Let’s get you Covered! Series #5: Pre-made Covers

Let’s Get you Covered! Series:

Number 5’s the charm! (Hopefully)

Hi, everybody, and welcome to the last post of our Let’s Get You Covered! series. We’ve gone through some interesting material in this series and have taken a look at all the options for covers Indies have available, how to approach them and what are the most convenient for the do-it-yourself-ers out there.

As promised, today we tackle an alternative (and greatly exploited) approach that is both affordable and valuable: Pre-made covers.

Many indie authors take this approach because is the only way to have the professional expertise of the artist, without having to pay top dollar for it. But like with everything, there are pros and cons to be considered before making your choice.

Let’s examine them: Pre-made Covers

Type 3.5: Premade Covers

   

Pre-mades are the popular, not-so-snobby cousins to the Photo/Illustration Covers. They are virtually inexpensive (doesn’t mean FREE!) and they are already geared to look professional and to have that visual appeal we are all looking for. Pre-made Covers are done by professionals most of the times, who have already purchased the stock photos and fonts, and who are normally willing to forfeit the copyright to the final image once the price is met. Also, many cover designers only sell their designs once, so you won’t run into the trouble of having your cover used by somebody else.

Here are the basics:

Pros: Stunning Imagery. Professional and attractive results. Affordable Pricing.

Cons: No customization allowed. Uses Stock Photos (may result in a repeated image). 

 

—- Premade Photo covers: 
A good pre-made cover can give you the best of both worlds. It can be beautiful and not dig into your meager indie author funds. Pre-made covers normally go from around $30 up to $100 depending on the level of difficulty, genre and amount of images in the project. If you are choosing a cover with only a silhouette or a single image and background, they are more likely to cost less.

If on the other side, you want the cover with the astronaut, on Mars, with the moon peeking from beneath a mountain, chances are it’s not going to be as cheap. Like with everything else, when you purchase a pre-made you are getting what you pay for, so set up a budget for yourself and investigate from there.

For now, let’s take a look at some of the things you should keep in mind when you are browsing for pre-mades:

Check your License: Many designers of pre-mades agree to only sell the final design once, in order to avoid having your cover used by somebody else, but it falls under your responsibility to check this. Before purchasing, consult the FAQs, Terms of Use, About, or any other related pages in the designer’s website and read the whole thing through. Remember you are going for the discounted version of a Photo Cover, so there are no returns or exchanges in this business. If you purchased a cover that is not adequate to what you need, you cannot send it back and get your money again, so make sure to be really sure you have your facts down.

Know what type of cover you need: This one is aPicture basic, but it’s still good to keep it in mind. As you know, available publishing formats for indies are ebook and paperback, and the covers for these two formats are different. For an ebook, you only need the front cover, but a paperback will require a full-wrap design. That is: front, back (with blurb or your choice of back matter) and spine. These type of covers are normally more expensive because they require more material so be ready for a higher price tag. Still, it’s far less that you would pay for a custom-made.

Beware of stocky images: As we discussed in post #4, Stock photos can be tricky, and are prone to repetition. This is something designers of pre-mades cannot avoid, so if you find another cover that has the same image as yours, is nobody’s fault. To prevent this, try to choose non-genre related images. For instance, if you are writing Romance, you have the temptation of choosing the cover with the embracing couple. That’s fine, but remember that that is the first instinct of every other Romance writer, so the risk of the same image being chosen is high. Instead, choose a neutral image that it’s not so obvious. Play with your title and content. Experiment. If your novel is a Cowboy romance, a girl with a horse can be a very good choice. If you are writing regency, a lady dressed in regency garb can work just as well. Think outside the box and try to come up with something that identifies only you and your book (remember Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey), that way, you are less likely to run into trouble.

 

—– Pre-made Illustration Cover:
Premium Cover # 112$349Pre-made Illustration Covers are far more complicated. A good illustration takes a long time to complete, so artists are not that willing to sell themselves cheap. These are more expensive and also scarce, and it’s doubtful that you will find a design that fits your book to the T, because they are very generic. Mainly this type of pre-made covers feature castles, dragons, swords, and space landscapes like planets and spaceships. While the advantage of the photo pre-made is availability, illustration pre-mades are few and far between. My advice would be, in case your cover calls for an illustration, go for custom. Yes, you are going to be spending some more, but it’s better than paying up to $400 dollars at times for something that won’t work well with your branding and you will maybe have to change later on.

Today’s resources are some sites of pre-made covers for you to take a look at. Check them out, draw your own conclusions and then come back here and tell me about your process! It’s been great writing this series and I hope you all enjoyed it!

