I found myself struggling to come up with a blog article today, so the first thing I thought was, “Maybe it’s time to do a cover reveal for one of the new books!”
…but is it too soon to do that?
I honestly wasn’t sure what might be appropriate from a marketing point of view, so I decided to hit the search engines and start reading articles. And pretty much immediately, the consensus was clear: not until your book is ready for pre-orders.
Do you agree?
I’ve already done a partial reveal with the text on the titles, and I’ve received proof copies of Rise of the Forgotten and Burning Skies, both of which revealed a couple minor tweaks that are needed (and already fixed on the digital files.) But should I wait for a complete reveal?
I think it makes sense to an extent. That first impression can come with a buy impulse for a reader. “That looks cool, I wanna buy that!” So pre-orders would hopefully mount up. Where as if I revealed the cover now, but pre-orders weren’t ready for another 4 or 5 months, people’s initial excitement might be long lost and pre-orders might be less than stellar.
So for the moment, I’m going to hold off on the cover reveal.
I want this release to be done right. I want to learn from the mistakes I made in the past. And I want to give my readers the best experience that I can.
What I can say is that I’m still strongly thinking about a pre-order bundle somehow that will include all 3 books (Rise of the Forgotten, Burning Skies, and The Orc War Campaigns) as well as a printed map, either of Edilas or of all of Halarite.
I’ve recently done just a test print on an 8.5×11 paper with an aged parchment effect, and I like it! If a print service can do this larger, and on the right kind of paper, this would definitely make for a neat extra to throw in with pre-orders!
The only challenge I’m running into right now is a platform to sell the bundle through. Etsy is a no-go because they only allow the sale of hand-crafted items, not printed books. So I need to find a venue appropriate to such a sale, and eBay doesn’t strike me as appropriate. Does anyone out there have any suggestions?
Thank You For Your Patience
Before I sign off, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who gave me words of support last month after my Mother passed away. You words warmed my heart. :) I went nearly a month without a new blog, but I’ve still been seeing visits, comments, and likes on past blogs, and I’m grateful to everyone.
What if I told you that writing as much as humanly possible and publishing as much as humanly possible…wasn’t necessarily the best way to go?
I’ve written before about all of the research I’ve done over the question ‘can you make a living as a writer?’ and I’ve learned so much about the industry. And one of the things I’ve learned is that many of the new authors who make a living these days often do so through volume – they write and publish, a lot.
I should have dug deeper. But then, the self-publishing market is kind of a new thing, relatively speaking. Who knew where the trend was going to go?
In reading a recent blog article by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, which led me to another, and then to another, the market has matured, and many self-published authors are trying to write more to keep up.
Writers are getting burned out. And many of the new big-hitters from the past decade have apparently disappeared.
Burnout can be a problem in any career, any job. But Rusch made a very good point in her blogs:
“If you want to sustain your writing and publishing businesses, you have to stop thinking like a manufacturer. You need to start thinking like an artisan. By that I mean, you are “a person or company that makes a high-quality or distinctive product in small quantities, usually by hand or using traditional methods.””
When I read that article, it made me think about my own experience turning out a novel in record time. When I wrote Chronicles of the Sentinels – Legacy, I developed, wrote, and put it through two rounds of editing/proofreading in 3 months. I was proud of myself for that.
However, the product wasn’t the best it could be. I finished it on a deadline to pitch it at a writer’s conference, and the pitch went well, but when the agent read the product itself, she said that it needed a lot of work. And she was right.
More than that, I had spent every single night after work, and every single weekend day, working on it as much as I possibly could. That on top of a full time job meant I had time for little else except the essentials (grocery shopping, etc.) That kind of effort was unsustainable. It was exhausting
Making the Strongest Product You Can
Writing fiction is an art. This includes in the cinema, although Disney seems to have turned it into a manufacturing job based on their extremely aggressive Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars Universe release schedule. To their credit, they have probably dozens of writers working on the stories. But they’ve also run into problems (and thus keep having to fire directors and restart filming on Star Wars movies, always citing ‘creative differences.’)
