Monday, September 10, 2012

Take Cover with Guest Blogger: Tam Linsey

Meet author Tam Linsey 
and  win a copy of Botanicaust 
today at the Book Boost!

She's here to talk about the construction of a book cover and here's what she had to say...

Good writers know the first line of a book should give a sense of the story's tone, and the first paragraph or two had better be fairly representative of what the book will be about. Yet there is a promise made to readers even before they open the book - the cover. If it does not offer readers what they are looking for, they move on without giving the first line a chance. With current Indie publishing trends, writers have more control than ever over the cover's promise. And more responsibility.

In creating a cover, first consider the novel's mood. Is it funny? Cartoonish characters or items are an easy pick. Horror novels are generally dark, with sharp elements and shadowy suggestions. Readers know they are getting hot and sexy romance if they see a bare chested man dominating the cover. My novel, Botanicaust is a dystopia. The world's croplands have been decimated. Cracked, parched looking earth makes the reader feel the sense of scarcity dominating the book.

Another important aspect of a good book cover is the font. A font can speak volumes about a book. Imagine what Botanicaust would look like if I’d used a flowery, cursive script for the title. Not quite the same feeling as the bold, deteriorating capital letters, is it? Take special note of fonts, whether you design your own cover or someone else does. Make sure that font sets the mood you want it to.
In modern fiction, many covers include a representative image of the hero or heroine. What kind of person will readers be empathizing with?

A character with a gun lets readers know we will be following a kick-butt hero in an action thriller. A lot of YA these days seems to feature young ladies on the covers (or maybe that’s because I have a teenage daughter in the house, and Amazon is great at targeting sales.) Paranormal characters might have glowing eyes or a pair of wings. Readers see these things, and know what they will find inside without even thinking.

Botanicaust, I admit, may be a tad misleading with a naked woman on the cover, since the book is not erotica. (Upon my cover reveal, my uncle made the comment, “At least the tan is in the right place.” I had to laugh.) So, why is she naked? Well, notice she is green? No, she’s not an alien. Tula has photosynthetic skin, like plants. She makes her own calories out of sunlight. If she covered her skin, she’d starve.

The naked woman on the cover also helps readers know that although this book is a dystopia, it is not YA. (Readers assuming dystopia must equal YA is a whole different blog topic.) And if a reader mistakenly thinks this is a novel about aliens, I’m not worried; dystopia readers and sci-fi readers often enjoy the same types of books.

I’m no graphic artist. Many authors would caution me (or you) against trying cover design. But I knew what I wanted Botanicaust's cover to say without words. So I did it myself. And I made a lot of mistakes. My original cover had Tula cut in half. She literally hung off the edge of the book. The vastness of the desert was overwhelming. But then at the RWA National Conference, someone pointed out to me that the book is not really about the desert. It’s about Tula. Why had I cut her in half?

That was a major “d’oh” moment. I moved Tula over and slid the background down to reduce the amount of desert showing. Now, Tula takes up about half the cover. That’s a good ratio visually. I created a bar with an announcement of the series to match the dusky color of the mountains on the horizon, and used it to cut the cover laterally into thirds (The Rule of Thirds – another one of those photography how-to’s I’m not too familiar with. I told you, I’m not a graphic designer.)

Finally, I had to come up with a tagline. Many books simply have “a novel” on the cover. In my opinion, that’s fine for literary fiction. But genre fiction requires a hook. In this day and age of shopping via thumbnail book covers, the cover art makes a reader look closer - the tagline makes them open the book. Since Botanicaust has cannibals and people who photosynthesize like plants, I decided to play on the whole “crop” theme. The only crop left ... is human.

I don’t know if I’ll design the cover for my next book. There are a lot of fabulous cover designers out there who could do the job a lot faster than I did. Creating the design took away time I could have been writing. But it also saved me hundreds of dollars, and a debut Indie author has to take cost into consideration. (My deepest gratitude to the many, many people who were honest with their opinions of my cover creation attempts along the way.) By designing my own cover, I could instead spend my money on a professional editor.

Overall, I’m happy with my result for Botanicaust. What do you think? Is the cover successful?

