What’s in a name?


I am approaching the final chapters of the first draft of the novel that I am currently writing and I have a problem. It’s something that’s been niggling away at me for weeks to develop into an issue. It is not a problem with the writing of the book and how I’m going to end it; all that is chugging along quite nicely – for a first draft. My problem is what to call it. Nothing is really working for me for longer than a few hours, maybe a couple of days. I think that I have something and I get excited and then I either find that someone else has already used that particular combination of words, or my enthusiasm for it simply wanes.

I have given myself five criteria, which must each be satisfied, to my thinking, before I can settle on a title. In no particular order they are:

Uniqueness: I don’t want to use a combination of words that has been used before for a book title. Apart from the inevitable confusion for readers searching on-line self-publishing outlets – that I am confined to – for my book (pause for laughter)  only to be confronted with perhaps three or four different books with the same title, I have more personal reasons. The first book that I self-published I called, ‘Rope Enough’. I was trying to be creative and get original. There are many books out there with the words ‘enough rope’ in the title. I didn’t do my research thoroughly. I have since discovered that typing in, ‘Rope Enough’ as a book search term with Amazon, for example, will first return a book of that title with two young men kissing on the front cover. That’s not my book by the way.

Cleverness: I want something with a hidden double meaning that the reader might reflect on at the end of the book and go…oh, I get it. That’s clever.

Conciseness: it’s still got to be short and punchy. Something like, ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’ isn’t for me. And there is also the typography issue to consider when the cover art is shrunken to a thumbnail image. It’s going to need to stand out. A sentence of a title can’t do that.

Appropriateness: obviously it’s got to strongly reflect/suggest something of the content.

Eye-catchingness(?): it’s got to be something that readers of the genre it’s aimed at will linger over as they scroll through the hundreds of other titles listed. Downloaders must be immediately hooked and intrigued by it.

When I choose a book to read whether I’m buying it, borrowing it or downloading it for free I find myself increasingly reliant on my initial reaction to the title and the cover-art, unless it’s a book by an author who I know and enjoy. Example: I just finished a thriller by the quite superb Gerald Seymour called, ‘Traitor’s Kiss’ and I eagerly anticipate the next book of his I can lay my hands on, but the title doesn’t really do it for me and the cover art I would ordinarily pass without pausing. If I didn’t worship the paper his pencil scrawled across I wouldn’t have given that book a second glance. More fool me I suppose. But with all the books to choose from there has got to be something that lures one in.

I’ve just had a look at some of the titles on my shelves. How do the authors or their publishers come up with some of them? What made someone think that, ‘Billy Bathgate’, ‘Moby Dick’, ‘The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay’, ‘Waterland’, ‘Ratking’, ‘Birds Without Wings’, ‘The People’s Act of Love’, ‘Great Expectations’, and ‘Debbie Does Dallas’ for examples, would work for those authors?


In all their full-size glory


That’s one small step for English literature, one giant leap for my self-publishing. Actually, for English literature it might be more of a trip in the dark than a proper forward-moving ‘step’. I don’t care. Screw my critics. I’m moving again. And I’m whistling from the right end.

The old self-publishing grindstone got a bit stuck lately. I’ve had a week away back in the real world i.e. home – responsibility, property maintenance, family, big jobs, little jobs, socialising. It’s all fun and frantic and depressing and consuming. Nanna used to say that a change is as good as a rest (she never went anywhere) but I can’t sit down and ‘work’ on my writing when I’m ‘home’.

But someone was busy. The guy who has been creating the ebook covers for the series has been industriously beavering away and after a couple of drafts and some discussion he’s realised a set for the three books that I’m really very pleased with.

I told him that I was looking for some common identifiable themes on the jackets of the first three books in the series that can be taken forward and exploited on covers of future books. I think that we have a good few going on with what we have.

One letter of each book’s title is replaced with, and depicted by, an artefact from the story. Each cover has a strong silhouette that hints at a prominent locational theme of the book. The typography is common to all three and strong. The background wash of colour is in keeping with the season in which the story takes place. And each cover had a contrasting splash of red in the form of a ‘rubber stamp’ indicating which in the series of the Romney and Marsh Files the book is. Now, all this might not be to everyone’s taste, but appreciate this: the cover has a very important job to do. It must attract the attention of the reader who is looking for a certain type of read. It must reflect the genre and stimulate interest. It must be instantly recognisable as part of a series. I find them simple, subtle, reflective of the content and effective. That’s what I was after and to my mind (and I know the stories better than anyone) that’s what I’ve got.

