The Art of Man
So I am running a bit late. I usually take care of this well before the month cycles over. Things got hectic, things got in the way, as they sometimes do in life. But I’ve learned that more often than not sometimes the universe is at work when you may not know it. Not that I think that I am the centre of it’s general concerns, but yes, sometimes it appears that my missteps do reveal something truly wondrous on the other side of my scheduling faux pas, as it were.
While I’ve loved having Abel Korzienowski as my Site of the Month for January, and I do hate to see him go, I knew I needed to press forward and find something else of interest to put out there and say “Hey everyone, take a look at this.”
Well, that’s just what happened this morning. Or maybe it was last night? Well, the fact of the matter is that it happened – and I am all the richer for it. And by richer I mean that I’ve had another artist’s work revealed to me: Paul Henry’s brilliant and very powerful photography.
It came to me quite innocently enough. You see I’d received a notification from Twitter I had a new follower. Which was always a cool thing to have happen. Sometimes I don’t know how they find me, but it seems to be happening more and more now. Anyway, as soon as I saw Paul’s follow I promptly looked him up and seeing he was a photographer of the human form I really became intrigued. So I followed him right back. This was early in the morning and I thought that was it until some tweet caught his attention or he bothered to show me something that caught mine.
To be honest, I never was one to poke someone back and say “thanks for following me” – I know it’s what you’re supposed to do. I get them from time to time. Invariably, they usually thank me for being a follower of theirs and then immediately link back to something that they are doing. That’s the part that always brings me up short (personally and professionally). Not that I am deriding Paul for doing the same thing, because thankfully he doesn’t have my oddball quirks to deal with. He did just that. He thanked me for the follow and he offered a link to his site telling me he wanted to work with authors like me to license his photography if I found it to my liking.
Intrigued, I immediately clicked over (as a matter of record, I usually don’t). This is one of the reasons why I don’t do the “thank you” follow-up because it usually expects me to do the same – “hey, go look at my stuff.” But Paul’s was rather nicely done and I sort of wanted to see what he was up to. I was beyond pleased that I did.
The wonderful thing about it is Mr. Henry seems to be very willing to work with independent authors to use his male model imagery for the M/M fictional genre market. It’s rather lovely to be courted by someone who is so accomplished in his craft. That part of it I found very much to my liking. Having corresponded with him today on how I can highlight it on my own site (deciding for myself that I’d found my February Site of the Month already), I found him to be very receptive to my inquiry and very prompt in responding. Which was also very refreshing. I am sure with his busy schedule that might not always be the case, but to reach out to him on a Sunday and his getting right back to me was quite a delight.
To give a bit of background on him I asked him what his backstory was and how he moves through the paces of getting his projects going.
First impressions, and by his own admission, he is a rather low profile and shy person. It is probably that quiet introspection that gives him a deft eye to capturing his subjects with such brilliant clarity while never losing their humanity. They are definitely riveting work.
Paul was born in the United States (in New York City) but moved to Montreal, Canada when he was five. He has been in the photography industry for the past ten years and has worked with some very notable players in the business.
In his own words:
I shoot mainly portrait, fasion and fitness model. I’ve been published in magazines like Vanity Hype, CoverBoy, Sensitif (France); and since 2014 in the Fit Men Calendar by Zebra Publishing (Toronto). I’m also honored to have been asked for my images for 2 romance novel covers, by authors Xavier Neal and Josephine Raven. I work in my own studio in Montreal, but love to shoot outside as well… usually in the summer.
The lovely thing about Paul is that given his impressive credits it seems that he’s also gained quite the reputation amongst them (here is what Beautiful Mag wrote about him a couple of years ago):
Asking Paul Henry Serres about himself he says he is just a passionate photographer who loves his job and is in constant pursuit to produce good work. That pretty much sums it all up. But there is more to him than just that. Paul Henry Serres works in all disciplines of the art. He does architecture, landscapes, nature and even sports photography. In fact, he used to shoot for a rugby team in Quebec and states that shooting athletes in action is the best school to learn how to use a digital camera. Paul Henry’s biggest passion is probably photographing people. “Each shoot is for me and the model (as they tell me) a rewarding human experience,” he explains. “There is always fun involved. It doesn’t matter is the model is male or female, young or old. The most important thing is to have mutual trust and fun in what we do.”
There is definitely a emotive response initiated from Mr. Henry’s works, even if they are simply no more than the model looking directly into the camera lens. Paul seems to capture the essence of the moment brilliantly and succinctly.
When I asked him how he approaches his projects he had a few words to offer on how it works for him, but he also said that he entertains commissioned work (are any of my fellow author’s wheels turning out there? I know mine were).
My approach for a shoot is I like to get prepared as much as possible … I know what I want to do, the concepts … but you never know what will happen on a photoshoot. The better you are structured, the more freedom you have to improvise.
