Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Importance of a Good Cover

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

It’s the old saying we’ve heard over and over again. And it’s right. We really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Just because weird things are happening on the outside doesn’t mean there isn’t a really good story on the inside.

But let’s face it – we judge books by their covers all the time. Humans are visual creatures. We see clothing that we like, we buy it. We see an attractive person, we want to go talk to them. So it’s only natural that a quality cover is going to entice us more. Even if there isn’t actual judging going on, it’s the cover that’s going to catch your eye first. It’s what will draw you in to read the back of the book or take a peek on the inside. So despite the old saying, a cover is important.

And judging does happen whether we like it or not. Though to be honest, it sometimes doesn’t come as a surprise. Whether you work at a bookstore or just happen to be moseying through one, when you see a bad cover you think, “Wow. What were they thinking?” which may be followed up by something along the lines of, “If they didn’t care too much about how the cover looked, how much work did they put into the book itself?” This is actually something I’ve seen from publishers of all sizes – including big ones. Once and a while a book will arrive in the store and I’ll just have a head-scratching moment. Did they not care enough to spend the money to make this book look good? Did they think this cover was good enough? Or do they actually think this cover is good?

In fact, we’ve all seen those sudden gear shifts a publisher makes with covers. I like Sarah J. Maas’s books as a good example.


This is the first cover. I’m not saying it’s bad at all. It’s pretty good as far as covers go, but personally it didn’t really catch my eye when it first came out and sales were less than stellar (actually, if I remember right, I don’t think we sold any at all).


This is the second cover. I believe it was the UK version as well (and remember thinking, “Why didn’t they use that one here? It’s awesome.”), and when Maas’s books went to the paperback, this is what we got. I found this to be way more intriguing and we actually sold the books this time. I’m not saying the purchases were due to the cover – for all I know people didn’t want to pay the money for the hardcover but were more willing to shell out for the paperback (which is often the case for many books – there are still people waiting for Insurgent to come out in paperback).  In Sarah’s case the publishers were smart and kept going with this design with subsequent books, all of which are selling – including the hardcover versions.

Unfortunately if you get picked up by a publisher, you have very little say in how the covers come out. You’d think that by now publishers would listen to what authors have to say about covers – particularly when it comes to accuracy – but that isn’t the case. Which is why we still get “Wtf?” covers appearing on shelves from time to time.

If you’re going to self publish, this is why it’s extremely important to take time to find a good cover artist who will do what you ask and for a reasonable price. While this post isn’t a plug for my cover artist, Regina Wamba, I will say that she’s pretty damn good at what she does. (The opposite is truer; if I were smart I’d keep my mouth shut about her. Why? Because popularity may not only mean the occasional price increase, but also longer wait times for kickass covers.)


The proof is in the pudding. My first book was only an ebook and sold at just $3.99. With a 70% royalty rate, that meant I earned about $2.79 for each book sold. That cover cost me just under $400. My goal, since that was my first ebook let out into the wild, was to simply make back that money. She did the cover twice until it was how I wanted it. And yes, I made back the cover cost and added a little extra cake to the pan. Did the cover help? I’d like to think it did. The book itself was released during the final edge of the heyday that was paranormal romance. Granted, that genre is still popular, but not like it was when Twilight was in full swing and publishers everywhere were scrabbling for paranormal romance books (both teen and adult). That’s also precisely why I requested dark blue colors. That was simply the style that you would see. The Teen Paranormal Romance section of Barnes & Noble (which has since changed to just Teen Romance) was essentially a wall of black and other dark colored book spines.

