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Publication Process

International Talk Like a Pirate Day (Arrrrr!)

Yes, today is the annual celebration of piracy, although not the literary kind (which still sucks.)

In order to help people get in the mood, I have a new ebook out, A Hand for Each!

Available via: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Others

This short story was originally published in Shimmer Magazine‘s Pirate Issue (November 2007), and is a historical fantasy about…well, what it takes to be a pirate.

So I’m going to tell you semi-amusing tales about getting this story published:

  1. I first heard of this issue being planned at the Shimmer Magazine Party at World Fantasy Con a year earlier, and immediately decided I wanted to take a stab at a pirate story.
  2. Knowing nothing about sailing, I had to research for a couple of months before I began writing, but I got the story in before the deadline.
  3. The deadline was then extended, because they didn’t feel they had enough appropriate stories.
  4. The next MAY, I was contacted by the special editor (John Joseph Adams) about making some changes. They turned out to be comparatively small changes, BUT…
    1. I was in the middle of the OWFI conference that weekend (and I was the organization’s treasurer)
    2. I was also hosting a writers group meeting in my hotel room
    3. and because JJA kept saying ‘make it more like POE’, I was frantically searching online for Poe stories to read to try to get the feel the editor wanted. (That was a little difficult, because I had worked hard to mimic the ‘voice’ of Richard Henry Dana for the story…but what the editor wants, the editor gets.)
    4. I had no idea at the time whether he actually wanted to purchase the story or whether I was spending time that would end up being thrown away.
  5. But I persisted, and he ended up buying the story (and putting it in the pole position in the issue!)

The hardest part of this whole sales process was that I knew because there were two other pirate anthologies open for submission, there would be a gazillion pirate stories floating around out there, all of which my story would have to challenge if JJA didn’t purchase it!

Anyhow, that worked out, to my great relief!

And now the story is back, haunting you from its watery grave! So go buy a copy…it’s only 99 cents!

 

Care and Feeding of Authors: Freebies

As authors, we’re constantly scrambling to find what works (promotion-wise), and one of the unfortunate truths is that the thing that worked 5 months ago might be dead by the time that we find out about it. It’s very hard to know.

One of the things in our arsenal is the ability to give away books. Over the last year, I’ve tried a lot of giveaways, searching for the right balance of free and paid…since I’m also here to make money (someday.)  Some giveaways had very specific requests attached to them, some did not. Some were successful, and some were massive failures.

So here are some of the things I’ve tried. (Remember, your mileage may vary.) 

 

Freebies for reviews:

About a year ago, I signed up for a service called Instafreebie via which readers could pick up my books and…well, do something. One of the options is a Review Request, so I tried that out first.

People downloaded over 700 copies of my book Iron Shoes for free.  A year later, I’ve only had one review pop up on Amazon. I did have 11 ratings (not reviews) show up on Goodreads. In that same time, I sold almost 100 copies of the book.  So out of 800 or so books that went out, I got a total of 12 ratings/reviews over the year. Hmmm.

Now, from an author’s standpoint, that offer of ‘free for a review’ didn’t pan out.

 

Freebies for signups:

Now this one, for me actually worked well…sort of. It’s not unusual for writers to give away a book if you join their mailing group. And following switching over to an email signup (rather than a review request), my mailing list grew substantially. In other words, giving away books for a review massively flopped, BUT giving away a book to get a new newsletter person seems to be a pretty good match….except…

There is some question as to the involvement of those new catches with the newsletter AFTER they have their free book.

Back when I had an ‘organic’ mailing list (that means only people who went to my website to sign up), I had about 30-40% of respondents open and click on a link with every newsletter. Now, a year later, it’s about 2-3%.  For example, last September, my newsletter had 22/93 people click on something (perhaps to purchase). This year? 36 out of 1515 recipients clicked.

Essentially, I’d picked up 1400 new subscribers by giving them a free book, BUT only 1 percent of those new people (14/1400) actually opened and clicked on my newsletter.

Well that ‘s rather disheartening. 🙁

 

Freebies as enticement for new readers: 

Authors want to attract new readers by giving away bits of their work as samples. Or we give things away as gifts to readers who’ve historically supported us. Or we give books away hoping for reviews (particularly when a book is new.) But we have to be judicious about this.

