A New Adventure!

So I haven’t been too active on this site for a while. Well, that’s about to change. This year I have decided to participate in InkRipples. I guess the best way to describe it is a themed blogging effort created by Kai Strand, Mary Waibel, and, one of my favorite editors, Katie Carroll. You can find all three of them in guest posts on this site’s archives.

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Each month, I will write a new blog post (or posts) with the predetermined theme. What are the themes? How about this:

January:           Book covers
February:         Genres
March:              Tropes
April:                Revision
May:                  Fairy Tales
June:                  Blurbs
July:                   Heroes/Villains
August:             Author Options in Publishing
September:      World Building
October:            Career vs Hobby
November:       Finishing that Book!
December:        Goals
I’m not going to guarantee I’ll make a post for each one, though that is one of my goals. Hmm, if I reach the goal, I may have to write about it in December. If you want to see what other participants are writing about, search Facebook and Twitter for #InkRipples.

Book Covers

“You can’t judge a book by its cover.” That’s the old cliché. And while I agree with it, I think you can tell a lot about a book by its cover.

One glance at a book cover and anyone who reads more than a book a year has an educated guess at the book’s genre. If you see dragons, swords, and mysterious hooded figures, chances are, you’re holding a fantasy novel. A space station, planet, or space ship…you’ve found fantasy’s sibling science fiction. And how hard is it to identify a suspense or mystery novel? What about romance? Hello, Fabio.

Now look at the font. If the title of the book is written in larger letters than the author’s name, you’re likely holding a newer author or a B-list author. If the author’s name appears huge and the book title much smaller, you have the tried and true author who the publisher knows is going to sell a lot of books based upon name recognition alone.

It really doesn’t matter if you can judge a book by its cover. Book covers sell a lot of books. They give me valuable tools to use while selecting my next read. Maybe I want a new sci-fi novel by that author who has sold movie rights to most of his books. Maybe I’m in more of a mood for an as-yet-undiscovered mystery by an author who has a couple books out, but she hasn’t made it big. I can find my book based on the cover alone.

I’ve written in the past about book covers, I won’t bore you by recapping those posts. But I will leave you with the images of my book covers, a link to a post with my cover artist, CK Volnek, and a link to her website. What can you predict about the covers she’s designed?

The Squire and the Slave Master–Cover Reveal!

Two of the most exciting days for an author are the day you get your cover and Release Day. Well, the first has finally come for The Squire and the Slave Master. Not only am I going to reveal the cover for the first time, but I’m also going to share an except. I originally shared this excerpt as a short story titled The Message on Lightning Quick Reads in July which had a theme of Freedom.

Before I get to the fun stuff, I have a little business/self-promotion to get out of the way. Muse It Up Publishing, the publisher for Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud and The Squire and the Slave Master, is celebrating its 5 year anniversary. From now until October 4 you can enter the coupon code 5YEARS2015  in your cart and get 50% off your total order. So take some time to browse around. While you’re there, you may notice Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud is already on 50% sale for $2.75. So with this coupon code you can have it for less than $1.40. If you haven’t read it yet, now is the perfect time before The Squire and the Slave Master’s Release Day.

Okay, I’ve put it off long enough. Here’s the cover. Just like the first book, C.K. Volnek also designed this one.

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Blurb

The award winning Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud (CLC’s Best First Novel 2014) chronicled Yara, Owen, and Cedric’s quest to revive King Kendrick from a dark, magical spell. After the adventure to save King Kendrick, for Yara, everyday life has grown monotonous. The dull work of learning her father’s blacksmithing trade, and the pressure from her parents to decide what she plans on doing with her life, has her nerves so stressed she snaps at her father’s slightest teasing.

Lucky for her, a surprise messenger from the castle brings the king’s request for her to join a collaborative mission between the Central and Western Domains of Wittatun to stop a recently discovered slave operation in a land to the west. King Kendrick and Owen want her to accompany the mission as a secret weapon disguised as a squire.

She has to keep secret not only her magical abilities from any possible traitors, but also her gender. The people of the Western Domain have a superstition prohibiting girls from sailing. But a chill wind carries the distinct odor of sabotage. Can one girl survive to destroy an evil rooted much deeper than mere slavery?

