Sunday, July 26, 2015

So you've signed your book contract, what's next? The Cover and my reveal for my next book!

For those of you who have published a book, the process is pretty standard. Once your contract is signed, your book goes into the editing process. From both of my publishers, there was a waiting period of about four months before my manuscript came back with suggestions and edits from the first of two editors.

Usually the editing is grammatical in nature and depending on the strength of the story line, suggestions are made about characters, plot points or observations of logic that we tend to lose sight of during the writing process.

At this point, the publisher will contact you about your cover. As an author, you have a choice. Either use the cover artist /art department chosen by the publisher, who will pay for the cost of the cover, or find a cover artist on your own and pay for the cover yourself.

Which option should you use?  Depends on how passionate you are about the cover and if like me, are a control freak about font, color and image.

Before you make the decision, please do your research. Look at the other covers from your publisher. Are you publishing Romance? Do you want to go with a traditional cover with the couple in states of steamy undress or something contemporary that hints at Romance with objects or a setting? Is it a mystery? Does the cover scream intrigue and make the reader want to know what happens next?

Keep the following in mind when making your decision. Cost, Control and Craft

  1. Cost - A cover from your publisher will not cost you anything. It is one of the perks of signing. An independent cover artist will charge you. The range differs with every artist, from $150 to $500 +. Often the packages differ depending on if your book is being published as an ebook or as an ebook/paperback.
  2. Control - Many publishers use cover artists who charge for changes to the cover, so having the ability to change font, color or images are minimal with the cover from your publisher. For my first book, I loved everything but the model chosen for my heroine. Her outfit didn't match her character as a futuristic Detective. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to change it, because the stock character came dressed that way. Even with this small issue, it still conveyed the sci fi theme and remains one of my favorite covers to date.

What do you want the cover to say? The pictures alone should give your reader an impression about theme, setting, and atmosphere. We are visual in nature and can see in an instant, whether the book appeals to us. Don't believe me? Do a google image search for book covers and see which one's jump out at you. Those are the same reactions that others are having.

    3. Craft - Unless someone has read your book, at this point your cover is your craft. It is the thing you will use for your marketing, identify new readers with your brand and make people want to pick it up, click on it, or take their precious time to read it. Do not underestimate the importance of a smart, savvy cover. You will be living with it, as you market your hard work and introduce people to you, your characters and your brand.

Questions only you can answer

When you finally make your decision, the artist will want to know what you want on the cover. Because he or she won't be reading your book, it's important to give a sense of plot, theme, characters and atmosphere through the questions you will be asked.

Some of the questions include:

Book title
Author's name
What is the genre? Romance, mystery, YA, non- fiction, horror, etc.
What is the book about - I recommend sending in a short synopsis or at the very least, the blurb you will be putting on the back cover
If Romance - details about the hero and heroine from color of eyes and hair to if they look like a certain movie star. All of these are important because most smaller prints use stock model shots, so they will be sliding that picture into a background that will reflect your book.
Key Elements in the story - objects or locations that figure prominently. For example, a treasure chest, flowers, a castle.
Are there other covers that might compare - it's a good idea to look at other covers in your genre and reference them for a particular feel or look. Submitting links or websites will give the artist a good understanding of a cover with a similar feel.
Is there anything you don't want on the cover - One of my cover artists - Rae Monet, asks this question. For myself, although I write romance, I don't necessarily want to see abs and or a typical couple posed on the cover. Answering this question, will give your artist an idea of what you might consider cliche and narrow the vision they have in their head for your book.

My Reveal !

So for my newest book, I did my research, looking at other blogs and cover artists that had a great reputation in the industry. Because my book will be in print and as an ebook, I had to find an artist who offered both packages as well as other options like multiple designs, liberal options for changes and a decent turnaround time.

With multiple awards and numerous covers on the USA Today and New York Times bestsellers lists, I opted to go with Damonza. After filling in their questionnaire, and anxiously waiting for ten days, I received back two covers. The first shows the location and a key object in my book.

 The second is a more traditional romance cover, but with the suspense and edginess that comes with a paranormal mystery romance.  