Most recently when I set two ebooks to free for two months–hoping to gain new readers–my overall sales dropped by half, so the quick lesson for me was that free books translated to less income.

I have been told by other authors that the free/low price book enticement works best when it’s the first book in a series. So from this point forward, I’ll probably offer lower prices only to spur a series sale…once I get this series finished!

 

Freebies to superfans:

Now this has been the most consistent thing of value to me. I have people I consider my superfans (although they probably would -never- call themselves that because it sounds silly). These are the people I interact with regularly, the patrons on my Patreon, the reviewers I know from my past work. These are the people I can count on to support me by doing amazing things like reviewing, purchasing, and talking about my books.

This, I think, is definitely the most worthwhile, so I’m going to keep giving free books to these people.

 

And that’s my summary of my freebie efforts for the last year. Not as profitable as I would like, but…that’s cool. It’s all a learning curve at this point!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Care and Feeding of Authors: Diminishing Returns

A few years back, I was at the Romantic Times convention in DFW, and a writer friend (I’ll call her CK) was complaining to us about her sales. “I used to earn $30,000 the first month a book came out,” she told us, “but now it’s $7000 at most.”

After my other friend and I managed to close our gaping mouths, we got more into the nuts and bolts of this situation.

You see, indie authors have one big problem…fluctuating income that’s totally at the mercy of an outside vendor.

Now, this is not a post about the evils of Amazon. After all, most of us make the bulk of our indie money via Amazon, and it’s one of the vendors that you can actually be certain will still exist this time next year. However, because they have the control over our fates, we end up losing our shirts periodically.

 

My friend who is suddenly making $23,000 less on her book debuts? Well, she’s being killed by Amazon KU. KU, while it makes some people lots of money, it makes others lose money. This is a basic feature of any innovation.

And while $7K is NOT small potatoes for one month (it’s more than I made off my novels with Penguin), for someone who was making $30K, it’s a pretty stark difference. It’s painful to see what was a lucrative business slashed down to a percentage of its former glory.

But this is the problem that all indie authors have to deal with.  The algorithms change.

Yes, for some reason, the rules from various publishers (not just Amazon) keep changing. It’s written into the contract that you have with the vendor, for the  most part.

Here’s an example, from way back in 2012: I went on vacation and, for no reason that I knew, downloads of Iron Shoes via Amazon suddenly exploded. I looked at my numbers, and saw that Amazon had set it to FREE. Without warning me.

It’s in the contract that they can do things like that.

Over the next two days, about 15,000 copies of my novella were downloaded, and then a bunch more after it went back to .99 cents. I MADE MONEY! More than I ever had before….but…

It’s important to keep in mind that Amazon made twice as much as I did then due to the royalty structure.  Hmm.

And I had no control over that incident. I was away from home and really couldn’t promote it, either. I just had to sit and watch it happen. 

In the same way, authors have little control over who sees their book on Amazon. We don’t control the “Also Bought”s, we don’t control the “Sponsored Products” (we can buy ads, but I don’t have the resources to track things), we don’t control the order things come up on searches.  These things all control whether people see our books…but there’s little (other than pay for ads) that we can do about it.

The pay part is important, because I’ve paid for ads in the past on Amazon, and spent more on those than I had in resultant sales.

I will pay for an ad when Overseer is about to come out, too. And probably lose money. 🙁

(This is, by the way, true across most advertising platforms for me. I honestly don’t think that any ebook ad I’ve tried has really been profitable.)

My point is that with…

a) traditional publishers becoming more conservative, and

b) ebook publishers regularly changing the rules,

…it’s very hard for authors to make real money. I’ve seen the statistic that only 40 indie authors are ‘profitable’, but that’s for a very high standard of ‘profitable’.  On the other hand, the AVERAGE statistic is that authors who indie-publish a book, only ever make $200-300 off it. So the vast majority of us just aren’t making money, a rather depressing note when most of us have put months’ or years’ worth or work into those books.

The average reader can help with that, but it’s by doing the same things we always ask: Pay for the book, recommend it to friends, and leave a nice review.

And thanks if you do! (I will now go post a review myself.)

 

 

 

Care and Feeding of Authors: The Waterbed is Leaking…

Okay, not a literal waterbed, but the cushion that suppors authors is bleeding out.

