Last night, my fiancee and I had the exciting experience of attending Lindsey Stirling’s Warmer in the Winter concert! This is the fourth Stirling concert I’ve been to, and as is always the case, I was not disappointed!
But why am I talking about concerts on a blog about writing? Because of Stirling’s history, where she was and how far she’s come, and how she’s gotten there.
Because there are days when I need a reminder…
I know I’ve talked about Lindsey Stirling before, in fact it was after the first concert I attended that I made the decision to self-publish. Not only does her music speak to me, but the story of her rise to stardom has inspired me.
And last night’s concert reminded me why. During one of the breaks between numbers, she spoke of how she gets to live her dream every day because of her fans, but before her rise, she would play anywhere and everywhere she could get a gig, even in school cafeterias. She did anything she could to get her voice, or rather her violin, heard.
She got her shot when she tried out on America’s Got Talent, but was shot down by the judges. I can imagine how she must have felt, being told she wasn’t good enough. And somehow that reminded me of Peter Dinklage’s speech that I wrote about several months ago, when he mentions how the world will keep telling you that you aren’t ready.
Now Lindsey is one of the most popular performers out there today, and her star shines brighter than ever.
How many times have people told me that I’ll never make it as a writer? That it’s impossible? That it’s a pipe dream? There are days when I find myself wondering if those people are right.
But there was something else Stirling spoke about that struck a chord in my heart and helped me regain my composure. It was when she spoke about her battle with depression, when she used to look in the mirror and wonder if she had anything worth contributing to the world.
Fast forward several years later, and the answer is yes, she did have something worthwhile to contribute.
These concerts, her story, they remind me that though I may run into roadblocks often, though I sometimes look in the mirror and wonder…I believe I do have something worthwhile to contribute.
And so I keep going. I keep writing. I keep publishing. I may never have a rapid rise to stardom, but I know that if I keep going, if I keep working hard at it, then no matter what happens, I’ll have left something behind that is worthwhile.
Plus, I’m reminded often that there are people who like my stories. I’ve sold hundreds of copies of the first Sword of Dragons novel through Kindle and print, and the Amazon reviews may not be numerous, but they are positive.
Not to mention the positive things people say to me when they meet me. Or when they send me emails. I recently received an email from a long-time reader of my fan fiction series, expressing his sadness that I’m shutting down my fan fiction website in the near future. He was emailing me back in the early 2000’s when STDragon was still live!
So I just need to remember all of those facts. Remember the fans, those who have read all of my work, who encourage me to write more, and just keep going. Someday, I’ll get to write full time, even if it isn’t until I retire from I.T. work. Until then, I’ll just keep going.
Due to the busy schedule ahead of us and the upcoming U.S. holiday, I won’t be able to write a blog today, and I probably won’t be able to next weekend either :( I’m really sorry!
However, I wanted to leave you all with some good news and with a question!
First the good news: I’ve completed the final edits for Rise of the Forgotten! I’m really excited about this, because there’s not much left for me to do before I can setup and order a proof copy! I’ve already purchased the license for cover art for books 1 through 3 and the cover art for Orc War Campaigns, so all I have left to do is finalize the maps!
And one other thing to finish, a part I’m struggling with…the “About The Author” page. I don’t like what I’ve written in the 1st editions of books 1 and 2, but I don’t know how to re-write it. I’ve already had one friend give me really good suggestions on facebook, but, my question to you all:
What are some of your favorite “About The Author” pages that you’ve read before? Or, if you’re a writer, what have you written for yours in the past?
Thanks for reading, and to those celebrating this weekend, Happy Thanksgiving!
Part of why I was excited to release last week’s announcement was that I can finally talk about the different pieces of my latest project, and how everything is coming along with them!
This includes the maps of Halarite for the Sword of Dragons novels! A couple of years ago, Wayne Adams of VtW Productions introduced me to a friend who was interested in making maps for the Sword of Dragons. Through many months of collaboration, Chloe drew up several maps, including a low-detail one of the world and higher-detailed versions of each continent.
One thing we agreed on was that she would not label anything. That task would fall to me after I scanned them in. However, there’s one thing I didn’t think about at the time:
I have very little experience making or labeling maps. And it is not as easy as one might think.
How do you put labels on a map so that it is understandable, legible, and not cluttered or confusing?
Thankfully, I had actually done some work on this all the way back in school, and a little bit since then. Plus, I love maps. I have a giant map of Middle Earth hanging on the wall at our apartment, and I have kept every map from every Elder Scrolls game I’ve bought, not to mention some old maps from EverQuest.
As I’ve been working on this, I’ve come to realize a few things…
Labeling What’s Most Important
Just like a book cover must convey the appropriate message to the target audience, a map should be tailored to convey the information someone might need from it. In the case of a novel, a map should have the information a reader might need.
These decisions are especially important for me since my maps will be in a small, black-and-white paperback format. That means there isn’t going to be room for a lot of small details, and fine-print will make it impossible to read. Obvious labeling will be necessary.
