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If you’ve ever taken a trip on a train or ferryboat, you know what I mean. You’re forced off the grid, leaving you 2 choices: read or write. It’s singularly relaxing. This is known as reader (or writer) heaven. From Paris, we took the TGV (tres grande vitesse) train to Aix-en-Provence. 3 zippy hours in a comfy seat with France out the fenetre.

Paris gare de lyon

What did I write on the train?

Sometimes productivity is overrated.

Sometimes productivity is overrated.

And what did I read? An international bestseller called THE READERS OF BROKEN WHEEL RECOMMEND… by Swedish author Katarina Bivald. It will be published in the US in January, and you’re going to love it.

So after telling you about the process of writing a novel, I promised to talk about cover art. How does a publisher get that sucker all spiffed up and ready for the bookstore?

Oh, so carefully. Most publishers have an entire dedicated art department whose sole purpose is book design–the image, the fonts, endpapers, you name it.

Back when I was self-publishing, I designed my own.

bringing you bad books since the age of 8

bringing you bad books since the age of 8

p10603411

Art was not my forte, clearly.

Book cover art is the topic of endless and passionate debate among writers and people in publishing.

Because it matters so freakin’ much. It’s the reader’s first glimpse of your work. You’ve got a split second to grab her attention. And in that split second, you have to convey that a) this is YOUR kind of book and b) it’s a particularly great read and c) she should just ignore all those other books on the shelf nearby that are vying for attention.

How does a book get from the mess on my living room floor…

Barkis is bored. He just doesn't get it.

Barkis is bored. He just doesn’t get it.

…into the reader’s hands?

Buy a book from Wendy!

You need not just a beautiful cover, but the RIGHT cover. For example, this cover is beautiful:

Where's the romance?

Where’s the romance?

…but it doesn’t scream “sweep-you-away-historical-romance” the way this one does:

Sexy tiiime!

Sexy tiiime!

The Drifter reissue

They’re all nicely done, but guess which one sold the best? Yep, the one that looked the most romantic, dramatic and compelling to the reader most likely to enjoy that kind of book.

After the original edition of The Drifter was published, the art department took another look at what my books were about and what my readers love–romance, fantasy, passion. So my next book, THE CHARM SCHOOL, went through a major transformation. Here is the cover-in-progress:

I sent my editor a little thumbnail image from a book of clipart. I just thought it was pretty. The main character was a bookworm with a rich fantasy life, and this image made me think of her:

Clip art that inspired The Charm School cover

Thanks to my very smart editor, she got this sketch out of the art department, and I knew we had a winner on our hands:

sketch for Charm School cover

I was hoping it would turn into a pink valentine of a book because, well, we readers love pink valentines. And Lo:

Now, THAT's a cover.

Now, THAT’s a cover.

Flowers, purple foil, generous endorsement from iconic romance author. It even had a peek-a-boo window with a glimpse at the illustration inside. And although the real Isadora looked like this:

Isadora, the main character of THE CHARM SCHOOL

Isadora, the main character of THE CHARM SCHOOL

…she got a makeover for the cover art. This image is inside the front cover. It’s known as a “step-back.”

ready for action

ready for action

I’m proud to say, The Charm School was my first national bestseller. The book got good reviews, won some awards, made some best-of lists, but I credit the sales to the right cover on the right book. 

Oh, and here–with apologies to the redoubtable Erik Larson–is my nomination for the worst book cover ever. On one of the best books, ever.

Foreign edition of Erik's iconic work, Devil in the White City, with unfortunate cover art.

Foreign edition of Erik’s iconic work, Devil in the White City, with unfortunate cover art.

Writers always get questions about the writing process. I don’t blame you for asking. I ask other writers about the process, because I’m convinced they have a better way. One of my better known quirks is that I write my first draft of a book in longhand, using a fountain pen, peacock blue ink and Clairefontaine notebooks. It’s not an affectation. I’m a lefty, which means my hand (and sleeve) drag across the page behind the handwriting. But the Skrip ink dries instantly, thus saving my sleeve. The header above illustrates this.

