Summer 2017 Updates

Summer is here, bringing all the joys and challenges of kids on school vacation. It’s a lot harder to get writing-related things done when my not-so-little ones are around, but by mixing up the carrots (“we can go to the beach tomorrow if you let me work today”) and the sticks (“HALP! Leave me alone or I swear I’ll block your YouTube access”), I’m slowly getting to the end of my Night Blade revisions.

By next week, I’ll be ready to send my fight scenes to my sword instructor, Christopher Valli from Laurel City Sword. Chris revised all my sword and fight scenes for Heart Blade, and I’m hoping he’ll be pleased with the ones I’ve written for Night Blade. My climbing scenes also need a stern revision, since my only rock climbing experience was years ago, in my teens. I’m counting on my brother Simon, an enthusiastic climber, to look those over for me. The internet is a great resource for many things, but if you have access to someone who can revise sections that require a certain level of expertise, I thoroughly recommend it.

After incorporating any new suggestions from my experts, the next step will be a final reread of all the rewrites and edits I’ve made to Night Blade, before it goes back to my publisher for a last look. Once we’re all happy, the book will be ready for the copyeditor to get her teeth into.

Very soon, I’ll be able to share the gorgeous cover art for Night Blade. I’m lucky enough to have been given the chance to work with not just one, but two extremely talented cover artists. Merilliza Chan was in charge of the beautiful cover for Heart Blade. For Night Blade, my publisher changed direction slightly, and handed the cover over to Tom Edwards, who does some truly amazing SF/F book cover work. The result is very different from Heart Blade, but just as fabulous. I can’t wait to share it, and see what you all think.

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 7.39.33 PM  A teeny tiny teaser… Cover reveal coming soon!

And speaking of art, Corinna Marie, who did the adorable character art for Heart Blade, is working on a brand new set of character pictures for Night Blade. There are a couple of familiar names among them, and a couple of new names, too – I hope you’ll enjoy meeting them as much as I enjoyed writing them! And yes, I’ll definitely be doing some character art postcard giveaways closer to launch date.

Don’t forget to sign up for my monthly newsletter for exclusive mini interviews – in July, my guest is fantasy author Kerry Buchanan, talking about horses in fiction.

Happy summer to those in the Northern Hemisphere! Here’s to beachside reading, lazy days in the shade, and a chance to recharge those batteries.

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Book Cover Sunday: Back Cover Blurbs

*This blog post is a follow-up to Book Cover Sunday: Fantasy Cover Art and Book Cover Sunday: SFF Book Spines.*

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a blurb as, “a short publicity notice, as on a book jacket.” Wikipedia tells us that the term ‘blurb’ dates from the very early 1900s, and refers to “a short promotional piece accompanying a creative work.” Wikipedia goes on to say that a blurb can be written by the author or publisher, or it may quote praise received from others.

Now, I have to say, when I first had the idea for this blog post, I was a bit confused about the whole blurb thing. Writers get invited to ‘blurb’ other writers’ books. (I myself wrote one for Suzanne Jackson’s The Beguiler.) But you also see writers talking about how hard they’ve been working on their book blurbs, meaning the short summary that often goes on the back cover. So which one, exactly is this mysterious blurb?

After a bit of enthusiastic Googling, I realized the answer is, of course, both. So what can make up a back cover blurb? All or a fraction of the following:

  • Synopsis – a short summary or teaser for the story, usually one or two paragraphs, giving potential readers an idea of what the book is about, aiming at ‘hooking’ them. In some cases, authors and publishers opt to use a short scene from the book, instead.
  • Tag line – not all books and series use these, and often they’re on the front cover. But every now and then they migrate to the back of the book.
  • Endorsements – quotes from market sources such as reviewers, or other writers, praising the book.
  • Author bio and/or photo – short and sweet (unless it’s non-fiction, but I’m sticking to fiction here…)
  • Author/publisher website address.
  • Cover artist/designer credits.
  • Other books in series/other books by the author – info and/or photos.

In the name of research, I went on a (well-behaved, church-mouse-silent) rampage around my local Barnes & Noble, looking at some of the new releases for examples of back cover blurbs. I actually found quite a variety, although the most common choice seems to be a combination of synopsis and endorsements.

Let’s start with middle grade fiction. Here’s bestseller Rick Riordan’s latest novel, The Hidden Oracle, which basically has nothing on the back but a few select bits of praise. Riordan is such a huge name in kid lit that he really needs no introduction or pitch, and his work sells on name alone by now. Compare it to my own battered copy of The Lightning Thief, his first ever children’s book. It’s the paperback, so it had already been out long enough to garner some decent praise, but it uses the standard set up of synopsis plus endorsements.