Given the breadth of his work that’s posted online on his website and Facebook page (link to the Facebook page to be provided below) and the current promotional tweets he’s been broadcasting to gain the attention of authors out there – I knew I was a fan and potential customer as well:
It was such a nice treat to interact with him today. So if you’re an author who is constantly on the look out for a great photographer to work with, I gotta tell you, Mr. Henry was a breeze to correspond with. I was both impressed with the volume, the quality and the breadth of his work as well as the prompt and welcoming approach he took to my inquiry.
It gives me great pleasure to present as my 2015 Site of the Month – Paul Henry Serres Photography.
His Facebook page can be found here.
The best way to reach out to him for commissioned work is via his contact page on his website.
Lastly, a weekly updated listing of his available photos for exclusive licensing can be found here. I highly encourage you to take a look at this man’s brilliant and well crafted work.
Banned By Association
Okay, maybe it was my fault.
So I hit a BIG learning curve here. Epically so. Why, you might ask? Because my first work, a novel that was released to the world from several selling platforms, Amazon being just one of them, got BANNED! But since it all took place this past week I didn’t want to do a knee-jerk blog post about it. I wanted some distance from it to sort it out. I’m like that. I can be wordy and preachy when my ire is provoked, but at times, like this time, I was able to quell that rash desire to lash out and opted instead to think things through.
I’m glad I did. And while I might not like Amazon’s decision, I recognize it was theirs to make.
I mean, they’re the big guns in the literary world, like it or not. Even the big publishing houses have to play ball with them. So a little guy like me doesn’t have much pull. I haven’t brought enough money to the table. And I know that it is all about the money.
I mean, I think it is interesting that my book, with a rough sex scene (the hero in the story is raped physically by the bad guy in the series) near the end of the book, could be blocked/banned because of that scene when say EL James 50 Shades (of crap, if you ask me) gets a pass. Though to be fair, I guess rape wasn’t in the cards for that drivel. But what about the Bible? It has rape, pillaging and all sorts of violence spread throughout the work.
TO BE CLEAR: I don’t consider the Bible (or any other religious text, for that matter) to be holy or sacred. They are books like any other – written BY MAN. So yeah, I so won’t get into that debate ’cause to my way of thinking that’s just messing with 9 bags of cray-cray (as my granddaughter says).
But as a newbie author, doing the self-pub thing on my own, I know I have a learning curve ahead of me. I know that my works will stumble and I might make some epically bad moves. I get that it’s part of the process. I don’t expect to be “the next BIG thing” when it comes to literary works. Though to be honest, I do write literature. I write character studies. I find them infinitely fascinating to write from. I want to immerse the reader into the psyche of the character who is telling you the story. All of the inner monologue that we all have in our day to day lives that never gets said to the outside world.
Those monologues are deeply fascinating to me. At times I listen to my own mental ramblings as I interact with others. Not that there are voices in my head – well, okay there are, but they are my characters working out their upcoming scenarios that I need to get sorted before I write them down – I SWEAR!
Anyway, so my first work was out there on all platforms –
- It was meant to be a fluff, fun and slightly scary read as part of my NaNoWriMo 2014 writer’s challenge project that I won last November -writing the bulk in what made it into the published work within 26 days out of the 30 for the challenge. The werewolves have this ease with themselves where sex comes into it because that is how pack life is for them. The sex keeps them rooted to their human existence.
- It was meant to be a story for my very first fan, Michael, who has a penchant for sexy guys and werewolves. I wanted to do some thing for him. I even made him one of my wolves IN the story. He loves it and I couldn’t be happier. The hot and heavy man action was a nod to him.
- Sex within my packs of werewolves (which are ONLY male, btw) is a way of exchanging power. It is a metaphor I am using in that submissiveness doesn’t equate weakness. Sometimes, it actually takes far more courage to be there for another in that way. I wanted to play with that dynamic. My wolves keep telling Hank (Henry) that, as the pack’s new Omega, he doesn’t belong to them – they belong to him!
We’re contacting you regarding the following book:HO’M,O – Henry O’Malley, Omega: A Sparrows Hollow Lycanthropic Adventure by Collins, SA (AUTHOR) (ID:5629640)During our review process, we found that this content is in violation of our content guidelines. As a result, we cannot offer this book for sale. If we identify additional submissions with similar content that violates our guidelines, we may terminate your account or you may lose access to optional KDP services.
To learn more about our content guidelines, please visit our Kindle Direct Publishing Help page at:
Kindle Direct Publishing
Since the work was classified as Erotica, I assumed that the first two sections of this lack of direction was the Pornography and the Offensive Content areas of this little policy write up. But how was I supposed to work with that?
It could’ve meant that ANY of my sex scenes were objectionable, right? I had to question it all. So I went out and offered a “hey, I’m new – what do I do to address this so I can learn from it and not repeat it?” I just wanted something or someone to direct me to what was in violation of the policy.
