All posts by kate

About kate

Kate Coe is an editor, book reviewer and writer of fiction & fantasy. She writes the sparkpunk GreenSky series and blogs at writingandcoe.co.uk. When she's not working, she fills her spare time in between writing with web design, gaming, geeky cross-stitch and DIY (which may or may not involve destroying things). She also reads far fewer books that she would like to, but possibly more than she really has time for.

Review: Empire of Sand

Empire of Sand (The Books of Ambha, #1) by Tasha Suri

Empire of sand coverA NOBLEMAN’S DAUGHTER WITH MAGIC IN HER BLOOD
AN EMPIRE BUILT ON THE DREAMS OF ENSLAVED GODS

Mehr is a girl trapped between two cultures. Her father comes from the ruling classes of the empire, but her mother’s people were outcasts, Amrithi nomads who worshipped the spirits of the sands.

Caught one night performing these forbidden rites, Mehr is brought to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, who try to force her into their service by way of an arranged marriage. If she fails in their bidding, the gods themselves may awaken and seek vengeance…

You know a book is good when you have to tweet the author (who is a friend, I don’t usually tweet at random authors) going WHAT EVEN IS THIS and I HAD OTHER STUFF TO DO TODAY and YOU ARE A MONSTER.

It’s so, so readable, and I’m annoyed that it took me this long to get to on my TBR.

The setting is haunting and beautiful and I love the multiple cultural inspirations that wind together but never feel like something wholesale borrowed; the characters are believable (and this from me, who ranted about a book with no character agency and I  also really hate the cliches that usually come with this sort of plot because just URGH but this time, YES); the plot has a whole bunch of twists that are built up nicely and tug you along; the magic system is lovely and I love the learning process and just-

I love it.

cover of realm of ashIt’s a running-away-from-home and finding-yourself and realising-the-world-is-mean (actually, more like “realising the world is mean in a whole variety of ways”) and slow-falling-in-love and people-are-actually-kinda-decent and some beautiful magic and landscapes and settings and YES JUST GO READ IT OK.

Also I immediately bought the second one (Realm of Ash) and devoured it so there’s that.

I know I normally do slightly better reviews but it’s readable and lovely and annoying and it’s the type of book that’s exactly what you need for a rainy day when you have a sofa and a cup of tea. So just buy it, ok?

Want to be a book cover designer or artist?

As Neil Gaiman says… “Make Art.”

Or in this case, make book covers.

First, some terminology. I’d use the term “book cover artist” to refer to someone who creates the images used in covers. They provide the artwork, the background; maybe they hand-paint or create the image specifically, or maybe they use stock imagery; maybe they digitally create it or maybe they draw and then scan. However you do it, that’s the artist.

The “book cover designer” does the overall book cover: how to position the art, any effects, tweaking colours, but also doing the layout and the fonts, including the spine and blurb.

The cover designer may also be the artist – particularly if they’re an in-house designer, and have their own artistic skillset. But they can also be separate people.

So! This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot through work. We get a couple of emails a month asking about opportunities for artists – some are directed more towards the graphic novels (which is where I send those emails – not my skillset to know what makes a good comic!) but most are asking about book covers.

This is also only my view on it, and only the experience I’ve had. Please feel free to chime in with other experiences and things you’ve found that helped if you’re in publishing or art!

Getting in contact – KISS

Basically, if you’re a cover artist and want to get more work with publishers, what you’re trying to do when you contact me is make it as easy as possible for me to see what your work is like.

The other side of that, though, is that I don’t want to be immediately swamped with images and huge attachments.

So, the ideal contact? KISS (Keep it simple, stupid.) Briefly tell me:

  • who you are (your name, and potentially your location if you want to tell us that)
  • what you want (to design book covers)
  • any relevant information (you already design for X and Y, have art credentials from Z, or do a lot of artwork in a particular genre that you know we publish)
  • and provide a link to a portfolio.

That’s it for the email. If you don’t have credentials, don’t worry – just don’t include that. Basically, you’re trying to get me to click on your portfolio link.

Now, the portfolio.

You need one.

