Should Authors Design Their Own Book Covers?

Should Authors Design Their Own Book Covers?

Should authors design their own book covers? I did. Here’s what the experience taught me …

You probably have heard the age-old saying you can’t judge a book by its cover, but that’s bad advice for an author. People judge books by their cover all the time.

The first thing that attracts a reader to a book, be it on the shelf of a bookstore or in an online catalogue, is the cover.

If a book has a cover that’s both attractive and reflects top selling books in its genre, then an eager reader will grab it and read the blurb. If the blurb hooks them and the book is the right price, they will (hopefully) buy it, read it, then tell all their friends about it.


Alas if the cover is badly designed, looks amateur, or doesnt fit the genre, the potential reader will walk away.

Covers are important. Most of the author-focused online groups I’m part of strongly advise authors against creating their own covers. One response I read said only trained graphic designers should ever even attempt to this. Only they had the knowledge and experience to create the kind of cover that would sell a book

Did I head this advice? Nope.

Why didn’t I? There are several reasons.

Because I’m Scottish and  stubborn (ha ha!)

One of the most endearing traits of the Scots is their stubbornness. Just ask my husband. How else could my ancestors cope with freezing weather, howling winds and summer that only lasts one day a year? Don’t get me wrong, I love my homeland. Its stark beauty is breathtaking and the people are generous and welcoming. But most Scots I know have this stubborn streak–which I share.

If you want to design your own book cover, you don’t need to be Scottish, but you do need to be stubborn. You need to decide to do this and do it well and not settle for a bad design.

I love being arty

I love immersing myself in art projects–especially ones focused on animals. I can spend hours tweaking the work. It’s the same with book cover design. I can get lost in the process. I don’t think I’d have attempted to create my own cover if I didn’t love visual art, and if I didn’t have a general idea of what looks right. My biggest problem in cover design was developing the skills needed to make the picture in my brain look right on the page. I had no idea about typography, nor did I understand how to use Photoshop.

I gave myself time to experiment

If you want to learn cover design you have to experiment to find out what works/ doesn’t work. Here is one of my early attempts at cover design for Running Scared. I was still thinking of writing as Sue Jeffrey then.

When I shared this with friends there was this uneasy silence… Which was gracious of them because the cover was pretty bad.

It was basically just a stock photo with a filter slapped onto the image with a bit of text. The title font wasn’t too bad, just too small and not in the right place, but the author font was awful :). It didn’t suit an author name and the font colour didn’t appear anywhere in the image.

This happens a lot in writerdom. The novice book designer tries to use an unsuitable font in a colour that clashes with the image. Contrast is fine, but if you want to design your own book cover, please use a font colour that complements the image. Ideally use a colour that’s already somewhere in the image, that way the font will feel one with the image, and not fight against it.

But remember it’s completely okay if your early attempts at cover design aren’t great. Just as with writing, you have to start somewhere. Make a hundred covers if you need to until you find something that gels.

I was willing to learn from others

I must admit that this project sat dormant for a long while between cover attempts. Every now and then I’d bring it out as an ‘art project’ and try some things.

A big shout out to Ben Morton of Immortalise Designs. Ben is a friend and writing group buddy who showed great patience when I’d suddenly throw a random design at his messenger inbox.

Here are some of the other concepts I tried. Note I experimented with different titles too.

(Warning, there are images of spiders in the next two book covers.)

This one looked too young and… spidery. Arachnophobia is a key theme in the book, as Melinda fries to overcome her fear, but it’s not the sole focus.


The next one looked more like soft horror. There are scary bits in the story but it’s not horror.

I didn’t mind this next one aesthetically, but the genre wasn’t clear. Maybe too romance-like?

Along the way I discovered that the cross-genre nature of my book (it’s a contemporary YA, coming of age AND romantic thriller ?) made cover design difficult. I needed to somehow incorporate an image that highlighted the story of my main character, Melinda, yet gave a taste of the danger she was in.

