Tag Archives: Barnes and Noble

Do Constraints Mold The Best Art?

I read an article not long ago that made an interesting claim: placing constraints on an artist helps create the best art, while giving an artist total free reign, IE “the sky is the limit” often results in monstrosities.

Of course, I don’t have the article to re-read, and so I cannot remember the examples they gave.  But, the idea came back to me today and I realized that in some ways, there may be truth to it.

Let’s take the most basic (or perhaps extreme) example: spelling, grammar, punctuation.  If you tell a writer “no rules” you’re going to get something that’s difficult to read, if not impossible in some cases.

An example:

“OMG can u imagene readding a entire 300 pg b00k likE THis?”

…That was painful just to write!  Almost as painful as reading Washington Irving’s run-on sentences!

But what about less obvious examples?  As I’ve found out the hard way, there are rules about genre, and while it might not be too bad to bend those rules to make it interest, flat-out breaking them might work against the writer.

Image Source – https://cbsdenver.files.wordpress.com

The best example I can think of is a topic I’ve already talked about: novel cover art.  When I first started considering cover art for The Sword of Dragons, I remember looking at the fantasy section of Barnes and Noble and thinking, “All these covers look similar.  I know!  I’ll do something completely different, that’ll make my book stand out!”

Except…it didn’t.  Not in the way I wanted it to.  Yes, I made it look very different from regular fantasy novels.  And so anyone looking to read a fantasy novel didn’t even bother to pick it up, or more likely, didn’t bother to click on it on amazon.com to see what it was about.

But there’s more than just cover art to consider…

Tropes of Fantasy

I’m a fan of taking a typical fantasy trope and turning it into something just a little different.

Image Source – http://dartgarry.deviantart.com/

For instance, a typical trope about dragons is that they are fire-breathing creatures who live in caves guarding a hoard of treasure.  In the first Sword of Dragons novel, there is, in fact, a dragon living in a cave, and she is indeed guarding something of incredible value, but rather than an evil beast greedily guarding gold, she is protecting the most powerful weapon in the universe.

Is it possible to take this too far?  Initially I might say yes, but then I look at examples like Game of Thrones.  In most fantasy novels, the heroes live and achieve their goals, and the heroes are often very clearly defined from the villains.  Neither of these tropes are true in Game of Thrones.

But is that an exception?  What was it about GoT that made it so popular?  Honestly I don’t know, but it seems like this has created a sort of sub-genre of fantasy.  I’m curious to see how many more venture into this type of fantasy, successfully.

And in all honesty, I’m not sure what rules should or shouldn’t be followed, when it becomes okay to break rules or tropes.

For my own part, I do enjoy a lot of fantasy tropes, they are why I like the genre.  Dragons and magic in particular draw me in.  I intend to continue to toe the line, keeping some fantasy tropes intact, while turning others on their heads.

Image Source – https://www.pinterest.com/smokelight/dwarf/

For instance, dwarves will start to play a bigger part in books 3 and 4, but they won’t be exactly what you’ve come to expect from dwarves.  You’ve already seen in book 2 that they once lived underground, as is typical for dwarves…but they definitely don’t anymore.

I also do not like the “Damsel in Distress” trope.  Even if there’s ever a female character in need of rescuing in my novels, it’s usually not done in the typical way (for instance, Elaria in the first Sword of Dragons novel.)  I’m all for ‘damsels in distress’ rescuing them selves, like Princess Leia did!

In any case, to answer the initial question of this blog, I think it helps to have constraints.  Movie productions have shown that an unlimited budget aren’t necessarily going to create a better product.  But sometimes, just sometimes, there are those that can break the typical rules and succeed.

It all depends on the circumstances, and perhaps even the luck of the draw.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading!
-Jon Wasik

Advertisements

Planning Ahead for Marketing

Hi everyone!

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.

Image Source – http://indiefreshpress.blogspot.com/2016/08/store-tour-absolutely-fiction.html

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.

Books 1 and 2 side by side :)

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!

Thanks for reading,
-Jon Wasik

Can A Writer Live Off Of Writing?

Hi everyone!

