Where did all those genres come from??

I began this adventure in marketing my books armed with good advice and two how-to books literally walking me step by step through the process. I put one of them aside fast, when I realized I couldn’t afford my learning curve with Facebook ads.

My how-to book for successful Amazon ads had problems, too. It was written back when Amazon offered something called Product Display Ads, an option my source highly favored. By the time I got to following his advice, this type of ad had been discontinued. (Thank you Amazon.)

The replacement for product display ads was like handing a chain saw to someone who wanted to use a stiletto.  I could use the power of ads displayed on a kindle, but could only select my audience using broad genre types like Women’s Fiction. These are called Lock-screen Ads and I am selling books with them, just not nearly enough to be actually making money. At least so far.

Amazon’s other options for me is something called a Sponsored Ad.  My mentor/author didn’t think much of using these, but I bravely tried the concept of picking keywords from my books and bidding for clicks. Every time, it failed miserably, but the good news is if hardly anyone clicks on your ad, it doesn’t cost you much.

A little poking around showed me I had another choice called Individual Products. It involves picking products (books) similar to mine, and advertising to those who buy them. It took forever to seek out these books, although it probably was a good exercise for me to get to know more about what was out there. None-the-less, all this effort yielded even fewer clicks and cost almost nothing.

Then recently a new option emerged. I could bid to advertise based on genre, just like with my Lock-screen ads, but the ads would appear to all Amazon users. So I tried it. And oh my goodness.

The stiletto was back, just not on Kindle where I needed it. I still can’t pick my audience by demographics like gender or age, but I can specify my ideal reader using genre divisions I never knew existed. With Lock-screen Ads, my tale of a 40-something female telepath who gets involved rescuing a kidnapping victim gets advertised to readers of women’s fiction, fantasy, and adventure.

Here women’s fiction alone offers more options than I’d ever heard of.

So I’m trying it.  Will this turn out to be the magic bullet that sells my books at an actual profit?

There is no one in this world more hopeful than a self-published author.

So that’s what she really looks like?

My vision of main character Teddie was always ethereal, much like the triplicate vision of her on the first cover. She was 17 and attractive, with curly black hair and dark eyes, but that was about all I knew.

When I decided to rename my books, I needed new covers. Current fashion is to show the main character, so it looked like I had to find someone who could show the world what Teddie really looked like. I found a group called Deranged Doctor Design.

When we started the cover for Layers of Light, we’d just finished the long and sort of painful process of doing many iterations of the cover (and main character Alex) for the previous book, Twists of Time. Lucky for all, the fine folks at DDD had a way to deal with people like me, who didn’t know what they wanted till they saw it. They sent me six potential Teddie’s to choose from.

I ruled out the three on the right without hesitation. These young ladies weren’t Teddie, and in general they had a little more angst than I wanted. Model #2 was a little too glamorous, so I went back and forth between the sweet innocence of model #3 and the slightly more worldly model #1. In the end, worldly won out.

The brown haired, blue eyed model needed some changes in coloring. They turned out to be trivial for my book cover designers.

Teddie got high praise from my own personal focus group, though one critic pointed out she had a bit of a “Tomb Raider vibe” to her, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

When it came time to create the last cover, we needed Teddie to make a second appearance, but not with an identical face. This particular model had dozens of photos to choose from, but unfortunately many of them had to do with selling beauty products.

I needed the new tough Teddie, fully aware of her superpowers and ready to kick butt. The selection wasn’t promising. We ended up with a pose that wasn’t all that different from the one used on Layers of Light, but it was different enough and it worked.

When I saw Teddie standing there with the rest of her family, I knew I’d gotten it right. This was what Teddie really looked like.

 

A New Look

I’m so excited about this new cover. The original one was probably my favorite of the six, perhaps because I love the color green. And moonlight.

This one has taken it to a whole new level, with a beautiful new Teddie, an appropriately intimidating-looking Lhatu, and a Buddhist convent tucked into a cliff in the Himalayas. Just like in the book!

I’m also particularly pleased with the title of this one, and the way the fine people at Deranged Doctor Design added light to represent what Teddie insists on calling the world of mist.

Now, my job is to make sure the story itself is worthy of all this.

The first round of editing is complete and I’m pleased so far. It’s almost 15,000 words lighter and, more importantly, 15% better. (I’m joking. Obviously I have no way of knowing how many % better it is, but the point is I can see the improvement.)