Designs by Rachelle

Book Cover Artistry

S. Frost Designs

Self Pub Book Covers

Crow’s Nest Covers (Illustration)

 

Let’s get you Covered! Series #4: Photo/Illustration Covers

Let’s Get you Covered! Series:

I’m back!

#4 after some time away. Been having some troubles with the manuscript that have kept me away from the blog, but here we are again to tackle post #4 in our Let’s Get You Covered! series. This time we are going to discuss the most elaborate and also popular type of cover: Photo/Illustration

As you must know by now, Photo/Illustration are the most difficult type of cover to create. Normally, I  always recommend authors to outsource this cover design directly to professionals, because of the high degree of complexity and specialized skills this type of design entails.

However, we are still going to examine it today, just to get a feel of what how the process develops.

And here we go: Photo/Illustration

Type 3: Photo/Illustration Covers.

   

Definitely top-of-the-line, Photo/Illustration Covers have the professional look, the visual appeal, and that eye-catching quality that makes it stand out from the rest. Is the kind of cover every indie and traditional author dreams of. And exactly because of it, it’s the most complicated to create.

Here are the basics:

Pros: Stunning Imagery. Several different options available. Professional and attractive results. 

Cons: Easy to look unprofessional if created by an amateur. High level difficulty. Requires stock photos ($). Requires a professional design software. 

—- Photo Cover: 

Stock Photos: When you talk photo covers, the first thing that comes to mind are the beautiful models, charming scenery, and striking images that complement your title and font. Most of the times, these images are purchased by the authors or designers from online stock photo sites (shutterstock, fotolia, gettyimages, images.com, etc.), and then they are adapted through photo-manipulation to fit the theme or mood of the book.

Stock photos are a good alternative, because you can purchase exactly what you need, and reuse it several times according to your specific license (more about that topic HERE). They are normally professionally taken, in a controlled environment and lighting, in order to ensure the maximum usability. That said, working with stock photos is probably one of the most complicated things that there are, design wise, and it also comes with several complications:

1) Now you see me… now you see me again. Anybody can buy a stock image, and usually licenses don’t restrict the amount of times an image can be sold and used. With this in mind, you may find yourself in the predicament of having your cover image used by some other artist:

Sing Me to Sleep For Pete's Sake (Piper Cove Chronicles #2)   All over You (Devoured, #0.5) Darkness Awakened (The Supernaturals, #3)

This is never good, especially considering that books with the same cover image normally end up as competitors in the same genre. You don’t want your cover to be confused with somebody else’s.

2) Lack of customization. When you’re working with a stock photo, you have to use exactly what you have on hand. It doesn’t matter if your character has a certain eye color, hair length or body mark. It doesn’t matter that your heroine should have a Regency-era dress instead of an Elizabethan or Medieval dress, or that your highlander hero uses a red-and-black tartan instead of a green-and-blue one. You have to surf through the stock sites trying to find the closest match.

3) DON’T work with stock images if you are not a pro. At first glance, a stock image can  look like the solution to all your design troubles. After all, it is a complete piece, that many times only needs your name and title to look like the real deal, right? No, that is not right. Some of the biggest blunders in amateur cover design happen because of stock photos that are not correctly used. Here are some examples (click to enlarge):

   

The covers above were the victims of the poor photo-manipulation skills of their authors, and are just an example of what can happen when somebody without any design experience tries to undertake the challenge of creating a photo cover. When working with pre-made images, there are several things that can go wrong, and many factors to consider that amateurs just cannot understand. It’s not good to simply assume it’s going to turn out all-right at the end, because most of the times, it doesn’t.

 

—– Illustration Cover:
Custom Illustration: 
Illustration covers are probably the most exclusive (and expensive) type of cover design, normally reserved for specialized genres like Fantasy, Sci-fi and Paranormal. These type of cover depends almost exclusively on the author hiring a professional artist. Although you can get some illustrations from certain stock sites, the availability is significantly minor, because illustrator know exactly how much such covers are worth. An illustration cover can go anywhere from $500 to $5,000 dollars depending on complexity, license and specs. It’s not something you can just whip out in a flash, and many experienced artist spend several hours and sometimes days at work in producing a single image. Even though illustration covers are definitely the most any author can aspire to (a completely original, completely custom-made cover), they must be willing and able to afford all the wonderfulness that it entails.

So what to do with this cover type if you don’t have the means to afford having it done by a pro?

Well, my first advice would be: AVOID IT!

My second, third and fourth advice would be to avoid it too. There are many other easier options for covers (that we already discussed) that are far more manageable for amateur designers. Refrain yourself form trying to come up with something if you don’t feel you are qualified, and don’t get tempted by all the amazing cover art your fellow indie writers have, because they most likely hired a designer and almost never did it themselves.

