I found myself struggling to come up with a blog article today, so the first thing I thought was, “Maybe it’s time to do a cover reveal for one of the new books!”
…but is it too soon to do that?
I honestly wasn’t sure what might be appropriate from a marketing point of view, so I decided to hit the search engines and start reading articles. And pretty much immediately, the consensus was clear: not until your book is ready for pre-orders.
Do you agree?
I’ve already done a partial reveal with the text on the titles, and I’ve received proof copies of Rise of the Forgotten and Burning Skies, both of which revealed a couple minor tweaks that are needed (and already fixed on the digital files.) But should I wait for a complete reveal?
I think it makes sense to an extent. That first impression can come with a buy impulse for a reader. “That looks cool, I wanna buy that!” So pre-orders would hopefully mount up. Where as if I revealed the cover now, but pre-orders weren’t ready for another 4 or 5 months, people’s initial excitement might be long lost and pre-orders might be less than stellar.
So for the moment, I’m going to hold off on the cover reveal.
I want this release to be done right. I want to learn from the mistakes I made in the past. And I want to give my readers the best experience that I can.
What I can say is that I’m still strongly thinking about a pre-order bundle somehow that will include all 3 books (Rise of the Forgotten, Burning Skies, and The Orc War Campaigns) as well as a printed map, either of Edilas or of all of Halarite.
I’ve recently done just a test print on an 8.5×11 paper with an aged parchment effect, and I like it! If a print service can do this larger, and on the right kind of paper, this would definitely make for a neat extra to throw in with pre-orders!
The only challenge I’m running into right now is a platform to sell the bundle through. Etsy is a no-go because they only allow the sale of hand-crafted items, not printed books. So I need to find a venue appropriate to such a sale, and eBay doesn’t strike me as appropriate. Does anyone out there have any suggestions?
Thank You For Your Patience
Before I sign off, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who gave me words of support last month after my Mother passed away. You words warmed my heart. :) I went nearly a month without a new blog, but I’ve still been seeing visits, comments, and likes on past blogs, and I’m grateful to everyone.
I’m excited to write this blog post today, because I’ve been hinting around my new writing project for some time, but I’ve not actually made any official announcements.
As many of you know, my life has been extremely crazy and busy lately, between moving, wedding plans, and work going through a busy period, so I knew I was not going to get the 3rd book of Sword of Dragons finished in time for its planned release.
In fact, I’ve not had a chance to really focus on writing the 3rd book at all, I don’t have the time to devote to it. But with all of my conversations with my fiancee about book covers, and all of the research I’ve done online, I knew there was a project I could do that would allow for very short spurts of work on it between the busy times.
The Sword of Dragons novels have all received high praise from those who have read it, but getting people to give it a chance has been a difficult task. All of my market research and discussions with other authors and my fiancee point to several factors, including but not limited to the cover.
As such, I am officially working on the 2nd edition of books 1 and 2 of the Sword of Dragons series!
What does a 2nd edition mean? More than just a new cover. A whole lot more! But let’s start there.
The New Covers
As I talked about in my last blog, I’ve learned that keeping marketing in mine from the get go has been important. This was a key focus for when I started working on new covers for books 1 and 2 while also planning covers for book 3 and for The Orc War Campaigns. I wanted to create a theme that could be carried through all 4 books, as well as be something I could carry into the rest of the series beyond book 3.
My focus on marketing this time around actually was a big help in coming up with the final cover layout for the entire series! I also followed the advice of publishers, editors, and cover artists, and created multiple versions for each novels’ cover, and then worked with several people to decide which one worked best, and even how to make the chosen one for each book better.
This involved sending the version to everyone helping me, as well as following my fiancee’s advice and taking a screenshot of an Amazon page, and editing in the versions of my cover to see which stood out best, and how my improvements to them changed how it popped on Amazon.
The result? 4 very amazing covers! That I can’t reveal just yet.
*ducks* Hey don’t throw things at me! ;) But seriously, I am not yet ready to reveal the covers. What I can tell you is test prints have turned out amazing, and even Christian, the man who made the cover for book 1, agrees that the new cover scheme is well done and works well with my genre.
Where did I get the cover art? That was where a ton of my time was spent: looking for cover art. And I ended up finding a cover artist on some stock photo websites who has done several pieces of dragon artwork that is stylistically similar. This allowed me to find 4 pieces of cover art that are stylistically similar, and I have knowledge that there is plenty more for me to use for future books.