And now the excerpt:

“Sir, the third ship has arrived.”

Casimir didn’t turn from the window. “Yes, Bronislaw, I’ve seen it. Prepare your men for battle. Hold a few back as guards. If any of the slaves turn against us, execute them.”

The sound of Bronislaw’s footsteps faded as he exited the chamber.

A bird flew past the upper chamber and caught Casimir’s attention. I thought I killed all the birds. Oh well, I’ll get rid of this one too.

He raised his staff but lowered it when the bird redirected for the temple. A scroll of parchment dangled from its ankle. The bird landed on the altar in the center of the room. Casimir approached it with caution. It held up a leg, and he removed and unrolled the scroll. The letter didn’t have a signature, but it didn’t need one. He recognized the handwriting from years of correspondence.

I’m free. I understand what you plan to do, but it must stop. You aren’t powerful enough with magic. The temple will open a portal to the underworld, but you’ll never manage to close it and whose body do you think he’ll take? Someone so powerful won’t survive in a body with no magical experience. He will exhaust it in less than a day. Surrender your plan and join me in the swamp in the Southern Domain. Argnam already built the necessary accommodations there.

The paper flashed into flames on his palm. “You had your chance. I have a plan and a reasonable backup plan, which is more than you’ve ever had.”

The bird pecked at a pair of tiny beetles scurrying along the wall. With the flick of his staff, a green orb of light shot and hit the bird. A singed smell and a few feathers were all that remained.

From the window, he could see troops following the path from the beach to the temple. He watched the ships for the sign. A few flashes of light came in quick succession from the southernmost ship.

“Damn!” He thought back to the note. “It’s all right. I can still do this even though he doesn’t have the magician.” He held his staff high and returned a message in flashing lights. “Change of plans. We have to capture Mansfield. Alive.”

Three lines of slaves faced east in anticipation of the troops coming through the woods. Perfect.

Casimir closed the towering double doors as he exited the chamber. With his staff and a brief incantation, he placed an invisible barrier on the room. He took a piece of stone from a pile of rubble in a corner and tossed it at the door. In a flash, it became dust and smoke. Smiling, he left in search of Bronislaw.

Outside the door of the temple, the slaves waited for the pending battle. Bronislaw had taken a spot on high ground where he could overlook the battle soon to unfurl.

Casimir strolled up to him. “We have a new arrangement. They lost the magician. I need Mansfield alive. If you find him, bring him to me.”

Bronislaw nodded and signaled to his lieutenants.

He returned to the entrance of the temple and watched the battle unfold. The first troops emerged from the forest to an onslaught from the slaves. They had probably expected to hit them with a surprise attack, but the slaves had known. Casimir had known. Casimir always knew.

The second group emerged with their swords and shields at the ready. The slaves matched them well in strength but outlasted them in stamina. Most of the fishermen from Beroe had little or no battle training.

Mansfield’s men had one major disadvantage that greatly outweighed even their lower endurance or their lack of training. Twice Casimir noticed the soldiers relinquish an opportunity to slay their opponents.

They don’t want to kill. They see my slaves as innocent victims.

Another group emerged from the trees. They almost exclusively donned long beards and, barring their sunburns, looked a lot like many of the more recently acquired slaves. Some of the slaves hesitated; others dropped their weapons.

Now we’ll identify my dedicated servants, those who recognize what they have gained by coming here.

Several slaves, most of them having significantly different appearances to the men from Beroe—taller, more muscular, darker skin, some thin with scraggly beards—turned their attention to the traitors. With their weapons lowered, they had no defense. A distant voice shouted, “No!” Heads and limbs splashed into pools of blood as men turned on each other, betraying their former lives for the promises of their master.

Erin Rhew and the Return of the Prophecy

The threepeats continue. Last week Kai Strand became the first guest featured on authorericprice.com three times. Now Erin Rhew joins Kai’s prestigious status with the re-release of her book, The Prophecy, with an outstanding new cover. If you missed it last November, you can check it out with the new cover on October 1. Read on for an excerpt. And don’t forget to tell Erin and me what you think in the comments section.

