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January 2017

Adventures in Indie, #4: Canva

There’s a last category of cover that I’m using. Self-made covers, more or less.

I only use these on books that I’m planning to use as a giveaway book: giveaway for joining my newsletter, giveaway for my Patreon patrons, or publicity giveaway.  If I’m planning to make money off of it, I’ll pay someone to make a professional cover for me.

Now, I don’t have any talent for visual design, so I’ve actually been relying on a graphics design service called Canva that has a lot of templates for bookcovers in its memory.

Here’s an example:

The cover on the left is their template.

I’ve long struggled with this cover because it’s very hard to find a decent looking illustration of an Asian dragon…that’s white (like the one in my stories).  But I ran across this picture of a stone dragon in Canva’s files, purchased it for use for a minimal charge (1$), and swapped it out for the old template. Then I changed the words, moved them a bit, and voila I had a decent looking cover.

It’s not an award winning cover, by any means, but it does give me a cover that I’m not ashamed of putting on my ‘giveaway books’.

I’ve actually got a couple more of those in the pipe, including Fleurs du Mal (a short story that I will be giving out to my newsletter subscribers and my Patreon patrons) next week, and Shared Dreams which I’ll be giving out in March.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(By the way, readers of this post can click over to the “Extras” tab and download/read a PDF version of Fleurs du Mal free.)

The point being that since I’m not rolling in writer dough (still in the red, admittedly), I need to make some concessions to wise funding. So in this case, self-made covers (with a design company’s help) fit the bill of looking moderately professional without being an instance of throwing money into the wind.

I’m trying to approach books as a business investment, but the promotional ones must be less expensive!

 

Next Week: Editing and Formatting

Adventures in Indie #4: PreMade Covers

One way in which a writer can cut costs is to purchase a premade cover. These are bountiful on the internet–all you have to do is type ‘premade book cover’ into your search engine, and you’ll find dozens of sites offering these.

I had been in the habit of perusing these for some time, basically because I like to use the covers as references for what I DO like. If a designer asks me what I’m looking for, I can use those as examples, making it easier for the designer to know what I expect.

I’m sure you’ll hear this…that a large percentage of those online covers are terrible. I do think that’s true. But sometimes when you’re looking at the  dross, you’ll find a sparkly in there, too.

So here’s a few hints that might help:

  1. If you’re looking at a site that aggregates covers from many different artists and you find one you like, look to see whether you can search that artist’s covers separately. It makes sense that if you like one of their covers, you’ll like others.
  2. Remember that you cannot fine-tune these covers. That’s why they’re sold as premade and at a lower cost. So don’t purchase one thinking that you’ll get to change hair color or have the artist change the clothing.
  3. Look for a statement that says they won’t re-sell the cover to someone else. While there’s a good chance that you’ll see the basic cover IMAGE elsewhere, design should be unique.
  4. If you want to know whether a certain image has already appeared on book covers, try plugging the image into an image search engine, like TinEye. Simply right click on the image, copy the image address, and paste it in the search function. When I was looking at covers for Iron Shoes, I did this and found that some images of women with horses have appeared on a gazillion books already. (This won’t work if they’ve altered the image for the cover.)

And here’s what I did:

I published 2 books with premade covers this year (but purchased 3 covers).

I hadn’t planned on publishing this one. But in those random searches, I ran across a cover that caught my eye, and I thought, “Hey, that cover would go well with Whatever Else.”

The main thing I wanted was mood. The cover itself is a bit generic, doesn’t have any quotes from other authors, no tag line. It’s very basic, but it’s good enough.

“Whatever Else” is actually a short story, so I knew I would never price it higher than 99 cents. I couldn’t spend a lot of money on a cover for it.  But this one cost me $40…and that meant 120 sales at 33 cents (royalty) each. I figured that over its lifetime, the short story could sell that many copies….

I bought the cover. I purchased it from the online site, BookCoverDesigner.com, and within a day the cover artist got back to me and made the changes to reflect the proper title and author name. In a case like this, there’s no room for big changes, so don’t expect them. If you want something more or something different, you’ll have to go with a custom design.

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I also purchased this cover from SelfPubBookCovers.com. This one cost twice as much as the one above ($80), but SPBC gives me a few more options.