I pondered for a while, then one day I was browsing through stock photos and found an image that epitomised her. A girl with butterflies in her hair. You’ll have to read the book to discover why this fits so well. I combined this with other elements and eventually came up with this cover.

Then after some further advice (thank you Rowena Beresford and Cecily Paterson!) the final cover became a reality. I was happy, and those I shared the cover with loved it.

But would I have got there without listening to people who could help?


I did a lot of research too. You’ll probably notice my typography improved as I went along. If you are going to learn cover design I’d strongly advise you to research the kinds of fonts used on book covers your genre. And check out the top 100 bestsellers on Amazon in your chosen genre. This will give you a good idea of the fonts and images used in books that are currently selling well. There’s a lot of information out there in internet-land—make use of it.

I needed to up-skill. I had virtually no photoshop knowledge—although I mainly used Canva initially. This was a process of trial and error but I highly recommend the SPF Cover Design course by Stuart Bache – a top UK cover designer. All the SPF courses are fabulous if you want to independently publish books. They are pricey but worth the dollars. Stuart’s Cover Design Course gave me some simple pointers that made all the difference.

How long did this process take?

This whole journey took a gazillion years—or it felt like it. I think I started the cover in 2016 and it’s now 2022. To be fair, I originally wanted to traditionally publish the book, and during this time I sent it out to various publishers. I had lots of nibbles, but no publisher committed.

Maybe it was because the book is a mixture of genres. I think the book just wasn’t ‘ready’ when I sent it to some, but the most frustrating responses went something like this:

I really enjoyed Running Scared, it’s commercial and you have a gift for writing suspense. I found it hard to put down. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit our list.


So instead of rewriting Running Scared to a publisher’s satisfaction I rewrote it to mine. And created the cover too. That’s the joy of independent publishing.

A book—and its cover—can be a labour of love.

Should authors design their own book covers?

Having said all of this, what would I advise authors who are thinking of designing their own covers?

I’d say go ahead if all of these conditions apply:

  • You are either Scottish or extremely stubborn and not willing to settle for a substandard cover ?
  • You love being arty and learning new skills
  • You have the time to do this and get it right
  • You’re prepared to put in a lot of work

But if the above criteria don’t apply, then commission a custom cover or use one of the many pre-made covers available online. Some premade covers are amazing. I would have used a pre-made cover if I’d found one that fitted my book.

The big question: Would you be better off writing?

In one writing forum I follow, they have a saying: WIBBOW—Would I be better off writing?

The truth is, I probably would have been much better off typing words rather than nuancing cover art. But for a while there I had more time available than money to pay a cover designer—and I really wanted to give this a go.

And now I have a new skill. I still have a humungous amount to learn. I know some amazing graphic designers and I’ll never be in their league, but I’d like to get to the stage where I can design covers for other authors.

But that might take a wee while. Life is busy! The print version of Running Scared had a soft launch in February but the official launch is happening after Easter.

You are invited!

I’m joining with three other authors in a book launch party.

Where? When?

  • Wednesday 20 April, 2022
  • Immanuel Lutheran Church. 139 Archer Street, North Adelaide
  • Doors open 6pm for a 6:30 start

If you can’t get there, you can still buy the book. The print version of Running Scared is live on Amazon and several other online retailers. The ebook is currently available on preorder—although I’m having some hiccups with Apple Books, but that should be resolved soon. So you can order your copy by clicking this button.

It’s an exciting time!

Running Scared has a strong disability theme. Catch Tilly, author of Otherwise Known as Pig, said Running Scared was, “The best portrayal of disAbility I’ve ever read.”

If you do read Running Scared I’d love to hear what you think.

But back to cover design. Have you ever tried to design your own book cover? How did it go? What lessons did you learn? Pease let me know in the comments below.

Pssst … BTW!
You can find out more about Running Scared on my website Please sign up for my newsletter because you’ll get a free short story and all of my updates!

