Apr 052015
 

So much for my vow to post a minimum of once a month. Shortly after I posted that vow, my father’s health took a turn for the worse. He passed away on February 25th. All I’ll say is that this is not the place to dwell on it.  I’m just glad I got the chance to get up here and spend at least a few months with him before he left us.

But this is my writing blog, so I’ll try to keep to it on subject. As the title says, Chucklers has been submitted to a small press. I won’t post any specific details yet, because I don’t know whether or not it will be accepted. There is a blind acquisition process where the manuscript will be stripped of any identifying information and will go before a group of editors who won’t know who wrote it, judging it based on the merits of the writing. I like that idea, but it also scares me. It’s the old fear that at some point, someone is going to read my stuff and figure out that I’m nothing but a hack. I think many, if not most writers go through the same feelings of self-doubt. I would imagine that any sort of craftsman or artist does. Or am I just that insecure? Thinking

At any rate, this is the first time I’ve submitted to a small press. Until now, everything I’ve done has been indie. So I called to talk to them about the process in hopes of learning what to expect, and just as importantly, what to NOT expect. I already knew the basics. Assuming the manuscript is accepted, the publisher takes care of the editing, cover art and cover design, formatting for e-book and print, and the headaches of the actual publishing. That means I wouldn’t spend the money on outside services that I normally spend on my books. However, it also means that I surrender a significant amount of control over the process, as well as fifty percent of whatever money the book brings in. I also have to get over my nearly obsessive daily tracking of my sales numbers. What it really boils down to is that if they accept my work, they are agreeing to be an equal partner in the business venture that Chucklers represents. In short, they become an investor in the book. It will take some getting used to, but my insecurity is my own. This is simply the way small presses work.

When I sit back and really think about all the ins and outs, the only real concern I have is with the schedule. When I put the money up on my own, I pay for outside services (editing, cover art/design, formatting) and as soon as it’s done to my satisfaction, I publish. Assuming I don’t take too long with my edits, the time from manuscript submission to the editors to publishing the finished product is usually three or four months. Going through the publisher, it’s going to be closer to a year… possibly longer.

Now, that doesn’t mean I sit on my thumbs and wait for a year. It simply means that I have to put Chucklers out of my head for however long it takes to get word on whether or not the manuscript is accepted. It means I need to shift to other projects and get them moving. I need to do things like set up a Mailchimp mailing list, get some backlisted editing done, and get other works written and ready for publication. I received a phone call a few weeks ago reminding me that I had unfinished edits on the short story Ghost Story. I need to pull that out and brush it off. Get it finished and ready for final publication. And it’s time to get going seriously on the sequel to Half Past Midnight. For those who may not know, the name of the sequel is Year 12, and it’s officially going to be my top priority writing project.

There are also a few other writing projects I have in mind, but until I see how things go with Chucklers, I won’t know when I’ll be able to start them. All I can say is that I HOPE to get them done this year. But if I can get on schedule here, I stand poised to get two more novels written (and hopefully published), publish Ghost Story before Halloween, possibly publish another short story, and possibly write & publish another novella in the HPM universe.

So wish me luck. This year promises to be a completely new learning experience on many levels.

Jan 032015
 

Well first of all, Happy New Year!    Party

Yes, it’s that time when we all go crazy and make promises to ourselves that we seldom keep.  Or maybe that’s just me.  I have a tendency to make resolutions that at the time seem perfectly attainable… get in shape, or prep enough food and supplies for a year (for those of you who might not know that about me, I’m very into what a lot of people call “prepping”, though I simply call it being more self-sufficient), or write however many thousands of words, or publish this or that.

But the old adage tells us where that road of good intentions leads, doesn’t it?  Wink  No matter how reasonable or well-intentioned my resolutions seem at the time, I always seem to overlook Murphy’s influence on my life.  And to be perfectly honest, I tend to get easily distracted and discouraged… often to the point that I fall so far behind in my goals that I get discouraged and simply quit trying.

The new homesteadSo this year I’m going to try to take a more practical approach to things.  If you read my last few entries on the blog, you know I’ve had some major life changes in the last several months.  I left my job of more than fifteen years, left my home of more than fifty years, and moved from Texas to Oklahoma to help my parents out.  Since my last posting, we’ve gotten a new home in Claremore, Oklahoma.  It’s a small town a bit northeast of Tulsa, and so far, it’s been great.  The picture above is taken from the back corner of our fence, and I’m really looking forward to what all we can potentially do with this property.

There are two really big differences in my life here.  First, the people are just so freaking friendly.  Now, I had some great friends in Houston, don’t mistake my meaning here.  But until you get to know someone in a larger metropolitan area, people tend to treat you more suspiciously.  And if you watch the news there, you can easily understand why.  But here? You seldom see anyone frowning.  Waiters and cashiers greet you with a smile and seem genuinely happy to talk to you.  I’ve only been in this house a few weeks, and I already know more of my neighbors than I did in the house I left in Houston – and I lived there for fourteen years.  Is that their fault, my fault, or simply the learned caution of someone who has lived their entire life in a major metropolitan area?  I don’t know.  But I know that it’s much different here.  And I know I feel more welcome here, anywhere I go.

