Saturday, February 28, 2015

The importance of cover art

I saw an interesting headline the other day that people won't judge books by their covers anymore because of e-books.

What a load of hooey.

I don't know where they buy their e-books, but art couldn't be more important. You've got people scrolling through books faster than ever online, and if a cover doesn't grab their attention, your book is going to get missed.

Tiny thumbnail: Case in point
What I find unfortunate is that cover art has changed a lot to adapt to the new electronic market. I used to love the art on fantasy books, where you'd see the characters from a scene in the story. I've held true to that, but there are a lot of people going with obscure symbols or closeups on faces, because when your cover is a tiny thumbnail image, it's hard to see a full scene.

If someone was scrolling through a page, would they bother to click on my cover art to get a closer look? If they're on a mobile device, the screen is so tiny they would never see it properly.

But the paper backs look gorgeous. The posters are amazing. In this e-book focused culture, I think people sometimes forget about the larger picture. Yes, people are going to want e-books for a long time to come. They're affordable (well, unless you're buying traditionally published e-books), and you don't need to clutter your living space with bookshelves (even though some of us like having bookshelves stacked to the brim with reading material).

I'm thinking beyond the book. Maybe that's dangerous when I'm just starting out, and haven't proven myself yet. But I love the idea of creating beautiful artwork for fans who want more. It could be wishful thinking, but I look at the Empire's Foundation trilogy as the foundation for creating a fan base and writing empire.

I don't think I could accomplish that without iconic scenes displayed for all to see.

In other news, I crossed over 80,000 words in A Hero's Birth this week, and it saw one of the protagonists do something pretty spectacular. I'm having a lot of fun with the story right now! 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Half way there


I can't believe I'm half way through the first draft of A Hero's Birth. It's a far cry from what happened between A Noble's Quest and A Wizard's Gambit, where I stopped writing to see how the first book did. When I started to feel like maybe it was going to go somewhere, I put out Dawn: A dwarven creation story in hopes of catching new readers with a low cost introduction to my world, Illuma.

All of that added a great deal of time between the release of the first book, and the second. It's hard to believe it's been two and a half years since I brought out the first edition of A Noble's Quest. It's undergone some big changes over time. The second editing run and professional cover art made a huge difference. And with this first run of print books I learned more. You might be interested to know that there will be a second paper back edition released when A Wizard's Gambit comes out.

There aren't any major changes to the story, but after talking to Luke at Vocamus Press, I decided to change the typesetting. The ragged edge is fine for e-books, where you never know what the file will look like for the reader because there are different devices, and different font sizes that people prefer. But with the paper back, it really should be "full justification." And I'm going to put spaces around the section breaks within chapters to clean it up a bit.

What does this mean for people who have the 1st edition? Well, probably nothing. But in the highly unlikely situation that my books take off one day, you can cling to your copy of A Noble's Quest and say things like, "I knew him back when..." That's ... not actually all that exciting, is it? Sorry.

Anyway, back to my original train of thought, the time between books will be greatly reduced by the immediate start on the third book. It will still take time, but definitely not two and a half years between books. Even though writing is a side project and hobby for me, I don't want to keep people waiting for years and years between books. I'll always write at whatever pace works for me, but it won't be a terribly long wait.

I've put together the bones of the Indiegogo campaign.
Since few people read this blog (hi, to those who do!), I'll link to the setup and you can take a look if you'd like. If something looks off, let me know and I'll fix it up.

It would be weird to start the fundraising for the third book before the second book is even published, so I think I'll hold off on starting the campaign until I've got A Wizard's Gambit out the door.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The fun of writing

I think a healthy love for debate helps the writing process. You often hear people saying, "Write what you know," but what better way to broaden your horizons than to discuss issues with people who think differently?

For instance, last weekend I got into a mammoth debate on Google+ from a simple post where I said I was going to get an updated measles vaccination, since I only got one as a child. I wasn't looking for a debate. My initial post was:






From there, the crazy hit the fan. Madness ensued. Literal insanity. Anti-vaxxers high on ... vaccines, or something.

I always thought that the belief in mind control was something out of movies, but there were two people who claimed anyone who was pro-vaccine were under government mind control. Needless to say, those of us who understand that vaccines save lives were flabbergasted. One of those respondents went on to blame ... well, pretty much everything on vaccines.