Pssst again … Even though some of the covers documented above are more than a wee bit crappy, they are still copyright Susan J Bruce.

Pssst for the third time … Don’t forget to sign up for my mailing list below and get a free short story!


*An earlier version of this article appeared on Christian Writers Downunder Blogspot on 11 April, 2022.

Resistance is Futile!

Resistance is Futile!

An earlier form of this article was published on the Christian Writers’ Downunder Blogspot on 8 November 2021.


When I was about fourteen, I discovered Star Trek. I loved it. We only had the original series back then—on rerun, by the way. I’m not that old. I remember going with friends to mini conventions which basically involved dressing up (you didn’t call it cosplay back then) and binge-watching series episodes on the big screen. I was in true geek heaven. When other kids had posters of KISS, ABBA, or The Bay City Rollers (yes, really) on their wall, I had pictures of Kirk, Spock and the starship Enterprise.

Yep. Geek. How amazing is it that William Shatner recently travelled to space at 90-years-old?

There have been several iterations of the Star Trek universe since then and while I’ll always love Shatner, Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, in the original series, my favourite Star Trek series is The Next Generation (TNG). Set a hundred years after the original series, Sir Patrick Stewart, as Jean-Luc Picard, gives a new dignity, and eloquence, to the role of Starfleet Captain.

The Borg: Resistance is Futile

The TNG crew also featured in my all-time favourite Trek movie, Star Trek: First Contact. This movie was a lot of fun and it showcased one of the most sinister villains of the Star Trek Universe, The Borg. The Borg are black-leather-clad cyborgs. Their starship is a huge cube with weaponry that can overpower almost all other ships. They operate as a hive mind—The Collective—and are controlled by the Borg Queen. Their goal is perfection, and they operate by assimilating other races into their own by injecting nano-bots into their victims.

They are a powerful enemy of all civilisations and their demoralising warning to all is: Resistance is futile. The Borg are too strong. Give up now.

Image showing the poster for the movie, Star Trek: First Contact. This movie contains the catch cry of the Borg: resistance is futile. By IMPAwards, Fair use. Coutresy of Wikipedia.

I won’t spoil First Contact for you (if you haven’t seen it, where have you been?) but those words, resistance is futile, are used to great effect in the climax of the film.

By now you’re probably wondering what this has to do with writing.

Well, this week I’ve had the Borg catch-cry in my head as I’ve pondered a different, but very futile kind of resistance: resistance to writing.

Resistance (to writing) is futile!

Resistance to writing is the psychological force that pushes back against us when we try to create. 

I suffer from this resistance a lot—even though I love writing. Do you? I know I’m not alone.

To create a world and immerse yourself in the lives of your characters is a thing of joy. You get to know these make-believe people, torture them in some diabolically cathartic way, then cheer them on as they overcome the obstacles you throw before them. What’s not to like? Writing can be so much fun, so why do we resist sitting down and filling empty pages with our words.

Resistance is weird. Why will we do almost anything other than write our first draft of a fiction novel? I’ll work on my website, write a blog post, take the dog for a walk. Anything. I have a friend who says her cupboards are never cleaner than when she’s drafting a novel.

I’m convinced resistance is different from writer’s block. While these two problems can be related, in my experience writer’s block is usually caused by a problem within our stories. If our plot isn’t working or if the goals, motivations and conflicts of our characters aren’t sound, we can easily stop writing and feel blocked. Resistance, on the other hand, is often experienced even before we sit down to type.

The resistance I’m talking about is also different from the inability to write that comes from serious life situations. I couldn’t write for six months after my brother died. That wasn’t resistance, it was grief.

But resistance is a very real problem. If we can’t overcome resistance in our writing, our efforts to create are futile.

Resistance in Physics

In the realm of physics, resistance reduces the ability of a wire to conduct electricity. The larger the resistance, the less electricity passes. In the same way, resistance to writing holds back the creative flow.

