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There’s the old saying which says, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’ Now, we all like to think we don’t, but to be honest, most of us do. A beautiful cover is the first thing you notice about a book. It’s the thing which draws you in, entices you to maybe read the book’s description, possibly crack it open and take a peek inside. Many would argue that it’s the content which sells the book, and there’s a lot to that theory, but it’s the cover’s job to draw you in from the start.
A wonderful friend of mine, Ms. Heather Slaughter of Bookpressed, once referred to the right book cover as wrapping for your present, and honestly, I can think of no better description.
When I first decided to publish, I didn’t want to sink a small fortune into my little project. You know, just in case my book bombed. Indie authors come and go, but if a book isn’t going to sell, there’s no point in sinking your life’s savings into a cover. So I went the cheap, er, frugal route and did it myself to start with.
I knew a few things about cover design, but precious little. One of which was, I needed a royalty free image for the cover. So I found a beautiful picture of a creepy, gothic doorway. It cost me a whopping $15 to make the original cover.
For those of you who have read “Wings of Darkness,” I think you’ll agree it was a nice nod to the graveyard scene in chapter 6. For those of you who haven’t read it yet, it’s just a pretty picture which makes absolutely no sense if you’re cruising through Amazon’s 3 million books. It’s pretty, but it’s vague.
Then, wonder of wonders, I started getting some pretty outstanding reviews (if I may say so myself.) My book wasn’t flopping at all. It was floating along, holding its own. Book 2 was about to come out when I decided to bite the bullet and have a professional redo the first cover, and I’m so glad I did.
Finding the right person to do your cover takes some work, but that’s for another blog post. I lucked out pretty quickly. A friend of mine introduced me to a very nice lady, Danella Miller of Danella’s Designs. She actually does a bit of everything. A photographer originally, she also designs websites, graphic design, and now book covers.
I highly suggest, if you’re in the market for new covers, that you go pay her a visit. Her pre-made covers are just gorgeous and start at less than $100. Custom jobs are a bit higher, of course, but well worth the results.
This is the new cover.
It captures my main character perfectly. The colors stand out and it does exactly what it’s supposed to do, which is draw the reader in.
Book 2, “Wings of Shadow,” needed a cover, too. This is what she came up with. (Special thanks goes to our model for Izzy, Miss Katie Durant.)
The cover changed in February, and I really should have gotten this post up earlier, but I wanted to see how the cover change would effect sales. A few other authors I know were wondering about how it would change my bottom line, too. Happily, I can report that the new covers have just about quadrupled sales! Yes, I sank some money into professional covers, but they’ve paid for themselves in no time. I was so happy with Danella’s work, in fact, I commissioned her to do the rest of the covers for “The Immortal Sorrows” series. Each cover has come out more beautiful than the last. She not only wrapped the present, she put a giant bow in top!
A friend and I were having a discussion on book ratings the other day. I’ve had the same discussion pretty often with other friends who write and thought it might make a decent blog post. What is a rating, really? It’s like a tip you give your author for taking you on an adventure you wouldn’t have imagined on your own.
Amazon has a rating system of 1-5 stars, with 5 being excellent and 1 being awful. I have my own version of this, though. Here’s what ratings look like from the author’s point of view…
5* Excellent, my day was just made so much better because someone out there loved my book. I’m not just shouting into the void. Someone really gets me, and I want to take them to dinner and thank them personally for that validation I needed to get the next book finished. I feel like this about my 5* reviews…
4* Not bad. The reader had some issues with the story, but I can take constructive criticism. Maybe I’ll take their concerns into account and try to fix a few things the next time I go through and polish my book. If the 4* is gushing with praise (and it happens surprisingly often) I might be scratching my head wondering what it would take to squeeze that last star out of them. Occasionally, you get the snarky 4*. Generally full of praise, but it’s clear they believe they could have done the story better. Good luck with that.
