Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The ABCs of Book Cover Art

Ever wonder about book cover designs?  
I never spent too much time worrying about it because the grand plan included being a bestselling author published by a traditional publisher.  I'd been told--repeatedly--that once I sold a book, I'd have no control over it--which was kind of fine with me, because though I'm a very creative person, when it comes to covers for my own women fiction works, I totally lack inspiration.

Well, now the "grand plan" has changed and I've decided to make the plunge and self-publish.  Hmm, now, my ignorance is a problem.  I know absolutely nothing about cover art--except that it's really really important and that I want a great cover.  So I found three great cover designers who were willing to share their expertise with us.  Oh, and, they'll be stopping by, so if you have any questions, feel free to ask away!  So say hello to Kim, Nick and Viola.

Kim Killion of the Killion Group    Kimberly has 20+ years of experience in marketing, communications and design. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts, a Certificate in Web Design, and she is an ACE--An Adobe Certified Expert. In addition to the paperwork, she also taught Graphic/Web Design at a technical college in St. Louis and the majority of our designers were trained by Kimberly. They are the cream of the crop and the top of their class.

Nick Zelinger of NZ Graphics.   Nick has been in business in the Denver metro area for over 20 years, producing superior graphic design for numerous clients (such as KOA Radio and Clear Channel’s sports marketing materials for the Denver Broncos and the Colorado Rockies.)  He has developed a reputation for excellent work, fast turnarounds, and affordable pricing.

Viola Estrella of Estrella Cover Design.
Viola , an award-nominated author and 2010 RITA® finalist, loves a story with humor, flawed characters, paranormal elements, and romance. She tries to include these aspects in all that she writes and loves every minute of it. When she's not reading, writing, or designing cover art, she's spending quality time with her husband and sons in their Colorado home.

Do you have an art degree?
NZ-- I have a Commercial Art Degree (in Technical Art) from Colorado Institute of Art (Denver) and that played a role in starting a career in Graphic Design. (Also have a BA in Liberal Arts)

KK--Yes, I have several J I have a Bachelor Degree in Fine Arts, a Chancellor Certificate in Web Design and I'm an A.C.E. (Adobe Certified Expert) in Photoshop. And I taught Graphic Design for 15  years.
VE-- I don’t have an art degree...just a creative passion. In fact, I never thought I was an “artistic” person, outside of writing, until I began this journey.

How did you get involved in this?
NZ— I had an art background and started out doing illustrations — but developing overall graphic design skills provided me with a career. I worked at design studios and print shops — eventually going freelance and book cover and interior design starting being my “specialty.” Networking and good references and some awards gave me better exposure to more clients.

KK--The standard stock photo sites really lacked this type of imagery. I needed more…So I hired a photographer and we've been shooting ever since. I never thought within a 2 year period we'd have 10,000+ images for sale. It's really quite tremendous! 

VE-- I began to design my own covers and found that I really enjoyed manipulating images and coming up with the overall cover design. I learned more about the nuts and bolts of Photoshop and started to design cover art for friends. I grew my clientele from there and now have a steady stream of business!

What is your process like?
NZ— First, consultation(s) with client, then research, investigating who their competition is, who their target audience is and producing initial front cover concepts. Then, further rounds if necessary with whatever changes in direction or other edits.

KK--Once the client returns the Questionnaire, I begin the design. Then I send the client the comp to approve or tweak. Most times it's a simple fix of "scooting" something over/up/down and once approved, we send out the final jpgs to the client.

VE— For custom cover art, I have my client fill out a cover request form that has numerous questions regarding their story. I ask about the tone/mood, the genre, the characters, the setting, what they’d like to see on their cover, etc. It helps so much when they can give me examples of cover art that they like and feel is similar to their story. I then look over the form. Sometimes I know exactly what the client has in mind. And sometimes it takes some pondering. To help, I scour through certain royalty-free stock photo sites. I’ll find anywhere from one to several images that I can use, then I purchase them and begin to pull it all together, including what font works best for this type of story. I send the mockup cover to the client and wait to hear back. I’m thrilled when I get it right the first try. But that doesn’t always happen, and that’s why I allow up to three alteration requests. Thankfully, I have yet to have a client who isn’t pleased with the overall end result.