In just a couple of months, this blog, A Writer At Heart, turns 3!  I’m excited that I’ve kept this going for all of that time!  There’s been ups and downs, and I know I haven’t always been able to keep up on posts, but it’s been an enjoyable medium to write in.

I know I’ve talked about this before, but one of my goals that I wanted to work towards when I started writing this blog was that I was going to make a living off of writing within 2 years.  3 years later, I’m nowhere close to achieving that goal.

Despite that apparent failure, my attempt to achieve that goal is why I worked so hard and was able to self-publish 2 novels in 2 years, and finish writing The Orc War Campaigns within a year (even if barely).

I may not be raking in the cash, but I am so much more accomplished as a writer than ever before!

Still, I’ve wondered lately, is it even possible to make a living off of writing?  Can only the big names make it, the ones who make the top sellers lists and make millions?  Was it a lofty, unobtainable dream of mine?  Should I let that dream go?

The Market Has Changed

With this question in mind, I decided to do a little digging and research.  Just going to google and typing in the question “Can writers make a living off of writing” yields apparently mixed results, or so I thought at first…

There were a lot of articles that enthusiastically said “Yes!” and a lot that unequivocally said “NO!  It’s a pipe dream!”  Who was right?

But the content of the articles, as well as their dates, is what started getting me to wondering about it.  You see, most of the ones that said it was a one in a million occurrence for a writer to live off of writing were either, A: 7 years old or older, or B: were talking about traditional publication only.

The ones that said it was possible?  They pointed out the change in the market.  Everything began to change as the internet grew and took on new characteristics.  eBooks changed the market, because suddenly you didn’t have to do a huge print run.  Self-publishing was a rare and very risky thing, and cost a lot of money up-front before eBooks.

Furthermore, as things continue to evolve, print-on-demand suddenly is no longer prohibitively expensive, and in fact is at a point where it can compete with traditional print runs.

Suddenly there are all of these avenues, and just about anyone can get published with little or no up-front cost!

Does This Mean Lower-Quality?

I want to state something important before I continue: I am neither bashing nor supporting either method (traditional or self-publishing) above the other.  In fact, even being a self-published author, it is still my dream to get picked up by an agency and publishing house.

Having said that, I’ve been scoffed at by some traditionally published authors in the past.  They think of self-publishing as an evil, and the most common reason behind it: “Anyone can get published without even trying, so a lot of garbage makes it onto the bookshelves.”

I respectfully disagree, this is something that hasn’t changed.  Before the internet, eBooks, and Print-on-Demand, there were a lot of good books that were published, true…but there were also plenty of bad.  No, I’m not going to cite examples, but I’m willing to bet you can think of a few on your own.

Despite the risk publishers took doing print runs, and therefore despite how careful they were in who they published and the content of their publications, not everyone in the world agrees on what is a quality piece of work.  And many trade publishers followed the market.  One of the articles I found while researching this topic said it right: a lot of bad books were published for this reason, and a lot of quality books were overlooked for any number of reasons, such as not being right for the market at the time.

So now that it is easier than ever to self-publish, what does that mean?  It just means more of both – the good and the bad.  Lots more.

Market Saturation?

So is this bad, then?  Does this market saturation mean readers are more picky, because there’s too much, and therefore it is harder for all writers to live off of writing?

Strangely enough, it seems like the answer is no.  I’m not an expert, but I have a lot of theories as to why things are better than ever, rather than worse, and the biggest one is: audience.

If you get published by a trade publisher, your book goes out to stores.  Depending on how much your publisher likes your work, it may just be your local market, or it might be out to a handful of countries, depending on what international deals they have setup.

But now?  Well, I’ve had people from all over the world read my books!  I only know this because of how Kindle Direct Publishing tracks sales and royalty currencies.  I’ve seen Canadians, Australians, Brits, and a few others buy my eBooks and even some print copies.

Suddenly it’s not just specific locations.  It’s whoever has an internet connection and the means to the right kind of currency.  Suddenly there are billions of potential readers rather than millions.

On top of that, people who are voracious readers don’t have to worry about physical books taking up space or waiting for them to be delivered.  Most people I’ve talked to outside of friends and family have read my first book in a single sitting.

