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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

The Trials Continue – 2016’s Highs and Lows

Hey everyone, welcome to the last blog of the year!

And what a year it has been…with some of my greatest highs and some of my lowest lows.  I wish I could say this roller coaster was for me only, but based on the memes I keep seeing on Facebook, 2016 has been one of the most difficult years for many people, and not just because of celebrity deaths.

Originally Posted by Cinnabon.
Originally Posted by Cinnabon.

Though I do wish to pay tribute to some of my favorites who passed this year, those who have inspired and left behind a legacy no one will soon forget: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Anton Yelchin, Ron Glass, John Glenn, and Carrie Fisher.  Not to belittle all those who passed in 2016, but these five were the ones that hit me the hardest.

Looking Back on 2016

2016 started on a heart-breaking note for me, as my relationship at the time was already coming apart.  I’d spent the holidays alone, and it was one of the loneliest times of my life…  On top of that, I had failed to get Burning Skies out in November as I had originally planned, 6 months after book 1’s release.

digital-cover-1While production of The Orc War Campaigns was in full swing, I wasn’t sure it was going to do well.  I was scared that fans wouldn’t accept that as a substitute for the delayed release of Burning Skies.  I wasn’t sure the story would do well.  But I was looking forward to exploring my own wounds in the story…

In fact, as a reader recently pointed out to me, I have infused my past relationship failures into my writing a lot lately.  At the beginning of 2016, I was full of cynicism and anger, I’d given up on relationships.  I couldn’t bear another heartbreak…

Never-the-less, I trudged forward.  I said “Hell with it” and focused all of my efforts on writing and getting my name out there.  This year I had my first table at a convention, that of Starfest 2016, and sold several novels there!  It was an exciting beginning, and sales for book 1 were relatively steady in general at this point.

Character design and model: Beck Stewart. Photo by WeNeals Photography.
Character design and model: Beck Stewart. Photo by WeNeals Photography.

Then I attended Anomaly Con, a steampunk convention in the Denver area, and met some amazing authors!  In fact, of all of the conventions I’ve attended, I think Anomaly Con had the best organization for Author’s Row.

Better still, one of the most important introductions of my life was made that weekend: I met fellow author Beck Stewart.  And while I didn’t know it at the time, that brief introduction late Saturday night would become the love of my life…  :)

Burning Skies Release

Burning-Skies-Digital-FinalWhile the Orc War Campaigns had to go on a mid-season hiatus, this led to the successful release of the 2nd novel of the Sword of Dragons series, Burning Skies, and what a release it was!  I had an amazing release party with family and friends, and in the first couple months of release, I sold dozens of copies!

I was on a high – everything was starting to go right.  A couple months after the release, Beck and I started dating, and interest in my novels was on the rise.  Though terrified at one point that I was going to lose my mother, she pulled through, and the middle of 2016 was one of the best times of my life :D

But alas, not all would continue to go so well.  Sales for both book 1 and book 2 suddenly just…stopped.  No gradual draw-down, no indication it would happen, just all of a sudden…

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

And as 2016 comes to an end, sales continue to be almost non-existent.  Honestly I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong…  Advertising campaigns on Amazon are no longer drawing interest, and all attempts to get others to buy my novels have failed.  And while The Orc War Campaigns has completed successfully…I’ve received no feedback.  I don’t even know if anyone has read it.

As a writer, right now, I feel like a complete failure.  Months of negligible sales, including at a convention this fall, no more fan mail, it’s like everyone just…forgot about the Sword of Dragons.

I’m not sure where to go from here.  I’m trudging along on book 3, though running into a bit of writer’s block (3 days to write 1 chapter?  That’s bad…) And I don’t know what else I could do to boost sales.

Ending 2016 On A High Note

Image Source - stylecaster.com
Image Source – stylecaster.com

But for all of the despair I feel about writing, I can’t end this article on a low note.  Because for all of that, there are also some amazing things going on in my life!  My relationship continues to grow, and I got to spend a usually depressing time of the year with my girlfriend and our families!

In fact, writing aside, this turned out to be one of the best years of my life!  :D  And while I really hope I can turn my writing career around in 2017, I am so glad to no longer have to face it all alone.  I am so glad to have a companion in life, a writing partner, a cosplay partner, and my best friend :)

For all of the darkness in 2016, my Starshine has lit up my life in a way no one else could ever do.