Do you work exclusively for one publisher or do freelance as well?
NZ— I work with many publishers, individual authors, so I guess in that respect, I freelance.

KK--We work for several NYC Publishing houses and Agencies as well as for Indie Authors.

VE-- I’m completely freelance at this time. Anyone can contact me to purchase cover art—that includes both independent authors and publishers.

Do you actually read every book you design a cover for?
NZ— No — would never get any work done! I do request a sample chapter or synopsis.

KK--If I did, I'd get no designing done. LOL *see number of covers designed and you'll understand why.

VE— I wish I had the time! I depend on the author to include a brief blurb of their story in the cover form so I can get a good feel of the story.

How much input do editors and author have?
NZ— I regard working with authors as a collaborative venture. While editors (and publishers) do have input into the substance of direction and copy, there is much back and forth with both.

KK--We send each client an extensive Cover Questionnaire. It has places for links to images the author likes, a place for the blurb so I can get a feel for the book, H/h description areas…the list goes on. By the time the author fills that out, I should have everything I need to design a cover that will match their story and the genre.

VE--100% input. That’s what the cover form is for. I want to give the author and/or publisher the exact cover they have in their minds, something they can be proud to promote. Their “dream” cover.

Which covers are you most proud of?

NZ— That’s hard to answer – I work in all genres. I recently did the sequel to Andrew Valentine’s “Bitter Things” entitled “Bitter Consequences” (an erotic vampire series) which really captures the brand they were looking for. I also am proud of Lynn McLeod’s “From Simms to Zanzibar” which won best cover design in last year’s USA Book News awards.

KK--Oh, wow! Super hard question! We've done over 1,500 covers. There are so many I like in so many different genres, but I will select the covers I did for Lila DiPasqua because they received rave reviews. I had a lot of time involved in creating those and they became like children to me. I think the images to the right tell the rest of the story. 

VE— I’m proud of them all. But I’m  proud when I hear how much the author LOVES the design. That’s always my goal. (Viola's titles below)

Do editors request your work?
NZ— Yes – and I’ve established relationships with publishers who provide me steady work.

KK--Yes, editors and/or (if the house allows) the author will request me.

VE-- I currently have one small press that regularly contacts me for work. I’ve had two authors who’ve requested covers for their publisher to approve and use. But most of my clients are self-published authors.

What inspires you the most when coming up with covers?
NZ--Other covers. And of course, the authors themselves – sometimes they have great vision into what they want. And if they don’t, that’s where I earn my money: problem solving.

VE— A few things... Getting a good grasp of what the author wants from how he/she filled out the form. Knowing the genre and having a feel for the tone of the story. Also, finding fabulous images on stock photo sites can be very inspiring.

Is there a trendiness to what the covers should look like?
NZ— There can be at times, in regards to colors, font styles. Font can really dictate the style of covers, making them either trendy or dated. And there are some PhotoShop effects that can pigeon-hole a style.

KK--I think what most people don't realize is that there is a certain look each genre should have. Readers look for that. A lot of that has to do with typography. Typography is a skill that is very much under-appreciated. There are skilled illustrators out there who can give you an awesome graphic but if the type fails, then you do not have a marketable product. There are certain fonts that stand out better than others and certain fonts that are used for certain genres. That's where I would recommend a new designer start the learning process. Anyone can learn how to use Photoshop, but knowing how to use the tools is just the beginning.

VE-- To a point, if I’m understanding the question. Readers see that XYZ Best-selling Author has this particular cover and if they become a fan, they might search out other types of books that look similar. This is what I think causes trends and I have no problem with authors and publishers who want to play along. Why not make it easy for the reader to find your books?

Are there any awards –nationally –to recognize wonderful covers or is it SOOOOO subjective that this isn’t possible?
NZ— There are more and more awards nationally that engage self publishers with traditional publishers – so the competition is stiff: USA Book News, The Indie Awards,

KK--There is! I think it's called the JABBIC (Judge A Book By Its Cover)

VE-- I’ve heard of cover contests here and there, but I can’t think of any particular one at the moment. I don’t think it’s impossible to judge a cover. Everyone has an opinion. But yes, I feel that cover art is as subjective as the story inside.