Voracious readers are, if you’ll pardon the pun, eating up the increased volume of works to be read!

The Bottom Line?

The bottom line is that it is possible to make a living off of writing, more than ever!  However…that does not change the fact that it requires hard work.  A LOT of hard work.  You don’t have to have that one best-seller anymore like you used to, but from what I’m reading, those who DO live off of it, write a great volume of stories.

And that is no guarantee, either.  That’s an important thing to remember about writing: it doesn’t matter how good you are, you are not guaranteed to succeed.  In fact, Picard once said it perfectly in Star Trek The Next Generation:

Image source – fanpop.com

“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.  That is not a weakness, that is life!”

So what should you do?

It all boils down to one thing: do you love to write?  Is it your passion?  Your calling?

If you can answer yes to that, then my advice is the same advice I’m giving myself: don’t give up.  Don’t stop.  Keep going.  Never stop.

Believe.

The Hard Part – Getting the Word Out

Hi everyone!

There are many challenges to being a writer, many of which I never expected, and many of which were far greater than I ever imagined.  For over 20 years, I’ve dreamt of ‘making it’ as a writer.

The one challenge I did not quite anticipate in my steady work towards that dream: just getting the word out.  Getting my name out there, getting the name of my book out there, getting people to want to read it.  I always thought just getting published would be the hardest part.

It’s been seven months since The Sword of Dragons was released, and it was one of the most exciting times of my life!  Sure I didn’t go the traditional route of ‘landing’ an agent and getting a publishing house to pick it up.  Self publication made sense at the time, and I do not regret that decision at all.

To an extent, it has been a success!  I have not heard one single negative review so far, and it is more than just family and close friends that have read it. Random people at work that I’ve convinced to buy it, patrons in the coffee shops I frequent (not to mention the baristas themselves), pretty much anyone and everyone who would listen and was willing.

While that had only translated to just over 50 sales, all feedback, including reviews on Amazon (and one review on Barnes and Noble) were all stellar!

But…50.  50 sales in 7 months.  And half of those sales were in the first two months.  It was disheartening.  I knew that the novel I had written was good, perhaps even great if the reviews are any indication!  It was the first novel I had ever written that I believed in.

So the question became: how do I get more people to give it a chance?  How do I get the word out?  How do I convince someone who has never heard my name before that this book is worth reading?

Then a friend gave me the answer to that question: with my exclusivity to Kindle, I could use the Kindle Unlimited program to put The Sword of Dragons on sale for free!  And so this past Friday, I did just that.  I didn’t expect much, maybe a dozen or two ‘sales’ at most…

I was so very wrong.  I watched incredulously as over 200 were sold in the first day, and 200 more the next day!!!  My jaw quite literally dropped open.  Could this be true?

Of course, there is a part of me that wonders: how many of those are from people who simply watch for any and all free books, and buy them up in an instant regardless, and they go into a ‘never going to read’ folder?

In the end, 694 people bought The Sword of Dragons for free.  And what if…?  What if even just a fraction of those folks read it?  And what if those folks love it, and tell everyone they know about it?

It’s conceivable it could go the other way: those who read it could hate it, and they don’t spread the word, and no one else ever buys The Sword of Dragons again.

However, at least there is a chance now.  Instead of 54, now over 750 people have a copy.  Maybe, just maybe, this is where it begins.  Maybe this is the boost I needed to start launching my writing career.

I hope so.  No matter what, I’m not giving up on writing, or on the Sword of Dragons series.  I will publish all six novels, regardless of their success.

But what if dreams can come true?

I know they can.

quote-Walt-Disney-all-our-dreams-can-come-true-if-247

Thanks for reading :)
-Jon Wasik

Kindle Select vs. Nook

Hey everyone!

I wanted to announce that, barring any major objections from readers, I will be pulling The Sword of Dragons off of the Nook so that I may enroll in the Kindle Select program.

kindle-logoThis decision does not come lightly, as I myself own a Nook device and not a Kindle.  However, there are many reasons for this, and believe it or not, it is not about money.  It is about sales, but only so far as numbers sold, not royalties made.

