Battle of the Covers

psychological horror written by Gerald Browning

The cover war started during Smashwords’ July promo. Because Smashwords had changed its formatting guidelines, two of the books that had been out awhile didn’t meet specs. I noted that Gerald Browning’s Demon in my Head had drawn attention, so I reformatted his book and ran a Facebook promo on it. During the process, I got to thinking, this is a darned good read. How come it doesn’t get more sales? That was when someone gave a vague criticism of the cover.

Designing covers are not my strong suit. The cover design is more straightforward for the Night to Dawn magazine because its cover has more real estate than the trade paperback books. I decided to apply the following maxim: if one person tells me I’m a balloon, I will ignore them. If two people call me a balloon, I’ll listen. If three people call me a balloon, I’d better get a ribbon and float.

I posted the cover image on the Facebook page for The Writers Coffeehouse. Many of my writer buddies belong to this group. Whenever I can, I go to their monthly meetings in Willow Grove. These folks recognize a good or bad cover, and I received a lot of constructive criticism with suggestions on what I could do to improve the cover. It was time to grab that ribbon and float.

After fortifying myself with a Mylar balloon purchase, I approached Gerald with the suggestions about his cover. He’d heard similar sentiments from people who read his book and was glad to get a new cover. Next an email to Teresa Jay, the cover artist for his book. She started with several ideas, and two of them looked good. Enthused, I took them back to my Writer’s Coffeehouse and got more helpful suggestions. One included using a filter to get rid of the cartoonish look on one of the images. Where I live, filters are for coffeepots or air conditioners, and I mentioned the same to Teresa. Thankfully, she has a great sense of humor. After going back another time, this is the final new cover for Demon in my Head.

I got four takeaways from this: first, if you read eBooks, you can get a great deal at Smashwords during July. Sometimes, the books are free. Second, Demon in my Head is a darned good tale, and folks who like psychological horror and the occult would find this a must-read.

Third, I want to thank Teresa Jay for her patience and good humor with making the changes. She does the back cover for my Night to Dawn magazines, and wraparounds for some of the books. I’m glad to have her. Finally, to the folks at the Writers Coffeehouse, I owe you guys a lot of thanks and balloons. I’ve proud to be a member, and I look forward to going to future meetings. To aspiring writers, I strongly recommend you go to some meetings. Initially established by Jonathan Maberry and other literary greats, the Writers Coffeehouse I attend meets the last Sunday of each month at the Willow Grove Barnes & Noble, from 12 to 2:00 p.m. Jonathan later established one at the Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego. There are meetings in Rosemont, PA, and other locations too. In any case, it’s about writers helping writers.

Barbara Custer loves Mylar balloonsand horror fiction.

A Good Reason and the Real Reason

science fiction tales by Barbara Custer

Yesterday, I headed to the supermarket to take advantage of the sales. Well, that was a handy excuse. The real reason I went was because I’ve contemplated the colorful Mylar balloons on their display shelves. Perhaps someone might cite ill health or better opportunity as a reason to quit a job, but deep down, they were simply unhappy working at their company. In both cases, we have our good reasons and our real reasons.

This principle applies to writing, too, so I have a confession to make. A while back, I blogged about The Forgotten People, citing my reasons for rewriting and publishing the stories. My post didn’t ring true. The reasons I gave were valid—the stories feature timid, bullied people who didn’t fit into society. I started working on spinoffs of these tales after the Termite Invasion of 2017. Along the way, I stumbled and needed the help of a good editor.

My real motive kept me going through the tough edits: our unstable political climate.

In particular, healthcare. The two last stories in The Forgotten People anthology, “The Forgotten Ward,” and “Good Samaritan” take place in 2050. Medicaid no longer exists, and due to the high costs, hospitals will not treat you without insurance or cash card. When your insurance runs out, better hope you have money. You can’t barter with real estate or other valuables unless you can find a buyer fast. Without money, all treatment stops. The protagonists in these tales find a way to smuggle life-saving medicine to indigent patients, but they pay dearly for their efforts.

I got to thinking about Trump’s proposed 2019 cuts to Medicare, SNAP, and Medicaid. His pending changes include Medicare enrollees paying the same copay on every doctor visit, whether it be routine or a specialist. This could shortchange specialists who may in turn refuse to treat Medicare patients (shades of “Forgotten Ward”). If I met Mr. Trump, I’d ask, “Since when did age and money define someone’s right to life and medical care?”