The other big difference is the weather.  In Houston, I seldom ever had to break out anything heavier than a light jacket during the winter, and that was usually only for a few days.  Here in Claremore we’ve already had a couple of light snows this year, and the temperature hasn’t climbed much above forty degrees for several days.  As I’m writing this, it is almost 2:30 in the afternoon, and the temperature is precisely forty degrees Fahrenheit.  And this is warmer than it’s been in several days.  It’s supposed to drop to nineteen degrees tonight!   Shock

Yeah, this is going to require some serious adjustment.  I’ll have to learn to “winterize” the house, the cars… even myself.  I had to scramble to find gloves last week.  It had been so long since I’d needed them that I wasn’t even sure where they were.

But I’m learning. Adjusting.  And the time I’m getting to spend with my wife and parents is great.  I’ve gotten closer to them all than I’ve been in quite some time, and that (as the commercial says) is priceless.   Big Smile

So back to the whole resolution theme that I started with.  I’ve learned my own version of the adage about the best laid plans and entering the battlefield.  Last year most definitely didn’t work out the way I had planned it.  But it all seemed to fall together at the end, so I can’t complain.  This year though, after taking stock of my life – of where I am chronologically, geologically, and financially – and trying to take into account some of the effects that Murphy can have on my plans, I’ve decided to set some relatively modest goals.

Writing goals:

Chucklers – This is the one that Edward Lorn and I began over a year ago.  It’s had a rocky road, and I’ve learned that collaboration with another author is both easy, and difficult. Chucklers grew from its inception as an online chat discussion, to an amazingly complex story composed of several interwoven storylines that look like they will likely span at least two, and probably three books.  But Ed recently contacted me and told me that he has a huge project in the works, and that he was going to have to leave Chucklers behind.  He has graciously given me his blessing in continuing with it on my own.

So resolution #1 is to complete and publish the first Chucklers novel.

Year 12 – I recently began working on the sequel to HPM again.  There isn’t a lot of it done, but there are a decent first few chapters.  I want to complete and publish this one in 2015.

Crazy Larry – There is a novella that’s been banging around in my head for a while.  I’ve had several people ask me how Larry was able to raise an army to attack the town of Rejas in HPM.  Now, since HPM is told from the first person perspective of Leeland Dawcett, then anything that Leeland didn’t know, simply couldn’t go into the novel.  But believe it or not, I do have an explanation.  So I thought I might put Larry’s story behind its own cover.  I want to do this in 2015.

Other: There is also an anthology coming up that I’ve been given permission to submit to, and the world in which it takes place sounds absolutely fascinating.  So I want to try for that anthology in the next few months, and see if I can get in.  And since this one is someone else’s property, that’s about all I can say about it for now.

And that’s it for my writing goals; two novels (one of which is already mostly written), a novella, and a short story.  Like I said, modest goals.

As for my more personal goals:

Blog more – This blog has suffered quite a bit over the last couple of years.  For a long time, I posted every week.  Then it dropped to once a month.  In 2014 I started out well enough, three or four posts in the first couple of months, but like I said, Murphy…  The last few blog entries were six months apart, and that’s just unforgivable.  So this blog will get at least one entry per month, come hell or high water.

House – For the new house, I plan to get a good garden going this spring, and get some fruit trees in the back yard.  Every long-term food source is part of that self-sufficiency thing I mentioned earlier, right?  And the more food I can produce at home is that much less we have to buy in the store.

Weight – Also, let me hit on an oldie, but a goodie… I plan to lose twenty pounds by May.  And more importantly, I will keep it off all year-long.

I think they are all relatively simple goals (except maybe the weight thing, but I only have myself to blame there), and I’m going to work on keeping these resolutions this year.  So wish me luck.  And please comment here.  I recently updated my anti-spam plugin for the blog here, and I’d like to know if it works properly.  I’ve had it update in the past and begin blocking EVERYONE who tried to comment.  The only way I know it’s not doing that again is for someone to leave me a comment.  If you try and you can’t, please send me an email at jlbDOTauthorATgmailDOTcom.

 

So that’s it for now.  Have a great 2015, and stay safe!   Bye

Sep 222013
 

Status updates – I’ve been working on a few “smaller” projects recently.  The first of these, I just can’t talk about yet.  I thought I would be announcing this one today, but there has been a road bump, and the official announcement will have to wait.  As for the second smaller project… well, I can’t really go into much detail on this one, either.  However, you’ll notice a new widget to the side for a short story.  I’ve been invited to write for an upcoming anthology (yay!).  Better yet, all of the authors have agreed to donate the proceeds to charity.  Yes, I know anthologies don’t sell well, but once I was contacted about the theme of the anthology, I got an idea that absolutely demanded to be written.  So it will.  The story is currently going by a working title of “IMPs“, and the first thousand words jumped out of me last night.  It has to be finished by December, so there’s plenty of time for completion and polish.

