Cozy Mystery Publishing, Writing

Draft #743 | Cozy Mystery Publishing Process

Cozy Draft 743
Image via The Graphics Fairy

This post is part of my series on “Publishing a Cozy Mystery.” This series isn’t meant to tell you how you have to go about it and dictate what’s right or wrong. Instead, I’m sharing my personal journey from writing my initial draft to seeing my first book, Murder at the Marina, be released. I’ll talk about the good, bad, and the ugly. And trust me, there was plenty of ugly along the way.

Last time I talked to you about book cover design. Today, I’m going to share how I managed to get from Draft #743 to a version that I could send out to beta readers. {More on beta readers in a future post.}

I can just imagine what you’re thinking. “Draft #743! How long exactly did it take you to write this book?”

Okay, let me let you in on a little secret—I’ve been known to have a tendency to exaggerate. I really didn’t write 743 drafts, although it sure felt like that at times. I wrote five. Let me break it down for you.

Starting a Blog

Once upon a time (2013 to be exact), I started a blog—The Cynical Sailor—which was focused on our transition from landlubbers to buying our first boat, cruising on it in New Zealand, selling it and coming back to the States in search of our next boat, and our ongoing liveaboard and cruising life. I shared my fears about sailing and tiny house living on a boat, our misadventures, and stories about our nomadic life.

People told me that they enjoyed my blog posts and strange sense of humor. Some even said that I should write a book. Sure, people say nice things all the time that they don’t really mean, but I got enough positive feedback and was enjoying writing so much, that I started to think maybe I should write a book.

Then my mother said, “You should write a cozy mystery, Ellen! It can be about a woman who knows nothing about boats or sailing, ends up buying a sailboat, and solves murders along the way.” You should always listen to your mother, right? Both of us enjoy reading cozy mysteries, so I decided to go for it. After all, wouldn’t it be fun to write a book your mom wants to read?

“Going for it” means something different in my world. I am a champion procrastinator, so “going for it” involves thinking about an idea, thinking about it some more, and doing nothing about it.

NaNoWriMo Attempt #1—Failure

My mother kept asking how my novel was going. I was running out of excuses, so I decided to actually go for it by signing up for NaNoWriMo in 2015. This is an annual event where people set a goal to write a 50,000-word novel during November. It’s a slightly deranged idea. Writing 1,667 words a day? Crazy! But crazy is good, or so I told myself.

I turned on my computer on November 1st with a vague idea about writing an epistolary cozy mystery. Epistolary novels take the form of written letters, diary entries, emails etc. I had just finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and was a bit obsessed with the whole epistolary approach.

Turns out it was a complete and utter failure. I had nothing to show for that month that was of any use. I made the picture you see below to “commemorate” my lack of success.

The Stench of Failure

I then spent the next year starting half-hearted drafts, deleting them, starting yet more drafts, doing some more deleting, and eating a whole lot of chocolate chip cookies to compensate for my lack of progress.

NaNoWriMo Attempt #2—Success & Draft #1

In 2016, I signed up for NaNoWriMo again. This time I was a winner! I had made a good start on Draft #1 of Murder at the Marina during the month. (Don’t worry, I had ditched the whole epistolary thing by this point.)

Then I slacked off. I would periodically open up the manuscript and attempt to finish Draft #1, but my progress was slow. I finally managed to cross the finish line in March 2017. It was a bunch of nonsense and needed some serious editing, but I felt like I had cleared a major hurdle. I had a manuscript that deserved a number and, thus, Draft #1 was born.

After that, life intervened in the form of boat projects and cruising in Florida and the Bahamas between April-August 2017. As fun as it is to write in the cockpit in a pretty anchorage, I wasn’t able to focus as much as I would have liked, spending more time on blog posts than on my novel. I made some attempts to work on Draft #2 while we were out on the water, but it wasn’t until we tucked the boat away for hurricane season, that I got serious.

Edits Boat (800x449)

Getting Serious & Completing Drafts #2 and #3

While we were at the marina during hurricane season, I buckled down, did some editing, and finished Draft #2 during September. My husband read through this version, offered lots of great suggestions, and then it was back to editing some more.

Knowing that I’m very pressure-prompted and work better with a deadline looming over my head, on November 1, 2017, I announced on the monthly Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop that I would have a draft ready for beta readers by the end of November. {Gulp}

I had so many offers from people to beta read, that I had to finish up Draft #3. No excuses. And I did, typing The End on November 20, 2017. It was a good feeling. It was also a scary feeling because that meant I was ready to send it out for feedback. {Eek!}

So, to sum up, it took me from November 1, 2015 to November 20, 2017 to get from a blank sheet of paper to a beta reader draft.