I’m actually taking about piracy. In the book world, piracy doesn’t look like Captain Jack Sparrow, it looks more like this:

(photo via Pixabay) 

With the advent of digital books came a huge upswing in book piracy…because it’s now much easier to get hold of the books in the first place.

It’s a fairly prevalent problem, though. I’ve stood there while someone offered my husband a file with 900 books in it...they’re free! I’ve talked with young people who think all digital tech should be free. There are reddits that specialize in piracy links. I’ve seen my own books pop up on one pirate website after another. In fact, it happens SO often that I no longer bother with reporting it.

(Read an article that talks about this at The Creative Penn: “Why Authors Shouldn’t Worry About Piracy”)

The article above basically says that people who steal books wouldn’t have bought your book anyway. I actually think this is mostly true.

People who pirate books don’t usually think of this as theft. They think they’re just working around the system, like someone who gets an on-line coupon before buying something.

I used to be in retail, and one problem we had was the occasional smash and grab. Someone would bash through a store window, grab all the clothing they could (in our store it was usually Tommy Hilfiger), and then run. Later, that stuff would show up at a nearby flea market…which was essentially fencing stolen goods.

Most people can recognize that I’m talking about stolen goods, there.

Most people realize that if someone is making knock off copies of those Tommy Hilfiger shirts and selling those, it’s illegal. (We call that the black market goods, fakes, forgeries.)

We see both of those in the book world. Not just books handed out free, but also copies–some of which are really suspect–being sold. Yesterday I ran across a site that is SELLING a bundle of 11 of my books for under $10.

Most people who buy like that know that they’re getting a rip off. They know it’s a cheat, and they don’t really care, just like that fake Louis Vuitton bag or that ‘Romex’ watch.

Again, they may never have willingly purchased that book through normal channels.

So writers are just supposed to be happy that people are reading their stuff, right?

It’s amazing, though, how much money the author sees slipping away. Especially for big name authors…I’ve seen calculations of how many thousands of dollars Author X has lost in royalties because Book Y was pirated.

(This is especially bad when an author has a book pirated -before- it comes out. People who’ve been waiting anxiously will pick up the pirated copy instead of waiting two more weeks. There’s a really weird idea floating around out there that the readers make the author and therefore, the author ‘owes’ that book to the readers. Uh…no.)

But that’s not the biggest problem that we have with piracy.

My biggest problem with piracy is that it’s disheartening. It’s growing, and authors wonder if there’s a day coming where no one will pay for anything they write.

Every time we see a pirate site, we’re told to go report it to our publishers. We do that, a take down is sent, and the site drops our books. And then, a week later, another site pops up, which is likely just the same people using a different name.

People playing whack-a-mole game at carnival–Deposit Photos

 

Basically, it’s like that. We can spend all our time whacking moles as they pop up, likely get infected my malware along the way, and endure an annoying amount of stress…and THAT KEEPS US FROM WRITING.

But if we don’t do so, then we’re not protecting ourselves, right? And we therefore have no right to complain about piracy, right?

(This is victim-blaming, if you don’t recognize it.)

The real problem for the writer–the thing that may make them want to quit writing–is constantly seeing this over and over and over until it wears them down. Until they begin to believe that No one is willing to PAY for my writing. 

So they quit.

It happens. Writers are sometimes fragile creatures, barely managing to get stuff out there as it is. And knowing that for your year’s (or longer) worth of work, you’re losing a good portion of your likely income because people who claim they love your work won’t pay for it…that stings.

(See earlier post about how little authors are paid in the first place.)

So if you can, support your author. If you can’t afford the book, ask your public library to carry it, and they’ll support your author. If you want to get that book a week before the publication date…wait.

Be polite, not a pirate.

Addendum: Most writers give away tons of their stuff free already. We send it to people for reviews, for promotions, newsletters, etc.  I am mailing out 5 copies of The Golden City today (prizes on Goodreads). We do that in the hope that those readers will spread goodwill.  Generally, since we control that, we don’t mind it.

Care and Feeding of Authors: Why Do They DO This?

Yesterday one of my author friends was lamenting the fact that another friend had decided to quit publishing.

We’re hearing that more and more these days…authors giving up because the current publishing paradigm makes it difficult to make a living.  Now note that above, the author in question didn’t say she’d give up writing. She just wanted to get out of publishing.

Publishing can be a brutal business, and it’s generally not a lucrative one.

