Tag Archives: Writers

My Experiment with Fiverr.com and the Five Dollar Cover

A while back, I found out about a website called Fiverr.com. The concept of Fiverr.com is simple: people offer to render some service or create some product in exchange for five dollars.

There’s quite a bit of neat stuff on there. There are people who will do promotional video for you, compose snippets of music, whatever.

Well, I’ve been wishing for a new cover for my novella The Mulch Pile for a while now, but since most professional cover designers charge at least a hundred dollars I’ve been putting it off until…I dunno, I get miraculously more wealthy somehow? Point is, I just didn’t have a hundred dollars to spare. But I did have five dollars.

So I did a search on Fiverr, and I was excited to learn that there were indeed several people offering to design a book cover for five dollars. I turned it over in my head for several days thinking, Five dollars? Really? What kind of cover am I going to get for five dollars? Will it be of greater value to me than a Subway foot-long meatball sub which I can also procure for five dollars? Because those suckers are good

But eventually I decided to pull the trigger. I paid my five bucks, and when the description box popped up I requested for the cover to reflect that this was a horror story, and for it to have an element of vertical tearing (for symbolic reasons I won’t disclose if you haven’t read the book).

Then I sat back and I waited. It only took two days for the guy to get back to me, but it seemed like forever. And when the email finally did come I was scared to click on the link. What if it sucks? I thought. What if I just wasted a foot-long meatball sub’s worth of money? But of course, eventually I did click the link, and when the image loaded, this is what I saw:

And…well I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pretty dang happy with it. I mean, it looks way creepier than the one I designed myself. The blood-spattered title alone kicks it up to a whole new level of awesome.

The only complaint that I have is that it doesn’t look great as a thumbnail.

That said, I didn’t specify that requirement to the guy doing the cover, so I’d say it’s a failure of communication of my part more than a failure of design on his part.

So yeah, if you’re like me and you need a cover on the cheap check out this Fiverr thing. There’s lot of other great services on there too. In fact I’m very seriously considering hiring a guy to do voice over for a book trailer I’ve been working on for a while.

Check it out. Browse around. Be amazed at the power of a fiver.

In Defense of Twilight


So here’s the deal people: I kinda hate Twilight. I tried to read it once, back in its heyday thinking, “Hey, this is super popular. It can’t be all bad.” But, oh was I wrong. The plot was banal and uninteresting, but even worse than that the prose limped along in uninspired fits and spurts that felt harsh and unnatural.

It was so difficult to stomach that after struggling through more than half of the book I gave up. Since then I’ve been an active participant on the Stephanie Meyers hate-wagon. I bash her writing as often as I can, I pick apart the bizarre threads of her plots, and I absolutely adore the Reasoning with Vampires website.


I am not a moron. There are some who may disagree on this point, but let’s ignore them, yes?

I know people who love Twilight. I mean really really love. When they read Twilight, it was the same experience for them as reading House of Leaves was for me. And there are millions of these people all over the world. Why?

We could be cynical and say that it’s all because of advertising dollars and irrational hype, but that doesn’t jive with me.

You may not know this, but I’m kind of a fan of P. T. Barnum. Everyone knows P. T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” But most people don’t know that he didn’t stop talking after he said that. One of the other things he said, in fact one of his core philosophies was this: “Do whatever crazy thing you have to do to advertise your stuff, but know this: if your product sucks all the advertising in the world won’t make it a success.” Okay, so he didn’t say it exactly that way, but you get the gist.

The people I know who love Twilight don’t love it because of advertising and they don’t love it because everyone else loves it. They love it because there’s something in there, amidst all the tangled prose and watered down plot that speaks to them on a very personal level.

When Stephanie Meyer talks about the inspiration for Twilight she tells the story of a dream that arrested her attention and inspired her to sit down and work on the story whenever she could grab a spare moment. In other words, the story meant something personal to her. It welled up from the very core of her being to the point that she could not stop herself from writing it.

That is what I believe has given the Twilight Saga the staying power it has enjoyed for so long. Of course there are problems with Meyer’s writing, but in spite of those problems millions of women have connected with that same tug of urgency Meyer felt when she first conceived the idea.

She wasn’t just writing a story. She was writing her story.

We could all learn a thing or two from her. We spend a lot of time trying to hone our craft and learn the intricacies of structure, but ultimately there is something greater than these things. If we’re going to write a story, we need to be sure it is a story we love. Because all the wonderful prose and perfect plotting in the world can’t replace what every story really needs: a soul.

Only when we give a little piece of ourselves dug from out of the deepest corner of our hearts will we be able to truly move and affect our readers.

The Benefits of Brevity

If you follow the Twitterverse, you may know that recently there was a brouhaha over the decision of Twitter client, Tweetdeck, to include native access to so-called “long” tweets. It was exactly the kind of kerfuffle that inspires people to trot out words like “brouhaha” and “kerfuffle,” which is to say, it’s probably not really all that important in the broader scheme of things.