3* Meh. It’s just ok. Nothing to write home about and tell mother. The people dropping 3* reviews are pretty rare. Getting reviews are hard. I think the average is about every 1000 purchases will get 1 review, and the numbers get even higher if it was a free promotion. The reason 3* reviews are rare, I believe, is because people have to feel passionately about a book to review it. They either love it or they hate it. To them I say…
2* They hated it, but for some reason just wouldn’t drop the rating to a 1. Usually this type of reader is reading the wrong kind of book for them. Someone who loves sci-fi isn’t going to be happy with a paranormal romance, but if a book is out on free promotion, a lot of people will take anything free and then complain later.
1* They loathed it. Personally, I think these are the people who just like raining on parades. If you go ahead and give into the urge to stalk them, ahem, trace their other reviews, you’ll find they don’t give out much higher than a 2* to anyone. These are the people you just want to grab by the scruff of the neck and ask…
All of this was in good fun, of course, but seriously, thank you to the readers who leave ratings for their authors. The ratings keep us going like nothing else can.
So let’s talk about piracy for a moment. Not the cool kind of piracy, either. I’m not talking about scurvy, pegged legged dudes walking the plank. Although sharks are certainly involved. No, I want to talk about book piracy. As in, the theft of someone’s intellectual property. As in, sites giving illegal copies of books away, unbeknownst to the author who spent months, if not years, writing said books.
To be honest, I really never gave much thought to this subject. I’ve heard horror stories of authors getting ripped off, but I’ve always assumed it was the big name authors who were stolen from. As it turns out, it can happen to anyone. It could happen to me, in fact, and it did.
Here’s how my Sunday played out. I have a big giveaway coming up on March 20-24. So I spent several hours setting everything up with various book sites to shotgun the announcement out. One of those sites happened to need an obscure link. I didn’t have it on the top of my head, so being lazy, I just Googled myself. Easy, right? Ha!
Imagine my shock, horror, outrage, boiling fury… you get the idea, when I found my first book on at least three pirating sites! They looked good, too. There, on prominent display, was my book (old cover) offered as a free download, my picture, and my author bio. They’d even gone so far as to throw in some great Amazon reviews, too. It all looked really legit, except I hadn’t authorized any of it, nor was I aware of it until I stumbled onto it by accident.
To say I was displeased is putting it mildly. I’m pretty sure I made some noises only a dog could hear. What’s the big deal, you ask? I was planning on giving it away on March 20th anyway, right? That’s the big deal, in a nutshell. I was giving it away. Me. Because it’s mine. Mine to giveaway. Mine to sell. Mine to delete, should I ever have a moment of insanity. Mine. Mine. Mine. Give me a second while I climb down off of my soap box… there, I’m all better now.
Now that I’ve settled down a bit, what am I going to do about it? Well, turns out I actually have some options. Which is the whole purpose of this post. I want other authors to know that there are options out there and available to them. I also want them to know that even though they aren’t cracking the top 100, they aren’t safe from stuff like this, either. Google yourselves. Go on. I’ll wait. Did you go farther than the first couple of pages? Google your titles, too. You might be surprised at what you find. You might be the one making up super-inventive curse words!
I had no idea that sites like this existed in such abundance. And not just pirating sites, where they can steal your book and hand it out for free! No, there are also scam sites that can get your book. These are particularly nasty little buggers, but between the two, I prefer them to the straight up pirating sites. Scam sites get a credit card number. Whether they actually give away a book, or not, is up for debate. Apparently, the most people get out of these sites is a healthy virus for their computer. Call me vindictive, but if someone is trying to steal from me, I like the idea that they destroyed their hard drive in the process.
I’ve spoken to several people about this in the last few days. The general consensus is, it’s sort of a back-handed compliment. These sites could’ve stolen any book they wanted, yet they chose mine. (I feel so special. I’m thinking about buying myself a tiara, really. Why not?) The thing is, I’m not special. My book has been out less than a year, and while it’s floating comfortably in the upper percentile of Amazon’s rankings, it’s not raking in enough that I’ll be moving to the south of France anytime soon.
