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!
First I want to apologize for the lack of a blog post last week. It was a busy weekend, plus my ADHD was extremely bad :( I sat down to at least write a “Sorry no blog post this week” and just…nothing would come out, I couldn’t focus at all.
Adding New Genre Elements
Anywho, on to today’s blog topic! When is it too late to add something new to a series? A new element, a new story line…I guess that’s rather vague, so perhaps I’ll jump right into why I’m asking this question.
My previous blog entry talked about developing the story for book 4 of the Sword of Dragons series (which, by the way, is already shaping up to be more complex than book 3, story-wise!) Part of the development has involved trying to give more time and attention to the supporting characters.
This led to an element I’ve known for years I wanted to introduce: airships, and an airship captain as a character. But I didn’t know who to make that character, what that character would be like. So I started thinking about that.
Initially I started going down the path of a gnome. In some fantasy stories, especially Warcraft, that is typical: gnomes are steampunk engineers in the Warcraft universe. I also wanted this new captain to flirt heavily with one of the female supporting characters already introduced (I’m intentionally not saying whom at this time, spoilers ;) )
But then I thought, no, because of Warcraft, gnome engineers and airship captains has kind of become a staple of fantasy, and I wanted to do something different.
I still don’t know exactly what species, but I’ve also tried to increasingly show women in strong positions, so I decided I’m going to make the airship captain a woman…but then, I still wanted to do the story line involving the flirtation with the supporting character I mentioned.
And that’s where I come to the meat of this post. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say if a relationship ever sparks up between these two characters, but I have not yet explicitly shown or featured homosexuality in my series.
Why? I could go into a detailed explanation, but it basically boils down to the fact that when I first started developing Sword of Dragons over 15 years ago, it was still a very taboo topic and I didn’t give it much thought.
First and foremost, I know that this would alienate some existing readers who are extremely anti-homosexual. But it would also attract readers from the LGBTQ+ community. I don’t want to get into the topic of “is it right or wrong” at this time, that is not the focus of this blog post.
But this does mean that I’ll be introducing a completely new element into the 4th novel of the series. Actually, 2 elements, one that has been intended for some time, and one not.
This does not mean that the Sword of Dragons series will become a steampunk novel series or a homosexual erotica series. It will remain, at its core, a fantasy adventure series. But just like all fantasy adventure or sci-fi, it is a genre that can include elements of many other genres without it being out of place.
Fantasy stories can also be romances (and often are.) They can be horror. They can even be buddy-cop type stories (that could be an interesting story to write someday!) Or murder mysteries. They can be about individuals or about entire worlds, they can cover small personal struggles, massive interplanetary wars, and everything in between.
If you’ll pardon the pun, that is the magic of fantasy. It can be just about anything! It can take the writer and the reader anywhere their imaginations can fathom.
The hard part is making something new and fresh while also keeping it consistent. So what do you think, dear readers? Is book 4 too late to introduce these new elements, whether planned or not?
In case you’re thinking back and wondering, both of these elements were previously hinted at in the series. The steampunk is a combination of magic and technology, IE science and magic together. That has been hinted at in that I’ve made the physics of the universe, outside of magic, work like reality. Planets orbiting stars, etc. And the LGBTQ+? Well, I’m still wondering how many people have picked up on it, but let’s just say you might take a closer look at the final episodes of The Orc War Campaigns :)
Update on Rise of the Forgotten
I’m about halfway through chapter 27 on editing! I’ve been focusing more on the edits than the map-making lately, mostly because that has aligned with my schedule and opportunity. But since I’m almost finished with edits, that means it’ll soon be time to finish the map and get a proof copy of the novel ordered! I’m hoping by December I’ll have the first proof copy in hand.
I can’t wait to be able to release it for you all to read! :D
Back in March, I wrote an article about software that analyzes a passage and tells you whose writing style it is similar to. One of the things I was surprised to learn was that my writing style has changed over time. More than that, I’ve even come to realize that my writing style changes depending on what I am writing.
I’m not just talking about the difference between fantasy and sci fi, but within a single novel. The first Sword of Dragons novel (Rise of the Forgotten), I initially got Arthur Conan Doyle, and later on, JK Rowling. I’ve put in a few other passages from Rise of the Forgotten (all edited versions) and got Dan Brown for an action sequence, and then JK Rowling for another random section.
However, back in March, I was surprised when passages from Burning Skies and the unfinished book 3 came out as Ursula K. Le Guin, the writer of the Earthsea series. I’d never read any of her work, so wasn’t sure what to make of it. So I went out and bought the first Earthsea novel, The Wizard of Earthsea. About a week ago, I finally started reading it.
