Author brand & cover consistency

Guest post by Mary Chris Escobar, author of How to be Alive. Mary Chris EscobarAuthor Photo; book design; branding; brand consistency

I had a huge ah-ha moment recently. I could call it a head-desk, moment, but I like the more positive sound of ah-ha (and try to avoid intentionally banging my head into things). In July I attended the Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference and had a chance to connect with a representative from a popular online retailer. He agreed to take a look at how I was marketing my books and make some suggestions. His top suggestion (paraphrased): Your most recent book looks great, give the other two a similar look so they present consistently.

New Covers, author branding, cover consistency, book covers, branding
Before and after: Consistent design identifies a book by Mary Chris Escobar at first glance.

You know how some messages take a while to sink in? How sometimes there is this resistance phase before you can acknowledge, that yes, actually that is a solid idea and I should probably consider it? There was none of that with his suggestion. Instead it was an immediate acknowledgement along the lines of what an amazing idea, followed quickly by it seems so simple, why didn’t I think of that?

There are two reasons why this very logical marketing tweak never crossed my mind:

•   I don’t write books in a series. I understand that a series should look the same, but I figured individual books were exactly that: individuals. No need for them to match.

•   I overlooked the concept of author as brand. No, my books aren’t all linked in a series, but they do all share one very basic thing in common — me. Readers should know at a glance that this is a Mary Chris Escobar book.

I liked my original covers, I really, really did (especially the one for Delayed, with the title in the digital sign), but the moment I uploaded the new covers and saw them next to each other in an online store, I knew I had done the right thing. Now readers can easily identify that my books are all related and I couldn’t be more proud of how my little family of books is dressed.

*On a side note, connections like the one I made at RWA are one of the many reasons why conferences are so important. If you are in Virginia (or even it you aren’t) I would highly recommend James River Writer’s annual conference. It’s right around the corner on October 18- 19. Click here for details.

Mary Chris EscobarAuthor Photo

Mary Chris writes women’s fiction. Her second novel, How to be Alive, came out in late June. She lives in Richmond, Virginia in a renovated parking garage with her husband, and you can find her just about anywhere with good coffee or craft beer and at  She also hangs out on Twitter @marychris_e. Her novella, Delayed, is free at all major online bookstores — try it out today!

Thank you, Mary Chris, for sharing your revelations on author branding and design consistency.  


Calling Henrico Authors

Henrico County Public Library has an opportunity for area authors:

Come out to read, discuss, and connect with other writers and readers in our community. Local authors are invited to sign up and share their books.

Our self-serve program allows you to book a 90-minute time slot on a Thursday evening at one of our larger Area Libraries to read, discuss your writing process, sell, sign, and promote your book.

Learn more here.

Calling RVA writers: The Writing Show this week


“Write about what you don’t know about what you know,” instructed Eudora Welty. But how exactly do you dig deep into the familiar to create an extraordinary experience for your readers?

Veteran novelists and professors—and husband and wife—Carrie Brown and John Gregory Brown talk about mining your own geographical and personal history as writers, as well as tools and techniques for finding out more about what you already think you know about your place—or places—in the world.

Virginia Pye, author of River of Dust, will moderate the discussion about anchoring your writing through environment and experience. The second half of the panel welcomes questions from the audience.

Coloring Between the Lines: Using What You Know and Where You’re From in Fiction
Thursday, April 24, 2014
6:30-8:30 p.m., with complimentary hors d’oeuvres
The Broadberry (note the new location we’re trying out for April’s show!)
2729 W. Broad Street
Ample parking available in the Children’s Museum parking lot across the street, on street, and in the lot adjacent to the Broadberry

$10 in advance, $12 at the door, $5 students

 I’m looking forward to learning techniques I can use in my rewrites. Will you join me?  Register now.

Visit James River Writers for more information.


Of rock stars and writers

Dana Fuchs & Kristi at Annapolis concert
Kristi & Dana Fuchs at Annapolis concert. Adam Austin photo.