Let’s be clear. There are a lot of authors out there making good money. The vast majority, however, are not.

I can’t give you exact stats on that, but…I can give you my numbers.  These are the numbers for an author who had 4 books published by an imprint of one of the world’s largest publishing houses (in USD).

 

2011:  226

2012:  5,445

2013:  6,240

2014:  6,233

2015:  8,503

2016:  4,888

 

Those numbers represent ALL my writing income, from the monies coming in from my publisher, to short story sales, my indie published books, books that I’ve hand-sold at conventions…and in the last two years, money coming in from donors to my Patreon.

What don’t those numbers reflect? Expenses. 

Monies coming in to my publisher would then have a percentage going out to pay my agent. (I have no issue with that…she earned it.) Those books that I hand-sold? I had to purchase them first. Going to the convention? I had to pay for travel and a hotel room and often a convention membership. Indie-pubbed books? Well, I have to purchase covers and pay my copy-editor (again, they earn it), so in actuality, only ONE of my indie published books has made a profit so far. All the others are still a loss.

And then there are promotional expenses: the expenses for my website, for any bookmarks or swag I put out (I love to give away pens). The expenses for mailing out books to first readers and GR winners (in the hundreds of dollars most years.)  Promotion? Most of that costs money of some sort. I pay for BookFunnel and Instafreebie and every little ad I’ve tried…most of which lost money.

En balance, even with a big publishing house behind me, for thousands of hours of work most years I’ve operated at a loss.

The question comes back to, why do we do this?

There are two different issues here: Why do we write? and Why do we publish?

 

Why do we write?

Most writers I know have written their entire life. It’s their passion. Some people sew, some people tailgate at football games, some people form bands….we write.

I still have this: A novel I started in 6th grade.  

I wrote stuff before that. My second-grade teacher wanted to send one of my stories to Highlights magazine (a story for another day). But this is the earliest writing I still have in my possession.

The point being that I’ve always written. If I were to quit publishing, I would still write. For myself. It’s what I do. It’s what most of us do, like breathing. 

So the follow-up question is:

Why do we publish? 

Well, I have to say that for most of us, it’s external validation. We know we write well, now we want others to believe that.

I know very few people who said, “Hey, I’ll get my stuff published because that’s a way to make lots of money!”

Now, there are people who make lots of money. I am not going to deny that.  LOTS of money. Generally, though, if a writer thinks they’ll make lots of money in publishing, they were duped by someone with something to sell. They didn’t do their homework and learn that the vast majority of authors lose money on this gamble.

But why go into this game if you’re not assured you’ll make money?

The primary answer is surely the external validation of having other people enjoy your work.  (There are other reasons, BTW. It could be a control issue, or a desire to gamble years’ work for that possible big payout, or just stubbornness. Motivation often has many factors, some of which we can’t even identify ourselves.)

 

So given that, why would someone just stop?  

I can think of a few reasons:

  1. Personal issues (health, family, dog vet bills) force the writer to invest their time/money elsewhere.
  2. Financial analysis makes the writer decide that the time invested in publishing is simply not paying off.
  3. Writer decides that they’re worn out by engaging with the public. (This can be utterly horrific in some cases.)

There are, without doubt, other reasons to step away.  An author might have a specific goal and find themselves frustrated when not meeting that goal. They may have a falling out with someone specific that sours the whole field for them. They may run into issues of an artificial ceiling that keeps them from success…but the three above catch most of it.

 

What can a reader do?  

Be supportive. Say good things about the writer and to the writer. Leave reviews or ratings. Buy their books if you can, ask your library to carry them if you can’t. Recommend the book to friends. Don’t pick up pirated books (please!)

Readers are not required to do any of this. It’s not their responsibility. They don’t OWE the author that. It’s a gift given to the author. It’s a kindness.

But if you want an author to keep publishing, they need those nudges.  My friend’s friend who’s dropping out? She just didn’t get enough of…something. Not enough author food to keep her going. And that’s kinda sad. 🙁

 

I’ll be breaking down what authors do over the next several weeks, talking about some of the obstacles to publication we’re facing, and some of the traps that might knock us out of the game. So stay tuned, and hopefully I’ll say something that will be helpful….to someone!