To compare, I have sold only 2 copies on the Nook (and the person who purchased them is someone I know personally.)  Kindle, on the other hand, I have sold 14 copies.  That is a huge difference right there.

storm-of-illusionI recently spoke to Alan Black, a fellow self-published author that I used to work with way back when I worked at a local movie theater.  His first book, A Storm of Illusion, has been out since July 18th 2014, plus he has a 2nd book out now.  So he has had some experience with createspace.com for his print edition as well as Kindle and Nook.

I was shocked to learn that when he enrolled his book in the Kindle Select program, his sales went from maybe 1 a week to 1 or 2 per day!  Now that is a heck of a difference!

Again, my motivation is not money: it is readership.  I am a brand new author with his first novel out, I do not yet have a base of readership, and in fact I am relatively unknown.  So I feel it is necessary to attempt to expand my readership beyond the 20 readers who have bought print or ebook editions.

I want to share my novel with the world, but if few people know it exists, that will never truly happen.

What Is Kindle Select?

Kindle Select is a program that I can enroll my book in for free, but it requires that I make the book exclusive to Kindle for the duration of my enrollment.  What do I get with it?

Most importantly, The Sword of Dragons becomes available to Kindle Unlimited subscribers, and it becomes available to the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library.

In a sense, this means subscribers get to read my book without any additional cost beyond their subscription fee.  And I believe that is a big driving factor behind Alan Black’s significant increase in copies purchased.

This makes the book far more accessible.  Plus I can enroll The Sword of Dragons in one of a couple of promotions via Kindle Select.  This means deals for you, the reader :)

Loyalty to the Readers

While I do intend to go through with this, I meant what I said at the beginning of the blog: if I receive multiple objections here, I will not make this move.  I know that not everyone has Kindle.  However, if there are no objections, then beginning June 1st, the eBook of The Sword of Dragons will become exclusive to the Kindle (for now :) ).

Thank you so much to all of you for reading, and keep an eye here, I have more exciting news to announce later on.  Including an upcoming interview on a live podcast!  :D

Thanks
-Jon Wasik

The Sword of Dragons – Available Everywhere!

Hey everyone,

So today is the official day, May 12th, 2015: the Sword of Dragons is available everywhere!  Including one unexpected channel: the print edition is available to order from Barnes and Noble’s website!!  :D

This has been such an incredibly long journey getting to this point, but I’m really glad I can share this long story with everyone.  Which reminds me: I was going to put this up on the website when it is ready to launch (which, shame on me…should have been ready today.)  The Sword of Dragons has a very long history, and I don’t believe I’ve told that story yet.

Unexpected Beginnings – Star Dragon Legion

It began with a sci-fi story…wait, what?!  This purely fantasy novel began as a Sci Fi?

Image Source - wallpaper-kid.com
Image Source – wallpaper-kid.com

Yep.  Or rather, the story that eventually morphed into began that way.  I believe I was still in Junior High school (they call it Middle School these days) when I came up with the story idea called Star Dragon Legion.

In the universe of Star Dragon Legion, exceptionally talented people from all over the universe, those with a strong connection to magic, would be found and recruited by the Star Dragon Legion.  At the height of their training, they would inherit the powers of the dragons, and be able to transform into an actual dragon.

The Legion was all that stood between the peaceful worlds of the universe and an evil Empire.  And this story focused on one man in particular, a young newly-minted Legionnaire named Chris Ector.

Image Source - google.com
Image Source – google.com

Yep, Chris Ector, not Cardin Kataar.  That name change came a loooong time after this original story.  Once I had the universe physicals, the ‘sci fi rules’ so to speak, figured out, I started on the first story.

Then disaster struck.  12 chapters into the novel, a virus hit my computer and wiped everything out.  And this was before I knew to make backups.  I had a couple of false starts again after that, but shortly after the virus issue, I started my fan fiction, Star Trek Dragon.  (Yep, I appear to have a thing for dragons, heheh.)

This was when I tabled writing novels and started writing only short stories.