Plans for 2017

For 2017, I want to try to get The Orc War Campaigns into print this year.  But more important is my desire to release book 3 of the Sword of Dragons by the end of May…and I honestly don’t know if I can.

The Orc War Campaigns took up more of my time than I expected, and I fell waaaay behind.  Between that and my bout of writer’s block…I’m really afraid I won’t make it in time.  Maybe a novel every year is an unrealistic expectation for myself.  I’m really not sure.  I also don’t want to rush out a mediocre product.  I want book 3 to be at least as good as books 1 and 2.

So that’s a decision I’ll have to make in the next few months – try to keep to the schedule, or delay book 3’s release….  Which would you prefer, my dear readers?  Try to get it out on time, or take my time on it and shoot for a winter release?

On that note, I wish you all a fantastic New Years tonight!  Be safe, have fun, and I’ll see you in 2017!

Thanks for reading :)
-Jon Wasik

The Finale – Finishing The Orc War Campaigns

Hi everyone!

For those who haven’t seen my little snippets on my Facebook page, I’ve been writing the final episode of The Orc War Campaigns for the past week!  :D And what a finale it is turning out to be!

digital-cover-1To this day, I regret having to pause mid-season on TOWC, I wanted to have the series finished before Burning Skies…but ultimately it was the right choice to make.  I already felt rushed on the series, and Burning Skies needed major work to meet the deadline of an end of May release.

But it’ll have been worth it.  As a result of my decision, I’ve been able to spend more time on the series, and that extra time will be reflected in the quality of the story and the writing.

In fact, the story?  Wow, it ended up taking me places I didn’t quite expect.  This series has definitely been the most highly character-driven series I’ve written, and I think that experience will help me better develop the main characters in the novels from here on out.

Image Source - https://www.pinterest.com/pcolaeric/dd-streets-i-walk-in-my-mind/
Image Source – https://www.pinterest.com/pcolaeric/dd-streets-i-walk-in-my-mind/

Of everything that’s happened, figuring out how to end the series for Zerek has been the most intriguing challenge ever.  The young character who was meant to go in one direction, but quite vehemently wouldn’t let me, because it was so contrary to his character…which created a conundrum.  What direction should I take him, then?

I decided to let that uncertainty be reflected in his own character, as he tries to figure out the best solution to the dilemma he faces in the final episodes, and that made for a character dynamic I’ve not written before: uncertainty of identity.  Whether or not he resolves that conflict, well…you’ll all just have to read the series to find out :)

What Happens After The Series?

I don’t recall if I mentioned it before, but as much as I’ve enjoyed writing the series, I won’t be doing another like this.  Bridging the gap between books 1 and 2 has been fun, and these new characters were incredible to write about, but since I am only writing part-time, I cannot keep up with the demands.

Books 1 and 2 side by side :)
Books 1 and 2 side by side :)

As it is, the series spans over 400 pages in my ‘writing template’ (very different from when I format it for publication,) and I’m still writing the final episode!  In comparison, Burning Skies was 414 pages in ‘writing format,’ so TOWC weighs in at an even greater page count than my (so far) longest novel!  That’s a lot of material to write in just a handful of months!

But if there will be no more side-series like this…what will become of the characters?  Will we ever see Amaya, Zerek, or Arkad again?

Image Source - http://imgur.com/gallery/pIh4A
Image Source – http://imgur.com/gallery/pIh4A

The answer is a resounding yesI fell in love with these characters, and while the focus on them is ending, their part in this tale is far from over.  I am already planning on integrating Amaya into book 3 (given what will happen in book 3, I’m sure you all will understand why she absolutely must be a part of it!)

Furthermore, I’m already writing into the finale how Arkad will be setup to play a role much further into the novels.  As for Zerek…I want to bring him back, but it will have to make sense for why he comes back.  I cannot make a guarantee about him.  I like his character, but I don’t want to throw him into the novels arbitrarily.

That said, I think I’m going to get back to it.  I still have a good 30 or so pages to write for the final episode!  Almost all of it will be action scenes, too!

Thanks for reading!
-Jon Wasik

Burning Skies – Chapter Titles!

Hi everyone!

