Author - Nina Cordoba

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My interests are varied and I'm likely to write anything from funny to poignant to informational, so my blogs are organized by topic. Just choose your favorite topic on the left. I'd love to hear from you in the comments section or go to Contact and email me privately if you like. Thanks for coming by!

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7/12/2016 9:26:09 PM

Interview with Actress Susannah Jones

From becoming an actress in the Big Apple to love with her leading man.


I'm sooo jazzed about my new audio books, mostly because I found awesome actress-narrator Susannah Jones. It's no easy task for a narrator to interpret characters in a way that satisfies the author. After all, we've often lived with these characters in our heads for years. Yet, Susannah made them come to life in a way that's even better than I imagined.

 In fact, I was so impressed by her, I asked her to do an interview for my blog, mostly so I'd have an excuse to ask her questions that would have been none of my beeswax otherwise. (See how crafty I am? Shhh... Don't tell her about my ulterior motives. I'm sure she'll never see this.)

Okay, Susannah, I'm trying to figure out how an awesome narrator is made so the scientists I keep tied up in my basement can do some reverse engineering and clone you. What's your origin story?

 I was born in St. Petersburg, FL. My mom was a copy-writer at an award winning ad agency she ran with three other women. My dad is a book critic, previously of the St. Petersburg Times, then Newsweek, which morphed into what is now The Daily Beast.

Raised by two literary parents and surrounded by books, I developed a love of literature early on. I also have a younger brother who is sort of my polar opposite—he was the athlete in the family. I was always interested in performing arts—first ballet, then musical, then Shakespeare, and now pretty much anything and everything I can get my hands on. Although I will say that I don’t dance very much anymore!

 Any relationship tidbits you want to share with us? Is there a guy/girl in the picture? (We romance writers are required by law to ask that question.)

I am with a great guy that I met last summer performing in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. He’s an actor and a poet. He played Sebastian and I played Olivia, who are lovers in the play. It's my first “show-mance”! 

Okay, that's really romantic. How did you find out you were into each other in real life?

You know when you start talking to someone and the repartee is electric and natural and exciting? And then the person is really handsome on top of that? That's how it was when I met Jay Ben at the beginning of our contract for Mainestage Shakespeare last summer. He was so smart and witty and it didn't hurt that I got to watch him lift a lot of wood beams while he was helping build our set.

I was dating someone else at the time, but that came to an abrupt stop about three weeks in. A week later, all the actors were having one of our regular Saturday night parties and a friend of ours (who, it turned out, we had both confessed our crushes on each other to), orchestrated an opportune meeting on the driveway of our actor house.  Because we were a little tipsy, we ended up lying down on the driveway (it's a miracle we didn't get run over).

We were next to each other, looking up at the glittering Maine night sky, talking about everything but the fact that we liked each other and were physically closer than we had been all summer, when he confessed that he really liked me. I looked over at him and smiled and we kissed (but that was it!) and the next day decided to start dating.  It was one of the most romantic summers I've ever had, and it's still wonderful now a year later! 


I understand you live in New York, home of Sex and the City. I guess before "Sebastian" came along, you led a swinging single life, just like we see on TV?

I’m certainly no swinging single!! But I am a sucker for “meet-cutes”. I met my first love in the library at NYU (my alma mater). I like telling that story because I’ve always thought of the library as a super-romantic place! And of course, performing opposite my current boyfriend in a Shakespeare play was a pretty ideal way to fall in love too!

Have you had any non-acting jobs that you were weird, quirky, or that almost drove you crazy for some reason?

Well, I had the requisite hostess job, which I hated. I lasted six months and then had to quit because those hours and that lifestyle just weren’t for me. I always tip at least 20% because I respect people who are in the service industry immensely.

I had a year when I thought I wanted to be a personal organizer (I LOVE to sort things—it really soothes me), but I realized it’s not as fun to organize other people’s stuff as it is your own. And then that ended around the time that I got into recording audiobooks fulltime! I also had a side job writing thank you notes for an office supply company that paid $.75/card. Lots of writer’s cramp with that one!

Darn, for a second there, I thought I'd have that narrator-slash-organizer I always wanted, until you said the part about only wanting ot sort your own stuff. Bummer. Anyway, how did you decide to become an actress? How did you get into narration/voice overs?