Put your art somewhere on the internet. It might be a site that you can only access if you have the specific web address (aka. make it un-crawlable) or it might be on a public site like DeviantArt. It could be your personal page. It could be a Tumblr. However you do it, get your art out there.

Because that is what I’m judging you on.

And it’s not judging as in “are you good enough” – I mean, to some extent it is – but it’s also: are you suitable for what we do? Do you do the kind of art we need? What is your style?

Are you horror? Are you fantasy? Are you intricate, detailed sci-fi? Do you draw beautiful, inspired concept art of imaginary worlds? What do your figures look like? Do you draw nature and landscapes? Is your work more abstract? Do you have a particular city or place that’s an inspiration? What colours do you use? What art styles can you cover? What makes you the artist we need?

Basically – we know roughly what we need for our book covers at any given time. Do you fit what we need for our covers?

And it’s also worth remembering that an immediate “no” is an eternal “no” – I do keep a list of artists that I would like to use, if the right book comes up!

Give me book covers

There are two places where potential book cover artists fall down in their portfolio.

The first is not having much of a portfolio. I can’t necessarily tell what your art is like from a couple of drawings of computer game characters and a tattoo image; yes, you’ve got the skill, but I can’t tell what your work is like. I can’t see your unique style.

The way round this is to create, create, create. Give me examples. Show me what you make. Show me what you draw. Show me your range and depth. I want to see what your art is like, and the best way to do that is to give me as much of it as possible.

And the second place where potential cover artists and designers fall down is that I can’t imagine what their covers would look like.

The solution to this?

Create examples.

For cover artists, this means that you might have to give yourself an imaginary brief. Draw the front cover of your favourite book. Imagine you’d just been asked to make an image for something. How would you approach it? What different options could you have? Be aware that clients will often have ideas, too – so come up with concepts. Show your working. Show your ideas. Show me that if I come to you with a cover brief, you’d be able to adapt.

For cover designers, it’s pretty much the same thing – but because cover designers deal with a much wider scope, it’s a wider scope here too. Come up with multiple options: what fonts could you use? What images? What concepts could you play with? What aspects of the book would you draw out? If it’s a series, could you wind that in somehow? What directions could you go in?

If you want to design book covers, then design them! Pick your favourite. Produce concepts. Produce ideas. Play. Imagine. Give me an idea of what it would be like working with you, and what you could do.

All of this comes together to one thing: I’m looking for someone to create a book cover. Make it as easy as possible for me to pick you.

And a final comment: money & contact

It’s always nice to have an idea of your rates from your portfolio or website, but it’s not vital. You do, however, need an easy way for me to get in contact with you – ideally an email address, or a web contact form. If you don’t have any sort of contact information, or it’s only via a platform that I don’t use (eg. Instagram…) then no matter how good your art is, I’m likely to pass.

Questions? Stick ’em below or poke me on Twitter!

Ps. The original cover art for The Goblin Emperor is by Anna & Elena at Balbusso; the UK edition is by James Paul Jones. Both very good examples of portfolio websites!

A Few More Spoons

I had two weeks off. I slept (a bit), I read (a bit). I did chores. I got a walk in every day. I went for coffee with new people at the community centre (scary!) and helped clean radiators and got my foot sniffed by a cat. I took a bunch of stuff to the dump and to charity. I saw my work colleagues several times, which was wonderful and really helped with going back this week. I ate sushi and mochi. I picked up thirty-five pallets and got them back to the house and somehow got them round to the garden (they’re going to be a fence). I played computer games. I saw friends and had amazing afternoon tea. I definitely didn’t rest as much as I should have, but when do I ever?

I did break, and spent an entire day in bed, exhausted and aching and overwhelmed by the thought of getting up. I did spend quite a few hours on the sofa, curled up in blankets and trying not to think. I did have to frequently shout at weasels. But the hollow space inside me isn’t quite as large as it was previously, and I’ve got a few more spoons available. I’m not better, or well; but I’m better than I was.

I’ve got some book reviews to do; I’ve got some thoughts to write up. I’ve got things swirling around inside my brain that haven’t quite made it into Sensible Thoughts yet, but we’ll get there.