The best part is, being stock art, I can buy the rights to use them on the novel. No legal issues, no ‘I hope they don’t realize I used their art without permission.’ I’ll have followed all proper procedures and will have legally procured the rights.
However, before I did purchase the rights, I took the watermarked, low-res versions of the artwork and made test covers, then printed them out to ensure they would look good. This is a method I intend to use from here on out, to ensure that I don’t spend money on cover art that I end up never using. I am, after all, working on a very limited budget.
Maps Will Finally Be Included!
I’ve heard it from countless readers: maps are a must! So the 2nd edition of books 1 and 2, and all future volumes of Sword of Dragons will include maps. I’ve had physical copies for a while, but haven’t had a chance to get them scanned, and a visit a couple months ago to Office Depot to get them scanned was highly disappointing, resulting in totally useless files.
Thanks to Wayne Adams from VtW Productions, I was able to get high-res scans finished last weekend. This means I now have digital copies to edit and prepare. These will first be made available on the website, http://www.theswordofdragons.com/, but will also be included in the novels. I hope this will be a big help to everyone who reads the novels!
My original plan with the 2nd editions was to do another set of proofreads to catch any spelling or grammar issues. As I started on book 1, it became very clear that my first published novel was in need of some serious TLC beyond copy-edit.
I am not changing the story, but I am fixing up how the story is told. Sometimes this means very few changes, but sometimes this means entire paragraphs are rewritten.
My beta readers have read through the rewrite of chapter 1 and thoroughly enjoy the changes, while noting that even though they have read the original version several times, the changes weren’t distracting. In fact, this is what I am working on right now, and am about 1/3rd through book 1.
Furthermore, Wayne and 2 of his friends have volunteered to perform copyediting on books 1 and 2! So this will further ensure a polished edition :)
But…book 1. Hmm. The Sword of Dragons book 1. Naw, that needs a better title.
Naming Book 1
When I first prepared book 1 for publication, Christian insisted that I should give book 1 its own unique title, different from the series title. I didn’t listen. And now I regret that decision.
So that will be part of the change in the 2nd edition. Book 1 officially has its own title! *drum roll*
Rise of the Forgotten
It fits quite well, not just in a big way, but in many small ways :) Plus, giving book 1 a unique title has allowed me to keep a theme for the covers of all novels. (And yes, I just showed you a sneak-peak of book 1’s cover ;) )
Those are all of the big changes coming in the 2nd edition! “What about book 3” you might ask? Well, that already has a title and a cover! But I still need to finish the actual manuscript. The Orc War Campaigns also has a cover, but again, I need to finish edits on it before it is ready for release.
“When will these be released?” I do not yet have a timeline for that, and I’m hesitant to try to set one at the moment. There’s still too much going on in my life to be able to predictably work on the edits. But I am working as diligently as possible, and I am looking forward to revealing more as time goes on!
I hope with these 2nd editions to please the fans I already have with a nice, polished, worthwhile product, while also attracting new readers!
When it comes to self publishing, one of the things I’ve struggled with the most is marketing. In fact, it’s been one of my biggest banes since I started down this rabbit hole. Going in, I had no idea just how important it was, and for that matter, just how much it needs to be a part of your product development from day one.
I thought I had it all figured out in the beginning. The day that I decided that I was going to self publish The Sword of Dragons, I immediately started looking at what I was going to do for a cover design.
This led me to wandering bookstores with friends, pointing out book covers that stood out to us, discussing the good and bad parts of covers, and trying to figure out what would make a good cover for the Sword of Dragons.
In hindsight, doing so, especially first thing in the planning process, was a smart idea. Unfortunately, that was probably one of the few things I did right in the beginning.
What did I do wrong after that? For starters, I didn’t have a fully finished product. I wanted my book out there, and I didn’t want to wait to finish important things, such as getting a polished world map ready. I also didn’t spend more time researching marketing, researching fantasy novels, or cover design.
At one point, while looking at covers, I looked to a couple of my friends and said, “all of these fantasy novels look the same. I want mine to stand out and be different. So I’m not going to follow their examples.”
In principle it sounded like a good idea. Make my book stand out amongst all the others.
Except I was looking on bookshelves. Not at Amazon.com. Not at Barnesandnobel.com. Plus there’s one other aspect I hadn’t considered…
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
I’ve run into a problem with the Sword of Dragons series: everyone who has read it has thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’ve even gained a few fans! And they’ve done their best to try to spread the word to others.