“May I get a photo?” I ask, embarrassed by my own fangirling.

Dana Fuchs, goddess with a whisky voice, pushes back from the table. “Come here.” She pats her leg. “Sit down.”

I sit on the lap of an honest-to-god rock star and movie star. She kisses my cheek, wraps her arm around me, and presses her face to mine for the photo.

Dana Fuchs had just poured herself into her performance on stage, singing and dancing for almost two hours, yet she was tireless while meeting fans after the show.

Dana’s been on Oprah and headlined concerts across the US and Europe. She’s a blues musician, rocker, and movie star. She starred as Sadie in the Beatles musical Across the Universe. She was the lead in Love, Janis, an off-Broadway play about Janis Joplin.

Bono, Dana and director Julie Taymor watching Across the Universe playbacks. Dana Fuchs photo.

If we want to talk about reasons people could think they’re hot shit, the 6-foot-tall singer and songwriter has plenty. (Picture the love child of Janis Joplin and River Song.) Yet she’s the most approachable person I’ve ever met. During the night’s performance, she serenaded a fan with ‘Happy Birthday’ and gushed how honored she was he spent his birthday with her. After the show, she asked about me. She wants to read my book, she said. We both laughed at our propensity to cuss in public. When a lady offered vodka shots, Dana passed one to me. We three toasted and tilted back our glasses. (Dana sipped white wine instead.) She thanked me profusely, hugged and kissed me goodbye.

Dana Fuchs Band concert at BB King’s in NYC. Dana Fuchs photo.

What writers can learn

I’ve been fortunate to meet hundreds of writers. I’ve seen writers love and connect with readers, and I’ve shaken my head as aloof authors ignored the people who make their living. For instance, three young authors were touring. Instead of greeting readers as we arrived for their event, they clustered in the staff area of the bookstore, in sight but off limits. One reader confessed she’d traveled almost four hours one way and stayed overnight to see one of the authors. “Thanks,” the author said flatly. That was it. The reader left after the signing with no one-on-one time with the author. I didn’t hear the author ask about the reader. She didn’t shake the reader’s hand. There was definitely no lap sitting.

I’m an introvert. I’m shy. I can sympathize with all sorts of social awkwardness. But I’ve got no patience for writers who can’t show a little love. There’s no room for aloofness in a writer’s life. Get over it.

Chuck Wendig jokingly encouraged authors to get in snits and trash hotel rooms and generally act like motherf*^#king rockstars. I want authors to act like DanaFuching rock stars and show a little more love and gratitude.

If my day ever comes, you better believe I am.

Listen to Dana

See more and listen at Dana Fuchs Band website.

Don’t forget

Elle Blair is blogging her writing process today.

My writing process

Thank you again to Josh Cane for inviting me to participate in My Writing Process blog tour. You can check out his writing process.

1)     What am I working on?

Potter’s Field, a reimagining of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying for fans of Marie Lu’s Legend series, is Potter’s odyssey through the tunnels below a near-future Manhattan to honor the promise she made to her dying father.

Photo by Steve Duncan
Photo by Steve Duncan

You can see photos and video from my research trip here.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

No catastrophic event has transformed Potter’s world into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Instead, I imagine a time much like ours, except the gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to grow .

I love sci-fi but my primary influences don’t come from Asimov novels and summer blockbusters. My manuscript began as a short story reflecting on my travels in Kenya. Articles about eating mud cakes in Haiti, slum demolition, social media’s role in protest, and urban exploration influenced the story’s direction. Of course, the geek in me had to include some futuristic surveillance that might be coming to a city near you.

3)     Why do I write what I do?

I believe where we live influences how we live in community and the stories we tell. A novel’s setting is important to me. (Where would William Faulkner be without Yoknapatawpha County? C.S. Lewis without Narnia? Suzanne Collins without Panem?) Setting research gives me the gumption to take trips I’ve dreamed of for years, like walking up a drain pipe in Manhattan…

…and in a drain in Queens…


…and the Paris catacombs…

…and streets of Edinburg, Scotland…

Edinburgh street
(Research for a another WIP)

Edinburgh skyline

…and places closer to home.

steam tunnel

steam tunnel

(Yes, those are all me and my husband. My brother, Ralph, shot the catacomb video and took photos in the steam tunnels.)

