Characters And Covers

In all my years of writing, I very seldom get a cover that accurately depicts my characters the way I see them. Usually the background scenery is perfect. The pose is perfect. The blurb is perfect. The colors (usually) are gorgeous. But out of all 68 books I’ve had published so far, only a few depicted the hero close to how I saw him. The ones that come to mind that (to me) came closest to my hero’s looks were the following – (I have underlined the word original because many of my books have been reissued several times, each time with a new cover.)

My three Blue Hawk books – SAVAGE HORIZONS, FRONTIER FIRES and DESTINY’S DAWN. There have been several versions of these covers, but the original covers were the best. I also liked the reissued covers that had a couple on them (a bit sexier - by Hot Damn Designs) came very close to my hero, Caleb Sax, and the heroine, Sarah.

  

  

MONTANA WOMAN (Bantam Books) – the original cover was a good depiction of heroine Joline and the man she fell in love with, Clint. 


Again, the original cover for THUNDER ON THE PLAINS (Bantam Books) was a good depiction of Sunny Landers and Colt Travis; and the original cover for IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOUNTAINS correctly depicted Irene Kirkland and her Mexican lover, Ramon. 


 

 

The Native American couple on my three Mystic Indian original covers – MYSTIC DREAMERS, MYSTIC VISIONS, MYSTIC WARRIORS – were also well done. The artist did a good job of matching how I saw those characters. (Covers by Tor/Forge Publishing). 

  

  

My favorite covers of all are my Outlaw books and the handsome Jake Harkner and his wife Miranda. These covers were fantastic and so eye-catching, thanks to the great Jon Paul, who is almost always spot-on and uses such beautiful and handsome models. The poses and the sweeping background seem to perfectly depict the powerful passion and romance that take place in the stories, and my favorite cover of the four is the one for DO NOT FORSAKE ME. Sometimes I just sit and stare at that cover and remember my Jake. 

 

 

The point of this blog is how we visualize the hero and heroine in our stories vs. how they turn out on the book cover. My #1 complaint with publishers is that they don’t seem to understand the look of a true Native American - or the look of a really masculine, rugged, shaggy-haired, rough and tumble western hero with meat on his bones. Too often, he is nowhere near as big and tall and rugged as I see him in my story.

I swear, those designing today’s covers are too young to be able to envision what pioneers and “real” men, as well as strong, determined women looked like. Too often the hero on a suggested cover is too thin, too short, has too modern and perfect a haircut, and is just too “today” overall.

I want a REAL MAN on my cover – meaty, square jaw, a shadow beard, shaggy hair that he probably awkwardly cut himself, full lips, big hands, etc. 99% of the time that first suggested cover has a man on it who is nothing like I pictured my hero. I am always having to ask the publisher to please make him more rugged, taller, bigger all over, give him messy, shaggy hair, etc. I don’t want someone on my cover who looks like he eats nothing but carrots and spinach and is afraid to get his fingernails dirty. I also don’t want someone who looks like a kid who’s been dressed up by a designer to “look” like a cowboy but who very obviously is NOT!

And please, is there no one in NYC who knows what a REAL INDIAN looks like? In the 80’s Native American men on book covers were nothing more than white men with feathers in their hair. I know there are N.A. actors, but apparently very few who will model for a book cover. It’s too bad there aren’t more, but surely there are ways to put a real, genuine Native American on a book cover, or at least a white man who has very Indian features, not someone with blond hair and blue eyes! Yes, that has happened to me.

Either way, when you spend weeks, months, even years with a certain character or characters (sometimes we let certain ideas simmer that long in the depths of our minds), we writers have a very definite idea of how our characters’ features. Naturally, the publishers can’t read our minds. Neither can independent designers who create covers for indie writers. But we have a certain vision of him or her, and when the cover is designed, it is our dream that the characters look exactly the way we picture them. That’s impossible, and it’s frustrating for us. Usually, if the publisher at least comes close, I accept the cover and don’t complain, but it is still disappointing.

My salvation is hoping my readers do what I do when I read a book. I picture the hero/heroine a certain way no matter who is on the cover. Sometimes I think to myself that the cover picture doesn’t fit how I see the characters, so I just don’t let it bother me. When I am writing, I actually scan through pictures of models on the internet and pick out the ones who look very much like how I see my characters. That really helps in how I describe them. I keep that picture for inspiration and hang it or set it right by my computer as I write. I love doing that, and I love showing those pictures to my readers on Facebook. It gets them all excited to read the story!