However, if you still definitely, definitely (DEFINITELY!) want a photo/illustration cover that it’s affordable and still look professional, there is but a single option: get a pre-made cover. 

Sometimes, designers and illustrators will buy or create stock photos on their own and design prospective covers for indie writers to purchase ready-made. These covers are simple, elegant, and sometimes creators agree to exclusivity rights for the buying author, so that you won’t have to worry about somebody else having your exact same image.

In my next post we are going to discuss a little bit more about this, and how the average author can purchase a professional looking cover for about $50 dollars.

Here are your resources for today and remember to look forward to post #5.

Simple, FREE photo-manipulation software

Free for commercial use stock photos

Types of Stock Photo Licenses

Deviantart.com: artistic community

 

Let’s get you Covered! Series #3: Logo/Silhouette Covers

Let’s Get you Covered! Series:

Howdy, Everybody!

And so we arrive to #3. We finally get to the third post of our series about cover design. Even though I had initially thought of doing a single post about it, as it turns out I like to talk (a lot!). Post started growing a little bit too much and now we have a series. Yay!

Anyways, today we are going to take a look at the second type of cover I recommend for beginners without design experience. This is the second easiest after TEXT-ONLY, and despite it being very similar, the parameters and difficulty level are slightly higher. 

So let’s get to it: Logo/Silhouette    

Type 2: Logo/Silhouette Covers.

   

Logo/Silhouette Covers are my favorite type of design, because they are easy to create and edit, and also appear elegant and sophisticated. For the most artsy authors in the group, the Logo/Silhouette is a great alternative. It offers a more detailed, customized view, and at the same time it doesn’t require a real big artistic mastery for creation. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Pros: Easy to achieve a professional look. You can create your own silhouettes, and thus avoid copyright claims. Professional and attractive results. Doesn’t require a lot of artistic ability. Works for any book genre.

Cons: Creation is time consuming. Good material can only be rendered in fully professional software. Might require additional hardware (graphic tablet or the like)   

To create a Logo/Silhouette Cover: 

The specifics for these two are slightly different, so let’s take them one by one.

—– For silhouettes:

Contrast is key! When you are working with silhouettes, contrast is the most important thing to create that striking look you are aiming for. Silhouettes are normally solid color, so make sure your background is either a contrasting gradient or solid color (a bright color background is advisable, avoid dark hues) or a plain texture. Opacity is your friend when you are working silhouettes. Play with the different shades until you get the result you desire.

Easy on the eyes. Choose shapes that are easily recognizable. If you are working with human silhouettes, make sure they are not in a passive pose. A sitting or laying down silhouette can pass for a shapeless shadow once your book is reduced to thumbnail size. Make sure your silhouette is in a position where his or her body is well defined.

Don’t overdo it. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. If you are going to use more than one or two silhouettes, make sure to set up ways to differentiate them. You can achieve this by changing the opacity and size, and also changing the color according to the position of the silhouette. Generally speaking black silhouettes get more attention than color silhouettes, so put your most important objects on black and continue coloring from there.

 

—– For logos:

The one and only. If you are using a logo or symbol, do not include any other image in the cover. For your background use a texture (preferred) or a gradient or solid fill, but nothing too heavy. Textures give more realism to the work, but they cannot take from your logo, which is the most important thing. If your logo is a plain color, make sure the back texture is in a contrasting shade. However, if your logo has a gradient or clipart fill, the texture should be a complementing (preferably lighter) shade.

Message received. An image is worth a thousand words, and people always look at the image first. Make sure your logo delivers an accurate message. If you have a ship, people will expect your story to occur at sea. If you have a crown, royalty of some kind should be present. Be mindful of the message you want to convey and remember you only have an image to do so, so choose wisely. A logo can be created or chosen from any mundane object, but it needs to have a related meaning.

Creating a logo/silhouette cover can be as easy or as hard as you wish. Silhouettes are available for download online, and you can create and scan them from other pictures easily. Logos are slightly more difficult to get. They are basically real images or images you create to illustrate your content, but they are simply an object on your cover and not the cover itself. Both logos and silhouettes can also be purchased as stock material, if you decide to go that way. Logo/silhouette covers are easily edited and I personally recommend them for series of books, because they are easy to adapt and change as books go on.

However, whether you make them or buy them, there is one thing to keep in mind when working this particular type. The logo/silhouette cover can only be designed with a PROFESSIONAL SOFTWARE.

When we were talking TEXT-ONLY Covers, I gave you some alternative to professional design softwares, but those are completely useless when you are working with silhouettes. Even though they are basically painless to create, design wise, they do require some knowledge of design software. No Paint or PowerPoint is going to save you here. You have to have at least a basic knowledge of softwares like Adobe Photoshop, Corel Painter or PaintTool SAI, to name a few. Again, there are countless tutorials online teaching you how to get acquainted with these softwares, and even though it takes time, probably out of your allotted writing quota, you have to remember that the cover IS part of the book. It’s not a separate entity or a subdivision. It’s an integral part, as important to the book’s success as the content itself.

