Friday, November 11, 2016

Helena Fairfax: How a title contest brought new readers and the perfect cover

It's always interesting to hear what steps authors take to bring in new readers. We're delighted to welcome Helena Fairfax as she explains how a dilemma turned into an opportunity...

A couple of years ago I submitted a romantic suspense short story for an anthology. The brief was simple – to have the story set in a hot location and for it to contain the obvious ingredients: romance and suspense. I set my story in a fictional Mediterranean country called Montverrier, filled it with lots of intrigue and a creepy Mrs Danvers-type character, and duly submitted it.

The anthology didn’t get off the ground, sadly, but the agent liked Palace of Deception so much she suggested I develop it into a novella. I had great fun reworking the story and fleshing out the character of my bodyguard hero, Léon. So much fun, in fact, that I wanted to continue the story to find out what happened to my characters after their Mediterranean holiday romance. How would they fare when hit with all the realities of back-to-work in a “dreich” Edinburgh autumn - and then when they find danger has followed? My second novella was called The Scottish Diamond. By this time I was totally in love with Léon and so I wrote a final short story to round the adventures off. A Question by Torchlight is set at Hogmanay.

So, out of just one short story a whole collection grew up. It made sense to put all three stories into one boxed set, but for ages and ages I kept putting it off. The reason for prevaricating was I just couldn’t think what title to give it. I was absolutely stumped and even lay awake at night revolving ideas in my mind. The stories take place over the span of a year in completely different settings – the Mediterranean in summer and Scotland in autumn and New Year. I kept thinking of rubbish titles and discarding them, until I had the best idea of all – ask for help, and run a contest with a prize.

I decided to offer a signed copy of the final anthology, with the winner’s title on the front cover and an acknowledgement to the winner printed in the fly leaf. As an extra incentive I also offered a bracelet as a prize. To my amazement, people took up the challenge with relish. I immediately had comments on my blog post , as well as private emails, tweets, and responses to my newsletter. I was genuinely touched by the amount of thought people put into it. The winning title was perfect. A Year of Light and Shadows sums up the contrasting locations, the fact that the stories deal with the contrasting themes of danger and love, and also that heroine is torn between not being able to trust the hero and falling in love with him.

The winning title had another benefit. My cover artist – who usually comes up with just the right design from my woolly brief – emailed to tell me that, not surprisingly, she was really struggling to find the perfect image to marry a bright Mediterranean sea and a dark, misty Edinburgh. As soon as I told her the title, she came straight back with a brilliant concept. I absolutely love the cover she came up with, especially the heart-shaped pool of light in the shadow of the hero and heroine. The cover drew a lot of attention and Charlotte Volnek's design – and the winning title – have both won me new readers.  

Here is the blurb for the anthology:

From the heat of the Mediterranean to the heart of Scotland…

Palace of Deception

When a Mediterranean princess goes missing, Lizzie Smith is forced to take on the acting job of her life. Her bodyguard, Léon, is her only confidant – but when danger strikes, whose side is he on?

The Scottish Diamond         

Lizzie is being followed through the streets of Edinburgh. She turns to her former bodyguard for help and discovers a terrible secret…

A Question by Torchlight

Lizzie and Léon have put their year of danger behind them…so what is he hiding from her? 

A Year of Light and Shadows is available from Amazon and other online retailers.
You can read Palace of Deception for free by signing up to Helena's newsletter.
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Thanks very much for being with us today, Helena. We love the cover. Wishing you all the best with your release!


E. Ayers said...

What a fun idea. I love the cover and the title. Great job!

Helena Fairfax said...

Thank you, E! My cover designer is Charlotte Volnek. She always does wonderful covers. Thanks so much for dropping in!

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Good cover and title. Always good to get reader input.

E. Ayers said...

That really is a beautiful cover! And so nicely boxed.

Helena Fairfax said...

Thanks very much, Jacqueline and E!