Overall, I’ve been lucky with covers, but I still have trouble with publishers properly depicting the hero. Inevitably, I have to send back a proposed cover and ask them to “make him taller” – “make him bigger overall” – “make his hair longer – or darker – or make his skin darker.” Too often the hero comes through as hardly any taller than the heroine, his legs and arms too short, his attire all wrong. And if he’s Native American – same thing – muscular, dark, and if possible, a REAL INDIAN – not a dressed-up white man! Leave his hair long and loose. Make him powerful and give him a slightly mean look – the look of a WARRIOR, not some woman’s patsy.

Just thought I’d share. I do like the new cover for my up-coming western romance, LOGAN’S LADY (March 2019), but I had to ask them to make his hair a bit longer. His haircut was far too short and “tidy.” Even so, it is still not nearly long enough for my liking, but it truly is a beautiful cover, and when it comes to marketing a book, Sourcebooks knows better I what will sell, so I leave some of my complaints to myself. I mainly look for features I talk about in the story to make sure the couple on the cover at least comes close to how I describe them in the book. Sourcebooks is wonderful about listening to my suggestions, and LOGAN’S LADY is a very eye-catching cover showing both movement and romance.

One of the most common questions I get from readers is, “Who designs your covers?” 99% of the time the publisher creates the cover, but I have no idea exactly who does the designing or who was used for models. The only designer I can usually always recognize is Jon Paul, because his covers are so sweeping and unique, true 80’s style romance covers. I do have a say in the design as far as describing the characters for them, and I can ask for certain changes once I see the cover.

When it comes down to it, all I can truly control is the story itself, but it’s hard to live with characters so intimately and then get a cover that doesn’t come close to what I had pictured throughout the story. Thank God, so far I have had good luck with publishers listening to my suggestions and complaints, so that we end up with a happy medium – a great story and a great cover!


Possessiveness – A Roadblock to Finishing Your Book

As writers, we sometimes feel very possessive of our characters. Deep down inside, I don’t always want to share my favorite story and its characters with my readers. Sounds crazy, I know, but then I haven’t been totally sane since I started writing. I often feel a little jealous that my readers get to walk into my personal and private world, my thoughts and loves, my personal story ideas that belong only to me. As a writer, I am forced to give these things away once I finish a story. If I want to make a living at this, I have no choice. And yet for me, it’s never been about money. It’s always been about the stories, and my desire to tell them and to share them. Yet when I do, I feel as though I’ve lost a part of myself to the whole world and to a host of strangers who are reading about my very personal thoughts and dreams.

Focus: The Key to Finishing Your Book

I have talked to many “would-be” writers who never seem to finish a book and/or never even start one. One thing that seems to be a common problem in this situation is that many new writers have so many story ideas in their heads that they can’t decide which one to work on. Or, even if they have only one idea, they can’t decide on a firm direction for their story. They spend months, sometimes years, trying to decide how to flesh out their story. Often, this indecision ends up being an excuse to not write anything at all. They think they have accomplished something just by having all those great ideas, or just that one great idea. I have spoken with too many new writers who claim that as soon as they decide what to work on, or how to develop their story, they will finish their book and start submitting. Sometimes a year or so later, I learn that they still haven’t decided which story to write, or they have “started” 2 or 3 different stories and never finished any of them, or they still haven’t moved past the first couple of chapters of that one great idea.

The Value of Those Voices in the Night

A few nights ago I woke up with a great idea for a blog. By morning, I forgot it! I am so upset that I didn’t write it down. That in turn gave me a different idea for a blog, so I’m writing about the value of remembering to write down a good idea RIGHT AWAY! Those voices in the night are simply the product of your writer’s brain offering up ideas. 

Riding The Outlaw Trail …


I am currently reading THE OUTLAW TRAIL by Robert Redford (yes – the actor). In the early 1970’s he actually rode the old Outlaw Trail so that he could experience what it was like and then write about it. The trail runs from Canada to Mexico. Mr. Redford started at Hole-In-The-Wall in northern Wyoming, and traveled mostly by horseback to south of Robber’s Roost in southern Utah. There couldn’t be more spectacular pictures of the fantastic landscape involved along the Outlaw Trail than in this incredibly beautiful book. It’s a big, roughly 9” x 11,” hard cover, with a great sexy picture of Mr. Redford on the cover and pictures and conversations with some very crusty and rugged characters inside the book. I can already see in this book the nostalgia Mr. Redford had for the “Old West,” which I am sure prompted his starring in the movie THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN, where he steals a beautiful but doped-up show horse out of Las Vegas and rides the horse into the wild plains, where he turns it loose and lets it run free with mustangs. 