The point is, don’t sell yourself short on the cover. If you have a publisher that’s offered something ugly, you can always try to fight it – your agent should be more than willing to help you because they want the book to succeed, too. They’re working for you, and sometimes a bit of a fight can work. If you’re self-publishing, even if you’re on a budget, don’t go cheap. Take a good, long look at covers on the shelves of the bookstore and think to yourself what you like and what turns you off. Shoddy photoshop? A book you realize you read and the main character looks nothing like the person on the cover? Make sure to choose a cover artist that will provide you with a cover you want and approve. Don’t expect magical sales because the cover is, after all, just the skin. It’s what’s inside that counts (among many other factors in the book world) – but at the very least you’ll have something that will make people look.


Monday, September 01, 2014

The Molten Form of Poetry

Since I rarely post anymore, for those of you still out there, I bring to you a guest post by the talented Ron Gavalik! If you love poetry (like I do...although I don't think I've ever posted about it), then this post is for you.

Reading poetry is one of life’s truly intimate joys. Unlike more social entertainment such as films, theater, and sporting events, experiencing poetry is an individual pursuit. When cracking open a book of verse, we shuck off the mortal coil while our minds delve into a cerebral adventure. We are fused to the author’s thoughts, desires, and passions, all within the confines of our minds.

That, my friend, is the most profound experience. Poetry gives us new perspectives to enlighten our minds. Poetry fuels the imagination. In its raw form, poetry is life.

As readers, most of us are drawn to what’s considered popular and well reviewed. We count on so-called professional to tell us what precisely is a good read. We equate commercial advertising and movie deals with the quality of a story or poem. But then there are times, when some of us ignore the noise of our popular culture and seek the independent works of those who truly enrich the soul.

Our choice to own and experience raw, experimental poetry symbolizes courage. Delving into avant-garde expression without the safety net of widespread acceptance requires a sense of adventure. Those of us who take these leaps of faith are a cut above the average reader. We are independent thinkers who thrive on discovering uncharted waters.

In the introduction of my MicroPoetry collection, Hot Metal Tonic, I discuss how experimental writers often shrug off the conformity of industry standards to force new perspectives into the minds of our readers. Every time I sit down at the typer, I transform into an American drifter who tramps through vistas of tall grass, rarely touched by everyday society.

Free-spirited individualism is my most pronounced characteristic.

I highly recommend finding your unique identifier, the one personality trait that makes you an individual among the masses. I doubt you'll have to meet with Himalayan monks to determine your distinct qualities, but there's nothing wrong with quiet contemplation over a few whiskeys. Once you've pinpointed that one special characteristic, take the time to revel in your individualism. It's quite a freeing sensation that brings balance to the mind and to the soul.

For my part, I thrive on reading and writing free verse poetry.

In the 1960s and 70s, Charles Bukowski's free verse style often fell under the blade of academic criticism. His work was considered inordinately blue-collar and plain spoken to be real poetry, which made it far more difficult for him to publish and find a secure audience.

It took him years, but a handful of small press publishers with broad vision finally decided to print his work. Once the public got hold of that drunken writer's written voice, a whole new segment of society became poetry fans, which made Bukowski the most read poet of the 20th Century.

Free verse is the most individualized form of expression; therefore, I naturally gravitate toward that broad style. The newer form of MicroPoetry (140 character poems) that's sprung up in recent years on social media outlets has further pushed the literary envelope.

Hot Metal Tonic is a semi-autobiographical collection of over 180 MicroPoems that contend with love, family, relationships, politics, career, and spirituality. While most of the poems stand alone in each chapter's theme, many are interconnected in much of the way small human events are strung together to connect our lives. The collection has been referred to as a gritty read, the molten form of my rough and tumble life…and whiskey-laced madness.

Thankfully, readers are pleased with my work.

Now, kick back, baby.
Open your mind
and allow the hot metal to flow
as soothing tonic.
Prepare yourself
to laugh and think,
cry and rejoice.
Indeed, you will be transformed
into a state of raw emotions.
You and I,
we’re about to start a quest,
a journey to memories unseen in years.
Don’t worry, it will only hurt so good.
Grasp my calloused hand
and we’ll help each other
stumble along this treacherous path
together.


