Introducing The Wolf's Name
Hey guys, between all the worldbuilding posts, I've been sitting on some exciting news for a while, but today I finally get to share them! I have some exciting updates, including this one: my historical fantasy novel, The Wolf’s Name, will be released on April 19th and is now officially available for preorder! I have updated my website to include my book, and anyone who's interested in preordering it will find links to preorder my book from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or, for my Canadian friends out there, Indigo.
To celebrate my book being available for preorder, I thought I’d talk a little about what the book is, how I got the idea for it, and the querying and cover-design processes. So, without further delay, it’s time to introduce…
The Wolf’s Name is my historical fantasy novel. It has a pastoral setting and is sort of an Anne of Green Gables meets Tarzan adventure with a dash of murder, magic, and monsters. It’s got a stubborn and flawed heroine getting herself into a little trouble, some mystery, and a dash of romance. If that sounds like it might interest you, here’s the description on the back of the book:
When Matilda’s brother Nathaniel dies, she’s convinced it’s murder, and she won’t be satisfied until she brings his killer to justice. But her family is still reeling from old wounds. Her mother’s death weighs heavily, and her father’s decision to abandon his family and join the Fenians—rebels against the English rule of Canada—has brought them nothing but shame. Matilda’s siblings want her to let their brother go, and the man she thinks she might love, once her brother’s close friend, wants her to look to the future.
Unwilling to let go, either of her brother or their family farm, Matilda searches out clues that will support her case against the neighbour who hates them. When she saves the life of the one person who might have answers, he won’t say a word to her—because he believes he’s a wolf.
As she tries to bring back his humanity and her attachment to him grows, she realizes that there is more at work than a common murder or a rebellion. Nathaniel was working with strange powers, and in order to find the truth, Matilda may have to master them…or lose everything.
Set in western Canada during the 1880s, The Wolf’s Name is a tale of the perils of revenge—and the dangers of magic.
IN THE BEGINNING: STORY CONCEPT AND GETTING A BOOK DEAL
The Wolf’s Name has been a long time coming. I got the first idea for this book after hearing the tail end of a story about how war dogs had once been used. Suffice it to say it was a gruesome tale that left me appalled. But somewhere in the back of my brain, the writer in me said, “Yeah, but what if they were people instead of dogs?” And so I planted the first seed of what would become The Wolf’s Name.
I wrote the first draft…was it over a decade ago, now? But I’m one of those writers who deals with intense impostor syndrome, so I didn’t query it or any other novel for a very long time. I marvel at authors who write their first book and can barely wait to send it to the query trenches, because that has never been my experience. There’s always something else I need to fix before it’s “ready,” and when I did finally decide to query The Wolf’s Name—in the early months of 2020 before I knew the bizarre upheaval that 2020 would become—it was mostly because I decided I needed to query something if only for the sake of learning how to query well.
I was really lucky in querying. I think I only sent out maybe fifteen queries or so in total, and eventually I found a home for The Wolf’s Name in Outland Entertainment. They are a smaller publisher that deals not only with fantasy and sci-fi novels but also graphic novels and tabletop RPGs, and so far I’ve been nothing but pleased to work with them.
But the initial reason I was swayed to work with them was because of my amazing editor. When she first made the offer of publication, she outlined the main developmental edits she wanted to work on in my book, and there wasn’t a single thing she suggested in that email that I disagreed with. Every single thing she wanted to work on excited me, because I knew it would make my book a better version of itself, and I knew it meant she understood what I was trying to do with my story and characters.
I bring this up for my fellow writers out there who are still seeking a home for their debut novel, because I think it’s really important to seek out agents and editors who share your vision for your novel and career. I don’t want to go too deeply into it and risk saying more than I should, but I did have other offers for The Wolf’s Name that could have potentially gotten me more money or landed my book at a larger publisher, but in finding out what developmental edits those other offers wanted me to make, it became clear to me that they had different understandings of and visions for my book than I did. I suspect getting my book ready for publication has been more enjoyable and less stressful while in the hands of editors who share my vision than it would have been with people who envisioned my characters, themes, and story going a different direction than I wanted them to. There are writers out there who are perfectly willing to change their books from their original vision to suit anyone who will pay them well, and I’m not saying that’s necessarily wrong, but for many authors out there who are attached to their novels, you probably want to make sure any agents or editors you sign with have a compatible vision for your work.
I hope I was able to pull off all the changes my editor wanted me to make as well as she hoped for, but either way I know the story is stronger with her input than it was without.
COVER DESIGN PROCESS
I’m really excited to talk about this because not only did I write The Wolf’s Name, but I also got to paint the artwork for the cover.
In case any soul out there is wondering, this isn’t the norm. Most authors don’t get much say in what their cover looks like, let alone get to do the art for the cover themselves. I wasn’t expecting to have much say either, but almost as soon as I signed a contract with Outland I got an email asking my thoughts on what I wanted the cover to look like.
Before I responded, I did some research on covers for other historical fantasy novels out there, and when I sent my response, I tried to be as diplomatic as I could. Basically, I threw a whole bunch of ideas their way and tried not to dictate one way or another exactly how the cover should look, leaving it more or less in their hands.
