For Your Consideration

As you may have noticed, blog posts just aren’t happening this week (or last week). So *cue the optimism* here’s a few things to watch and read instead!

First: How to Write a Blog Post in 70 Minutes or Less. Now I don’t think it’s always possible to crank out a blog post in an hour (case in point: me), so this video isn’t quite as useful on that front. However, this interview with Michael Hyatt contains some perfect writing gems, particularly on what it means to grow as a writer. So check it out:

Second: Learn from Write About Dragons. It’s been on my Links list for some time now, but every author should take advantage of this site, which has two years’ worth of college-level lectures from authors like Brandon Sanderson on everything from worldbuilding to humor. Check it out here.

Third: Some Thoughts on Beta Readers. An article from Roger Colby that I found quite helpful, even though I’m not anywhere near the beta-reading phase just now. The infographic with questions will certainly come in handy.

Last: I’m back on Pinterest. So you can go check out my boards and see if you find any interesting tidbits, and please recommend any boards that you think would be cool!

That’s all for now, and we’ll get back to regular posting soon; I promise. Godspeed and good day!

Advertisements

Self-Publishing Part 4: Covers and Other Nightmares

Welcome to the latest installment of my magnificent series- not to be too pretentious. In case you need to get caught up:

It has come at last- the time to make covers. Ellyana asks about my cover for Alen’s War:

Where do you find the picture of the ship? (I’m assuming you didn’t create it, about which I could be wrong.) The background I assume is resulting from a Picmonkey background? I know that the cover makes a huge impression on the reader– despite the old-time saying, “Never judge a book by its cover.”

Exactly right! Cliched sayings are useless here- people always judge a book by its cover. First, a little background on how you can get a cover. Like most self-publishing printers, CreateSpace gives you three options for cover design: pay a professional to design a custom cover, use a template and public domain images to make your own in Cover Creator, or do the whole thing yourself.

At this point, all other bloggers (and cover designers) will stop and yell at you in all caps that IF YOU DON’T HAVE A DEGREE IN GRAPHIC DESIGN, KEEP YOUR STICKY PAWS OFF YOUR OWN COVER.

And they are terribly wrong. I’ve never taken a Photoshop course in my life, but I design my own covers, which usually do the trick. I don’t obey what the other “professionals” tell meI do what I want.

However… if you are terrible at using Paint.net or hate art, you will only give yourself a headache trying to make a cover, and the result may not be as clean as what you’d get with a professional artist or with Cover Creator. Think critically and decide upon the best investment for you.

But, to answer your other questions, Elly, today we’ll go through the process of how I design covers. Better buckle up; this could be a long ride.

Step 1: Concept Art

Make lists, scribble lines, ask your sister for ideas… whatever gets you thinking. I admit that drawing your own art can be scary. I draw lots of pictures, make lots of mistakes, and design lots of prototypes that end up being utterly worthless. But, as my own darling Turomar says, “That is planning- discarding enough ideas until you find a good one.” Here are some preliminary concepts for Alen’s War (and Son of Ren for the purpose of illustration).

Capture

Case in point.

sonofrenshield

Hint: I draw concept art in pencil first!

Honestly, people, if I’m brave enough to put some of my scribblings on the internet, you should be brave enough to draw your own ideas for yourself. Just keep drawing whatever comes to mind. Even if you do end up hiring someone else to make the cover, you can at least have some ideas to show them.

Be sure to save and scan a copy of all of your final drawings for the next step.

Step 2: The Elements

I sounded like Heraclitus there, didn’t I? But when I say elements, I’m talking about the individual pictures on the cover. For Alen’s War, this means drawing a ship and a map; for Son of Ren, a shield.

Don’t worry about text just yet. For now, focus on making the elements as clean and uniform as possible, and again, save the new versions separately from the old concept art. If all else fails, find some public domain images that you can use instead.

