On 10th May, I put up a post about my lockdown project of getting my Elizabeth Hawksley historical novels into e-books. Now, ten weeks later, the first book, Highland Summer is almost ready and it’s been a steep, not to say precipitous, learning curve. However, thanks to computer wizard John Hocking, and his wife Janet Gover, another computer wizard, both brilliant at explaining things, we are at last getting there.
Elizabeth looking apprehensive but trying not to show it. Photo by Sally Greenhill
Janet has been showing me how to write an e-book blurb – a very different animal from a book blurb. I’ve been learning about ‘Shout lines’ – This is the bait to tempt the reader to find out more. For Highland Summer, for example, the shout line is: Love can be unpredictable… And family secrets can be dangerous. It’s a sort of overall feel for what the book’s about.
We have been working on the blurbs for the first three books: Highland Summer, The Belvedere Tower and Frost Fair. And my attempts have been going to and fro, and Janet has been telling me, kindly but firmly, why what I’ve put won’t do. Often, it’s something simple, like, ‘avoid the repetition of ‘secret’ ‘ and she’s spot on. I am improving and we are getting there.
Summertime Number 9A by Jackson Pollock. Courtesy of Tate Modern.
Then there are problems of choosing a cover. This is John’s territory and he has been very patient with me. John likes art – which helps; but he’s a Jackson Pollock man, whilst I prefer J. M. W. Turner – Hm. Careful negotiations are called for.
The Fighting Temeraire by J. M. W. Turner Courtesy of Tate Britain
Fortunately, John had the clever idea of sending me photocopies of current Amazon bestseller covers – with fifteen images per A4 page, including the ones he has been working on. It’s allowed me to see what’s popular at the moment, which I found really helpful.
A lot of our negotiations, though, have been about typefaces. There are some typefaces which just don’t work with e-books – they look wrong – maybe they turn out too spiky, or perhaps they look more flattened than I thought they’d be. I discovered that the look of a specific typeface can change in an e-book context and I trust John’s experience here.
Cover for Highland Summer
Generally speaking, I want a traditional but stylish typeface (my novels are historical, after all) and it must look good with all my novels, not just the three we’re concentrating on at the moment. So it’s got to be an adaptable typeface.
When we started looking at book covers, Janet told me that they didn’t need to be too specific – all the Highland Summer cover had to get across was ‘historical’ and ‘Scottish’. However, accurate historical research has always been important to me and, if I know of a picture that is spot on – then I want to use it, if possible.
1840s print of Inverness
The cover for Highland Summer features a contemporary print of mid-19th century Inverness in the Scottish Highlands – the setting for much of the book. I was given the print by my cousin Roland, when I was a bridesmaid at his Scottish wedding, and it’s perfect.
The Belvedere Tower
The cover for The Belvedere Tower threw up a slightly different problem. It was inspired by the belvedere tower at Sissinghurst, which dates back to 1560. Its tower has a flat roof with battlements at the top to give a splendid view of any hunt the aristocratic owners had arranged for the entertainment of guests. The word belvédère comes from the French and means ‘Beautiful view.’ There are many belvedere towers surviving but most of them are too large for what I want.
The cover for Frost Fair shows a Luke Clennell print of the very last Frost Fair on the River Thames in February 1814. A lot happens at that Fair in the book including an very unpleasant death on an unstable ice floe (I enjoyed writing that). John and I had a lot of discussion about the background colour and I’m particularly pleased with the Jack Frost effect of the icy turquoise for Frost Fair.
At the moment, I’m doing the final proof reading for Highland Summer, which is now on Kindle on my desktop – and that’s a story in itself. I’m now feeling far more confident about finding my way around the Kindle version of Highland Summer. I’m used to my books having 2-300 pages – it’s a bit of a shock to find that, on Kindle, I’m dealing with over four thousand locations.
Elizabeth Hawksley looking more relaxed – nearly there! Photo by Sally Greenhill
There’s been a lot of work back stage as well, to do with platforms, ISBN numbers and so on. But I still have a mental picture of York Railway Station with Thomas the Tank Engine chuffing into the platform – in my case, Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords. My books will be coming out under Mundeville Books. I grew up just outside the small village of Coatham Mundeville in Co. Durham. Anyone from the North–East will probably recognise the name and it’s my salute to where I come from.
We aim to launch Highland Summer on Monday, 3rd of August. Watch this space!
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