 When I was three, I begged my mom to sign me up for ballet class. I always had a huge urge to perform. I took serious dance classes til eighth grade, when I realized I would rather dedicate my extracurricular hours to being in plays. I was a member of the Lullaby League in an elementary school production of The Wizard Of Oz and basically didn’t stop performing after that. In fifth grade I got to play Rosalind in As You Like It. And then I was in all the musicals and plays in school from there on out!

Voiceover wise, I actually recorded my first professional voice-over gig in second grade when my mom needed someone to voice a baby in one of her commercials! I didn’t do much else until after college when I wrote to Audible asking to audition for them. Soon after that, I started getting more and more work, and now I do it almost full time.

Do you have a favorite moment or high point for you as an actress?

One shining moment was being cast as Mother in the national tour of A Christmas Story-The Musical. I remember when we were rehearsing the bows. They were set to music, and when it was time for me to come out, it changed from sort of peppy and quick, to this sweeping, emotional strain, and I got to bow to an enormous theater in Kentucky and I thought, “Wow, this is actually how I dreamt it would be when I was ten.” That was a reallyspecial moment for me because I felt like I had “made it”.

I noticed when I say someone "whispers-sings childishly" in my books, you actually sing, just as I imagined it. (I totally got a thrill down my spine the first time I heard it.) Tell us something about your singing experience.

Singing was truly my first love. I grew up listening to my mom play the piano and I used to sing the songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella with her. It’s something I’ve always done and felt right doing. I can’t imagine my life without it. In fact, I’ve always been very confident about my answer to that silly question, “Would you rather be deaf or blind?” I would absolutely rather be blind, because then I could still experience music.

Hmm...deaf or blind? I'm rooting for none of the above for you because I need you to read my books, which involves seeing, and I would guess hearing yourself helps when you're narrating (because your deaf and/or blindness is all about me, of course). there anyone who was a special influence in your life or career?

My mom was always supremely supportive of me. She comes to all my performances multiple times to this day. But she never pushed me into anything I didn’t want. I was always dragging her around to dance lessons and rehearsals. But, even though she had a full time job, she always took me because she knew I loved it and believed in me. So, she’s been a great influence in my life. I hope I can be half the mom she is someday.

As an experienced mom myself, I'd advise you not to shoot for that "half a mom" thing. It can freak little kids out, especially if the other half is a werewolf. Or a clown. Actually, the only thing creepier than a clown is half a clown. (I know because my neighbors actually had half a clown on their lawn as a Halloween decoration. Not pretty.)


So, you seem to be pretty busy, but do you have any hobbies?

I play guitar! And I write a lot. And I love yoga.

Hey, we have a lot in common! I used to sing and play guitar when I was younger. Then my daughter came along and wanted to slap at the strings randomly while I played. (Kids are rough on hobbies in general. They seem convinced they should be your only hobby.) And I write a lot, too! Oh, I guess you know that, since we only know each other because you're narrating my books.

Well, I'm really glad you took the time to answer all these questions, Susannah. Maybe I'll come to New York to meet you someday. I don't love New York, but can't recommend you coming down to Houston. Maybe we could split the difference and meet in L.A.? Regardless, thanks for stopping by!


Hear a sample of Susannah narrating No More Mr. Nice Girl. 
Note: If you are an author interested in making audiobooks, I'd suggest you read my other post: Audiobook Narration-Interview with Susannah Jones.

posted by Nina 1 Comments

7/7/2016 4:40pm

My Experience Using 99Designs for my Book Cover

Note: This post is not meant to advise you whether to use or not use 99Designs. I'm posting this information because I had not heard any 99Designs user experiences from the members of my writing groups and thought this might be helpful to my fellow writers who have been very generous with their data over the years. I used the service several months ago (Winter 2016).

If you haven't already, you should first read my (relatively) short post about why I chose to use 99Designs even though I'd never felt I needed them before...

I'm waiting...

Okay, so, once I decided, I went to 99Designs and set up an account and a contest. It was fairly painless and that's coming from someone who often has trouble finding the "Sign In" and "Log out" buttons of sites I visit frequently.