All I got was this (the bolding and underlining of the email content are mine as I am just drawing attention to what stood out for me when I read it):
We’re contacting you regarding the following title:
HO’M,O – Henry O’Malley, Omega: A Sparrows Hollow Lycanthropic Adventure by Collins, SA (AUTHOR) (ID:5629640)
We’ve confirmed that your book(s) contains content that is in violation of our content guidelines and we will not be offering this title for sale in the Kindle Store. As stated in our guidelines, we reserve the right to determine what we consider to be appropriate, which includes cover images and content within the book.
If you wish to re-publish your book(s) with content that meets our guidelines, it will need to be submitted as an entirely new ASIN and go through our standard review process. Previous customer reviews, tags, and sales rank information are not transferable because the title will essentially be a different product.
Our content guidelines are published on the Kindle Direct Publishing website.
To learn more, please see: https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A2TOZW0SV7IR1U
We appreciate your understanding.
Covering Old Ground –
More Cover Artwork for HO’M,O – Henry O’Malley, Omega.
So here I am again- more discussion on the arc of creating a look/feel for a book I’ve been putting together. It started out simple enough (almost bland in it’s simplicity):
Actually this is a later iteration as I can’t find my original which was just the slash cut with out any bloody references and minus the lycanthropic tagline.
It was slightly emotive of what I wanted but almost too simplistic in approach. Originally I was thinking of going horror novel ala Ikea – ya know, very Scandinavian in design – sparse and minimalistic, yet evocative.
Because the gash/slash was in a swooping motion I used a very swishy font. I tend to favor them. Mostly because I admire calligraphers. And as I said before – I am a BIG FONT WHORE.
So yeah, it was serviceable. Passable. Minimally getting me there.
I mean, I didn’t kid myself and say – wow, that’ll get them to buy it!
Cause, I knew it ultimately wouldn’t. I wasn’t foolin’ myself none, ya know?
So I posted it anyway and then my author pal, Jayne Lockwood commented that she thought the HOMO title should be bolder cause it was sort of lost in the vast sparseness of the work. I thought about it. I did. I swear I did.
Then did nothing about it. Told her that was what I was after.
But it festered. Made me rethink what I was doing.
I didn’t want to do the whole muscle dude thing on so many of the M/M romance stuff. Cause that’s just so… meh. So 1990 in my book. It’ll be cheesy in a few years and NOT retro-chic cheesy either. Just plain cheese – but not the good kind you can put on sandwiches and stuff.
So I needed to retool it. I knew that.
Then I hit a major creative speed bump. It happened last night. I took a breather from writing the ending to the story (it was a NaNoWriMo winner story so I knew I wanted to get it done). And I took a small (fitful) nap. I woke up and had a pseudo-meltdown. I don’t know if it was the wrong side of the bed, or in general I was letting my shit get to me but I wrote a rather long rant to my betas, friends and family (do they have a cell phone program for that?) and babbled endlessly on whether I needed to write at all. Whether I was good enough.
It was a fucktard moment. I ain’t proud of it. I mean, I even bcc’d my mom on it. How embarrassing is that? Your own mother knows you’re a fucktard. Brilliant – NOT!
So when I finally crawled out of my pity-party and began to sort out my shit and got back in the writing saddle I decided I’d take an artistic turn for a few and re-examine the HOMO book cover.
The hubby was busy with the initial edits and comments, so I was left to my own devices in retooling the cover for it once it was done.
I hit up istockphoto (my usual goto) and found a few werewolf-y looking things. But the costs are getting up there to use this service. I like the quality of work but the credit fees to just buy some shit is getting up there now. There had to be others out there that were cheaper. So I found CanStockPhoto.com.
I combed through their stuff on wolves and forests and such and found a couple of things I sort of liked. I always wanted ominous eyes if I was going to do a picture. I also knew the cover had to be dark. So I started to try and combine those two terms to source something for the new reworked cover.
I found these two pieces to start with:
And even though I railed against using a half naked man on the cover but I sorta liked this guy when I happened upon him – he had that whole Tanner Tallman (from my book) thing going on. And he had wolfy fangs so yeah, he was worth a saw buck to buy him. (Oh yeah, did I forget to mention? BOTH images cost me less than $9!) It was a no-brainer.
So here he is – (even if I didn’t use him this time around) – it’s a novella series so yeah, I could still put him to use down the road. Especially if I focus on Tanner somewhere down the line.
Anyway, so I went about taking the wolfy eyes and the darkened road and began to repurpose my original cover art.
First to go was the swishy font for the logo – rebranded it entirely into a sans-serif font rather than a display font (if you’re into typography like me you know what that means, if not, eh, don’t fret too much about it). This was invariably a big factor on my changing the background from a faux leather texture to solid black. It would allow the red blood and title to punch a bit more on the cover. Great, but it still seemed sparse without something else.