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“Everything must be taken down.” A rotund man, with beady black eyes, surveyed the town, disdain in his expression. While he did not appear distinguishable from the other black and purple clad men, he spoke with authority. “The First Ones and their great Prophecy must be honored properly.” He sniffed, his actions indicating the very existence of Medlin and its occupants offended him.

Layla wondered what this man considered a “proper honoring” of the First Ones. The First Ones…they’d been dead for centuries, and, as far as Layla could tell, hadn’t done much in life except start a never-ending war. She knew nothing more about them except that she was to thank them for good things, curse them for bad, and celebrate them on this day.
“That’s Elder Werrick, head of the Ecclesiastics,” whispered Samson, glancing back at Grant. Layla noticed the look that passed between them.

Grant nodded his assent. “Get her out of here, brother.”

Samson tried to steer Layla away, but she held her position to get a closer look at the man whom her family so feared. She knew they had good reason to worry—her black hair and purple eyes marked her as a Fulfillment candidate, one with the potential to bring about the long awaited peace. But she couldn’t quite bring herself to believe Elder Werrick would notice her on the crowded streets, especially with her eye drops and hood. Could he really be responsible for dragging candidates from their homes, forcing them to undergo strenuous, sometimes gruesome, testing for the sake of the Prophecy? To Layla, he looked like nothing more than a short, fat, unhappy man. The very notion that he could strike such fear into the hearts of her people seemed almost laughable…almost. As his gaze swept over the crowd, she glimpsed a sinister undertone that made her shiver.

Waving his pudgy arms at the awaiting townspeople, Werrick commanded, “Take it down.”

Suddenly, his body stilled and his tiny eyes grew wide. They briefly connected with Layla’s, narrowing with calculation. The Elder turned to his nearest black clad companion.

“Do you feel that?” Layla heard Werrick ask.

The other man looked skeptical. “Feel what, Elder?”

Werrick leaned in as the two whispered, stealing furtive glances in her direction. When the Elder’s companion pointed at Layla, Samson grabbed her arm. She heard his breathing change from rhythmic to jagged as he pulled her away from the men.

“We have to go now.” His urgency spurred her into action.

Grant moved to block them from the Elder’s view. “Get her away from here, Samson.”

The Elder looked up to see everyone staring at him as if frozen. He repeated his demand, “I said take everything down.”
The townspeople, joined by the Elder’s minion, scampered to remove their decorations, anxious to “properly” celebrate the First Ones. Their flurry of activity concealed Layla as Samson and Grant escorted her away. Layla scanned the streets, horrified, as the people of Medlin stripped the town’s center barren. In no time, everything appeared as it always had, devoid of any celebratory adornments. She looked up at the sky with its gray clouds lingering overhead. A bad omen…
On the hill, a safe distance away, Layla watched a group of Ecclesiastics erect a monstrous stage where the donkey races should have occurred. She heard the braying of the angry animals, harnessed and corralled on the orders of the Elder to avoid interfering with the “true” Day of Dawning celebration. Her ire rose. Who did they think they were coming in and changing everything?

An icy, phantom finger traced a frigid line down her spine. After hearing warning after warning from the Mantars her whole life, Layla knew exactly what the Ecclesiastics could do, what they had done to others in the past. Maybe Samson and Grant had been right. Maybe she should never have come, especially today. Layla turned her back on the town, resolved to go home, to safety.

“Layla!” Samson’s alarmed tone sliced into her, and she swung around toward him.

To her horror, two Vanguard soldiers forced Samson to the ground. She knew just how much strength he possessed, yet he couldn’t free himself. Her hands balled up into fists, shaking with their desire to unleash the full force of their fury.
“Run!” Samson screamed before a soldier’s fist smashed into his face.

His body stilled. Panic, coupled with indecision, crippled her. She should run like Samson commanded, but she couldn’t leave him lying there. To her relief, Grant ambled toward them, his eyes full of rage.

“Run!” Grant echoed Samson’s warning.

With a final glance at the two boys who’d been as close to her as brothers, Layla fled. She flew down the hill, swinging her head from side to side in alarm. Ecclesiastics swarmed throughout the city, making a clear escape route difficult to discern.
Terror rose within Layla. Why hadn’t she listened to her family? She’d been foolish to believe she could sneak around under the ever-watchful eyes of the Ecclesiastics, and that hubris put Samson and Grant in danger as well. She choked back a sob.