Other Qs about process: The Examiner recently asked me some tough questions. Okay, they weren’t tough. I love answering questions. If I don’t know the answer, I just make stuff up. Don’t judge. I’m a fiction writer:

Q. You hand write your original drafts! Holy Cow…. Why? Do you just like communing with ink? The feel of the paper? You feel more connected to the book? Tell us about your process.

SW: Its a habit I started since before I even knew how to read or write. At age 2-1/2, I used to scribble on paper and tell my mother, “Now, write this down.” And bless her, she did. All my stories were about a girl who was chased up a tree with Bad Things after her. To this day, that’s pretty much what all my books are about. 

As a teenager, I lived in Brussels and then Paris…I used to carry around notebooks (cahiers) filled with terrible angsty poetry. Later, when I started writing novels (grad school), I was so broke that I had to use half empty cahiers left over from high school. Since I hated (still hate) to type, I only wanted to type up each page once, so I would get the story down by hand and then transcribe. These days, I use Dragon Naturally Speaking and read the text into the computer. Ann Tyler once said writing by hand is like knitting a book. Its crafty! And you don’t save the wrong version or lose text (unless there’s a house fire). So the habit has stuck with me. 

Q. How I Planned Your Wedding is such a sweet, charming and romantic idea. Tell us about the book you wrote planning your daughter‘s wedding.

SW: This book was my alternative to being murdered by my daughter. We drove each other crazy during the wedding planning, but discovered that a sense of humor can rescue even the biggest disaster. Elizabeth started a blog which was howlingly funny and went viral, so she brought that snarky voice to the book. As the mom, I got to chime in. Some of the brutal honesty in the book still makes me squirm, but we both found a way to tell the story that every bride (and her mom) can relate to. Even those not planning a wedding will relate to the conflict and craziness of the mother-daughter bond.

Q. It seems you started the way many authors start: by thinking, “Hey, I can do that.” Since you had such great success for so long, besides the obvious advent of e-books, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the publishing industry?

SW: Honestly, the essence of publishing hasn’t changed. Since the days of the cave man carving stuff on the cave walls, people have wanted stories, and storytellers have wanted an audience. That is still the case. The changes are really a matter of format. Publishers consolidate, methods of publishing change, but readers and storytellers are forever. Thank God.

Q. Since you so enjoy keeping your toes wet in the teaching pool, if you had to pick the most important piece of craft information you’d like all new writers to take away from a conversation with you, what would that be?

SW: Tell the story that’s in your heart, and don’t hold back. Write a book the reader will want to melt into. And for Gods sake, learn your craft. Do NOT try to publish anything until you have nailed the basics (grammar, spelling, usage, syntax) and the refinements of writing. Readers deserve your very best, always….There are practical techniques a writer can use to keep the pacing of the novel strong, by introducing

unexpected emotions, twists and turns, actions and reactions. You want to leave out the stuff the reader is going to skip, anyway.

Happy New Year to All!

I had such fun with these interview questions. The original post is here

6 things readers should know about you:
1. I’m just like them–always looking for a wonderful juicy novel to savor.
2. I have a horror of being trapped somewhere boring without a book to read.
3. I believe that creating a nation of readers will transform our country.
4. When it comes to my personal life and family, I give it my all, every day.
5. When it comes to my career, I hustle. Every. Single. Day.
6. I look just like my author photo.

What would you say are the defining characteristic of your Novels?
Um, the awesome author photo?

5 best things about being a writer?
1. The author photo is my greatest work of fiction.
2. My commute is from the couch to the computer.
3. My work uniform is a bathrobe, fuzzy slippers, headphones and mug of coffee.
4. My readers touch my heart with the notes they send and post on Facebook and other sites.
5. If somebody treats me mean, they could end up dead in one of my books.

What romance book character you most identify with & Why?
Isadora in THE CHARM SCHOOL. She is smart, dorky, awkward and endearing…and modeled after yrs truly.