Moving into YA fantasy. First off, here’s Cinda Williams Chima’s first Seven Realms book, The Demon King. As you can see, it has a pretty extensive synopsis on the back, with only a couple of endorsements. Her most recent book in the same universe, Shadowcaster, goes for more of a teaser than an actual summary, and dedicates a much larger portion of the space to endorsements.

The latest book by heavyweight Sarah J. Maas, Court of Wings and Ruin, is actually pretty different from most of the others I looked at. It has an extensive synopsis on the back, and that’s it. She’s a big name in YA fantasy, though, and the line ‘#1 New York Times Best Seller’ on the front cover is probably the only endorsement she needs.

Another big hitter’s recent release, Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare, also makes an interesting choice. Here, the publishers have opted for nothing except a list of other works by the author. Possibly to find new readers for past works?

Moving into adult fiction, well-loved and established author Robin Hobb has nothing but an elegant collection of endorsements on the back of her newest novel, Assassin’s Fate. But then, when you start off your back cover blurb with a quote from George R.R. Martin, you don’t really need much more!

It was interesting comparing the first and second book in John Gwynne’s series, Malice and Valor (unfortunately, the bookstore didn’t have the subsequent titles for comparison). While most of Malice is taken up by a synopsis, the sequel devotes its real estate to praise for the first book, as well as a photo of its cover. Writer and editor Christy Yaros points out that part of the reason for this approach is to make sure that new readers understand this is a second book in a series, which is a really good point.

Another ‘before and after’ comparison: Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister, first in a new trilogy, devotes its back copy to praise for the author’s first two series. This plays a double role; it shows endorsement of Lawrence’s work, and also points new readers to his previous two trilogies. A clever example of making your back cover blurb work at multiple levels. Now, if you take a look at the paperback of Lawrence’s first published novel, Prince of Thorns, you’ll notice it dedicates a fair bit of cover space to a synopsis of the story. Back then, Lawrence was still a new name in the game. Now, he has a devoted following.

The next one I’m including for creative use of space. Julia Knight’s Swords and Scoundrels manages to include back cover copy, a cool little hook paragraph that makes it clear it’s the first in a trilogy, an endorsement, character art, and the covers for the three books in the series. And yet, even with all of this, it isn’t cluttered – in fact, it looks rather sleek, and as appealing as the front cover.

It was interesting seeing the difference between the back cover of a multi-published author’s first book, when they were still a new name, and their most recent one. That made me wonder, what do the truly huge names do? I dragged myself away from the SF/F shelves of the bookstore, and went in search of the latest bestsellers by some of the publishing industry’s giants. So, what’s on the back of work by Danielle Steel, James Patterson, and Clive Cussler?

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Voilá. Now that’s a back cover blub… 😉

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Sign up for my monthly newsletter for exclusive mini interviews. Coming in June: Historical European Martial Arts expert Christopher Valli on swords in fiction.

December Updates

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Night Blade outline notes

The end (of the year) is nigh! Cue much panicked screaming and Kermit flailing as I rush around trying to finish all the stuff (ALL THE STUFFS!) that I should have finished oh…about a month ago.

Procrastination, thy name is DVR queue.

I’ve actually been keeping pretty busy, even taking into account distractions like the CW 4-show crossover week, and the growing pile of books I’ve bought and not read yet. I’m working hard on Night Blade, book 2 of the Blade Hunt Chronicles, and have sailed past the halfway mark now, with the finish line on the not-too-distant horizon. There are lots of cool bits in Night Blade that I’m having a blast writing, such as the splendiferous ballroom scene I hammered out yesterday.

I have lots of artsy goodness I’m looking forward to sharing. My publisher is putting the final touches on my gorgeous cover, and soon I’ll be able to show off all the glory of Merilliza Chan’s work. I also have a treat lined up for January: the talented Corinna Marie is drawing some character art for me, and I’ll be introducing you all to four of my key characters in the weeks before Heart Blade launches. (Stay tuned for character art postcard giveaways in 2017!)

February 14th is creeping closer, and I can’t wait to set Heart Blade loose upon the (poor unsuspecting) world. Review ARCs are almost ready to go, and I’m excited to see what people have to say about Del, Ash & Co.

In the meantime, for those who’d like a taste of my work, I have a short story (yes, another one!) due out sometime in January. More updates on that soon, but the Journeys fantasy anthology by Woodbridge Press promises to be amazing, with an all-star group of authors and a stabby little tale by yours truly.