Have you won any awards for your covers?
NZ— Yes. I won the USA Book News 2011 Best Cover Design. USA Book News is one a several national book awards that features thousands of entrants including major publishers.  My covers (and interior layouts) have won numerous awards from USA Book News, Colorado CIPA’a EVVY Awards, the Indie Book Awards, and more.

KK--I normally have several authors enter their covers I've done in the JABBIC and I think *not sure* that my designs have won more than once. But honestly, I don't keep up with that. I truly stay in "the designing cave" about 15-18 per day.

VE— Not yet. Of course, I haven’t entered any either. It hasn’t been a goal of mine...yet.

How are cover artists paid and if it’s not too nosey, may I ask how much per cover is typical.
NZ--Usually by the project (not the hour.) It may go to an hourly rate if numerous changes/edits are taking place – but my estimate is given with a range of changes included. While I won’t talk about my fees here – I have seen covers (full cover: front, back, spine) in ranges of $100 to $1000. Both are a bit extreme – I’ve never been paid $1000 for a cover but I know of some designers who have.  I consider my fees to be very affordable and in line with the competition.

VE-- Not too nosey! I have all my pricing available on my website, so it’s not a secret. Currently, I charge $85.00 for custom cover art (front cover only), $125.00 for both front and full cover (including spine and back) and $40-$60.00 for pre-made cover art.

How many titles do you typically design a cover for a year?
NZ— This past year, close to 40-50, in past years, about 20 average.

KK--About 1000 or more.

VE-- Last year was my first year of designing cover art and I designed about 100 covers. It was enough to keep me busy. LOL

If you were interviewing cover artists, what would you want to know?  What would help you make your decision?
NZ— Their experience in book design, references, samples of their work and of course, what they charge.

KK--Seeing samples of their work and seeing if these coves have made any lists. We almost consistently have a cover or covers on the Amazon Best Sellers list or Top 100 lists. Though we've been told we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, let's face it, everyone does.

VE-- If I were interviewing cover artists to design my book cover, I’d want to know how much input I had, how much it costs, how many alteration requests I would have after the initial mockup, and—a biggie—I’d want to see their portfolio to find out if their designs match the type of aesthetic that I find appealing.

What else would you like people to know about you and/or your work?
NZ— I love what I do – working with authors is rewarding and challenging. It’s that fine balance between art and marketing. If a cover is beautiful but doesn’t help sell the book – it’s a failure. The challenge is to produce the right cover for the right market.

KK--That we strive to be a one-stop shop for authors while maintaining quality. If you just need an eBook cover, we've got you covered. If you'd like a POD cover and some Romance Trading Cards. We can do it! If you're like some of our clients and want to focus on writing, we can design your cover, format your story for Print and/or eBook, upload for you and now (!!) turn it into an Audio Book for you.
Do you have a Traditional Print Book that you'd like to get back out there to your readers? We can scan it, format it, put a new cover on it, narrate it... We are truly the ala carte menu of author's needs. From branding to websites to covers to formatting…AND…beginning in 2013, we hope to offer authors a brand new service. Keep an eye on us for that announcement. Here's a link to everything that we do: http://thekilliongroupinc.com/services/

VE-- I’m an author as well. I know what it feels like to wait for my book cover to arrive and to see it for the first time. I know what if feels like to love it...and to HATE it. So that’s why I work so hard to get it right for the author. I want them to be proud to promote their books, cover design included.
You can see my portfolio, pricing info, testimonials, and pre-made cover art at www.EstrellaCoverArt.com

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

On Chocolate, MFAs and Writing

Karin Huxman is my in-town writing buddy.  She's a prolific writer of both children's stories, compelling nonfiction, contemporary and paranormal fiction.  Karen has a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.  I asked her to tell us about what's she's learned both in and outside the classroom.  Please say hello and welcome Karin to Five Scribes:

Actually the title is in the incorrect order of importance, if you’re a writer that is. I just wanted to get your attention with mention of my favorite treat.

Naturally the most important part of being a writer is, well, writing. Writing is learned by doing, and redoing, and starting over again. You can learn the basics, and most Americans do in order to graduate from high school. Writers take the foundations of our language and marry them with imagination and perspiration to create a story or a poem or an article or all the many things that writers write.