So what attracted the sharks? Where was the blood in the water? I have no idea, and that’s the thing which bothers me the most. It pretty much stays on the top 100 list for its sub-genre, but that’s the only thing I can think of. It may be something else. Who knows? It can happen to anyone. The world is a dangerous place, and scruples are getting harder and harder to come by.
There is hope in all of this. A good friend introduced me to a lovely site called Muso. https://www.muso.com/anti-piracy/ For a low monthly fee, they’ll monitor the web for me. So I can get back to writing and marketing, and not have to worry about someone stealing from me. There are tons of other places, too. Just Google anti piracy solutions and pages of them will pop up.
If you’re a regular reader, and not an author, you’re scratching your head and probably wondering why I’m having this meltdown. Most Ebooks are pretty cheap. Indies seem to hover below the $4.99 mark. It’s not like someone stole my life savings, right? Actually, it is. That book took 8 months to write, a year to market, and 20 years to prepare for. Every spare moment was spent writing, plotting, or dreaming about it. For every practical purpose, it is my essence, condensed down to several thousand words. After all of that time and effort, I have a right to what is mine.
I’m exclusive to Amazon. Which means, I put a ring on it, so to speak. In exchange for that exclusivity, every three months, give or take, I’m able to offer my book free for five days. Which is how I catch readers in the teaming river which is the almighty Amazon. I hook them with the first book, and hopefully they like it enough to read the second, and the third, when it’s finished, and the one after that. I’ve heard horror stories of authors, exclusive to Amazon, who lost their place in the Kindle Select program, simply because of a pirated copy. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen to my book.
I offer “Wings of Darkness” all day, every day on Amazon for the more than reasonable price of $2.99. Here’s a link, and a little shameless self-promotion. Go help yourself to a free sample, and decide for yourself if it’s worth that much. Or if it was worth stealing:)
The year is wrapping up, and it got me to thinking of everything I’ve learned since ‘Wings of Darkness’ came out in April. These are things I wish I’d known before I published, but then again, maybe it’s better that I was clueless. I’ve had fun learning. So, in no particular order, here they are:)
1.) You must be a marketing ninja!
Writing ”Wings of Darkness’ was the easy part. I did it in a vacuum. Nobody knew, so there were no expectations of it being good, or bad, or anything in particular. I’ve since learned that most people should start marketing a book 3 years before they plan to release it. 3 Years!!! Even if I’d had that information, I couldn’t have done it. I was too afraid I’d choke, and not be able to finish my book. Can you imagine the embarrassment of announcing to the world you were writing a book, only to have no book to show? How do you start marketing a book, you may wonder… get friendly with Twitter. I’m still struggling with this one. Show up on Facebook.
Show some love to the bloggers out there, too. They’re always looking for new books, and a huge help in getting the word out about your book. I’ve developed a wonderful relationship with the Meet My Character blog. (Yes, that’s a shameful promotion, but they deserve it. Go check them out!)
While I’m on the subject of marketing, there are tons of readers groups on Facebook, just dying for new books, so don’t waste all your time spamming your family and friends. Which brings me to my 2nd point.
2.) The moment you publish, you learn who your friends are. (And you might be surprised!)
Seriously. Writing and publishing a book is one of the coolest things you will ever do with your life. For most writers, it’s the culmination of a life-long dream. For your family and friends, it may not be such a life-altering thing, though. Be prepared for the blank stare, followed by the nervous grin as they back slowly away. You’ll get a lot of “Good lucks,” and “Good for you!” Think of it from their perspective, though. If they read your book and hate it, they aren’t going to want to crush your dreams. If they read it and love it, will you really believe them? They’re family and friends, remember, they are compelled to love everything you do. Right! If you’re lucky, a few of them will like, share, and tweet your book announcements. A few of them will be really proud of you, and that’s enough. Just keep in mind that you published for yourself.
3.) Your best marketing tool is your next book.