I do have the advantage of the fact that I have different detailed maps. The overall global map has few land features on it, so that gives me room to label political boundaries, for instance. Furthermore, I’m considering having the global map span two pages, as I’ve seen done in other novels.
Then, for book 1, I’ll have the more detailed map of Edilas, the continent where the 4 kingdoms are, on a single page. For book 2, I may still include that map, but I’ll also include a map of Devor.
Another lesson I remember from school is that bigger features require bigger names. So for instance on the global map, I’ll make the world name the biggest. Continent names will be smaller. Kingdom names smaller, followed by city and feature names.
Maps for Print vs. Maps for Web
One advantage I do have: these are fairly high-res images. So while I’ll be focusing for now on the maps that’ll go into books 1, 2 and 3, I will be making higher-detailed versions for the website, http://www.theswordofdragons.com/. Thankfully people can always zoom in to read finer print on the web.
There’s also the advantage of color on the web. I’ve already played around a bit by adding overlay colors for the 4 kingdoms on the global map. I think this will be useful and interesting for readers.
While I don’t want to make readers of the print editions go online to see more detailed maps, I think having the option will be a nice addition. “Here’s these maps, but if you want to see more details, go to the website!” That’ll allow readers like me, who love to learn as much as possible about fantasy worlds, to get more information.
That’s all for today! I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the production of the 2nd editions. If there are any specific features you’d like included in the maps, let me know in the comments!
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!
A month ago, I read an article that, like so many others, bashes self-publishing. One of the biggest reasons? “When you’re self-published, you don’t spend a lot of time writing. You spend most of your time advertising, marketing, working with cover artists, basically anything but writing. You’re lucky if you spend 10% of your time actually writing.”
The author goes on to say that if you would rather be a writer, you should work on your craft until you are worthy of traditional publication.
That statement bothers me. “Until you are worthy of traditional publication.”
Why does it bother me? Well, partly it goes back to another recent article I’ve written where we explore major motion picture studios compared to smaller ones, such as Netflix. Big-name studios are less likely to go with a story that is unusual or different from what is currently mainstream. Netflix is more willing to try to break the mold and think outside the box.
Traditional publishers, even ones that claim they love searching for talent, all boil down to one fact: they want a story that will definitely make them money. Not because they are greedy, but because they are running a business, and cannot publish more books if they have to shut down. It’s just a fact of life, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But the elitist idea that your stories aren’t good enough if they don’t get picked up by a traditional publisher? Hogwash.
Was J.K. Rowling’s story, Harry Potter, unworthy when it was rejected by a dozen publishers, before finally being picked up? What about Carrie by Stephen King (rejected 30 times before being picked up)? Or Dune by Frank Herbert?
A story can be brilliant and written incredibly well and still rejected by publishers. Just as a story can be horrible and poorly written and still picked up by publishers. It all depends on where the market is going, what is currently trending. IE: what will be the safest bet in the market, what will more likely make money, regardless of quality.
Now that I’ve got that rant out of the way…
Should You Self Publish?
Despite the generally negative tone the article had about self-publishing, it was right that being a self-published author means you have a lot of work outside of writing to do. And if you’re going to do it well and do it right, there’s more than I ever realized.
I’m not quite yet ready to divulge what my current project is, but I’m in the midst of a huge endeavor involving self-publishing, and the fact of the matter is, almost none of it is writing fresh content (lots of editing, though.)
And compared to the amount of work I put into the first run of The Sword of Dragons, it’s a lot more work, a lot is involved, and you could even say it’s taken years to get to this point. I still have months of work ahead of me.
I could be spending that time writing, instead. Writing and trying desperately to get an agent or publisher to pick up my existing stories. So am I hurting myself by doing all of this work?
Some people might answer with a ‘yes.’ There are those who say you should write something every single day to keep your craft honed. Maybe they are right, maybe not. I do agree that practicing is the only thing that will make you a better writer. There’s no secret trick, there’s no fast-path. Practice makes perfect. So the more you can write, the better.
Have you decided to self-publish? Then I’d recommend striving to write at least once a week, if not more. And by write, I don’t mean an entire novel a week. Just write something if you can, to help keep yourself in practice.
Having said that, self-publishing definitely is not for everyone. Marketing is hard. Cover design is hard. Book layouts is hard. And there’s even more I’m learning about this whole publishing trade, and it’s no wonder publishing houses have so many people on staff from so many different fields of expertise.
If you think you would enjoy learning all of these fields and practicing all of them, then I am a huge proponent of it. Go out there and publish your work! But if dealing with all of these different pieces of the puzzle, many of which I haven’t even touched on in this article, is not your cup of tea, then perhaps working more on finding an agent for your works is the better course for you.