But, Wait, There’s More

Of course, you don’t stop editing after your beta reader draft. I ended up doing two more drafts:

  • Draft #4—Quite a few revisions based on beta reader feedback (which I got back in January 2018). I sent this version to my editor on February 12, 2018.
  • Draft #5—Minor changes based on my editor’s feedback, which I received on February 25, 2018. I sent this version back to my editor on March 15, 2018 for a final pass.

Which takes us to the final manuscript, the one that will be published on June 21, 2018. {Yippee!}

Paperback version available closer to the release date (June 21, 2018). Add to your to-read list on Goodreads. Subscribe to my newsletter here.

Other Posts in my “Cozy Mystery Publishing Process” Series

Cover Design | Draft #743 | Beta Readers | Traditional vs. Self-Publishing | Editing | Going Wide or Amazon Exclusive | Ebooks, Print, or Both | Book Formatting| Distribution Channels

If you’re a writer, how many drafts do you do before publication? How long does each draft take you?

Murder at the Marina - Pre-Order Banner (All ERetailers)

A dilapidated sailboat for your anniversary—not very romantic. A dead body on board—even worse.

Releasing on June 21stebook available for pre-order at Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks | Google Play

Paperback available at Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Books-A-Million

Add to your to-read list on Goodreads. Subscribe to my newsletter here.




Cozy Mystery Publishing, Writing

Cover Design | Cozy Mystery Publishing Process

This post is part of my series on “Publishing a Cozy Mystery.” This series isn’t meant to tell you how you have to go about it and dictate what’s right or wrong. Instead, I’m sharing my personal journey from writing Draft #743 to seeing my first book be released, including the good, bad, and the ugly. And trust me, there was plenty of ugly along the way.

Today, we’re talking about cover design. Here’s what the cover of my cozy mystery, Murder at the Marina, looks like. Seems like a fun read, doesn’t it?

Murder at the Marina Banner

So, how did I get from a blank sheet of paper to the design you see? The first thing I did was look at lots and lots of cozy mystery covers so that I could develop a design brief.

Step 1 – The Design Brief

Checking out best-selling books is a great way to get a sense of the look and feel that screams out “cozy mystery,” design trends, and what you personally like. Although, keep in mind that what you like may not be what sells. And you do want to sell books, don’t you? Trust me, although your mom says she loves your cover, she’s only going to buy so many of your books.

So, I had a look at cozy mysteries in my own personal library, books I checked out from the library, and covers on Amazon.

There are so many lovely covers out there. I was a little overwhelmed looking at them, so I grouped them into three categories to make sense of my options. {These are all great authors, by the way.}

First, there are those beautifully illustrated covers with lots of detail. Aren’t they sweet?

Mystery Covers - Illustrated (800x389)

Then there are covers that have more of a “cartoonish” feel. I think they’re adorable.

Mystery Covers - Cartoonish

And then there are the covers that have less detail, often with a single object featured such as the pastries you see on Joanne Fluke’s mysteries. The simplicity really grabs my attention.

Mystery Covers - Simple

What all of these covers have in common is that they promise a fun, “gentle” read. People that enjoy cozy mysteries have certain expectations—no graphic violence, explicit sex, or profanity—and the covers usually reflect this.

Based on my review of cozy mystery covers, I put together a brief of what I wanted my design to incorporate.

  • An illustration (you don’t often see photographs on cozy mystery covers)
  • Bright, cheerful colors
  • Sailing theme (my series is about a reluctant sailor turned amateur sleuth)
  • A cat (a Japanese bobtail is featured in the series)
  • Simple design (although I love the richly illustrated designs, my eye is drawn toward covers with less detail)
  • Elements that I could use throughout my series to tie the books together

Step 2 – Hiring a Designer (or not)

There are two things everyone says you need professional support for—editing and a cover design. There are no ifs, ands, or buts here. Hiring an external team to help out in these areas is essential.

So what did I do? Yep, you guessed it. I designed my own cover. {Not to worry, I hired an editor. More on that in a future post.}

I can hear people out there screaming in horror. “What, you made your own! Don’t you know that people judge a book by its cover? Are you nuts?”

Yeah, I probably am nuts, but let me explain why I made that decision.

I checked out tons and tons of designers—there are so many great ones out there that you’re spoiled for choice. But the ones I liked didn’t exactly fit into my limited budget.