Then it was time to sort out which of the two picts I was gonna use. Since Tanner wasn’t the focus in this first book I decided it was better to go with an establishing and moody thought. So wolf eyes and road it is:
I think it is far superior to my original IKEA take on it. What do you all think?
I am hoping to release it to the masses in early January. It’ll be my first publicly released work for sale but my third novel that I’ve completed. The other two are still in edit mode before distribution. This one was for fun. While I love the work and am happy to dedicate it to my first fan (who loves all things werewolves) it is nowhere near the serious work I am doing in Angels. This is meant to be a spooky romp of a read. Something to get the imagination as well as the loins inflamed, ya know?
So yeah, that’s it for this time around. Who knows I may end up with a separate series of how I design book covers and why? Who knew? I should probably youtube this shit to expand my market share?
Eh, who has the time? I want to write dammit!
Designing My Angels of Mercy
Sidebar: S.O. to author pal, Kris Ripper who liked the first one I did of these, that I’d thought I shoot her another. Hope you all enjoy it too!
So let’s talk book covers, shall we? I mean, I did it before. So it’s not like it’s the first time, right?
I’ve been busy. Did the NaNoWriMo event for the first time and I was really enjoying it (even if it was a bit of a slog to write on a deadline schedule – but it was good for me).
Been putting small tweaks on Angels of Mercy Volume One: Elliot and fleshing out Volume Two: Marco. Volume One is sorta waiting in the wings because it’s ends on a cliff hanger and several authors said that as a newbie writer I shouldn’t do a cliff hanger – soooooo, since my stories are what they are, I decided to forestall the first book and just get book 2 prepped and ready to go so they can be released in tandem. Book 2 ends on a cliff hanger as well, but I figure I’ll have them decently hooked by then (fingers crossed).
So here’s the small twist in this – Marco’s always been the meat of the entire series as far as I am concerned. Elliot and the third boy (who is our guide in Volume 3) are merely bookends to Marco’s tome. The story has always been Marco’s to tell. I just wanted you to get to know the love of his life first. Elliot in many ways is an extension of myself. That’s why it is a character study.
I’ve had betas read the pre-released work and I get universal high marks on grammar and structure (my author pals have universally praised me on the manuscript being so clean) – and that’s the hubby too. He’s been my sole editor. He’s never done it professionally (still hasn’t cause he’s on the personal payroll – wink, wink), but he comes from a LONG line of educators that specialized in English. So I am solid there. He also used to play football for Clemson back in the day so that’s where all the football motif is coming from (well, that, and I did have a fling in my Senior year with an actual HS quarterback). But as I said, the response from everyone I’ve given it to thus far have really been impressed. I am humbled and grateful more than I can say about this.
Angels has been both an easy work to write and incredibly difficult to write. It is a very personal work. It is a love letter to my husband as much as it is to gay men I’ve been blessed to know and have in my life. Truly blessed.
So why the second entry on the book covers? Because I’ve finally nailed book one AND I’ve completed the work on book two in the process! Yippee!!
And here’s the big reveal on the second book cover in the series (cue drum roll in your head, please):
And as with Book One’s design I’ll let you see how I did it…
First things first – as with all things Foodie, there is a recipe and of course the ingredients. I am a content designer (of sorts – previous life as a graphic designer for a theater company in San Diego (amongst other things)).
Software used – Adobe Creative Cloud Suite (primarily Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 and Adobe Photoshop CC 2014)
Graphic elements – images from iStock Photo (photos and vector art)
Fonts Used – Scriptina (for “Angels” in the logo) and Copperplate Light for the subtitle and my author byline, and Jackport College NCV font for the football jersey number 7.
The original artwork in its raw form:
Illustrator Vector Line Art
The Footballer (Hi-res Photo JPG)
The fonts and logo work were borrowed from my Book One cover and adapted/modified to suit “Marco” in the title. Recycle whenever possible – it builds brand consistency and also cuts down on the design time and lets you get back to what we all REALLY want to do – WRITE, dammit!
So I’ll start with one element of this new book cover that kicked my ass on book one – the fucking footballer jersey has NO NUMBER! Couldn’t do a simple overlay – that would be too f’d up – it wouldn’t be right. So I hit the net and sorted through Photoshop tutorial after tutorial using crap assed terms to find what I was looking for – only because I couldn’t remember what I needed to really look for until I found it again – DISPLACEMENT MAPS. They are golden in my book now. And they proved a helluva lot easier to do than I thought they’d be – Win-Win in my book!
You can check out the tutorial that solved it for me right here.
So first things first – I knew my footballer needed his requisite wings so I had to separate the background (the troublesome gradient blue/black background) from the (footballer) foreground. Sometimes the graphics come with masked backgrounds so this is rather simple. NOT this time around. Sheesh! So I had to painstakingly (though I did save a small bit of time) using the magnetic lasso tool in photoshop to cut away at the background from around my mysterious “Marco” footballer.