And this is, of course, just one author’s view. There are a lot of voices out there talking about these issues. I can’t speak for them all. I can’t speak for the ones who don’t talk about it. All you get from me is my take on the situation…but thanks for reading anyway!

 

 

 

Still thinking about book covers…plus update on writery.

I’m still working on learning how to do covers, and as part of that, I’m creating a series of covers in an attempt to improve my graphic abilities. (Since I’m not willing to pay for a subscription to Photoshop until I’m actually considering doing this for money, I’m cobbling together different programs to get effects I want: Paint, Paint.net, PagePro/LogoPro, and Canva)

Here’s my first one. Still needs a touch of work–I need to fix the type running across her face, add a series title, etc, but this is almost acceptable:


So considering that one in the bag (almost), I started on subject 2, and have a couple of options for this. Olympia Penn and the Haunted Lake perhaps?

Or Olympia Penn and the Blue Door? 

Either way, it has a long way to go!

 

As noted above, a bit of a catch-up on OVERSEER. I had planned (hoped) that this book would be out by August 29, but family issues and made it necessary to put that off a bit. I now am looking at a September 28 release for the last of The Horn trilogy,

The rough draft is more or less done, but I need to do another edit pass, and then get it to my copyeditor/format guy. Since I am running late, I’m hoping this will work with his schedule as well. (Also, my cover artist is really busy, so I’m concerned that getting it all together on time might be a stretch, but I am working as fast as I can.)

To that end, I purchased* an odd little writing tool. I’d seen on a blog that a writer was using a child’s typing tool to speed up his writing…an Alphasmart Neo2. These are designed to students to practice typing, and therefore have eight file spaces where typing practice can be stored and later uploaded to a computer.

When you’re done typing, you simply open a Word file (or any typing file) on your computer, attach the Alpha via USB cable, and hit send. The stored keystrokes begin to fill up the word-processing file, which is rather cool to watch.  (FYI: No special software is required on your computer to use this. Essentially, this is just a keyboard with memory and a few hardwired Applets.)

What’s most useful about this item, though, is that:

a) there’s NO internet access, so there’s no distraction, and

b) it’s not easy to edit (you can edit, it’s just not easy), so you tend to concentrate on forward progress, and

c) it’s smaller and lighter than my laptop, which makes it easier to cart around.

Since it’s powered solely by AA batteries, there’s no worrying about a charge, either. Because they were made to be used by students, they’re nearly indestructible. Plus I can be working on as many as eight different files, which is good for me since I always have multiple stories going.

On my first time using it outside the house, I got about 2.5K new words in 2 hours. I was most impressed, since in that time I usually get 1K with my laptop.

So I’m hoping that my new toy will be useful for me.  (And since I purchased it, I’ve been surprised to hear how many other writers use one of these things…because I’d really never heard of one before a couple of weeks ago.)

_______________________

*I bought this used on Amazon, but I see that there are a bunch on ebay as well.

More Obsessing about Fantasy Book Covers

I’m still going back through and rereading posts on Nicola’s blog Thoughts on Fantasy, and working through what works for me for my future covers. (There are some wonderful posts there.)

I find that I share a lot of tastes with her, so going back and looking, I see this post: 5 Features that Make Me Fall in Love with a Book Cover.

Now, without putting in all the pictures she did, here’s the list.

  1. Glowing Magic or Fire
  2. Texture
  3. Patterns or Patterned Borders
  4. Silhouettes
  5. Rich Contrasting Colors

Nothing on that list is particularly unusual, but it’s how they’re applied that makes them interesting.  I will likely drop one of them…I’m not big on the silhouette thing. And for the Dreaming Death series, fire probably wouldn’t apply since it’s winter in the stories. The glowing part came in in the first book, as do the texture, the border, and the rich colors:

However…however….

I frankly don’t know how well this cover actually served this novel. Don’t get me wrong, this is a gorgeous cover and I really love it, however…I know the book struggled to sell. (The cover was done in glossy, and I think it would look far better in matte.) But I also think people might think this is a YA book.

This is where it gets awkward.

I’m writing a series that is not YA, but one of the POV characters is 17.  It’s not YA.  It might be better to call it NA (New Adult), because POV2 is 23. (POV3 is 44, which is far too ancient for a YA reader to read about, right?)

So, in contemplating what I want for the next 3 books, I’m working on a list.