Now, maybe, I’ll treat myself to one more, final, final, final proof-read…

Desperate times call for desperate measures.



A couple of days ago I posted that I had run into problems with my e-book covers and that I thought that I might/should seek some professional help (for the covers, not for me).

I looked through a couple of years of entries in the monthly e-book cover design awards on the website  www.bookdesigner.com. (a great resource) and found a couple of artists that impressed me with their work.

I tracked down their websites and gave them the once over. And I’ve settled on someone to approach. His artwork is really good, he has good testimonials on his website and his prices are quite reasonable, especially when compared with the competition. £100 a cover. I want three.

In line with keeping a record of my foray into self-publishing I’m including a copy of the letter that I’ve sent to him today. (I haven’t got anything else to report and it is all relevant).

His name is Kit Foster. He is based in Scotland and his web address is http://www.kitfosterdesign.com

Hello Kit,

I have written three novels that I am going to self-publish as e-books. Not wanting to spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar I think that I need, and would benefit from, professional help with the e-book covers. I’ve done some research. I really like your work. I hope that we might work together to our mutual benefit.

I’m approaching you after reviewing a couple of years of entries in the e-book cover design awards on www.bookdesigner.com. Just for your information, regarding any designs that you might undertake for me, I generally agree with every comment Joel Friedlander makes, which is good because he obviously likes your covers.

My books are the first three in a police detective series. I shall be writing more. They are set in Dover, Kent in the present day. The series is pretty formulaic in that each book involves the two main characters from the local police force, solving crimes that the town throws up. The two main characters’ names are Detective Inspector Romney (male) and Detective Sergeant Marsh (female).

I’m looking for a striking design that can be used as a common theme throughout these books and others that will follow. I want my books to be visually instantly recognisable as a series with certain common features. I want a brand. To this end, I would like to incorporate on the cover, as well as title and author’s name, a phrase something like ‘ The First Romney and Marsh File’ The Second Romney and Marsh File’ and, obviously, ‘The Third Romney and Marsh File’. I’m not sure if this should be done in a novel, logo-type – maybe something like a rubber stamp imprint? – way or would be better as a simple sentence.

I hope that I’m writing in the crime/police procedural-with-an-element-of-thriller genre. If I’m not, I’m screwed.

My target audience is readers of contemporary police detective novels set in the UK; who expect to be kept guessing to (just about) the end and who don’t expect either regular graphic scenes of brutality and violence and the text peppered with bad language, or little old ladies in surgical stockings solving crime. I don’t mind blood and guts and swearing but there’s not too much of it in my books.

I don’t know whether I want the covers to specifically reflect the town. I don’t know if that’s necessary. My personal opinion of Dover that I’m writing the books through is that it has some wonderful historic and geographical features going for it, but that as it is today it is tawdry and neglected with a dark underside and peopled by, not exactly low-life, more unsavoury elements.

I don’t want clearly definable images of people’s faces on the cover (see Martina Cole novels) but I don’t think that that is your style anyway. I’m not looking for a quaint English village feel either (see Agatha Raisin books). I want something gritty and implying darker elements of society portrayed in a simple effective way.

I need e-book covers for these three titles that, specifically, Amazon will accept for uploading as a Kindle e-book. I’m sure that you will know these specifications better than I do.

I would like the books to have a strong contemporary feel and strong typography. I’m not necessarily looking for something visually suggestive of the location. If you think that’s best then fine; I’m not averse to it either. I like simple and striking and uncluttered and clever and memorable and subtle and effective. Who doesn’t?

Anyway, assuming that you’re interested in doing the covers here is some detail. If you want more please ask.


I have no publisher logo to consider.

Probably of no significance to the design process, but I’ll include it anyway, is the fact that I come from a place just down the coast from Dover called Romney Marsh. Hence the sir names of the two main characters.

Having just read through all of this I would like to add that as the titles of the books are revealed as being very relevant and suggestive of the overall main storyline for each novel I would like the cover artwork to be a visual suggestion of the titles as much as anything else.

I do hope that all this makes sense to you.

If you require any content from the books I can send it to you.

I would appreciate you letting me know whether you’re interested in the commission and if you are your initial thoughts and price.

Have a good weekend.

Oliver Tidy

A ha’porth of tar.

Another day, another…cloud. But wait. Another cloud another silver lining – perhaps.

