Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

Archive for September, 2013

Book Cover Design

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 24, 2013

Before hiring a book cover designer for your indie published book, you’ll need to take several factors under consideration. The designer will want to know what you have in mind. Here are the items you should determine before contacting a cover artist.

  • Tone of Story. Is it serious, scary, or lighthearted and funny? What mood do you want to convey with your cover? Look at these images. Do they evoke different feelings in you? What tone should your designer take for your work?

DiedBlonde       Finding Sarah    From One Place to Another

  • Type of Image. Do you want a realistic photo or a cartoony image? Or maybe just a pattern or flower or geometric design?

Death of a Schoolgirl    Dead Roots

  • Colors. When you look at images, what colors jump out at you? Are there any colors in particular that would enhance your brand? For example, I like bold, tropical colors since my stories take place in Florida, but maybe you prefer pastels.
  • Genre Conventions. If your book is a romance, you might want a clinch cover or flowers or a photo that conveys the era and mood. I go for paranormal elements in my romance covers to indicate this particular subgenre. Cozy mystery covers have a certain humorous slant which I’ll ask my designer to emulate. So examine the covers for your genre and see which ones tell you at a glance what type of story to expect.

Divided Hearts       Keeper of the Rings

  • Suggested Scene. If you are going to have more than a pattern or single image on your cover, think up a scene that might work. For Shear Murder, my heroine discovers a dead body under the cake table at a wedding. I thought it would be fun for readers to see the feet sticking out from under the table on the cover. The victim is wearing plum heels. Isn’t this perfect?

Shear Murder, A Bad Hair Day Mystery

For Warrior Rogue, I wanted both the hero and heroine on the cover, but the emphasis should be on the guy since the Drift Lords are the main feature. But I also wanted to convey the paranormal element, hence the winged creature and planetary body in the background. Jen is a fashion designer so I wanted her to have a sleek look. Even the lettering helps brand the series, which includes Norse mythology.

Warrior Rogue

  • Text Font. This feature can enhance the mood. The text font can convey a humorous, gothic, historical, or eerie atmosphere. Or as above, it can enhance a feature of the story.

Hot Water      Warrior Prince

  • Text Color. White or Black? Or a color? Blend of colors?
  • Name Placement. Do you want your author name at the top, along the bottom, or mid-range across the image? Do you want your name to be bigger than the title or vice versa?

Trail of Thread       License to Lie

  • Cover Sizes. If you are self-publishing, you’ll need a thumbprint image, a size for websites, a high resolution image for publicity, plus sizes to fit audio and print editions. For print, you will also need the spine and back cover. Consider your back cover copy and quotes before contacting the artist.
  • Release Form. You’ll want a release from the designer that says you own the image and can use it in any manner necessary for book promotion.

I’m sure there are other factors to consider of which I’ll be made aware when I do contract with a cover artist. But these are all the items to determine before you reach that stage. Do your homework. The more precise you can be about what you want, the less corrections down the road.

Posted in Business of Writing, Self-Publishing | Tagged: , , , , | 40 Comments »

Creating Realistic Characters

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 20, 2013

When Characters Stop Being Literal and Become Real
J.H. Bogran

On the dedication page of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, author J.K. Rowling dedicates the book to her daughter, proclaiming Harry is her ink-and-paper twin. In just one sentence, Mrs. Rowling demonstrates how real the characters are for her.

Every writer worth his salt knows that only when we believe and treat our character as real people, they will become so to the readers. Why? I could bet it is because our perception of the character seeps into them while we type them.    Firefall

I don’t pretend to preach to the converted, what I’d like to share today is the way I develop my characters, not that I think it is the one and only way to go about it.

After I decide the story I want to tell, I spend time developing a list of characters that I think are required to tell the story. The list includes the lead, lead’s love interest if any, the antagonist, and the secondary characters. I don’t waste time on the character with bit parts; I trust they will show up when I need them for a particular scene. Yeah, it’s kind of “if I build it, they will come.”

Two books that have helped me with characters and how to write them are Angela Ackerman/Becca Puglisi’s The Emotion Thesaurus, and the other one is Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress.

The main characters get special attention, of course. I prepare a worksheet where I list name, description, personality, profession and extras. The first four are pretty self-explanatory. Extras can be tiny little things like if he/she smokes, or notes the appalling story of how they became the person they are at the start of my book.

For the physical description I cheat a little bit, if it can be called like that. I use people I’ve met, sometimes movie or TV actors, but someone to anchor me to what they look like and keep me from changing hair or eye colors between chapters. Their personality starts relatively empty as I’d like to leave room for the characters to grow. Of course, that character worksheet keeps getting revised while I’m writing the story.

The secondary characters are not as developed, but I keep a close watch on them as sometimes they come back with surprises, or they make appearances in other stories. For example, the doctor who treated my lead female character suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder in the story Love Me Two Times, turns out to have a younger brother. In the opening chapter of my new novel Firefall, Doctor James Martin is performing an intervention on his younger brother Sebastian, who is the lead character in that novel.