But you may reach a point, as I did, of plateau. In spite of encouraging responses to fiction submissions, in spite of selling magazine articles and poems, in spite of winning awards for unpublished authors I found being successful with fiction to be elusive. I have joined many writing groups both local and national. I had a marvelous critique group and critique partners who guided me. In the end, I hit a wall. I wanted to be a better writer and decided that I needed more structure and discipline in order to do so. Pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree, an MFA, in writing seemed like the natural next step.

Choosing an MFA program can be daunting, there are loads to choose from.

However, before you choose a program, take some time to decide if actually working towards this degree is right for you. What do you expect to gain from the time and effort you put into it? To that end, here are five pros and cons of entering into an MFA program.

            Starting with the cons, because I want to end on an upbeat:


  1. It’s expensive. Graduate degrees are. You will either need to get a student loan or work extra to afford it. Decide if the time and money will be worth the end result.
  2. There is no guarantee that having the degree will get you the publishing contract or the teaching job at the college or anything.
  3. The program you choose may be a poor fit for you as a writer and as a person.
  4. Unless the program is in your home town or a reasonable drive from where you live, you may have to relocate.
  5. Top authors who teach at your program may not be the best teacher or mentor.

One the positive side:


  1. You get to concentrate on your passion, your writing.
  2. You will create a strong network of like minded writers.
  3. Traditional programs versus low residency programs abound. There’s a lot to choose from.
  4. The best programs engage top notch faculty who will challenge and engage and motivate you.
  5. The best MFA programs will take you out of your comfort zone, you will be challenged in ways you never saw coming and you will be a better writer for it.

So you’ve decided that yes, you do want to get this degree… where to start? Are you a literary writer or do you long to publish in romance? Does the art and craft of writing children’s picture books feel like what you are meant to do or is the particular skill needed to write for a teen audience what really grabs you? Is there a literary void you believe your unique voice can fill? Once you’ve narrowed that down, consider whether you want a traditional college classroom setting or would be comfortable in a low residency program or even a program with online classes.

Since there are so many MFA programs to choose from here are a couple of links that will help you narrow down the field:

Once you have two or three prospective choices the real work begins. Go to the programs’ websites and really dig deep. Who is on faculty? Have you ever heard of them before? What are the requirements to apply and what are the costs involved? Is there an alumni organization you can contact to find out graduate’s happiness with the program? How much time is going to be required of you to finish the coursework and graduate?

I’ve had discussions with writers who think getting a Master of Fine Arts degree is a waste of time and money. In my case, the rigors of the coursework, the friends I made during the program, and the delight in setting a difficult goal and seeing it through made it worthwhile. My MFA is in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College, at the time affiliated with Norwich University in Montpelier, Vermont. The low residency program was a perfect fit for me. Since earning my degree in 2001 I have gone on to publish two children’s picture books, one of which won an EPPIE for best children’s or young adult ebook. One of my classmates is now a publisher of children’s nonfiction and my continuing friendship with her has garnered me a place as one of her nonfiction authors of the America’s Notable Women series. I continue to write poetry. Shortly after I started the program, my first romance novel was published and I went on to publish many more.

It all started with wanting to be a better writer. That’s what it should be about. Where you go from there is up to you. Once you decide, have a piece of lovely chocolate, pat yourself on the back, and get yourself back to the keyboard. After all, you are a writer.

Karin Huxman writes for children as K.D. Huxman, you can find her picture books, Dragon Talk and Grizzelda Gorilla at Kittycatbooks.com. She contributed to Women of the Prairie State: 25 Women You Should Know and Women of the Empire State: 25 Women You Should Know, from Apprentice Shop Books. Her romance novels are published by New Concepts Publishing, her most recent release being a reissue of her paranormal romance With an Open Mind, re-titled as Extrasensory Perception. On the web find K.D. Huxman at kdhuxman.wordpress.com and Karin Huxman can be found at myivorytower-karin.blogspot.com. Besides chocolate, Karin enjoys wine, walking and of course reading.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

I Did It, My First Book Trailer, For Dare To Believe.