Over the weekend I found the time and motivation to have a go at formatting my Microsoft Word document into something that Amazon’s Kindle will display. I wasn’t looking forward to it because I thought that it might get a bit technical. However, it was pleasantly and surprisingly really simple and within a minute of pinging my novel over the internet to Amazon it came back, formatted, on to my Kindle e-book reader. This provided me with two sensations. The first was one of astonished amazement at yet another example of just how flipping amazing the technology is today. I mean I live now. I grew up with this stuff. I’m used to it. But technology still has the ability to utterly baffle and bewilder me. How does all this work? There aren’t even any cables involved. It’s all wireless. I wonder sometimes how a great innovator of centuries long gone would react to it all if he/she could be resurrected and shown a few examples. Could they cope with it?

The second feeling that I got was a bit warm and gooey down there. No, not down there. Just in the pit of my stomach. My book was on a Kindle and I could read it. And of course I should. I must. To ensure that there are no errors thrown up by the formatting, or otherwise, I must read the book again on the device that it is intended for. What a chore that sounds. I’ve read the damn thing three times in two weeks. I like it, and I’m exceptionally egotistical where my own ‘art’ is concerned, but I can’t face reading that thing again just yet. Actually, I won’t have to because I have a fly in my self-publishing ointment that is the new cloud in my life. (I apologise to myself for mixing my metaphors.)

A little while ago those of me who have been paying close attention to my blog posts will have seen me boasting about how I nailed my evocative and enticing e-book covers in a matter of hours and at no expense at all. How clever I was. And yet how conceited and possibly stupid too.

I’m a bibliophile. I collect books. I can spend a hundred pounds on a book and not bat an eye, if I really want it. I love everything about books: the smell (new or old – unlike people books actually smell better with age), the feel, the reading, the look of a superbly crafted and atmospheric dust-jacket….yes the dust-jacket. I always judge a book by its cover. I think that dust-jackets are as important to the book as, as, as…well they’re bloody important, I know that much. It’s often the first thing that people see and people do make a judgement of the book based on that first impression. So why oh why did I think that the dust-jackets of my e-books weren’t important enough in my grand scheme of self-publishing to warrant some investment in some professionalism? I’m going to put my books out into the big wide world where they are going to compete with all sorts of professional and brilliant artwork. I have to give them the best start that I can, the best chance that I can, to get them noticed by the casual browser with thousands of titles to choose from. Don’t I? If I get noticed maybe a few people will linger long enough to press download and then read me.

Back to my problem. When it came to downloading my e-book cover to Kindle Amazon would not accept the file because it wasn’t up to pixel standards. In fact it was humiliatingly short of pixels. Nothing to be done about it. I must abandon them. And after I’d stopped crying I started thinking about what I could do. I’ve ended up back on that dilemma’s horns again – invest in some software that will enable me to create industry standard e-book covers or bite the bullet and pay a pro to come up with something?

Naturally, I turned to my best friend – I had a scout around the internet, like you do, and found a couple of graphic designers offering this service (how much? I’m definitely in the wrong job). I also found this website http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2012/10/e-book-cover-design-awards-september-2012/

This was an eye-opener. It’s really worth a look if one has an interest in cover art. Every month the guy who runs the site judges the dozens of submissions that people send in for someone to be singled out as that month’s best. He has several months of e-book covers archived and it makes really fascinating viewing. The guy who runs it is a pro designer himself and he provides feedback on a lot of the entries and I learned a lot just from considering his comments with the artwork. He is good.

I’ve learned from this experience to appreciate even more the importance of, and impact of, a really well crafted and appropriate book jacket. What I’m thinking now is that I should find myself a professional e-book cover designer and start talking about deals for a three-jacket-order. It’s going to cost me (and realistically I can’t ever see me making any money out of my books to compensate for this outlay), but a) I think that my books are worth it b) they could give me the edge that I need to get noticed and c) I like the idea of having professionally and sympathetically created jackets for my series. OK it’s going to be considerably more than a ha’porth of tar but so what? I die a few hundred pounds poorer. Big deal.

Creating an e-book cover

I’m keen to do everything myself that’s involved  in my foray into self-publishing. That includes the creation of e-book covers. I did look online at professional artists who offer this service and while I will freely admit that their work is stunningly good I want to do this. Unlike just about everything else in my life this is about the principle, not the money. And this is, after all, self-publishing. So, after fifteen minutes following a Youtube tutorial here is the e-cover for my first novel in my Romney and Marsh police detective series. I don’t hate it. I actually quite like it.  Here is the link for the tutorial.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wp2X68syG5E It’s very simple to follow. In fact I enjoyed the exercise so much I might go back and try the other two.