Chucklers is proceeding slowly, but steadily.  The process on it has changed a bit, and it will likely take longer than Ed and I anticipated, but it will still happen.  In the meantime, Y12 has been clamoring for release, and I’m beginning to contemplate the idea of working on multiple projects at the same time.  I’ve tried to avoid working this way in the past, but the voices are getting louder.  LOL.

Controversy –  Some of you may know about this, but I imagine many of you will not.  It’s something that really only affects authors and reviewers, so it may not interest many of you.  However, there has been a recent article making the rounds that was supposedly written by someone who used to work for a company that sold reviews to authors in order to help their books climb the rankings and increase sales.  I’ve explained my take ad nauseam about the relationship between rankings, title visibility, and sales (see “In answer to Mike’s question…” from February of 2012, and “Answering Mike again” from March of that same year), so I won’t bore you with it here again.  The article in question (and I have intentionally not linked to it here – I won’t give it any more exposure than it has already gotten) accuses several well-known authors of buying reviews to elevate sales.  This comes in the midst of the Goodreads controversy in which reviewers have accused authors of stalking them in retaliation for bad reviews, and authors have in turn accused reviewers of banding together to trash their books for no good reason, lowering their rankings (and so their sales) in a form of cyber-bullying.

There has been rampant speculation regarding the veracity of the claims on either side of that argument.  After all, there have been authors in the last years who have admitted publicly that they did, indeed, purchase blocks of reviews.  Others have admitted to trashing other authors with sock-puppet reviews in an effort to damage their competition.  For some, their admissions came with an apology.  For others, they simply looked at the practice as nothing more than a cold-hearted business tactic that they used to make themselves more successful in the industry.

There has been speculation that the recent “outing” article was written as an extension of some of the Goodreads cyber-bullying.  I don’t know, I don’t claim to know, and I don’t really care.  It is what it is.  I will say this – I have seen examples of both sides of the Goodreads controversy.  Neither side is completely innocent.  There are some authors who behave badly upon receipt of a negative review.  There are also reviewers who have attacked authors for doing nothing more than daring to ask a them a question about what it is they didn’t like about their book.

And I’ve seen what some of these bullies can do when they band together.  I read a post from a budding author said she had actually decided not to publish her first book, because her reputation was trashed before the book ever came out – all because she dared ask a reviewer how he could give her book a one-star review before the book had ever been released.  His response was to gather a band of other reviewers who decided to “put her in her place” by posting several more one-star reviews – again, all on a book that had yet to be released.

I myself, recently received a one-star review for my recent release that was an obvious hatchet job.  Streets of Payne is a recent release, has received only three reviews on Goodreads (all five-stars), and seven reviews on Amazon (five were five-stars, one was a four-star, and one was the one-star).  The one star review simply said:

Don’t buy. There is a reason why Amazon “give” it for free. Boring……Amazon don’t offer good books. The r fooling us.

This same reviewer posted the exact same review for nine other books.  The exact same, word for word, review – remedial grammar and all.  Then he posted a tenth review, a five-star for another book:

loved it very much. its a great book. very special make you see the world in a different way. enjoy.

I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions about this reviewer.  I do note that six of the nine one-star reviews have since been removed from Amazon.

So why am I bringing this up?  What does an article that accuses a bunch of authors of buying reviews have to do with me grumbling about a bad review that I received.  After all, shit happens, right?  Move on.  Nothing to see here.  Right?  Right?

Well here’s the thing – when I read this article that purports to out a bunch of well-known authors for buying “at least 500 reviews”, there were a couple of names on the list that just absolutely pegged my bullshit meter.  Today, one of them spoke out.

Any of you who know me, know that there are a handful of authors that I reference repeatedly as gurus in the field of indie publishing.  You’ve seen me mention Nathan Lowell, Michael J. Sullivan, Imogen Rose, and others.  One you probably haven’t seen me list often is Hugh Howey.  Hugh is best known for his Wool, Silo, and Dust novels.  The reason you haven’t seen him mentioned much on my blog is that I only became acquainted with Hugh’s works in the last few months, and as you have no doubt noted, I haven’t been posting as much on this blog as I should.

But here’s the thing – I had the great fortune to meet Hugh at LoneStarCon a few weeks ago.  He won’t remember me, since he was constantly surrounded by other fans, but his take on the industry, on his successes, and his views toward his readers were almost exactly the same as mine.  He was a man who struck me as someone content to take the slow road, as long as it was the road of integrity.  He was an author who understands that the new model for the writing industry not only allows us as story tellers to connect directly with our audience, but it actually requires that we do so.  He understands that this is a business that allows some of us success, while others of us will continue to struggle, that it is a mixture of skill, persistence, and luck that determines who rides the wave, and who crashes beneath it.  And he absolutely understands that whatever your level of success, it can all change tomorrow.  In the end, all you can count on is the fact that you will eventually be left standing alone with your karmic debt.

I’ve listened to this man’s words on panels, and read interviews on him, and I follow him on FaceBook.  He is one of those few people in the industry that I truly look up to.  I’m a fan, yes.  But more than that, I respect the man.  Not just his writing, but his words and actions.