Because I do the changes myself.

However, because I’m the one who puts in the title and author name, plus tagline, I can fiddle with it pretty endlessly. So this cover will be on my dashboard there forever.

If I decide to change the story’s name, I can. (Which I did, by the way…so it was a good thing that I opted for this rather than the maker above.) I can change the fonts and placement of the words. I can change their color and size.

For the most part, I’ve decided not to do so. I don’t trust that my eye for design is any better than this designer’s (FrinaArt), so I stuck with her decisions.

But here’s where it gets weird…

I also bought this cover. 

No, I don’t have a book to go with it. I have an idea, just one that I haven’t written yet.

But I watched this cover on SPBC for months before deciding the pull the trigger and purchase it. They won’t sell a cover twice, so if someone else bought it first, I would lose it.

And it goes too well with the one above to not take the chance.

Oddly enough, this is NOT by the same designer.

I’m considering this the companion novella to go with Sparrow, but instead of summer 1815 in St. Petersburg, I think this one will be winter 1815 outside Moscow. And the woman on the cover? I’m pretty sure that’s Natalya Vladimirova, one of a long line of powerful healers and protector of a dragon named Long who has slumbered for centuries…

I think it’s worth it, and having purchase this will give me extra impetus to get the story done!

So…..

All in all, I’m happy with the premade covers I’ve purchased and the balance of cost to use.

NEXT WEEK: Canva

 

Adventures in Indie #3: More Cover Choices

I’ve been talking about my indie publishing experience so far, and last week I talked about a cover I had made in 2015. But that takes me into 2016, wherein I published 6 ebooks.  SIX.

Publishing books costs money, and publishing six of them costs…more money.

As an indie publisher, I had to plan for that. I knew that much of 2016 would happen at a loss because I was paying artists for covers and an editor/formatter for their services.

Today I’m going to talk a bit about the other cover designs I had custom made. The covers I purchased ran the gamut from inexpensive to pricey. In each case, I had specific reasons for that choice.  So let me talk briefly about each one:

CUSTOM DESIGN COVERS:

I had previously published the three novellas here separately, but wanted to package them together and create a print edition. So I removed the old versions from sale, did an editing pass, and handed it off to my editing/format guy (EQP Books) while I was arranging for a cover.

For this book, finding stock photos was problematic. My main character has white hair, and that’s actually an important part of the story, so unlike other covers where I changed small things in the story to match the cover, I wanted the cover to match the story instead. And since Iron Shoes had been my most financially successful tale, I decided to go with Holly Heisey on this one.

Their covers are more expensive, but worth it since I was going for something very specific. Holly sent me an extensive questionnaire, and I sent it back to them. They sent me back suggested pictures based on that, and I picked one out and sent it back to them. Then the magic started.

Holly changed clothing color, hair color, and added -magical- touches that did a good job of conveying that this was a fantasy story (but also a romance). They also created a paperback cover for me (which ups the charge for any cover package.) All in all, I got what I wanted for this book.

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After the War was created by Rachel A. Marks. Once again, I wanted to somewhat-match the style of the Golden City novels, since this is a related novella. Rachel worked with me on this one much the same way as the previous cover (The Seer’s Choice) we did together.

Because I was working with her far in advance of the publication (I hadn’t even finished the novella when I contacted her) I was able to work in the opposite direction from the above experience. For example…when I first started the novella, Serafina had short hair. It was easy to change that, though. In addition, since Rachel and I had decided on a model for the cover, I could write that costume into the first scene….

(I did that on the last book with her, too.)

Rachel’s prices were not exorbitant (you can click over to her website to look at her cover designs) and I’ve really liked the work I’ve gotten from her.

 

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Now the cover of Oathbreaker is different, in that I was looking for a different ‘feel’ than any of my previous books.  I have to admit, I may have referred to the CW network at some point during the quest for these covers.

Since I’d been in the habit of surfing photo sites for a while by then, I went to the artist–Kate Marshall–with some pictures already in hand. I had seen Kate’s designs for Rhiannon Held’s work, and thought that would fit this series of novels well, so I actually booked Kate to produce the covers for -all three- novels in this series.