I am not a hater of either. I think both have their places, and to be honest, if there came a day where I didn’t have to do all of the things involved with self-publishing, I’d be happy. I’d much rather write full time, and do other artistic things as a hobby on the side. But I AM enjoying most of the aspects I’m working on now. Not all, though. My biggest bane in self-publishing? Marketing. That does not come natural to me at all.
But the results are very much going to be worth it. I promise you, my silence about my writing lately has not been because I’ve been idle. Something big is coming :)
Thanks for reading everyone! I’d love to hear any feedback on this topic, what do you all think? Would you rather self-publish or go traditional publish?
I know, a weird question to start with. But that’s what I define as my day-to-day job, my work in I.T. that pays the bills. My Day Job.
And I’m going to steal a quote from Peter Dinklage: “I hated that job, and I clung to that job.” Except I’m still clinging to it. And I don’t know how to let go of it. I don’t know how…
Peter Dinklage Commencement Address
A few weeks ago, my fiancee sent me this video, a part of a speech given by Peter Dinklage at a commencement speech at his former university. And it struck a chord in my soul.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. In my waking moments. In my dreams. It’s a voice in the back of my head saying “these are the words you’ve searched for, they give voice to what you’ve felt for so long.”
Would you believe that Peter Dinklage was once in I.T.? He was in data entry, and as he said in his speech, he hated that job, and he clung to it. Like me, he clung to the job that gave him the freedom (outside of work) to live for himself, to not have to depend on others. And yet, from the sounds of it, for him it barely even did that.
Until one day, when he was 29, he decided he needed to do something more with his life. So he took the first acting job he could get, quit his Data Entry job, and went hungry for a while…but kept going. One job led to another, to another, to another, until now, he’s one of the highest paid actors on television.
And in his speech, he pleaded with the college students not to wait until they were 29, like he did.
29. I’m 33. He did Data Entry for 6 years. Counting my work study time, I’ve been in I.T. for 14 years.
Like Dinklage, who put on puppet musicals as a child and acted in school plays at least since the 5th grade, I’ve been a writer all of my life. No, strike that: I’ve been a story teller all of my life. Because funny enough, it was in 5th grade that I actually wrote my first story, but before that, I would tell anyone who would listen stories.
Clinging to the Job
Ask any of my friends or family members, for the past year or so, my desire to leave I.T. and write full time has been stronger than ever. I feel like my day job has been sucking the life out of me, and it’s only gotten worse.
There are days where I even allow myself to feel a little hopeless in that regard. I feel like I’ll never be able to escape it. I’ll never be able to write full time. I’ll never be able to follow my passion, to do the thing that has given me meaning since I was a child!
How do I escape? Do I take the plunge like Dinklage did, quit my day job, and just write and publish and try to get an agent, and hope that I land on my feet? What he did took courage beyond all measure.
Yet to do something like that right now would go against everything I was raised to be. Not that Dinklage was wrong, in fact I admire him for what he did. But I’m in the rabbit hole too deep. I can’t just throw caution to the wind and then go “oops, it didn’t work out right away, now I’m living on the streets until I can find a way to land on my feet.”
Whether it was skill, luck, or some combination, Dinklage was able to get through the rough beginning, and came out on top. But let’s face it, that’s a rare occurrence in life.
…So yes, that means I’m afraid. Terrified. Of what? Failing?
Yes…but what does failing mean? Dinklage covered this in his speech, too. He hated his job, he clung to that job, maybe he was afraid of change…are you?
If I were to quit my job and write full time, the chances are extremely high my entire life style would have to change. Quality of life would definitely go down the tubes for a while, and who knows for how long.
It would feel like a step backwards. It would be like all of my hard work until now was for nothing…
Would it be worth it? That’s the maddening thing, I can’t begin to calculate it. Just as I’m sure Dinklage couldn’t calculate it. I doubt he had any idea he would one day end up being one of the highest paid TV actors. Maybe he dreamt of it…but when he took that acting job… It would be worth it if I knew I was going to come out on top and someday make just enough from writing to live off of, to pay the bills, to have a roof over my head.
Honestly, I’d love to sit down with him and talk, to ask him how he felt as he did it, what he thought, how long he pondered over it before he made his decision. What was it that prompted him to take such a daring and dangerous course of action? What got him through the hard times that followed, the doubts as he struggled to pay the bills as an actor?
Hmm…maybe that’s the question everyone should ask those who have ‘made it.’ Not “how did you succeed.” But rather, “where did you find the courage?”
How do you learn to believe in yourself like that? Because that’s also what holds me back…my self doubts. I’m waiting for validation. I’m waiting for my novels to be at least somewhat successful, as if to prove that I at least have a chance. Does that make me a coward or prudent?
Honestly I don’t know anymore. In the commencement speech, Dinklage says “The world might say you are not allowed to yet. Please, don’t even bother asking. Don’t bother telling the world you are ready. Show it. Do it.”
Thanks for reading,
PS: if you’d like to see the full speech, click here. It’s worth watching if you have the half hour to spare.
Trials and triumphs of writing, finding an agent, and publication.