For those of us who don’t have an entire team of writers at our beck and call, putting out a novel a month, even one every three months, is insane. I’ve even read that many consider one per year to be aggressive for a single writer.
And when a writer burns out, there’s no one else around to pick up the slack for them. Their business growth falters. Their income slows or stops. And if they didn’t plan ahead for that…they’re in trouble.
It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
As Rusch stated, being a self-published writer is a marathon, not a sprint. Sprinting is not sustainable long-term. And I’ve come to understand (even if I unconsciously knew it before) that the only way to eventually ‘make it’ as a writer is to settle in for the long-haul. And to not jump the gun.
I want to write full time, badly. Writing is my passion. That’s why I’ve been doing it for well over 20 years. And I’ve come such a long way in the past 3 years.
I also have a long ways to go. And sprinting to that finish line wouldn’t be the best idea in the world. I’ll arrive exhausted, if I even make it there at all. And then I won’t be able to keep going.
A novel in 3 months is impressive, but that novel won’t be ready for publication for a long time. In the mean time, I have the Sword of Dragons series to finish.
One of the things I’m having to let go is the ability to have a dead-locked release schedule. I originally had a plan to finish the Sword of Dragons series by 2020. It’s now 2018 and I haven’t even finished writing book 3.
And that’s okay. I’m going at the pace I can sustain while maintaining life and sanity. Plus, more than ever, I’m convinced that my re-branding of the series is a worthwhile move.
Because it took me over 2 years to learn that releasing the best product that I can, rather than a mediocre product at a fast pace, is more important.
When a reader pays $15 for a print novel or $5 for an eBook, they’re investing more than just money – reading takes time. And investment in the characters. They’re taking a risk by buying your product, especially if they have never heard of you before, or your story.
So make it the best damn novel you can. I don’t just mean the writing, either. Make it the best product that you can.
And however long that takes is however long it takes.
Last night, my fiancee and I had the exciting experience of attending Lindsey Stirling’s Warmer in the Winter concert! This is the fourth Stirling concert I’ve been to, and as is always the case, I was not disappointed!
But why am I talking about concerts on a blog about writing? Because of Stirling’s history, where she was and how far she’s come, and how she’s gotten there.
Because there are days when I need a reminder…
I know I’ve talked about Lindsey Stirling before, in fact it was after the first concert I attended that I made the decision to self-publish. Not only does her music speak to me, but the story of her rise to stardom has inspired me.
And last night’s concert reminded me why. During one of the breaks between numbers, she spoke of how she gets to live her dream every day because of her fans, but before her rise, she would play anywhere and everywhere she could get a gig, even in school cafeterias. She did anything she could to get her voice, or rather her violin, heard.
She got her shot when she tried out on America’s Got Talent, but was shot down by the judges. I can imagine how she must have felt, being told she wasn’t good enough. And somehow that reminded me of Peter Dinklage’s speech that I wrote about several months ago, when he mentions how the world will keep telling you that you aren’t ready.
Now Lindsey is one of the most popular performers out there today, and her star shines brighter than ever.
How many times have people told me that I’ll never make it as a writer? That it’s impossible? That it’s a pipe dream? There are days when I find myself wondering if those people are right.
But there was something else Stirling spoke about that struck a chord in my heart and helped me regain my composure. It was when she spoke about her battle with depression, when she used to look in the mirror and wonder if she had anything worth contributing to the world.
Fast forward several years later, and the answer is yes, she did have something worthwhile to contribute.
These concerts, her story, they remind me that though I may run into roadblocks often, though I sometimes look in the mirror and wonder…I believe I do have something worthwhile to contribute.
And so I keep going. I keep writing. I keep publishing. I may never have a rapid rise to stardom, but I know that if I keep going, if I keep working hard at it, then no matter what happens, I’ll have left something behind that is worthwhile.