Then slip a solid black background on a separate layer so I could manipulate at will what I wanted to do. Here’s the final with the broken down layers along the right side of the screenshot (click to enlarge):
As you can see by the layers in the picture I post above, the background was solid black. The footballer sits just behind the jersey number layer and my author cred. The wings and the logo taking up the layers in between.
So I imported the jpeg I created from the Illustrator file and cropped the blue side of the wings (the ‘water’ wings) and duplicated the layers in photoshop once the first blue wing was imported and then sized them by freehand so while they are an exact dupe, they aren’t sized exactly the same – only a hint a being symmetrical. It was enough for my purposes. I didn’t want an exact dupe this time around.
I also angled them so they would be more upright (alluding to the same sort of position from my Art Deco wings from the first cover – see above). Added an adjustment layer above the two wing layers and boosted the hue and saturation to embellish and bring out the blueness of them.
Next up – Slipping my footballer back in front of the newly created wings.
So now we get to the hard part – or what I perceived to be the hard part – the Displacement Map – to add the jersey number. The file I created for the displacement map I ended up using the black channel of the photo (when you get to that step) as it had the most contrast to build the map (I think in the tutorial link she used the red channel – use what looks best and has the highest contrast to work from – it’ll apply the best results).
I typed the number for the jersey (using the Jackport College NCV font) to create Marco’s football number – 7. And I applied a white to black gradient to the number so it would fade out along the bottom of the cover like his shirt does in the picture.
I used the tutorial just as it is described above in the link I provided BUT I changed the displacement map settings from the default 10 to 5. This was the result:
Then I added the duped layers from my original Volume One: Elliot book cover (see above) and inserted the duped layers for the book title and sub-title (swapping out ONE for TWO and Elliot for Marco) so it would be inline with the finished cover I was after. Then did the same for my Author cred.
But having succeeded in this I immediately was emboldened by my success with the displacement map that I went back to book one and FINALLY put the long missing Jersey number back on it!
To paraphrase Darth Vader – “The Circle is (sorta) complete…”
I do still have to come up with Volume 3 (insert mystery character here – no spoilers this time).
Until next time… Happy Writing and Designing!
Shout Out to my musical muse – JAY BRANNAN! I constantly play his music while I do anything Angels related. He hasn’t steered me wrong yet. He might argue that he hasn’t steered me at all. I love the shit outta his work anyway.
BUY HIS SHIT NOW PEOPLE! I need this guy to keep working!
The [D]Evolution of Cover Art
Trying to find your place in the process whilst keeping a tight reign on your wallet when all you want to do is get the bloody thing done!
So I have a book completed. Yeah, there are still tweaks being done to tidy it up a bit more. I think it’s in a good place. It’s not a formulaic romance story. It’s a very deceptive work. I created it with that in mind. It probably means it won’t find much of an audience, but you know what? I don’t really care. Here’s the skinny on the whole Angels of Mercy project for me:
I was writing another series that was going to be my big ol’ Gay LOTR (and if you have to ask what the fuck LOTR is, then you need to come out from under that rock you’ve been occupying and take a look around for Pete’s sake). It’s that Fae Wars thing I got placed elsewhere on the website. But that fucker is huge. Epically huge. LOTR with a bunch of man on man action huge. But there’s a war so there’s destruction and mayhem abounding there as well.
Here’s the dealio with that – because it’s so big (I tend to think Cecil B. DeMille epic) I had to put off writing because I got caught up in the quagmire I’d been back building in that particular universe. I am still contemplating that story. A good friend (and beta reader) gave me some advice to simply write the back story as one big epic tome all by it’s lonesome and then spring into the one that involves Earth so it would, in effect, be like my Hobbit to the Lord of the Rings. One off leading to a series sort of thing. That’s handy. And I can definitely see the advantage to doing just that.
Anyway, so what does that have to do with the cover art of Angels of Mercy?
Well, I ended up setting aside the whole Fae Wars epic to ponder those things I’ve just mentioned, and was listening to Jay Brannan’s Rob Me Blind while bringing lunch back to the girls at home. It hit me. Two boys trapped out on the Bixby Bridge near Big Sur, CA. Police cars on either side closing off the bridge to through traffic. My boys clinging to each other as a third man’s body falls perilously to his impending death in the fog laden morning.
So yeah, that image stuck with me as I was listening to Rob Me Blind. By the time I got home one exit down the freeway later, I had the story mapped out. It came to me that quick. I knew three things with absolute certainty:
- The boys (Elliot and Marco – I didn’t have last names for them yet) would come together at the very first chapter. I was more concerned with the ‘what happens next’ and not so much about the whole “will they/won’t they” that permeates so much of the M/M genre. So yeah, boys fall in love first chapter – BANG!