To sum up, logo/silhouette covers are easy to design and acquire and almost always deliver a satisfying result. While they are painful to create and edit, you do need to have some experience working with professional design softwares. 

I’ll leave you with this time’s resources and I’ll see you in #4.

Free silhouettes vectors for personal and commercial use

Free vectors and silhouettes for commercial use.

Cliparts free for commercial use

Creative Commons License Stock photos

Free for commercial use images (attribution required)

Let’s get you Covered! Series #2: TEXT-ONLY Covers

Let’s Get you Covered!

So, #2 of this series. For #1, we discussed professional approaches to cover design, and what you need to keep in mind when hiring an artist. Covers are an important point not only in the promotion of your book, but also in establishing your brand. For series, covers are expected to have the same style with each new book, and if you are constructing a blog or website, the cover colors and fonts are frequently used as part of the theme, in order to create a more cohesive look.

Nothing beats a professional’s touch, and I still recommend it as the primary approach any serious author should take. However, I also know that budget is a critical thing, and for many of us, writing is the secret dream we hide under the mattress and take out when nobody can see us. So for those tight-pocket dreamers, I’m going to give you some simple tips in how to improve your cover design.  

Types of Cover:

There are many different types of book cover, and you should know all of them in order to better determine what kind of cover you are going to need. Throughout our post, we are going to take a look at them, from easiest to create to most complicated.

For today we have number one in our list: TEXT-ONLY. 

Type 1: TEXT-ONLY Covers.

   

TEXT-ONLY Covers are probably the simplest, and easiest to design. To create a TEXT-ONLY cover you only need a good package of fonts (which you can purchase or create your own) and a background image or color that it’s simple and showcases the ambiance of your book. While some people may be fooled by the plainness of the design, these types of covers are great for thumbnail display (like that of self-pub sites such as Amazon and Smashwords) and can deliver a very sophisticated image if done right.

Pros: Easy to achieve a professional look, less likely to incur in copyright claims, easy to design.   

Cons: Not very visually appealing, not appropriate for all types of book, especially genre writing.   

To create a TEXT-ONLY Cover: 

  • Make sure to use fonts that are easily readable. As much as you may like them, cursive and flowery fonts are not too good for your cover, because when readers browse online, ebooks are thumbnail-size most of the times. You have to make sure they can read your title clearly
  • Use contrasting colors. White on white is not good, neither is pink on white or brown on black. Visibility is your first priority, so if you have a dark background, use bright colors for your fonts, and if you have a light background, make sure your texts are darker.
  • Prioritize your title. Author’s name is not as important as your title is, unless you are an uber-famous, best-selling author (in which case, please do hire a designer, come on!). An interesting title is almost as crucial as a good cover. Readers need to be able to see it, so make sure it takes the greatest amount of space in your layout.
  • Don’t crowd your cover. Title, author’s name, maybe a small catchphrase. That’s it. Don’t include your Goodread reviews, Amazon comments or Facebook likes. None of it is important and it signals the mark of an amateur. Professional covers are simple and sophisticated. In the case of a TEXT-ONLY Cover, less is indeed more.
  • Avoid patterns and heavy textures in your background. Textures can add realism and give a professional look. However, you have to be careful not to overexert yourself. Use textures that are soft and uniform (paper, grass, sand, canvas…) and don’t have a lot of shades and colors. Avoid plaid textures and textures with too much details, because they can take attention away from your text. Patterns can be good eye-catchers but use them wisely. A single thread of a pattern in the middle of your white background is good, a single thread of white in the middle of your patterned background is BAD!
  • Use a professional software. Believe it or not, Microsoft Paint will not get you anywhere in cover design. Avoid amateur softwares such as this. Try to get Adobe Photoshop (personal favorite) or similar and get familiar with it. There are thousands of free online tutorials that teach you how to use those softwares, so check them out. Don’t expect the whole process to be a piece of cake, it never is, that’s why designers charge as they do. It may be tedious and boring at first, but it’s better than releasing your book with a cover that it’s just so bad readers don’t even want to look at it.
    • As a side note, and if you definitely can’t deal with Photoshop or don’t have the money to buy even the simplest platform, instead of Paint I recommend Microsoft PowerPoint or Microsoft Publisher as alternatives. Even though these are not design softwares (not for a second!), for TEXT-ONLY Covers they are actually more useful than Paint. They help with layout and have pre-determined options that can spawn an at least decent-looking design by the end of it all. Below is an example of a couple of covers I created with PowerPoint to illustrate this (click to enlarge):

 2 3 4

You can check if your cover works by setting the view to “Large Icons” (don’t know how it’s for MAC, sorry) in your explorer. Step away for a minute, close your eyes and open them. If you can read the text at first glance, then you are good to go. If you can’t, or it takes you more than a second (I’m serious, just a second) then you should probably start over.