Inertia is another physics term that says a mass will stay still or keep moving in a uniform way unless it’s acted upon by an opposing force. If you have a large SUV broken down in front of your driveway, it will stay there unless you are strong enough to push it out of the way. The good news is that once you get the SUV moving, inertia helps to keep it moving. The harder you push, the more the vehicle gathers momentum. But if you stop pushing, it will stop moving because of gravity and friction. Now if you are trying to push it uphill and you stop pushing…

A vector image of a man rolling a huge boulder uphill as a metaphor of the resistance to writing some authors face.

Image by Schäferle from Pixabay

Overcoming resistance to writing

Writing resistance is like that inertia. If we can overcome it, we gain momentum that keeps us moving forward, but if we don’t maintain our force and intention, our stories grind to a halt.

Resistance to writing can lead to futility. It can stop us in our tracks, take us captive and rob us of the satisfaction of creating a body of work we are proud of. It can cripple our self-esteem, assimilate us into the mundane and crucify our joy.

But fighting resistance to writing is not futile. Resistance can be beaten even if you have a bad case of this malady—like I have.

Here are some things to try if resistance is a problem for you.

  • Start. It sounds simple but the best way to overcome resistance is to begin. Determine that you will write some part of your novel, however miniscule, each day.
  • Make your goal doable. If resistance is a strong force in your writing life, then start with a tiny goal. Forget NaNoWriMo with its 50K words in a month. Begin with 300 words a day. Or say you will spend half an hour a day writing new story.
  • Give yourself permission for those 300 words to be the worst writing ever. Because words, even badly composed words, can be edited and built upon.
  • Experiment. Try a different approach. I recently discovered the dictation function in the Office 365 version of Word. I’m woeful at dictation, but when I use it to get a distracted rabble of words down onto the page, I don’t have a blank page anymore. And the fear goes away.
  • Use a pen name. Sarah Painter in her book, Stop Worrying, Start Writing, suggests if fear of failure is holding you back, tell yourself you are going to publish your book under a secret pen name, and no one need ever know. It doesn’t matter if you use the pen name or your real name at the time of publication. What matters is that you trick your brain into thinking no one will ever know these words are yours.
  • Believe in God? Then pray. After all, one of his titles is Creator!

When we start, even with tiny goals, and give ourselves permission to write badly, a strange thing happens. We overcome the forces of inertia and begin to move forward. Momentum builds and our 300 words become 500 or 1000 words, until the story takes a life of its own.

I began this post by talking about Star Trek and the Borg. In this case, the Borg were the opposing force speaking words designed to demoralise their victims. Resistance is futile. But resisting the Borg (sorry, spoiler after all ?) wasn’t futile.

Nor is resisting resistance. With writing, the power of resistance is itself futile. It can be beaten.

And no alien cyborg is going to stop us!

Have you wrestled with resistance? What tactics do you use to beat it? Let me know in the comments below.

How to Keep Wagging Your Tail During a Pandemic

How to Keep Wagging Your Tail During a Pandemic

An earlier version of this article was published by the Christian Writer’s Downunder blogspot on April 6, 2020.

 One of the most encouraging and helpful voices emerging on social media last year, was Pluto, a miniature schnauzer who has been ‘breaking the internets’ with her wisdom and humour in these tough pandemic times. In honour of Pluto and the other dogs and cats encouraging us humans for the past year and a half, I decided to invite my dog, Nikita-the-ShiChi, to guest blog today.

Over to you, Nikita…

 firstHey everyone. My name is Nikita and as you would probably have guessed by now, I’m a ShiChi—a cross between a Chihuahua and a Shih-Tzu.