- The jock in the story NEVER wavers in his love and devotion to the boy he wants. I am soooo tired about the ‘straight’ appearing jock being the questioning one. My own Marco (my hubby) played football for Clemson back in the day and even played for Massillon (the birth place of modern football). And he has NEVER WAVERED once about what he feels for me. So yeah, Marco is deeply rooted there in my own life experience. If the hubby can be that strong – so can Marco.
- The story would be deceptive in nature. I wanted to tell a story that from the outset was more introspective, more reflective rather than the standard romance fair. I also knew it was going to spiral into a murder mystery/thriller of sorts (I am a BIG HITCHCOCK fan).
So I knew those three things by the time I got home seven minutes later. The book was already shaping up by the time I picked up the food from the car, the walk from the garage up the flight of steps to the main part of the house. Marco and Elliot were established. Their world already taking root and like a Morning Glory vine, they spread like wildfire. After lunch I told the hubby all about my new boys. They’ve been a part of us since (that was about 8 or 9 months ago).
I went through several boys as my inspirational source. Each of them though had to have a common thread or element that made them either Marco or Elliot.
Here’s the other thing – While my story does NOT involve the supernatural in any way, I wanted a strong Angel theme to thread its way in and around my boys and their world. So four more things got added to my list:
- The school was going to be big, an ex-Catholic parochial school that had been deconsecrated, but would retain its strong ties to its past by creating the high school mascot to be an Angel – and not just any, but an Avenging Angel. This was an important element as it established for me a thread to tug upon time and again with each of my boys.
- The main characters of the story would all have Angelic names assigned to them and those names had to some how embody the emotive core of who they were as a character. For Elliot his first name (that he doesn’t use) is Cassiel (the angel of tears and regrets). Elliot is a quiet, and sad boy by the time we meet up with him. He’s out to the community but keeps a very low profile because he knows how small towns react to big news like a gay kid in town (say nothing that same gay kid has been around since birth – but when it’s all out in the open, it’s a tough thing to deal with). For Marco, Elliot’s boyfriend (the jock), his middle name is Rafael (the arch-angel) and all things in this trilogy point to him. Marco is the pinnacle and meat of the story. I always saw it that way. The last character (which I won’t go into here as it is a spoiler) has a middle name of Azreal (the real avenging angel in the story). It is he who metes out judgement in the trilogy. And he comes out of nowhere when he does.
- The last reference to Angels and the town of Mercy is that the other Angels (the football team) play a part in this tale as well.
- The sex will be blatant. No punches pulled. I can’t tell you how many times I read about sex between two men, written by women that completely miss the mark or “don’t go there” because they don’t want to really know what men think and feel when they are having sex. Which totally blows my mind on one level, but on another completely makes sense because women are always trying to influence men to think another way (their way). But they really don’t bother at all to understand it from a male perspective. So my boys are who they are when it comes to their sexuality. It is rooted in real life. It is how we are when we are together as a sexual couple (to varying degrees, I’ll grant you, but there nonetheless).
So there is a common thread regarding the metaphor of Angels in the story. But it isn’t a supernatural story. It’s metaphorical – in name and essence only.
So the first book is in the can and the second is about a third to half way written. Got beta-readers pouring through book 2 already and giving me valuable feedback. They’re loyal to the cause already so there is an audience out there. Don’t know who they are because the story sort of defies categorization.
But how do I create an eye catching piece of artwork that embodies all of that?
Part of me wanted to keep it simple. Not too involved – involved denotes a dated look. Just look at the covers from just a couple of years ago on some of these books and they already look dated. Mostly because they employed all kinds of Photoshop trickery that was all the rage at the time but no one is doing now. Honestly, the simplistic covers sort of really do it for me. While I think that the 50 Shades book was a right piece of erotic garbage, the look and appeal of the cover work was bold and definitive in my mind. It sent a strong message and played upon the whole ‘shades of grey’ theme from the title.
So here is how I came up with the whole cover concept:
- I wanted angels or an angelic influence to be a part of the cover as it is a theme of the book (not the judeo-christian core but a theme of the story nonetheless).
- I wanted it to be strong in it’s masculine appeal and statement (though I didn’t want some hussy to grace the cover because well, they’re gay – duh)
- I wanted the football theme to come forward as well.
I got completely derailed on my first attempt but as you’ll see below – I think it came together quite nicely.
It all started late last night when I finally decided I’d let my book languish for far too long out there in the beta-reader ether. It’s time to get it out there. So to do that it needed a cover.
Here’s what I had going for quite some time – it was a placeholder:
The actual title artwork really hasn’t changed. I liked it from the get-go (as it were). I wanted the dramatic angel theme even back then. It was a place holder. Nothing more really. But I did have comments from the beta readers that they liked the look of it. They liked the dark tones and the brilliant blue white element. One person even said that if she saw it in a book store, the cover alone would have made her pick it up and investigate it further.
