Take Five With...Tirzah Goodwin

Monday, September 26, 2011

I'm happy to host Tirzah Goodwin, who's smart and super-talented, the funniest writer I know.  She also does some really nice book covers. Without further ado, let's go...

What first got you interested in doing book covers?
I’m a great believer in trying DIY projects (Do it Yourself).  I originally got into cover design because I’m cheap.  Or maybe a little stupid.  Yeah, I vote for stupid because in the long run I’ve spent more money than I’ve earned so far. But I’ve had a good time doing it.

 My first cover was a few years ago. I had decided to try self-publishing by putting a short collection of throw-away flash fiction onto Smashwords.com.  Of course, I needed a book cover.   Since I was giving the little book away, I didn’t want to pay big bucks for a cover.
What’s a girl to do?  DIY! 

I put together several cheesy covers by trial and error, had my friends vote on them and picked a ‘winner’.  They stunk like dirty underwear in summer. But they stunk less than what my friends were coming up with for their self-pubbed books.  So a friend or two asked me to help them with their covers, then to help a friend of a friend and so on.  I did a lot of work for free.  Word of mouth went from there and I got really busy.  

I took community classes, studied how-to videos, played with a lot of websites.  I started to get pretty good at designing covers.  I hate not knowing how to do something so if someone requested something I couldn't do, I'd research and practice until I learned how.
It doesn’t hurt that I suffer from a cat’s curiosity. Eventually playing with editing software and websites convinced me to take some Photoshop tutorials.  The rest is history. I went from giving away e-book covers to selling affordable e-book covers and now the occasional print cover. Now I do covers for an independent publisher and freelance in my free time.

Of course that's when I'm not writing, working my full time ‘real world’ job or trying to civilize the dogs.

But anyone can learn to do their own e-book cover.  Most people can even do a print cover if they figure out the basics of Photoshop.  What you really need to design covers is good dose of stubbornness and the patience of a saint.  Luckily, that’s both my blessing and curse.  I blame television.

If you want instructions on how to do your own basic e-book cover, just ask and I’ll send you the link.   It will not work for print covers which require a higher resolution and flattened layers but it'll make a cool e-cover.

Have you ever parted company with a writer because you couldn’t agree on a cover?
Oh yes. I had a writer who truly didn’t know what she wanted. This is actually the most common problem I get.  After the writer changed the project eight times from the start, I finally ended it.   I don’t mind tweaking a cover but once a writer decides on the design, starting over from the ground up is time-consuming and bad business. Plus it costs me money. 

But I’m a sucker; I do it more times than I should.    If you look close you can see the light printing of the word on my forehead.

What’s the highest number of drafts you’ve had to do before both you and the author agreed the job was complete?
Forty-eight.    But that was a special case,   I knew going in that the cover would be a long project.  It had lots of detail.  The final project was merged from twelve stock photos and then digitally painted.   Most covers have two pictures merged and are just touched up with the digital painter.  This cover was basically pieces fitted together and painted to look like a whole.  It still makes my teeth hurt thinking about it.  But it’s also one of my favorite covers…and one of the most expensive to do.  Most people are never going to need or want this.

What is the shortest time it took you to come up with a cover?
Ten minutes from start to end.

How easy is it to find just the right picture/s, font, etc. and how do you know when the cover’s done?
This question is the tricky part.   You have to have a feel for the ‘mood’ the writer wants for the cover rather than just the plot.  Oh I still want the plot but I avoid more problems asking for the mood the .writer wants than anything else.

Plus there are no perfect stock pictures.  Any picture you get will need to be edited.  Blondes are made into red-heads or jeans are made into black pants.  You find something with the right mood then you tweak it to fit your needs.  Instead of searching for perfection, you have to find ‘almost right’ and then be able to envision the final product after edits.

That’s where most DIY people go wrong.  They search for perfection.  It doesn’t exist in most cases. 

The worst part of doing a cover is doing the font. I hate font.  I really, really do.  I argue more with authors on font than anything.  Times Roman Numerical is not good for all book covers. I find it surprising how many writers are uncomfortable with anything but TRN.  It’s carrying a Van Gogh in a Walmart bag.  Sure it gets the job done but makes me uncomfortable when I could do something better. But if that's what you want, okay, that's what you get.