It will get one more edit in March, followed by two passes at proofreading by two different people, then hopefully be released for sale around the middle of April. Wahoo.

But first I have to get Shape of Secrets out there this weekend, and Twists of Time next month. It’s going to be a busy spring.

c3 is dead

What prompts an author to kill her own book?

A few weeks ago my fourth novel, c3, was killed by own hand. It made me sad. I finished writing c3 in late 2013, and released it on Kindle February 6, 2014. I’ve been told its hero, teenager Teddie Zeitman with her exuberant heart and a talent for out-of-body experiences, is one of my best creations. Green happens to be my favorite color, and the ethereal cover for c3 was my favorite of all the six.

But times change. Goodreads shows only three people currently reading my novel. Sales have gone from small to nearly zero.

I’ve never totaled up the exact sales, because it’s hard to separate a sale from a give-away but I suspect I’ve been paid for about a hundred copies (if you don’t count friends and family.) I’d hoped for more sales, of course, but every time a stranger liked my book and let me know, it delighted me. No regrets.

A few months ago, I attended a conference of science fiction writers, and signed up for a mentor. It may have been one of my more useful decisions. This professional writer pointed out that I could still have a marketable product in this particular story, but I needed a more genre-appropriate cover, a much better title, and an updated and aggressive marketing plan.

I can change the title of my book? Apparently I can. I need a new ISBN number (no problem). I  need to acknowledge to the new reader what has been done (just in case he or she is one of the 200 or so humans who already read this story.)

And …. I needed to kill c3. That is, it had to go off the market completely. No electronic versions for sale, although those who have it obviously always will. No new paperbacks printed and sold, although nothing can prevent current owners from reselling their copies on Amazon and elsewhere.

Over the years, I’ve eliminated all the hyperlinks in the book, and the text that went with them. I’ve made corrections and done minor clean-up. Why not. But I’ve refrained from doing anything major.

Because this will be a new book, I have the chance to do some serious editing. So I am. I’m giving more attention to point of view. I’m taking the techniques I’ve learned over the past six years, at conferences, from other writers, and simply from practicing my craft for hours every week, and I’m doing my best to fold those learnings into telling my story better.

It is still a work in progress, but so far I’m pleased with the result.

So while c3 will soon cease to exist, it will give birth to a new and better novel, to be called Layers of Light. I’ll be blogging all about it here soon.

 

Designing your own book cover, part 4

My easiest cover by far came with c3. It was the most difficult of my books to write, so maybe some sort of universal balance was at work. I’d barely begun skimming through the Shutterstock collection when I found not one but two backgrounds I loved. Which to use? I decided I’d send them both on to Jen at Mother Spider and let her decide.

I knew I didn’t want the image of Teddie, my hero, to be a photo. This was a book about out of body experiences, and a clear likeness seemed too stark. I wanted something vague, more like a sketch. She had to be young, dark-haired, and there had to be green involved.  I didn’t expect a lot of results when I combined all these search parameters, and I didn’t get them. However, the one image I got had potential.

This drawing of a young woman possessed the ethereal quality I wanted, but didn’t fit the cuddly softness I felt was part of Teddie’s personality. I played with it a little, and was happier once she had a rounder face and the soft brown eyes I envisioned.

The next challenge was to find a way to show an out of body experience in a single image on a book cover. I thought of showing her face three times, each one more transparent than the last. Also, I wanted a white bird because, well, it was symbolism I liked. I took all that and came up with the two straw man versions below and sent them off to Jen.

Jen did three brilliant things. First, she layered one of my backgrounds over the other to create an orignal and beautiful backdrop. Second, she got rid of the bird. Third, she rearranged Teddie to look back upon herself, conveying the idea of out of body in a way my linear images never could.

When this cover came back, I loved it instantly. She humored me by adding in the crescent moon instead of the dove, and we dinked around trying to match the font of my two-character title to the previous three books, but otherwise not a single revision was made. There was no doubt in my mind this was the cover c3 was meant to have.

Recently, I did some light editing and clean-up on all of my books, mostly to remove the links from all versions as they have become impossible to maintain. I decided if I ever wanted to make a tiny modification to the cover, now was the time.

Was there anything I wanted to change? Anything at all?