Why did I suffer through the maddness to create a book trailer?

To intice you to go find the book, read the excerpt and hopefully buy the book.


To give you a visual glimpse of one major beat of the story.

Writers write with images in their heads, be they novelist or screenwriter.  I'm both.

Frankly, I thought it would be easier than it was.  Finding the right beat to covey the messge was much harder than I thought.

I put my efforts in front of produced film makers time and time again, and finally hit on something that made chills run up their arms and down their spines.

So here it is. 

Will I do another?  You bet.

As I said, I'm a screenwriter as well as novelist and it fills an interesting part of that life. I write on paper, and the trailer can make a bit of it come to life, give visual emotion. 

AND later this month, I'm excited to bring you Vicky Koch, aka the brillant Sophia Knightly, Samhaim and Indie author, as we talk book trailer making.
Pros, cons, whys and why nots. Is it for you?

Stay tuned, and I hope my Dare To Believe trailer conveyed a bit of the emotion of the story to you.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Permission Not to Write

Ever heard the phrase there's no such thing as writer's block? Well, there is fatigue, stress and a mind and body on overload. What to do about it? Author Lois Winston is known for her invaluable advice, and she's about to give you some more. Please welcome Five Scribe contributor Lois Winston. ~ Donnell

Permission Not to Write

What do you do when you’re suffering from the literary equivalent of a bad day on the mound? You’re all set to hurl a fast ball that should nip the corner of the strike zone and send the batter swinging at air when you wind up tossing a lob that he hits out of the park. In other words, you’ve got writer’s block.

Some people insist that there’s no such thing as writer’s block. Try telling that to someone who spent the last three hours staring at a blank computer screen. There are many reasons why the words don’t always come, but for me, often it’s because I’m just too tired to write. When I’m tired, my brain shuts down. But write I must because I’m on deadline, and if I don’t write, I don’t meet those deadlines.

When this happens, I’ve learned to listen to my body. I give myself permission to take a few hours off to rejuvenate. I’ll take a walk. Or watch a movie I’ve been meaning to see. Or curl up with a book by a favorite author or a new one I’ve been meaning to read. Whatever I decide to do, I give myself permission not to feel guilty about doing it.

And that’s key.

Most writers can’t afford to quit their day jobs. We juggle our schedules to accommodate work, writing, and family responsibilities. So when we have our writing time, we feel compelled to write and feel guilty when we don’t. We’re wasting precious writing time. What we forget, though, is that we’re not perpetual motion machines. Writers, like everyone else, need down time. Time to relax. To play. To do nothing but daydream.

I’ve found that when I give myself permission not to write, I’m able to return to my writing with fresh energy and a brain no longer blocked.

I know this is counter to the conventional wisdom that stresses you should write through the block. Just stick your butt in the chair, place your fingers on the keyboard, and start typing – that bad writing is better than no writing, and you can always go back to fix what needs fixing. To me, that’s just as huge a waste of time as staring for hours at a blinking cursor.

Don’t let the purveyors of conventional wisdom bully you. Listen to your body instead. If you give yourself permission not to write, you might find that when you next sit down at the computer, you’ll be far happier with the words you produce. It works for me. You have nothing to lose by giving it a try.


Award-winning author Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series featuring magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Kirkus Reviews dubbed it, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” The series also includes Death By Killer Mop Doll and Crewel Intentions, an Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mini-Mystery. Revenge of the Crafty Corpse is a January 2013 release.

Lois is also published in women’s fiction, romance, romantic suspense, and non-fiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. In addition, she’s an award-winning crafts and needlework designer and an agent with the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency. She’s also the author of the recently released Top Ten Reasons Your Novel is Rejected. Visit Lois at
http://www.loiswinston.com, visit Emma at http://www.emmacarlyle.com, and visit Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers character blog, www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com.

Revenge of the Crafty Corpse:

Anastasia Pollack’s dead louse of a spouse has left her with more bills than you can shake a crochet hook at, and teaching craft classes at her mother-in-law’s assisted living center seems like a harmless way to supplement her meager income. But when Lyndella Wegner—a 98-year-old know-it-all with a penchant for ruffles and lace—turns up dead, Anastasia’s cantankerous mother-in-law becomes the prime suspect in her murder. Upon discovering that Lyndella’s scandalous craft projects—and her scandalous behavior—made her plenty of enemies, Anastasia sets out to find the real killer before her mother-in-law ends up behind bars.



