Cozy Mystery Publishing, Writing

Going Indie | Cozy Mystery Publishing Process

Cozy Mystery Indie Graphic
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.

Previously, I’ve talked to you about cover design, how long it took to get from Draft #1 to a final manuscript, and beta reading.

Today, it’s all about deciding whether to go down the traditional publishing route or try your hand at self-publishing (aka indie publishing). Let’s talk about what the differences between the two approaches are, the pros/cons of each, and why I chose to go indie.

What’s the Difference?


This is the process most people think of when they pick up a book in a store or purchase an ebook online. Once you have a completed, polished manuscript, you query agents, hoping to get representation. This is often a long, painful, and arduous process, littered with many rejections and can take ages before someone says, “Hey, let’s work together.”

Assuming you land an agent, you’ll probably end up doing more edits to your manuscript. Then your agent shops your manuscript around and hopefully you sign a contract. This step can also take ages. Then you do more edits and finally (maybe 2-3 years after you sent our your first query), you see your book in print.


This term makes many people think of vanity presses, and they’re definitely still out there. But nowadays, this is a legitimate and viable approach. Basically you’re responsible for developing your product (your book) and project managing its production (e.g., you have to hire and manage your support team such as book cover designer, editor, formatter), as well as doing some tasks a publisher would do yourself.


Although we’re talking about traditional vs. self-publishing, it’s not actually as simple as that. It’s more of a continuum, with many publishing paths available in between. For example, some authors choose to pay an up-front fee to a company who will take care of the nitty-gritty of publishing their book, others may manage the process themselves, but use a service to distribute their book to online and bricks and mortar sales channels. There are also smaller publishers who accept submissions directly from authors, rather than via an agent.

Pros & Cons of Each Approach


The Pros

For me, one of the biggest pros of going down the traditional publishing route is validation. Like many writers, I have my moments of insecurity (usually cured by a generous helping of chocolate) worrying that my cozy mystery is absolute rubbish. Everyone is going to hate it, I’m going to get horrible reviews, no one will buy it etc. These are the types of things that go through my head.

But if you land an agent and a publishing deal, then other people are saying, “Hey, this is awesome! Let’s give you some money for it!” That kind of validation has got to be a great feeling. And readers are probably more likely to take a chance on your books.

Another huge pro is not having to manage the publishing process. Your publisher will provide a team of experts who will take care of formatting, cover design, editing, pricing, distribution etc. A publisher can also help get your books into brick and mortar stores, something which isn’t quite as easy as an indie.

The final pro comes down to money. The publisher typically pays you an advance and covers all of the publishing expenses. It’s not cheap to publish a book, so this is a definite plus for folks who don’t want to or can’t invest their own money.

The Cons

Many of the cons of traditional publishing center on things you give up. You lose creative control of your work. You may have to make changes to the manuscript that don’t fit with your vision and you may not have input on cover design, book title, marketing approach, pricing, distribution etc.). You also give away some of your rights. You’re basically “selling” your product to a publisher. They own it and can do with it what they want. Want to make an audiobook version? Want to publish it in another language? Want to distribute to overseas markets? Those may be things you don’t have the rights to do.

There’s also the loss of potential income. Royalty rates are significantly higher if you self-publish. But, on the flip side, you may not sell as many books if you go indie, so it may just be theoretical earnings.

And one of the things that some people don’t realize is that although a publisher will take care of many things for you, marketing support is often very limited for new authors these days. That means, if you want to sell books, you’re going to have to get out there yourself and promote your books and your brand all on your lonesome.


The Pros

The pros of self-publishing are pretty much the inverse of the cons of traditional publishing. There’s a faster time to market, you retain creative control, the royalty rates are higher, and you retain your rights.

The Cons

If you’re going to self-publish, you have to wear two hats—you’re a writer and a business person. With traditional publishing, someone else manages the business side of things (for the most part), but with self-publishing you have to make all of the decisions, you have to invest your own money, and you have to project manage the entire publication process, assembling a team of experts and overseeing their work. Depending upon your own comfort level, you may even do certain tasks yourself, rather than outsource them.

No one is telling you that your manuscript is good. There’s no agent or publisher providing support and encouragement. It’s up to you so to say, “This is good enough to put out there for the world to see,” and then make that happen. It’s not for the faint-hearted.

My Choice: Going Indie

There are three major reasons why I decided to go indie:

1 – It would take way too long to get a book published traditionally.