“Run,” she whispered.

Willing her feet to move forward, Layla darted toward the back of the baker’s shop, hoping to take a shortcut through the back alleyway. She swerved to miss a wooden box and stumbled, arms flailing to right herself. Unfamiliar hands reached out to break her fall. Once stable, Layla looked up to find Elder Werrick staring down at her. She screamed but no sound came out of her open mouth.

“I’ve been looking for you,” he said, a wicked smile on his face.

Back Cover

Growing up on a small farm in the kingdom of Vanguard, seventeen-year-old Layla Givens lives a deceptively tranquil existence. But her carefully constructed life quickly falls apart when she’s abducted by a religious zealot who proclaims her The Fulfillment of an ancient peace prophecy and whisks her away to marry her greatest enemy.

Wilhelm, Prince of the Ethereals, is reluctant to meet his new bride. He’s grown up believing Vanguards are evil, an enemy to fight and fear…not love. Can he set aside his prejudices and work alongside Layla to bring lasting peace after centuries of war?

Nash, a loner who has never fit in, carries a huge secret, one big enough to destroy both kingdoms. When he accidently meets Layla, he’s no longer content to live in the shadows, but he must resist his growing attraction—for her safety and for the longevity of the two kingdoms.

When Nash’s secret is revealed, a firestorm sweeps through both realms, with Layla at the center. Now she must choose between duty and desire while the fate of two nations hangs in the balance.

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Erin Rhew is an author and fitness trainer. Since she picked up Morris the Moose Goes to School at age four, she has been infatuated with the written word. She went on to work as a grammar and writing tutor in college and is still teased by her family and friends for being a member of the “Grammar Police.” In her free time, Erin enjoys acting, running, kickboxing, and, of course, reading and writing.
Find me online:

Twitter: @ErinRhewBooks

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Erin-Albert-Books/182769448541270

Website: http://www.erinrhewbooks.com

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23265671-the-prophecy

Guest Post: Cover Design by CK Volnek

Anyone who knows me, or who has come across this blog before, understands how happy I am with the cover of Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud. I’ve even entered it in its first contest on Facebook. You can find the contest here, and vote by liking and commenting. I hope to enter more contests soon.

After I signed my contract with Muse It Up Publishing, I started browsing their catalog. The first books to catch my attention did so with their covers. My editor was Katie Carroll, so I would have read Elixir Bound anyway, just to get an idea of who I was about to work with… you can learn a lot about someone by reading their writing. But I also read Beware of the White, The Acadian Secret, and Julius Caesar Brown and the Green Gas Mystery. All of these books have one thing in common, CK Volnek designed the cover. So needless to say, I hoped I too would get Ms. Volnek as my cover artist. And I did.

She is here to talk about the importance of cover design and some of the behind the scenes work that takes place with the author, and I will share the early versions of Unveiling as we worked to get the beautiful final product. And you can see her other amazing covers on her website here.

Do You Judge A Book By Its Cover?

We, as a society are judgmental. For instance, if you go into a fancy restaurant you might expect to see photos of elegant steaks, seafood or desserts, presented on fine china and sprinkled with spices.

But what if, instead, you were shown images of slop, spilled onto chipped or broken plates. You probably wouldn’t eat there. A restaurant would never advertise such unpleasant photos. They have an image to build, a reputation to keep. And so, with fine images to portray their menus, they are promising a delectable dining experience.

It’s not really so different for books. At best, an author has but a few seconds to grab a reader’s attention and make them want to know more about your title. An author must create a cover worthy of the words written on the pages.

A book cover is also a promise. Just as with the images on a menu, an author is pledging the reader his time will not be wasted within the book’s pages. Nothing is worse than getting a book you did not want or enjoy after being misled by its cover.

So, what makes a great book cover? Ultimately, the best book cover is the one that makes the reader buy the book!