But as a writer, the discussion was more to me than just a fruitless debate about the “essence” of Twitter. It inspired me to start thinking about brevity in general.

For those of you who may not know, Twitter is a chat client that lets you post whatever you want to say as long as you can say it within 144 characters. That means that every letter, every punctuation mark, even every space, matters.

Having that kind of limitation forces you to focus on your writing. You’ll be sitting there looking at a tweet that’s just ten characters over the limit, and you’re thinking to yourself, “Which of these words can I cut out without damaging the overall meaning of the tweet?” And if you’re like me and you refuse to use abbreviations like “ur” for “your,” the challenge becomes even greater.

For some people apparently this limitation is a nuisance, but for me it’s like having a daily reminder to carve out the fat in my writing everywhere. And believe you me, there’s plenty of fat. It’s easy enough to throw words out onto an empty page, and to a point that’s okay. But now I’m in the process of editing, and I’m seeing that I’ve included words, sentences, even entire paragraphs that add absolutely nothing to my story.

Maybe you’re not a tweeter. Maybe you have no desire to become a tweeter. That’s fine and okay. But I believe that it’s a valuable exercise for all writers to participate in some form of limited composition. For instance flash fiction, which is fiction in less than a thousand words, is a great way to learn to limit yourself to the bare essentials of what is needed to tell the story.

It seems to go against the grain of the writer’s “free spirit” we all have within is, but in truth working within restrictions is a fantastic way to stir up our creativity. Because if you were faced with the challenge, “Tell a story about a robot” your mind could go in a million different directions, think of thousands of different scenarios. But what if the challenge became, “Tell a story about a robot in 100 words”, or, “Tell a story about a robot in 144 characters”? (Yes, It does have to be a story about a robot. There will be no argument on this point.) Now you’re forced to look at the problem in a completely different way. Those limitations help to focus the lens of your mind.

This isn’t to say that all stories need to be short. Plenty of stories need a lot of space to tell, and that’s fine. But even in writing those stories you should be cautious not to throw in piles and piles of words, just because you can.

No matter what king of writing you do, always ask yourself, “Is this really necessary to the story I’m trying to tell?” If it’s not, cut it out. It may hurt a little now, but in the long run it will make your writing far more focussed and powerful.

Eat Your Lima Beans: The Importance of Becoming the Writer You Aren’t

When I was a kid, my mom had a rule at the dinner table: “Eat everything on your plate.” I was okay with it most of the time. Mom was a great cook who never failed to deliver a stunning meal even when she didn’t have much to work with. But sometimes…sometimes that rule was a tough pill to swallow. Especially when Lima beans were involved.

But what I didn’t realize was that mom was teaching me an important principle way back then: it’s just as important to do the things you don’t like as it to do the things you love.

As a writer I love the feeling of crafting a sentence or paragraph that works, words that flow into one another naturally and easily. It’s what makes the act of writing truly magical for me. But unfortunately that isn’t the only thing on my plate.

There is more expected of me as a writer than the crafting of powerful sentences; I also have to craft a powerful story. And crafting a powerful story involves planning and forethought. All the elements of the plot have to fit together in the same way that all the elements of the sentence need to fit together. Not only should they make sense, but they should move the reader at his very core.

But the problem is that plots like that don’t just fall onto the page naturally. They need to be planned. They need to be…deep breath, I can do this…outlined.

There. I said it. Outlining. I like it about as much as I like Lima beans. But recently I’ve come to realize that what I like doesn’t really matter. I realized I needed to approach my writing like I approached mom’s dinner. It’s fine to enjoy the good stuff, the stuff you really love, but sometimes you’ve got to eat some Lima beans too.

Which means when the time comes to start my next big work, I’m going to have to get out the sharpies and the 3×5 cards and start planning. It probably won’t be fun, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore it. There will be time for fun later on when I’m soaring through that first draft spinning sentences out of the raw aether.

This isn’t a post about outlining; it’s a post about doing what doesn’t come naturally. Maybe you love outlining. Maybe you go to town with those little 3×5 cards and a black magic marker and make that plot work baby.

But the odds are good there’s some other aspect of writing you fall short at.  And that is the thing you’re going to have to conquer if you want to become a truly great writer.

Doing what comes naturally is easy. We can play from our strengths all day long. But playing from our strengths isn’t going to make us great. If we aspire to greatness we’re going to have to learn to work through our weaknesses.

The writer we are is the core of our strengths, the essence of our love of the craft. But the writer we are isn’t enough. We have to reach out to the things we don’t like, the areas of the craft that make us wary and uncomfortable and learn to embrace them as well.

We have to eat our Lima beans. We have to become the writer we aren’t.