I’m not a very patient person. I always assume a diet will work instantaneously and am surprised when I don’t drop five pounds in a week, hate waiting for the next book in a beloved series to be published, and struggle waiting for the timer to go off before I take a batch of cookies out of the oven.

Waiting a few years to (hopefully) land an agent and see my book finally published really wasn’t on the cards for me.

2 – It’s not easy to land a cozy mystery publishing deal if you’re a newbie.

When I first started looking into which publishing route was right for me, many established authors were losing their contracts with well-known publishers in the cozy mystery genre (like Kensington). If established authors were struggling, what chance did I have of landing an agent, let alone get a publishing deal?

Since then, many of these authors have found new homes (such as Crooked Lane Books). {For some interesting insights into what’s going on in the cozy market, check out this Trend Report.}

3 – I don’t mind DIY and project management.

I’m one of those weird people who likes spreadsheets, project plans, and to-do lists. I also love learning about new things and trying my hand at some of the creative aspects of publishing (like cover design and marketing materials). That’s not to say that there hasn’t been a huge learning curve, things haven’t always gone to plan, and stuff has taken far longer than I thought. But, for the most part, I’ve been enjoying it and things should be simpler the second time around.

Want to know more?

There are tons of resources on traditional vs. self-publishing out there, but here are a few links to get you started:

Reedsy’s article, Self-publishing vs Traditional Publishing: Which One is Right for You?, looks at the pros and cons of each approach and has a quiz to help you decide.

Janice Hardy has tons of blog posts on a wide range of self-publishing topics.

Jane Friedman has an excellent infographic which lays out five book publishing paths—traditional, partnership, fully assisted, DIY + distributor, and DIY direct.

Ros Barber has a thought provoking article in The Guardian about why she would never consider self-publishing.

Patty Jansen, an Australian scifi/fantasy indie author, blogs about self-publishing, including posts about her income.

Elizabeth Spann Craig is a cozy mystery author who has been on both sides of the fence. She has some great insights into the pros and cons of traditional vs. self-publishing.

If you like vlogs, Jenna Moreci talks about the costs of self-publishing (warning—she uses strong language at times) and Kim Chance discusses the costs of traditional publishing.

Many members of the 20Booksto50K Facebook group share their self-publishing success stories and offer tips and tricks. (Note: you have to be a member in order to see the discussion.)

The Alliance of Independent Authors has a self-publishing advice center.

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 sent 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.

What do you think of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing?

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.

Ebook available for pre-order at Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks | Google Play

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

Cozy Mystery Publishing, Writing

Beta Readers | Cozy Mystery Publishing Process

Editing (800x449)

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.

Previously, I’ve talked to you about getting from a blank sheet of paper to a draft that I could share with beta readers. Today, I’m going to tell you more about my beta reader process from finding willing “test subjects” to read my manuscript, getting feedback from them, what kind of feedback I asked for, and what I did with the feedback I got back.

What are Beta Readers?

Writing can be a strange thing. Part of me wants to share the stories I’ve written, the other part of me would rather die than have anyone read my scribblings and {gasp} tell me what they think.

Eventually, I summoned up the courage to type <<The End>> on my manuscript and went in search of beta readers. While my husband had acted as my alpha reader and looked at endless early drafts, I got to the point where I needed feedback from a wider range of potential readers.

It was time for beta readers—people who would look at a polished draft and give me honest feedback about what they loved and what wasn’t working, identify plot holes, tell me if they connected with the characters or not, make suggestions about “little darlings” that might need to go, and point out things I couldn’t see because I was too close to the manuscript.

Finding Beta Readers

Once I realized that I would have a polished manuscript soon, I put out a call on my other blog—The Cynical Sailor—asking if anyone would be interested in beta reading for me. I was overwhelmed (in the best possible way) by the support and encouragement I received and offers to help.

Ten people originally signed up as beta readers. One didn’t respond to follow-up emails, two people ended up not being able to help due to other commitments, which left me with seven beta readers. Then, one lady’s husband asked if he could beta read as well, which I was really pleased about as I thought it would be good to get a bloke’s perspective (my other betas were women). That brought me up to eight “test subjects.”

What I was particularly excited about was the diversity of my betas. Some were sailors (which was really important as I was writing a cozy mystery with a boating theme), some were writers (which was great as they were able to give feedback from that perspective and many of them were experienced betas), and one was a cozy mystery writer herself.

