a shower. Steve is waiting for breakfast. She emerges and discovers she is pregnant. How will she tell Steve?
  • A chapter deals with one particular “moment” or change to our characters or plot: As with length above, chapters where lots change can fatigue and confuse the reader if you keep throwing events at them. Chapter breaks are free, and you can make chapters short to adhere to this length (see James Patterson’s books which have lots of pacy, short chapters).
  • The plot needs to move in a meaningful way: A chapter of backstory is fine as long as this makes sense to the “now” our characters. A chapter describing the world you’re trying to build, without context and importantly without anything happening will bore the reader. A chapter should set up an event, or lead from one event to the next.                                                                              
  • First and last lines are important: Your first line should be a hook that draws the reader in. You can do a great deal of work in setting up the situation of the chapter with an opening line or paragraph. The reader needs to be enticed to keep reading. Likewise, the end of the chapter should be a “cliffhanger” that makes the reader really want to continue reading. A chapter break is a good point for a reader to end their session, but what you really want is that just one more chapter… pull.

In my own approach, I treat chapters as we would scenes in a film: a logical series of events. I’ve read works from other authors where the chapters are 8,000 words long: my advice to them would be to break these huge, monolithic chapters into several (you can even put a different point of view chapter between them – think in movies how we mostly follow the goodies but break to see the baddies too) – breaking a big scene across three chapters you can end up being able to write more (three 3,500-word chapters is 10,500 words, which is considerably more than one 8,000 word chapter).

In my own work, I absolutely subscribe to the Expanse-style of dedicating one overall point of view per chapter, though I have made exceptions (especially close to a finale of a story). And indeed, some mid-chapter or inter-chapter interludes are fun to add in various context that may not necessarily fit into the formal chapter structure but are indeed chapters by another name.

Generally, my chapters take the following form:

  • A hook at the start to both reorient the reader from the previous chapter and entice them to read on.
  • Confined to one time and place, and the events of which are told through one character’s point of view.
  • A cliffhanger moment at the end to propel the reader to the next chapter.

Once you decide on how you will structure your chapters as part of your overall outline or plan then the events in which will fit in easily, but don’t be wedded to your initial outline (I recall The Thaw started as a very traditional three-act structure: each act was three groups of three chapters et cetera).

This may all come as no surprise to anyone though it’s a subject worth thinking about as laying the groundwork with a good understanding of the fundamentals will aid storytelling in a profound way before you add layers atop the foundations. What are your thoughts on how you lay out or plan chapters?

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Announcements, Writing

Nightmare Tenant – Giveaway now closed!

Hello! Further to my previous post, the launch giveaway for Nightmare Tenant is now closed for entrants.

I’m really pleased with the number of people who participated and, while, I wish I could give you all a prize, as the contest rules stated, I will be holding a draw very soon to get the winners. When I’m ready to announce this – for I’m planning a fairly snazzy video production – I’ll update you here!

I’m really blown away by the positive reaction to Nightmare Tenant from these kind reviews:

Loads of characters, amazing concept and some pretty Final Destination style goings-on, Nightmare Tenant is nothing if not a fun, quirky spin on the haunted house trope you think you know so well.

HANNAH R. PALMER author of NUMBER 47

Richard does a great job of pulling you into the story using the main family in the story, so we really get a feel for their plight, and the adventure pulls you along to a rapid, scary finale! I will never be able to drive past a tower block again without remembering this story.

VICTORIA WREN author of WILD SPIRIT: THE CURSE OF WIN ADLER

Set in an old tower block, I found the visuals and descriptions were perfect in setting the scene in a place that’s been quickly tarted up! The author did a great job of having a variety of characters from all walks of life, alongside a sprinkle of humour throughout this thrilling horror story!

DAN HOOK – author of DISPLACED

Move into Nightmare Tenant if you dare – on Amazon now!

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