In my research I noticed that many historical fantasy covers seemed to fall into a few categories.
The first category was having a character, usually a woman, in a generic pose pasted on the front looking out at the reader. This seemed to be the most common kind of cover, but, while I appreciated the artwork itself, I felt most of those covers didn’t actually tell me anything about the book. There was just a person, who could be anyone or no one at all. There was nothing to tell me about who they were or what kind of adventure they might have. But I told Outland a few characters I thought could be the figure on the cover if this was the trend they wanted to follow.
The second category of covers I, uh, uncovered, were those that used some sort of symbol from the story or a motif instead of having a person on the cover. (An example of a book that does this is A Curse So Dark and Lonely with its vines and thorns twining across the cover.) Using a symbol instead of a character was personally my favourite cover trend. There is an epistolary element to The Wolf’s Name, so one of the options I offered as a symbol was a journal or letters. There’s also a necklace that holds significance to Matilda, but I wasn’t sure how interesting either of those would work as a cover for a fantasy novel.
The third category I discovered was taking a scene from the book to use as the art for the cover. This was the kind of thing that was really popular for fantasy novels when I was growing up (think 90s- and 2000s-era The Wheel of Time covers), so I offered a few ideas for scenes from the book that I thought might make for an interesting cover, including one where Matilda is in the woods.
Now, it’s a long process to get a book ready for publication, so it wasn’t until last fall that they sent me the first concepts for the cover. I’m not going to share those concepts, as I’ve never asked for permission to do that, but even though it was initially my least favourite category, the concept that I felt had the most potential was one with the character just standing there on the cover. But this time I had a few nits to pick.
Before I get into those nitpicks, I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to insult the work of the artist who made those initial sketches. Concept work is usually a bit of a back-and-forth negotiation, and the artist is incredibly skilled at his craft. However, there were a few things in that original concept I thought should be tweaked.
My glorious recreation of that initial concept, in all its splendor.
It had Matilda looking out from the cover with a journal in her hand, her necklace around her neck, and the woods surrounding her, all suggestions I had offered in my email, but otherwise I didn’t feel the concept revealed much about her or her story. And I just thought we could tweak Matilda’s pose and clothing so that it suggested something about her, about what emotion she was feeling, and about the importance of the journal to her.
So, I emailed the cover designer with my thoughts. As an author, you’d think I’d be good with words, but since I’m an artist too, my thoughts were accompanied by some sketches illustrating the points I was trying to make. The tone for my concept was “spooky but romantic!” I put some dark, gnarly trees in the foreground to make the cover feel confining, like Matilda was caught in a trap. I thought it was important to signal to readers that my book is specifically historical fantasy, so I put Matilda in clothing and a hairstyle more reminiscent of the time period when the story is set. I thought if she was hugging the journal to her chest and holding to her necklace that would not only tell potential readers how important those things were to her, but that pose would also hint that she was afraid and maybe in danger. Because this book is kind of my take on werewolves, I also decided to throw a moon in the background, because, you know, werewolf imagery.
The sketch I sent in with my critique.
As I was working on it, I thought it might lend to the spooky atmosphere of the scene if there was a figure tailing her in the background. Then I decided it would be neat if that figure was on the back of the cover instead so that the front cover might give the reader one impression, and then the back cover could add a little extra oomph to that impression once they turned the book over.
But I felt kind of bad sending my critique. Because I felt like I might be going overboard with all my sketches and because I didn’t want to be a spoiled, demanding author, I closed off my email in true Canadian fashion by apologizing and saying something along the lines of “working with authors who are also artists must be the worst.”
When I got a response from the cover designer, he said my critiques made sense and that he hadn’t known I was an artist too. And he asked if I wanted to take over doing the art for the cover. I was excited and a bit mortified by the idea and basically responded with “I don’t not want to do it.”
And that, fair viewers, is how I ended up doing the art for my own cover.
In the end, I got a cover that falls into all three cover trends I’d identified. You’ve got the character on the cover, werewolf symbolism as well as the journal and necklace I’d suggested, and it also fits a scene from the book.
I’m very excited to have this rare opportunity to get to do my own cover. That’s probably not going to happen again, so I had to snatch up the opportunity while I could. I hope you like it!
Some of my favourite details that I put into this were the pattern of the fabric for Matilda’s blouse—I designed it myself—and the pages from the journal. I liked the idea of making it almost like a Hansel and Gretel situation, with Matilda leaving a trail behind her, but I also wanted to point out that those aren’t just random scribbles on the pages. I hand wrote a few of the journal entries from the book itself onto those pages. None of them are too spoilery, and most of them will probably end up unreadable once their printed to size, but those are the actual journal entries, and I love them.
Anyway, that brings me to the end of this update. I hope you enjoyed hearing about my book from brainstorming to book covers. I am currently working on a few marketing ideas, so there will be more about my book coming this way before too long. I hope you’ll find it fun.
If you would like to support me on my author journey, you can like and share this post to spread the word about my upcoming novel. If you or anyone you know might be interested in picking up my book, you can preorder it right now through places like Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Indigo. I’m super excited to be finally announcing this, and I hope you will like The Wolf’s Name when it comes out April 19th.