Ron Gavalik is a writer, living in Pittsburgh, PA. You can follow him on Twitter: @RonGavalik or read his blog at PittsburghWriter.net. Hot Metal Tonic can be obtained through the usual retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and other locations. Signed copies can be purchased at a discount (free shipping) direct from the publisher at PittsburghWriter.net.




Sunday, October 27, 2013

Want a Free Book?

I realize it isn't fair to have my book on Amazon only for 90 days, and then within that time offer it for free for 5 days.

So if you have a Nook, Kobo, Sony, iPad, or other e-reader, here's your chance.

Head on over to Smashwords if you feel like reading a little romance-fantasy-fractured-fairytale-type story. Once you pop the book into the cart use the coupon code CP47X and the book will be free.  That's it! To get the book to your device, just follow the instructions that Smashwords gives you. Easy as pie. The coupon will be good until October 31st, so if you have friends and would like to share, feel free to do so.

Hope you enjoy and Happy Halloween!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Why Self Publish? (Continued)

(Continued from Part 1)

Not long after publishing Blood for Wolves - and I really do mean not long - I got responses. I thought to myself, "I guess I should make an author Facebook page..." Maybe 20 minutes after creating said page I had a reader pop on to tell me they loved the book. That surprised the heck out of me. Not that they liked the book (but that was pretty cool), but that they had somehow found it out of all the other books out there, read it, and then discovered my FB page with such speed. The numbers for sales were pretty surprising too. I supposed it was because somewhere my book was being shown on some Amazon "Just In" page that I hadn't seen (and still haven't so who knows?).

I also discovered my book in some interesting places when Googling it several weeks after it came out. I found it at:

A USA Today web article
Once Upon a Time Book Blog
Maryse's Book Blog
Romance Lovers
Brightdreamer's Book Reviews

I hadn't contacted any of these people and requested they do anything - post my book or review it or anything. And it's other places as well, lists that included new releases, places that list books when they're for free (since I offered mine for a free on 5 different days), Goodreads lists (and I didn't even put my book on Goodreads - someone else did), and yes, even places that hijack your book and give it out for free download. And no, I wasn't mad about that. Not at all. Because 1.) If that's how they want to get their book, then nothing I can do will stop them, and 2.) I'd already given away over 3,000 free downloads anyway. Why would I flip out over a handful of unauthorized downloads? Metallica flipped out over Napster - meanwhile Paulo Coehlo pirated his own book in other countries. Who came out on top?

Am I an amazing bestseller? No. Do I need to do more marketing myself? Absolutely. Does it matter that some of those links above are just little personal blogs? Heck yeah. Because even if one person looks at a blog and decides to buy my book, that's one more sale, right? And if they like it, they might tell others about it, which leads to more sales. Those places are a part of your reader base, remember, so don't ever think them beneath you or meaningless.

Since publishing, I have learned a lot of things I don't think I would have found out otherwise. Do I still want to break into traditional publishing? Of course I do. I see it as a massive challenge. Will I ever be able to? We'll see. As of right now I'm revising another book in my Figments series to hang out with Blood for Wolves and will simply go straight to the electronic shelves. I'm also very seriously considering e-publishing my science fiction novel as well under a different name. Because at this point - why not?

Life is so short, and that's one of the big reasons I don't have a problem with self publishing anymore. In the past it could tarnish your reputation with agents and editors - give them a negative impression of you and your work. But those times are slipping into oblivion. Even if they weren't, a lot of successful e-published authors don't care becuase they're making a nice bit of income from their digital sales. I think, what might happen tomorrow that no one ever gets to read some of my other books? Why am I holding back? Just because one too many editors said no? Sometimes they have finite spaces to fill and can't pick all the books they might want and hand out the old, "It's good - but we can't market it right now" stuff, or some other reason they can't use your story. Authors have heard countless reasons and excuses over the years. Now there really aren't any.