So which did I choose? After several days of polling friends on Facebook, I went with the majority, which was ... ( drum role please), the blue cover.
 It was then submitted to my publisher for approval and I have to agree, my friends made the right choice.
 I did however purchase the second cover as well, which I will use for marketing purposes, and because I love it too. Did I make the right choice? Feel free to comment below.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

So you've signed a book contract. Now what?

The other day, I signed my contract for my new book, Surviving the Summit of Good and Evil. This is my third book and second with my publisher Black Opal Books. Unsure of etiquette and having published two previous books - I submitted my query to both publishers.

I soon found myself in an enviable position - both publishers wanted my book. How then to decide which publisher to go with? Both are amazing indie publishers. I had nothing but great experiences with both of them. Both gave me great attention as an author from correspondence, marketing, wonderful editors and timelines to publication that were realistic.

So what made me go with Black Opal?

My book in print. While I loved my experience with my other publisher, they have chosen to go in a direction of ebooks only,and for me, I am a traditionalist. I love feeling my book between my fingers or being able to see it on my bookshelf as I dream of the day when it will be on many other bookshelves. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan of ebooks but as an author who is building my platform, having multiple avenues for readers to access my book is also important, and having my book in print and ebook is a non negotiable for me.

So what now? My contract has been signed, my book is queuing in the edit line and if history is correct, will be four months before I get the first edits back, then another six months for second edits and finally publication.

Now it's up to me as an author to start promotion of my new book and try to generate buzz for the upcoming birth of my new paranormal baby.

First things first, here's the pitch for my new book, Surviving the Summit of Good and Evil.

New York Detective Kate Morgan carries a lot of secrets. The black sheep of America’s most notorious crime family, she walks a fine line between her commitment to truth and justice and the obligations demanded from her family.  Her ability to read minds doesn't help either.
FBI agent Grant Anderson embraces his role and place in the Anderson family, America’s richest and philanthropic example of good will and kindness but also bucks his family’s expectations of settling for their idea of the right girl. To them Kate is anything but the right girl.
For thousands of years, the Morgans and Andersons have been sworn enemies. Families steadfast in their loyalty and commitment as handpicked first families to the Devil and God. Both sides tread carefully, maintaining the balance between good, evil and immortality and endure each other only once a century, during the Summit of Good and Evil. With the mysterious murder of Gus Morgan, the balance is threatened, the future of humanity in jeopardy and it is up to Kate and Grant fight their attraction  and solve this murder before all hell comes crashing down

So that's what I sent as my query, along with the book and within forty eight hours, this was Black Opal's response, which makes my heart sing, every time I see this.


I definitely want the book. Do you have a synopsis?

I will have the attorney prepare you a contract as soon as he gets back from vacation.


Lauri Wellington
  Acquisitions Editor
black logo without background for letterhead

Over the next few months, we'll examine the process of taking this book to press. Next steps for me - soothing my inner control freak and choosing a company to design my book cover.
Next up - choosing a great book cover.  Stay tuned ....

Thursday, April 2, 2015

In Defense of Target Canada - A reflection on my past in the trenches

This is the first and last time that I will ever combine my day job and my career as a writer, but I feel it necessary, after all the bad publicity surrounding the failure of Target's expansion into Canada to defend the company that I once loved as an employee and continue to love as a brand. I can't speculate on decisions made by corporate, I can only share what I personally experienced and my opinions are my own, so if you don't like it, stop reading.

Back in September of 2012, I showed up for my first day of orientation as an Executive Team Leader at a hotel by the airport in Toronto. There, in a ballroom I met my fellow ETL's who were hired from diverse cultures and backgrounds to open the first round of Target Canada stores in Ontario, Canada. We were part of Cycle One stores opening in the GTA west and one of numerous training sessions that brought on over 100 managers to navigate the wave of store openings.

I arrived not knowing what position I would be managing or which store I would be placed in, but the excitement of Target was in the air and after a grueling six months of interviews and beating out thousands of managers for a position with a brand I loved, I didn't care which place I had in the family, I was just honored to be there.

Very quickly, it became evident that the people who hired us, took into account, diversity, personality and work experience. They focused on seasoned professionals, like myself, who had been a district manager, corporate recruiter and training manager, as well as bringing on board a number of Campus Recruits. These were students just out of university and hired by Target with the intent to guide them through the first part of their working lives and give them a career, not just a job.