  1. Striking Titles that would work with Dreaming Death
  2. A bolder, less busy cover.

There are three titles to come.

  1. The first book is mostly about how Shironne and Mikael are exploring the binding between them. I’ve been toying with either Bound in Dreams or In Dreaming Bound (hat tip to Michelle Muenzler).
  2. Book 2 is about Mikael going back and, with Shironne’s help, solving the ten years past murder of his father. So potential titles need to cover that it’s a combination of memory and dreaming, so either In Dreams Remembered or Recalled in Dreams. Neither is particularly awesome.
  3. Book 3 is about Mikael and Shironne being dragged back to Lee Province, and getting separated, so I was considering In Dreaming Found or Hunted in Dreams. Again, I’m not wild about these.

 

FWIW, the “____________ in Dreams” trio sounds a bit like Urban Fantasy titles to me, which might give the reader a wrong impression. In Dreaming Found sounds weird to me as well. Meh.

I’m about at the point of crowdsourcing these titles, in hopes that someone can come up with something better.

And what about the covers? What do I want the covers to show?

Here’s the list I’ve come up with:

  1. Snow
  2. An isolated image–just one. Not the buildings AND the hands.
  3. Easier to read script…something that looks ‘exotic’, but larger and bolder.
  4. Lighter colors
  5. Maybe a fancy design or border, but I want most of the noise to come from snow

Will my artist be able to do all these things AND make me happy? Well, that remains to be seen.

 

So if you have better titles than:

1. In Dreaming Bound / In Dreams Remembered / In Dreaming Found

or

2. Bound in Dreams / Recalled in Dreams / Hunted in Dreams

Let me know.  ;o)

 

 

Fantasy Cover Art: Again with the Cliches…

A rather amusing post on this subject was recommended to me this week, (seeing that I’m thinking hard about covers). The blogger, in this case the clever Nicola Alter, sat down and put together all the well-known cliches that should appear in the Next Great Fantasy Book Cover….and I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry on seeing the final product:

Click on the photo or below to read the article and see her process.

How to Make a Clichéd High Fantasy Cover

 

 

I am still pursuing my quest to learn how to make covers and graphics, and so I’ve started up a sample cover.  Not the above, but…it does have some similarities:

Part 1: The image

(Image via Deposit Photos)

My next step was to edit the photo some, toning down her collarbones, getting rid of her hair clip, and cleaning up her dress. I used Paint.net (with a little help from Paint) to do all that. I toyed with some options (like subbing in a closed-front version of the dress from another photo), but ended up creating a fichu to make her less…exposed.)

Ta-Da!  Now on to the next big step!

 

Part 2: The Words

In order to make an actual book cover, I had to have a title, an author, and some sort of fantasy element.

  1. Emily Wilde and the Greenleaf School of Magic
  2. Cordelia Ellsmere
  3. letters flying around the book.

I gave myself 1 hour to do this, on the same photo editing software…that I’ve never used for text before. This was a BIG MISTAKE.

I ended up with this monstrosity:

Unfortunately, this software turns out to be one where you can’t go back and alter the text once you’ve put it down. That means that I could either delete it all, or stick it out.  In this case, I decided to stick it out, but…it’s pretty bad.

So today’s hour will be spent redoing this whole thing in a layout software rather than an image editing software.

(Image Editor is good for the change between version 1 and 2, but lousy for what I needed for version 3.)

 

Live and learn.

 

Will Emily ever get the book cover she deserves?

Stay tuned next week to see what Layout Software can do for poor Emily!

SpecFic Book Covers: Mostly Words. Is this the New Thing?

I’ve been looking at book covers a LOT lately, and I have thoughts. So many thoughts.

And one of them is this: A lot of book covers are mostly title now.

Not all. A percentage, of course. But in this post, I’ll include a bunch that I found solely in looking at my ‘Also Boughts’ on Amazon.  I didn’t really go hunting for these…they were just there.

Now the most extreme example I ran across was this: 

(All of these covers today came VIA Amazon.)

The above book (YA SF) takes this to an extreme, but it does seem to be out there a lot.  Let me stick in another image:

Ah, there we are.  Now all of these (as noted above) came out of my also boughts, so these are covers that people who’ve purchased books somewhat similar to mine have bought. While most of them have some sort of fantastic elements (crowns, skulls, swords), these covers are really about the titles.