Plus, I’m reminded often that there are people who like my stories. I’ve sold hundreds of copies of the first Sword of Dragons novel through Kindle and print, and the Amazon reviews may not be numerous, but they are positive.
Not to mention the positive things people say to me when they meet me. Or when they send me emails. I recently received an email from a long-time reader of my fan fiction series, expressing his sadness that I’m shutting down my fan fiction website in the near future. He was emailing me back in the early 2000’s when STDragon was still live!
So I just need to remember all of those facts. Remember the fans, those who have read all of my work, who encourage me to write more, and just keep going. Someday, I’ll get to write full time, even if it isn’t until I retire from I.T. work. Until then, I’ll just keep going.
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!
Whenever I start actually writing the manuscript to a new novel, by that point it has been at least a year or two in the making (the one exception so far being the Chronicles of the Sentinels.) I first come up with the general idea, either for the story or for a character, and start to unravel the entire story surrounding that idea, as well as back story to go along with it.
So it shouldn’t surprise me, and yet it still does: I’m smack in the middle of 2nd edition edits, still need to finish writing the first draft of book 3 of The Sword of Dragons…and suddenly inspiration strikes, and I start unraveling the entire story for book 4 in my head!
Not to say I don’t already have a general idea of all six books anyway, but I mean actual full story details. And the best part is that I started coming up with the details when I started thinking to myself, “how can I start to give the supporting characters more attention?”
And it just started unraveling in my head like the story was already there in my mind, I just hadn’t brought it forward to my conscious thoughts yet.
What’s really exciting is that, just like with my 7-year run on my fan fiction, things that I wrote in the earlier books are coming together to create the new stories. Things that happened in the first 3 books as well as The Orc War Campaigns will become important in book 4…some things I didn’t even mean to make important later on!
I get so excited when this happens! I love that, somewhere in the back of my mind, everything is connecting together from the beginning and building on the foundational story.
The Importance of Supporting Characters
More and more, I’m learning just how important supporting characters are. Often times supporting characters become fan favorites in stories. Samwise Gamgee, for instance, or Ron Weasley.
In the past, this was something I struggled with. In my fan fiction, I focused a lot on the two main characters, the Captain and his first officer. To the suffering of all other supporting characters. I started to rectify this in the last two seasons, but I realized this was something I should have done from the get go.
For The Sword of Dragons, I tried to ensure I at least had good back stories setup for Reis, Sira, and Dalin. Yet I feel like I still haven’t given them the time and attention they deserve. That’s definitely changing starting in book 3, and most definitely now in book 4.
But, I have a question for everyone: are you usually willing to read a longer novel due to more time and attention being given to supporting characters? For instance, book 3 of the Sword of Dragons will have about 1/4 of the chapters devoted to Reis going on his own adventure without Cardin or Sira. Plus several other chapters branch off for other supporting characters.
All of these instances are integral to moving the main story line forward, and I think that’s probably the key: any time a novel goes to a perspective of another character, it must be with a legitimate purpose, and not ‘just because.’ What do you think?
Status of 2nd Edition Edits
I have less than 100 pages of edits left for Rise of the Forgotten, which means I’m more than 2/3rds through it!! :D I’m excited, I really like how the changes are affecting the flow, I think it’s making for a much more enjoyable story. Of course, that’s my own opinion, I just hope everyone who reads it will agree :)
Much to my surprise, so far I’ve reduced the word count of book 1 by 1400 words! I’m kind of glad to see this overall trend, though, mostly because I’m trying to get rid of redundant phrasing and make each paragraph have more impact.
I haven’t had time to work on maps. I also just realized that the artist doing my character sketches, Centalynn Artworks, should be back in country now, so I need to go back to review her latest iterations and make choices to send to her. I don’t currently plan to include any character sketches in the novels, but I’d love to have them on the website as soon as they are finished :)
That’s all for today, thanks for reading!
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!
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.