Interview with Carlie Webber, Agent at Jane Rotrosen Literary

Carlie webber is an agent with the Jane Rotrosen Literary agency and the final judge for the suspense/thriller/mystery category of The Sandy.

Bio: Carlie Webber took her love of young adult and genre fiction to the University of Pittsburgh, where she obtained a Master of Library and Information Science, and worked as a YA librarian and reviewer for publications including Kirkus Reviews. Wishing to explore her interest in the business side of books, she decided to switch from librarianship to publishing and enrolled in the Columbia Publishing Course.

Now she is building her agenting career on her favorite genres: young adult, women’s fiction, romance, horror, mystery, suspense, thrillers, and contemporary speculative fiction. Her ongoing submissions wishlist includes but is not limited to high-concept YA, literary suspense, grunge era nostalgia and things that go bump in the night.

  1. Which categories do you currently acquire/ represent?  Which category has a special/constant place in your heart?

    Answer: I am looking for romance, mysteries, thrillers, suspense, women’s fiction, YA, and light science fiction and fantasy. Of these, YA is my favorite. I love any and all YA, whether it’s serious or fluffy.

  1. What length synopsis do you prefer to see with a partial?  Single spaced or double? 
Answer: Double

  1. In terms of submissions, what are you sick to death of and what would you like to see more of?
Answer: I would love to see more women’s fiction that doesn’t revolve around men, marriage, or babies. I am not looking for any more YA paranormal romance.

  1.  What are the most compelling elements you feel are necessary for a good
     read?   What particularly grabs your attention?

    Answer: The main character must pass my personal reading test. For me to really love a character, I have to be able to say, “I want to go to the mall with her!” or, “I want her on my side in a fight!” If I want both, that’s great. If I want neither, the book is not for me. Other elements that make a novel great for me include good pacing, memorable settings, and high stakes for the main character(s).

  1. For you, in general, which elements in a fiction submission are terminal problems garnering automatic rejections and which are tempting and fixable meriting a look at a revision if a talented author is willing to accept your advice? 
    1. Voice – Automatic rejection
    2. Weak Grammar – Depends on how weak it is. An occasional misspelling or misused comma is one thing, but if I see too many Unforgivable Errors (incorrect apostrophes or dialogue formatting), that makes a book hard for me to read and I will reject it.
    3. Common plot—I can work with this. I like to say there are really only twelve plots in all of literature. Any plot can work with great writing.
    4. Poor character development—Automatic rejection
    5. Story is too controversial (ie rape, politics, religion—what else?). Everyone’s version of “controversial” is different. I don’t mind sex, drugs, and rock & roll.
    6. Mediocre / uninspired writing – Automatic rejection.
    7. Excessive use of violence or cursing – I can work with this.
    8. Lacking genre –specific requirements like, suspense/sexual tension/ world-building --- Many genre books break rules. I would handle this on a case-by-case basis.
    9. Pacing is off—plot is too slow – Automatic rejection
    10. Story starts in wrong spot ­– Easily fixable
    11. Ending is unsatisfactory –Depends on the degree of unsatisfactory and how hard the writer is willing to work to fix it.
    12. Other

  1. Does meeting an author face-to-face at a conference make a difference in your response time, the submission process, or the rejection process (ie. Form letter vs a few sentences of advice)? 
Answer: I do prioritize authors from whom I request material at a conference. All unsolicited materials that I reject get a form letter.

  1. Besides the writing, the story and the talent, what are the most important elements you look for in an author, ie. contest wins, cooperativeness, affiliations to writers organizations, knowledge of publishing industry, promotability, etc
Answer: I look for authors who have long careers ahead of them, who understand that publishing is a business that runs on deadlines and needs money to survive, and who are upfront about their projects and career plans.

  1. Do you have any pet peeves?
Answer: Musicians in YA novels who go to/are only interested in going to Juilliard. If a YA character wants to be a writer you’ll hear about a variety of colleges with fine English programs, but if all you read was YA you’d think there was only one college where you could study music. I’ve never figured out why no one ever mentions Eastman, Peabody, Berklee, the Curtis Institute, etc.