Nostalgia

We all get a case of nostalgia once in a while - you know, another one of those “diseases” they are always talking about on TV. If your ear itches, it’s a disease. If your eyes get a little dry, it’s a disease. Used to be a disease was something serious that you usually died from. Now the drug industry wants you to think a mosquito bite is a disease. 

Writing – A Joy, Not A Job

I was answering someone else’s blog a couple of days ago, and I ended with saying writing should be a joy, not a job. Soon as I wrote that, I realized it was a great topic for my own blog!


I write every chance I get, any time of day, deep in the night when I can’t sleep, often while my hubby is watching a movie. I just put on my ear phones and listen to my favorite “mood” music and shut out the TV.

I just sold three more books (still to be written) to Sourcebooks, which, when finished, will bring my total published books to 72 over about 39 years. Those years have gone so fast. I have no memory of even writing many of those books. It’s all kind of a blur. But I do remember the plot of every book. Sometimes I have to look at the blurb on the back to remind myself of the names of the characters, but most of the actual story quickly comes back to me.

I squeezed most of those books into my life while working full time and raising two active boys, then spending a lot of time with grandchildren. I’ve always led a very, very busy life, and when working full time, I often sat up after everyone else went to bed and wrote until 1 or 2 am – then got up at 5 am and put in another long day.

Yes, it was hard. Very hard. Yet I enjoyed every word I wrote because I love writing and have loved every character I’ve ever written.

And that’s what writing should be to any writer – a JOY, not a JOB. You should be so “into” your characters that you can’t wait to get back to them and continue their story. In my case, I want to see what happens to them, because even I don’t know until I go into the “next” chapter. I don’t use an outline and don’t plan out my books. I just start one and let the characters take me where they want to go.

Too often I talk to other writers who have been working on the same book for years. I don’t understand that. If you aren’t interested enough in your book to finish it and start submitting it, then don’t write it at all. Start a different story, something that keeps you so excited that, like a reader who can’t put down what she’s reading, you can’t stop writing your story!

I can tell those writers who look at their writing as more of a job than a joy. They struggle to find the time to write and come up with all kinds of excuses not to sit down and keep going. My problem is usually finding time to do everything else, but I never have trouble finding time to write. My stories and their characters are with me 24/7, 7 days a week. When we stay at our condo in Vegas winters, while my husband plays poker, I sit at Starbucks and proofread my daily writing. Why waste money gambling when I could be making money on my writing?

A true writer never sees her work as a job she dreads or struggles to find time for. A true writer can’t wait to get back to the computer, and she not only works on the story at hand, but she also has more stories in her head just itching to be told. A true writer never runs out of ideas, and she is so excited about the story she is working on that she gets in as much writing time as possible every day. She doesn’t sit watching TV for 3-4 hours every night. She sits and writes 3-4 hours every night. If you have time to do nothing but watch TV, then you have time to write. Once you get into the groove of working writing into your day, it gets easier and easier.

If you let writing be a JOY and not a JOB, you’ll find you can produce a lot more books in a lot less time. That joy has allowed me to produce an average of two big books a year for the last 35 years, and all those older books are still selling, a lot of them having already been reissued two and three times over the years. That’s how you build your name, which in turn builds your sales.

Write! Write! Write! You don’t get published by wishing it, and you don’t get published by working on the same book for years. I’ve heard some writers say they don’t want to “work” that hard. Honey, if you’re calling it work, you aren’t a real writer. Let it be a JOY!

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With more than 7 million books in print, RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award–winning and USA Today Bestselling author Rosanne Bittner pens a historical Western romance filled with dangerous cowboys, capable heroines, and an epic love story that sweeps across the Old West.

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

This weekend I’ll be attending a small weekend writers’ retreat, and I can’t wait! (See details at the end of this blog.) Writers love hanging out with each other, because only other writers can counsel each other on our own unique problems. Only other writers understand where we’re coming from when we talk about our characters like they really live(d). Another writer once asked me how I make my characters so “real.” My answer was because they are real … to me. They are people from the past, speaking to me in spirit. And the more “real” I write my characters, the more real they become to my readers. Only another writer would understand how “alive” our characters are to us. 

Becoming History

Our area newspaper has a “Local History” section, where it reprints news from 100 to 75 to 50 years ago and so forth. Recently, there was a section under “35 YEARS AGO,” and it was about my first publication, SWEET PRAIRIE PASSION, Book #1 of my SAVAGE DESTINY series. Apparently, I am now a part of “history.” Well, being born just five months before WWII ended, I guess I qualify, but I’m not terribly happy about the fact that that was 73 years ago!