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!
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?
There’s so much advice out there about what to do or not to do for self-publishing. Some of the most common include “Hire a professional graphic design artist to make your covers. Even if you’re a graphic designer, don’t try to design your own, it’s a mistake. Hire someone instead.” Or, “hire an editor. My god, hire an editor!”
That’s all fine and dandy, and perhaps even is sound advice. Except…that all costs money. And if you want someone who is actually good at it, it costs a lot of money. In fact depending on the size of your manuscript, an editor will probably cost you more than a graphic design artist. Worse still, if you want custom artwork made, hiring an artist will probably cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Then that art still needs to be turned into a cover.
So, okay, you have a novel you want to self publish. You want to publish it as strongly as you can. But you don’t have a penny to spare, let alone $500 or more for just one of these services. Sure there are cheaper ones out there…so maybe you’re lucky enough to find a cover artist who will do it for you for $100. That’s still $100. Not to mention an editor. To speak nothing of advertising.
The fact of the matter is, if you want to self publish and you want to follow the advice of all of these people and pay for all of these services, you need a fair bit of money up front. But what if you don’t have that money to spare?
Before anyone says it, I’ll say now what the two most common responses are to that question. “Go traditional publishing” and “If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way to make it happen.”
To the first response, this usually comes from people, both those who are published and those who are not, that don’t seem to understand the challenges a writer faces finding an agent and/or publisher when they are an unknown. Even if you have an amazing story written extremely well, you’re an unknown, and as I wrote in my previous blog about prequels, these industry professionals need to make money. Not because they are greedy, quite the opposite: they need to live, just like you and I do.
So the other response, “You’ll find a way to make it happen.” If only it was that easy. Especially in today’s supposedly ‘recovered’ economy. Perhaps my viewpoint is unique to where I live, but it would take me years to save up the money to hire editors and graphic designers. For just one novel. Let alone more.
“What’s your advice, then?” Well, my advice is, if you have the skills, do it. Take the time to do it right. Research. Work on it. And if you have friends with the skills you need and they are willing to do it cheap or free, take advantage of that (but don’t expect them to, just ask, and if they say they can’t or won’t, don’t be offended by it. Both editing and graphic design are serious and time-consuming skills to develop.)
I’m fortunate to have started developing both of these skills early on. Editing for my love of writing, and graphic design when I was writing my fan fiction. I’m no professional at the graphic design end of it, and I’m always learning. But until I make enough money to hire these professionals, I have to rely on myself and my talented friends.
That is not a sin. That does not mean your heart isn’t in it or you’re not willing to make sacrifices to make your dream come true. It just means you’re willing to do whatever you can to work towards your dream.
Because if you don’t, if you say “I don’t have the money, therefore I’ll never get published,” then yes, you’re right, you won’t ever get published. But if you take the risk, and take the time and make the effort to make your self-published novel the best that you have the resources to make it, then you’re taking steps towards making your dreams come true.
Taking steps, even baby steps, is better than doing nothing at all.
My Dream for the Future
I had an idea, and I hope there comes a day when I can actually make this happen. I’d love to someday set up an organization that seeks out potential authors and helps them find affordable editors and artists, and even has funds to help them get their first novel off the ground right. I’m not talking about an agency, we won’t publish it or find a publisher for them, we’ll merely provide them the contacts and resources needed for them to do it. And education on how to do it.
Due to limited funding, I know we couldn’t help everyone. But maybe if there were enough people working or volunteering, they could at least read manuscripts from potentials, and if the potentials don’t quite meet the standards needed to qualify, at least give them advice on what they can do to improve and have a better chance the next time they submit.
At the very least, help give budding authors the tools they need to make themselves better and have a chance at getting their names out there.
Here’s hoping I can gather the connections and resources to get something like that off the ground someday :)
I’m back from Las Vegas! Yes, that’s where I went for my short vacation :) I’m not exactly a Vegas kind of person, but it was neat to see the strip and Lake Las Vegas. My Fiancee and I shared a Yard Long while we were on the strip, that was definitely fun :D
But now, on to the title for today’s blog…
Delaying Book 3
This is perhaps the hardest announcement I’ve had to make: there is just no way I can get book 3 of the Sword of Dragons series out by May. In fact…I really have no way of predicting when I will be able to get it out.
I’ve known about this for a little while now, but have been trying to figure out how to tell you all. I am really saddened by this announcement, and I cannot begin to convey how sorry I am.