Just remember - don't put out your first draft. Have good readers examine your work and be willing to hear them tell you it sucks. And don't cry and hide under the bed when they say that. Suck it up and get back to work. Kill all the typos and grammatical errors. Fix pacing and adjust characters. Erase scenes if necessary. Don't know where to turn? Seek out writing groups or workshops. Take a class if you have to. If you think your work is the best thing since sliced bread, know that it's not. Or at the very least, that someone somewhere won't think so. Be ready for negative reviews and grow a thicker skin than you think you had. Work just as hard - if not harder - before hitting that self publish button because you won't have agents or editors to make you tweak things or discover flaws. You have only your fellows, yourself, and that's it. In the end, the books all end up in the same place - the readers. And you want it to be the best book it can be.

Why Self Publish?

Times have changed a great deal since, well, even a handful of years ago. E-readers, tablets, and even smartphones and PC apps have made it possible for people to read a book at any given moment. In the past, authors looking to get published had to make it past agents, then editors, and then their superiors, all the while hoping someone along the way didn't decide that their manuscript wasn't good enough, thus putting yet another temporary halt to their dream.  Self publishing was left to the stigma that it was the place to go for authors who weren't good enough. For those that couldn't make it past the agents and editors and had to resort to sub-par or self-indulging practices to get their story out. True, there are plenty of authors who, both in the past and present, probably should have had someone (or multiple someones) take a look at their manuscript before sending it out into the wild. Yet at the same time, take a second to look up all of the now famous authors who started out self published, selling books out of their car trunks and so forth. I'll wait.

Back? Yes, I know, it's an impressive list, isn't it? My point, before I start rambling too much (although given the name of this blog, should be expected by now anyway), is that self publishing has a lot of positive points and can be a very freeing tool for an author to use. Today it's easier and in many ways better than ever because we have such amazing access to technology. We're not stuck spending thousands of dollars and prodding as many people as possible in the hopes of selling all of the hardcopies. Instead, a single self published author using the right mode of distribution doesn't have to spend a dime to get their books to people. And not just people within their home country, but around the entire globe. Any self published author from this particular digital era will tell you that there's something very cool yet rather surreal to see that they've sold a book in Germany, the UK, or Japan.

There is - somehow - still the worry that the book world will get too saturated. As if it weren't already. Work in a bookstore long enough and you will see for your own eyes just how many books come in each and every day - old and new alike - and you'll realize that the publishing world is still chugging along and books are EVERYWHERE, self published or not. People will find your book whether you help them or not. Whether it's electronic or not. I may have even linked a great article by Nathan Bransford about this in the past. The only real challenge is to make yourself known - but this rings true for any author, self published or not.

I can use myself as an example. I used Amazon's platform to publish my book, Blood for Wolves, and then moved on to use Smashwords as distribution to the rest of the e-reader world (Nooks, Kobos, Sony readers, etc.). But Blood for Wolves is not, I repeat, NOT my first book. Not by a long shot. Rather, it was my sixth. I went the traditional route with it, got a lot of nibbles, but no bites. I kept looking at the self publishing world, but continued to resist it. I was extremely curious though. How did it work? What kind of results would I get? How much would a good cover cost? Would I be able to make back that amount? What kind of reviews would I get? Was the 3 month exclusivity with the KDP program worth it?

Finally, one day I just said, "Fuck it." And I began my little experiment. Yes, I know, one does not just experiment with self publishing. But one does not just walk into Mordor either - and guess what? That's right. But I also wasn't just chucking out a garbage story, either. I revised it multiple times, had several fellow writers review it so I knew what needed fixing, if I'd missed any typos, how the pacing was, and so forth. I lost track of how many times I revised it, in fact. Eventually I got to the point where revising again would probably mean I would end up jumping off the roof of my house instead. So I hit the publish button and let it out for all the world to see.