As for the last question, a cover is never done you merely stop screwing around with it.  I’ve learned not to argue with the writer.  Even if I think what they want is a bad idea, I’ll do it.  After all, they pay me to do it.  I’ll try to steer them toward something more attractive but, in the end, if they want ugly, I’ll do ugly.  We’re done when either I’ve run out of patience (hard to do) or the writer is happy with it.

You give away rejected covers. I don’t know any other artist who does that. How did you come up with this idea, for which I’m sure some of us financially challenged writers are already grateful?
The rejected covers are covers that I’ve designed for other projects but they were turned down for whatever reason.  I already purchased the photo rights and edited the photo.  Some of them have had hours of work done on them.  So last year, I started doing a giveaway.  I posted fifteen or so rejected covers with a first come/first serve listing on them.

Here are the restrictions:  the cover must be used for a print or e-published book in the next six months (no hoarding), I get credit for the cover and you tell me if you use it.   I will add your name and the book title but I will not make other edits.  Nothing, nada.  It will be provided in a 300 DPI 6x9 format, front cover only. 

What I’m surprised about is that so few people take me up on my offer.  I offered about twenty-two covers total last year for free, three were used.  This year I’ve offered three so far with no takers.   I’ll be posting a total of twenty-seven covers this year that will be available for free.  They cover every topic from YA to romance to dead leprechauns.    

Where do you find time for your own writing?
Ha ha.  I’m suppose to have personal time?  When?   I always say I have Writer’s ADHD.  I write in spurts.  I’ll not write for months. Not a word.  That’s when I take classes; do book covers, clean that pesky back closet. But when the urge hits, I’ll write non-stop for days or weeks until the wee hours of the morning.  Last year I turned out eight rough chapters of Plum, four new poems and two short stories in the month of November.   But I didn’t write a single word in October.   I do NOT suggest anyone else do this.  This works for me but it wouldn’t work for most people.  It takes me a lot longer to complete big writing projects but it’s the only way I can work with my fractured attention span.  It would drive a sane person nuts. Luckily I’m not sane.

You’re one of the funniest writers I know. Did you have to work hard on the skills you need to make people laugh or does it come naturally?
See I never find my writing particularly funny.  Making people laugh in print is completely different than getting them to laugh in person.  I’ve always had a great in-person sense of humor.  When I’m on a roll, I can make you cry.  I even did stand-up comedy a few years ago.   But it took me a lot longer to write funny on paper. I don’t find a lot of written stuff funny so it’s hard for me to judge what really works.   But with my latest book, I think I’ve gotten it.  It only took 30+ years. Hah. 

I’m aware that Poetry is your thing and that novel-length works are a challenge for you, how difficult has it been to connect chapters for a cohesive story?
Connecting the chapters for a cohesive whole has never been a problem.  The problem is I have no attention span when it comes to novel length projects.  I like how with poetry ever word, every comma counts and a poem draft takes a week.  With novels, it's a lot harder for me to stay on task but I'm learning.  I just go with my flow and write when I'm inspired even if it is a three in the morning. 

And my final question has to do with a character I’m always bugging you about. What’s the latest with Plum? 

Update on Plum Crazy:  Plum’s brother, Binny, has been arrested by Homeland Security because his hillbilly bedazzling girlfriend and the albino rabbit boys used his credit cards to buy materials for bombs.  Plum’s dad showed up recently and burned down her step-sister’s strip club.  So Plum’s decided to put her vendetta against her mother down for the moment to get Binny out of the clink, kick her Dad’s butt and get her bedazzler back.   I’m averaging about eight chapters every twelve months.  I figure at this rate I’ll finish sometime next year with the book.  I’m still not sure what the heck I’m going to query it as. Explosive comedy with a murderous edge?

All About Tirzah
I live in Kentucky with three dogs, two of which I like.  I am happily single and seem to have no children.  Ten of my poems will be published in the print anthology of Said & UnSaid  by Iconic Publishing this Fall along with several other wonderful poets. My poems are also published in several other  magazines and  anthologies including as the Dry Tear Anthology, Red Pulp Underground and the Zygote Anthology.

COVER WEBSITE:  http://www.wix.com/tirzahlou/tirzahsbookcovers  Book covers start at $25 dollars.  Book trailers start at $35.00.