ALSO I’VE GOT BOOKS TO TELL YOU ABOUT. I BOUGHT BOOKS! (I’ll do a separate update, but they are all amazing and I can’t wait to squeak.)

And it’s not one of mine, but The Unspoken Name is now out – seriously, go and buy it, and then yell at Kass about Tal, because Tal. Also is Harrow on your TBR yet? It should be.

And my person and I put pictures up on walls, so I now have six of my GreenSky covers lining the hallway at the flat. I cried when we put the first one up. It feels a little more like somewhere I can be, now.

It’s spring on Willow Walk; there’s snowdrops and streams and catkins, and one tiny crocus poking up by our garden gate. I’m back at work, picking up the pieces of my inbox and giving David donuts to say thank you. Picking up relationships. Picking up reading. Trying to figure out what’s important.

(Like whomping the boardgames group at Carcassonne on my first day back, because that’s definitely important.)

Right now, it’s just to keep stepping onwards and stepping forwards. I’m still on shaky ground, but I’m upright and balancing. I’ve got this. I can keep going.

Snowdrops in an open woodland, February 2020

A mini Kate Update – February 2020

You may have noticed that I’ve been a bit quiet – sorry! I’m currently off work for two weeks (well, a week now) as my medication is kicking my butt; I hate being off work but the doctor suggested it as the one stress we could remove, just to see if everything settles down. The medication is working, which is good; I mean, not having feels isn’t great but it’s better than having too many. The problem is that it’s currently letting the weasels have free reign, and I’m having trouble shouting them down constantly. A week of sleep has helped a little (I’m also ridiculously tired, struggling to get out of bed, finding sitting upright hard… all the usual fun) so I’m hoping another week of sleep will help, and then getting back into the routine of work.

A gardener chasing after a goose that has stolen his radioI’m pretty much out of options so I’m keeping on this course; I know the first six months are the hardest, and I’m fighting something that’s been entrenching itself over the past fifteen years. The rest of my life stresses have mostly got better and I’ve been able to haul the growing depressions out, so it’s just the roots I’ve got to dig out now! I hope, anyway. Gonna keep going. Gotta keep going. That’s pretty much it.

There are a few rays of light; I had an idea for a game, and as Otter has been creating a simple little detective game, I had a chat to them about the possibilities of actually learning to make it. I’ve also managed to read a little, even if it is books I’ve read before. I’m also managing to Cope With Occasional People, and my foot got sniffed by a very snooty cat, so that’s progress. I’m also being aided in The Fortnight of Rest by Blue Planet 2, shortbread, amazing friends and terrible memes, so that’s all helpful… I haven’t really had the focus for reading or playing computer games, although Otter did turn into a Horrible Goose earlier in the week, which was hilarious. (It’s an amazing game and if you haven’t played it, you should.)

Beyond that – I’m just keeping going, and taking each day as it comes!

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

EVERY STORY OPENS A DOOR

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored and utterly out of place.

But her quiet existence is shattered when she stumbles across a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page reveals more impossible truths about the world, and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

I have loved Alix Harrow’s writing ever since reading one of her short stories (I’ll remember the name at 4am, don’t worry…) and grabbed the book eagerly when I saw it at FantasyCon! And it’s definitely, definitely worth the read.

It’s a story about a girl trying to find out who she is and where she comes from… and about trying to find her father and mother… and trying to find the way home… and opening and closing doors, and how stories fit into those, and how treasures fit into all of it, and why danger and adventure keeps chasing her around. The book is told between two perspectives, one of which is January’s, and both keep tugging you along to read as you want to know what happens next in both!

It’s also got some wonderful quotes about stories and writing and imagination; Lyndsie Manusos has done an excellent selection over on BookRiot, but I think my favourite is;

Worlds were never meant to be prisons, locked and suffocating and safe. Worlds were supposed to be great ramblings houses with all the windows thrown open and the wind and summer rain rushing through them, with magic passages in their closets and secret treasure chests in their attics.

So basically; if you like words and stories and adventures and beautiful writing, read this.