Today Hugh Howey responded to the accusation that he purchased reviews.  He responded with a well written, and thought out post on his blog.  One of the things that struck me in his blog post is his statement that he had tried for so long to remain silent as some people attacked him with trash reviews, or comments, or other open articles.  He has always viewed it as part of the price of fame.  And as he noted, he is lucky enough to have a large and loyal following that more than compensates for the small amount of negativity aimed at him.  Not many of us are so lucky.

But one of Hugh’s friends has also been accused of buying reviews, and he decided he’d been passive long enough.  Not because he was accused, but because a friend was.  Again, this is a man of integrity.

At the end of his blog post, Hugh makes a pledge.  He calls it his “Declaration of Integrity”.  Many of his readers have begun calling it the “Jolie Pledge”, named after a cherished pet that Hugh often refers to in his postings.  Hugh’s pledge says:

I, Hugh Howey, have never paid for a book review in my life. I swear this on my life and on the life of my beloved dog and faithful companion of ten years, Jolie. May she rest in peace. And may the accusers and accused alike find peace in their hearts as well.

I think this is a wonderful idea.  I like to think that I am also a man of integrity (or at least I try to be)  Wink .  I try to keep from commenting on or criticizing those whose views I don’t agree with, unless they enter into my “personal space”.  Yes, I keep the troll hammer handy, and will not tolerate trolls here on the blog.  But I encourage honest and open questions, comments, and debate.  And I will never belittle another person for their personal beliefs.

So I will also make my declaration here.  I will take the same stand that Hugh has taken.

I, Jeff Brackett, have never paid for, and will never pay for a book review. I give my solemn word on this.

And while Hugh wishes peace for the accusers and accused alike, I will simply say that I wish both the accusers and accused find the justice they deserve.

What can I say?  Hugh is a better person than I am.  Wink

That’s it for tonight.  Be safe, everyone.  Bye

Aug 072013
 

WARNING – The following post contains considerable writer geek-speak, and may cause non-writing enthusiasts’ eyes to glaze over.  DO NOT OPERATE HEAVY EQUIPMENT FOR AT LEAST HALF AN HOUR AFTER READING THIS POST.  If you are easily offended by geek-speak, please do not read any further.

 

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Yep, this one is going to be another “lesson” blog entry, so if you’re new to the business, pay attention and learn from my mistakes.  And if you are a pro, sit back and laugh at my misadventures in the writing business. Smile

THE PROBLEM  —  I’ve reached the point at which sales on Half Past Midnight and The Road to Rejas have pretty much tanked.  In July, HPM had fifty-three sales (including international sales) and two borrows, while R2R had thirty-one sales with four borrows.  And since Streets of Payne is a brand new release, it’s basically an unknown title in a sea of others on Amazon.  As of today, it has sold thirteen copies since its release on July 11.

THE SOLUTION(?)  —  Obviously, if I ever want my writing to become a serious income stream – or even (dare I dream?) a career, I will need to learn to handle and use marketing to better effect.

As ominous as that sounds, what it really means is that I’m tired of watching the numbers drop without even trying to do anything about it.  So I got busy looking for advertising venues, and found a few that were relatively affordable, and whose criteria my books met.

Criteria, you say?  What criteria?

I’m so glad you asked! Smile

You see, many of the advertising sites have become popular specifically because people who subscribe to them know they can count on seeing recommendations for quality books.  After all, who wants to have a deal recommended to them, only to find out that the product is crap?  And what site wants to be the one that recommends said crap?  The site’s subscription levels would plummet which would quickly be followed by the loss of advertising income.  So, to prevent such occurrences, most of them have certain requirements regarding the number of reviews, the rating of the reviews, and sometimes what kind of books.  Sometimes they will make exceptions if an author is well-known and has a long track record of producing quality books, or if the book has been favorably reviewed by a well-respected book reviewer.  But such occurrences are rare for new writers.  The better review sites protect their reputations stringently, as they should.

And of course, there is always the little matter of cost.  The big sites can charge hundreds of dollars for ad listings.  For a new writer with a new book, these factors make it pretty difficult to gain any traction.  Streets of Payne is in that no-man’s-land right now.  As I mentioned earlier, it’s new (been out for less than a month), and as a result, it has no reviews.  As such, it has a low sales ranking, which results in minimal visibility. Such are the breaks for a new book.  Frown

So, HPM and R2R sales have tanked, SoP hasn’t taken off, and I am faced with a harsh reality – it’s time to do some marketing.  Eek!

I suppose I should mention that I really, REALLY hate the marketing side of the biz.  I always feel like a sleazy street vendor, trying to hawk my wares to passers-by.  Still, I know that marketing is part of the business.  And I keep going on about how I need to treat my writing as a business, right?  Wink

So I bought an ad for HPM on BookBub.  Yeah, it’s a gamble.  I mean, you’d think I would concentrate on getting exposure for SoP, wouldn’t you?  And I would, except for that pesky review requirement.  So, while marketing for SoP is currently problematic, I’m hoping that if I get an ad for HPM, maybe that puts my name in front of some people who’ve not yet heard of me.  And if they like one book, they may be inclined to buy another.  Like I said, it’s a gamble.  I also bought an ad for SoP on a new advertising site called BookGorilla.com.