But what about those who don’t know me or don’t know any of those fans? Or even know the fans, but are so stretched for free time that they are picky about what they read? What do they think when they see the cover for the Sword of Dragons or Burning Skies? Do they see a book that looks like a great fantasy adventure? Or do my covers say something else to them?
I’ve touched on the subject before about cover design, you have to target your audience. And one of the things you can do is make a cover that fits within your genre while standing well on its own. Many, many people have told me at this point, “put a dragon on your cover, your sales will increase.” Why? Because my book has dragons in it, and the entire series will increasingly feature dragons. So I want to attract readers interested in dragons.
But there’s more to it than that, and this has as much to do with marketing as graphic design.
Marketing Books in the 21st Century
I think one of my biggest mistakes was trying to consider how my book would look on book shelves. Even if I get to that point some day where Barnes and Noble puts my novels on their shelves, before I can get to that, I need to consider how my covers will look as a tiny little thumbnail on amazon.com.
And while working on a project’s cover recently (well, sort of recently, before we started packing to move), my fiancee had a great idea that I believe may have helped me in the long run.
If you go to amazon.com and start drilling down into book categories to, in this case, fantasy novels (sword and sorcery!) take a look at the books there. The covers have all been resized down to thumbnail size. Beck had the idea, “take a screen shot, and then edit in your cover design to see how it looks in comparison with the others.”
I knew the moment she said it that it was an amazing idea, and set out to do so. It also helped me figure out which cover to use, because I had ideas for 2 or 3 different covers and had made preliminary versions for each. I put each version up as thumbnails, and very quickly identified which cover popped best while still being easy to identify as a sword and sorcery type novel with dragons.
But I also realized there were issues with the. The title blended in with the cover, and the cover was too bland-colored. So I made modifications and performed several tests, until I had a cover that popped out nicely and whose title was easy to read.
That’s the thing to remember: whether browsing amazon.com or viewing your book cover from a distance at a bookstore, a reader will more likely see your cover as a thumbnail size, and so your title needs to be easy to read without overtaking your entire cover. A difficult balance to strike, but well worth the effort.
Why Is The Cover So Important?
I keep coming back to this topic: your cover matters a lot. Why? Because every single aspect of your marketing campaign is going to hinge on your cover. In book stores and on amazon.com, it’ll be the first thing a prospective buyer will see. In a convention or book signing event, it’ll be the first thing patrons will see. On advertisements, anywhere, whether amazon, facebook, or other, it’ll be the first thing they see. If you have the money and resources to pay for adverts on billboards, bus sides, or trains, again, your cover, or some edited version of your cover, will be what people see first.
First impressions matter. People judge books by their covers.
Granted, if you have a fantastic cover but a crappy story, you aren’t going to get anywhere with sales, either. You might do better than if you had a bad story and a bad cover, but reputation will probably kill your book’s sales.
Do you have a good story? Then you need an appropriate cover to go with it. Not just good, but appropriate.
There’s more nuances you can add into a cover design, but I think I’ve written enough on the topic for one day :) I hope this helps my fellow authors out there, I’ve learned so much about marketing and cover design in the past 3 years and I wish to pass that knowledge on!
Do you have any tips or lessons learned about marketing and cover design? Please post them in the comments below for others to read!
I’m back from Las Vegas! Yes, that’s where I went for my short vacation :) I’m not exactly a Vegas kind of person, but it was neat to see the strip and Lake Las Vegas. My Fiancee and I shared a Yard Long while we were on the strip, that was definitely fun :D
But now, on to the title for today’s blog…
Delaying Book 3
This is perhaps the hardest announcement I’ve had to make: there is just no way I can get book 3 of the Sword of Dragons series out by May. In fact…I really have no way of predicting when I will be able to get it out.
I’ve known about this for a little while now, but have been trying to figure out how to tell you all. I am really saddened by this announcement, and I cannot begin to convey how sorry I am.
The reason for the delay? I am only 4 chapters into writing the first draft, and have not been able to make any progress since the end of December. Things have been really busy, and I am due for a certification at work that I need to focus on or risk losing my job. Simultaneously, I have been looking for a new job, due to the insane, non-stop stress of my current job (and that really is an understatement…)
This is where I really wish I could just write full-time. I have so many ideas, and just no time at all to work on any of them right now. The Sword of Dragons, Chronicles of the Sentinels, and the slew of other series ideas I have. I am so incredibly sad that I cannot work on writing more right now :(
An Idea for the Future of Sword of Dragons
As I posted in a previous post, I’ve been considering creating new covers and rebranding the Sword of Dragons, including giving a more unique title to the first book.