That makes it a lot easier, by the way, if you’re trying for cohesiveness in your covers. 

I gave Kate my pictures and my answers to her questions, and she got back to me with several proposed designs. She gave me a set of covers without people (mood covers, basically), a set with the setting that I suggested behind the characters, and a set with a different backdrop.

As it turned out, the setting that I suggested…did not work. It was way too busy and distracted from the character on the cover and from the title and wording as well.

What did work was the setting backdrop that she picked out. It captured the mood of the stories…and it turned out that it was no problem to tweak the writing to fit it in!.  So I went with what she picked and am far happier with her results. She made changes to the clothing and characters to make them work better with the story.

So the next handful of covers that you’ll see for novels will be from Kate. (She’s penciled me in to do the Dreaming Death sequels, too.)

 

Some final points about engaging a cover designer:

  1. Have some idea what you want before you go to them. It never hurts to look through websites of cover designers to know what kinds of covers will match your books. Provide links for your designer to look at.
  2. Be open-minded about what the designer suggests. Even though I thought I knew what I wanted on the Oathbreaker cover, it turned out that my pick looked awful, and what my designer suggested looked far far better.
  3. Remember that you can change small details in your story. That’s always worked well for me to make the cover match better.
  4.  If the cover isn’t coming out the way you want it to, try to figure out where you’re not communicating properly. When working on the Iron Shoes cover, I told Holly that the character had white hair. What I failed to communicate was that I meant WHITE…like magically white. Holly and I went back and forth several times on hair color until I finally realized I could send them a picture of what I wanted…and they got it right away. So make sure you’re communicating with your cover artist.
  5. Don’t be a jerk. Your cover artist has other commitments. Book your covers with plenty of time in advance to tweak them. It’s like the saying, You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.

 

NEXT WEEK: PRE-MADE Covers and the writers who love them…

 

Oathbreaker Paperback Now Available

Oathbreaker has now come out in paperback, and should be available via other stores (like B&N shortly.) I will be having a Goodreads giveaway as well, starting on the 24th and running through the end of the month (there will be more details in my newsletter on the 30th.)

 

Adventures in Indie #2: Choosing Covers

Now that I’m talking about my indie publishing experience (so far), I have to decide how to divide this up into digestible bits.  And the first area that I’ll talk about is my covers.

One of the frightening things about a traditionally published book is having little or no control over the cover. If you’re not a big name, then you’re going to have to hope that your editor is actually reading your books and has a good eye.  My covers at ACE/ROC were AMAZING!

No thanks to me. It was all my editor at the time: D or J. Both of them did a great job of communicating cover ideas to the art department and got beautiful work done.

But when it came time for me to start publishing my related novellas, I had to wade into the world of cover art with no one to hold my hand. Back in 2011, cover art was pretty simple. Now it’s a multi-million dollar industry with a gazillion practitioners and jarringly different styles available everywhere.

So what did I do?

For my first cover (The Seer’s Choice), I had some simple needs:

  1. I wanted the cover to look similar to (but not copy) my Golden City covers.
  2. I wanted the model on the front to look somewhat like what I pictured for my character.
  3. I wanted the cover clothing to be moderately period-appropriate.

Those aren’t huge demands. But when I went to engage a cover artist, I made sure that she knew those three things up front.

I chose my cover artist (Rachel A. Marks) for The Seer’s Choice because I’d seen her work on another writers’ books where she did #1.  So I knew that 1/3 of my wishes were taken care of.

But for #2 and #3, I had some work yet to do.  She got back with me with a list of questions that would give her information about the series, plus a couple of sites that she preferred for stock imagery so I could look at pictures to give her a visual idea what I wanted.

Luckily for me, I found a model that I liked pretty quickly. Her clothing didn’t match anything in my story, but that was an easy fix–I just wrote it into the final scene. She needed a hair change, and the setting had to be picked out, but once Rachel and I made those decisions, I stepped back and let her do her magic.

This is probably a good thing to remind others looking for cover artists about: the artist has to work within certain limitations. For example, the setting, the model, and her hair came from three different photographs. That means that my artist had to pay for use of 3 pictures.

Could I have made a dozen more changes, found more exact details? Yes. But every little thing costs money. Keep that in mind.