Granted, I took plenty of artistic license. In “The Forgotten Ward,” the sickest patients are warehoused into a dirty ward where they’re left to die. In reality, if we continue on this slippery slope, the hospitals of the future may simply discharge patients who run out of funds. But there you have it, folks: my real reason for publishing this book.

My Mylar balloons, who have an opinion on everything, from politics to writing, suggested that focusing on the real reason for telling a story may result in better writing. Methinks they have it right; it did, after all, motivate me to complete the book. Your thoughts?

Tale of Two Word Programs

Some of y’all might have read my post on Facebook about having Word 2007 and Word 2016 on one computer. Dat’s wight, wabbits, two different Word programs, one computer, and no, my quest for good PDF software hasn’t caused me to lose it. On Word 2016, I’m finding a better quality of photo when I save. According to a coworker, it has a “PDF maker,” and what’s more, if I need to make small changes on the PDF, I can do so. I plan to use 2016 for the books I send to CreateSpace and Lulu.

So then, you may wonder, why am I hanging onto to Word 2007? Well, because I process my eBooks through Smashwords. Its Meatgrinder software requires Doc files, the kind produced by Word 2003 and 2007. Now Word 2016 is capable of producing a Doc file, but you have to keep remembering to save as Doc, and according to some folks, it may cause changes to your file. At first, I felt like the Biblical person trying to serve two masters. After a discussion with my Mylar balloons, I decided to keep Word 2007, but get 2016. My computer repair person cheerfully installed the new software without overriding the old.

If my Mike were alive, he’d be smiling and nodding, then say, “Yep. That’s my Barbara.”

This blog is my first go at Word 2016. I’ve been nosing around the ribbon and found a lot of cool gadgets, but not the Adobe add-in (PDF maker). However, I found that I can set my dpi to 330 when I’m working with files that have images. I think I can reset the dpi with Publisher 2016, which I love. It gives you some nice ways to highlight and shadow your pictures. I’m really grateful for the generous dpi allowed, as Adobe wasn’t user-friendly. The other PDF programs hand trouble handling files my size.
When I get my Night to Dawn proofs, I know full well there will be tweaks needed, and if I’m right, I’ll make those tweaks with Word 2016 on board. However, I’m redoing two books for Smashwords, which necessitates Word 2007.

Do you work with more than one Word program? How has this worked for you? I’d love to hear about your experiences. 🙂

The Quest Has Begun

 

Mylar balloons are the Night to Dawn mascotSince my last blog, I’ve been trying out and testing PDF software. Night to Dawn 33 never got published through Lulu; I usually use Lulu and CreateSpace for NTD issues. My difficulties with image compression were the reason I didn’t use Lulu, where CreateSpace seems to handle the files better. Per the Mylar balloons’ advice, I looked into PDF software programs.

Three of them made it past the “let’s leave this one alone” stage: PDF Pro (online), Adobe and Nitro Pro. I abandoned Adobe after a three-hour trial period – had no clue how to go about working it. PDF Pro was user-friendly, but could not handle the NTD uploads. I’ve had Nitro Pro five days and am sitting on the fence with this one. I haven’t been able to upload my Night to Dawn file for conversion. NTD 34 has 51 MB, and I had in mind to use the PDF software expressly for the NTD magazines and book manuscripts. Nitro Pro encountered errors with NTD upload attempts. However, I was able to upload one of the book files and convert it to a PDF. My sense is a lot of programs don’t handle files over 50 MB well. I spoke about this with my computer guy, and he suggested printing to PDF through Windows 10. I thought that printing to PDF and saving was cute and doable. Unfortunately, the folks at Lulu didn’t agree. I got a one-line message: contact support.

When the Mylar balloons said I had a problem, they weren’t kidding. I also believe that every issue has a solution.

I’m seriously considering updating my Word software. I currently use 2007, which is an excellent software for most users, but I may need to go with Word 2016 because you get more options with PDF saving. If I do go with Word 2016, this will preclude Nitro since the expense for both would be more than I’m ready to handle. I also believe Nitro can work, but there is a learning curve. So, it’s onto the fence, with my Mylar balloons to hold me upright.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

PDF Software or Not

Will PDF software be used for future NTD issues?