Overall, simply be creative and play around with your design. Discover what goes well with your topic and what doesn’t, but still falls within the guidelines above. Take your time and don’t get frustrated.

I’ll leave you for today with a couple of useful resources to start creating your very own TEXT-ONLY cover. See you guys in #3!

7 Free Tools for Creating Your Own Fonts

Font Editor Software Review

Free Commercial Use Fonts

Free textures for commercial and non-commercial use

TextureZoom! Free textures and stock photos

Let’s get you Covered! Series # 1: Professional Approach

You’ve done it!

You’ve gone through the writing, got the editing done, all type-setted and clean and wonderful, and finally, after so much struggle, your book is at last completed.

Now it’s only a matter of showing to prospective readers just how good it is, and why they should read it. Seems like a simple enough task, doesn’t it? After all, isn’t a good book all you need to get people’s attention?

Well, sadly, no.

Finishing a good novel is just the beginning of the perilous, thorny voyage that is publishing. Authors nowadays can’t count on the quality of their books alone to get them ahead. While it’s true that there are many dreadful titles circulating the industry due to the new liberties of self-publishing, there are just as many great pieces your book will have to compete with once it goes out in the market. A solid marketing campaign is crucial, and a well designed promotion plan will go a long way in helping you achieve success.

The first step of every book promotion campaign is probably the most critical one: the cover.

Regardless of what you might have heard from your parents, friends, girlfriend, classmates, dog… COVERS DO MATTER! They are the first contact between your book and your reader, and they can either become an open door, or a 10-feet concrete retaining wall for whatever content lies within. However, not everyone can be a designer or illustrator, and in most cases, authors have very little tools to work with when it comes to creating a successful, aesthetically pleasing cover.

This Let’s get you Covered! Series is intended to help authors familiarize with the concept of cover design and how to make the most out of it. As a designer myself, I’ve worked with my share of authors, and as an indie writer, I’ve seen some pretty major flaws when it comes to cover design. Hopefully, this series of posts will help ease the concerns many authors have when it comes to their covers that they don’t know how to address.

For today, we take on the easiest, most recommended, and also most expensive approach: hiring a pro.

1- Why a Cover is important?

In a publishing world that delivers thousands of new titles every day, you need to stand out in order to get the reader’s attention. A good cover can do that. It can highlight your book out from the bunch and make it visible, which is a big part of it all. Once your cover has caught the reader’s attention, you can wow them with your excelled prose and intricate plotline.

However, that will never happen if your book is not visually appealing, or if it doesn’t get the reader’s eye.

Contrary to how the saying goes, we do judge books by their covers first, so an eye-catching concept that stands out can be the difference between a book being noticed or not. If you as an author are not confident you can achieve this, then hiring professional help it’s probably the smartest choice. It may cost you a little more, but in the long run, it will be for the best and it will give your book more opportunities.

2- What do you need to know?

When it comes to hiring help there are several things that come into play.  There are legal issues involved, and many details that you need to consider in order to save time and MONEY.

Let’s take a look at some things to keep in mind before making a decision:

  • Have a clear mental picture of your cover: Nobody knows your book like you do. Don’t expect the designer to come up with all the ideas, because this will probably cost you more than pocket change. The whole process it’s easier (and cheaper) if you have a clear enough image of what you want. Sit down with a piece of paper and pencil, and brainstorm. Think about:
    • What colors would you like? Bright, dark, cold, hot…
    • What it’s the theme you want to showcase?
    • What objects or symbols do you want to include? 
    • What kind of font do you want? Cursive, bold, straight, thin…
    • Do you want an elegant classic cover or an industrial modern cover?
    • What is the cover norm for your specific genre?

The greater the details, the easier and faster will be to come up with something you are satisfied with. You can also draw an example of your cover as a storyboard guide, playing with where you want the author’s name, the title, etc… It doesn’t have to be pretty, just make sure you like the layout.

  • Make sure you know what kind of artist you need: For book covers, there are two types of artists: the designer and the illustrator. While an artist can do both (and many do), you have to make sure you know what you are looking for.
    • A designer will normally take a stock image or portfolio image and adapt it to your needs through photo-manipulation. He’ll change colors, size, lighting, opacity, etc., and then add the text boxes of title, author’s name and catchphrase. In most of the cases, he will not create an image from scratch, but rather work with content that it’s already available.
    • An illustrator can create an original image/illustration that it’s exclusive to your book. In most cases, he’ll do the same the designer does in adding text boxes, but the image will be unique. They can also work in developing character profiles, concept art and maps that are individual to your book.