Rachel got back to me with some mockups just to check composition and text.

 

I made a few suggestions for changes.

She got back to me with the next version.

We agreed on some final changes.

And a few days later, I had my various covers. (I had covers for the ebook and for the print version*.)

(Rachel also did some drawing on the cover to pull everything together, plus some lovely effects to make the final cover more…magical.)

I also used this same artist (and process) for After the War, my other novella set in the Golden City world, so you know I’m super happy with her work.

So here are some simple guidelines that I’ll suggest for using a cover artist.

  1. Ask around and see who your friends have used, or alternately, look at other books and pick an artist you like. Usually the artist is listed on the same front page that the copyright and author are listed on.
  2. Be prepared for it to take a while. If an artist is good, they’ll probably have a waiting list. Also, it simply takes time to go through all those steps, communicating back and forth. (And they have lives outside doing your cover. Seriously.)
  3. Pay your cover artist for their work. You expect to be paid for your writing, so they should be paid for their design work. If you can’t afford your cover artist, then you probably should find another way to get a cover.
  4. Remember that it’s NEVER going to be exactly what you have in your mind. The artist has to work with photos that are available.
  5. Don’t forget to credit your cover artist in your work.

Next time, I’ll talk about some other cover art I’ve had done: getting a very specific cover is harder than it looks!

*Print covers have to be pdfs and meet very specific width rules, so adding the print cover often costs quite a bit more.

 

Adventures in Indie, #1

Now I know there’s a lot of angst out there about Indie Publishing. Some people despise it, some people say it’s the only way to go, and a goodly portion of those two groups would cheerfully strangle members of the opposing group.

I’ve published with small publishers, magazines, and large traditional publishers, but I’ve got indie published works as well. I’m one of the growing number of writers who believe that both courses have validity.

So for the next few months, I’m going to talk about my indie experiences.  From time to time I’m going to talk here about people who’ve helped me along the way. Because they’re pretty darn awesome people.

First, a little history:

Back in 2012, I self-published my backlist of short fiction. My main desire was to make my old work available for people who didn’t like to read on a computer. Because I wasn’t really looking for huge profits, I formatted the ebooks and made the covers by myself.

Back in 2012, that was okay…so long as you weren’t using crayon to do the covers and you did a decent job self-editing. I’m not a terrible editor, and I could patch together a cover based on covers that I’d already found online.

But by mid-2015, the ebook market had changed. What had looked acceptable in 2012…looked dated and unprofessional in 2015. (Yes, that’s how fast this market is changing.) 

After a lot of consideration, I began to take down my old ebooks and redo the parts that were important. My goals had changed. I suspected by then that I was going to lose the support of my publisher, and started thinking about getting my indie career going. My writers groups all have members going indie on the side, so I had a lot of examples before me of other people doing this, and doing it well.

In 2015, I checked with my publisher and, once I had their approval (there was a contract concern), I got ready to publish my first new book on my own. 

The Seer’s Choice came out in October 2015.

For this book, I hired an amazing cover artist (Rachel A. Marks).  I chose Rachel because I’d seen her work before (specifically the work she’d done for Alethea Kontis–scroll down to the covers for The Trix Adventures) and I knew her via one of my writers’ groups.

I wanted a cover that carried forward the theme of my Golden City covers. I wanted one that would match the new story. And I was delighted with the cover. She did a far better job than I could ever had done!

I also hired a publisher–e-Quality Press–to help me get the formatting right. While the interiors of the old books were passable (yes, I know how to put in a hyperlink), they lacked the little bows and flourishes that make an ebook look professional.

Again, EQP was recommended by one of my writers groups, and I’d previously met Rick Fisher. It’s been great working with him, because he makes my work look far better than I ever could.

(I have actually used an auto-formatting service for one ebook, but that was a special situation, and I would not choose this as my go-to-method. I’ll talk about that process later.)

So for my first foray into the world of Indie Publishing, I feel like it went pretty smoothly.While this hasn’t been a break-out best seller, The Seer’s Choice earned out (that means my profits exceeded what I spent on the book) in early 2016 and continues to sell now. That makes it a good investment.

I’ll break this process down further as the next few months go along, and talk about the print version of the book as well–that’s a totally different can of worms!