First I just wanted to give a shout out to all of the new readers/followers, and to everyone who liked my last article!  It warms my heart to see a surge in activity :)

I had hoped today to be able to do a cover reveal of Burning Skies, but I am holding out for the final proof copy to arrive…which it should have no later than today.  But it has not arrived :(

So instead, I have other good news.  Actually, two really fantastic bits!  The first is probably the most exciting, and I know a lot of people have been chomping at the bit for this one…

Burning Skies Release Date Announced!

After delays, setbacks, and some heartache, I’ve finally been able to settle on an official release date for Burning Skies!!

May 27th, 2016!!!

2011 Independence Day Celebration at York Field. File photo
2011 Independence Day Celebration at York Field.

Barring any more of those pesky unforeseen circumstances *knocks on wood* in less than 4 weeks, the next story in the epic saga will be out for your reading pleasure!!

I am so excited to release this next chapter.  I finished the first draft over two years ago (yes, before I even released book 1, heheh) and was so anxious to release it after book 1.  While I was initially sad that I had to push the release date back six months, I’m really glad I did, I was able to really polish it and, I hope you all will agree, turn it into something phenomenal.

And of course, I’m not satisfied leaving you all with just that little tid bit of exciting news.  I was looking back at past blog articles I wrote on Burning Skies, and I realized I never released the chapter titles on here!  I did on my personal facebook page, back before I had a blog, but not for all of you.  So, without further ado, I give you the official chapter list for Burning Skies…

Burning Skies – Chapter Titles

Chapter 1 – The Orc Shaman
Chapter 2 – The New World
Chapter 3 – The Allied Council
Chapter 4 – The Wolves of Devor
Chapter 5 – Reunion
Chapter 6 – Lies and Half-Truths
Chapter 7 – Hidden Among Us
Chapter 8 – The Tomb of the Ascended
Chapter 9 – Crossroads
Chapter 10 – The White City
Chapter 11 – Lost
Chapter 12 – Banquet of the Sea
Chapter 13 – The Royal Ball
Chapter 14 – The Dagger’s Edge
Chapter 15 – Wizard’s Flame
Chapter 16 – The Price for Peace
Chapter 17 – Derelict
Chapter 18 – Shadows of the Past
Chapter 19 – Fiera’s Secret
Chapter 20 – Desolate Hope
Chapter 21 – Into the Crystalline Peaks
Chapter 22 – Surrounded
Chapter 23 – The Navitas
Chapter 24 – The Lost Elf
Chapter 25 – The Ruins of the Dead
Chapter 26 – Consumed
Chapter 27 – Return to Edilas
Chapter 28 – Escape into the Catacombs
Chapter 29 – Evacuation
Chapter 30 – Into the Fire
Chapter 31 – The Arrival
Chapter 32 – Daruun Forest Burns
Chapter 33 – The Impossible Ruins
Chapter 34 – Darkness Descends
Chapter 35 – A New Power
Chapter 36 – Setting the Board
Chapter 37 – The Battle for Maradin
Chapter 38 – Avatar
Chapter 39 – Second Chances
Chapter 40 – Shared Secrets

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the upcoming new adventure!  Let me know what you think of the chapter titles, and the release date :D

And if you aren’t already following me on facebook, please click here and click “Like” on my author’s page to help spread the Sword of Dragons goodness :)

Thanks for reading!
-Jon Wasik

Starfest 2016!

Hi everyone,

I know it’s been two weeks since Starfest, but I’m finally able to sit down and take time to post on it!!  And what a blast I had!  :)  Thanks to my cohorts M. H. Lee and Wayne Adams (who shot the cover photo for this article, by the way,) it was a definite success :D

And as an added bonus, read to the end to learn some exciting news about Burning Skies!  :D

Starfest was a first-of-a-kind experience for me: for the first time ever, I was a vendor at a con, not a visitor!  That’s right, along with my friend M. H. Lee, I sat at a table in author’s row, actively engaging with customers, trying to convince them that my novel was worth buying.

20160311_155447This was definitely one of the most unique activities I’ve ever participated in.  First was deciding how to setup our table.  The only picture I took was our initial setup on day one, but it evolved often, and thanks to M. H. Lee’s awesome eye for putting up a store front, by the end we had a setup that really put our fiction novels at the forefront, and I think helped us sell.