Example of designer covers include:     

   

Designers work for almost every type of book and they normally do a good job regardless of your genre. However, keep in mind the kind of cover you are shooting for.

Example of illustrator covers include:

      

Illustrators focus normally in covers for Fantasy, Sci-fi and Paranormal books, as well as books that require specific images not found in day to day life. While a designer can manage simple things like logos and silhouettes, you are going to need an illustrator for any fantasy heavy duty stuff.

  • DO NOT settle with the first artist you find on the Internet! Artists normally have their own style and work specifics, so make sure to thoroughly research before choosing. Learn about working ethics, turnaround times and all the things that can affect your cost and the completion of your projects. Browse art sites and look at portfolios. I always recommend authors to check out deviantart.com. This is an absolutely awesome page where artists post their work and you can find many professional illustrators and designers here. Take a look and take your pick!
  • Expect frequent contact and BE AVAILABLE! Your cover is not going to be a one-time thing. Rather, is a long term affair. There are going to be revisions, color changes, light changes, etc., depending on what your purchased package includes. Make sure to be available and attentive. A designer will not chase after you to get your approval on a cover, nor will you be his only project in development. Make sure to keep in touch and updated (without getting in the poor guy’s nerves.)

That’s all for #1. In #2 we’ll discuss what authors in a budget, or those who don’t want to hire a pro, can do to make sure their covers look good and make an impact.  

The Right Name Makes a Difference! (Part 2)

Hi, everybody!

Yesterday, I gave you PART 1 of this post about naming and the importance of it. We discussed the specific questions that writers needed to ask themselves before considering how to name their characters. Issues like Ethnicity/Nationality and Timeframe, play a major part in the process of naming your character, and should definitely be taken into account.

Today, we are going to discuss different approaches to finding (and creating names), and I’m going to show you a simple, effective way I use to create Fantasy names (Super Special Bonus!).

So, now unto the juicy stuff…

Question #3: Where to look for names? 

This one is probably the easiest and yet hardest question of the bunch. There are several naming resources available for writers to chose from. And all of them have their advantages and disadvantages.

Approach 1: The Baby Name Book

You have an assortment of hundreds of baby names books swarming Internet and libraries, that go from your typical Christian names, to names derived from historical personalities, celebrity names and names created with a Science-fiction inspiration (seriously, I’m not kidding).

You have literally hundreds of choices in bibliography, and every book carries at least 1000 names. Some go up to 100,000!

This are a very good choice, because they not only give you the name, but also the origin, and sometimes they offer the form of the name in other languages (in case you want to change it a little bit)

The problem I see with this approach: It’s too time consuming. You have to browse hundreds of names in order to find the one you like, and most of the times there are names that are just too weird for anybody to use. So you waste a lot of time trying to find what you are looking for.  


Approach
 2: Online Name Generator. 

This one is a very good choice. If you type the words “name generator” in your Google search bar (or Bing, if you are into that), you are going to get about 20,000,000 results for your personal delight and enjoyment. Sure, when you compare it to this, the hundreds of baby books seem like a smarter option. But the difference in this case is that you just need one name generator to do all the work for you. You just have to input specific information and the algorithm of the site will take care of the rest.

A good thing about this option is that you can make a customized search and optimize your results a lot. It’s great in the sense that you can focus on the exact content you want and find results more efficiently. Also, name generators are free (Yay!).

The problem I see with this approach: It’s not reliable. Baby Names Books normally go through an editing process that includes fact-checking. It’s not that way with name generators, which are mainly created by other users in the web. Therefore, one can say they are probably as reliable as, let’s say, Wikipedia. This is not a big issue if, after finding the name, you do your homework and fact-check the origin and usage. 

 

Approach 3: Creative Hybrid Approach. 

As the name indicates, the Creative Hybrid approach combines the options above with your own creative experience.

This one is my personal favorite, because it gives you more control over the whole process of naming which, let’s face it, it’s pretty important. It’s amazing what a few references can do for you when you are having a block, and sometimes, just seeing the right letter or letter combinations can light the spark of creativity that you need to succeed.

For instance, let’s say you are in search of a name for your Urban Fantasy character, who lives in New York, it’s a college dropout and hangs out with zombie bikers in a run-down bar. Great character. Now he just needs a great name. You want something trendy and modern, but not too common.