In the boxes provided, I gave the title, explained the kind of book I was writing, how I needed something that still felt like it was written by Nina Cordoba, but different from my romantic comedies. And that there had to be something about this cover that could be carried through on the other covers.

I told them I wanted my title featured prominantly--Dead Men Don't Chew Gum--and that I probably wanted to go with a cartoon cover, but I was open to other ideas, too. I gave them links to my website so they could see my current covers and also links to Amazon pages containing funny mysteries and cozy mysteries, so they could get an idea of what was going on in the genre.

One negative about this process: Since the site is not just for book covers, they don't walk you through, asking you specific questions about your story, hero, heroine, etc. You will have to think ahead about what information the graphic artist might need in order to create a cover for your book.

You have options of how much you want to spend on the contest. The lowest award for a book cover contest is $299. I went for the next option, $499, because this is the first book in a series and I wanted more (and maybe better) artists to feel it was worth their while to enter.

I would not have paid this much my first time out of the gate publishing. In fact, previously I paid $15-$250 for my covers (under 2 pen names).

But I have a decent-sized email list now and proven salability, so I was pretty sure I could make my money back soon.

Keep in mind, I had the assurance from 99Designs that I did not have to pay if I didn't end up with a design I was happy with, so it was a no-risk deal for me (although some designers spent time designing for nothing, as I discuss at the end of this post).

I was surprised when contest entries started coming in within hours of setting up. After checking with 99Designs about what I could show here, I've decided to only display the entries in thumbnail for copyright reasons. These covers belong to the artists who made them unless someone buys the rights. If you happen upon designs or styles you like, you should contact the artist through 99Designs.

These were the first two entries:


I was underwhelmed. I questioned whether or not this would be a huge waste of my time for the next few days. However, I realized these artists probably ranged from amateur to professional and may not have ever done a book cover before.

You're supposed to give the entries star ratings (out of five) and you can give notes to the artist. I gave the artists feedback about what I did or didn't like about the designs. Some artists contacted me with questions.

I think on the first one, I said I liked the way the artist varied the font sizes, but it reminded me of a political sign. On the second, I said I liked the font style, but the image was kind of bland.

Then I received an entry from artist KostisPavlou:


This definitely wasn't the cover I needed, BUT it did have something engaging about it. I studied it and figured out I was responding to the bright colors and the movement.

Movement equals dynamic and that was what I was looking for. I thought about items in my book that moved. When I responded to KostisPavlou, I explained that the image didn't fit with my story. However, I liked the dynamic way he styled the font as well as the movement apparent in the image, and that a bright color scheme seemed right for my funny mysteries.

I told the him there was a red pickup truck that was an important clue in the story and the heroine even chases it at one point.

I hoped this artist would try again, but meanwhile, I got more entries:

4. 5. 6. 7.8. 9. 


10. 11.

I thought #6 by Xdmaggy was kind of cool, although the woman on the cover is not like my heroine at all, and #7-8, by FWhitehouse7732 were intriguing, just not right for my subgenre.

I wish I knew who did #10 so I could mention him/her here. I think it's awesome. It just didn't feel right for this series. (If you're the artist, I will gladly update this post if you contact me.)

Meanwhile, I kept getting notifications that I had more entries.

12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 

17. 18.

#12 and #15 are also by the prolific FWhitehouse7732--an artist who has won a lot of these contests and doesn't give up. I actually liked the way several of these designs looked, but they weren't quite right for my book. Again, I replied with specific critique if I possibly could.

Here's the next group that came in:

19.    20.    21.  22. 23. 24.   

I liked 3 of these, but one of them stood out to me as being right for my brand. It was #21 by KostisPavlou. He'd taken the information I gave him from his earlier entry and nearly hit the nail on the head. However, It wasn't quite there yet for me. I asked if he could angle the truck and give it more motion--lines, smoke, something. I also didn't love the shape of the red behind my name. It looked like some sort of weird hat to me. I wasn't crazy about that color of red either, although I liked the red in the truck.

Next time I checked, I had more entries:

25. 26.   27.  28.    