(FWIW, I didn’t check these to be sure, but I think most of them are from major publishers. Also, some are YA, some not.)

So I toyed very briefly with coming up with a cover that’s words: 

 

Meh. For a fast job, I shouldn’t expect much. (That took me about fifteen minutes to assemble online, using elements I’d previous uploaded. If I were serious about it, I would agonize over the elements and fonts for days.)

But it does make me wonder whether this is a tack I should pursue. It’s a decent enough idea, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a lot of book covers head this direction (instead of the main character cover).

We shall see, I suppose…

 

 

Fantasy Book Cover Design: What’s Going On???

Last week I started talking about how fantasy book covers seem to be changing. Not all of them, but a certain percentage have been, and that’s most notably the biggest sellers.

Have you seen the new Harry Potter Covers?

This image comes from Pottermore: Click on it to read about Olly Moss’ new covers!

Yes, they’re clearly still fantasy, but…not the wild and colorful covers of our youth.  (Okay, early middle age, not youth.) Each still has a clear fantasy element, but they’re not what we’re used to. They’re different.

How about this: the UK covers of GOT

 

This photo is via Fantasy Faction, who have a great article about the evolution of the GOT covers from 2014. Click on the picture to read it!

The point being, these are not your old 1980s fantasy novel covers, done by an illustrator with the main character in some action pose on the front. I suspect these covers cost a lot less money to produce, and took far less time. (I think the article quotes 4 months for the whole set.)

But these writers are big enough names that readers don’t need to be ‘told’ it’s fantasy.

So I’m putting this down as…

POSSIBLE REASON NUMBER 1:

Big Name Authors don’t need the traditional covers

Not only do their readers know their names already, but the non-traditional cover also gives the books a chance to attract a reader who might be leery about being caught with a book with a Frank Frazetta* cover on it. (Yes, that reader is out there.)

So could there be any other reason?

Well, another possibility cropped up immediately after last week’s post.  Someone on another forum looked at my splash of covers, and commented that one of them looked like an indie cover.

…AN INDIE COVER.  ::delicate shudder::

Interestingly, it was a cover from one of the Big Five? Big Four? publishers on what I suspect is an excellent book. (I’ve read this author’s work, which never fails to hit it out of the park.)

But the publisher had taken three photo images and worked them together into a cover, and that particular method has been used so much by indie publishers (of which I’m one, I’ll remind you), that there’s a certain look that one associates with indie covers. I knew exactly what that person meant. And…I agreed with them a little bit.

Publishers have been cutting corners lately. It’s an expensive world out there, and they’ve been experimenting with using stock photos just like the little guys. It’s cheaper.

What’s the drawback? Well, it could pass for an indie cover, and that carries the stigma of looking ‘less professional.’ But using stock photos also has a danger:

Again, this one’s via Fantasy Faction “Books Do Not Sell without Covers” from earlier this year. Click on the pick to read the AWESOME article.

Here’s another humorous link, via a romance writer whose publisher used a stock photo…that was used by everyone else, too. 

The truth is, there’s a limited number of stock photos and models out there, and getting the right photo is pretty tough. Sometimes it turns out to be the right photo for everyone else as well.  ARGH!

So publishers are struggling to find was to both A) Make covers less expensive and B) Differentiate them from Indie Covers.

In my eye, that would mean getting away from stock photos if at all possible.

 

POSSIBLE REASON NUMBER 2:

Differentiating the covers from Indie Covers

You want to look different.  

A couple of recent genre covers that I find particularly smashing:

Now, these are absolutely amazing books, but the covers don’t quite have the traditional ‘fantasy/scifi’ look either. (A friend of mine felt that the coloration of the Jemisin cover made it fantasy, while another said it was the font. I am willing to accept either as accurate since I don’t know.)

I’m still working my way through this, and looking at forthcoming covers at a lot of publishers has shown me that this is only a small part of what’s out there. (Angry Robot, for example, has a bunch of awesome covers coming out that don’t fall under this umbrella.) So I’ll keep looking and see whether this is an ongoing trend…or a flash in the pan.

 

Added bit:

Here are a couple more articles that I’m still parsing my way through:

23 Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Covers That are Out of this World

Judging a Book by It’s Cover

*Don’t get me wrong. Frank Frazetta did some amazing covers, but they were a bit…over the top.