So let’s do this. You open your book (or online generator) and browse a little bit. You pick the “English Names” section (because he lives in New York) and the “Modern Names” sections, since your book is UF. At the end, you come up with three good results:

  • Josh Edison
  • Brock Hedley
  • Carter Maitland

There, good candidates. However, they don’t feel to Fantasy or Zombie-Biker-Friend kind of character, so let’s tweak them out a little bit, shall we? For instance, the first name.

Josh is nice. If we take the “h” away, it becomes Jos… which can be changed into Jossen, Jossian, Jossiah 

If we take the “s” away, it becomes Jo… which can be changed into Joralth, Jorel, Joed, Joran… 

Like that, you can tweak and play as much as you want. Sometimes from a single name you’ll get five. Or more:

Edison: Edissen, Edissey, Edarth, Edizar, Edan…

Brock: Brocen, Brockner, Broalth, Brom, Broslan…

Hedley: Hedlen, Hedlan, Hedler, Heddar, Hedd, Heddims…

Carter: Cart, Carten, Carrion, Carthax, Carthen, Carth…

Maitland: Maitlam, Maithl, Marend, Matlen, Mallin, Mattland…

Following this approach you’ll always have a reserve of names to chose from, and if you record them as you think of them (like I do), when you run out you’ll just have to find your storage files and you’ll have names that are exclusively yours and already curated.

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Hope you enjoyed this two page post, let me know how you liked it and tell me about your own naming approaches!

See you next time!

The Right Name Makes a Difference! (Part 1)

Many times in writing groups and forums, I’ve come across writers who ask for advice at the time of naming their characters. Apparently, it’s a rather nerve-racking thing to do. Suggestions come and go when the piece in question has a Contemporary setting (Kate, Laura, Drake, Ava, Jack, Brett, Larry…), and there’s normally not many problems when it’s a Historical Fiction piece either (Eleanor, Lucian, William, Alastair, Gertrude, Honor, Prudence…). However, if we are talking about a Fantasy or Science-Fiction piece, most of the times the commentators remain conspicuously silent.

It could very well be because Fantasy and Sci-fi names are not the kind of name just anybody can come up with (it takes a special brand of craziness). But shouldn’t these be actually easier to create? You can name your Fantasy character anything. Literally anything, and nobody would say a thing because it’s Fantasy. It’s supposed to be weird, it’s supposed to sound funny. Writers many times overthink things and tighten the noose around their own necks simply because they cannot believe something as crucial as what to name your main character can actually be simple.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely an important issue. Personally, I’m most likely to buy a Vampire Romance novel if the main character’s name is, let’s say, “Jake” or “Demian” or “Aidan.” Bring me a tall, sexy vampire named “Wally” or “Howard” or “Vernon,” and believe me, it’s not going to go far. But again, that only means that naming is an important decision.

Not a complicated one.

But let’s discuss approach, shall we? First, there are some questions we need to ask before getting into what name I want for my character. One of the basic mistakes of the people posting in the forums and writing groups was the fact that they didn’t quite knew what kind of character they were naming. They didn’t have a sense of who he or she was and of the setting in which their story developed.

Question #1: What kind of character are you naming?

This is important. Your character’s name has to go hand in hand with the plot and setting of your story. For instance, if your character is a Japanese immigrant in post-WWII America, he is most likely to be named ethnic-specific things like “Hiroshi Moritaka” or “Keisuke Hakama” or “Kyoko Morino.

The same thing applies to other nationalities and languages. If your character comes from a Turkish background, he is not likely to be named “Edward Johnson,” and if you say your character is a Highlander serving under William Wallace, then you can’t expect readers to believe that his name is “Pedro De La Cruz” or “Stefano Grazziano.”

It’s easier to investigate a little bit and use the right name, than to create a whole bizarre background story explaining why your Tuscany-born character is named “Vladimir Antonovich Chekov.

So my Answer #1 would be: Be mindful of your character’s ethnic background, nationality and language before naming. 

Another major problem was the fact that they weren’t factoring in Historical Accuracy when fishing for names. This is a very basic, yet very troublesome mistake.

Question #2: Does your name go well with the timeframe of your story?

If your story happens in, let’s say, 45 BC, and your character is a centurion under Julius Caesar, you have to be prepared for his name to have a Latin root, like, let’s say, “Marcus” or “Lucius” or “Livius.” This doesn’t mean that you can go ahead and Latinize any name on your Baby Names Book and expect it to sound right. “Peterus” is not a Roman name. Nor is “Williamus” or “Henryus.” It doesn’t work like that. Historical accuracy IS important, and you are going to be loved (or hated) because of it. Make sure to always know the historical period you are writing about quite well, otherwise, it can get tricky in the long run.

For instance, during the reign of Queen Victoria, the name “Victoria” was a popular name among parents of little girls, but since this name has primarily Latin roots, before that time it was hardly ever used in England. The coronation of the queen popularized the name, so if you want to name your character that, you have to know that you either place her during the Victorian era, or risk falling into anachronism by using it during the Regency Era or the Age of Enlightenment.

