Talking to You Is My Paradise


Christen Micheals is a fragile fourteen-year-old hiding behind a tough exterior. Her relationship with her parents has never been close but it becomes even worse when they divorce and she is forced to move to Small Town, Texas by her mother. With her family shattered and with the people at her new high school intolerable, she has little faith left in humanity. But the friends she eventually makes and the experiences she has are enough to both make her mature and to finally love someone when she has never known how to love before. Two years later, after a surprise twist in fate that forces her to make heartrending decisions and to finally forgive people she has hated for years for hurting her, she emerges a new person, with a broken heart yet also a wide future.

Fiction » Literature » Literary
Published: June 10, 2015
Words: 195,640
Language: English
Available on Smashwords

Cover is a premade cover designed by Dora


The Ugly eBook

Glasses On Old Book by Jim Mahoney

Glasses On Old Book by Jim Mahoney

I’ve mentioned book making debates before, but today’s debate of mention is the debate of whether or not an ebook should be pretty or not. “Keep it simple!” I read the other day. “You’re putting words on a screen not trying to make some Renaissance work of art!”

I normally have nothing to say about it. I have my own book making philosophy and so long as I’m able to continue to make functional eBooks my way in my own pursuit of happiness, you can feel how you wish. But lately, my pursuit of eBook happiness has been compromised because of that earlier philosophy. And Smashwords – gods how I love them – is at the front of this problem.

Let’s look at the history of bookmaking in a nutshell. In the early days, when books were hand written, you didn’t just put words on a piece of vellum. You were expected to be an artist. Illumination is the word of the day: it has nothing to do with light-bulbs. In other words, books were a work of art.

With words.

It’s easy to say that eBooks have a different history as they mostly started out in text files with limited formatting capabilities. Yes. Admittedly eBooks have a more plain beginning – aside from those beautifully illuminated books I saw on the internet for free back in the 1990’s… oh wait. I guess that means that eBooks started out as a work of art.  But overall, yes, they didn’t have the ABILITY to be pretty.

Moving ahead to today’s eBook revolution, we get a lot of people who want to take the two beginnings to extremes. We’ve got “fixed layout” epubs with pages that mimic a real book with background images and great looking magazines. We’ve got boring-looking epubs that are words and words only. No variation in type. No indentations. Just block paragraphs. And neither camp wants to see Romeo and Juliet wed.

Smashwords is at the forefront of this “keep it simple” revolution because of all the people in their early days who came to them with badly formatted books that just flat looked terrible. Readers warned other readers not to buy a Smashwords book because of how horrible they looked. That warning still gets spread today – interestingly enough – despite Smashwords tightening their formatting regulations to extreme measures. So extreme you’re not allowed to mix block paragraphs with first line indents anymore. You’re not allowed to have a line border beneath your headers for aesthetic affect. If your eBook has a mix of styles that require the font be one size off from another style, your book stands a high chance of being rejected – even if you have a good reason for the difference. Their Style “Guide” is their god, and if something is off then you must not have followed it.

Now with Smashwords, you can usually contact them when a problem arises and plead your case. They look like they’re expecting you to build cookie cutter houses, but they do make leeway if you can communicate properly and plead your case. Usually. But their guidelines remain a very good example of the philosophy: keep it simple. And ugly.

On the other hand, the push to make books more and more fancy is creating problems for not just book makers but book readers. In order to see some of the fancier children’s book, you have to have the latest in ebook reading equipment. That costs money. In order to make some of the fancier children’s books and, lately, to get published with Apple you have to catch up and learn fancier coding. Even if your book is nothing but a few chapters and all you want is maybe a few dancing demons at the bottom of the final paragraph.

The biggest things I’ve noticed about this debate is that it’s not being fought between readers. It’s being fought between makers. The eBook builders.

I think there’s a solution to this debate. All we have to do is: look at what the readers have to say about it. They’re the ones that are paying the builders money when they buy the eBook. They’re the ones that are set to try and enjoy their eBook experience. They’re the ones who ultimately decides who reads that fancy or plain book.

Here is what I’ve noticed when looking at reader input regarding various books at various different times starting from a few years ago to now:

  • Readers really hate ugly books. Ugly doesn’t always mean badly-formatted either. Ugly means just plain headers, barely a paragraph separation, single-spaced paragraphs, and basically as plain as plain can get.
  • In fact, readers will warn other readers away from buying that ugly book.
  • Some readers do like the fancy new books with the pretty backgrounds, but many readers can’t read them for a variety of reasons including they can’t afford the fancy new ereading equipment or that fancy book is priced too high.
  • Some readers find the super-fanciness too distracting.
  • Readers gravitate to books that look pleasing to the eye but are an easy to read experience, such as the way some magazines are formatted in the print world or how illustrated books were formatted back in the 60’s and 70’s: with an illustration floating here and there and the words spaced evenly with paragraphs nice and tidy.
  • Readers who purchase a book that’s formatted pleasingly tend to overlook that formatting because their minds and hearts go straight where you want it to go: the material. They take perfect looks for granted.