Yesterday, after uploading The Forgotten People files to CreateSpace, I headed over to their book reviewer to see if the printing, chapter headers, etc had gotten through okay, and I was chagrined to see that I no longer had access to the book reviewer. Howcumzit? My versions of Adobe Flash Player, the one used for both of my computers, aren’t compatible with the one used by CreateSpace’s interior reviewer. Last time I published a book, I had different computers. The interior reviewer is a handy-dandy tool to inspect each page and assure that your images didn’t come out pixelated. Since The Forgotten People didn’t have any images, I sent the files to CreateSpace for inspection. After that, they gave me the option of downloading a PDF proof, which I did. Satisfied, I ordered a paperback proof.

“You’ve got a problem!” a cheery voice sang from over my shoulder.

The voice came from my loving Mylar balloons. “No, I don’t!” I replied with glee. “I’ve looked at the PDF proof.”

“We’re not talking about your novel.” The balloons wagged their ribbons at me. “Here you are, working hard on the Night to Dawn issues, and you count on that reviewer to see if the images came out all right. Last issue, you had to reformat some of the illustrations, remember? Soon, it will come time to upload issue 34. How are you going to inspect your illustrations?”

Here we go again! I sighed and fetched a look at my balloons. “I’m sure you can’t wait to tell me.”

“Word decompresses many of your images,” the balloons told me. “You wouldn’t have this problem if you bought PDF software.”

“Right.” Another sigh. “Like I have $500 lying around to invest in Adobe’s software.”

“It may not be that expensive,” said the balloons. “They might have a subscription plan that you can handle. And, like it or not, you’ve got to deal with this. You had trouble with Lulu over your images last time, and you wound not publishing with them. Things might have turned out differently if you’d used PDF software. Now, put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

Cornered, I had a look-see, and Adobe has a subscription plan for $14.99/month if I commit to a yearly payment. It works with both iPod and regular laptop (I use both). I also asked Mr. Google about “best PDF software,” and found other PDF programs that work with Word and are less expensive than Adobe. I think it best if I go with free month trials to see if it’s user-friendly, so over the next weeks, I shall have some chats with Mr. Google regarding such trials. The Forgotten People will also go live, and at some point, I’ll be doing a blog tour.

In the meantime, I’d like to hear your opinion of PDF software. If you use it, what kind, and how has it worked for you? Are you thinking about buying? I look forward to hearing your thoughts. 🙂

Endings and the “I Gotta” Revisited

zombie fiction by Barbara CusterLast night, I worked out an ending paragraph for “The Good Samaritan,” one of the stories in the upcoming anthology, The Forgotten People. It took me over an hour to do it. Tonight, I’ll go back and review what I wrote, and if it still doesn’t feel right, then I’ll look at other endings to short stories that have worked. Endings have been my bane since I first got into writing in the early 90s. Coming up with a workable conclusion was part of the reason I took a break from my sequel to When Blood Reigns.

Okay, I’ll have a slice of Provolone cheese to go with my whine.

I took a Facebook survey on endings, and found that most people are facing the same struggle I do. Stories don’t have to end on a happy note, but they should come full circle. One can tie up all loose endings or end at a cliffhanger, but the bottom line is: satisfy the reader. My Facebook buddies gave me an invaluable piece of advice: make sure I have a definite ending in mind, if not written before I write the story. Going forward, that’s what I will do. It won’t help with my current anthology or the sequel to When Blood Reigns, but I have a plan for the future.

So why do I keep going? Stephen King calls it the “I gotta.” I wrote the stories long ago for different magazines, and then last summer, after my adventure with the termites, I sorted my material and realized these stories spoke about the same alien race, the Athyrians. In case you’re wondering about the Athyrians, you’ll have to wait until the book goes live to find out. Science fiction appeal aside, many of the stories had a common theme: how health care was becoming more cost-prohibitive. All of them needed significant updating and revisions, so the “I gotta” was born, and now I feel driven to finish these revisions, including the ending, and get them into print. The “I gotta” for The Forgotten People was the main reason I took a break from my sequel, but once the anthology goes into print, I’m heading back to my sequel. The main character in the sequel loves her Mylar balloons, and some readers have been asking for a “balloon” tale.

The “I gotta” has kept me going strong despite the breakdown of two computers and a host of other winter mishaps. None of them have challenged me as much as these endings.

Do you find your endings challenging? How have you resolved the problem? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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