 

Happy December!

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October Updates

 

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Dog bed under table for strategic canine foot-rubs

Hello October, you lovely thing. Plenty of the good and the busy going on over here in my autumn-colored neck of the woods.

My Heart Blade edits are pretty much done! I have the wonderful experts at Laurel City Sword looking over my fight scenes at the moment, but apart from that…the manuscript is ready to place in the copyeditor’s capable hands. Although in the past I’ve worked with plenty of fabulous (and patient) beta readers and critique partners, this was my first time working with a professional editor. It’s been a really interesting and positive experience, and I’m sure there’s a whole other blog post right there waiting to happen.

I have a cover! Well, almost. There are all sorts of things that still need to be done to it before it’s ready to share, like adding a title. But my publisher has let me peek and Merilliza Chan‘s artwork is lovely, with a dreamy vintage feel to it. Here’s a teaser:

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Rose petals! So pretty! Shh, secret…

So what happens next? I have a sequel to write. That means I need to do some serious outlining first, and also a post-edits update of all my story and character arcs for the next three Blade Hunt Chronicles books. No spoilers for book 2 before book 1 is even out, but I may or may not have a heist tale in the works. I’ve been dying to try my hand at fictional armed robbery, and Night Blade is the perfect place for it.

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Caution: fictional armed robbery may or may not include swords

I’m looking forward to a busy October, and that’s just the way I like it. Happy words to all you writers and readers out there!

August Updates

August tiptoed in yesterday all ninja-like and sneaky. July went by so fast it was a blink-and-miss it month. Probably because I spent most of it buried in my laptop. So, what’s new on the writing front? Plenty!

I received my edit notes for Heart Blade and I’m deep into rewrites. Revisions are hard work, and mean digging a lot deeper into scenes and characters than you’d ever imagined you possibly could. But I’m confident that the story will be all the better for it. And to tell the truth, I’m actually really enjoying the chance to polish up Heart Blade under the expert  hand of my editor, Teresa Edgerton. I can’t wait to share the results next year.

The big Heart Blade news, however is that I now have a cover artist! Woodbridge Press will be working with the very talented and lovely Merilliza Chan. I’ve had a sneak peek at some of her sketches and am so excited. I just know that Meril will produce something amazing for Del and Ash’s story. Keep an eye out for more cover news!

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Teaser…………. Because I’m evil like that!

Check out Meril’s art on Instagram and Deviant Art.

Book Cover Sunday: SFF Book Spines

*WARNING! PICTURE-HEAVY BLOG POST!*

(A follow-up to Book Cover Sunday: Fantasy Cover Art)

This week I got an urge to browse my local Barnes and Noble, and what better than use a blog post as an excuse?

As I wandered up and down the science fiction and fantasy aisle, it struck me that we – writers and readers – tend to focus a lot on the cover itself. However, since bookstore space is limited, only a few lucky books get displayed cover out. Most have to jostle for space with other tempting titles.

So what are the strategies for book spine design? Here are a few thoughts on the subject; please take with a huge grain of salt since I am not an cover artist, graphic designer, or marketing professional. And please feel free to add your own comments, too!

First of all, here’s a general view of one of the store’s shelving sections.

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Disregarding size differences in mass market, trade paperback, and hardback, I still found that my eye was immediately drawn to the solid blocks of color in this edition of Pierce Brown’s sci fi trilogy:

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Now, these may not be the prettiest book spines around, but wow are they ever effective. However, they give us nothing else to go on, once they’ve drawn the eye. If you hadn’t heard of Pierce Brown, maybe you’d pick one up. Or maybe your eye would then slide to the books next to them. Having a purely graphic spine with no artwork (besides the cryptic symbol in the middle) is always a gamble.

Also eye-catching are the fonts used for the titles on these Miles Cameron novels. But different from the Pierce Brown books, these spines give us a clue as to the content. We have swords, and knights. We know what sort of story to expect.

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If the author has a larger body of work, with plenty of titles displayed on the same shelf, their book spines can be a little more discreet. After all, what counts here are sheer numbers. From the same section (see first image), here are Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novels:

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Don’t they look nice all together? It’s eye-catching simply by means of bulk. Would one of these on its own work as effectively? I doubt it. This strategy is definitely one for prolific authors. Here are a couple of other examples, from Seanan McGuire and Charlaine Harris (oh, the pretty colors!).

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Okay, so maybe Charlaine’s aren’t that subtle. But they follow the same style: you’re supposed to collect the set. Now, don’t you want to see them all together on your shelf? I know I do!