Asking for Feedback

Once I wrangled myself some beta readers, I sent them a document outlining what kind of feedback I was seeking in the following areas:

  • Plot, pacing, and conflict
  • Characters and dialogue
  • Setting and worldbuilding

I also asked for general feedback in terms of what worked well, what didn’t work as well, and whether the story would have benefited from the inclusion of iguanas. Obviously, the iguana thing was a bit of a joke, but it gave them a feel for the light-hearted, humorous nature of Murder at the Marina.

I know some writers send out a few chapters at a time, get feedback on those chapters, then send out a new batch of chapters. Other writers send out the entire manuscript in one go, which is the approach I took.

After taking a deep breath, I hit the send button and emailed my manuscript to my betas toward the end of November (in Word, PDF, or ebook, depending on their preference), asking everyone to get their feedback to me at the beginning of January. And they all did, which was fantastic given how busy people were over the holiday season.

I gave everyone the option to provide feedback whatever way worked best for them. Some people used track comments in a Word document, others summarized their feedback in a separate document. The feedback I received was terrific. It was detailed and specific, as well as full of helpful suggestions.

Processing the Feedback

I don’t know about you, but the first thing I do when someone gives me feedback on my writing is curl up in the fetus position and down a bag of M&M’S (plain, not peanut). Sure, I say that I have tough skin, but let’s be honest, it’s never easy to hear that your “baby” can use some improvements.

Even though you already know intellectually going into the process that it’s all about getting feedback to make your story better, part of you deep down hopes everyone will say, “It’s great! No changes needed! Publish immediately!”

Not that you’d believe them though. Cause that’s the thing with feedback—if anyone says anything positive about your writing, you assume they’re lying because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. But when it comes to constructive criticism, you believe every single word.

Eventually, you run out of M&M’S and you have to process the feedback in a rational and constructive fashion. I compiled all of their notes into one document, categorized by theme, and identified whether it was something only one person flagged up or something that the majority thought needed to be addressed.

Then it was time to figure out what to do with all the feedback. I used these general rules:

  • If everyone thought something was an issue, I changed it. This was the easiest kind of feedback to deal with.
  • If one person thought something was an issue, but other people really liked it or were neutral and it was something I really liked as well, I generally didn’t make that change.
  • If someone had a great idea for the story, I made that change. Why pass up a great idea?
  • If a few people felt really strongly about something, even if it wasn’t the majority view, then I changed it. I figured other readers might hate it as well, so why not make the change.
  • If there was mixed feedback, I ate some more M&M’S while thinking about what to do. I effectively became the “tie-breaker,” either changing it or not. This was tricky. Who was right? Who was wrong? Is there really a right or wrong? You can see why I overdosed on chocolate.

Eventually, I worked my way through the feedback, made all of the changes, and sent the new and improved manuscript off to my editor.

Thanking Your Betas

I don’t know if I can ever thank my betas enough. I’m still in awe of the fact that people wanted to help and were willing to take time out of their own busy lives to read my manuscript and provide detailed feedback. Sure, I thank them in the acknowledgments section of my book, but it doesn’t come close to expressing how truly grateful I am for their encouragement and support. I wouldn’t be at the point of releasing Murder at the Marina next month if it wasn’t for them. Hip hip hooray for betas!

Want to know more?

Jane Friedman has some great tips on How to Find & Work with Beta Readers. I really like her idea of identifying your ideal reader as a starting point. Reedsy has a post about What to Expect from Beta Readers & Where to Find Them in which they discuss hiring beta readers through services such as Fiverr.

Writer’s Edit’s Ultimate Guide on How to Work with Beta Readers includes bonus tips on how to be a beta reader for other writers.

Jami Gold has excellent resources on beta reading, including a Beta Reading Worksheet. I drew on this heavily when pulling together my own beta reader guidelines. (You can see a copy of the beta readers guidelines that I sent out for Murder at the Marina here.)

Once beta readers send you feedback, then you have to process it. Anna has useful pointers on Merging Feedback on Elements of Emaginette. The Kill Zone talks about How to Handle Critique, something that’s often easier said than done.

If you like vlogs, Jenna Moreci has several hilarious videos about beta readers. Be warned—she uses strong language at times.

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.}

Have you ever been a beta reader? Have you ever worked with beta readers? What was your experience like?

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.

Ebook available for pre-order at Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks | Google Play

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

Cozy Mystery Publishing, Writing

Draft #743 | Cozy Mystery Publishing Process

Murder at the Marina Banner

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.

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.

Ebook available for pre-order at Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks | Google Play

Paperback version available closer to the release date (June 21, 2018). 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.

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.