New authors are so excited and impatient. Most of them spend way too much time worrying about their sales rank. I know I did. I spent a good part of my day stalking myself, initially, but readers want that next book. In some cases, badly! And the 2nd book is harder than the first. At least it was for me. Wings of Shadow is nearly done. It’s in the editing stages, but getting this book out was murder. Wings of Darkness has garnered some great reviews. There are expectations attached to the new book, and I don’t want to let anyone down. I’m not ashamed to admit that I freaked out and froze up for a couple of months. Once I remembered that I wrote the first one to entertain myself, I was ok. I wrote the 2nd one the same way.
4.) There will be haters.
For the armful of great reviews you get, there will come the dreaded 1*. Some people love to rain on parades. Write the best book you can. You can’t please everyone. You shouldn’t even try. Pick one perfect reader and write for them. (I stole that bit of advice from Stephen King. He’s brilliant, so you should listen.) My perfect reader is my best friend, Heather Thomas. The poor girl has read my books more times than I have, and I will forever be grateful. She didn’t let me turn my book loose until it was ready. Which brings me to point 5.
5.) You need beta readers. Always.
It doesn’t matter how brilliant your story is, you always need beta readers to go behind you before you release it. Find someone who can offer a constructive critique. You want them to point out when you went off track. The beta who tells you how great it is, change nothing, is not helping you. It’s far better to have your friend tell you something isn’t right, than to have a total stranger tell you how poorly written your novel is.
6.) Before you finish editing your book, you’re going to hate it so much.
Edit until your eyes bug out of your head. The brain tends to fall in love with certain words and phrases. Make sure you’re not constantly repeating yourself. Get friendly with a thesaurus. The English language is beautiful. Use the unexpected words. Finally, clean your manuscript up. Watch your tenses, spell check multiple times. For the love of all that’s holy, learn the difference between to, two, and too! Make it as perfect as you can before you turn it loose in the world, because you only get one shot at impressing a new reader. There are literally thousands of new books released every day. First impressions matter.
7.) You’ll find cheerleaders in the most unexpected places.
Make friends with other writers. They’re just like you, believe it or not. The way to make friends is not to show up in their Facebook messages, shoving your new book under their noses. Most of the writers I know are extremely busy people. They have day jobs, families, and always another new book they’re working on. I try to share other authors’ information as much as possible. Believe me, they notice and are always grateful for the little bit of help. Strike up a conversation naturally. Make friends and help each other out. I met the lovely and talented DM Singh like that. I shared her book trailer to ‘Regina: The Monster Inside,’ just because it was so cool. As it turns out she’s one of the nicest people on the planet, and her book is awesome. Her friend, Heather Slaughter, became my friend. I’m not exaggerating at all when I say this woman is the world’s greatest cheerleader for authors. She’s a writer herself, so she knows what makes us tick. If you get a chance, check out her Bookpressed page on Facebook. It’s all about writers helping other writers. In the end, that’s what counts: helping each other succeed.
Writing is supposed to be fun. If it weren’t, it would be just like having a real job!
If you’ve read all the way to the end of this, I sincerely thank you. I’ve included some links you might be interested in. They’re awesome authors I know and love.
Since the debut of Wings of Darkness, Book 1 of The Immortal Sorrows Series, I’ve had people asking about the characters, where the series is going, etc. I’m continually amazed at the insights people have to this series, and enjoy talking about it with them. To honor that, and because I love picking the brains of my readers (bwahaha!), I created a Facebook page under the title “The Immortal Sorrows series.” Everyone is welcome. It’s going to be a fun place to discuss everything about the book, your favorite characters, and make guesses as to where things are going. Be aware, however, that spoilers may lurk around every corner, so if you haven’t read book 1, go pick it up from Amazon and don’t forget to drop me an honest review. (Not only do I simply LOVE to read them, but they help the book gain traction.) So there it is. Look me up on Facebook and like the page. Thanks!https://www.facebook.com/theimmortalsorrows