  1. What are you addicted to?
Answer: Bad reality television

  1. What have you always wanted to do?
Answer: Attend Hogwarts. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Interview With Berkley Assistant Editor, Katherine Pelz

I'm very excited to announce that Katherine Pelz is The Sandy's final judge for the Romance category.  Katherine graciously took the time to answer my questions for this interview.

Bio: Katherine Pelz has spent the past 3 years at the Berkley Publishing Group, and wouldn’t have it any other way. A lifelong bookworm, she’s thrilled to play an active role in discovering new authors and bringing fabulous books to the hands of readers.

A native of a small town in Western New York State, Katherine spent most of her childhood with her nose in a book. She continued to read as an English and Psychology major at Cornell University. After acquiring her B.A., she moved to Manhattan and now acquires for the Berkley Sensation, Heat, Prime Crime and InterMix lines.

Katherine is currently seeking submissions in romance (contemporary, historical and erotic), cozy mystery, women’s fiction and historical fiction

  1. Which categories do you currently acquire/ represent?  Which category has a special/constant place in your heart?

    Answer: I currently acquire in romance (contemporary, historical and erotic), cozy mystery, women’s fiction and historical fiction. I have a particularly special place in my heart for historical romance—I find all of the historical details to be very fascinating.

  1. What length synopsis do you prefer to see with a partial?  Single spaced or double?
Answer: About 2 to 3 pages, double spaced. An overly detailed synopsis isn’t particularly helpful to me when considering a partial. With a partial, I’m more concerned with the story’s overall premise, the strength of the author’s voice and their ability to craft a story.

  1. In terms of submissions, what are you sick to death of and what would you like to see more of?
Answer: I would like to see more submissions that have a really excellent hook. I’ve read many submissions that are capably executed and overall pleasant to read…but there’s no ‘spark’ to make these manuscripts stand out from the crowd. There are conventions to every genre, but an author still needs to be able to make their story feel fresh and unique.

  1.  What are the most compelling elements you feel are necessary for a good
     read?   What particularly grabs your attention?

    Answer: An author’s voice and writing ability will grab my attention, and excellent character development will keep me reading happily till the end.

  1. For you, in general, which elements in a fiction submission are terminal problems garnering automatic rejections and which are tempting and fixable meriting a look at a revision if a talented author is willing to accept your advice? 

                 Terminal problems:
Common plot
Story is too controversial (ie rape, politics, religion—what else?)
Poor character development
Mediocre / uninspired writing

Weak Grammar
Excessive use of violence or cursing
Lacking genre –specific requirements like, suspense/sexual tension/ world-building
Pacing is off—plot is too slow
Story starts in wrong spot
Ending is unsatisfactory

As an editor, it’s my job to work with an author to craft their manuscript into the best shape           possible. If the overall premise, writing and characters are strong, I’m happy to work with an author in other areas.

  1. Does meeting an author face-to-face at a conference make a difference in your response time, the submission process, or the rejection process (ie. Form letter vs a few sentences of advice)?
Answer: It doesn’t make a difference in my response time or the submission process, but I am more likely to provide a little more advice to an author whom I have met and spoken with.

  1. Besides the writing, the story and the talent, what are the most important elements you look for in an author, ie. contest wins, cooperativeness, affiliations to writers organizations, knowledge of publishing industry, promotability, etc?

Answer: Cooperativeness is very important—it leads to a better book when the author is open to edits and collaborating on new ideas. Two heads are better than one in this case. I appreciate when an author is affiliated with a writers organization because I think they truly help writers develop their skills, but it’s certainly not a requirement.

  1. Do you have any pet peeves?
Answer: As a resident of Manhattan who takes the subway every day, most of my pet peeves are related to public transportation. However, all the little annoyances are balanced out by the fact that I can read a good book during my commute.