Coincidentally, while I was working on all this, my good friend and fellow author Edward Lorn called me with a proposal that seemed perfect for increasing visibility.  He was gathering a few new authors together to do a quick marketing slam fest.  He had lined up a few review sites to get out the word.  Needless to say, I was in.  And since I hadn’t been able to get any other exposure for SoP, I went in with that title, with an agreement to run it free for five days (August 1st through August 5th).

SoP Promo

Click image

August 1 – At the start of this little endeavor, my Kindle Sales ranking was #77,084.  The book came out on July 11, had sold twelve copies in the US, and none in any other country.  Our slam fest began on August 1, with a mention on Big Al’s Books and Pals.  On that day, I gave away 190 copies of SoP in the US, 30 in the UK, and 13 in other international venues.  It was nothing like what happened with HPM when I conducted “the great experiment” last year, but it was definitely better than I had been doing.  On top of that, my Kindle sales ranking dropped from #77,084 to #1,697.  Of course, that was in the “Free” listing, but I thought it was respectable.

August 2 –  So after the first day, my “sales” rank rose dramatically, from 77,084  up to 1,697.  Very cool.  But there was no “slam-stop” scheduled for August 2nd or 3rd.  So while I had gained momentum, inertia only takes you so far.  As a result, my “sales” dropped to 78 in the US, 26 in the UK, and 4 international.  My Kindle Free ranking rose a little more, settling in at #1,153.

August 3 – On the 3rd, with still no further advertising slated, the number of sales dropped.  As I said, there was still a certain amount of inertia, so books were still moving, but the number dropped for the second day.  60 units in the US, 16 in the UK, and 16 international.  However, the Kindle ranking dropped from #1,153 to #1,406.

August 4 – On the 4th was when the magic happened.  Remember me mentioning the ad I bought on BookGorilla.com?  Well it worked like gangbusters.  During the course of the day, SoP moved 1,576 units in the US, 53 in the UK, and 41 in the other international sites.  Better yet, the Kindle Free ranking rose all the way to #118!  Woohoo!

August 5 – Momentum, once again took over.  August 5th was the day after the BookGorilla ad, and the book was still coasting.  Additionally, we had an ad at another review site called “ImAVoraciousReader” that I’m sure helped out a bit.  SoP moved 627 units in the US, 91 in the UK, and 55 in other international venues.  And the Kindle Free ranking rose just a little more, topping out at #108Yes

All in all, I thought it went pretty well.  I was relatively pleased.  Final number of units given out were: 2,531 in the US, 216 in the UK, 92 in Germany, 7 in France, 3 in Spain, 1 in Italy, 2 in Japan, 4 in India, and 20 in Canada.  A total of 2,876 copies of Streets of Payne were given away over a period of five days.  So would it pay off?

First, you have to look at what I was trying to accomplish.  My first goal?  I wanted to gain visibility for SoP.  Second goal? I was hoping that said visibility would garner itself into a higher Kindle sales ranking, which would hopefully translate into the third goal of some reviews, and the fourth (and ultimate) goal of higher sales.  So did it work?

Well, the first goal was definitely a success.  SoP is now in the hands of over 2,800 people who likely never heard of it before last weekend.  In the grand scheme of things, 2,800 people isn’t huge, but it’s much better than I’d started the weekend with.

Second goal?  Well, that one was a resounding failure.  That may sound counter-intuitive, considering the numbers I listed above, but here’s where a HUGE lesson comes into play.  Remember how I mentioned that my sales ranking rose from #77,084 before the giveaway, to #108 on the last day?  Something you have to bear in mind is that the #77,084 was in all Kindle books listed for sale, while the #108 was in all Kindle books listed for free.  After SoP was no longer free, not only did the ranking not carry over (which was to be expected), but it appears that Amazon counted all five days of the giveaway as zero sales days, and knocked me all the way back down to around #400,000.

Third goal (reviews) – It’s really too early to say for sure, but I’m going to list this one as a tentative success.  Up until this morning, SoP hadn’t gotten a single review.  This morning (August 7) I received my first.  Even better, it was a very favorable (five-star) review.

And the fourth goal (more sales) – Well, it’s obviously much too early to tell how that one’s going to turn out.  I can only hope it will pan out in the near future.

Lessons learned – The first thing to come to mind is simple.  NEVER, EVER, EVER GO FREE!  I don’t know if it’s because of those mysterious changes that Amazon makes to their magical algorithms that we always hear about, or if it’s simply that free is so blasé now, but the loss of sales ranking doesn’t appear to be worth it anymore.  If I had it to do over again, I would pay more to get an ad to sell SoP at 99¢.  I can only speculate on how many sales I would have made, but at the 99¢ price point, half of the sales would still have paid for the ad, with perhaps a little left over.  Additionally, the book wouldn’t have lost its sales ranking.  Indeed, if I had sold 1,400 copies at any price, I can only imagine that my ranking would have shot upwards, and likely would have stayed there for considerably longer, and would have translated into even more sales in the long run.