25 was nice. Number 26 left me a bit baffled, although it is pretty creative. #28 was pretty cool with gum stuck in the chalk outline of a man. #27 is from KostisPavlou again. I didn't like the new font my name was in, but I loved what he did with the truck. In general, the entries started getting closer to what I was looking for after everyone saw that I gave Kostis' 2nd entry (the first with the truck on it) 4 stars. Up until then, most had gotten 2 stars and only Kostis' first entry had gotten 3.

I quickly received more entries:

29. 30.  31.  32.   

The competition seemed to be heating up now that the designers had an idea of what I liked. All of these covers had the dynamic font treatment I wanted and the color schemes were interesting. I still liked Kostis' design (#29) the best, but, again, had issues with the top.

33.  34.  35.  36.   

Yet again, I liked KostisPavlou's the best, but the top still wasn't quite right. I asked Kostis to go back to something close to what was originally at the top, but with the darker red behind the author name and the pieces tilted differently. The other "skull" entries (#34-36) by Brightspark are kind of cool, too. 

37.  38.   39.  40.  41.   

Then I got a some odd entries that looked as if someone had taken a picture of a book lying on their coffee table. I wasn't sure what to say to the artists about those, but, the good news was, I wasn't paying per entry. KostisPavlou came through with 2 more options (#39-40) and I felt I had my cover.

Soon after that, some cool new ideas were introduced:

42. 43.    44.   45.  

46.   47. 

I liked #42-44 a lot. They're by Brightspark who had created some covers I liked earlier. However, I didn't think the design would carry over well to the rest of my series. Brightspark did end up winning second place, however, and is clearly a talented designer.

And finally,

48.   49. 

There are a few entries missing because they were taken down right after I rated them, but I ended up with 54 entries in all. I liked seeing all the different options. I never would have come up with such varied ideas on my own or even working with just one designer.

In the end, I had no problem paying the money for the first book cover in my new series. KostisPovlou was nice enough to give me all the Photoshop files for the final cover, which has been released successfully:

My daughter made a print version of the cover, which is easy for her, once she has the ebook version. Then, using this cover as a template and adding images I bought, my daughter made covers for the 2nd and 4th books in the Martin and Owen series:


However, we're having trouble implementing my ideas for the 3rd book cover, so I'm planning to ask KostisPavlou to work on it. You don't have to go through the contest process once you find a designer you like. I don't know for sure what the charge will be. I'll probably have him work on some other covers in the future, too.

The 3 things I think are important in order to have a successful contest at 99Designs:

1. Give the artists the genre, subgenre and as much pertinent information as you can. By "pertinent," I mean aspects of the story that could be depicted visually. In my case, I think the words "funny," "mystery," and "pickup truck" (plus the title) turned out to be the most important words I passed on to artists.

2. Rate honestly, then examine the entries and try to give the best feedback as you can. What specifically is it that you do and don't like about the image, the font, the colors, etc. In my case, telling KostisPavlou I liked the dynamic nature of his cover--the movement depicted in the way the letters were arranged and the image--were helpful to him, as well as coming up with the pickup truck--something from my story he could "make move."

3. Be encouraging to artists who seem talented by pointing out something you like so they'll keep entering new designs in your contest. On the other hand, it's possible that giving too much feeback to a designer who clearly doesn't have the skills or get the concept you're looking for could be wasting his or her time. Giving a 1 star and leaving it alone might be the kinder option in that case.

This brings me to the question about whether 99Designs is good for artists or not. Recently, I googled and found a few mentions of this type of site being bad for designers because they are working on spec. I've given this some thought because I try treat others as I want to be treated.

I think all of us in the arts are in the same boat. There are more people who want to be actors, writers, artists, and singers than there is demand. None of these vocations are "smart" to pursue if you look at the effort involved and the likelihood of success.

When it comes down to it, I write entire novels on speculation, never knowing for certain if they will sell. I'd written and rewritten 5 stories over eight years before I sold 1 book. Now, I'm writing an entire mystery series on spec. No one is forcing me to do it and as far as I know, no one is forcing the aritsts to enter these contests. As with writing, the more engaging art will be more successful and the artist who created it will earn encouragement and more money, while those not yet experienced enough or, perhaps, not capable of putting out the product needed will make little or no money (and maybe decide graphic arts isn't for them). Very similar to being a writer.