One of my friends commented on my facebook that this might not be necessary, and that I should instead focus on advertising book 1. To that end, I’m going to begin promoting it once again and promoting Burning Skies a bit less.
However, I do think that I can present a stronger product with some additional work.
So my first plan? Try creating a cover that is a similar style to what I would do with books 1 and 2 for the print run of The Orc War Campaigns. I know that this is a bit of a risk, because it will mean spending money on buying the rights for an image for the cover. But it will help me determine if I can do the kind of presentation that I want, both for the cover, and inside.
If things go well with the Orc War Campaigns, and it gets a good reception, I’ll rebrand the first two books, and publish their 2nd editions a month apart as a run-up to the release of book 3.
When will all of this happen? …I don’t know yet. And I know, it’s not good marketing to state that publicly. But at least for the next few months, I won’t be able to direct much time and attention to my own novels.
I hope you all understand. This is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my writing career, but it is necessary. I really am so sorry for the delay, but I hope you all feel it will be worth it.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past couple years, the cover of your novel can make or break you.
Recently my fiancee found an article that we read together today, found here, and it made me think of a lot of things, and I think even helped me answer one very important question: why have sales for Burning Skies been so much worse than The Sword of Dragons?
It boggled my mind, because almost everyone who has read Burning Skies told me they loved it as much if not more than The Sword of Dragons. So it wasn’t that it was poorly written or a bad story. And my advertising campaigns for Burning Skies have all tanked. Fewer clicks than my ads for book 1, and no purchases.
Your Cover Describes Your Book
I’ve said this in a previous blog, long ago, but what’s the first thing a person sees when perusing either a book shelf or an online book store? The cover. “But don’t judge a book by its cover!” So the expression goes, but frankly, everyone does.
So what does your cover tell potential buyers? What does it tell people your book is about? The one time I went to a writer’s convention, one of the panels I went to covered this very idea, and again in the article I mentioned earlier. An example writer, David Penny, had a well-crafted cover for his historical mystery series, but what he was shocked to realize one day was that his cover made readers think it was a thriller.
So he had his cover redesigned and re-branded his series, and suddenly sales skyrocketed!
Why? Not because the original covers were bad, quite the opposite. But because the original covers weren’t attracting the right readers. Those looking for a thriller would click on the cover to see what the novel was about, only to find it wasn’t what they were actually looking for. And those looking for historical mysteries didn’t look into the book because they thought it was a thriller.
Target audience. Who is your target audience? All of your marketing should reflect who your target audience is. If your book is a fantasy adventure but the cover makes it look like a teen romance, you are very unlikely to attract readers.
What Does This Mean For The Sword of Dragons?
Well…….I’ve been thinking. A lot. Lately I’ve felt like a failure as a writer. A failure in a lot of things. And I’m a bit lost as to where to go.
But…maybe the author David Penny is on to something. Maybe this article was exactly what I needed. The original cover for The Sword of Dragons was great, Christian Michael is a talented artist. But for one thing, I didn’t do a very good job as a client helping him create an appropriate cover. I was, to put it mildly, an amateur at being a client to a cover artist. The article helped me realize my short-falls in that regard.
I also didn’t have maps ready for the release of books 1 and 2. Not to mention I’ve since come up with some ideas to make the book as a whole even more attractive.
But the cover…I know some people say a cover isn’t that important, but everything I’ve been seeing and reading in the past year completely disagrees with that claim. And I think I need to take a step back and reassess some things.
I am very strongly considering doing a re-brand. Designing new covers for the first two novels using the tips and advice in the referenced article, as well as giving book 1 it’s own unique title. Since this is the Sword of Dragons series, book 1 needs a title to indicate it is the first in a series.
And the more I look at book 2’s cover, the more I think: this does not in any way convey that this is a fantasy adventure novel. Even book 1’s cover, as well-crafted as it is, does not necessarily convey that it is a fantasy adventure.
In other words, I need a 2nd edition of the series…
I have some thinking to do. What do you all think?
Thanks for reading,
Trials and triumphs of writing, finding an agent, and publication.