IMG_20160620_112416876

I drew the colored part by hand, then I traced the dark lines and added text on the computer.

ship

I just traced my own concept art and filled in the lines with a brush tool on my editing program.

Step 3: Get a Template

Advance apologies for all the links.

Amazon has a lot of wordy specificationsOne thing to notice here is that Amazon KDP is talking about this kind of cover, but CreateSpace needs this kind. To figure out the dimensions, you can use this handy little tool, which gives you the template you’ll need in step 4. 

Or if you, like me, find it easier to do algebra than to use that beast they call a PDF template, you can do the math yourself. (The calculation isn’t blog-post-friendly, but if you want the equation, email me through this page and I’ll send you some numbers.) Once you have the relevant numbers, simply create an image with those dimensions. At this point, I also add some lines to mark where the spine starts and stops- as shown here– which can be erased later.

Once I have done that, the worst is behind us. From here on out it is nothing but a good deal of fun.

Step 4: Picmonkey (and some Paint.net)Capture

First, in Paint.net (the free version of Photoshop), I add the ship image to the blank template- it basically looks like this– and save it as a flat (.jpg) file. Then it’s over to Picmonkey. Oh, yes, you could arguably use Paint.net to do the whole cover. But where would be the fun in that, eh? Picmonkey is more user-friendly.

So I take my newly-created cover and add the text (that Tt icon in the screenshot) on the back, front, and spine, rotating the spine text 90°, and then paint over my guidelines; we won’t need them anymore. (Save as a flat image.)

Next I upload my own texture (the cross-stitch icon); in this case, the map. Picmonkey allows me to decide exactly how much of the map I want to show and to what degree, and I usually make my backgrounds just barely visible. I do a few more touch-ups to make sure everything is in the right place and save an updated copy of the cover.

Finally, I play with the different Picmonkey textures and colors. Being a fantasy writer, I’m partial to Smudge and Paint, but all of the textures are useful for one purpose or another. Feel free to save different versions of the cover (in high-def!) and be sure to get feedback from your beta-readers and other artistic friends.

Step 5: Review and Repeat

You heard me right. Inevitably, someone will have last-minute opinions or improvements, or maybe CreateSpace is being a little bit particular about DPI and other trite. Anyway, if you saved a copy of your cover at every stage, it shouldn’t be too hard to fix.

That’s it!

Congratulations to you all who made it this far- not only have you read one of my longest posts ever written, but you also are brave enough at least to try your hand at designing your own cover.

Do you have any questions about self-publishing a book? Marketing, blogging, cover design details? Share in the comments!

Want to know more?

Cover guidelines: KDP’s rules for covers

CreateSpace’s options for cover design

Guide to DIY covers

Hire an artist: Professional design pricing

Cover Creator: CreateSpace’s guide

DIY covers: Picmonkey’s website

Cover design tips from Rob Nightingale

Roger Colby on designing his own cover

Patrick Samphire’s cover design tips

Self-Publishing Part 2: Which Way to Go?

Hail and welcome to the second installment of the self-publishing Q&A series! Read Week 1’s post if you haven’t already. This week we are talking about that most formidable of challenges- deciding how exactly you will deliver books to readers once you’ve turned down traditional publishing (or vice versa).

Indie writer Ellyana asks:

Through talking with you I know you work through Createspace Amazon. (Please correct me if something has changed.)

This may be my most-asked publishing question: how exactly do you publish your books? Elly probably remembers asking it some months ago when she was just starting to publish her novel. Yes, I do use CreateSpace (I’ll explain that in a minute), but we have a variety of self-publishing options open to us, and we will look at all of them presently.

But have you ever considered using a Literary Agent for advertisement and the like? And if you know anything about Literary Agents that would be of assistance.

Ooh, here it is- the Agent Question. I confess that I have never been interested in working with one. I did some research and learned that most of them at least are experts who have done wonders for some people, but I also heard that other people have hired agents and regretted it. I decided that, since my goal was to get better at publishing my own books and not necessarily to make lots of money, I preferred to remain my own boss. So I will direct you to indie author Roger Colby: he knows a thing or two about literary agents. (Also check out the links at the bottom.)