So yeah, even then I knew it had to be dramatic. And it was certainly duo-chromatic (mono would indicate one color but, even so, I got what someone said to me about that).
So last night I’d reached a tipping point. I couldn’t go further with book one until it had a graphic representation that I could call my own for it. That meant licensing. That meant (since I wasn’t a photographer) that I’d be relying on what was out there from other content artists and pay for the rights to use the material.
First stop was a google search (ha! It was actually a DuckDuck search but you get the idea) for LGBT book cover artists. I found a website that seemed, at first blush, to fill the bill quite nicely.
They even have a section dedicated to the LGBT market. Bingo! I was in like Flynn.
I just had to choose one to start with and play around with their little online designer:
Once I selected a cover – and paid for it, it would be mine to use for e-books and printed copies up to 250,000 in combined sales. At what I was planning was $4.99 a pop, that would be over a million dollars in sales. Yeah, I could agree to those numbers. They could come and ask for an extended license at that point. I could probably afford it.
So I picked a cover and started to play with it.
The nice part about all of this? Once I bought the cover, it was removed from the site (never to be seen/offered again). It was mine and mine alone to use as I needed to for the book. No one else would have it. It wasn’t free (prices start at $69 a cover and go up steadily from there).
So I found one that spoke to the angelic element – it looked like this:
I could’ve used their tool to come up with the logo, the author byline and any tag line I wanted but to be honest – I have a far more extensive font listing on my computer anyway (like over 10k fonts installed). I am a font whore, plain and simple.
So I bought it without any writing on it whatsoever. I was cool with it.
Now here’s the rub (as they say): It wasn’t everything I wanted in one pic. I loved the deco wing element – cause that was bang on with how I saw the logo emblazoned on their helmets at the school. So yeah, I was good with that part. The one element I wasn’t so pro on was the guy on it. Not that I didn’t like him – I did. He appears to be a ginger so yeah – got a Smokin’ Hot Ginger Stud section in the galleries so yeah, he works definitely on that level. I don’t know why I suddenly have this proclivity for gingers but it sorta sprang up on me all of a sudden – and one of my new characters in Angels of Mercy Volume 2: Marco has a new buddy of his that will prove to be pivotal to how Marco gets Elliot back on his feet after book one (spoiler – sorry). And Angus (Marco’s new ginger stud buddy) is a full on stud material – no bones about it but with a heart of gold that’s been stomped on repeatedly.
From that perspective, the guy (on the cover art I just bought) would work – just not on this book. Angus Carr (the ginger buddy for Marco) isn’t on the scene in book one at all. He doesn’t arrive front and center until book two. This whole buying on a whim was a knee jerk reaction to the studly ginger angel on the cover art I purchased. ‘Cause Angus has fast become my favorite character to write about. I get giddy like a school girl whenever he is in a scene. I think if I continue with this world of my boys at Mercy, then Angus’ story will be the next one to tell. I love him that much. But, just not now. This was Elliot’s book, not Marco’s, and certainly not Angus’.
But I’d paid for the artwork so I had to use it somehow. Also, the color scheme was all wrong – while warm, bold and powerful, it was the wrong tone to take. The school colors are Blue and Silver (with white). So the golden hues of this picture just wouldn’t work. There was no tie-in other than his being an angel.
So the color had to be swapped:
Now I liked the logo work from the first book image I created (remember the placeholder?).
So that got incorporated into it but I stayed with the whole duo-tone idea. For some reason I thought it would work, hence:
The feedback was rather instantaneous – a BIG OL’ “MEH…”
Cue face-palm moment on my end. Yeah, I wasn’t really thinking it through.
So I scrambled again when I got up at 7am this morning after reading the email responses from the beta reader/buddy crowd. I began to look through iStock Photo for a footballer (after I remembered to exclude soccer players from that search criteria) and found some fairly decent picts along with a decent price. The best part? Their license was greater than the one I got from selfpubbookcovers.com site. I could walk right up to the 499,999 sale mark before extended licensing came into play. Another cool thing! So yeah, I sorted out which pictures said the most to me. Finally settling on this one:
The hubby approved – all the other guys I had targeted as potentials were all holding the ball incorrectly and it rankled my ball playing hubby. Being a former Clemson player, I tended to listen to him on this one. This was the only one where the model sorta had an idea of how to hold the ball. It was the closest we came to the truth. It’s rather stark without any helmet logo (it’s just so damned WHITE), but I knew I could do something about that.
So now my thinking was to marry the previous version with this newer image I had going.
First off, strike the black background so my angel wings would be present in the background – if just a bit more muted than before.
Another thing sort of stuck in my craw a bit: he doesn’t have a jersey number. I might still take care of that – though that is a time consuming process, especially with the folds of the jersey in the picture and having to get it to match up. It would take some work to place a number there and get it right. I still might put in the effort but I’m cool with it without the number as well. I also liked the finger pointing toward the camera because Marco does make a definitive choice to be with Elliot from chapter one and that decision (while two years in the making for Marco) didn’t come easy nor were they ever aware of what a chain of events their coming together would cause in their small hamlet of a town.
