Apr 042014
 

Zandy-02Yep. Lots of changes.  First and foremost, I’ve gained a new daughter.  Last month, my son got married to a wonderful young woman, whose only fault seems to be that she was insane enough to tie herself into this family.  So here’s to insanity and happiness.  May it last them for the rest of their lives. :heart:

And there are other changes in the Brackett household.  As a matter of fact, one of the biggest upcoming changes IS the Brackett household.  See, we’re in the process of getting ready to move.  When we first moved into our current home, our family unit was considerably larger.  There was me, my wife, my mother-in-law (whose back surgeries were beginning to get the better of her), a son, daughter, a dog, and a cat.  We also have other family that we wanted to be able to accommodate if they wanted to visit and needed a place to stay, so we found a nice house, big enough for our needs–six bedrooms, game room, lots of entertainment space–it’s been a great house.

Fast forward thirteen years… my mother-in-law has passed on, the kids have grown and moved out, and it’s just me, my better half, and two dogs in that big ole’ house, and we decided it’s time to downsize.  So we put the house on the market, and it sat for several weeks with a showing here and there, but no hard nibbles until a few weeks ago.  Then, suddenly, it went from “Hey, there’s someone who might be interested…” to “Hey, is April 17th a good day for closing?”  :shock:

That was just over a week ago, and needless to say, we’ve been scrambling ever since.  But here’s the real kicker… we don’t have a house to move into yet. We’re in one of those domino situations where we have to sell our existing house before we can afford to get another house.  Luckily, my sister and brother-in-law are in a similar living situation, their two sons having moved out a few years back, and they’ve offered to let us stay with them while we look for a new home.  In the meantime, there are all sorts of arrangements to be made on utilities, packing, storage, etc.  It’s going to be a frantic few weeks.

On the writing front, there are things a-brewin’.  ;)

HPM and R2R (audio books) – I’ve taken the plunge, and have contracted with the talented Corey Snow to do audio versions of Half Past Midnight, and The Road to Rejas.  This is something I actually started on almost two months ago, and the work on HPM is at this time just a few weeks away from completion.  Corey has an amazing voice (one of the female betas I sent a sample to, mentioned something about dampened undergarments)  :shock:  and he’s doing a great job with it.  I’ve been listening to the uploads on my commute to and from work, and I’ve noticed a few things.  One is how much work Corey puts in to his performances.  The guy is an amazing professional.

The other thing I noticed is of a more introspective nature.  I’m listening to my debut novel.  (My debut novel… it sounds like such a strange thing to say.)  It was something that began as a private exercise back in the 90’s – something that I never expected to actually publish.  Writing was just something that I liked to do.  It wasn’t like anyone was ever going to want to read it.  And that manuscript was picked up and put down so many times over the next several years that it’s amazing that it was ever completed.  Career changes… kids… just life changes in general, continually kept me from even considering doing anything more than writing as a hobby.

Not worthyAnd now, I’m listening to someone putting voice to my first novel.  It’s surreal in some ways.  It’s humbling in others.  Even as I listen to what Corey has sent me, I can recognize a younger me in the words–a less experience me.  I listen and think, “I could have done that so much better.”

I think that’s a good thing.  Now that I’m taking my writing seriously, I can see the growth in my work.  Like I said… a good thing.  And while HPM will always hold a very special place in my heart, I can’t help but wish I had done a better job with it.

Don’t get me wrong. I know better than to spend time worrying about what I might have done.  And I’m sure not going to go back and rewrite it.  HPM is the past.  But Y12?  I’m confident that Y12 is going to be much better.  I’ve learned so much from so many talented people, that I can’t help but think that with each piece of writing I produce, I will grow in this craft that I’ve come to love.  And someday, I’ll be able to point to a body of work with real pride.  Maybe I’ll feel more worthy when someone contacts me and tells me that they like my writing.  Because to be perfectly honest, I’m not there yet.  I’m thankful, yes.  But I still feel like Wayne and Garth, bowing and scraping before Alice Cooper.  I feel I’m “not worthy!”  :)

Ghost Story – I’ve already mentioned in previous posts that Ghost Story is completed.  You’ll note that the progress meter on that title (right hand widget bar) is now green and has been moved to the bottom of the list for now, pending input from the editor.  You’ll also note that there are a few more projects listed.