But, really, if money is the first priority, we should probably all be CPA's or computer scientists. Bottom line, I can see the argument either way, but the artist who won my contest made more than I normally pay for covers and I'll use him again. He was a perfect match for me and I never would have found him otherwise.

Regarding an argument I saw that people from other countries are allowed to enter the contests and you are paying them instead of Americans, I've never felt Americans have any more right to eat than anyone else in the world. My family came from England and Ireland on one side and Mexico on the other. Readers from countries all over the world are buying the books that I'm buying the covers for. In fact, some of my best (unpaid) promoters are in other countries, but are kind enough to share my posts and tweets. Therefore, I have no problem with my artist being in another country.

However, only you can decide what you're comfortable with.

So, that was my experience. Use the information as you will.

If you have private questions for me, you can contact me through this website.

Good luck with your covers, however they're created!

posted by Nina 4 Comments

7/7/2016 4:20pm

Why I Used 99Designs for My Book Cover

Note: This post is not meant to advise you whether to use or not use 99Designs. I'm posting this information because I had not heard any 99Designs user experiences from the members of my writing groups and thought this might be helpful to my fellow writers who have been very generous with their data over the years. I used the service several months ago (Winter 2016).

*To see the details, covers, etc. from my 99Designs contest go to the My Experience with 99Designs post.

I think I originally heard of 99Designs because it sponsored an indie author podcast I was listening to.

The hosts were saying how great it was to use 99Designs to do your book cover. I wasn't interested at the time for several reasons:

1) My daughter and I had successfully created my other covers. I had the ideas, she had the extreme Photoshop skills and an eye for fonts and colors. I've sold a lot of those books and still love all but one of the covers. However, the cover I don't love (Don't Make Me Make You Brownies) is the book that broke me out of obscurity on Amazon and still sells, years later, so I've left it alone.

2) I'd heard no buzz about 99Designs on the writers' groups I'm a part of. Hmm... Did I feel up to being the guinea pig?

3) My degree is in journalism with an emphasis in advertising. I was aware the hosts of the show needed to pimp their sponsor enthusiastically, so I took their words with a few grains of salt. (Mr. Nina, on the other hand is a marketer's dream. As we watch TV or as he's scrolling through his phone, he cries out, "I want a tiny house! I want a hat like that! I want a tree house! I want a pigmy goat!" ???)

4) I'm lazy when it comes to figuring out new technology, navigating new websites, etc. To be honest, It's not so much lazy as it is that I don't enjoy feeling stupid. Before everything was about software and websites and apps, I was a smart person. Now, I'm an embicile. I end up calling Mr. Nina into my office and jabbering on dramatically about what I'm trying to accomplish and how it's not working. He then steps to my keyboard and clicks the mouse twice. The problem is solved and I'm even more annoyed.

So, what drove me to the extreme measure of searching out the 99Designs site and actually figuring out how to do it? (Okay, there was very little figuring. It's pretty user-friendly.)

I'd started writing a series that wasn't a romantic comedy (which is what 4 of my books are and many future ones will likely be). But my new books were going to be part of a funny (Martin and Owen) mystery series with some action and, of course, mystery. It still contains a budding romance between the hero and heroine, but the relationship develops over time (kind of like Rick Castle and Kate Beckett, except completely different).

For the first time, I had no idea what I wanted on the cover. I did know 5 things though:

1) I needed a cover that made it clear the mysteries would be funny like most of my other books.

2) I needed a cover that would brand this series as being a different genre than my other books.

3) I needed a cover with some components that could be used on the other covers of the same series for continuity of branding. After all, by switching to a series, I was now playing the long game, not expecting to make much money on these books until I had several written.

4) I needed a cover that highlighted my distinctive titles.

5) Okay, as it turns out, I didn't really know five things. I just thought five sounded better than four.

I remembered hearing of 99Designs. I like the thought of seeing ideas from a number of different artists. I espeically liked the fact that you don't pay unless you see something you like. So, basically, I weighed out having no ideas for my series covers against seeing a bunch of ideas and paying only if I liked one of them, and 99Designs won.

Next post: My Book Cover Experience with 99Designs.

posted by Nina 1 Comments

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