Anyway, I happen to have a list of self-publishing options (which, of course, I certainly did not put together just for the sake of this post). We will go through that today and dive into the details next week. Get it? Got it? Good.

First, normal or “true” self-publishing requires you to do your own set-up work, including buying (or making) your own cover, formatting the book, paying for it to be printed, and promoting it yourself. At the same time, you retain all autonomy and control over the process. This, by the way, is what Christopher Paolini did with Eragon. True self-publishers hire a publishing company to print many copies of their book, and then they go around promoting and selling the book themselves. It’s hard and often quite expensive, but I know of some people who swear by this approach. 

Then there’s Print-On-Demand (POD) publishing. POD is a technology that allows the publisher to print books one at a time, as customers order them. This is what Amazon’s CreateSpace does. It’s less expensive than printing hundreds of books at once, but in most services the author has less control over the more detailed processes- after all, the POD company has to keep your files around to print them when necessary. 

Image result for self-publishingThen you have various eBook publishers, Amazon Kindle being the obvious one. Lots of indie authors love this approach. Ebooks eliminate the cost of paper and production entirely, only requiring you to get a book cover and upload your files. Lower production costs result in lower prices and no shipping fees, which means some people are more inclined to buy them. The downsides: Kindle books are cheaper, and while you may sell more of them, you earn less royalty money. And is it worth mentioning that you risk being rejected by a handful of book extremists like this guy?

Finally, some authors publish their works on writing networks like Wattpad or Figment. Even though a lot of people are inclined to overlook it, these networks are a legitimate option if you want to get the word out about your book. They’re basically online magazines crossed with forums. Writing networks allow writers to upload stories or chapters of books that they’re writing and get feedback on their plot structure, characterization, etc. from other authors and readers. And the best part? You can hear from a real audience and make changes even after publishing the story.

While we’re on the subject of options, though, beware of vanity publishers. They will buy the actual rights to your book, meaning that you retain little or no autonomy, and they will publish any book, so they are generally considered less credible. And some of them are downright sleazy, stealing your intellectual property for their own- which is very much illegal. If you do opt to publish with a vanity publisher (which may be fine), do some careful research, and be aware that you may not make as much money.

So… how do you pick just one option? When it comes down to it, you just have to set some goals for yourself. Are you trying to share a good book with other fantasy lovers? Build a following for your business? Become famous?  Once you know what you want to achieve, you can read up on the options and decide what works best for you. Read and research, read and research. My list of resources below should get you started.

Oh, and have fun. Because learning about how writers can speak to the world, increasing the number of wrinkles in your brain, gaining some business smarts, and maybe making new connections along the way isn’t exactly torture.

Do you have a self-publishing question? We all would like to hear it, no matter whether you’re about to publish a book or are simply curious about how your favorite authors do it. Share in the comments!

Want to know more?

AgentQuery. Not just for finding an agent; these professionals have all sorts of good advice on publishing.

A helpful article on all manner of self-publishing 

Costs: How much do you need to pay to self-publish?

Print-On-Demand: CreateSpace’s website, forums and all

Ebooks: Good stuff on the variety of eBook companies

Ebooks: Amazon Kindle’s official site, complete with tutorials and FAQs

Vanity publishing: Get the lowdown on vanity/subsidy publishing

ISBN: Are you buying your own ISBN?

Self-Publishing Part 1: Pros and Cons

Greta has a few questions that might shed some light on what self-publishing really is. Her first one is apt:

Where do I start?

Here, I hope! In the next month or so, I hope to offer people an actual teen writer’s experience, which may not be as thorough as a professional publisher or more experienced author, but which is probably more relatable for most people. To round it out, I will also share my favorite resources from other respectable websites and publishers under the “Want to know more?” section at the end of every post.