By the end of the first day, I knew my place in my new family. I was an Executive Team Leader of Overnight Replenishment and my store was Square One, - the flagship and largest Target to open during cycle one. True to form, Target looked at my strengths and pulled from previous experience  while giving me a new challenge at the same time.

I had some experience in logistics when I opened the Krispy Kreme brand in Canada, but the stores were small, with minimal products to worry about. In my new role, myself and three other managers would be in charge of four team leader reports and one hundred team members. We would be responsible for unloading tractor trailers of goods from the distribution center, ensuring the shelves were properly stocked, the store zoned for our guests, backrooms organized and our team members happy and productive within a very short window of time.

My fellow managers were as awesome and diverse as the products that Target carried. We had new Canadians with only overseas experience, campus recruits with no experience, seasoned logistics and retail managers and those from hospitality backgrounds. We were a United Nations of people and experience, all focused on making the success of Target in Canada possible.

How were we going to integrate our experience into the Target brand? Not to worry, we were assured. Good people with good values can be taught anything and they did that with a multi week program that included classroom experience in Canada and practical training in one of their stores across the United States. Our class was split according to stores for the practical training piece. Some of us went to Nashville, some to Texas and our Square One team went to Target Headquarters in Minneapolis to train at multiple Super Target locations.

From the minute we stepped off the plane, we were treated with the legendary hospitality that Americans are known for. We had a grueling two weeks ahead of us, learning the in's and outs of Target culture, and best practices in store. With my training background and the challenge of trying to train team leaders and staff without a working store, I set my sights on acquiring as many training tips and tools that would make the job easier for my future team members. Never once, did they stop me from gathering the materials I felt I needed to do the job. We weren't people from Canada, we were members of the Target family, so if I wanted to learn something that wasn't part of my job description, they patiently gave me a person to advise me or the tools to help me succeed, while never missing a beat with their daily duties of managing a very busy store.

For the first two weeks we were given an overview of all store management positions and for myself more of an in-depth look into logistics. I worked along side team members who had been fifteen, twenty and thirty years with the company.  Passion and enthusiasm were everywhere.  Many of these people juggled two jobs, family and school with a smile on their face and never a negative word. A wonderful African American gentleman in his sixties, gently corrected me on proper stocking techniques, while explaining about how he was going to school during the day to finish his Masters degree because he was working towards his idea of the American dream.

I came away with new Facebook friends, lots of information for my team members and a passion for my new company that did more than treat me as an equal, I was part of their family.

The atmosphere that first day back in Toronto was electric. We shared stories of amazing training, passionate people, and wonderful technology that made everyone's jobs easier. We injected the Target culture of FFF ( fast, fun and friendly) into our classroom and celebrated our fellow managers. For me, I was especially touched when one of the training days coincided with the release date of my first book, The Fog. Not only did Chris, the facilitator, throw my Amazon page up on the screen, he was one of the first people to buy my novel, even though it was Sci Fi Romance, lol.

After that point, time sped up. One more trip back to Minneapolis for 'deep dive' training and in my case a week in Los Angeles to work at a Target offsite location. Once back, with the store still in renovations from the previous Zellers location, we dove into hiring for Square One.

Right off the bat, we battled an inaccurate public perception that said we had bought the Zellers brand and put fellow Canadians out of work. Wrong. We bought the lease space from HBC, their parent company. It was their decision to close down the stores and as a show of good will, we gave people with Zellers experience first crack at interviewing for a Target Canada position. We hired lots of people from that company and they were amazing additions to the Target brand.

On the first day of our hiring fair, we were kicked out of our location by the management of the facility we had booked, because another part of the complex had been rented by a national drug store company and they were holding a Christmas party there. They threatened that they would never return for future bookings, if our small team of managers from Target were allowed to hold their job fair in another part of this massive building.

Bah humbug to Target that day.

So we quietly packed up, moved across the street and crammed ourselves into three small rooms, while apologizing to our prospective candidates about a last minute change in location for their interviews.