…and I don’t see it. I don’t see any similarity to her writing style. I was shocked by that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I don’t like her writing style, I actually rather enjoy it and I’m getting through the first book very quickly. In fact someone said she’s a master of character development, so the comparison is flattering. But I don’t see the similarity to my style.
Or at least, I didn’t think so at first…
Am I Just Too Close To My Own Writing To See It?
I mentioned this to my friend Liza the other day over IM. She kinda paused for a bit, and then replied that she actually could see the similarity, and started going into details about how. One of the thing she said is that we both write very matter-of-fact in many instances.
I see that in Earthsea, but I wasn’t seeing that in my own writing. And I started wondering…is that just because I’m too close to my own writing? I know that’s why they say a writer should always get an outside editor (hard to do when you can’t afford one…)
It’s neither a good thing or a bad thing, though, it’s just my style. Some people will like it, some won’t. I started wondering if I should find a way to adjust my writing and make it less ‘matter-of-fact’ but then I realized that it works for me. Not to say my writing style is perfect – I will never stop trying to make myself better.
But that’s an important thing to remember. Find your voice. It may be like someone else’s, but that’s okay as long as it is your voice and it isn’t a struggle to write in that style.
So Do Outside Opinions Matter Or Not?
This becomes a rather difficult question to answer. Not everyone likes my writing style. And I truly do think that I’ll always have room for improvement. But who would be the best judge of my style and what direction I should go to improve it?
Honestly that’s something I struggled with in the writer’s critique groups. There were writers from all genres there, and some of the other writers there were criticizing aspects that were staples to fantasy. As much as I like to turn some tropes on their heads, if you do that too much, you can actually drive readers of your genre away. Finding that balance is difficult.
I find that writers often try to impose the rules of their genre onto others when they get into a critique group. Just ask any die-hard literary fiction writers. (And now I’m having flashbacks to my college days…)
So does that mean that only writers from your story’s genre can be good judges? Actually…not necessarily. Because even within a genre, writers have their own styles, and readers can have preferences to styles.
So the question is…who is the authority? Is there an authority? I honestly don’t know. Even within a single genre, ‘famous’ writers can have extremely different styles, and some of those famous writers break every rule that’s out there.
I don’t have an answer to that question. At all.
So my only advice: go with your gut. Trust the opinions of your target audience and don’t stop trying to improve your writing. In fact, pay close attention to what your target audience says. That may be the best thing you can do for yourself and your writing.
I apologize that today’s blog post is such a short one, we’ve had a family emergency and my mind is just…not in the right place for writing a blog. However, I didn’t want to leave you all with nothing this week, so I thought I’d answer a question I’ve been asked by a couple of people recently.
“Why did you announce the 2nd editions of the Sword of Dragons so early? If people know that there’s going to be a 2nd edition sometime soon, doesn’t that mean few people will want to buy the current editions? You won’t get many sales between now and then.”
That’s true, and is one of the things I considered when deciding when to reveal those plans. However, for the same reason that I made the announcement so early, I’ve not been buying any more advertisements for the books.
I would feel guilty, trying to get people to buy my books when there’s a newer, better version on the horizon. I already feel bad since I know there will be some people who already have the 1st editions that will want to buy the 2nd, and that in turn has fueled my desire to make the 2nd edition as good as possible, to make it worthwhile.
When I said that, someone replied, “Who cares if they have to buy two versions? You want to make a living off of writing, right? Then you should try making money anywhere you can.”
Is that the right way to make more money? Possibly. But is it the right thing to do?
It’s no secret, I want to be able to make enough sales to one day live off of writing. But I don’t want to make my entire focus be on money, because I’m afraid if I do that, I’ll lose my real focus – Telling stories the best way that I can.
Progress on the 2nd Editions
I’m more than halfway through Rise of the Forgotten’s edits, and I’m finding that all of the chapters I wrote just before, during, and just after my writers block all those years ago need way more work than any previous ones so far. And that makes sense to me, since I had a really hard time getting the story out back then.
As for the maps, the map of Edilas (the continent where the 4 kingdoms are) is complete except for a couple of details. Test prints came out wonderful! I need to get the world map cleaned up and a couple of final details on it, and then I need to get Devor ready for book 2.
Projected completion of 2nd editions is still in the air, but I’ll definitely let you all know as soon as I know :)
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!
Thanks for reading,
Trials and triumphs of writing, finding an agent, and publication.