"If the components of immunizations strengthen the citizens of the most powerful western nation on earth, why then are Americans the sickest, most obese and mentally ill people on the planet. High rates of diabetes, stroke, cancer, heart disease, birth defects, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, inability to conceive children naturally, bi-polar illness, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, occurances of teen suicide, stress related illnesses, mental/emotional psychosis, autism, learning disorders, ADHD spectrum disorders, and on and on. To top it all off, the American family unit dysfunction has lead to a 50% rate of divorce in religious and non-relgious unions. Even the gay/lesbian communities are divorcing each other after profound court battles to GET married. Every day Americans go broke, file bankruptcy or die from lack of funds and under-insurance benefits to pay for adequate care in the U.S. astronomically expensive healthcare system. Affordable Health Care is crock of nonsense."

I mean, it's nuts... right? Am I alone in looking at that giant list and thinking, "You honestly blame all of that on vaccines?"

The war of words got heated at points, and I was forced to block a couple people... from beyond rude, to either being really bad trolls, or so delusional they continued their arguments without a shred of proof just to fight with people. I closed off comments after 237 posts, because I couldn't see any way that anything new would be added to the discussion. If anyone wanted to see the two sides clearly on display, it's all there.

And at this point, I'm glad the argument happened. You know why? I have two reasons:

One, the article got shared a few times, so that means others saw the benefit of updating their vaccines (I just got mine updated yesterday - I only have one MMR recorded, and only got one Pertussis shot when I was 5). If that helps save people from disfigurement and death, that's great!

Second, and this one's more selfish, these people are perfect examples of new character personalities I can add to my writing repertoire.

I was having difficulty coming up with a reason anyone would go along on a two month sea voyage to face certain doom. But now I have it... most of these people hate the king and want to get away to try to create a new country away from royal influence. They're not clinically insane with paranoia, but have solid proof to back up their mistrust. Although I have thrown in a conspiracy theorist just to spice things up even more.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Crowd source


A Hero's Birth, book #3 in the Empire's Foundation trilogy is coming along nicely. At 67,000 words, I'm hurtling towards the half-way point. Although I have this sinking feeling it will be beyond the 140,000 words I thought it would be.

Nonetheless, it's time to start getting my financial house in order so this book can come out in a reasonable time frame.

I'll start out by saying this: I'm not destitute. Our financials have been steady, with a slight up-tick lately with my wife on a temporary contract. Tax rebates will be coming in a couple months, but I'd like to put as much of that toward our mountain of debt as possible. When I showed my wife our debt load was nearing the $200,000 mark, she jumped for joy and tossed a bit extra on the line of credit to get it under that level.

But bringing out a book is expensive. Here's a breakdown of costs:

Developmental editing: $1000. +Shen Hart has offered me a really good rate, and she works like the wind.

Copy editing: Nil. My Aunt Mary, bless her exceedingly generous soul, enjoys working with me and loves editing. I really can't thank her enough for her help. As she told me a couple weeks ago, the price is "patience" which is something I can afford, being a young-ish author. 

Cover art: $800. +Harvey Bunda will once again be doing the cover art, and I'm excited to see the final product! If you haven't seen the initial sketch yet, see here:
 
Click to see larger


He has also offered to do another promotional video, which will include the art and storyboard for the book, as well as a time-compressed video of the painting process (which I'm always excited to see, and I know others have enjoyed it as well because people at GenreCon stood transfixed by it!). 

So I'm going for $1800.

What I think I'll do is set up the main goal at $1000 to cover editing, and set up the cover art as a "stretch goal." Indiegogo takes a smaller percentage if you meet your goal, so lowering the goal instead of going for the whole amount is prudent. Although if I go with GoFundMe, I'd need to make the goal $1800. But I don't think they have a nice perk system set up like Indiegogo. I'm still wrestling with which platform I should use.

Because the project will go forward (eventually) if I don't reach the total funds, I'll be going with Indiegogo or GoFundMe. It looks like there are more fees associated with Indiegogo (4% if successful, 9% if not, +3-5% on credit card and PayPal donations) whereas GoFundMe is a flat 5% with 3% processing fee. So Indiegogo is between 7 and 14%, but GoFundMe is 8%. I'll have to dig a little deeper and see if there are any other risks/benefits. I won't use Kickstarter because it requires you to meet your goal. Honestly, I doubt I'll hit $1800. That's a lot of money, and while I've been tickled with positive reviews and feedback, there's just no way. But I'll be grateful for whatever people can manage.