Think of the cover as a billboard. It is trying to catch the attention of drivers as they speed by. Most billboards have 6 words or less. The driver has to ‘get it’, at speeds up to 75 mph, before passing the sign. A book cover should do the same thing. At first glance, the readers should know:

  1. The genre of the book.
  2. The general subject matter or focus
  3. And some idea of the tone or mood of the book. Is it a thriller? Sci-Fi? YA or Middle Grade? An instructional manual or non-fictional biography?

Before I begin designing a cover, I need to know two important things…the emphasis of the book, and the audience. (I wouldn’t create a cover for a dark murder mystery in shades of pink with lots of frilly lace, nor would I put a couple kissing on a book intended for third graders.) I must know enough of the mood of the book and who it is intended for to be able to sell it with a cover design. I too, am an author, so these are the first elements I focus on.

Here are a few rules I concentrate on as I design a cover.

  1. Make everything count—If I am going to introduce a graphic element, I need to make sure it helps the cover communicate with the reader.
  2. Use the background—I really try to avoid white backgrounds, which will disappear on retailer’s white screens. Using a color, a texture, or a background illustration instead helps draw the eye.
  3. Make the title large—I reduce a cover design on the computer screen to the size of a thumbnail on Amazon and see if I can read it or make out what it’s about? If not, I need to simplify.
  4. Use a font that’s easy to read—See above. There’s no sense using a font that’s unreadable when it’s radically reduced. I particularly watch out for script typefaces, the kind that look lacy and elegant at full size. They often disappear when small. I also try to stay aware of ‘leading.’ This is the space between the letters and the lines.
  5. Find images that clarify—I try not to find images that are not too literal. I look for something that expresses the mood, historical period, or overall tone of the book.
  6. Stay with a few colors—I have found that using fewer colors makes a more effective cover. Using more of the colors of the rainbow can be effective though if you are aiming for a juvenile feel to the book. But if the story is dark and full of passion or mystery, keep to a simpler color palette.
  7. Look at lots of great book covers—I may not be able to mimic all the techniques in one cover, but I’ve found by looking at great book covers provides a tremendous source of inspiration and fresh ideas.

I also am proud to maintain a close relationship with the authors I design for. I need their input. They know the story better than anyone else. So I rely on their input to make sure I design their cover to sell their book.

I first have my authors fill out a Cover Art form, clarifying the genre, mood and style of the story. I ask them what they like on book covers and to offer a few of their favorite covers so I can get a feel for what they like. Most times they select covers that are similar in mood and style of their story so this helps me craft a cover they will be happy with. This CA form also clarifies the elements of the book they deem most important, whether it be characters, a place, or a particular thing such as a necklace or instrument.

This is the first mock-up. I didn't intend for her to scrap the whole thing, but I wanted some darker elements added, plus my main characters never ride horses.

This is the first mock-up. I didn’t intend for her to scrap the whole thing, but I wanted some darker elements added, plus my main characters never ride horses.

After I have designed my cover I send a mock-up to the author. Do I get it right on the first mock-up? Sometimes. But many times, we will go back and tweak the images to compliment and complete the characters or other important features of the story. But as long as I have a complete and thorough CA form, the tweaks are usually rather minimal. When we finalize our visual, I then complete the cover and supply the author with three sizes of jpegs to use for all their promotional needs, whether it be a cover to use on blogs, or one to create bookmarks and posters with.

From this cover I just wanted a few changes. I thought the character looked too old, so I asked if his face could be obscured by a shadow, I wanted the dragon over the castle smaller so you could barely tell it's a dragon--this has a significance at the end of the book. And finally I wanted the star over the castle exaggerated so the reader would know it's a star not a moon.

From this cover I just wanted a few changes. I thought the character looked too old, so I asked if his face could be obscured by a shadow, I wanted the dragon over the castle smaller so you could barely tell it’s a dragon–this has a significance at the end of the book. And finally I wanted the star over the castle exaggerated so the reader would know it’s a star not a moon.

Here's the final cover with all the changes in place.

Here’s the final cover with all the changes in place.

To wrap up here, I want to ask you, the reader, do YOU judge a book by its cover? I bet you will find that unless you are smitten with a blurb before ever seeing the cover, you DO put a high precedence on the images of that book cover. We never get a chance to make a second ‘first impression’ so it’s important to get it right the first time.

Thank you for joining me today!

C.K. Volnek.