The Many Faces of Dark Secrets
It’s that time of year again. You’ve just finished buying your last Dark Secrets book, your shiny collection of eye-catching covers is sitting neatly in line on your shelf, and bam! Your favourite author puts out new covers. Now, you have to start all over again, or just accept the fact that you’ll never own every version of Dark Secrets. Either way, you find yourself asking “Why?!”
WHY, AM HUDSON, DO YOU ALWAYS CHANGE YOUR COVERS?
To answer that, we have to go back….
All the way back in time to when I first decided to write a book…
It was the fall of 2007, and I’d been planning to go back to work after taking time off to raise kids. My husband had just begun pilot school, and we had just lost our house in the financial crisis. We were living with my mum. We had 2 kids.
Right as I landed a job doing Saturdays at a car yard, I found out I was pregnant. With baby #3. Unplanned baby #3. I HATED going to work on a weekend when I could be spending time with my beloved children. It killed me to have to leave them, as I’m sure most of you can relate. So I knew I’d need to find a job that allowed me more time with my kids.
That’s when I got to thinking… if I had to go to work, and I had to leave them to earn money, I wanted a career. Not a job. I wanted it all to mean something.
But wha would I want to do if I could do anything? If there were no limitations? If I had the money to go to college and study anything, and all the time in the world to do it.
“A writer…” said a voice in my head. Which was quickly put to rest.
“Writing is a hobby, numbskull! Not a career,” I replied angrily, in the same voice I'd heard that statement made a thousand times before.
But time passed, and I got bad morning sickness, and going to work was a living hell for me. My entire life at that point was a living hell for numerous reasons. My darling husband told me to quit work, and we would work it out. He was still in his band at the time, so we did have money coming in. We would be okay. Only because we lived at my mum’s.
So I did quit. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay at home for ever. I’d have 3 kids soon, and I need to contribute to the family income.
“Become a writer,” said that voice in my head.
“But it doesn’t pay,” I told it.
“But it might. Dream, girl. Dream!”
So, since I had roughly 6 months left of not working, and 4 years ahead of baby talk, diapers, and play group, I thought I might give it a go. I wasn’t ready to write, though. I had NO faith in myself, and the last time I’d tried to be a writer (back before the internet was really widely used), it failed because I had NO idea how to actually put words down and make a scene, make a story, get my point across. I didn’t understand anything about writing, and I didn’t even know what a protagonist was. I had to Google that! Ha ha ha. I used to be very embarrassed by it.
I knew nothing, Jon Snow!
So… being the strong-willed, never-quit kind of person I was slowly starting to become, I decided that if I couldn’t write, then I would learn.
But I had no money for school. I did, however, have an old computer and access to the internet. I wasn’t even on Facebook back then, because it was still a new thing. Websites were still pretty new to me as well, and I had no idea what a blog or a forum was. But I got on the internet, used it like an encyclopaedia (discovered funny cat videos on YouTube for the first time and lost three months of my life! Ha ha ha) and I started learning. I also quickly learned that not all advice on the internet is to be taken seriously. Ha ha ha ha.
So, armed with a bit of basic knowledge, a big brave heart, and hope that everything would work out, I set out to write a book—something I, in the past, had only dared to even imagine was possible. I’d written several stories in my teen years, but all were picked apart by people smarter than me, and it killed my faith in myself. I had to set out to write bad!
What does this have to do with your covers? I hear you ask.
I’ll get to that…
I remember it like it was yesterday.
It was the start of everything.
I knew that if I wanted to be a writer, I had to work even when I didn’t want to. I had to work at it when I wanted to go out with friends. Work at it when I wanted to watch tv. Work at it when people judged me or made remarks about it. I had to work at it all the time.
It was my baby brother’s birthday. He had all his friends over for a pool party, and since I was still living at mum’s, I was amongst the noise and the chaos of a children’s party, with my own kids around me, sitting at the dining table and trying to work. And I was happy, guys. I was so freaking happy to have something that was for ME. Just for me. Even if it failed. Even if I sucked. I just loved owning something.
That moment was pivotal.
I had no idea where my dreams would take me, but I now had faith that I could achieve them, because I decided, right there and then, siting by the window, with the sunlight and noise reaching in, that I would keep trying NO MATTER WHAT. I would never fail because you can only fail if you stop trying to succeed.
From there, my first ever version of Dark Secrets was born. It began in the 1700s in a large mansion in France, where David was walking across what is now the Great Hall (but with a study desk) to talk to his uncle. He didn’t have a brother then (he had a sister), but Jason was a character in the story. The bad guy. And David… the vampire… his name, at that time, was Mike.
Then, after doing research on writing to market, I decided that Dark Secrets couldn’t be a period novel. It needed to be contemporary (set in our time), and since it would jump to our time-period later in the story, I decided to start the story there. With Ara. On her first day of school. That first version was titled: “The Girl in the Yellow Dress”. Check out the image below. Ara's name was spelled "Arra". How odd is that?
On a side note, in the first 1700s version, the vampire was in love with a pauper’s daughter. He was a sailor and, while in port, he “ruined” this girl. He’d become a vampire after that, when his ship crashed and he met a man named Arthur, who rescued him off the coast of Scotland and turned him into a vampire. When he returned to Ara many years later, she was a shamed and shunned girl because of what he did to her (there was a public scene with some groping). She wouldn’t forgive him, and she later died. I can’t remember how, but it was tragic.