With hiring done, we focused on getting our store open and from a logistics point of view, ran into problems immediately. We had a third party distribution company that was sending product to our stores but with a new SAP program and an inability to draw from Target computer systems down south, we were left with an uneven distribution of product. In anticipation of busy store openings, large quantities of items were bought but with the new SAP system for Canada, products started to arrive in either ridiculous quantities or not at all and procedures that should have replenished us properly didn't work quite as well as they should have.

Still we soldiered on and over time we started to receive trucks that had accurate replenishment for our store. Little by little we received the same products that you could find in any Target south of the border. We launched Target specific brands like Archer Farms, Threshold and Up and Up generic products while making sure we promoted Canadian brands as well.

Did we have the cool grocery items that every Canadian looks for in the States? No, we didn't carry Goobers ( peanut butter and jam spread) or those cool American soft drinks  because we probably
couldn't get them. Did we have large bags of American candy brands for Halloween? No, but we had every single Christmas ornament found in every Target store south of the border, with the exception of two ornaments that celebrated the families of American soldiers.

We had Merona clothing and launched noted American designers like Peter Pilotto and Sonia Kashuk while celebrating Canada by promoting the Roots brand. Again we faced criticism about our lack products, which is funny because every time I made the trip to a Buffalo Target, I saw the same endcaps featuring the same products as my Target. I saw the same music artists featured, the same clothes in women's wear and the same products in bedding and bath.

Were our prices that same as American stores? No, but they were close. Canadians don't have the buying power or the ability to offer prices like American stores, so yeah, prices were a bit higher but not enough to boycott shopping there. Our over the counter pharmacy section was frequently a better deal than any competitor and problems with our product mix favored the consumer. It meant you could get great deals in all parts of the store at 30-50% off because we were trying to keep our products in line with our American stores and too much buying equaled a deal for the customer.

As the year went on, we managed cutbacks in payroll, changes in upper management, policy and procedure while trying to keep the Target culture alive. We gave feedback about logistics and distribution and expressed our concerns from the trenches, so to speak, to sympathetic but deaf ears at head office.  Rumors of managing out higher paid, experienced managers started to turn into reality as expectations became unreasonable and good people started to leave. It was at this point, and with an offer from a wonderful American brand, I decided to leave as well.

Did I ever think they would shut the brand down completely? Never. I was flabbergasted to hear the announcement on the news and felt terrible for all the people I knew who still worked there.

I hated watching the media frenzy surrounding the first day of liquidation knowing full well that the pricing was in the hands of  third party liquidators and once again Target was being bashed by people who didn't support them when they were around and now criticized them for prices that they didn't even set.

Last week, I visited the store I helped open for the last time. It was heartbreaking to see the shelves trashed by bargain hunters and hearing the ignorant customers blame hourly employees for the failure of the brand. It was heart warming to see people that I worked with still trying to keep a respectable looking store together, even though they are out of a job in a couple of weeks. That's what pride and integrity are all about.

Say what you will about Target, but they treated us like kings and more importantly like part of their family. They always tried to do the right thing and they should be respected for that.

In hindsight, they tried to launch too many stores and made a classic American mistake of expanding too fast into a country with the population of California. They opened stores in locations where a lot of people equated the color red with a different failed Canadian brand.

Their platform of fun and unique items that every Canadian Target fan hunts for wasn't always possible and without cool American products everywhere, there wasn't a hope that people would accept them.

Every time I look at a paperweight that we received after the initial wave of stores opened, I think we did do it. It was damned hard work opening 124 stores, three distribution centers, and a head office all at once. We had a right to be proud of every piece of freight we unloaded, every planogram we set and every team member we gave recognition to. We spread good will across the nation with social media and the Target Bullseye bus and tried to celebrate Canada instead of pushing American culture onto a different country.

 Like many families we had our problems. We had ups and downs. We fought and made unfair assumptions because we couldn't see the big picture. There were times when we celebrated, times when we failed and times when we had to pick ourselves back up and keep going to matter how hard it was. Sometimes families break down and sometimes they give up. Members might leave but they will always be family and I will treasure my time as a part of the Target family.

The brand might be broken but everything broken can be fixed and hopefully they will be back to try again in the future.

Target really did love Canada. I saw that first hand. Too bad Canada didn't love it back.