Thursday, June 27, 2013

Can You See The Changes?

I'm probably being too obsessive, but I made a couple more tweaks to my cover for Sanctuary for the Dead today.   I'm going to post both.  Can you see the difference?

Here's the original:

Now here's the new and improved cover.  Can you spot the changes?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My Evolution of DIY Cover Design

Here's two sayings:
"You don't get a second chance to make a first impression."
"You shouldn't judge a book by its cover."
Well, we all know the first one well enough.  Writers are very aware of the second one because they know the first impression a prospective reader has of their book is the cover.  Sure, it's shallow to judge a book by its cover, but we've all been there.  How many books have you passed over because the cover was bad or amateurish?

There's a whole blog dedicated to bad book covers.
Lousy Book Covers

Check it out when you have a chance.  There are some cringe worthy covers.

Now, with that being said, it may sound like I'm positioning myself as a master book cover designer.  The truth be told, I'm far from it.  It is only through economic necessity that I've been forced into designing my own book covers because, frankly, I'd rather spend my dollars on editing.

I do have background in film and video and with that comes some intermediate design skills.  I do also acknowledge that an experienced professional will design rings around me, but again back to the money thing and the fact that I can't afford a professional so I'm left with me and my intermediate skills.

I've read countless articles about the importance of having a good cover design.  It is rightfully stressed and emphasized on any number of websites.  So, with my paltry skills, I've designed every cover for everything I've ever published on Amazon.  The end products run from okay to good (in my humble opinion).

The big thing is that I've learned a lot as I've done this.  First, at least for me, is to not over-reach.  My skills are limited.  I don't want to attempt something beyond them.  So, I keep it simple.

Second is to look at other covers.  I have a large collection of example covers to draw inspiration from.  I review them and add to the collection all the time.

Third, I listen to the experts.  Along with my collection of cover art, I also have a dozen or so links to articles on cover design.  Here's a link to a Kindleboards thread where Damon Za (a great cover designer) lists the key elements to a good cover:  Thoughts on Cover Design

To sum up what he says and mesh it with my thoughts, best practice in cover design is:
  1. Simplicity - readers make snap judgments, don't overcomplicate it
  2. Readability - make sure all your text is legible and this means all text including your name and any sub-headings
  3. Genre  remember the conventions of your genre
  4. Focus - avoid trying to tell the story of your book in one image, instead focus on one element that communicates your book but avoid depicting a specific scene (in most cases)
With all that being said, I thought you might learn something on my experience of designing a cover for my upcoming zombie apocalypse novel, Sanctuary from the Dead.  Below you will see the progressive design effort with notes.  I will confess that some of my very, very bad early designs have been left out of this for my sake and yours.

Design 2.3 - This was really a concept and not a design.  I acquired the images above and combined them with some text.  If something went horribly wrong and I had to go with this, it wouldn't terrible, but it wouldn't be good.  It's pretty rudimentary.

Design 5.1 - The above design was me working with the concept of a cross in the center of the screen. The photo is mine taken at a local zombie walk.  It's simple and effective, but still not very striking.

Design 5.2 - Building on the above concept, I made another design.  This one has some more complicated design elements including the eye treatment and a texture on the photo. Plus I used a spotlight effect on the photo.  This was one I thought I might go with, but then I became disenchanted with it for some reason.  Some people have said they really like this one because it seemed really creepy.  Maybe I'll use it somewhere else.

Design 9.1 - This was one I really worked with.  I liked the whole concept of the zombies breaking through the wooden barrier.  I think the text really stands out.  I think what dooms this one is that the lead zombie is too dark.  Now, in all honesty, I could fix that, but I moved onto another design.

Design 10.5 - This was the leading candidate for a while.  The lead zombie is from a photo I took at our local zombie walk and he did a great job with his make-up.  I de-saturated him and added the red eye effect and made the blood pop more.  This one has a retro feel to it for me.  It's still in contention for the cover, but the one below is the leading candidate and one that I now prefer.

Design 14.3  -  They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery and I got my inspiration for this design from another really good cover.  (I won't mention the book - sorry.)  I think this one has all the elements mentioned above.  Its simple and really focused.  The text is very readable.  It also fits the zombie genre quite well.  Like the above one, it has a retro comic book feel that I think fits my book quite well.

Design 14.4 - I added this one because my brother thought red would be better than blue for a background.  He felt the blue was too passive and red might better fit the genre.

As you see, I skipped several design stages for your sake and mine.  Some really sucked and would embarrass me and the rest of humanity.

Anyway, let me know what you think.  I'd love to hear what you have to say.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Outlining vs. Organic Writing

Finding your path when you're starting a novel is important.  The ways is fraught with danger (weak sub-plots, unnecessary detours).  Determining how to avoid these pitfalls is critical to good story telling. 

When I started getting serious about my writing, I wrote strictly from outlines.  Since I have a day-job, I didn't have time to go meandering a long on some whimsical stroll only to find myself in a dark alley with no clue where to go next.

To add a little context to that, I did start out writing mysteries.  I've always felt like they needed a little more structure.  I needed that safety zone.

I do know of authors who swear by the outline, saying its a must for writers.  But I also know writers who write solely from character and situation.  Stephen King is one of those writers.  He says his stories always start there, be it a bestselling author's car crash in the mountains or a world-wide deadly virus outbreak.  

I tend to be in the outliner's camp, but I see myself trending to write more organically, starting with a character and a situation along with having a general outline mapped out.  I tend to break from the outline in the middle of the story a great deal, letting characters do their "own thing." It seems more spontaneous. 

What about you?  Do you outline or just have at it?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Going Indie and Joining a Publishing House

The above title probably sounds like an oxymoron.  How can someone go Indie and then join a publishing house?  

Well, it can be done if you join a house that specializes in cultivating indie writers.  I’m proud to announce that I’ve joined a group of talented and creative writers who are working with the J. Ellington Ashton Press.  They have signed me up to represent my upcoming novel, Sanctuary from the Dead.  

It is an exciting and unexpected move for me, but one that I feel is right for me at this point in my career.  Sometimes I feel pretentious to say I have a “career” as a writer since I’ve only published a handful of short stories and a novella, but it’s time to face the facts world -- I’m a writer.

For about 24 hours, I weighed the pros and cons and think that I can gain a great deal by working with writers and editors who have great track records and know their way around the business.  Their extensive marketing avenues dwarf what I could do on my own.  

Anyway, it’s a brave new world for me and I’m excited to be a part of it.  More to come as I learn and experience more on this exciting new adventure.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Free eBook Analysis: One Month Out

Late in April, I participated in Facebook Zombie Fest eBook Bonanza.  It was wonderful event with a lot of zombie authors participating.  A lot of free ebooks were given away.  I was one of the benefactors.  I gave away over 400 copies of my novella, Forget the Alamo.

But what did it all mean?  Sure it meant that my book was in a lot of people's hands (or on their Kindles), but what did it mean in terms of sales and reviews?

Tallying it up, I received 6 reviews, 5 on Amazon and 1 on Goodreads.  That's a good thing.  One month out, I had 23 sales.  I know three of those were friends.  So, really 20 sales.  Its been several days since the last sale so I fear that the momentum may be gone.  

In the end, I gained a lot of exposure.  Sure, I wish some of those free books netted me some reviews.  Right now, I'm at just over a 1% conversion rate of free books/reviews.  

Would I do it again?  Sure.  I'm a lot better off than I was before.  I can say that a lot more people know about me than they did in the past.