The reason for the delay? I am only 4 chapters into writing the first draft, and have not been able to make any progress since the end of December. Things have been really busy, and I am due for a certification at work that I need to focus on or risk losing my job. Simultaneously, I have been looking for a new job, due to the insane, non-stop stress of my current job (and that really is an understatement…)
This is where I really wish I could just write full-time. I have so many ideas, and just no time at all to work on any of them right now. The Sword of Dragons, Chronicles of the Sentinels, and the slew of other series ideas I have. I am so incredibly sad that I cannot work on writing more right now :(
An Idea for the Future of Sword of Dragons
As I posted in a previous post, I’ve been considering creating new covers and rebranding the Sword of Dragons, including giving a more unique title to the first book.
One of my friends commented on my facebook that this might not be necessary, and that I should instead focus on advertising book 1. To that end, I’m going to begin promoting it once again and promoting Burning Skies a bit less.
However, I do think that I can present a stronger product with some additional work.
So my first plan? Try creating a cover that is a similar style to what I would do with books 1 and 2 for the print run of The Orc War Campaigns. I know that this is a bit of a risk, because it will mean spending money on buying the rights for an image for the cover. But it will help me determine if I can do the kind of presentation that I want, both for the cover, and inside.
If things go well with the Orc War Campaigns, and it gets a good reception, I’ll rebrand the first two books, and publish their 2nd editions a month apart as a run-up to the release of book 3.
When will all of this happen? …I don’t know yet. And I know, it’s not good marketing to state that publicly. But at least for the next few months, I won’t be able to direct much time and attention to my own novels.
I hope you all understand. This is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my writing career, but it is necessary. I really am so sorry for the delay, but I hope you all feel it will be worth it.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past couple years, the cover of your novel can make or break you.
Recently my fiancee found an article that we read together today, found here, and it made me think of a lot of things, and I think even helped me answer one very important question: why have sales for Burning Skies been so much worse than The Sword of Dragons?
It boggled my mind, because almost everyone who has read Burning Skies told me they loved it as much if not more than The Sword of Dragons. So it wasn’t that it was poorly written or a bad story. And my advertising campaigns for Burning Skies have all tanked. Fewer clicks than my ads for book 1, and no purchases.
Your Cover Describes Your Book
I’ve said this in a previous blog, long ago, but what’s the first thing a person sees when perusing either a book shelf or an online book store? The cover. “But don’t judge a book by its cover!” So the expression goes, but frankly, everyone does.
So what does your cover tell potential buyers? What does it tell people your book is about? The one time I went to a writer’s convention, one of the panels I went to covered this very idea, and again in the article I mentioned earlier. An example writer, David Penny, had a well-crafted cover for his historical mystery series, but what he was shocked to realize one day was that his cover made readers think it was a thriller.
So he had his cover redesigned and re-branded his series, and suddenly sales skyrocketed!
Why? Not because the original covers were bad, quite the opposite. But because the original covers weren’t attracting the right readers. Those looking for a thriller would click on the cover to see what the novel was about, only to find it wasn’t what they were actually looking for. And those looking for historical mysteries didn’t look into the book because they thought it was a thriller.
Target audience. Who is your target audience? All of your marketing should reflect who your target audience is. If your book is a fantasy adventure but the cover makes it look like a teen romance, you are very unlikely to attract readers.
What Does This Mean For The Sword of Dragons?
Well…….I’ve been thinking. A lot. Lately I’ve felt like a failure as a writer. A failure in a lot of things. And I’m a bit lost as to where to go.
But…maybe the author David Penny is on to something. Maybe this article was exactly what I needed. The original cover for The Sword of Dragons was great, Christian Michael is a talented artist. But for one thing, I didn’t do a very good job as a client helping him create an appropriate cover. I was, to put it mildly, an amateur at being a client to a cover artist. The article helped me realize my short-falls in that regard.
I also didn’t have maps ready for the release of books 1 and 2. Not to mention I’ve since come up with some ideas to make the book as a whole even more attractive.
But the cover…I know some people say a cover isn’t that important, but everything I’ve been seeing and reading in the past year completely disagrees with that claim. And I think I need to take a step back and reassess some things.
I am very strongly considering doing a re-brand. Designing new covers for the first two novels using the tips and advice in the referenced article, as well as giving book 1 it’s own unique title. Since this is the Sword of Dragons series, book 1 needs a title to indicate it is the first in a series.
And the more I look at book 2’s cover, the more I think: this does not in any way convey that this is a fantasy adventure novel. Even book 1’s cover, as well-crafted as it is, does not necessarily convey that it is a fantasy adventure.
In other words, I need a 2nd edition of the series…
I have some thinking to do. What do you all think?
Thanks for reading,
Trials and triumphs of writing, finding an agent, and publication.