A Note from the Book Boost:  I love that tagline!  I'm a big tagline fan and they can totally win me over before I ever open a book.  Great job and I know this must have been a labor of love for you.  Best of luck with the book and thanks for joining us at the Boost.  Please tell us more.


The only crop left … is human.

After genetically altered weeds devastate Earth's croplands, much of humanity turns to cannibalism to survive. Dr. Tula Macoby believes photosynthetic skin can save the human race, and her people single-mindedly embark on a mission to convert the cannibals roaming what's left of Earth. But when Levi, a peaceful stranger, refuses alteration, Tula doesn't think the only options should be conversion or death.

Levi Kraybill, a devout member of the Old Order, left his Holdout farmland to seek a cure for his terminally ill son. Genetic manipulation is a sin, but Levi will do almost anything for the life of his child. When he's captured, he's sure he's damned, and his only escape will be death.

Tula's superiors schedule Levi's euthanization, and she risks everything to set the innocent man free. Now she and Levi are outlaws with her people, and she's an abomination with his. Can they find sanctuary in a cannibal wasteland?


Levi twisted to look back at the city for the tenth time. The lights and glitter of glass houses had disappeared in a blanket of haze. He turned to face forward, peering into the darkness. In the driver’s seat, Tula gripped the steering wheel hard enough to make her knuckles gleam as she stared intently ahead. They ran with no lights. The faint blue glow from the dashboard gave off only enough light to see fantastic swirls of dust pummeling the front window, eddying along the clear sides, grasping at the vehicle as if attempting to stop the reckless flight. Every once in a while, the vehicle shuddered and swayed, from the wind or from an unseen obstacle in their path, he couldn’t tell. His stomach leapt and twisted. Not used to this kind of speed, he was thrilled and frightened at the same time.

Earlier, in the single-room cell, after the effect of the stun wore off, he’d been ready to accept his death. He’d made his peace with God. His mind wavered from so many changes. The will to live, the will to die - how many times had he determined a course of action over the last weeks, only to be derailed at the final moment of proof? He felt like Abraham on the mountain as he prepared to sacrifice his son, relieved to have God stay his hand.

Only Levi was not so pious. Surely, it never occurred to Abraham that God was toying with him.

Ashamed of his thoughts, Levi dropped his head in silent prayer and beseeched the Lord to grant them safe passage.

For hours they headed through the darkness. The storm howled louder, and small stones and other debris cracked against the sides of the vehicle. His stomach dropped out from under him as they tilted precariously, slid sideways, and righted again. He clutched the edge of his seat. “Tula?”

“It’s okay.” She didn’t take her eyes off the front window.

He struggled with words. Dare he break her concentration? Could she see anything? “Eye?” He pointed out the front.

A slight shake of her head.

She couldn’t see. He’d hoped the Blattvolk had some kind of enhanced night vision, in addition to their green skin. Could the other Blattvolk pursue them in this weather?

Again the car lurched, and the hum of the engine rose to a whine. Tula let out a string of words Levi didn’t understand, but interpreted as frustration.

“Should we stop?” He knew she wouldn’t understand, but the silence pressed around him until it was hard to breathe.

"Levi free.” More words, and again, “free.”

Then the car entered free fall.

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Tam Linsey said...

Thank you so much for having me here! I will be on the road to Fairbanks part of the day, but I will log on to answer any questions as soon as I can. Hope everyone is having a fantastic day!

Casey Wyatt said...

Tam - this book is in my TBR pile right now. You know I'm a big fan and am so excited the book is finally out. And I love the cover. It is fantastic! Congratulations on your new release!

Marian Lanouette said...

Excellent post, just added TBR file

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Great explanation of what goes into a cover design. Great story too! Enjoy the book release and blog tour! :-)

Unknown said...

I just finished Botanicaust (I got an e-book from goodreads) and I have to say I loved it. It was one of the best sci-fi/dystopian books I've read in a while. It was so well written and the storyline was strong and interesting. I hope to see a sequel soon.

Celia Breslin said...

Hi Tam, I love your cover. Thanks for sharing your design process. It was very enlightening.

Tam Linsey said...

Thank you, Shannon! I'm working on the sequel, but in the interim, I have a short story I will publish in October (I hope!)
Celia, glad you enjoyed seeing my process. Thanks for stopping!