We have set up a "no junk food" fund at our house, where if we don't buy junk, we get $10 in the pot per week (what we would have spent on treats). I plan to put all my money into this project. Whatever I don't raise through crowd sourcing ... well, I'll have to find another way. Additionally, my Aunt Adelle already put some funds toward the fundraiser because she's eager to support my writing, and I can't thank her enough! Over the summer she bought 11 copies of A Noble's Quest to hand out as gifts to people, and she has the poster for the book in a beautiful frame. I couldn't be happier to receive so much positive support from my family!

My hope is that I've built up enough of a readership now that I can use this as an opportunity to let people pre-order the book. Hopefully just pre-orders will cover a good chunk of the costs. Also, there may be people who don't like starting a series before it's finished, and those people can pick up the entire series through the fundraiser, too.

Additionally, there's a huge list of physical perks. I won't make as much money on those, setting them to the cost of the item + shipping + $5 donation. If I get enough orders, the price per unit drops, and I'll get more direct donation. If I can get them on a sale, even better.

The types of items I'm planning on using are: physical books, posters (12"x18"), notebooks, pens, mugs, etc. There will also be one-of-a-kind canvas prints for each book cover without the text, which I'll sign.

And if I meet my goal, I will add $100 increments to the stretch goal, with each $100 over $1000 bringing out a new character card. Harvey has offered to do quick sketches for $10 each, and I will print those off with character descriptions on the backs. Anyone who has ordered a perk with physical mailing will get all the cards that are unlocked.

My plan is for the characters to be unlocked in this order: Eliza, Sarentha, Thomas, Ben, Ramar Wettias, Thurzin, Dowreth, Sharrow (brings it up to $1800 final goal). If I get more, there are a lot more characters I'd like to do (in no particular order): Pellin, Marcus, Arus, Jordak, Gleriph, Gayle, Thrak, Thigglin, Ellie'nethise, Shump, Gum, Erwin, Denton, Lyle, Richard, Feng, Hallo'mien, Glezxnodin, Adam ... too many to choose from. I'd have to do a poll after the initial 8 to see what characters people would most like to see.


I've written the scene depicted in the cover art, so I just need to make sure the lines I'll use for the promotional video are grammatically correct. And I'm also going to try something different, putting together some tag lines to draw people in at a glance.

After bouncing ideas around, my wife suggested all three books should have tag lines to unite the ideas throughout the trilogy.

Here's what we have come up with so far:

A Noble's Quest - Two destitute lumberjacks discover the truth about their ancestry and uncover a horrifying secret under the leadership of a noblewoman.

A Wizard's Gambit - The quest continues as lumberjacks-turned-warriors must face a new enemy who is desperate to survive.

A Hero's Birth - The quest concludes as the empire's iconic warriors must fight their own battles before uniting to take back what is rightfully theirs.

I also want to use some quick lines, which I received help with from Google+ friends:

Even heroes must answer to fate. (h/t +Amy Knepper)

and/or

Even heroes must pay for their sins. (h/t +Andy Goldman)

Since prophecy plays a role throughout the books, I like #1. But religion is also depicted, so #2 is good, too! I might use both, depending on where I'm leaving the posts. :)

I also like, "The brightest light is forged in deepest darkness."

The seriousness of the task also led to some humourous ideas, like, "Sarentha goes and @$*%s up some dragons!" And who knows, I might use something like that. 30 days is a long time to run a campaign, so I'll be spread pretty thin in terms of ideas to get the word out by the end.   

I also want to put all three covers together, and on the bottom run something like: The darkness (on A Noble's Quest) must grow (on A Wizard's Gambit) brighter. (on A Hero's Birth). I think it will work, since the first cover is quite dark in the shade of the forest, the second is under an overcast/smoke-filled sky, and the third will be under a sunny sky and lighter (Please excuse the poor quality of the image. It's just a mock up to illustrate the basic idea).



Saturday, January 31, 2015

Story Arc #2

Something that's different in A Wizard's Gambit and A Hero's Birth from the first book is they each contain more than one main story arc. It's easier to do, because A Noble's Quest was only around 72,000 words - novel length, but not a lot of room to play around.

The two following books will be 140,000+ words, each having three arcs. My aunt is coming close to the end of the second arc of A Wizard's Gambit which is heavy on exploring the world outside the Tamorran Empire.

Mirroring that, I've started the second arc of A Hero's Birth, which again has a sense of exploration into lands unknown. But instead of wonder at how much larger the lands outside their empire are, this time it's with a feeling of doom. They're being sent on an impossible mission where they are too few in number, ill-equipped, and they've been told not to bother coming back if they meet failure.

Dark is the word that comes to mind.