20160312_105213We also had a GREAT spot, right next to the main passageway between the authors alley and the merchant section :D  So there was a ton of foot traffic that passed us by!

But most important was learning how to engage passersby.  This is something I struggled greatly with.  I tried to make eye contact with everyone who passed by, and even say hi or good morning…but this just wasn’t garnering attention or getting people to come buy our books.

So I observed my friend across from us, Marvin, as he effectively drew numerous folks in and helped sell several of his wife’s novels.  And I realized where I was falling short: I wasn’t trying to sell the novel.  I was being friendly and courteous, but I wasn’t drawing attention to The Sword of Dragons (a point M. H. Lee made to me as well.)

So on Sunday, I changed my approach.

“Oh, you like dragons?  Well then you’d love this book!”

“Do you like fantasy novels?  Then this book is for you!”

“Looking for a new fantasy novel?  Yes?  Let me tell you about The Sword of Dragons!”

And the result?  Well Friday I sold only one copy.  On Saturday I sold one.  But on Sunday, I sold half a dozen!  While I’m sure it wasn’t just because of my change in tactics, I’m sure it helped.

But I think that’s a lesson all writers can take away: sell your book.  Don’t be shy about it.  That’s why you’re there.  And I’m not just talking about conventions.  Spread the word, tell everyone about your book, tell everyone why it’s exciting and they should buy a copy.

After all, how can the word ever get out…if you don’t tell them?

Fantastic Cosplay!

Kaylee and the Doctor
Kaylee and the Doctor

I’m finding that the more I go to conventions, the more I am enjoying them :)  Hence why I’m going to Anomaly Con this weekend, even though I’ve not really gotten into the steampunk scene.  I met some amazing people at Starfest, made a new friend, and saw some incredible cosplay costumes!

I only cosplayed on Saturday, breaking out my 11th Doctor costume yet again, but I loved getting comments on it (even if it is incomplete) and I loved interacting with all of the cosplayers.

Here are some of my favorites from the con!

(This was my first attempt using the ‘gallery’ feature on wordpress, so bear with me if it turns out horribly…)

If you want to see more, check out my facebook page, I posted a ton there!  :)

Burning Skies – Final Proofread Complete!

Now for that news I promised: I finally finished the final proofread of Burning Skies!!  The results?…Well, I have a lot of work ahead of me…a lot…  But that’s going to have to be detailed in a future post ;)  But this is exciting news, this brings me one step closer to having Burning Skies ready for its end of May release!

So what are the next steps in prepping the book?  Taking all of my notes from proofreading and ‘fixing’ them in the manuscript, that’ll be a project in and of itself.  Also, I need to finish working on the cover so that I might finally do a proper “Cover Reveal” for you all :D

It also means I get to start posting more info about the story!  I am so excited, this was such an awesome story to write!  For all of the world-changing events that happen in The Sword of Dragons, they are nothing compared to Burning Skies ;)  So keep an eye out, this is just the beginning!

“A shattered world shall return to its people;
Darkness and fire will descend.”

Thanks for reading!
-Jon Wasik

Where’s He Been? 1 Month Absence

Hey everyone,

I wish to apologize to all of you for not keeping my blog active over the last month.  And, for that matter, for the sporadic updates over the past several months.

Sometimes life has a way of turning upside down on us, and it can happen to anyone, whether you’re Joe IT in the computer engineering business or a writer struggling to make a dent in the market.  And, well, I’m both of those.

I’ve always been hesitant to post personal details about what’s going on in my life, I’m still not used to being a part of the social media world like this.  So I hope you all will forgive me for having trouble getting to the point.

My girlfriend and I are parting ways this week, after struggling with our relationship for what feels like a really long time.  Those of you who bought my first novel, she’s the one I spoke of in the Acknowledgements and the About the Author sections.

In order to honor her privacy, I will not discuss any of the details.  This has been a really difficult time for me.  I have never felt so stressed before as I have the past few weeks, and it’s affected every aspect of my life, including writing.  I’ve just not had the energy to write in my blog or on my author’s Facebook page.

I will come back, of course, and probably sooner than even I expect.  I also still plan for a Fall release of Burning Skies, and considerable headway has been made in that regard.  But please continue to be patient with me.  I promise, I’ll be back soon.

Thank you,
-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