Robin Hobb’s books are even more discreet. Here, the author’s name is the key attraction. But when you’re a well-loved writer like Hobb, with a tremendously loyal following, you can do precisely that. Your name is the key sales pitch, after all.

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Here are a couple of books by Joe Abercrombie that have gone for the ‘author name as banner’ approach:

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Now, these happen to have gorgeous covers, but the spine is minimalist almost to a fault. Your eye is drawn to the stark white author name. These really are all about Joe. Compare them to the two titles by Abercrombie in the next photo. Here, despite the enormous lettering, our attention is caught by the images behind. To be honest, I’m not sure why the font needs to be so big here, since all I want to do is look at the picture.

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I like the second ones a lot more than the first; I love the use of images on book spines. It’s a great intro to an author you may not be familiar with and I think that, particularly in cases where you might purchase only a couple of the author’s books (as opposed to a ‘collectible series’ like the Dresden Files), it works very well indeed. Take a look at these Steven Erikson titles, compared to the ones next to them. Aren’t they catchy? However interesting that font on the Jennifer Estep novels, the pictures on Erikson’s novels really jump out at you.

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Here are a few more Erikson titles. Yummy, right?

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This edition of Brent Weeks’ Night Angel trilogy goes for a cleaner, more minimalist use of images, using a graphic style and an emphasis on title over author name that is often seen in YA books:

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Compare Brent’s novels to some popular YA fantasy titles, and you’ll see what I mean. Here are Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, and the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas.

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As I mentioned before, the author’s name is extremely discreet, with book title being the main draw along with the image. Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle takes this to an extreme:

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Of course, in Paolini’s case, he’s got the color going for him in terms of eye-popping catchiness. But hey, why stick to plain red, blue, and green when you can go all the way and adopt Gail Carriger’s style for Prudence? Yes, I’ll take some hot pink with my tea and crumpets. That’ll do nicely.

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When I set out for my little bookstore jaunt, I was sure I would find plenty of common threads; widespread strategies applied across the shelves. The truth is, book spines seem to come in an even more bewildering array than book covers. Every publisher wants their books to be the ones that jump out at you, and each one seems to have a different idea about how to do that. After all, a book spine is the author’s  business card, the first impression upon a prospective reader. And I’m sure that if I were to browse other genres outside SF/F I’d find new strategies, new conventions.

I know one thing for sure; I’m going to be paying a lot more attention to spine design from now on. And now excuse me, I’m off to play with my bookshelves. I have some spines to reorganize.

 

 

Book Cover Sunday: Fantasy Cover Art

I was browsing my to-read pile and ended up going for the new Kristell Ink anthology Fight Like a Girl, in part for the glorious cover. That got me thinking about cover art. Now, I’m not hugely influenced by book covers. I tend to go by synopsis and sample pages rather than looks. But I can’t deny that when a book sounds interesting AND has a gorgeous cover, it’s a huge bonus. I’ll pick up my favorites again and again, just to feast my eyes on the artwork and maybe reread a page or two.

I began pulling out books from my shelves that really appealed to me for one reason or another. Looking through the pile on my table, I realized that the covers seemed to fall into four distinct camps. Now, I’m no expert on cover art, or art at all for that matter. So feel free to disagree in the comments and add your own categories!

Category 1: The ‘teaser trailer’ cover.

This type of cover is big in children’s fiction, and indeed my first ever cover love was C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, beautifully illustrated by Pauline Baynes (1970’s edition). The artwork gives us a sneak peek at the story, showing us a scene or a setting, and providing a taste of things to come.

Examples for this category include the John Rocco covers for Rick Riordan’s books. Rocco created all the US covers for Riordan’s middle grade and YA work, and in my opinion pulls off the ‘teaser trailer’ aspect very well, giving us enough of a hint at what will happen to get us interested.

Of course, these are covers aimed at younger readers. However, the Michael Whelan art for Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive does much the same for an older target audience. Look at the cover for The Way of Kings, below. Can’t you just picture the soaring music of the trailer as the camera pulls out to sweep the landscape? Don’t you just want to know more, immediately?

Sometimes a ‘teaser trailer’ cover doesn’t even need human figures. The Tim Byrne cover art for the Rojan Dizon series by Francis Knight is a particularly effective example. Once again, can’t you just imagine the camera swooping in towards the streets in this cover for Knight’s Fantasy Noir novel Last to Rise?

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Category 2: The ‘character hook’ cover.