Also, coordinate your advertising better than I did.  If I could have managed to get ads in several locations all at the same time, I wonder just how big a splash the book could have made?  Sure, it would have cost a decent chunk of change, but would it have paid off?  I suppose there’s no way to know.  However, I now have a better idea of what I need to do in future marketing campaigns.  Hopefully, I’ll do a better job next time around.

So that’s it.  Another adventure with Jeff Brackett “Learning to write”.  Stay safe everyone.

Jul 052013
 

First of all, I hope everyone had a wonderful 4th of July.  Ours was pretty uneventful, other than the fireworks making the dogs nervous all evening and most of the night.  It wasn’t too bad on them, but they pretty much refused to leave my wife’s side from about eight or nine, until well after bedtime.  Smile

Now, truthfully, I started writing this entry a couple of days before the 4th, and at the time I started, I had book covers on the mind.  It was a topic that had been on my mind quite a bit, since I went gone through so much on the cover for Streets of Payne (read about some of it here).  Then I think back to the issues I had with the cover for Half Past Midnight.  HPM was my first venture into writing, so I suppose mistakes were to be expected.  But even taking that into account, there were plenty of problems.  And that gave me the idea that some of the rest of you might have encountered similar issues.  Or perhaps you’re coming up on that part of your work in progress and you’d like to see some of the pitfalls I went through so you can (hopefully) avoid making the same mistakes.  Or, maybe you just want a good chuckle at my expense.  ROTFL   Hey, I don’t blame you.  Looking back on some of what I did, I find it pretty amusing, too.

But let’s make this a lesson entry.  That’s what this blog is supposed to be about, right? Doesn’t it say so right at the top of my blog? “JL Brackett – Learning to Write“.   So here we go…

I’ll start by looking back at my first novel, Half Past Midnight.  I made several mistakes with that one, spending much more than was necessary to get it published.  But it was a learning experience, and it was fun.  Specifically addressing the topic of the cover, I have to shake my head.  I probably put that poor cover artist through hell before we finally got something acceptable.  I mean, all the poor guy knew about my book at the time was that it was something about a nuclear war, and it was post-apocalyptic.  And armed only with that limited amount of knowledge, here are some of the first cover samples he submitted to me:

Walk on a roof edgeWalk on a roof edgeWalk on a roof edgeWalk on a roof edgeNeedless to say, I was disappointed.  How could he miss the mark so completely? Didn’t he know what I was trying to accomplish here?  It was almost as if he hadn’t read the book at all!  And that was when I realized… he hadn’t.

It was a rookie mistake.  I assumed either the publisher or the cover artist had read my book and would know what artwork would work best.  That is NOT the case!  If you’re an indie, and you’re hiring freelancers to do your cover art and publishing, they will most likely never read your work.  That leads me to:

Cover art lesson #1 – Don’t be timid!  Get involved in every aspect of your book.  No one knows what you’re trying to accomplish better than you do.  It’s up to you to carry that vision forward from beginning, to end.  All the way to the end!

So I contacted the artist and we discussed why these proposed covers just weren’t going to work.  He was extremely understanding, and taught me how to go to various stock photo sites and create light boxes with pictures that I thought incorporated part of what I wanted on my cover.  I spent the next several days going over picture after picture, until I found something that I thought incorporated the “feel” that I wanted on my cover.  It was a picture of a young woman with an AK47 resting on her shoulder.  She stood in the middle of an empty field, and she looked dirty, bone weary, and down-trodden.  She reminded me of the character of Megan in my book.  I sent that to him and told him what I had in mind.  That was when I learned what a decent cover artist can do with photo manipulation.  I spoke to him about backgrounds, and the fact that in the book, Megan used a crossbow, and that a lot of the fighting took place under cover of darkness.  After a few conversations, and a couple of final tweaks, he finally created this outstanding cover.

In the meantime, though, the editing was complete, and the publishing files were done.  I had waited too long to have the cover art done, and now I had a book ready to publish, and had to wait for the cover.

Cover art lesson #2 – Learn to manage the timing of publication.  There are some tasks that are prerequisite to others.  For instance, the book must be written before it can be edited, and it must be edited before it can be formatted for publication.  However, the cover art can be done as soon as you know your novel’s theme, tone, setting, and characters.  Once you have a feel for what you want on the cover, I recommend that you begin working towards getting your cover done.  This will eliminate the frustration of having your novel written, edited, and files ready for publication while you have to wait on your cover.

Megan w crossbowSo I finally got the artist everything he needed and within a matter of days he sent me a preliminary cover.  A few tweaks, and we had a cover I was happy with.  Did I say happy?  I was thrilled.  It was awesome!  But I wanted to make sure other people agreed with me, so I posted a preview of it in a few writing forums.  The response was overwhelmingly positive.  I had a winner of a cover.  I went to work, put it on a few print galleys, and started gearing up for the e-book distribution.

Then came the question that I should have headed off at the very beginning of my polls – What is your book about?

