Something I read recently has led me to musing on Lucie's character development in Chosen of Azara. Lucie was kind of a risky character to write, and very difficult to get right (assuming I got her right). In fantasy, young noblewomen who go off on adventures are usually spunky and rebellious and seize eagerly at the chance to run off somewhere and do exciting and dangerous things. But with Lucie, I wanted to do something different - something that is pretty much the complete opposite of almost every fantasy heroine I've ever heard of.
Lucie is pretty happy with the way things are and the life she has. She does have a bit of a free-spirited streak that pushes the bounds of convention and propriety, but she is willing (though somewhat reluctantly so) to accept the reasons why one day she will need to give up the things she enjoys doing. She also has the occasional complaint about her fiance, Estefan, but she understands that in her society, marriage is about a lot more than the whims of the heart. In spite of her "eccentricities," she wants to do what's right and proper and expected of her and to be a credit to her family. She wants the handsome husband, the beautiful house, the fashionable clothes, the social standing. She is looking forward to devoting her life to raising her children and managing her household.
And then the dream, the things she wants and that she's always been taught that she should want, starts to fall apart at the same time that she's presented with an alternative that, according to everything she's been raised to believe, is unthinkable, that would cost her her family, her friends, her reputation, and everything that's important to her. Lucie finds herself in a quandary: cling to what she believes is right and important, for the sake of her and her family's name and reputation and her own security, or throw everything away and take a leap into the unknown. Either option requires more courage and resolve than Lucie possesses at the beginning of her story, and a major part of Lucie's story is watching her find the courage to do what her heart insists is, in the end, the right thing to do.
I knew I was taking a chance of turning off readers with a character who seems weak, who wants to be proper and conventional, who is not only indecisive but outright offended when the handsome stranger says, "Throw everything away and come on my quest with me," and who wants to cling to the life she has even as it becomes increasingly clear that that life is detrimental to her. But it's a common source of conflict and growth in the real world: the person who hates their boring cubicle job but is afraid to quit because then how will they pay the bills? Or the person who hangs on to the same circle of friends they've known since junior high even though those friends aren't progressing beyond a junior-high mentality and the person wants bigger and better things out of life but they're afraid to leave those friends behind because what if they never make any new friends? Or the woman who can't bring herself to leave a bad relationship because what will she do once she's out on her own?
We see spunky, rebellious, and strong-willed all the time in fantasy. With Lucie, I wanted to start with a character who is the opposite of that and show her growth into, not necessarily spunky and rebellious, but strong-willed and courageous enough to do what her heart is telling her is the right thing to do, no matter the pressures on her from other people or the consequences to herself.
So that's the character growth part of this post. As for learning curves, that's my part.
The great thing about being an independent author is that you're in charge of every aspect of your book, from what you write about in the first place to the final presentation. It's amazing to have that much control, but also involves learning a lot of new things. And one of those things is book covers.
Book covers (though with ebooks what you're talking about is an image that represents the book on a website or on your ereader) are a hugely important tool for drawing attention to a book. They need to be eye-catching, attractive, and convey a good sense of what the book is about. For authors who publish with traditional publishing companies, the art/marketing departments take care of all that, and sometimes they do a good job and sometimes they don't. (Caution: any and all of those links may be NSFW. Brain bleach available in aisle 2.) Either way, the author generally has little if any input into or approval over what goes on the front of their book.
Independent authors have the opposite problem: It's all up to us. We have to think of the concept and then license or commission the appropriate images. And it isn't easy to think of a single image to represent your whole book. One character? Multiple characters? Just a landscape? An object? A literal representation of a scene in the book or something more general? It's mind-boggling if you aren't used to doing this, and sometimes it takes trial and error.
With Chosen of Azara, I wanted something representing one or more of the characters (I very much prefer book covers with pictures of the characters), and something representing the cove of Azara or another aspect of the magic in the book. I fiddled around with pictures of various crystals and necklaces, trying to get the magical talisman that is an important object in the book, but that didn't go anywhere. Finally I settled on a picture of someone who sort of looked like Lucie, and a picture of a rocky ocean cove, and tried putting them together, with results I wasn't entirely happy with.
When I went looking for a cover artist for the Daughter of the Wildings series, I came across Design by Katt and fell in love with her fantasy portraits of women. I knew I'd found just the artist I needed to turn my Chosen of Azara cover concept into something wonderful. And she did - she took my original images and concept and did a gorgeous job with them. Her rendition of Lucie captures Lucie perfectly.
It's a gorgeous cover and I love it, but I started feeling like maybe my concept doesn't really represent what Chosen of Azara is really about. Lucie is only one main character of three in the book, and the main main character is actually Sevry. So I started thinking he should be on the cover. As well, just having Lucie on the cover doesn't convey the dark, angsty, romantic, adult (as in grownup, not as in porno) nature of the book - it looks more like a Young Adult book, or maybe fantasy with a chick-lit-ish twist. So, reluctantly, I came to the conclusion that my original concept was a misfire.
In the meantime, as I saw more of Katt's work and as she did the lucious cover of Sarya's Song, I came to realize what a really skilled and talented artist can do with photomanipulation and digital painting. It was okay if I couldn't find a photo of two people who look exactly like my characters - the main things to look for were the basic physical type and the positioning. Everything else, hair color, hairstyle, even clothing and facial expression, can be altered. So I went browsing for stock images for a new cover and almost instantly came across the PERFECT picture to become Sevry and Lucie. I ran it by Katt and she roughed out an idea of what can be done with it, and oh my, it's going to be amazing! She's working on it even as I write this. :-D
So watch this space for the new cover for Chosen of Azara. Once I've revealed it here, I'll start uploading it to the various retailers where the book is available. The old cover isn't going away, though; it will still be around on the site, because I do think it's the perfect picture of Lucie.
Update 3/17: Note the new new cover for Chosen of Azara.
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