Many centuries later, he sees her again. She’s a vampire. I couldn't find that old version to show you a screenshot because, sadly, it's on a disc. And I don't have a disc drive. Ha ha ha.
Anyway, on with the story. So it wasn’t until my husband had finally become a pilot (against ALL odds), and we moved into a rental, that I started truly moving my dream ahead full steam. Away from judgment and the mockery that comes from other peoples’ low expectations of you, I flourished. I held on to my dreams and I decided to self-publish. My dream was fragile, and I didn’t feel like it could survive rejection letters from those that were smarter than me (and I knew even JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer had been rejected many times, and I had nothing on them as a writer!). So I never applied to a publisher. I knew my material was raw. I knew I needed to learn and grow before I was ready for a publisher. And that time was not now. It would be one day.
So I researched and researched and learned all that I could about publishing. The only trouble was, I’d need good covers. But I didn’t know how to make covers. And I didn’t own Photoshop or anything.
A friend of my husband’s knew how to use Photoshop, so we sent him some images with some ideas of what we imagined, but he wasn’t creative. At all. So he couldn’t really capture my vision. After many tries and fails, I decided that Photoshop was something I would have to learn.
I got a copy, using money I didn’t have—money we had to live off after the flight training school my husband taught at was closed down 2 weeks before Christmas and all employees were made redundant, without their final two-week’s pay (we didn’t see that money for a year!)—and I started learning.
I had a vision in my mind of what I wanted my covers to be, but stock images weren’t widely available and I did NOT have money for them. And there was no Pixabay. God, that would have made life so much easier. There were also not many cover designers around, because self-publishing was still very new and no one was making money off selling to newbie writers then. How different the world is now. You can get great covers off Fiver!
Anyway, I loved the Fallen cover! The first book I ever went out of my way to buy was Fallen, because I loved the cover. So I knew that was what I wanted. But I just didn’t know how to do that. And, as all new writers do, I wanted my cover to match my books exactly! I didn’t care about designing to market. I wanted them to match because I hated when covers didn’t, or when characters on the front didn’t look like that in the book (like a blonde when the story is about a brunette).
So I came up with this:
And I released it to the world.
Then, out of nowhere, people liked my book! I actually started getting some money. It wasn’t much, but I was thrilled. Most of those downloads below are from free copies at Smashwords. I earned $4000.00 that year from that one book, Tears of the Broken.
Then, I got a Facebook page, and people started telling me they liked my book. They even asked if I was going to write a sequel.
“Ha ha ha. No, it’s just a standalone,” I told them.
“BUT WE WANT MORE!” they demanded.
Um... no way, I thought. I will never write a sequel. I hated vampire stories where the girl ends up with the vampire. What kind of message was that sending out to the young girls reading this? I wanted to drill some common-sense and self-respect into them by having Ara end up with the human. Have her make the right choice! I also didn’t want to get stuck writing a series, and then have all my readers only want that set of characters from me and never want to read anything else I write.
Well, you know what they say…
So, I put out a sequel, but I faced the cover dilemma all over again. I was never happy with them. After book two (back then, it was Tears of the Broken and The Knight of the Rose: see left image), people wanted more.
So I gave it to them. The books were rebranded when I realised it was going to be a series, and I wanted it to have a series name. So book one and two were put together and called “Dark Secrets book one”, and so on and so on.
I decided to do covers that could be easily identified as a series, but I didn’t have the money for images and had NO idea what I’d want to do. I didn’t really know how to brand, and I wasn’t a very skilled designer.
So I had these…
Then I had these…
But it wasn’t what I wanted. This wasn’t a romance series, but that’s what it looked like. It was dark fantasy, and I still wanted the Fallen cover, or something like it.
After chatting to a publisher friend, he recommended I try covers without people. So I went with these:
No-people covers... that no people bought. Ha ha ha!
Then, I was finally making enough money to approach the photographer whose images I’d seen used on DeviantArt many times in all kinds of collections that would suit Dark Secrets. Imagine my shock when I found out she sold the license to use her model for $20! I could have bought them all along, but I would never have had the skill to make them what they needed to be.
So, now, armed with my skill, my money, my time, and my new Photoshop subscription, I made these:
But I could not think of an idea for book 5 onward. I clutched at straws and just made ‘Whatever”, hoping it would do (But I HATED THEM). And my covers were still putting people off. I had somehow, in the excitement of design, got lost in the process and made them so far removed from what I originally wanted.
Not only that, but I had ALWAYS wanted a cover with a girl playing piano in a forest, but I could never find a good image that worked. And I wanted one with a haunting mirror and a creepy subject peering from within. There were so many ideas I had but just never the time, money, or skill to create them.
And this, my friends, is why we are getting new covers.
I would been lying if I said I will never change or tweak them again after this. I am in this for life. And Dark Secrets is too good a series to hide behind a lack of skills. If I learn more, get smarter, or more skilled, I will come back and update them. It’s known as an “abridged edition”, and it’s very common in publishing. I will always do what I can to make DSS the best it can be, and to make sure it stays current (by updating words like MP3 to iPod, etc.). I owe it to myself for all my dreams and my hard work, all the sacrifice and dedication.
So that, even though it gives you whiplash, is why I will always change my covers. It’s just a quirk or a… “Trademark”, if you will, of who I am as a writer.
I hope you all enjoy the next 10 years of the publishing journey with me.
Thanks for reading.