Next, I looked at pre-made covers. These are covers that designers have in stock. Your name and book title are added, perhaps with a few other minor modifications, and  it’s ready to use in no time. This is a great, quick, low-cost option and if I was writing a cozy mystery that had a paranormal theme, a young sleuth, cooking etc., I probably would have ended up going down this route. But what I didn’t see was anything that had a sailing theme that fit my vision. {Sigh}

I have to admit, I was a little down. But, after a few chocolate chip cookies and a bit of research, I decided to try designing a cover myself.

Step 3 – eBook Cover Design with Canva & Shutterstock

Have you heard of Canva? If not, go check it out. It’s a free app which is seriously cool and so easy to use. You can design all sorts of stuff on it from party invites, posters, social media posts and banners, and . . . book covers!

At first, I played around with the graphics they offered on Canva (many are free, some you have to pay for), but didn’t find anything that made my heart sing with joy. Then, I had a poke around Shutterstock which has heaps of images you can license.

After many hours searching through what was available, I found a cute “By the Sea” scrapbooking kit that had lots of nautical patterns and images. Naively, I thought it would work like clip art—easily manipulated images that I could paste into my design.

Nope. It was a vector file which I had no idea how to use or even open. I found a free program, Inkscape, which allowed me to work with the file, but, as I’m no graphic design expert, it was tedious and far from simple. However, I did manage to create the sailboat logo you see on the top of this website. Then I cut my losses and went for another search on Shutterstock for something else that might be easier to work with.

I finally stumbled across a cute picture of a sailboat on the water (the one you see on my cover) and the best news was that there was a similar image I could use for the next book in my series. {Bodies in the Boatyard coming your way later this year.} It was a JPG file, which meant I knew how to work with it. Sadly, the image didn’t have a cat on it. Sorry, Mrs. Moto.

I slapped the sailboat image into the eBook template on Canva (“slap” is a technical term for uploading), added some text and other elements and—presto!—I had a cover. Okay, it wasn’t as simple as that, but it was rather doable.

Step 4 – Print Book Design

Things were going so well. I had managed to design a book cover for the whopping cost of $19.60 (the cost of two images from Shutterstock). I was ready to pop the champagne when I remembered that I’d need another cover for print books. You know, a cover that has a front, back, and a spine.

No problem, that would be simple, right?

Wrong. There weren’t enough chocolate chip cookies on board our boat (I live on a sailboat, by the way) to help me figure out bleed. After much hair pulling, I finally figured it out. Turns out it’s pretty important. If you don’t get things aligned quite right, when they go to trim your book cover, important elements can get chopped off.

I ended up downloading a book cover template from Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (they do eBooks and print-on-demand books), slapped it into Canva, messed around with my images and eventually got something that would work. This is what the rough draft looks like. I’m still playing around with the final layout, including the blurb, and I need to finalize my page count (this affects the size of your spine).



Murder at the Marina - Canva Screen Shot

There you go—four simple (or not so simple) steps to designing your own cozy mystery book cover.

And, don’t forget, Murder at the Marina will be available June 21, 2018. You can find out more here.

Interested in learning more?

Reedsy has some helpful articles including What are the Standard Book Sizes in Publishing and 7 Resources to Design Your Own Cover.

Elizabeth Spann Craig has a number of articles on working with a cover designer including Preparing for a Cover Design Meeting and Working with a Cover Designer: Time-Saving Techniques.

Janice Hardy talks about the process of making her UK book cover (Brits and Americans have different tastes when it comes to covers).

And check out these articles on Jane Friedman’s site—9 Tips to Building the Book Cover Design You Always Wanted and The Importance of Your Book Cover.


Other posts in my “Publishing a Cozy Mystery” series:

Cover Design—Determining what kind of cover fits your genre, preparing a design brief, and DIY cover design.

Draft #743—How I went from a blank sheet of paper to finalizing a draft to send to my beta readers, as well as how long the whole process took. {Spoiler alert: It took quite a while.}

Beta Readers—What beta readers are, how I found mine, what kind of feedback I asked them for, and processing their feedback and making changes to my manuscript.

Going Indie—Difference between traditional and self-publishing, pros/cons of each approach, and why I chose to go indie.

Editing—Different types of editing and my experience working with a professional editor.

Going Wide or Amazon Exclusive—Pros and cons of each approach and why I chose to go wide.

What kind of book covers draw your attention? Have you ever designed you own cover?

Murder at the Marina - Pre-Order Banner (All ERetailers)

A dilapidated sailboat for your anniversary—not very romantic. A dead body on board—even worse.

Releasing on June 21stebook available for pre-order at Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks | Google Play

Paperback available at Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Books-A-Million

Add to your to-read list on Goodreads. Subscribe to my newsletter here.