Chucklers face onlyChucklers – The apocalyptic horror collaboration with Edward Lorn has been moving pretty well… sort of.  Unfortunately, Ed has gotten very busy with other projects, and says it looks like he’s going to be tied up for quite some time.  Luckily, we decided to write the novel from the point of view of several dispersed characters and groups.  That means I can continue to move forward with my characters for a while, without much input from him.  And he’s such a freaking fast writer, that he should be able to catch up to me with very little effort once he gets a chance to jump back in.  So I’ll continue moving ahead with it for a while, as long as the story keeps my attention.

The only bad thing about this is that Ed and I found that working with one another seemed to speed up our output.  There was something about being able to bounce ideas and chapters off one another that kept the story hopping for us.  It became almost a game, each of us laughing as we came up with ways to help one another in the scenes we were working on, interacting in a way that somehow made the work better than just the sum of its parts.  I’ll miss that.

But the story is a good one, and I do want to see it through.  I’m having fun, finding new characters along the way, and new ways to torment them.  Yep, that’s me, the kid with the magnifying glass on the ant hill.  ;-)  Chucklers is still my highest priority project at the moment, but with Ed dropping out for a while, the urgency is considerably lessened.  So I’ve opened up a few other projects that I’ve been keeping on the back burner…

Y12 prelimYear 12 – Yes, the long promised sequel to Half Past Midnight is finally going to become a reality.  The story has been banging around in my head long enough, and it’s gotten pretty insistent on being released.  So I’ve finally opened a new folder on the computer, and am beginning the process of bringing Zach’s story to life.  I have a cast of characters, an overall story arc, some interesting side plotlines, and most of the story itself ready and waiting to be told.  This is going to be a new way of writing for me, since I have traditionally been a “pantser” in my writing.  This will be the first time that I’ll be working on a story that is already mostly formed in my head.

I suppose that’s to be expected, since I’ve continuously been kicking it to the back burner for about two years now.  Every time I started to work on it, something else came up and took priority.  But in each instance, I spent more time thinking about what was going to happen, until finally last summer I pretty much knew the whole story line.  Just a few weeks ago, I was discussing it with my wife.  There was a final plot element that I couldn’t figure out… an underlying motivation for a major plot sequence.  And in her typical fashion, my wife was able to break it down into a more basic question for me, pointing out that I had been unnecessarily complicating things.  Once I viewed it from her suggested POV, everything fell into place.

WC1 – This one is a new project.  It’s a more traditional science fiction tale that I had the idea for back in 2011.  I took a bunch of notes, and wrote a first chapter… and then promptly lost it.  :(   Recently, I found those notes, and part of that first chapter again.  There was still quite a bit of it missing, but the parts that I recovered really excited me.  When I read through the notes, the idea for the whole story really grabbed my attention.  Wow!  It was actually a good idea!  Who knew I could come up with something that could catch my attention not only as a writer, but as a reader?  It was good enough that after I re-read the chapter fragment, I was pissed that there wasn’t more to read.  And that tells me that I need to get it written.  ;)   So the code name for this new title is WC1, and it promises to be quite a ride.

All right.  That’s enough for now.  It’s time to get back to work.  So as always, stay safe people.  :bye:

PS – It was brought to my attention a few weeks ago, that the comment option on my blog wasn’t working, and that no one was able to leave comments.  I believe that has finally (hopefully) been fixed.  I would appreciate it if some of you would leave a short comment here to confirm.  Especially someone who has never commented on the blog before.  There are some settings that seem to affect people who have never posted more stringently than those who have.  And if you find that you CAN’T leave a post, please drop me an email at “jlbDOTauthorATgmailDOTcom”.

Thanks, everyone.

Feb 102014
 

BICHOK Baby2BICHOK.  If you’re a writer, you may know the acronym.  For those of you who don’t, it’s “butt in chair, hands on keyboard”.  Simply put, it means quit making excuses, and get back to writing.  Post holidays, I’ve been slow to get back into my writing.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve been working on it.  But my progress has been glacially slow, and to be perfectly honest, I’ve felt less than inspired.  It came to a head this last weekend.  If you are a member of the RoTaNoWriMo writer’s group on Facebook, you may have seen my post about gathering the numbers for tax season.  Since it is a private group though, many of you won’t have seen it.  So…

I’ve been gathering the numbers for taxes this weekend, and I’ve been paying special attention to the credit and debit columns that are related to my writing for 2013. There are a few things that this has hammered home for me.