About the Book: The Apple Orchard
If you had to summarize the book for the readers here ….
Sisters, secrets, and surprises. One of my favorite reviews, spotted here: http://readfulthingsblog.com/2013/03/18/the-apple-orchard-by-susan-wiggs/ gives this summary. It’s the kind of review all authors dream about: “OH IT WAS HEAVEN! I wanted to stay wrapped up in this book forever. This is the kind of novel that fills your heart and soul with warmth and makes you just feel good! The recipes are to die for as well.
“This novel has one of the most beautiful opening chapters that I have ever seen. The descriptions of the landscape are so vivid and alive that you can almost smell the apples and hear the buzz of the honeybees. Immediately I was drawn in to this story and never lost interest throughout the entire book.
“The cast of characters in this novel are the kind of people that you don’t want to forget. They are such an inviting family with so much rich history and compassion for one another that I almost felt, in some ways while I was reading this I had returned home to visit my own family.”

What scene did you have most fun writing? why?
Chapter 11. Hands down. Right after the epigraph page and recipe for Julekake right before Part Seven. It’s the first scene I wrote of the novel and it stuck with me through every draft. Nothing says “page turner” better than a peaceful family Christmas in Denmark, disrupted by Nazi stormtroopers. Okay, maybe it wasn’t “fun.” It’s very dark. But riveting. I hope I did it justice.

Who would who cast in the role of hero and heroine if your book was optioned for a movie?
Tess Delaney needs to be played by that intense, driven redhead in ZERO DARK THIRTY. Ummm, what’s her name? Jessica Chastain! Thank you Wikipedia!
Dominic Rossi is tall, dark and Italian. Your readers are going to have to help me out. Tell them to post their suggestions on my FaceBook page. I don’t get out enough, clearly. 

What are you currently working on?
Working title is THE BEEKEEPER’S BALL. It’s #2 in the Bella Vista Chronicles, because I just had to write about Isabel, the sister from THE APPLE ORCHARD.

What other releases so you have planned for 2013?
CANDLELIGHT CHRISTMAS, which will be in stores October 1. It’s Lakeshore Chronicles #10, and it’s crazy fun. A single dad does Christmas. Among other things.

Where can readers get in touch with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/susanwiggs and on Twitter I’m @SusanWiggs.

I have such thoughtful readers. Look what someone sent me, after reading Summer at Willow Lake.

I have such nice readers.

By popular demand, I’m bringing back my most-requested blog project. Last November, we had so much fun right here on my blog listing things we’re grateful for that I’ve created a special web site for it.

Please join me again this year in the gratitude project. Expressing gratitude for things large and small is incredibly good for you. There’s probably a psychological study proving it, but you don’t need a study. If you do this simple exercise once a day, you’ll know it works, because you’ll feel better.

Every day from now until Thanksgiving, I’ll be posting things I’m grateful for at http://www.gratitudeproject.posterous.com. Some will be silly, some profound, but all will be honest and from the heart. I invite you to join me in this exercise. I’d love it if you’d post your list there too, because readers and writers never fail to inspire me. But you don’t have to. Keep your list private if you wish. The important thing is to specify something you’re grateful for, and write it down.  Or put it on your blog or share with a friend. Feel free to pass the suggestion along. I”d be eternally grateful.

Instructions: Posting is ridiculously simple. All you need to do is send your gratitude in an e-mail to post@gratitudeproject.posterous.com. You can write a line or two or three, whatever you like. You can also attach a picture or video. Then come to www.gratitudeproject.posterous.com and see everyone’s posts. Put that e-mail addy in your address book. Please chime in! I can’t wait to hear from you!

Note: Posts appear without attribution (it will just say “posted by e-mail”). If you want the post attributed to you, simply sign it with your first name and last initial, maybe your location. Like this: Susan W., Washington state

what’s on my mind right now:

Join me on Facebook. You won’t be sorry.

I tend to spontaneously give stuff away to readers and libraries. Join the fun here. Really.

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