Answer #2: Research (I just love this word!) to make sure your chosen name is historically accurate. 

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— This is it for Part 1, guys. Visit PART 2 for the rest of it! 🙂

World Building and the Mysteries of Creation.


World Building is probably one of the most difficult, yet most important parts of writing any story.

Fantasy and Science-Fiction writers need to be especially careful in this matter, since they depend almost entirely on the ability of their worlds to engage and compel the reader. Only through flawless attention to detail, and clearly set parameters, writers can achieve the suspended disbelief necessary for their stories to succeed.

Readers are much smarter than you think, and unlike agents, editors and publishing professionals, who are already set for disappointment every time they read a manuscript, a reader actually makes an investment for the book. As such, he is expecting that investment to pay off in the form of an enjoyable, cohesive, well-crafted experience.

While it’s funny to think about a news shopper flying over the medieval battlefield of a historical novel, readers are not that entertained whenever they find an anachronism or incoherence in a text that was supposedly revised several times.

And people, just for the record, they DO notice!

However, in order to avoid these intrinsic problems, there are several easy steps we can take:

1- Set specific rules:


Whether a planet in a galaxy far, far away, or a busy nightclub in the streets of The Bronx, you need to set up rules for your world. How does it look like? What kind of people are the inhabitants/visitors? What kind of language is spoken? Your world is
just as important as your leads and villains. You have to make sure it’s rich enough, with layers and complexity.

Just like you would for a character, sit down and write a couple of pages of background information. History, geography, traditions, mythology, language, dress code… any detail you can think of. Even if you are not going to add it to the final project, this information is going to be priceless as you move forward in the story.

Basically, it’s what’s going to prevent you from saying your club/planet is blue in the first chapter, and then red on the fourth chapter. (Believe me, it happens.)

2- Timelines are your friends:

Time, Time Indicating, Ball, Clock, Pointer, MinutesIf your story happens in several different timeframes, please, please (please!), do set up a timeline. Yes, they are bothersome. Yes, they need constant updating and consume precious time you can use to write, but they are also vital. Having a character being 25 in one chapter and 23 in the other, only because you messed up your dates, is not good for business. We are humans, people, we are allowed to make mistakes. But we can (should!) also do whatever’s in our power to correct those mistakes.
Setting a timeline of events is not a hard thing. You can do it by hand, in your PC, laptop, or even in your tablet. You can add your events all at once, or keep updating as you go. But it’s important to have them, because later on, when you enter the editing phase, this sort of incoherent facts are the first thing you are going to want to look at. It’s good to have a reliable source.

3- A needle in a haystack:
Sailors, All Hands, Navy, Military, People, Group, Men
Makes sure that your character blends in with your setting.
 I don’t have
to tell you that an astronaut does not belong in an Ancient Rome-themed story, however, there are more subtle nuances that writers also need to take into account when placing their character on setting.

For instance, if your character comes from a city background, and you setting is a farm, it’s highly unlikely he’ll know how to ride a horse. Or if your character is a Regency-time prostitute, chances are she won’t know the difference between a Duke and an Earl if you bring her to an Aristocracy ball setting.

Establish clear parameters about how your characters interact with your world and how they develop within it, and then use this parameters to set the limits. You have to know that not everything is justifiable, and that sometimes, you can’t just “do” what you want with your novel, even if you are the writer.

The characters just won’t take it. And neither will the readers.

4- Research and conquer:

Knowledge, Book, Library, Glasses, TextbookThe most critical part of world building is most likely research. How well-crafted your world is depends greatly in how much research you have. You can’t write a book about athletes, or doctors, or musicians, and expect words like “ball,” “brain” or “piano” to cut it.

No, you have to make sure to know exactly what is the 3-steps shot, what’s the function of the frontal lobe, and where in a piano is the A Minor.

Lack of good research and references are the death of many talented writers, because readers simply won’t take laziness from an author, regardless of how good he is. You are definitely not expected to know everything, but you have to research if you want to write about something you don’t know.

And that goes for Fantasy and Sci-fi authors too. A Sci-fi author who tells me his character can breathe in deep space, is a sci-fi author I won’t read again. Ever. The same goes for a Fantasy writer who thinks he can create a half-elf/half-orc character and sell it to me. Biology, people! It’s simple Biology!

There are many other strategies that can help you develop your world building skills, or improve the ones you already have. Regardless, if you remember to put everything to writing, and pay attention to detail, world building can also be a wonderful experience of freedom and confidence.

Let me know how you liked the post and what are your own strategies to keep your settings cohesive and believable.

See you next time!