But I digress. So back to my cover:
I had to marry the two images – but first I had to take the green tones out of the previous duo-tone image I had going before. This after my author buddy mentioned that “monochrome” covers tended NOT to sell – they get lost in the shuffle (which I supposed he was excluding black as a color in that arrangement, but having been a graphic artist in the DTP days of the 80’s/90’s, I knew better – it was duo-tone). Needless to say, since the blue in the jersey is quite strong I had to unplug the more teal elements from my previous angel incarnation.
So he went silver-blue:
So now the wings were set. I just needed to punch it up a bit and then put my footballer in it. I knew it was going to be one helluva visual break between my footballer (standing in for Marco in my story) and the angel wings in the background – but I was good with it. Those angel wings were symbolic for all of the angelic metaphors within their world (the football team, their namesakes, etc). So I was good with the break in texture. I think it fits. So now in PhotoShop, I had this:
The white was still too prominent but I wanted to see it with the title and my byline (I got all schoolgirl again and couldn’t wait it out) – I also toned down the bluish tint to the wings and made them more silver in appearance since those are the school colors. And I liked that the wings have a dream like quality to them. So now I had this:
But the white of the helmet was a bit too much – I needed to rough him up a bit – and beside that, the book goes dark in the end. Matthew Shepard dark – but with a twist. That action is what sets up Marco’s book (volume 2) which is told from his perspective.
My author buddy said to think long and hard (well not like that – head out of the gutter now, but you get my meaning) about how I was going to present my byline. I should be consistent with it. I happen to like Copperplate as a font. It can be both serif or sans serif because the actual serifs (the tiny ends on each letter that help to distinguish it from one letter to the next – those little flanges on a T or an A or even a W) are rather small and innocuous. So Copperplate Light it was. It went with the “of Mercy” in the title anyway. And thus, the title work was born and stands strong even now.
I was almost there.
All that white on the helmet and gloves was a bit too distracting. Say nothing that it I was missing an element that spoke of the darkness in my novel. So I needed to punch up the color a notch – something to get it noticed. As my author buddy said, you want it to gain attention when it’s on a grid of 100 other titles on Amazon’s site – that’s the goal. He’s right in that regard, even if sales are not the ultimate end game for me in this endeavor.
Angels came to me in a whirlwind. But it was more of an experiment in my mind that just germinated and took off like hell wouldn’t have it. But I needed to fold in that darker element that will carry the story forward.
Blood, that’s what was needed.
Not a lot, but enough that it’d leave pause for thought – “ooh, blood, that’s not normally on romance novels…” – that sort of thing. A M/M romance with blood on the cover would go against the grain. Mixed signals. Yeah, it’s what the story was calling for. Because the entire work is a series of mixed signals. It’s intended that way. From the first page you are in my protag’s head so you get to hear his random thoughts (even mid-stream in a conversation with someone), and he addresses you, the reader, from time to time. He knows you’re there with him. He talks directly to you. That’s intentional too. And gayboys are always bouncing around. We constantly have to keep rethinking our game. That game being just surviving in a world where you’re constantly reminded that you are not the same as the rest of the world. Your relationships are challenged, you have to keep coming out every single day of your life because everyone will try to assume you are one of them – part of the hetero-normative club. God, in sooooo many ways, I can’t tell you how happy I am not to be in that particular club. For me, being gay means I got lucky.
So yeah, blood was definitely called for here. The story gets quite bloody and quite deadly. But all is not lost – though by the end of the book you might well and truly think so. It’s one helluva ride. And you are having to put up with all of Elliot’s idiosyncrasies and mental ramblings. He is constantly stepping from one foot to another just to stay on top of things. When Marco enters his world it is turned upside down and things have never been so right. But it takes him off his game. Marco soothes and comforts, but he also stirs things in his wake – things he doesn’t want to admit, things that are conspiring to make them both pay for the love they feel for one another. And make no mistake, my boys feel it deeply, like a fever in their blood.
Yeah, it needed blood.
Thankfully, I have the entire Adobe suite on hand and have spent a fair amount of time taking special effects courses at the college so I know how to manipulate these kinds of things. So off to After Effects I went with a bevy of blood splattering movies and clips I’d amassed over the years. There had to be some blood I could use somewhere. There was.
Here’s the end result:
My Marco now has it smeared on the helmet (both top and the face guard) as well as on the glove carrying the ball. It’s subtle but strong statement that all is not well within the small confines of Mercy, California.
But our boys do get their Ever After Happily, I swear. But that’s a discussion for another time.
So, what do you think of the process and the evolution of it all – or did I just devolve the whole damned thing?