And to make matters worse, they are being joined by William, Jim, and Kelly. This inept trio may have failed in the past, but they're hoping to make amends with a fresh start. If you don't remember them from A Noble's Quest, that's okay. They're going to show up again in A Wizard's Gambit to refresh your memory.

In other news, I was sick for a good chunk of the week. While resting, I fired off over 30 requests to book review websites, and I have received three requests for the book! Feeling pretty good about that! 

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Review Dilemma

I want to start out thanking people who have read and reviewed A Noble's Quest. You people are awesome! Every one of you!

Without those reviews, I wouldn't have started writing A Wizard's Gambit. From the wholly positive 5-stars to the "it's good with some issues" 4-stars (no 3-stars or less... yet). I wrote the first book to be a stand alone with the potential for more and was tickled when I got great feedback from people I don't know. That kind of validation was more important to me than I realized when I set out on this journey.

And I've had great conversations with people who have enjoyed it. Like the other day I was talking to my mom, and she asked me when book 2 will be out, because she wants to re-read A Noble's Quest before she reads the second one so it's fresh in her mind. I know she's my mom, and she's probably biased, but my dad was surprised that she liked it, because he couldn't remember any other fantasy stuff that she'd gotten into.

Or the reader who gave me a blow-by-blow of what she thought about it while she read it. Although she'd set out the pace she was planning at the outset, I was tickled when she plowed through much faster than she anticipated because she couldn't stop reading.

The trick is, some websites that help authors promote their work require that books have a minimum number of good reviews. I've seen 10 reviews a few times, with average ratings expected of 3.75 or higher. Right now my average is over 4, so that's not the problem. The thing is, I only have 6 reviews on Amazon.com.

Here is my dilemma: readers don't owe authors reviews. Before I ventured into the realm of indie writing I never reviewed anything, even things that I loved. The thought never crossed my mind until I came to understand on a personal level how important reviews are.

So I don't want to go beating readers with sticks, demanding reviews.

However, people who leave reviews will get a 50% discount for A Wizard's Gambit, should they want it. This applies to both the e-book and paperback. And I don't care if it's a 1-star review! Not that people who hated it would want a discount on the second book...

Anyway, like Santa Claus, I'm making a list, and there are savings to be had for those who leave reviews and get on my "nice" list! :)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Protagonist death


I wrote almost 6000 words this week. Apparently killing characters inspires me.

How do you feel when you've been reading through a series, and one of the main characters dies?

The first major arc of A Hero's Birth is written. Killing this character is not something that happened while we were role playing. As the books continue, I get further and further away from the game and add in new elements, change others, but there is a core to the story that remains. The central thrust and major themes are there, but the characters have taken on lives of their own. They do things that the players around the table didn't. I don't want to say one way or another is "better," they're just different paths.

Around the table, you're having fun. Killing off player characters isn't enjoyable (to me, unless it's a total wipe to end the game in heroic fashion, or an old school Dark Sun campaign and you have a character tree). These particular characters - Thomas, Sarentha, and Eliza - had been played for years, and I know from my own experience that you get attached to these fictional characters. To an outsider, it's just a sheet of paper with some words and numbers scrawled on it. To the player, it's a person they've spent time and effort crafting.

If it's a random death, it's the worst. I remember my friend Anthony's character dying in some insane storm, and he took 1 or 2d4 acid damage during it. The DM decided he could not be revived because of the acid damage. Looking at the rules, it was true that characters who were killed by acid could not be revived, but it was such a tiny amount compared to the rest of the pummeling we took that it felt unfair.

In a long-running Star Wars campaign, my Mon Calamari Jedi-in-training pilot (Mackren Fische) had been hit in the head so many times he measured his Intelligence in pips, rather than dice. Then we were aboard a craft where one of the players (the GM's girlfriend) turned out to be a traitor and blew up Sullust. Because we were all force sensitive/trained, and didn't stop her (how could we have known?) we were all forced to take one dark side point and roll to see if we turned to the dark side. Well, with something like 10 of us around the table, it was statistically impossible everyone would survive. I was disheartened that Mackren turned and was subsequently killed. It felt cheap. Not that I cared about the campaign anymore at that point. The GM had become obsessed with getting as many people around the table as possible, and me and Acid Damage Death Anthony hadn't even been paying attention to that latest session because it moved so slowly, like a lumbering beast wanting to die.

So with that background, I want to assure readers that I don't kill protagonists for no reason. This death isn't "random" or executed callously. I don't find books like GRRM's enjoyable when there's no point getting attached to the characters because they're all dying off anyway.