One tip I learned during a ThrillerFest class on craft imparted by Robert Dugoni was to give each character a unique trait. It can be anything from always chewing gum to a limp. The idea is that the trait would be big enough to make them appear better than two-dimensional.

The making of my character is far from a refined technique, but it works for me, so I’m sticking with it. They become real to me because I can picture them in my head.

I’m curious to know how others do it, so please leave a comment if you can. Thanks.


About J. H. Bográn   JH Bogran

J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the Short Fiction Writers Guild and the International Thriller Writers, where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and contributor editor their official e-zine The Big Thrill.

Website at:
Twitter: @JHBogran
Amazon author page:

About Firefall:

After losing his wife and son in an air crash, former NYC firefighter Sebastian Martin is spiraling downward into alcoholic oblivion. Then his brother sets him up with a last-chance job investigating insurance fraud, but his first case takes a deadly turn as he crosses path with an international ring of car thieves. Sebastian ends up strapped to a chair facing torture at the hands of a former KGB trainee who enjoys playing with fire on his victims to get answers.

Firefall Buy Links:

Rebel E Publishers:

Posted in Fiction Writing, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Author Q&A

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 17, 2013

I am answering reader questions at an Author Q&A all day today and tomorrow over at the Romance Readers Reading Challenges group on Goodreads: 

Questions from readers/writers on any genre are welcome. Please join us!


Posted in Author Interviews, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Taking Time Out

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 16, 2013

Since Saturday was a religious holiday, and that meant we couldn’t conduct business, I took the day off from social networking and working on my book projects. Other than saying prayers and reflecting on life, what else did I do? I got caught up on reading newsletters. I read magazines for pleasure, learning about such diverse topics as a camel trek across the African desert, the latest medical research findings for certain diseases, the dangers of plastics to one’s health, and exclusive adult hideaways on cruise ships.

It was luxurious to lie on my couch and read. I took a nap. I peeked at my email but didn’t answer messages. And I did a bit of household filing, nothing too taxing.

It was easier than expected to liberate myself from the social networks. In fact, I lost all ambition until the evening when I sat and wrote the entire blurb for one of my upcoming projects.

So you see, it pays to take a break even if it’s a morning off. Your brain cells rejuvenate. Newly refreshed, you’ll return to work primed and ready to pump out the creativity.


How did you spend the weekend?


***This Tuesday all day, I’ll be answering questions over at Goodreads in the Romance Readers Reading Challenges group under “Ask an Author.” I’ll put up a link when I get one.



Posted in That's Life, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

Magic Kingdom at Disney

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 12, 2013

This visit to the Magic Kingdom found us exploring the new section of Fantasyland. We headed over there after an unexpected late morning parade down Main Street, decorated for the autumn season.

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Wishing to eat first, we went directly to the Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Beauty and the Beast castle for lunch. It took us about 20 minutes to reach the front door from the end of the line, but menus and umbrellas handed out by the helpful staff kept us comfortable and occupied. Inside, the lighting dimmed and a row of knights in armor kept us company along the hallway.

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We came to a host who handed us a fake rose and assigned us a station. At this next stop, an attendant took our orders and payment then directed us to find a seat anywhere inside the dining rooms. We sat at the immense ballroom with crystal and brass chandeliers. Other rooms had the magical rose inside a glass case, or a statue of Belle and the Beast together.

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We sat and waited for our meals to arrive. Waiters wheeled around glass enclosed carts from where they served everyone’s plates of food. Drawers inside these ingenious carts held extra plates and such. All restaurants should use these devices. It would save their servers a lot of arm strain. The food was fair but with some better choices than the usual fast food. In the evening, this place turns into a sit-down restaurant requiring reservations. It’s nice for lunch one time but I wouldn’t rush back. Too much trouble when we can go to any of the other fast food places around the park.

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Then we viewed Gaston’s Tavern, which disappointedly serves only soft beverages. But then again, this is Fantasyland geared to kids. We dipped into the Under the Sea—Journey of the Little Mermaid attraction, winding around and around the line inside the building. It’s decorated like you’re in a cave system so the themed entry diverts your attention. The ride itself is very sedate inside clamshells where you get a glimpse of scenes from the movie with accompanying music. It’s pleasant and a good place to get cooled off but more appealing to children.

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Too hot to go anywhere else, we left the park in mid-afternoon. That’s the benefit of having annual passes. We can come and go as we please, and we always discover something new each time we visit.

Posted in Disney, Food | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Magical Dining Month

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 9, 2013

Orlando has Magical Dining Month throughout September, in which time you can sample gourmet restaurants at $33 per three course meal. Each year, we like to go somewhere new. So for this visit, we chose the Deep Blu Seafood Grille in the Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort. The hotel is situated on Chelonia Parkway in Bonnet Creek, just off Buena Vista Drive near Disney World.

Valet parking is complimentary when you eat at the restaurant. Just ask the host to validate your ticket. The hotel is lovely with at least two freeform pools, three restaurants/cafes, a spacious lounge, a coffee bar and a gift shop.

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We settled into our seats at the formal dining establishment at lobby level and perused the special event menu. For an appetizer, you have your choice of a baby spinach salad, lobster bisque, or a signature crab cake.