Ebook available for pre-order at Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks | Google Play

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


Whales & Easter Eggs

Image via The Graphics Fairy

Whales and Easter eggs – at first glance, they don’t seem to have much in common, but give me a minute and it will all (hopefully) make sense.

When I think of Easter eggs, what comes to mind are colorfully dyed chicken eggs, chock-full of protein. Sometimes, Easter eggs  are made out of plastic and filled with lots of delicious candy. Others are made out of chocolate (the best kind in my books). And then there are those Easter eggs that are hidden messages or inside jokes in software, video games, and even books.

Whales are, well. . .big. As far as I know, there aren’t any that are made out of chocolate. It would be amazing if there were, because that would be a LOT of chocolate. I’d like to get in on that action.

My great-grandmother, Margaret Chadwick, was born on a whaling ship in Taioha’e, Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands in 1883. Margaret’s mother was the wife of a whaling ship captain. Back then it was perfectly acceptable to hunt whales. Nowadays, it’s frowned upon, with good reason.

When the whaling ships left New Bedford, Massachusetts, they would be gone for years. I guess Margaret’s mother had a choice – stay behind and wait or join her husband on the whaling ship. She, like many other whaling captains’ wives at the time, chose the crazy option – she went with him. Can you imagine being the only woman on a boat full of whalers, giving birth to your children on board, and praying you would survive storms at sea?

My mother has done a lot of genealogical research on our family, and I’ve always been fascinated by my seafaring ancestors. Makes sense, I guess, considering I live on a sailboat.

So, I thought it would be fun to hide a little Easter egg in my cozy mystery, Murder at the Marina, as a sort of tribute. One of the characters is named Penny Chadwick, after my grandmother, and, in her spare time, she likes to read about whaling captains’ wives.

Of course, Penny Chadwick isn’t much of an Easter egg now that I’ve let you in on the secret behind her name. But, there are other Easter eggs scattered about, which someone may pick up on.

Which would you prefer – dyed eggs, plastic eggs filled with candy, or chocolate eggs? Have you ever found an Easter egg hidden in software, video games, books etc.?

Boat Life, Writing

The Writing Process | My Office

Edits Boat (800x449)
Working on a draft of my cozy mystery at anchor.

Yes, I’m pretty darn lucky. I live on a sailboat and get to work on my writing while sitting in beautiful anchorages.

When we’re at anchor, one of my favorite places to work is in the cockpit of our boat. I can watch what’s going on while getting some words down on paper.

There are two downsides of writing outside — being distracted by dolphins and the glare on my computer screen. Yeah, I know, dolphins are never a downside. They’re one of the coolest parts of cruising on a sailboat. And I guess I shouldn’t really complain about the sun. That’s what feeds our solar panels and provides energy to power things like my laptop.

Depending on solar power (or a generator when the sun isn’t shining) is a quirk of having my writing office on our sailboat. If you write on land (or you’re connected to shore power at a marina), you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to charge your laptop. Electricity is plentiful and always available.

At anchor, we have to watch very carefully how many amps our equipment is drawing. Too much demand and too little supply could mean that we drain our batteries, which would be a very bad thing.

But it’s these little quirks of living on a sailboat that makes it so interesting and such a great place to write.

Where do you work on your creative projects?

Boat Life, New Zealand

The Boat That Started It All

Rainbows End in the Water2
Rainbows End anchored in New Zealand.

We bought our first sailboat, Rainbows End, in December 2012 when we were living in New Zealand. She’s a Raven 26 (one of 400 built during the 1970s and 1980s), popular among local boaters, and considered to be a real Kiwi classic.

Unlike Mollie McGhie, the main character in Murder at the Marina, my husband didn’t present Rainbows End to me as an anniversary present. It was actually my idea to buy a sailboat. I’m not sure who was more surprised by the suggestion – him or me.

Scott had sailed quite a bit in Europe and had fallen in love with the idea of buying a boat, selling everything we own, moving aboard, and heading off into the sunset. I took a little bit more convincing. We had charted boats a couple of times in New Zealand and were talking about doing our next charter in the Whitsunday Islands in Australia.

When I did the sums, adding up airfare, car rental, and the charter costs, I realized that it would be more cost-effective to buy a small, relatively inexpensive boat in New Zealand. As a result, Rainbows End entered our lives as our “for now” boat. We decided to try out the cruising life in New Zealand and, if we both liked it, then look for our “forever” boat.

Although she was tiny (26 feet length, 8.9 feet beam), she was a great little starter boat. Sure, she didn’t have refrigeration, my husband had to sleep in the main cabin while I slept in the v-berth with the laundry (not enough room for both of us to sleep in the same spot), we didn’t have an oven, and there wasn’t any protection in the cockpit from the elements, but we loved her.