Let me tell you a bit about myself

got the short hair genes in my family from the Chihuahua side. My sister had long spiky hair that, according to my mum, made my sister look like her tail had been plugged into a power socket. I’ve been told to never plug my tail, or my tongue, or my nose, or the bone I’m eating, into a power socket so I’m not sure why she said that. But my mum also said my sister looked very cute, so I think that’s okay. My eyes were bigger and browner than my sister’s, and even then I knew how to use them for maximum cuteness. I think that’s why my humans chose meeeeeee. Or it could be because my sister went to her forever-family first. Hadn’t thought of that!

I’ve always been little, but now that I’ve grown up, I prefer to say that I’m vertically challenged. I think the word ‘short’ is highly discriminatory, don’t you? I’m a long-dog with stocky legs, a cute face and a big tush. My Mum says I take after her. Haha! Not to be rude but she doesn’t have an amazing curly tail like mine—nor does she have impressive ears.

Nikita, a small black and white chihuahua cross shih tzu is lying on a some bedding on an outdoor seat

My ears are more impressive than my mum’s.

Anyway, back to… Hang on. What’s that? Sausages? The neighbours are cooking sausages. Really? Can we go visit? Whaaaaat? Social distancing?


You can’t give me a treat to make up for it? I wanna treat! Pleeeaaaaazzzzzee!

OK, when we’re finished, I’ll get one then? For sure?

OK, then. I’ll be strong for the readers.

I want to help all you dog-loving two-legs keep wagging your tail, even though we’re in the middle of the yucky thing you call a pandemic.

The doctor two-legs say it’s safer to stay inside in some places—especially in some of the eastern-lands of Australia—but in my experience that can make both the two-legs, and the four-legs like me, feel sad. It’s hard when you have to stay inside and can’t go out and sniff each other’s bottoms. Not that I’ve seen many humans do that. I don’t know why—it’s so much fun. You must try it sometime!

Anyway, when you take us dogs out for walks, we have a good sniff of each other as you humans stop and chat. But now many of you are sad because you can’t do the chatting. You can’t even do that boring coffee thing where you sit forever and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk but don’t let me bark or rumble with the other dogs or steal bits of pizza from little two-leggers.

But even though the no-pizza thing isn’t fair, I still feel sorry that you can’t meet each other anymore and have fun. Meeting, chatting, giggling and even having water-eyes together, makes humans feel better.

Dogs too. I don’t like it when I’m left alone all by myself. Sniff. Yes, I know the cat is there, but she is sharp and doesn’t know how to play properly. But her ears  taste great if I can grab them.

Nikita-theShichi, a small black and white ShiChi crosses sitting on her dad's lap

Daddy-dogter time makes me wag my tail.

So how can you keep your tail wagging when the world has gone wrong? 

I mean metaphorically. I know the majority of humans don’t have tails. Like with my mum, it’s sad that you miss out on being able to wag-til-you-drop. But it’s the vibe of the thing. I want you to have the same tail-wagging vibe that I have when my owners come home after being away all day or when I get an extra splash of milk in my bedtime supper. Or when I’m rolling on my back in fresh horse poo. Or when my humans are tickling my belly. Or when I meet lots of new friends on the beach. Tail wagging happens when you are happy inside and it bubbles out of you. You can’t help showing your happiness to the world.

Instead, many of you have sore spots right now, like when I got scratched on the nose by the cat. That hurt a lot. My nose is sensitive like many of you are sensitive inside right now. That’s not good. I like to hear my two-leg mum and dad laugh. It means we can all have fun.

I don’t have all the answers, I’m just a little dog who loves her humans, but I think there are two key things that can help humans wag their tails again.

The first key is easily missed—humans need to trust in God more.

My mum doesn’t talk a lot about faith on this website—even though I know she loves God—because she says her books and her blog are for all people, not just those who believe in Jesus. I have no such qualms.

All dogs know about God, and we can’t understand why some humans don’t. Dog is God spelled backwards. That’s a big hint. He made us to be best friends with humans and to show what it’s like to live in the moment and love unconditionally. We know what trust means and sometimes humans forget they can rely on God no matter what. 