What’s it about?  Well, it’s a post-apocalyptic story about a small group of people who survive the nuclear aftermath of a war, only to find that there are still crazies in the world, and….

Wait, wait, wait!  You mean this isn’t a YA story about vampires?

Ummmm, what?

Well, you have a young girl, with a crossbow, at night…

Oh, crap!

I pulled that cover immediately.  As I recall, there are less than ten copies (I think there are six, actually) of the paperback version of HPM that have that cover.  If you have one, who knows?  Maybe it will be a collector’s item when I’m a world-renowned author!  LOL.

Cover art lesson #3 – Make sure your cover tells what your story is about.  It’s not enough for it to just look really good.  A potential reader needs to be able to look at the cover and get a pretty good idea what the story is about.  If I had gone with that original cover and people had begun buying my book thinking it was a YA vampire book, I can’t imagine how many folks I would have disappointed.

But now I had to come up with something quickly.  Something that told the reader immediately that this was not a YA vampire story, but an adult story set in a post-apocalyptic world.  I went hat in hand back to the artist, explaining my dilemma.  We went back to the drawing board, and finally came up with the cover that stayed on HPM for a year or more.  The mushroom cloud over the cityscape…

HPM final coverIt didn’t have all that much to do with the story, but someone looking at it definitely got the idea that this was a post-apocalyptic novel set after a nuclear war.  It worked well enough for about a year.  I did find out one minor problem with the cover during that time.  It turned out that the licensing for the stock photos used in that cover were only good for cover art.

Now, you may ask yourself, so what?  That’s all you should need it for anyway, right?  Well, as it turns out, no.  At least, not if you want to create promotional items like t-shirts, coffee mugs, mouse pads, etc.  As a result, I have a drawer full of t-shirts and mouse pads that I can never give out.  So…

Cover art lesson #4– Make sure of your licensing for the artwork.  It may cost a little extra, but if you ever want to give away any promo items, you must make sure you can legally do so.

Now, while I was learning these lessons, I wasn’t idle.  During that time, I wrote a short story for the Explorers: Beyond the Horizon anthology, and a novella “companion piece” to HPM called The Road to Rejas.  It was the story of one of the minor characters in HPM, and how he came to be in the novel.  And when I went to publish R2R, that brought me to…

Cover art lesson #5 – If there is any possibility of your story becoming part of a series, you must remember to bear branding in mind.  If you have several written works up for sale, the reader should be able to look at the covers and immediately tell which ones are part of the same series.  Unfortunately, it was going to be difficult to do this with the HPM cover I had at that time.

So I spoke to another cover artist.  Now, I had nothing against the first artist, but he was attached to a company I had decided not to go with again due to monetary considerations.  I had found that much of what they did, I could do on my own, and what skills I didn’t have were available for hire at a much more reasonable cost.  So I contracted with Glendon Haddix at Streetlight Graphics to do the cover for R2R, and to redo the cover on HPM, with the understanding that there would be another novel coming in the future.  Half-Past-Midnight-Print-Cover-6x9 The-Road-to-Rejas-6x9They came up with the fantastic covers that HPM and R2R have today, and there is already a preliminary for the upcoming sequel, Y12.  So look at these two covers.  Is there any doubt that the stories are related?

I don’t think so.  Color scheme, font style, symbols… all of these were used to great effect to link the stories in the reader’s mind.

So with all this history, you would think I would know what I was doing when it came time to get cover work for my next book, right?  Well… I’ll give myself a little credit.  At least I didn’t make the same mistakes I made the first time around.  No, this time I came up with completely new mistakes. Foot-In-Mouth

First of all, Streets of Payne was going to be completely different from HPM and R2R.  It was a different genre, different theme, targeted a different audience… it had a totally different feel.  So I knew I wanted it to look completely different from my other covers.  I also knew that I wanted a different kind of cover.  I was interested in getting some more expensive digital art.  Unfortunately, that was something that my previous cover artist didn’t do.  So I started the search back in July of 2012, when SoP was still a work in progress. I figured that would give me plenty of time.  I was determined that I wouldn’t be caught sitting on a practically finished manuscript, waiting on a cover before I could publish.

A fellow author put me on to an amazing digital artist she had found.  This woman didn’t stop at photo manipulation, she did digital art at another level.  I got contact information and told her what I had in mind.  She explained that there were several people ahead of me, and that it might take a while, but at that time, I anticipated that I wouldn’t likely be ready for the cover until the end of the year.  Since I had planned so far in advance, time was not an issue for me.  I told her that I didn’t anticipate completion of the novel until the end of the year, so that wouldn’t be a problem.  We exchanged a couple of emails, worked out details, and she sent me payment information.

Cover art lesson #6 – Never EVER pay in advance by Western Union.  If someone tells you that is the only way they will accept payment, find someone else.  There are other artists out there.  Payments via Western Union are non-refundable.  It is the equivalent of you handing cash to someone, without knowing them, or where they live, or what they will do with the cash once they get it.  You have absolutely no recourse if the deal goes south.