Well, I’d never been entirely happy with Teddie’s porcelain doll white skin or her sensuous lips. I thought a faint pink blush would make her look more human, and thinner lips more age-appropriate. I tried a make-over and was pleased with the results.

The new Teddie, and her beautiful cover, are shown to the left. It’s a joy when something comes so easily and works out so well.

(For more on this topic see Designing your own book cover, part 1, part 2 and part 3.)

Getting better at this #amwriting stuff!

on itunesThere are many small victories along the way when one self-publishes a book, and my advice to other writers is to find, embrace and cherish each one of them them. This takes a tremendous amount of time and effort, and if you don’t let yourself enjoy the little milestones along the way it is easy to burn out.

For me, the first step with a new book is always publishing on Kindle. It is easy to make minor corrections there, Kindle Select offers publicity tools to use right away, and the process is quick and forgiving. At least, that has been my way for four books now and it looks to be how I’ll handle my fifth book this fall.

I owe a thank you to fellow writer Michael Brookes who alerted me early on about taking my kindle book and putting it out in paperback using Create Space. The formatting was a lot of hard work the first time I did it, but it was free if I did it myself and so I learned. When c3 came out in paperback a couple of weeks ago, it was my fourth time working my way through the process and the good news was that it probably took me a third of the time. That was cause for a celebration.

on Band NThen it was on to the last and ultimate challenge. Smashwords. For those of you not yet familiar with Smashwords.com it is a website where you can publish your own electronic book and buy a lot of others. It’s chief charm to a writer, however, is that it will take your ebook and distribute it in multiple formats to ten or more other sites. It will also allow you to easily give your book away via coupons that do not violate your agreement with Amazon or anyone else.

The downside? Because they redistribute your book to so many others, the formatting requirements are stringent and hard to follow. With my first three books I threw up my hands in despair and paid someone else to format them for me. BUT NOT THIS TIME!  (Forgive the caps, they were a sort of victory cry.) As of a few days ago c3 as formatted totally by me has successfully passed through the vetting process at Smashwords and been cleared for take off. Wahoo! It is already out there at iTunes and Barnes & Noble.

Yes, this self-publishing process can make you absolutely crazy. It might anyway, but at least you’ve got to let yourself celebrate the little things along your path.

Homemade gravy and hand-built furniture

Authors note: My third novel z2 is currently on blog tour through the fine folks at Reading Addiction Virtual Book Tours. The post below is part of that tour and it appeared a week or so ago on a wonderful blog called Coffee Break.  My thoughts were inspired by a post I wrote on my x0 blog back in 2013, two whole books ago. A lot has changed for me since then, but apparently other things haven’t changed much at all.

We are a thousand miles from home, traveling to visit my husband’s family in a part of the country settled by Italian immigrants. A confluence of scheduling has left us with one night on our own.

Buca“Italian food,” he insists. “Absolutely,” I agree. He’s heard of a new place and we head over eagerly. What do we find? Buca di Beppo, a good Italian chain restaurant that also has a place about five miles from where we live in Texas. We have to laugh. No way.

As we go off in search of more interesting food, I think about my writing. Traditionally published novels are like chain restaurants, I think. Some are okay and some are great but they are seldom awful. You have a pretty good idea of what you are getting. Self-published novels are more like tiny mom-and-pop restaurants. Some are really bad and some are absolutely fantastic and there is no good way to tell the difference from a distance. Good or bad, the contents are always something of a surprise.

We stumble on a tiny place where the menu is hand typed, and the Pollo Maria Teresa that catches my eye is described with honesty as being a pasta dish served with chicken and “some lobster”.  I smile at the lack of polish. It’s like homemade gravy or hand-built furniture. One makes both with love and with all the skill that one can.

handmade furnitureEach of my self-published books has been similarly created, edited and rewritten to the best of my ability at the time that I wrote them. Then, because I wanted the product to be better, each was professionally edited with what I could afford. Although both I and my editor have gotten better with each one, my books don’t have the polish provided by industry experts. They are homemade gravy and hand-built furniture. They make no pretense to be otherwise, even though I hope that they can be enjoyed by those who also appreciate the style and predictability of chain restaurants.

The Pollo Maria Teresa arrives and it is wonderful. I smile as I enjoy some of my “some lobster” and I think that it is good to have variety in ones life.