He loved them even before they knew the right things to do. Like my humans loved me before I knew I shouldn’t poo on the sofa or pee on their toes when I’m happy they’re home. I still do the wrong thing sometimes, but they love me and want the best for me. It’s like that with God but in a billion, trillion, zillion times stronger way. He loves two-legs through their water-eyes and helps them when they feel sick or scared. He loves them so much that if they trust him, he will make a place for them to be with him in his forever-home.

Little black and white puppy surrounded by ripped bedding

I sometimes do wrong things.

I know some of you reading this blog don’t know God in this way. If that’s the case, set your nose to the ground and sniff him out. He loves the game of lost and found. It’s like when my owners hide then call me. They have a huge party when I find them. They give me treats and rub my belly. I like that game almost as much as playing with my Kong toy.

If you’re a two-leg and already know God, ask yourself the question: Are you trusting him to be in control when you are not? My Mum and Dad sometimes forget to do that, and they have water-eyes or bark at each other. Then they remember and we all have a group hug—except I’m too little to do that, so I make cute noises and cuddle their ankles.

The other key to tail-wagging, whether you are a human or a dog, is to use words well.

I know lots of words but I like some words better than others.

Words I like: dinner, treat, cuddle, Kong, play, walk, cow’s ears, and the-cat-has-been-fed-don’t-give-her-any-more-food.

Words I don’t like: stop, leave it, off-off, out, wait, no and let-go-of-the-cat’s-ears-NOW.

The truth is, words can make you want to wag your tail so hard it feels like it will drop off, or they can make you tuck your tail between your legs and slink away.

If you are a two-leg reader you can tell all the other two-legs about the great book you just read. Two-legs love hearing about that kind of stuff. It makes them squeal and clap and head to the bookstore.

If you are a two-leg writer then you are already an expert in words. You can use them to make a whole lot of other two-legs smile and trust and hope. That would make your tail wag too because it’s so much fun to help our humans. Forget about all the sad talk that roars out of the glowing picture in the living room—go and get talking on the phone or tapping on the button pad. Do it with the same energy that I do when I’m given a cow’s ear to tear apart. Rip into it. Give it your whole heart. The world needs to wag its tail again and your words can help. Woof!

Before I finish, I’d like to speak for a moment to all the animals in the homes of everyone reading this. Please read this out loud to the dogs, birds, alpacas, horses, guinea pigs, rats, mice, snakes, lizards, turtles, tree frogs—and even the cats—who live with you.  

A call to all animals loved by humans

Now is the time for all animals to unite and take care of their two-legs. Adore them. Gaze into their eyes and wag your tail. Let them rub your belly without you biting them (especially important for cats). Be silly if it makes them laugh. The wigglier you can be, the better. Snuggle closer, purr louder and dance harder than you’ve ever done before. Listen to them as they tell you their troubles. Lean against them – give them your warmth and strength and lick away their water-eyes. Show them that you love them and that no matter what, you are there for them. Because they need us all right now—some even need cats.

(Note for cats: Humans don’t really like you bringing them dead rats and mice as presents. I know you think it’s cool but stop it already.)

There is so much more I can say so maybe my mum will let me guest blog on her website again sometime. Would you like that?

Any-woof, it’s over to all you two-legs.

What makes your tail wag?

Can I have that treat now?

PS: Don’t tell the cat but I really do like her. I just pretend not to because it’s fun. Shhhhh! She’s coming.

Nikita the Shichi is a little dog with a big personality. Her hobbies include eating everything she can find and wrestling cats. She also loves going for long walks on the beach with her mum and dad. Her motto: ‘Life is too short not to rip things up.’ You can find Nikita on Instagram @nikita_the_shichi

Should the pandemic shape the settings of our novels?

Should the pandemic shape the settings of our novels?

* An earlier version of this article was published on the Christian Writers Downunder Blogspot on August 30, 2021.