Greta continues:

Would you recommend self-publishing? Why and for whom? What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?

You know, all these questions remind me of something my brother said last week. “Why don’t you try to get a publishing contract with a real publisher?” he asked me. “You might make more money.”

http://moviepilot.com/posts/2015/03/21/age-of-ultron-where-will-our-heroes-be-by-the-end-of-avengers-2-2801193

To be fair, he didn’t mean it that way; he really thought it would be a good business move. However, he really captured what most people, including authors, think about the world of self-publishing. We don’t know how or even if it actually works.

So- who should consider self-publishing? Well, imagine this common scenario: a teenager named Hannah is an unpublished writer with a newly-completed manuscript for Son of Ren in hand, and she is looking for some way to publish it. Hannah knows she can sell so many books if only she has a good publisher name on the cover. That’s how it works, right?

So Hannah turns to the Big Five and the Christian publishers to find out how to submit a query letter. The only problem is that the Big Five aren’t looking for a sixteen-year-old nerd waving her debut manuscript, so, instead of a submission page, all of their websites say: “Please don’t send us your peasant manuscript unless you have been on a New York Times Bestseller list.” Christian publishers can’t help, either; they are looking for fiction about Christianity, not alternate-universe fantasy by Christians. As a last resort, our stubborn young Hannah sends queries to all of the other publishers listed on websites and in books for teen writers and authors of fantasy. And guess what? The publishers don’t reply.

Hannah’s demographic- new authors, teens, or anyone else without a writing degree- is the group for which self-publishing is most valuable. I don’t believe that the traditional publishing system is rigged against new authors; but I don’t believe it was built for us, either. Self-publishing fills in the gap and often provides a step into the traditional publishing world.

Now would be a good time for the indispensable pros and cons list.

Yea…

Self publishing, as we have seen, gives new authors a chance to share good books even when other publishers won’t consider them based on lack of credentials.

With a variety of services and formats, self-publishing gives you as much or as little control over the process of publishing your own books as you like. (More on this next week.)

Image result for business

Self-publishing often provides the first step to getting a regular publishing contract– in the rarest cases, with the Big Five. These authors are some good examples (even if some of the books are worthless). You get your name out there, and if you do a good job, you open your opportunities.

Finally, self-publishing lets you broaden your experience. I have learned so much about the publishing world, as well as marketing, communications, business, eBook design, and many other skills I can’t even count. And even if you only self-publish one book, you can apply some of your indie know-how to most other fields.

…Or Nay

When it comes to making money, self publishing is either a lot of hard work or quite expensive. It’s a lot of hard work when you want to save money, and so you do all the cover design, editing, marketing, etc. yourself. Or, it’s expensive when you opt to hire experts to do that stuff for you.

Image result for marketing

The market for self-published books, particularly Kindle books, has a huge supply that is larger than demand. Consequently, it’s harder to get readers to choose your eBook over all the other millions of books available with the click of a button. Long story short: you really have to market the thing yourself.

And therefore- I cannot say this loudly or often enough- you are not guaranteed to make lots of money by publishing any which way. I’ve heard of many people who made lots of money by publishing traditionally as well as by using Amazon Kindle, but those are just the ones who became famous. They’re anomalies, like the stars of Hollywood. The reason you haven’t heard of those people who only sold a hundred or so copies is because… well.

Those are the big ones, but you can read the links below for more pros-cons lists.

So, Greta, if you have a quality book to share, if you can learn how to do a thing or two on your own, if you are willing to do a little research… maybe you ought to try indie publishing.

Do you have any publishing questions? Agencies, cover design, marketing, stress eating? Hopefully not the last one. Ask it in the comments!

Want to know more?

Bing.com: “self publishing vs traditional publishing.” For this post alone, virtually any article that comes up in a search is useful, so check those out.

Writer’s Digest list of publishing pros and cons

Huffington Post’s pros and cons

Incredibly useful guide to everything

About.com’s publishing options series