4)     How does my writing process work?

Outline obsessively? Throw organization to the wind? I’ve tried it all.

Once upon a time, I took outlining to a new level of insanity. When my critique group wrote about our processes, I called mine “Step-by-step Neurosis or Outlining the Novel.” I shared how I was currently working…

1. Idea germination and growth
2. Research and free-write
3. Character profiles
4. Scene worksheets and scene mapping
5. Rough draft
6. Time off
7. Fast read
8. Editorial letter
9. Rewrite
10. Rinse and repeat
11. A few good readers
12. What is its fate?

…and went into detail about why I was writing that way:

In the early days, I made notes but no outlines, and writing a novel scared the bejesus out of me. The task seemed insurmountable, so I started outlining, which was how I wrote nonfiction. Now I break the process into manageable steps that keep me focused and ensure I don’t lose steam because writing seems too hard.

Then along came Potter’s Field and the process was less rigid. All those scene worksheets had drilled basic story craft through my thick skull. I just did it, leaving more time to dream about my next writing adventure.

Next week on the blog tour

Born in Savannah, Georgia, Elle Blair has called every southern state along the East Coast home at one point or another. She earned a Communications degree from the University of South Florida, then spent another two years studying ceramics in North Carolina. No one could have convinced her that one day she would open a word processing file and never want to go back to her pottery wheel. Now she writes young adult novels in Richmond, Virginia.
You can visit her blog at:

I recommend you check out blog tour posts by   and Leila Gaskin.

Now is the best time to be a writer

Join us at James River Writers!

My Writing Process blog tour

Joshua Paul Cane introduced me to the My Writing Process series, a blog tour of authors’ caffeine-addled musings on their neurotic lives. It’s gonna be fun! Each author answers four questions:

1) What am I working on?

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

3) Why do I write what I do?

4) How does my writing process work?

Check out Josh’s answers at his website. He’s the author of Shadows, a kickass vampire story that sucks only in the right ways. His description of Shadows is a bit more eloquent.

Shadows returns to the roots of the vampire genre and branches out in its own direction. Vampires are silhouettes of humanity, dark twins that exaggerate our virtues and vices; they are ever present, but seldom seen. Bloodless, they instead possess a black humor that collects in their stilled hearts. Vampires choose their existence, seeing it as a gift, rather than a curse. What is the price of immortality? What do you do with forever? What makes us human?

Cool, right?

My answers will be up next Monday. I suppose I should still be working on them, but I tried and am now crippled by procrastination. Ah, the life of a writer. I love every terrified, neurotic, addled, soul-crushing moment. It makes every day a good day.

11th annual James River Writers Conference

Thank you to everyone who made the James River Writers Conference inspirational, educational, and fun.

Here’s the Saturday morning opening from Brad Parks.

Writing Soundtrack: Drains

Some writers create inspirational playlists featuring the best of modern music. Me? I’m listening to drain sounds as I write the next scene in my WIP.

I recorded this clip while researching in New York. You can see photos from the trip here:

Author LynDee Walker on humor and writing



Thanks to James River Writers (@JamesRvrWriters) for hosting today’s #JRWC13 Twitter chat with LynDee.

LynDee Walker grew up in the land of stifling heat and amazing food most people call Texas, and wanted to be Lois Lane from the time she could say the words “press conference.” An award-winning journalist, she traded cops and deadlines for burp cloths and onesies when her oldest child was born. Writing the Headlines in Heels mysteries gives her the best of both worlds. When not writing or reading, LynDee is usually wrangling children, eating barbecue or enchiladas, or trying to walk off said barbecue and enchiladas. She and her family live in Richmond, Virginia.

Front Page Fatality by LynDee Walker
Front Page Fatality