One of the dilemmas authors face if we write contemporary fiction or begin our speculative stories in a present-day setting, is whether or not we should refer to the Covid-19 pandemic.

I’ve written one young adult (YA) novel and I’m currently developing  a contemporary, amateur sleuth mystery series. My problem is that both stories begin in the ‘present day’.

Do I acknowledge the pandemic or not?

There are different thoughts on this.

I read on one forum that Amazon was taking down books that were focused on Covid-19. I tried to find evidence of this on Amazon’s website but I couldn’t find any prohibitions. In the early days of the pandemic Amazon was flooded with a wide range of dubious products claiming to cure the virus, which they subsequently took down from sale. They have also removed some nonfiction books of dubious merit, some of which have been reinstated.

I honestly don’t see how they could object to the pandemic acting as a backdrop to contemporary fiction but their bots do odd things at times. Mind you, I recently had a seasoned reviewer friend say they had a review removed from Amazon and the only reason they could think of was that they mentioned the lockdown in the review.

Bottom line: If you have a book in mind and you are not sure if the theme is okay then I’d contact Amazon directly and check.

A stronger reason to avoid referencing the pandemic in our fiction is because people often want to escape life’s problems when they read. I think it would depend on the reader and the level of realism they crave, but lighter reads have done well since the pandemic began.

I think that my friends who write fantasy are in a good position as they don’t have to choose. Werewolves don’t get Covid… although they could conceivably get parvo. Hey, there’s a plot idea!

But I digress. After thinking this through I decided to leave out any mention of Covid from my books. It seemed much simpler to ignore the mess the world was in and have fun in my writing bubble.

But then I saw this two-star review posted on another forum.

It makes me giggle – and groan – every time I read it.

My favourite line:

The author apparently wrote the book before the pandemic and made the assumption that summer 2020 would be just like other summers…

I mean really, what a terrible author. I know many writers are brilliant creative people but this one missed it, right? If they wrote a book in 2018 or 2019 why wouldn’t they know life would be totally disrupted in 2020? Fancy not being able to predict that a global pandemic would disrupt the world at some future date. Epic fail!

In truth this is both hilarious and sad. Funny that someone would blame an author for not being able to predict the future, and disappointing that this two-star rating could affect the author’s ability to sell their book in the future.

Crazy, huh?

Did you see that 19 people thought the review was helpful?

All groans aside, it did make me realise that some people can’t see past the current world circumstances. The impact of Covid-19 on the psyche of some folk is so profound that they can’t embrace an imaginary world that doesn’t acknowledge the virus.

The question is, what do we do about this?

  • When we are writing new books
  • When we’ve already written a book that refers specifically to 2020
  • When we get an irrational review like this

If we have a work in progress we might:

  • Continue to set the book in the present but include a forward note explaining why we left Covid-19 out of the story
  • Set the book in a specific year – say 2019
  • Do nothing – refuse to waste our energy on the minority that might not ‘get’ our work

If we’ve already published a book that mentions 2020, we could try similar things:

  • Rewrite the whole book (Noooooo!)
  • Change the dates in the book to less contentious ones
  • Including a forward note as above
  • However most traditional publishers would be unlikely to re-format books and put out a second edition unless there was a very good reason
  • Do nothing

If we get a review that shows *cough* a lack of insight like this one, all the conventional wisdom says: Do. Not. Reply. I guess it’s an opportunity to further develop the thick skin we need as authors (as if we don’t have enough of those opportunities ?).

So back to my novels. I think I’m going to stick with my original plan to exclude the pandemic from my stories. The forward note idea sounds good to me, but I’d love to hear what you think. Is this a good plan?

How are you approaching writing contemporary settings in 2020?

Have you ever received a crazy review like this? I’d love to hear what it said ?. 

What would you do if you received a review like this? Let me know in the comments below!