This is where my book-formatting philosophy comes from: the marketing value of a well-formatted eBook. You’re not worried about impressing your reader too much in most cases. You also don’t want to chase them away. You want your book to please them enough that they’ll tell their friends and recommend that book, and possibly even you. And so far from what I’ve seen: the middle road has it.

By necessity, Smashwords has it wrong. Companies that are trying to get too fancy also might have it wrong. The middle road is the best, most marketable road. Ebook formatting isn’t just about neatness and functionality. It’s about giving your reader, who is picking up your volume for a multitude of reasons including entertainment, an enjoyable experience. Like with Goldilocks and the Three Bears, one eBook is too fancy and one eBook is too plain. But if you figure out when too much is too much and too little is too little, your eBook can be just right.

DISCLAIMER: “Too fancy” does, of course, exclude certain picture books, children’s books, and even some magazines.

Ghilan – cover and ebook format

Ergie is a high-school slacker with a girlfriend who isn’t actually a girlfriend, parents he doesn’t understand, and too few friends. So when he meets Zack, the goth kid who just moved into the neighborhood, he welcomes the friendship. But he’s soon to discover that Zack might not be what he seems, that his parents have a hidden past, and that everyone he loves may be threatened by a race of ancient creatures from the Middle East known as ghilan. Can Ergie find the truth? And if he does, will he have the courage to do what he knows is right?

Available through and wherever Smashword books are sold. Here:

Don’t Rush a Good Cover (Why a rushed cover is bad and the marketing of making one.)

Oft times I’ll get that hurried client that wants a book cover. They want a good book cover, an original book cover, one of my best, and they want it NOW. They want their name in neon lights above the title, they want the image to catch attention, and at the same time they want blurbs like “Voted the best by the book readers monthly,” or “a strange man finds a strange object in a strange place at a strange time! What will he do?!?!” all over the picture.  And they get frustrated if I can’t deliver in a hurry. Sometimes they’ll hire someone else and my time is wasted.

If you want a good book cover, a really compelling book cover, from me or just about anybody the first rule is don’t rush it. Sometimes inspiration strikes and I’m able to produce that next masterpiece within minutes. But then there are other times when it’s like I’m pounding my head against a wall for weeks.

So you want covers like this?

If you do, then you have to let the artist think a bit. You wouldn’t cause the premature birth of your child. In some ways it’s the same thing.

When making a book cover, I don’t just slap words over the image and call it a day. I’m considering the following factors:

  1. What will catch the reader’s eye/attention?
  2. What looks great?
  3. Are the words readable when the image is a thumbnail as well as when its big?
  4. Does the lettering style fit the overall theme?
  5. Which is more important: author name or book title?
  6. Does this picture represent the book properly?
  7. Are the images and fonts legal to use?

And more.

The science of making book covers for the internet is similar to book covers for print books, but it’s not exact. With print books, the cover has to attract someone’s attention from across a room. The important part, title or author name, have to be readable from a few feet away. All of the information has to somehow be represented right there from the author’s name to what the book is about. There’s a variety of ways to do this, but the most tried and true methods appear to be putting “new” on the cover if the book is new by a famous author. Famous author’s name big and bold with book title not so much. Image matches content and can be foil, shiny: something that will flash like a neon sign. Blurbs such as “couldn’t put it down!” by some reviewer let people know the book is awesome. (Even when its not.)

With eBooks, the information the cover has to carry is split between it – the image – and the page the image is on. So things like the author’s name, if the book is new, what the book is about, review blurbs, and all other details are on the book’s home page. Take for example this Smashwords page for my book Black Wolf Silver Fox:

There’s the name of my book, my name, when it was published, two descriptions on what it’s about (the back cover material), search tags, and if I had any reviews that would be there too.

By contrast, look at my book on Amazon:

You’ll see the book cover, about me, about the book, other books bought by people who bought it, a couple of reviews (its a miracle!), when it was published, and so on.

All of that information is put together on the book’s page when the book is set. The cover? Yeah. Let’s take a closer look at my cover.

Most importantly, the picture is very compelling. I have a woman representing a key character in the story. Her attitude was perfect, her clothing superb, her hair awesome. I had to have that picture, and I spent my last dime getting it too. LOL.

Once I had it in hand, I tweaked it a bit to bring out her face, arms and mirror a bit more. That’s where I wanted viewer focus.

In the mirror is a another key component to the story: an hour glass. And the woman (whose name is Aramina btw) is telling you she has a secret. All of that from the book in one fell swoop. Blammo.