And let me tell you, that's one of the more terrifying and exhilirating moments of my life. Terrifying because you don't know how people are going to react - how much they'll hate it or love it. Exhilirating because you know that even if they do hate it, there are people who will be out there, miles and miles away, reading the words you agonized over for a year or more. But at the very least, I would learn more about publishing electronically than just reading about it. I could view my stats, explore great ways of promoting my book, and make adjustments if there ever was a next time.

Now, knowing what I know, there will indeed be a next time...

(Continued in Part 2)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Oh the Horror

There is a story I want to write—but I won’t because it scares the shit out of me.
 
So I guess, in essence, I don’t want to write it. But it’s in there lurking around (as most stories do), bugging me to just go ahead and put it down on paper (or in electronic 1s and 0s) so it will get out of my head like a pensieve from Harry Potter.  But as I said, it scares the crap out of me. It would be my first horror novel, but it’s not blood or guts. It’s not something paranormal. No ghosts or goblins riding through the night eating babies or dark creepy things taking over people’s brains. None of that typical stuff that’s considered horror these days by so many (though horror is much more than that). No, this one is my personal fear. The kind of terror that leaps through you when you walk to the edge of the abyss and stare down into it and have no fucking idea of what might be on the other side.
 
Plenty of horror writers will indeed say, “Write what scares you.” And I could. And, okay, I will admit, a small piece of my really wants to. And maybe I will someday. But it’s the kind of thing that creeps me out to the point that I wonder—if I write this, what if it comes true? It’s that kind of end-of-the-world moment where you have absolutely zero control of where things are headed. And let’s face it, though it is true that the majority of the time we really don’t have control, at the very least we feel like we do. Or we can pretend that we do. Because that makes us comfortable. Because it’s fucking scary as shit when you realize the truth in one single moment when you have rock-bottom zero control. And I’ve had that happen (ironically it wasn’t when I realized I was just about to be involved in a car accident in which I could see the other car coming at me dead on) and it sucks.
 
It wouldn’t be a matter of just putting it down on paper, either. It would involve a lot of research. A lot of planning and a lot of looking up of information I really don’t want to know.  I think it would exhaust me and maybe even get me a little depressed—another few reasons why I’m not so keen on crafting it. Is it a new concept? No, not really. Has it been done before? The way I would do it, I’m not sure.
 
That’s it, really. I just had these thoughts fluttering around my head and decided to throw them out into the ether of the internet rather than let them swim. I’m sure others can relate, even if it isn’t in regards to a horror story idea. There’s always one or two ideas that we have rattling around in our heads that we either can’t seem to grasp or just don’t really want to put down on paper for one reason or another. Someday, perhaps. Someday.
 
But not today.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Ideas? Yes, Please.

Don't you hate it when you can't get anything going? I do. Frankly, I'd like to set Chapter 33 of one novel on fire, except I haven't written that chapter yet. Because it's like it doesn't want to be written. It's maddening.

That's why I'm all about new ways to conjure up ideas. Things that will help boost your brain, whip up some characters - feed the muse, as it were. My favorite is music, but sometimes even that doesn't work. Maybe I can't find a piece that fits properly. Or maybe my muse just isn't hungry for music. But of course, they don't tell us that. They just go wandering off wherever they like and leave you stumbling over the lines on the page (or the keys on your computer) going, "Duh....now what?" It doesn't matter if you're trying to conjure up a new novel idea or if you're stuck under the dreaded 10 ton writer's block. You need help - you need ideas on how to make ideas.

So when FictionVale asked for guest bloggers, I thought, "That would be fun to do," and set out to offer readers as many idea generators as possible. Things that both work for me and things that I know work for others. Things that - hopefully - will get someone's writer mojo going.

You may also want to pop over there to read some of the other guest blogger advice. They've got editors, authors, teachers, and plenty of other people ready and set to dish out all kinds of knowledge. And hey, while you're there, why not submit something and see what happens? :D