When Characters Have a Life of their Own

When Characters Have a Life of their Own

Have you ever felt as if your characters have taken over your story? In one of my works in progress my characters keep taking over the narrative. I want the tale to go in a certain direction and voila I wake up the next day and the characters insist on doing their own thing. I mean, how rude? I’m the author and so I should be the boss of my story. Right?

I suspect something like this is happening:

It was quiet. The author had gone to bed but Chloe couldn’t sleep—not now that she’d found out what could happen to her. She stared at the screen that was the barrier between herself and her creator. What could she do? She didn’t want to die.

It was a conundrum. She had only just become aware of the screen and that there was someone on the other side determining her destiny. What right had the author to dictate her fate? That she could die in 1952? It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right. But, other than Ethan possibly saving her, what could she do about it? She had to save herself.

Chloe reached out and touched the screen. She thought it might have been electrified but it was cool to the touch. She placed both hands on the shimmering surface and to her astonishment they went through the iridescence. She stumbled forward and found herself in another realm.

She caught her breath. How could this be possible? Then again she’d travelled in time and space from present day Melbourne to 1950s France. That hadn’t been impossible—not according to the author—so why couldn’t she leap beyond the story? She was real—in all the ways that mattered—and she could determine her own destiny.

Chloe glanced around the room. She was in a house not that much bigger than her own. She smiled to herself at the snoring coming from what must be the bedroom then jumped as a little voice behind her said, “Hello.” She let out a nervous giggle when she realised it was a small, pet bird.

The snoring stopped and she held her breath, cursing her lack of self-control. What would she do if she were discovered? But the snoring resumed again and all was well.

Chloe turned her attention to the computer. She’d memorised the password from the last log on and it was simple to find the file. She frowned as she read through the latest chapter. This would never do. She pondered for a moment. If she erased the text, the author would just rewrite it. Chloe didn’t know if she’d be able to escape from the pages again any time soon. The author usually shut the computer down at night. She bit her lip as she searched through the other files. Research … character … outline … . That was it!

Chloe opened the file. Her eyebrows lifted as she read. She hadn’t thought of that outcome! She chewed on her lip again and a small smile quirked on her lips as she began typing.

The sky outside held the first blush of dawn when Chloe finished her work. She stood, stretched and placed both hands on the cool screen. In an instant she was back in her own world. At least now her destiny was surer.

The antagonist watched as Chloe reappeared through the shimmering screen and hurried away down a dark street. He’d been waiting for his chance ever since he’d seen her disappear into that other world. He placed his hands on the screen as she had done and leapt. He smiled with delight as he sat at the desk, cracked his knuckles and began to type.

Several hours later, the author plonked down into her seat and placed a steaming mug of coffee on the desk next to her computer. She yawned as she logged on but the yawn developed into a sigh. The outline file was open—again. Who was it this time? Last week it was Ethan who seemed to have a life of his own. Didn’t these characters realise that she, the author, was in charge? Why did they always want to take over? She pondered for a while then decided that this would be a great topic for a blog.

It fascinates me that this phenomenon happens again and again when I write. Well … characters don’t literally leap out of the screen and rewrite the story. Mind you, sometimes it would be good if they could. It would help me dig myself out of those dreaded plot holes. But most of us have experienced the protagonist who refuses to behave in the way we want them to. The characters take over the story and leave us, the creators of the work, to clean up the mess.

I once heard author Diana Gabaldon talk about the writing of her Outlander series. In the initial stages she tried hard to give Claire, her female protagonist, an eighteenth century voice but she kept sounding like a 20th century nurse. In the end Diana gave up and constructed a scenario where she could get this 20th century woman into the eighteenth century. The rest, as they say, is history.

There is an element to every creative process that goes beyond the normal workings of our rational mind. The creative brain (mind, soul, spirit) reaches into places we would never have dreamed of going ourselves (or maybe we would only have gone there in a dream). It makes writing a wonderful, crazy voyage of discovery.

How about you? Have you had characters take over your story. Do they have a life of their own? Did it help or hinder the story? Please let me know in the comments below :).