Sword of the Dragon

The idea of the weapon that would eventually become The Sword of Dragons started with one of those short stories.  My senior year of high school, I had to do what was called Senior Project: a year-long project that ended with a report before a panel of judges.  I of course decided to write a story and try to get it published.

By this point I’d written about a half dozen short stories in Star Dragon Legion.  For my senior project, I wanted to write something special.  I somehow came up with the idea of a weapon called Sword of the Dragon.

Chris Ector was still a trainee in this story, but finding and retrieving the Sword was his final test before graduating.  He found it on a remote world, overcame great obstacles, and obtained the Sword.

NoooooooThe short story was rejected by all publishers I submitted it to, but I passed my panels.  I had learned soooo much in my efforts, and that was the point of Senior Project.

My first year of college is when it hit me: change my sci fi story into a purely fantasy!!  And I really liked the idea of the Sword of the Dragon.  So began my very first completed novel.  By 2004, Sword of the Dragon was ready.  Thinking it was fantastic, I submitted it to Daw books as an unsolicited manuscript just days before I left to continue my education at a 4 year college (after 2 years at a community college.)

Rejection and Revamp

Image source - google.com
Image source – google.com

About 4 weeks into college, I was super depressed.  I was lonely, living on my own, none of my friends or family around, and classes weren’t going well.  I was learning a lot in creative writing, but the professor had some deep-seated hatred for ‘genre’ fiction and I was not allowed to write sci fi or fantasy.

And then I got the rejection letter for Sword of the Dragon.  It couldn’t have come at a worse time.

After weeks of wallowing in self pity, I decided to re-read the manuscript before I sent it to the next publisher.  About 2 chapters in, I realized my horrible mistake: it was poorly written.  What I had learned from my creative writing class at that point was enough to make me realize it was unpublishable.  It was unreadable.  Horrible!!!

So I put it on pause for another couple of years, and focused on honing my craft with creative writing classes and by finishing out my fan fiction.

Come 2006, I started the first chapter of the final product now available today.  Yep, that’s right, it is that old!!  And it was still called Sword of the Dragon.  This was also when I changed Chris Ector’s name to Cardin Kataar.

It’s all in the Name

Why Cardin Kataar?  Well Chris Ector to me just didn’t sound original or fantasy-ish.  I wanted a more original name.  Kataar was a name I had come up with in Junior High for another fan fic I had started back then, and I liked it.  It’s been my internet handle ever since.  And Cardin?

There once was an awesome game called Star Wars Galaxies.  And in it, I created a character named Talir Kataar.  Some time later, I ended up buying a 2nd account and created Talir’s father, whom I named Cardin.  The name has no origin or link to anything, it was simply pulled out of my head, like most character names I use.

I liked the name so much that I decided to use it for the protagonist of Sword of the Dragon.

But then the worst thing imaginable for an author happened.  12 chapters into Sword of the Dragon…writer’s block hit.

For 4 years.

To Be Continued…

This has turned into a really long blog, so I think I’ll split it into 2 parts for you all.  Stay tuned for the rest of the history another night!!  :)  And spread the word: the adventure has begun!  Get your copy today :)  (I’m still not used to marketing myself or my own product…)

Thanks for reading!
-Jon Wasik

Now Available in Paperback – The Sword of Dragons!

Hi everyone,

It’s early!  The Sword of Dragons has gone on sale on Amazon.com and createspace.com!  Click here to get your copy today!!

Cover by Christian Michael
Cover by Christian Michael

Tell your friends, tell your family, tell the world!  :)

I did it.  I finally did it, after 20 years of working towards this goal.  As of this week, I am an officially published author!  I think I feel light-headed, heheh.  Wow!

Image Source - www.tech.co
Image Source – http://www.tech.co

Thank you so much to everyone here who’s followed my blog, liked me on facebook, emailed me, encouraged me…you all are awesome!

Stay tuned, there’s more to come!  The website still needs to be created, I still need to get wikipedia entries going…

And what’s more, this is only book 1 in a series of 6.  Book 2 is already completed, and book 3 is currently in pre-production.  The adventure has just begun!!  :D

-Jon Wasik