ORAcon2013: Cover Design

The next session from ORAcon2013 dealt with cover design. Two ladies from the Killion Group talked about their business, which involves a lot of cover design, and surprisingly without promoting their own business too much, gave a lot of really great tips about creating a cover. Here are the bullet point notes I took:

  • If you were to go to a professional company, they would most likely ask you the following questions, and it would be a good idea to consider these questions in designing your own cover. These are all potentially a part of what goes into a cover design.
  1. Email? Name? Contact Info?
  2. Book Title? Series Title?
  3. Genre?
  4. Setting?
  5. Label (NYT Bestselling author, Amazon # in a category, etc.)?
  6. Is there a quote you would like to use?
  7. A tagline?
  8. Consider the spine and the back for Print on Demand
  9. What size? 5 x 8? 6 x 9?
  10. Coloring and general appearance of hero/heroine?
  11. What is the feel of the book? Sweet? Inspirational? Action?
  12. What do you as the author envision?
  • Here are some websites where you can find stock photos which are royalty free: Dreamstime, Hot Damn Stock, Shutterstock, Fotolia
  • Decide if you want to buy exclusive rights, which often times cost much more, or if you want to buy stock photos that could be used again for another person’s cover.
  • Color is an important aspect to a book cover. There is an online Color Scheme Designer that can help you make sure your colors aren’t clashing.
  • Typography and Legibility. If your font looks great on a print book but no one can read it on Amazon’s thumbnail version, you’re in trouble. Make sure the title and your name can be read clearly in all formats.
  • Kerning & Tracking. Kerning is the space between letters. Tracking refers to whole words. Here and here and here, you can read more about kerning and tracking. This is an illustration I found here.

  • Type styling and branding. Do you want all of your books to have your name in the same font, styled in the same way to promote your brand? You need to come up with something that is versatile if you write in more than one genre.
  • Serials. If you plan to do serials (episodes, acts, or parts) you need to figure out how to make the covers cohesive. Same cover in different colors?
  • Formatting a cover for ebooks and for print are different. Hire someone if you can’t figure it out or don’t want to spend the time to figure it out. 
  • Createspace and Lightning Source have helps with cover formatting and creation.

This is a great article by Matthew Turner about designing your own book cover.

The Book Designer is a great website for authors in general.

This is a great article specifically on Kindle covers, but the concepts could be used for any cover. It’s from the Humble Nations blog.



Backwards Plotting: ORAcon2013

Basically backwards plotting is starting your outline with the ultimate result of your story. The speaker that chose to talk about backwards plotting at ORAcon2013 probably had a lot more to say than she was able to get out (because people were not listening and she was trying to have an interactive lecture; it did not go well). Anyway, the one thing I took away from this session was that backwards plotting involves asking a lot of questions in order to make the story believable and in order to work out all the kinks.

Before beginning, a good thing to do is define your characters, figure out the ending, and figure out motivations that get your characters to the ending. Then, start asking questions. How did they get to this result? What are the problems? What would be too coincidental or cliche (and then avoid those solutions)? What secrets are being kept? How do we establish this or that fact without giving away the ultimate ending?

The other big thing I took away from this session was to avoid coincidences at all costs! Don’t do what’s been done a million times in the same way that it’s been done a million times. They suggested looking up cliches for your genre. I looked up cliches for fantasy and these are some of the ones I found:

  • Purely Evil/Purely Good. No one is purely evil or purely good. Your villain should have reasons for what he does. Your hero/heroine should have struggles.
  • Magic saves us all. Just when the poo hits the fan, a magician shouldn’t show up with a giant magical pooper scooper and fix everything or poof in to give the hero the right tool or whatever. Likewise, unlimited magic is an all too common, unrealistic, lazy way to write a story.
  • Good people are beautiful; Bad people are ugly. ‘Nuff said.
  • Women are damsels in distress-always. Now, I would say that if there is one character that is a damsel type of lady (I know some of those, and that’s okay) then fine. But women in any story should be deeper than that, even if they do need to be rescued.
  • Men are dumb or useless. This, I believe is a newer cliche, and over reaction to the damsel in distress.
  • The one vs. twenty and the one wins scenerio. Yeah. That pretty much never really happens.

There are more, but those are the ones that a lot of people agree are cliches to be avoided.  So, when backwards plotting, you can better anticipate and avoid these cliches and coincidences.

Here are a few helpful articles I found concerning backwards plotting:




Do you have any suggestions or methods for backwards plotting?

ORAcon2013: Worldbuilding

The first topic covered at ORAcon2013 was worldbuilding. Here are the basic bullet point notes that I took:

  • People always interact with their settings in a way unique to themselves. So, an OCD character would notice things out of place, a photographer would notice any pictures, a purple heart on display might catch the attention of a military person or a police officer, signs of a battered wife/child/husband might be recognized by a counselor, etc. Know who your characters are and when writing from their point of view, write what they would see.
  • The setting becomes a character too. I found this statement especially well worded. I have never thought about my world as another character, or in a sense, even the different cultures in my novels could be considered different characters.
  • Create and know the norms for the culture and how the people live.


  • Do Lots of Research. Use original sources such as mythology, history, etc. Use academic writings, google, wiki, and the internet in general (be careful! double check your facts!)
  • Interview!! Get real people to answer your questions for you about how hospitals work or how police stations run or how travel works in the country you are writing. These details will throw off any reader that knows better.
  • Research Vacations. Well, this one is obviously a little more difficult if you don’t have the funds, but it would be a good thing to do if you can.
  • Read Real Life Accounts.

Setting Details

  • Specific details lend authenticity. Little details and unique specifics allow a quicker pace but still creates a good setting. There is no need to go into long bouts of irrelevent detail.
  • A few well-chosen, distinctive details go a long way. Make sure details are pertinent to your character’s point of view. Different characters should notice different things.
  • Terrain/Geography can add setting detail, be an obstacle, be a symbol or shape your entire world. Use description of terrain/geography wisely.

Sample questions to consider when wondering if your world is fully built

  • Give AT LEAST three details that are particular and distinctive to your world: sight, sound, smells?
  • Can you identify the most powerful detail of your world for each character’s POV?
  • What is/has/will go wrong in this world?
  • Who is the most outrageous character?
  • What is the class system?

Last thoughts

  • If your POV character doesn’t see, touch, or feel it, should it be described in your book?
  • It’s about the expectations you’ve built for the reader. Don’t build your character in a certain way, say as a smart alec, and then have some scene where they are super respectful with no explanation.
  • Write a “Series Bible” and a “Character Bible” where you lay your ground rules, limitations, and basic descriptions of culture and people.
  • Don’t answer all the questions in the first book of a series, but don’t leave everything up in the air. The reader needs to want more, but be satisfied at the same time. This reminds me of chocolate or cheesecake.
  • Your characters should not be surprised by the world- other than the character who might be a stranger in the world.
  • If any detail or scene pulls the reader away from the story or confuses the reader unnecessarily, leave it out!

Here are some articles that I’ve found dealing with worldbuilding that are extremely helpful: