Today’s post is super short because I’m on a very short vacation! And I didn’t have a chance to write up a post ahead of time like I originally planned to :( I do apologize about that.
It’s a much needed break, and as I’ve written before, even writers need vacations. So never forget to take a step back and relax for a while, even from writing. After all, you need to somehow rekindle that spark of imagination :)
I’ll be sure to share details of my vacation once I’m back!
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?
Something’s been nagging at the back of my mind lately, and I think I’m starting to figure out what it is. And the thing of it is, it started a couple years ago.
Back when I was still going to a writer’s critique group, I took in chapter 1 of Chronicles of the Sentinels – Legacy. In that first chapter, I introduce Chris Tatsu as he is finishing up his college finals. That first chapter needs tons of work, and in fact I’m thinking of scrapping it completely at this point and rearchitecting the beginning of the novel, but I digress.
In that first chapter, Chris runs into a classmate who is, in a sense, a stereotypical ‘surfer dude’ type. What surprised me the most: two of the people in that critique group said that Chris was boring, but the stereotypical surfer dude was more interesting.
Do people really want more of the ‘stereotypes’ than more intricate and complex characters?
I don’t think so. But I did have a thought…
Starting Simple and Building From There
Something I did in The Sword of Dragons was I took a lot of fantasy tropes and made my own spin on them. The best example I always give: in book 1, there’s a dragon with a lair in a cave guarding a treasure. Except, instead of an evil dragon who hoards gold, this dragon was a good, intelligent, kind spirit, who was protecting the most powerful artifact in the entire Universe.
And I’ve been thinking, at least for future projects…maybe I should continue this trend for future characters and projects. Start with an archetype, but then make my own spin on that archetype. Maybe this approach will allow readers to more easily connect and identify with characters from the start.
I kind of already plan to do this with book 3 of the Sword of Dragons series. I’m introducing a dwarf character early in book 3, and he is a bit of a conundrum. You see, he’s got the attitude of a ‘stereotypical’ dwarf, but he fights that attitude, because he serves the elven College of Serelik (first mentioned in Burning Skies.) So he’s expected to dress nice and act nice and remain well groomed.
But I’m also thinking of future projects beyond the Sword of Dragons series. I have so many ideas that I hope I’ll actually be able to get to someday…and I think I want to try to model characters in such a fashion. Start them off as archetypes, but turn those archetypes on their heads and make sure that the characters are their own, complex, unique entities.
What do you think, dear readers? Do you find it easier to identify with archetypal characters who then go off to become their own, or would you rather have characters who don’t in any way fit a stereotype?
I’m trying to work up the courage to do another VLog…because I have an important announcement to make, and I feel like just typing up a normal blog would not be appropriate for this announcement. This will likely end up being outside of the normal Saturday blog cycle. I’ve only done one other VLog in the past…is anyone here interested in seeing more?
If I’ve never said it before, I’ll say it now: I love hearing from readers! I love hearing what they like about my novels, what they don’t like, and especially discussing the various aspects of the stories and characters, the complexities, the nuances.
Of course, I always have to be careful with my responses, because there is so much I’m setting up in the early novels that won’t really be explained fully or come to be important until later novels. I don’t want to spoil the long-term story for anyone!
What’s been really cool and interesting to see is how different people interpret different aspects of a story. In fact, parts of the stories that I thought I’d written very clearly as meaning one thing, they interpret as meaning something else entirely.
Does this mean I failed to write clearly? Does this mean I failed as a writer?
Nope. In fact, I think it’s really cool! In fact the only aspect I worry about is disappointing those readers in later novels when it is revealed that what they thought was really going on, isn’t actually going on.
One example I’ve already discussed in an earlier blog, about the difference between how the necromancers raise the dead in book 2 versus how the Staff of Aliz resurrects someone. Of all of the reactions I expected from readers for Burning Skies, that was not one of them.
More recently, another reader talked to me about Dark Magic in the Sword of Dragons Universe, and how some characters seem to exhibit the use of Dark Magic before anyone else.
I’m hesitant to discuss it too much here (spoilers,) but suffice it to say that no one actually uses Dark Magic until the 2nd half of Burning Skies.
So why have readers interpreted something in a completely different way than I intended? Again, it’s not because I failed as a writer, but rather because everyone, including myself, come to the table with different personal biases. Every individual pays attentions to different details, sometimes in different ways.
The readers who have talked in detail with me about my novels aren’t citing broad examples in the novels, they are giving very specific examples, sometimes a single word, as evidence that their theory is true. Words that I didn’t think were important when I wrote them, and that other readers either don’t think is important, or interpret differently due to their own personal biases.
For instance, associating color with certain types of magic. Or because how Cardin senses the presence or absence of a presence in a character in book 2 compared to how he felt in book 1.
Which brings up another thought that literally just occurred to me as I write this blog: while we as people bring our own biases to a story, so too do the characters. The example I just gave, about how Cardin senses a presence, that changes between book 1 and book 2, because of how his powers have changed so drastically. Therefore how he interprets what he feels in book 2 does not have the same underlying meaning as it does in book 1.
It’s an evolution, for the characters, for the readers, and for me. I think I wrote a blog about it before, about how when I release a novel ‘into the wild,’ potentially hundreds of different Universes are all created, as each reader sees and interprets the stories in their own way, and picture them in their head in their own unique way.
This is both exciting and terrifying! Terrifying because how could I possibly remain true to every single reader’s interpretation of my world, without disappointing someone?
The truth is, I can’t. And I think that’s something every writer out there should realize: if you try to cater to every single person’s view as you write your stories, you’ll go nuts. It’s impossible. So do what you know best: remain true to your story, and enjoy hearing how everyone interprets it. Stick to your vision.
Thanks for reading, everyone! I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!
I am so very happy to announce that on Thursday, January 26th, I proposed to my best friend, my writing partner, my dear and wonderful Starshine, and she said yes!! :D
It was a special day, celebrating 6 months together! I took the day off of work and we went to the Planetarium together to catch a show, and then explored the Science and Nature museum, checking out gems, mummies, and the wilds together. It was a perfect adventure for two geeks :D heheh.
Afterwards we splurged and had a wonderful dinner together, before going home, where I brought out a photo album I’d put together for our relationship. At the end of the photo album was a poem I wrote, before she turned the page to a picture of me kneeling with the ring presented.
The crazy thing is I wasn’t nervous at all…until she started looking through the album. Then all of a sudden my heart started pounding like crazy and my hands started shaking. A friend had let me borrow his GoPro to record the event, and in looking back at the video, I was so freaking nervous and fidgety!
And when her emotions swelled at seeing the picture, I almost couldn’t say the words because of how powerful the emotions were in me! And when I finally did and she said yes, it was like my heart exploded in such ecstatic happiness! :D
I am so amazed by the responses we received on Facebook, as soon as we posted pictures and the news, Facebook blew up with everyone reacting and posting congratulations and supportive comments! It is so wonderful to have the support of our friends and families :)
Even being a writer, I don’t think I could ever convey through text just how incredibly happy I am, and how lucky I am, to be with such a wonderful person! She really is my best friend, my soul mate, and to steal a quote, the Moon of my Life :) We’ve built up so many incredible memories together, been through both dark times and good times together, and I cannot imagine my life without her <3
And for those with a sharp eye, that is indeed a Doctor Who Tardis-inspired ring :D
While the Sword of Dragons is not the first series I have ever written, it is by far the biggest, and I’m only a few books into it! And the further I go, the more I’m beginning to realize the daunting task ahead of me.
Whether or not anyone else has used it before, I call it the snowball effect. With each and every new story, there’s more material built up, and therefore more material I have to be intimately familiar with to ensure continuity. (Because I hate continuity errors…as much as I love Star Trek, it was pretty bad about that in later series.)
Now with three books (2 published, plus the Orc War Campaigns which is as big as a novel), working on book 3 has required me to go back often and reference notes, thoughts, and actual pages from previous stories to ensure I’m getting all of the characters, locations, and plots straight.
I’m beginning to understand why the creators of the Mass Effect series did not want to take the story beyond the 3rd game. For me it’s just one continual story I have to keep track. For Mass Effect, in each game, the player gets to make a multitude of decisions that affect not only the outcome of the current game, but the games to follow. Keeping track of and including all possibilities into each game must have been crazy difficult!! And as far as I could tell from playing the trilogy, they did a great job!
I’m curious to see what they do with the new game, Andromeda…how much of player decisions can show through into Andromeda? Or can players even load in their Mass Effect 3 play through to affect it? We’ll find out soon enough :)
Star Trek Dragon – My First Series
The first time I wrote a continual story was my fan fiction, Star Trek Dragon. Spread across 7 season, 66 episodes of which were a part of the main seasonal run, and 4 more that weren’t part of the episode numbering, it was a pretty big story. I never brought them all together to get a word count, but I can imagine it’s pretty massive.
There were many instances, especially in season’s 6 and 7, where I took things I had written in the earlier seasons and made them vital to where the story and characters went. It was fun!
Started while I was at the tail end of Jr. High and finished in College, it wasn’t the most popular fan fiction out there, but it was well received by those who did read it, and I did have a small fan following near the end.
The Sword of Dragons – So Much More Complicated
So knowing that I successfully wrote 7 seasons and only created a couple of plot holes and inconsistencies, why does The Sword of Dragons feel so much more difficult?
When thinking about this question this morning, the answer seemed rather obvious: in Star Trek Dragon, I had copious amounts of references to look back on, plus I knew the Star Trek universe better than any other. It was pre-established. And fans are really good at documenting what has happened in it.
With the Sword of Dragons, it’s an entirely made up Universe, one which I’ve built from the ground up and continue to build. There’s no fan wiki out there (if only I had the time to build one…) And unfortunately, I don’t have a team of editors helping me with continuity. It’s just little ‘ol me taking on an entire Universe…
I also wonder how much of the difficulty writing book 3 is stemming from my flare-up of ADHD, because it seems like it’s been harder than it should be. In any case, I’ll continue to work my hardest to keep it all straight, and will depend on my awesome beta readers (Nick, Natalie, you both rock!) to help keep me on the straight and narrow :)
Final Thought – The Star Wars EU
I was just about to finish this blog when I realized something: I think I understand now why Disney decided to split apart the Star Wars Expanded Universe and the Cinematic Universe. There are literally hundreds of Star Wars EU novels out there: keeping track of everything and getting the continuity right, all while trying to come up with an original story for the new movies, is beyond daunting…
One of the most interesting challenges of writing the Sword of Dragons series has been building up the religion central to the world of Halarite, called The Order of the Ages. But how did I do it? How do I continue to do it?
It started with just the basic idea: ascension. “What’s that,” you might ask? The most basic definition of ascension is that, after death, one’s soul transcends the physical form to become a higher being. For instance, the Christian idea of their souls going to heaven after death is a basic example.
In the Sword of Dragons, the idea of ascension, as described by the Order of the Ages, is that the most powerful or the most devout people can ascend to a higher plane of existence, shedding their bodies and becoming celestial beings.
The Six Gods
When I decided to make this idea central to the religion, I came up with the ‘founders’ of the religion, what would become known as The Six, the first six humans to have ascended and become known as the gods of the Order. For each of these six, I came up with their most basic story, how they ascended, and what they are revered for.
This was long before I wrote the first Sword of Dragons novel, and doing this basic development early on allowed me to include the Order into every aspect of the world, even in ways that might not always be so obvious. The name of the central kingdom, Tal, is named after the 2nd god, Talus. The name of the First City is Archanon, named after the first god, Archos.
With this basic information in-hand, I began writing what would become the final novel of The Sword of Dragons. “Wait, that’s it? You didn’t develop it further?” Not at the time. I wanted to leave room for making the religion fit around my first novel’s story.
Which led to further development…
The Covenant of the Order
When I decided that the leaders of the four kingdoms needed to meet along with the Wizards, I knew that the Order would also need representation. So I needed to come up with a governing body. Thus the Covenant was born. With a single member of the Order from each kingdom making up the Covenant, they were the authorities of the world, and even the Kings and Queens were supposed to take their counsel to heart. Granted, not everyone did (King Beredis ;) ) but all respected them, none-the-less.
However, there’s more to the Covenant’s mission than anyone realizes. They are the guardians of some of the greatest kept secrets on Halarite, the most shattering of which have yet to be revealed. However, in book 3, their secrets shall be revealed, and even the most devoted followers will have trouble coming to terms with what has been hidden for ten thousand years…
In book 1, I came up with basic clothing as well as the logo of the Order, six lines expanding outwards from a central point, representing the ascension of the Six. In book 2, I created their guardian, Anila Kovin, as well as described the most sacred shrine, the Tomb of the Ascended. Further still, in the Orc War Campaigns, I came up with a lower rank of the Order, the Clerics.
It was also in the Orc War Campaigns that I first mentioned the central place of worship for the Order: The Sanctuaries. But what are they, exactly?
This was the latest challenge I faced in book 3, as the very first chapter takes readers into one of the smallest Sanctuaries on Halarite. I looked to religious architecture on Earth for inspiration, and found that in most cases, religious buildings of old were built around the central ideas of their religions.
I learned that most religious buildings in old times, such as the old gothic-style churches, were full of symbols of the religion, and were meant to make a church-goer feel a sense of awe and feel as if they were truly in the presence of a god, or to feel as if they had stepped into a heavenly place.
Of course, I’m paraphrasing and simplifying everything I learned, but my research led me to realize that there were two aspects that the Sanctuaries needed to have.
You see, as the last of the Six and the founder of the Order, Ziarel believed in the importance of knowledge, and created some of the first books 10,000 years ago. Thus, Sanctuaries are libraries. Furthermore, following the design of the symbol of the Order, most Sanctuaries are round, with their stacks of bookshelves radiating out from the center.
Since not everyone on Halarite can read, the center of the buildings are pedestals where the clerics of the Order can read and interpret texts for the lay person. Which brings me to the 2nd aspect of the Sanctuaries: centered high above, inside of the dome of each Sanctuary, is a sacred crystal, meant to help connect the mind of worshippers to the ascended plane, and to help focus souls of the recently departed so that they, too, might ascend as they pass through the sacred crystals.
Liked this glimpse into the Sword of Dragons and the Order of the Ages? Click that like button below or click that follow button to the left! :)
Thanks for reading, everyone, and I’ll see you next weekend!
Trials and triumphs of writing, finding an agent, and publication.