This is probably one of the most prevalent cover types in fantasy. Hooded rogues, brooding kings, towering warriors. There’s a subtype for each and every subgenre. Some can be a little cliché, others find a way to make an impression. The difference between this category and the first? While the ‘teaser trailer’ cover tries to hook us with a promise of a story, the character cover centers it all on the main protagonist(s). It wants us to immediately bond with them, anchoring our curiosity on the figure the covers portray and encouraging us to discover their story.

The cover for Swords and Scoundrels by Julia Knight is pretty typical of the category, although we have two characters in this case, and not the more usual one. Illustrated by Gene Mollica and designed by Wendy Chan, what sets a cover of this sort above others is the beautiful artwork. The characters must be appealing enough that we say, “Why yes, I will enter your domain and hear your story, dear swashbuckling people on the cover!” It’s a simple set-up, but it works.

Teresa Edgerton’s Mask and Dagger duology does something a little different. In both Goblin Moon and Hobgoblin Night, Sarah J. Swainger’s cover art opts for a dark outline, reminiscent of the silhouette portraits popular in the mid-to-late 18th century, a particularly fitting nod to Edgerton’s Victorian-inspired world. The effect is clean, crisp, but still remains within the domain of ‘character hook’ covers.

A modern take on the theme was used effectively in the US covers for Myke Cole’s new military fantasy trilogy. Illustrated by Larry Rostant and designed by Diana Kolsky, the covers for Gemini Cell and Javelin Rain pulse with energy. The enigmatic character portrayal and the vibrancy of the artwork draw us in and promises a thrilling ride.

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Category 3: The ‘one Ring to bind them’ cover.

In yet another version of the ‘teaser trailer’ cover, this category takes an inanimate object and uses it as a story hook. A mysterious symbol might promise a tale of magic. A sword, the allure of violent and heroic deeds. You get the idea. Personally, I think the ‘one Ring’ covers can be particularly effective for a series, adding a new element for each book. This form of cover art treads the line between teaser hook and my last category, the ‘graphic glory’ cover.

The Larry Rostant/David Stevenson covers for George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire are a good example. Simple, clean, and to the point, they each prominently feature one item relating to events in the book, using background color as an important tool to give each book a separate identity within the common thread. The gloriously red art for A Feast for Crows, for instance, is repeated on the spine, a clever ploy for on-shelf prettiness.

The covers for the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima go a step further. The original four books, as well as the newly released Flamecaster, first in a new series set many years later, join together ‘significant object’ with ‘teaser trailer’ backgrounds. Sneaky! And also very effective. Now that you’ve seen it, aren’t you just dying to know more about the mysterious amulet thing on the cover? And how does it fit in with the city behind? Art by Sasha Vinogradova and design by Erin Fitzsimmons.

The original UK cover for Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold takes the ‘one Ring’ concept and runs with it, far, and fast, and wide. We have a map! And a sword! There are coins, and blood splatters! It took a whole team to create, according to Joe’s blog. It’s pretty amazing, to tell the truth, and I really wish it were the cover of the version on my Kindle. It’s not, unfortunately, so I had to resort to online drooling. But really, there are so many different objects on this cover that it’s a whole micro-story in itself. A sort of connect-the-dots intro to the story inside.

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Category 4: The ‘graphic glory’ cover.

This category of book cover is deliciously graphic, with a lean, clean beauty of a concept. It’s less about hooking the reader with the promise of a story, and more about wowing them with stunning artwork that pretty much stands alone without the novel inside. If I were to frame and display any of the books in my personal library, it would probably be the ones with this sort of cover.

I originally bought A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab, in e-version. But I eventually went out and bought a physical copy, too. I wanted it on my shelf; I needed it on my shelf. Although this cover does refer to the novel, the appeal isn’t in the story hook but in the sheer prettiness of Will Staehle’s artwork.

Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne trilogy is another personal favorite, both in terms of covers and content. The UK cover art by Ghost is discreet, minimalist, and lovely. Even if I had no idea what was inside The City’s Son and its sequels, I’d probably peek just because I like the cover so much.

To finish where I started, Kristell Ink’s Fight Like a Girl anthology fits neatly into the ‘graphic glory’ category. The paper doll sweetness of Sarah Anne Langton’s cover art is too cute for words, and fits the book concept admirably: after all, in an anthology each author mounts their own unique character, and has their own distinct take on the theme. And you can dive deeper, taking the idea of paper dolls and examining the roles society hands out to women. Charming and clever!

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In the name of ‘blogging’, I’ve just spent a fun couple of hours on a rainy afternoon looking through my physical and virtual shelves. How about taking a look at the books you own? Which are the cover styles that appeal to you? And why?

(See also Book Cover Sunday: SFF Book Spine)