  1. What are you addicted to?
Answer: Definitely sweets. I always have room for dessert.

  1. What have you always wanted to do?
Answer: Edit a New York Times bestseller—I hope to get there eventually!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Interview with Disney Hyperion Sr. Editor, Christian Trimmer

I'm very excited to announce that Christian Trimmer is The Sandy's final judge for the Children/ YA category and is attending the Crested Butte Writers Conference, June 21-23, 2013.  Christian graciously took the time to answer my questions for this interview and will be popping in to answer your questions, so take advantage of this great opportunity!

Bio: CHRISTIAN TRIMMER is a senior editor at Disney Hyperion Books. He edits books by folks like Mo Willems (the New York Times best-selling The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? and the Elephant and Piggie series) and Rick Riordan (The Red Pyramid, The Graphic Novel and the forthcoming The Sea of Monsters, The Graphic Novel), as well as the Ghost and the Goth trilogy (by Stacey Kade), the Touch series (by Laurie Faria Stolarz), the Carter series (by Brent Crawford), and The Classroom: The Epic Documentary of a Not-Yet Epic Kid (by Robin Mellom). Christian works on various formats: picture books, graphic novels, and middle grade and young adult fiction.

Christian is looking to acquire more novels about kids in real world situations: romantic comedies, family dramas, road trips, coming-of-age tales. An original voice and strong character development are key to him.

  1. Which categories do you currently acquire/ represent?  Which category has a special/constant place in your heart?

    Answer: When I first started acquiring, it was YA, YA, YA! But now, I work on books in most categories: picture books, graphic novels, middle grade, and young adult. I’ve yet to do a chapter book, and I look forward to trying one. I still have a soft spot for young adult, though. The protagonists of YA books can deal with more mature themes, and I find the intensity of feelings that these characters experience fascinating.

  1. What length synopsis do you prefer to see with a partial?  Single spaced or double?
Answer: Long enough to effectively convey the narrative and emotional arc(s) of the novel. Always double spaced.

  1. In terms of submissions, what are you sick to death of and what would you like to see more of?
Answer: Happily, I’m not sick to death of anything…yet. I don’t need any paranormal romance for the time being, and I’m good on middle school books set in school for the next few years. I’d love to read more contemporary novels; they just need a really strong hook.

  1.  What are the most compelling elements you feel are necessary for a good
     read?   What particularly grabs your attention?

    Answer: Voice, voice, and voice. And then a cool premise.

  1. For you, in general, which elements in a fiction submission are terminal problems garnering automatic rejections and which are tempting and fixable meriting a look at a revision if a talented author is willing to accept your advice? 
    1. Voice TERMINAL
    2. Weak Grammar FIXABLE!
    3. Common plot FIXABLE!
    4. Poor character development TERMINAL
    5. Story is too controversial (ie rape, politics, religion—what else?) INTRIGUING!
    6. Mediocre / uninspired writing TERMINAL
    7. Excessive use of violence or cursing FIXABLE!
    8. Lacking genre –specific requirements like, suspense/sexual tension/ world-building FIXABLE!
    9. Pacing is off—plot is too slow TERMINAL
    10. Story starts in wrong spot FIXABLE!
    11. Ending is unsatisfactory VERY FIXABLE!
    12. Other

  1. Does meeting an author face-to-face at a conference make a difference in your response time, the submission process, or the rejection process (ie. Form letter vs a few sentences of advice)? 
Answer: Absolutely! Once they’ve seen your face and shaken your hand, you have to make a real effort to save face! I might not spend more time on a critique of a manuscript, but I will move the submission closer to the top of the stack.

  1. Besides the writing, the story and the talent, what are the most important elements you look for in an author, ie. contest wins, cooperativeness, affiliations to writers organizations, knowledge of publishing industry, promotability, etc?
Answer: First and foremost, I want to make sure I have a connection with the writer, so it’s important to me to speak with an author before I sign up his/her novel. I like working with writers who are actively involved in the industry: attending conferences, participating in book clubs, developing an online community. Promotability (good word!) is huge, too.

  1. Do you have any pet peeves?
Answer: Yes, but they’re not related to the publishing industry.

  1. What are you addicted to?
Answer: Mother taught me everything in moderation, but I don’t miss Parks & Recreation, 30 Rock, or Girls. I read Entertainment Weekly cover-to-cover every issue.

  1. What have you always wanted to do?
Answer: Create!