Now, you may ask, why did she need payment via Western Union?  Simple – she lived in Croatia, and it was the only way she could get money from the US.  Okay, maybe I was naïve, but I bought it.  I’m usually one to give people the benefit of the doubt.  And hey, I had plenty of time to work through any issues, right?  Question  So after a few months of not hearing from her, I caught wind that several other writers were having trouble getting her to respond to email.  Then rumors started that she had been involved in an accident, and was starting to get back on her feet.  There was a thread on Kindle Boards wherein several authors expressed their dissatisfaction with her lack of response to their queries.  Some had missed deadlines and had to find other artists.  And then she posted on the thread herself.  She apologized, said she had been in a motorcycle accident, and had been unable to work for several weeks.  But she assured everyone that it was all behind her, and she was getting back to it.

Of course, she was way behind, but if we would all just be patient with her, she would get caught up in a few weeks.  Again I waited.  After all, plenty of time, remember?  By the time October rolled around, I was starting to get concerned.  I sent her several emails, none of which were answered.  I finally decided to put a little pressure on her.  I posted on that same thread in Kindle Boards all that I had been through with her.  That did two things… it brought the problems everyone had had with her back to the top of the forum again, reminding others that she had been a problem, and showed that I was still trying to contact her.

It worked.  She responded with an apology, indicating that her old email service had been canceled and that she had a new email account.  She sent me a private email, and promised me

Streets of Payne 06DEC2012

Streets of Payne 06DEC2012

preliminary work within a week.  It was November 27 when she finally got me something, but when she sent me the work, I was amazed.  We went back and forth a few times with minor changes I wanted, until she finally sent this cover in early December.  There were a couple of minor changes that she still hadn’t gotten, so I asked her to make them, and send me the licensing agreement so I could use the cover.  That was the last I heard from her.

She never responded to any other emails or chat requests.  Ever.

Cover art lesson #7 – No matter how talented the artist may be, if they have no business ethic, you can’t work with them.

I was SO frustrated!  Here was this absolutely fantastic cover, and I couldn’t legally use it.  I asked around, and no one else was able to get a response from her either.  It was like she had dropped off the face of the earth.

Again.

I later found out that she had sold another cover to a friend, then someone else bought the exact same cover from her!  Someone told me that this is legal in many European countries, that the artwork remains the property of the artist, and can be sold as many times as they want.  I have no idea if this is true or not.  I’ve already determined that I’ll never work under those circumstances again, so it isn’t of enough concern to me that I would spend time looking it up.  However, if you are…

Cover art lesson #8 – Make sure you know the licensing laws and other legalities involved in using the cover art you contract.  If you hire an artist outside of your native country, check to see if there are any international laws regarding the use of the artist’s work that might impact your novel.

By this time, I was getting pretty concerned.  What had started as a six month cushion, had dwindled to a matter of a few weeks.  In the meantime, I began corresponding with another author whose acquaintance I had made on a forum.  He had recently published his first book, and had been taken to the cleaners on editing.  I contacted him, letting him know how much I liked the story, but recommended that he get it professionally edited.  I put him in touch with my editor, and when he mentioned he also wanted to explore getting a new cover and having the manuscript reformatted, I recommended Streetlight Graphics.  I made an introductory call for him to Glendon, and during the course of our conversation I mentioned the problems I’d been having with the SoP cover art.  Well, it turned out that the type of digital “painting” that I’d been looking at was something he was interested in learning.

I was back in business!  I knew that Streetlight Graphics was completely trustworthy.  I knew they valued their clients, and their reputation, and were doing everything in their power to SoP001grow that reputation.  And I knew the way their licensing worked.  I showed Glendon the cover I had commissioned before, and told him how much I liked it.  But I knew I couldn’t simply have him go out and replicate the same cover.  I didn’t want there to be any possibility of some sort of copyright infringement.  So we went through a few false starts, and finally came to what you see here to the left.

I was torn.  I liked it quite a bit.  But something just didn’t feel right about it.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but Glendon made it simple.  He said if I couldn’t look at the cover and say, “that’s what I want on my book”, then he didn’t want me to accept it.  We kicked around a few more ideas, and he explained that he thought we might be focusing too much on a particular scene or character.  He suggested going more with a concept piece, and started asking some questions.  A few days later, he presented me with a cover that blew me away.

Cover art lesson #9Streets of Payne 800 Cover reveal and PromotionalTrust your gut.  If something doesn’t feel quite right, figure out why.  Or, if you can’t figure out why, step back and punt.  It may be that you’re so focused on a particular idea that you’ve got tunnel vision, and are missing a wonderful idea that’s waiting just around the corner.

I know I’ve already shown the cover, but this post would be incomplete without finishing the evolution.  So…. there it is – the stories and lessons I’ve learned (so far).  I hope some of this might just help some of you avoid similar mistakes as you travel your own road to success.

And in the meantime, I need to get back to work on the newest work in progress.  Watch for an upcoming collaborative novel by yours truly and Edward Lorn, wherein we will explore the world of post-apocalyptic horror.  Chucklers – coming to a nightmare near you.  Wink