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Entrée choices were ahi tuna, tiger shrimp linguini, or braised beef short ribs. You’ll note that each restaurant on Magical Dining Month offers its own special menu. The short ribs were very tender and came with mashed potatoes and vegetables.

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Dessert was the most difficult to choose but I got the Key lime gelee, a fancy version of Key lime pie. Vanilla crème brulee and chocolate mousse cake were hard to resist.

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We were very pleased with our choice and glad for the chance to sample this high class restaurant. Just to note, Sleuthfest 2014 will be held at this hotel on Feb. 27 – March 2. Registration is now open. Hope to see you there!

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Posted in Disney, Food | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Choosing a Series Title

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 3, 2013

Choosing a title for your new mystery series is a critical factor. This title has to hook the reader, give an inkling what the series is about, and spark your interest for years to come. As the author, you’ll be living with this series umbrella title for a long time. You may build a logo around it, add it to your signature lines, and see it on every subsequent book that comes out in this series. Thus it should be a title you love and one that resonates in your mind.

Considering the above advice, I need help choosing a series title for my indie mysteries. I’m not going to tell you the main premise, because I want you to look at this as you might my front cover, where it says A XXX Mystery. Which choice below pops out at you and holds the most appeal? Discussion is welcome.

Posted in Business of Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , | 20 Comments »

Self-Publishing, Part 1

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 2, 2013

I am dipping into the scary waters of self-publishing. This difficult decision came about for several reasons. I did a brief survey of readers on my Facebook author page asking if they’d prefer, for an original mystery I’ve written, (a) the expensive hardcover library edition that wouldn’t come out for another year, (b) an ebook version being released as soon as possible for $2.99, or (3) a simultaneous ebook and mass market release with the ebook possibly priced over $5.00. Again, this release date might not be until 2015.

The majority of readers voted for (b), the quick and less expensive ebook edition. This choice corresponds to my self-publishing this work, rather than pursuing small press or traditional NY publisher. For either of those, a wait of over a year before publication would be likely, with no control over the resultant price of the books.

If I were a new author, I’d choose the publisher route to establish credentials. But I already have a fan base for my mysteries. Hopefully these readers will be eager to try an original work and potentially book one in a new series.

self publish

So what are the steps to follow? I’ve put up one backlist title by myself. I formatted it for Kindle and Nook and Smashwords, hired a cover designer, and uploaded Keeper of the Rings to those retail sites. Since this title had already been published, I had the cover copy and quotes handily available. Not so for a totally original work.

I am following the steps so generously described by author Libby Fischer Hellmann at These steps are similarly described in the resource articles below.

self publish3

Step number one is to Hire an Editor once you’ve finished your work. You may need two editors, a developmental and a copy editor. Or you may employ other writer professionals in a time swap arrangement, beta readers, and critique partners. If you are a new author, it is critically important that you follow this step and work with a professional editor.

Next on the list is preparing the Front and Back Materials. Author Marie Force gives a comprehensive discussion of what these should include at

Author Terry Odell recommends putting most of the items in the back so as not to obstruct the “Sample Preview” offered by Amazon. Terry also made another good point in suggesting I leave off listing the Cast of Characters, because e-book readers won’t be able to flip back to the front of the book for reference. So my front material consists merely of the Copyright Page. I am not having a Dedication, but the front is where this page would go, as well as any advance review quotes for your book.

The back end materials take more time to prepare. First come the Acknowledgments, moved from the front as Terry suggested. Next is an author’s note that reads thus:

Thank you for reading [book title]. If you enjoyed this story, please support the author’s efforts by helping other readers find this book. Here are some suggestions for your consideration.

Write an online customer review.
Gift a copy of this book to a booklover friend.
Sign up for Nancy’s quarterly email newsletter on her website.
Follow Nancy on her social media sites.
Spread the word about her work.
Suggest her titles to a local book club.

Following this page is my About the Author section with social media links. Finally, I have a page with More Books by Nancy J. Cohen. If I can get my formatter to link these titles to the appropriate bookstore, that would be great. Otherwise, the list remains as is.

Another section you can add here is a chapter from your upcoming sequel or excerpts from your other published works. My sequel isn’t far enough along for me to add this additional page.

Keep in mind that these bonus materials add to the length of your book. From what I’ve been reading, this becomes important when formatting your work for Createspace, but that’s another topic down the road, However, if you will be having a cover artist do the spine and back cover for a print book, she may need to know the spine width and that might relate to the number of pages.

Now I’ve added my front and back materials. It’s time to move on to the back cover copy.

In my view, that’s harder than writing the book.

As you can see, this venture promises to be incredibly time consuming the first time around. Thereafter, I imagine it is easier because you can just repeat your steps. Will the effort be worth the reward? I hope so, because these publishing duties steal time from writing the next book.

self publish2

It’s exciting to think I’ll have something different to offer my fans, in addition to the Bad Hair Day and Drift Lords series that are on-going. This makes me one of the new breed of hybrid authors. I hope you’ll continue to follow me on this journey of exploration.

Useful Articles on Self-Publishing

Posted in Business of Writing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , | 28 Comments »

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