First, 2012 (my first year as a published author) was a fluke. I had an unusually successful year, clearing much more than I had a right to expect. I knew it at the time, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t hope in my heart of hearts for a repeat.

Needless to say, 2013 was nowhere near as successful. Now, my writing did pay for two major trips that I would never have been able to afford otherwise (including a week at WorldCon… W00T!), and I did still end up in the black (barely), but two days of catching up on the paperwork definitely drives home the point that you don’t write because you want to get rich. You write because there is something within that won’t let you NOT write.

So no, I won’t be quitting my day job to follow a lucrative writing deal. At least, not this year.

Of course, there’s always next year!  :)

 

Yeah, I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed.  But then, on my way to work this morning I heard something that put my year in a little bit better focus…

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a long time follower of The Dead Robots’ Society podcast.  I found them a few years ago and quickly went through every single past episode, soaking up the trials and tribulations of the hosts as they evolved from writing enthusiasts to writing professionals.  I learned a lot from them, even as the hosts shuffled in and out.  One of the newer hosts, Paul Cooley, is someone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a few times.  He is a horror writer, writing more psychological horror than gore, and he’s really good.  I’ve actually gone so far as to get a signed hardback of one of his books, something I VERY seldom spring for, so that tells you how much I like the guy’s writing.

So what’s the big deal about Paul Cooley, you might ask?  And what does he have to do with whether or not I had a bad year with my writing?  Just this… I was listening to the latest podcast on my way in to work and something Paul said in passing put my Facebook lamentations into perspective.  Paul mentioned that one of his goals as a writer is to bring his LLC (Shadow Publications) into the black, because it’s “still deep in the red”.

In other words, one of the guys I consider to be a decent role model in the writing field is struggling just as much as I am.  That realization started me to thinking.  I need to stop worrying so much about how well or how poorly I’m doing with my writing financially.  Instead, I need to count my blessings, put my head down, and get my ass back in gear.

So this is me, BICHOK.  Tonight, I knocked out another four or five hundred words on the Chucklers novel.  It’s not as much as I would have liked, but it’s progress.  I also did a bit of research for an upcoming scene.

Additionally, I’ve been listening to auditions for a narrator for the upcoming Half Past Midnight and Road to Rejas audio books.

And Year 12 (the HPM sequel) planning and note taking has begun.  There’s also a new story banging around in my head – something quite different for me… a possible urban fantasy.

So here is my battle cry…  If you’re a writer, say it with me…

BICHOK!!!

Sep 152013
 

Yeah, I know.  But honestly, who’s really reading this thing, anyway?  Yes, my family, and occasionally one or two others, but let’s face it–this is more of a “dear diary” thing than a real means of getting any information out to anyone.  And the last time I had any comments here was back in May.

So I’m probably going to shift gears here on the blog.  There will still be the occasional special entry, regarding special events in which I plan to participate (as a matter of fact, I may have one in the works pretty soon), and I still haven’t written about my adventures at the World Science Fiction Convention two weeks ago – so that should be coming soon.  But other than that, most entries will likely be much shorter, less “writer-y” (as my better half says).  And I’m actually considering a complete face-lift on the site.

I’m thinking about trying to integrate sub-pages related to my writing, maybe doing a special page for the “Rejas stories”, and one for the Amber Payne stories, and others for projects as they roll around.  I was even thinking I might try to put a page in for mini podcasts, recording a few thoughts.  I’ve been hesitant to do any of this, because I’m afraid it will tend to decentralize my site and make it harder for folks to navigate.  But if it’s just a few of us on her anyway, then why not, right?  ;)

So I may make some changes here (if I can figure out how).  And if anyone other than my family is actually reading this, drop me a comment and let me know that this thing might not be a complete waste of time.  ;)

Stay safe.

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. :)

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! :)

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.  :(

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?  ;)

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 #108:yes:

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.  :)

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 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. :footmouth:

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?  ?:-)  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.  ;)