Rainbows End not only inspired us to buy another boat (a Moody 346 named Tickety Boo), but she also inspired me to write my cozy mystery series which follows the adventures of Mollie who is completely new to boats and sailing, much as I was back in 2012.

Rainbows End Inside
The interior of Rainbows End.

If you’re interested in reading more about Rainbows End and her specs, check out this post on our other blog, The Cynical Sailor.

Could you live on a small boat without refrigeration or oven?

USA, Writing

Writing Inspiration | Other-Worldly Landscapes

Blue Mesa3
Surreal colors on the Blue Mesa trail at the Petrified Forest National Park.

In addition to writing cozy mysteries, I also dabble in sci-fi and fantasy stories. It might seem like a strange combination of genres, but I love to read and write both. I’ve also managed to incorporate my love of sci-fi into my cozy mystery series in a humorous way with the occasional investigation of alien abductions and unexplained lights.

In 2014-2015, we traveled from the west coast to the east coast in the States in search of our next sailboat. Along the way, we visited some of our amazing National Parks where I discovered landscapes that seemed so surreal that at times I thought I was on another planet.

Yes, I have an overactive imagination. But if you saw these rock formations, wouldn’t you wonder if you had been transported someplace else?

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Hoodoos at Arches National Park

These remind me of an evil version of tribbles. You know, those cute furry things from Star Trek that reproduce like crazy?

Evil Tribbles - Joshua Tree
Cholla cacti in Joshua Tree National Park.

Aliens have definitely landed a spaceship here.

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Salt flats at Death Valley National Park

Traveling not only opens up one’s mind and broadens one’s perspective, it also sparks the imagination. I’ve got a million story ideas bubbling away just looking at these pictures.

What inspires your creative pursuits?



Tiny Living in a 13′ Travel Trailer

scamper collage january

When people find out we live on a 34-foot sailboat, which has around 350 square feet of living space, they’re often flabbergasted that we can live in such a tiny space without killing each other. Then I tell them that we used to live in a 13-foot Scamp travel trailer, which has around 65 square feet of living space, and they’re dumbstruck.

We bought our travel trailer when we moved back to the States from New Zealand in search of our next sailboat. Originally, we had been camping, but sleeping in a tent, especially during heavy rain and cold weather, got old quick. Getting a travel trailer made life so much more pleasant.

Sure, it’s tiny, but it’s adorable. Like this kitchen area — small, but it has everything you need including a fridge, stove, and sink.

Scamp Kitchen

The bathroom is teeny. But at least it has a bathroom, complete with a shower. So much nicer than having to get up in the middle of the night and walk to the nearest bathroom when nature calls.

Scamp Shower

It has a dining area, which also doubles as a sleeping area by folding the table down.

Scamp Table

The good thing about travel trailers is that the outdoors is an extension of your living space. We had great times sitting outside, barbecuing something for dinner, and enjoying the scenery.

Scamper at Flamingo

We really enjoyed our time living in our tiny travel trailer and exploring the States from the west coast to the east coast. And, more importantly, we managed to do it without killing each other.

Do you enjoy camping? Could you live in such a tiny space with another person?


Writing Inspiration | Coconuts

Coconut (800x450)

The marina we keep our boat at in southern Florida has lots of palm trees, which gives it a nice tropical feel. Coconuts fall down from the trees and lie waiting for people to grab them, cut them open, and enjoy the coconut milk and flesh. Some of the dogs at the marina like them too.

I didn’t really think much about the coconuts until Hurricane Matthew threatened the area in 2016. One of the things that the marina staff did to prepare for the potential hurricane was to lop the coconuts off of the trees so that they wouldn’t go flying off in strong winds and cause damage.

It got me thinking that coconuts can prove hazardous even in normal conditions. If you happen to be walking under one of the trees when one of the coconuts falls off, it could be painful, maybe even deadly.

Coconuts inspired the setting of my cozy mystery series, which is set in a fictional small town in Florida called Coconut Cove. It’s a popular tourist area, but the locals have to warn visitors to be careful of falling coconuts, and, every so often, a tourist gets hit by one.

I decided it would be fun to work in falling coconuts into the plot of the first book in the series, Murder at the Marina. Everyone thinks that the main character, Mollie McGhie, got hit by a coconut, but she’s not so sure.

Coconuts (800x285)

What inspires your creative pursuits?