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I do it.  All the time.  I look at a book cover with the same kind of instant appraisal as I do when choosing a bottle of wine based on its label art – which is to say, I already have formed an opinion of its quality while also being fully aware that what’s inside probably bears no relation.  But I still do it, and that snap judgement still colors my decision-making process despite my rational acknowledgement of its unfairness.  I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

So when I set myself to the task of deciding what my book cover would be I knew it would be an important decision.  In many ways the actual book makes little difference if the cover art or book summary or any other of a number of promotional materials don’t inspire readers to actually read it in the first place.

I thought about the books I love reading now and loved reading as a child.  Many of them were written in the heyday of paperback fiction, fantasy in particular, when unique hand-painted cover art was the norm.  The cover art was truly art on its own, a visual expression of the book, its message, characters and the general feeling of it all.  I wanted a cover that did all of this but I felt uncertain how to go about it, who to ask and how to commission one.

Then, by chance, I met Amelia Royce Leonards in her shop in Rockport.  Turns out the way to commission a book cover is as simple as not being a self-entitled douchebag when approaching the artist you want to work with – who knew??  Apparently not everyone knows this one weird trick, so I thought I’d share my gems of wisdom.

Through the course of roughly a thousand emails and text messages we hashed out the details of the cover design.  I knew from the beginning that I wanted to show my Beast in both her bestial and human forms as the focal point of the cover, so deciding how they would be portrayed was the hardest part.  Turns out my inconvenient imagination which provided two characters of such extreme differences in size meant that having them share a relatively small space was going to be … challenging.  I’ve promised Amelia that my next book will be the story of the unlikely friendship between a mountain and a fly, just to keep her from resting on her laurels.

After that was finally settled everything else kind of just came together easily.  The cover tells the story, moving from right to left – seasons change from spring/summer to autumn/winter, Yvaine transforms from Beast to Mortal, and Beau walks towards his fate.

finished-artwork

saved_for_web_bestial_art_flattened_jpg-for-cover-only

 

Anyone wishing to get in touch with Amelia, or see more of her fantastic artwork (in both senses of the word “fantastic!”) can visit her Facebook page or Etsy page.

When I was first considering this novel, I was thinking about the concept of how a human and a beast could develop an emotional relationship.  I was tired of the dynamic found throughout fantasy literature, television and films where a helpless female protagonist becomes drawn into the world of the monstrous male other, which ultimately dominates her entirely.

Fantasy as a genre needs to have more examples of heroines retaining their strength in relationships with inhuman male characters.  These are stories which are often taken by teenage readers as depicting their romantic ideals.  This is one of the reasons why I switched the genders of the traditional trope, and made my human character male and my beast female, turning that dynamic on its head.

The other reason was that while considering the dynamic between human and inhuman relationships I drew inspiration from my experiences in falconry.  Instead of a human becoming dominated by the monstrous other, in falconry they form a partnership of mutual respect. As the female bird of prey is larger than the male, a falconer admires, even loves, their female birds for their power, their violence, aggression (directed appropriately) and hunting prowess.  She is a force to be reckoned with and respected because the falconer knows exactly what those feet are capable of.

Bestial expresses these concepts, and it was important to me that my female character embodied the sort of violent power of a female bird of prey, and would not be dominated by a relationship with a male character.  This is ultimately her story, describing her journey of self-discovery.

In the past couple of days I’ve had certain important victories.

From the beginning I assumed I’d have to get a professional to format my book, in both digital and print.  I’d heard reports of, and seen for myself, some amateur Kindle books which didn’t inspire much hope for the inexperienced DIY-formatter.  I’d tinkered a bit with running my book through a free online mobi converter, and it always ended up very very wrong.

However, I’m at a very unique point in this book’s progress.  I’ve finalized the manuscript, done all my front/back matter, but not yet ready to publish as my glorious cover art is still in the making.  (I’m very excited about this artwork, and plan to devote an entire blog post to it in due course.)  I just recognized, this week, what an opportunity this is.  I have time to play around, see what I can do for myself, but still have the back up plan of hiring a professional should it become clear that I need one.

And it turns out I don’t.

It took a couple days to wade through various helpful websites and how-to guides on the subject, and then to download certain useful free software, but I managed to format the e-book into a working Kindle mobi file.  It retains my images right where I want them, has a working table of contents, retains my text formatting and generally appears to be the real deal.

I’m now working on the print book format, using the same formula as the above.

There have been points during both of these explorations where I feel like my brain is breaking, and I have this overwhelming frustration that I know what I need to do but don’t have the tools to do it.  I’m now recognizing that this feeling tends to prelude a breakthrough, so I just need to take a deep breath, walk away for a moment, and then come back to it with a clearer head and more specific search terms.  Self-publishing is enough of a well-trodden path these days that there are plenty of resources out there if you know how to look for them.

Tonight I’ve been celebrating these victories, and the new-found knowledge that’s come with them.  I’ve been on such a kick that I even decided to fix our broken toilet this morning!  So if anyone needs any information on the subjects of turning a Word document into a mobi file, or how to create print page templates, or anything about the inner workings of a modern low flush toilet, I’m your girl.

I’m both excited and terrified to shortly release this novel into the world.  What started out as an interesting exploration into one of the archetypes of fairy tale relationships, which requires that one or both of the characters must undergo a crucial transformation before its actualization, became something significantly more personal over time.

When we write what we know it becomes inevitably personal.  When what we know is pain and heartbreak, that thing which is personal becomes harrowing.  This book has been a trial and a catharsis.  I don’t believe I’ll ever read it again once it’s been published.

However, as a writer of non-fiction, and fantasy in particular, you can’t stop at writing what you know.  You have to engage with the unknown, to open your mind to encounters with unreality, with what-ifs and possibilities.  This is an indescribable freedom.  It was said best by Ursula Le Guin, a woman for whom I have the utmost respect and admiration:

Only the imagination can get us out of the bind of the eternal present, inventing or hypothesizing or pretending or discovering a way that reason can then follow into the infinity of options, a clue through the labyrinths of choice, a golden string, the story, leading us to the freedom that is properly human, the freedom open to those whose minds can accept unreality.

(From Some Thoughts on Narrative, 1980)

For many, accepting unreality is a blessing.  Most people come to read fantasy to escape their reality and that’s certainly what attracted me as an over-dramatic pre-teen, when my love of the genre began.

So there’s an element of irony to the fact that my first published work of fantasy has forced me to confront my own reality rather than provide escapism from it.