Secondly, I have the book title in big, readable letters. Some covers don’t give me leeway to make things that big and still have it look good, but this one did me the favor. Because Aramina, the black wolf, was on the cover I chose to make the words silver in honor to the Silver Fox.

My name there at the top is the traditional place you’d put a name for a famous author. But I’m only the author, so my name doesn’t not overpower the image and I’m not likely to let it anytime soon.

This is the third incarnation of the cover, and it’s the one that has brought me the most sales. The first two covers – omg the first two covers. I’m not showing you the first two covers. But this cover is great.

Other covers, like the Hell cover near the top of this article, can take a bit longer. My client knew what she wanted. She provided me a picture of a woman walking through a forest. (Yes, a forest.) She asked for a couple of small tweaks, but by the time I was done I had the woman walking through the depths of hell itself. It was fun, it was a challenge, it took me at least two weeks.

The Amphitrite cover, by contrast, was even more of a challenge even though making it was a simpler process. In this case, the characters had to be dressed properly for the year 1833. I wasn’t about to try to draw it: my style wasn’t appropriate for this type of story. So I had to find it. I had to find it all. Finding images of women wearing mob caps through a stock image service is next to impossible. Good images of anything similar: ha ha ha. I laugh. I scoff. It’s lucky I don’t charge by the hour. Maybe I should.

I had to research the ship. There are at least a few hundred sailing vessel types out there. I had to get the right one, especially since this story is based on fact. This meant historical research – lucky for my client I’ve a minor in history instead of a major in art. And I got very lucky. I came across an actual anonymous photograph of the exact vessel type I was looking for from that year. I felt blessed by the gods.

Is that the actual photo of the Amphitrite? I’d like to think so, but I should be so lucky.

When the idea finally began to form (right about when I found the photo, which I found first), it was a quick assembly. It took me days to find the parts, and hours to put it together. But I had to have something in my head to work from, and I had to have the puzzle pieces to assemble, and even though I managed to make a cover I’m pleased with in just a few hours… it took me about a month just to figure it out.

Unless your book has outside publicity to pull people to it, your covers run the risk of chasing readers away. An ugly cover (not represented here as a courtesy to everyone involved) will be to the reader’s eye like water off a duck’s back. Sometimes that reader will check out a book, but not always. In the bookstore, this is a big deal. It’s that shiny image that gets the buyer’s attention in the first place.

For the internet, it’s not as big a deal but it still is. Going back to my cover for Black Wolf Silver Fox: that book has been in the market for years. When sales for it nearly stopped entirely I put it to the book’s age. Making that new shiny cover taught me a lesson on that matter. People were seeing this nifty thing and buying it all over again. I just had several sales last week as a matter of fact. I’m not Stephen King, but my book isn’t dead either. I can safely say my first two covers were not helping me any at all.

My best book covers happen to belong to clients who have been previously published and built a name for themselves. This isn’t because they’re famous. It’s because they were used to waiting a year or two before they saw their books on the shelves, and they gave me space and time to think. No rush deadlines from them.

So when rushing your cover artist for that cover, stop and consider. Do you want your book to sell? Then maybe waiting a little bit isn’t going to hurt you. Maybe it’s only going to help you: like waiting a full nine months for your baby to be born, perhaps.

Plaigiarized Book Alert

Far be it that I should go unprofessional and discuss personal business on this blog, but there are times you gotta do what you gotta do. And I just heard tonight from one of my clients that one of her books – which she generously allows people to read for free – has been stolen and is being sold for $5 on Amazon.

For those of you who wonder what to do in this situation: you email You  have your ISBN  number handy – and this is why I prefer to publish through Smashwords first. They keep free ones on hand for clients. You can buy one through them for $10 – a ton less than if you bought it yourself. Which means for a bit of a shuffle for working with a very amicable company, you get a bit of insurance.

Maybe she will get Amazon to see reason. Maybe she won’t. I’ve had stuff stolen before, and I can tell you there are times the whole “the victimized artist is in the rights” is just a sham. Which is why we, the reading community should stand up when the perpetrators are caught red handed.

Her covers have probably been the most luxurious and enjoyable I have ever made so far, so when she asked me to look at the cover on the stolen book and weep I did – and I am just out and out appalled.

And of course it was marked “best seller”. My client’s stuff is GOOD.

What can you do to help? Let that thief know what you think about them perhaps? No, shun the book. Make sure others shun the book. Direct them to the copy she now has on Amazon (she used to shun Amazon but no more after today) for 99 cents. We can act through boycott. We can act as a team. We can stick together. Because you can be sure if this person stole one book, they’re going to steal another. Maybe even yours.

Here is the offending stolen piece:

Here’s the real original piece:

And here are more of the series on Amazon: