Planet Comic Con

Standard

Just got through with Planet Comic Con.  Good show, lots of new and old fans.  If you’re just checking in from a panel or having grabbed my business card, feel free to poke around.  The tags below should let you find things fairly easily with regards to writing, promoting, and other thing of interest to independent authors.  Happy reading!

The Pro From Dover…

Standard

I am deeply skeptical of many folks who call themselves “experts.”  It’s based primarily on having many people who have purported to be one, then quickly demonstrated that their dog and pony show (“Now with smoke and mirrors!”)  was mainly poodle with a dose of equine excrement.  This goes double for the publishing industry, as one only has to touch a hot stove once or twice to start being suspicious when The Great and Powerful Azbazzam tells you “Don’t worry, child, my magical spells make THIS burner different.”

Then there are the times that, holy cow, you realize you’re dealing with a real Pro from Dover.  No, not in the Hawkeye from M.A.S.H. sense (see Azbazzam above).  No, I mean in the “Sailor Malan is flying lead, Douglas Bader is running the second section, and they’ve got Johnnie Johnson and Stanford Tuck on their wings”-sense.  For those disinclined to click on the links (yet are probably going “Context!”), this is a World War II aces Dream Team for the Royal Air Force (hence Dover).

The latter sort of event happened last night when Topeka Shawnee County Public Library (TSCPL) had Ms. Julie Trelstad come and speak about publishing and marketing.  Her interview she did with the Topeka Capital Journal is here.  While I will admit there were many things that she talked about that I already knew, I think she gave probably one of the best Q&A about the publishing industry, self-publishing, and marketing that I’ve seen in a long time.  Indeed, the only way it could have been better would have been A. a longer time to talk and B. Chris Kennedy in the room.

Some things that came up that I think should definitely be expounded upon (I won’t bludgeon you with my full notes):

Author Rights:  I’ve mentioned having one’s head on a swivel elsewhere based on a near painful experience with a certain press.  I cannot put this in stronger terms: Get a lawyer before you sign anything, and I do mean ANYTHING, having to deal with your rights.  Indeed, contracting without a legal ward of protection is basically the equivalent of jumping into a Taliban compound with 500 pounds of pork and a “Ready to Die 4 Jesus” T-shirt on: Not only highly imprudent, but likely to be extremely painful.  Don’t believe me?  Check out the fun at All Romance Ebooks at the macro and the “I think I’m going to need a lawyer and therapist”-level.  Intellectual Rights / Property Lawyers are a separate breed for a reason.

Pay to Play:  Someone in the audience mentioned that they’d been approached by “agents” regarding their work.  These individuals wanted $$$ up front in exchange for services.  This is a scam that’s almost as old as publishing, an it preys on people’s hopes and dreams.  Like all such heresy, it should be scourged and purged.  When confronted with such monsters, repeat the following mantra:

MONEY FLOWS TO THE AUTHOR, NEVER FROM!  

MONEY FLOWS TO THE AUTHOR, NEVER FROM!

 

Bonus points if you’re saying that Gandalf vs. Balrog Style.  An agent’s job is to sell your manuscript.  The assumption of risk on their part is that they’ll be able to do it, which is why they take their 15%.  The job of a publisher is to format your book, edit, and then print it in a manner that is appealing.  That’s why they take their 30-40%.  Otherwise, you’re better off paying someone ala carte and raking in the full % of your royalties, as either of those entities taking your money then using said Danegeld to find the next rube.  Oh, don’t worry, they’ll be in touch the next time they need tribute, I mean, payment…but take it to the bank they’re putting as much effort in shopping your book as I am in trying to join the NFL.  To drive the point home, your odds of getting a meaningful investment are about the same as hearing, “Now starting at defensive tackle for your Kansas City Chiefs, Jaaaaaaammmmeeesss Yyyyyyyooouuunnng.”  (Both will also likely involve the same amount of human sacrifice and witchcraft.  Or at least, that’s what the shaman keeps telling me.)

Seriously–do not EVER pay someone to do agenting or publishing.  The former is unethical, and actually runs against several agent guild standards.  If you’re looking for an agent, I know of an agency.  (Full disclosure: I know one of its members after being her neighbor at a con for a weekend.  Asking around, I have heard nothing but good things about them.)  If you’re looking for a publisher, Chris’ link is up above.  Both entities aren’t shy about directing you to other folks they trust if they’re out of spots.  Also see if your state has a writer’s guild or author’s club, then ask them.  But for pete’s sake, don’t shell out money that you will likely never see back.

Marketing is another thing that came up several times.  I’m planning on doing another discussion of promo here soon, but as a quick hitter–there are cheap options out there.  I’m not necessarily a fan of FB ads, but Ms. Trelstad did mention it as a way to get your name and photos out there in front of people of a similar genre.  I can see that, but I can’t really recommend more than $50 or so.

In any case, if your writer group or library is looking for someone to have come, highly recommend Ms. Trelstad.  TSCPL happened to get her through a personal relationship (read: a member recommended her to our awesome librarians), but she’s available on Twitter (@julietrelstad).

Promo…Bloody Promo…–Promotion Post #2

Standard

My apologies to U2, but at the request of a couple of folks I’m throwing up a quick promo post.  In no ways is this intended to be exhaustive–but it is a way to get the party started.

First off, there are folks who have sold a lot more books than me that have touched upon this topic.  Like, Dorothy Grant, wife of Amazon best selling military sci-fi author Peter Grant (who also has a blog).  Dorothy, in addition to writing a comprehensive blog post for the Mad Genius Club, also has her own blog in which she touches on these topics. She also does most of Peter’s marketing so he can concentrate on getting the books out.

Besides the Grants, I also recommend Chris Kennedy.   Chris, in addition to doing fiction, also has a book out that talks about self-publishing for profit.  As you can see from the first link, he’s also a publisher that does public speaking about self-publishing and promotion.  I’ve heard his talk, and if you have a large enough group of authors I suggest putting some money in the kitty to have him come talk to your group.  It’s a good investment, and there’s a lot of stuff I picked up from his talk.  Some of it I’ll put my own spin on below, but trust me, you need to hear how he approaches things from his viewpoint.

Lastly, there’s Jasmine Walt.  You may remember Jasmine from an earlier post on my Facebook where I linked to her interview about becoming a New York Times bestseller (linked again).  I’ll tell you that Jasmine gives me hope that catching lightning is possible, as she’s literally gone from publishing her first book in December 2015 to wreaking havoc on the NYT’s and USA Today booklists.  (“Wait…wait…why are we reading your blog rather than hers?” “Because if you weren’t reading mine, you possibly would not have heard about her…HEY, HEY, WHERE ARE YOU ALL GOING?!”)

For those of you that remained, here are two of my tips about self-promotion.

Promo Tip #1: Networking

 

See what I did for about 300 words above this?  That’s a big part of networking.  No one I mentioned above asked me, “Hey, James, could you throw me in a promo blog?”  Yet, since I’ve met all of them in person or on FB through mutual acquaintances or groups I belong to, I’m comfortable putting their names out there as authorities on making $$$ self-publishing.  More importantly, they are good people, and one should always try to help fellow authors who meet that description.

So how do you network?  Well, I’m an extrovert (I hear several of you going “NO SH*T, REALLY?!“), so this is sort of like asking a fish “How do you use gills?”  If pressed, I’d say the first thing is that you have to put yourself in position to meet people.  Before all the introverts recoil in sheer horror, social media makes this possible without really having to put yourself out there.  Whatever your genre is, there’s probably at least one FB group that’s either a perfect or tangential match.  Go ahead and jump into the group, lurk for a bit, then start commenting on things that you find interesting.  Odds are that not only will you learn some things about your genre and what’s hot, but if done right people will start to consider you competent.  Competent is good…as I’ll explain below.

Aside: Note that I said comment not “spam your book link.”  One, it’s probably against group rules, will get you banned, and then will make sure everyone remembers you as “Oh, that jackass.”  Pro tip–people remembering you as “Oh, that jackass…” is not conducive to sales.

While social media networking is good, I’m still in favor of good ol’ face to face meetings.  The first place to start is in your local community.  Through face to face meetings, I’ve ended up in the local newspaper, had friends recommend my book go into the library gift guide  (thanks Prolific Trek!), built a good relationship with an independent book store.  Spreading the net wider, attending sci-fi and comic conventions (“cons”) introduced me to several authors and people I never would have met otherwise.  (Con life article 1 and article 2 are good starting points for beginning that endeavor.)  It hasn’t all been bread, wine, and circuses–but it’s certainly helped me get my name further than I would just selling books out of my car trunk.  Which leads to…

 

Promo Tip #2: …At All Times

In boxing there’s an expression: “Protect Yourself At All Times.”  In bookselling and promotion, the corollaries are “Be ready to sell at all times…” and “Be professional at all times…”.

Being ready to sell at all times is one that truly requires some prior planning.  First off, have an elevator speech.  In my experience, this should be something that’s memorable, explains what your book is about, and also employs a pop culture touchstone.  Some individuals who follow this blog can, no kidding, recite 75% of my elevator speech from memory because they’ve heard it so many times.  That’s the sort of “seared into people’s memory” you’re looking for.

Next to the elevator speech is having materials at hand ready for handout.  Before I talked about having a good cover.  Another reason to have good artwork is that it makes developing your marketing material so much easier.  The go to thing I like to have are bookmarks.

bookmarks-3

 

400 Bookmarks a Box…and yes, I’ve gone through this complete set

 

bookmark-fronts

 

The first iteration of bookmarks

 

bookmark-backs

 

The back of the first iteration

 

bookmark-2inx8in-h-frontbookmark-2inx8in-h-frontbookmark-2inx8in-h-front

 

Now about this point you’re probably going, “Holy cow, James…that’s a lot of bookmarks!”  Yes, yes it is.  Too many to start off with.  At cons, what usually ended up happening was that we’d inevitably start to run out of one book type while being swimming in variants of the other one.  Ergo, I simplified–there’s now one book mark for each novel, plus the bookmark that will take you to my Amazon author page.

If I had to do it all over again, I’d also have included the actual link spelled out on the back of my bookmarks.  Also, when you get a complete set of books or even just three or more, multi-cover bookmarks are a thing:

Gotprint is where we usually get our bookmarks.

 

Other things you can hand out include business cards and magnets.  We both still have business cards with our QR code on the back and a book cover on the front, but in general we’ve replaced these with bookmarks due to the latter’s sturdiness and the ability to hand them out easier at cons.  Magnets I usually include with each multi-book sale, as that’s a way for someone to continuously advertise for you via your book cover or associated artwork being on their fridge.  We use Vistaprint for our magnets and business cards.

 

(Note: Yes, we do two separate sites for different marketing materials.  As I’ve said elsewhere, the Vistaprint and Gotprint is this: “If you know what you’re doing, go with gotprint as they have better prices. If you want a design tool that will save you from yourself, got with vistaprint.”)

Finally, being “sales ready” includes having some hard copies of your book and the ability to take sales on hand.  Our preferred sales register is Square.  While I may not have cash on me, I almost always have a square reader on me and hard copies of my books in the car.  You’d be surprised the number of people who, upon finding out you’re an author, will ask you if you’ve got one of your books with you.  Keep your price reasonable and/or have a copy of some novellas as well, and “opportunity sales” will flow from the elevator speech, handouts, and professionalism.

“Wait.  Wait.  What is professionalism?  You’re selling books out of your trunk like a crack dealer!”

Professionalism is carrying yourself in a manner that someone would never know you’ve only sold copies of your book to your mother, her best friend, and your bro/sister-in-law (who really owes you money so it’s a wash).  It’s being able to handle someone being dismissive or rude about your book initially yet still selling them a copy at the end of the day.  It’s walking into a bookstore where the clerk / manager don’t know you from Adam / Eve but convincing them they need two copies of your book on their shelves. Three parts confidence, two parts knowledge, and one part utter fearlessness.  Why? Because at the end of the day, you lose nothing but pride in asking someone to take a chance on you.  You’re an author, dammit, and you’ve got an excellent book with a sound cover that you’d put into the literary equivalent of the “Pepsi Challenge” with any well-known name in your genre. It’s saying crazy stuff like this:

“Am I as good as Harry Turtledove?  Yes.  More importantly, Harry Turtledove ain’t here.  Even if he was, you wouldn’t be buying his book for $10.”  (It worked…and they bought Collisions of the Damned to boot.)

Despite the bravado of the above, I still have that rather loud, insistent voice that states I really don’t know what I’m doing the first day of every con or the first minute I’m speaking.  Know what helps me zip strip and duct tape that aspect of myself up?  Getting out there and doing more stuff.  Practicing with friends and talking to fellow authors.  No matter how bad things may seem, someone else has a story about it being worse.

In any case, that’s it for tonight.  More to follow at a later date, but hopefully the links up top will tide some folks over.  Tell me what else you’d like to hear about in the next promo post via comments.

 

Promotion (Not Posthumous) Post #1–In the Navy (and / or Army, Marines, Air Force…)

Standard

Howdy everyone!  Sorry I’ve been so quiet over the last few days.  I’ve been doing National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. “NaNoWrimo.”  For those who don’t know, information can be found at nanowrimo.org .  Unless your name is Michael Stackpole, it’s probably too late for you to knock out the requisite 50,000 words this year…but you can file this away for next.  Nano is a good time, and it really helps to get the rust off the writing gears so to speak.  At the beginning of this show I was struggling to knock out the requisite 1,667 words, but now I’m really…

Oh wait, I’m not here to talk about Nano.  No, I’m here to talk about Promotions, a.k.a. ways to get your book out there into the wild.  As time is short (it’s late y’all, and I’ve got to get a good night’s sleep for once), I’m going to keep tonight’s Promo talk oriented on one of the world’s most captive audiences: the military.

I know, I know, for those of you who haven’t even finished your book, this is kind of “Uh, what?”  Ditto those of you who may write romances (although you’d be surprised what gets read on staff duty).  Don’t worry, your posts are coming–it’s just that I’m in the midst of doing some promoing in another tab right now, and it occurred to me that would be a perfect time to share.

So, without further ado, here are some places to write in order to get your book in front of service members.  In almost every case, this is a matter of “You gotta spend dough to make bread…”…but that’s pretty much how a great deal of promo works anyway.  (More on “Free Promo” at a later date.)  What I’m basically saying here is this:  If you cannot or will not spend $75 to purchase 15-25 books that you will never see again, stop reading now.  On the other hand, if you don’t mind donating material that may brighten a service member’s day and possibly get you a lifetime fan, keep on delving down.

 

The USO

The United Service Organization (USO) is the non-profit made most famous by Bob Hope.  If you’ve never been or traveled in the military, you’re probably going “WTF?” right now.  Those of us who have been in the military and traveled overseas are probably thinking about cookies, friendly volunteers, and that guy who is doing a Permanent Change of Station from the Land of the Morning Calm (Korea) to the Land of Schnitzel and Booze (Germany) via flying all the way across the United States.  Basically, imagine if someone set up a cubbyhole with a couple couches, a TV, some board games, and a few tables for service members, and that’s your average airport USO.

Know what?  When that guy who is doing the “Three Continents in Three Days”-Challenge is not horizontal on the couch snoring away, he’s probably bored out of his mind.  Why?  Because he just got through battling with some O-6’s two bratty kids for the last remaining 110 outlet like they were three monkeys on the ramp to Noah’s Ark…and he’s not the monkey who brought a .45.

3rd-monkey

I’ve been that guy (albeit before we had cell phones, so it was a whole different circle of Hell).  In that situation, a person will read anything.  *pause* Anything.

“Why are you reading Marie Claire?”–guy next to 2LT Young, Seattle USO, November 1998

“It’s got words.”–me

You know who takes free book donations?  The USO.  Know who will put your novel right there in that bookshelf so the poor guy contemplating dependent assault can read it?  The USO.  Now, it can’t be anything too controversial (Timmy’s Guide to Satanism is ruled right out…as are bodice rippers).  However, if you have a first book of a series or several chap books that may or may not have typos that made it past your beta readers?  Perfect place to send them.  Because nothing brightens a mood like a good novel, donated Girl Scout cookies (see, the green-sashed crack dealers know what’s up), and USO coffee.  Make sure it’s your good novel.

How do you get a hold of the USO?  Just go to their site and pick a location.  I recommend someplace that has a lot of unaccompanied personnel like Korea.  Drop a line to the email for that location.  Wait.

Carriers

I’ve never served in the Navy.  For some reason people seem shocked at…oh, yeah, it’s all the boat and space stuff.

Anyway, if there’s one thing a lot of Navy and Marine brethren have told me, it’s that being aboard a ship is boring.  Really boring.  Like, “OMG, I’ve now read everything in the book library and I’m basically banned from the Playstation tournament because I went 16-0 in the Madden league…”-boring.  The average U.S. carrier has, oh, the population of a small town.  “A one stop light that’s always blinking OMG I’m related to everyone…”–small town.  For those of you who did not grow up in the Land of Everyone Knows My Business, the average small town library is not exactly well stocked.  Now imagine if that same small town library happened to have a clientele that trends heavily towards military sci-fi yet often has the same popular books that the last steel can with a flat top did.  Think maaaaaaayyybbeee that’s thousands of sailors who would REALLY LIKE SOMETHING ELSE TO READ?

I have donated to three carriers.  All three donations have led directly to confirmed sales either in person or via Kindle.  That’s right, when you give someone a free book, they will happen to see your sign at a con, stop dead still, and ask, “Are you the James Young [or, hopefully, your name]?  The sci-fi guy who donated a couple books to the [insert carrier]?!”  Once you confirm that yes, indeed, you are [insert your name or, if you have no scruples, name they actually thought you were], at the very least profuse thanks will likely ensue.  At the very best, if they see you in person, they will buy muchos more stuff.

“But good sir, how do I get in touch with a carrier from someplace nowhere near the sea?”  Well, here’s what’s worked for me so far:

 

  1. Pick a carrier, any carrier (but preferably one at sea).
  2. Check out the carrier’s Facebook page.
  3. Under contact us, there’s usually an email.  Ask to be put in contact with the Morale or Recreation officer.
  4. Wait for that individual to write back.  This may take a while, as usually this falls under an additional duty.
  5. Write a letter introducing yourself and  explaining you’d like to donate free books either for the library or for sailors just to take.  Ask how you go about doing this.
  6. Follow the instructions and make this as easy as possible for said officer.  Createspace, for one, will even let you mail directly to the carrier.  However, that doesn’t let you put any of your marketing goodness like bookmarks into the envelope or box.

Again–this ain’t gonna be cheap.  However, you’re A. doing a good deed and B. giving sailors something new.  Given that the carrier will also farm out to its escorts, this may mean your book gets passed around a lot.

Book Donation Sites

Operation Paperback is the most famous of these.  However, local business will often collect books to donate to troops overseas as well.  In any case, a little bit of research will often provide several inexpensive opportunities for your to get your books in a care package to soldiers overseas.  Often times, your fellow authors will do it among friends. This is totally worthwhile because, again, captive audience.  As I alluded to above, I’ve read just about anything while on staff duty, in a waiting room, or in a situation where I needed something to occupy my mind.  I have confirmed that this is a desire that bibliophiles still strive to meet when stuck somewhere.

In any case, hopes this helps folks with some new ideas on off the beaten path ways to get books out in front of readers.  There will be more conventional posts coming, but for now I’m dragging myself off to sleep.

 

Writing Tips: Cover me!

Standard

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, I can be bad about updating this blog.  (*simultaneously from the peanut gallery*  “Noooooo, really?!”)  I will try to be better about that, especially given the fact for some reason people keep putting me on panels.  (Con Organizers: “Uh, James, people also put bears on unicycles.  We’re not saying there are similarities, but…well, here are some pedal clips.”)

One way I’m going to try and combat the dead spaces is to find regular topics to discuss.  Hopefully the folks who follow this blog have actually realized that (yes Di, there will be Halestorm on Metal Mondays), while for all you new folks it’ll just seem like, “Whoa, this guy sure does talk a lot.”  Another sorta regular thing I’m going to do (which is my way of saying I’m not committing to a day as that’s how certain “Enforcers” become empowered) is to start putting up “Writing Tips.”  These could also be entitled “That time James put his hand on a hot stove…twice!” or “I could never be so lucky again…” (with apologies to Jimmy Doolittle).  In all things, your mileage my vary, and if you have the time you can find links to many Master Jedi over at Dorothy Grant’s blog.  Not to encourage paralysis by analysis, but her links are worth diving into.  Also for a time I had a running FB post on my main page with several links.

Today’s topic is covers, or more specifically “What I’ve Learned About Getting Covers.”  The point where I decided to self-publish on Kindle was in late 2012.  I had a short story that had received an “Honorable Mention” from the L. Ron Hubbard “Writer’s of the Future” Contest.  I figured with minimal risk, I’d put it up for $.99, see what shook out.  Problem is, your humble narrator is about as good at art as he is at playing outfield during baseball / softball.  (My nickname was “Old Faithful” in Little League…because I’d drop at least one fly ball a game.)  The better half, at this time, was on art hiatus (more on that later).  So, clearly, this was going to get outsourced.  Poking around the internet, I heard of a place called Deviantart.

Deviantart is a website where amateur artists can place their work.  The site keeps photos low resolution and with a big DA watermark on them to protect copyright.  If you can imagine an internet “First Friday” art gallery, this would be one of them.  The best thing about the site is that it has an awesome search engine.  So if you’re looking for something like “starships,” you’ll get a plethora of returns whose authors you can contact using the message function.  From there, you can start asking them what price range they charge.  In my case, I found a gentleman named Jon Holland and we worked out a price that was well under $100.  This was the result:

Ride of the late rain cover

That’s a solid sci-fi cover, folks.  One look at it tells the reader what they’re getting, i.e. space and starships.  Does it look like David Weber’s Honorverse covers?  No.  But, as I’ll get to, you want something of that level you better be able to pay $$$.

Now, the internet, as with all things, has evolved since 2012.  For that same price or even lower, there is now The Book Cover Designer.  Much like Deviantart was a store front window for random art in different interests TBCD is a location where you can see book covers that can fit into certain genres.  For example, Anita just recently finished a fantasy-type cover:

Mage in a Rage

Of course the title and such will be modified if someone purchases it, but as you can tell we’re already well past halfway to a fantasy / paranormal cover. Because this pretty much screams “Despite my young age I’m still just a mage in a rage…” (with apologies to Smashing Pumpkins).  To give you some idea of TBCD prices, this one will be a mere $50 after Anita’s page finishes uploading it.  In addition, unlike other cover sites, TBCD explicitly tells authors “You sell a cover once, no derivatives.” More on this later.

“But wait, I want my stuff to look exactly like it could have been published by Tor, Baen, or Roc.”  Ooookaaaay, but don’t say you weren’t warned.  So I got Jon to do the cover for An Unproven Concept (both editions) as well as “Ride of the Late Rain.”  Problem is, after talking to a some established folks at Libertycon, they were quite blunt that I needed to step up my game.  No fault of Jon’s–I still like the original cover.  However, in the words of one reader, “Yeah, just couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger on it.” Getting in contact with folks I knew who were crazy successful, I asked for some references to cover artists.  One I was pointed towards was Justin Adams.

As you may be able to tell, Justin is not only a gifted artist, but the primary cover designer for a couple of prominent indie authors.  Which is another way of saying, my wallet screamed in agony when we started talking prices.  Basically if I wanted art, to include the rights to said art, it was going to be $$$, and that first number wasn’t going to be a “5” or lower. We worked out a price, and the result was “The Ballroom”

Ballroom Final (Pic)

But having a pic didn’t mean we were done.  Notice you don’t see any font up there?  Also notice that there’s a lot going on in this picture?  A cover should be exciting, but not too busy or it distracts from what you’re trying to achieve (i.e., someone buys your book).  At this point, it’s time for *superhero theme music* The Cover Designer.  What a cover designer does is find genre appropriate font, framing, and the perfect “thumbnail ready” part of your picture.  In my case, I turned this part of things over to my friend (and Hugo nominee) Cedar Sanderson:

 

 

Unproven ebook cover (Cedar)

What does this cover tell you?  It hopefully tells you “The shit has hit the fan…and oh look, an out of control manure truck is making its way down the ice slicked driveway!”  Whether or not you get that vibe, I can tell you it made a huge difference in sales. As in, when I swapped it out with Jon’s cover, I no kidding saw a double digit increase for like three weeks.  If you count the sales I’ve made in person, this thing has paid for itself several times over.  Also, because I own the rights to the art, I can do things like this:

027

St. Louis Wizard World Set Up

No, that’s not “be at a con in emergency lighting,” but “use the image to create a backdrop for when I have a smaller booth than normal.”  This was a huge boon, as I’m used to having a true 6′-8′ space when I sell at cons versus the compressed space at WW.

A word on wanting to get that awesome art, btw–if you’re selling online, a lot of detail is going to be lost when someone is doing a search for your genre.  Basically, if you’re getting into things like, “I want my Queen Elizabeth-class warship to have this exact number of portholes…” with your artist, you are wasting your time.  First off, depending on your genre, no one is going to care.  For those of you who have romance fans in your life, when was the last time you heard them say, “Wow, I’m glad they got the ivory hooks exactly right on that bodice!”?  Exactly, and I’d dare say most novel fans are like that unless it’s a major franchise.  (Yeah, screw up the angle on an X-wing’s cockpit and watch what happens.)

I’ll be blunter for effect, as I think this point really needs to be driven home–No one is going to see the damn windows on your cover unless you’re selling in person. Even then, the number of people you are going to have be mesmerized because of the perfect number of portholes down the HMS Barham‘s side < the number of additional books you’re going to have to sell because the artist charged you more.  Because trust me, when you start talking crazy stuff like “Oh, oh, and I want people to be able to see that the pennant number is in exactly this font…,” experienced artists start thinking in terms of hours that will take.  If they like you, they’ll gently point out that the price of the art goes up for the amount of detail.  If they don’t like you, they’ll just add another $1-200 to the cost of the piece and smile as they watch the author (“BUT IT WILL LOOK AWESOME!”) fight with the miser (“Just because I got one hand on Lincoln’s throat does not mean I cannot pimp slap you…”) in your head.

The above is not to imply that artists are inherently evil.  That being said, there less than scrupulous artists out there.  Indeed, some will sell you a cover, change maybe two elements and the font, and then sell it to someone else.  Other tricks are for an artist to be somewhat sketchy about terms, then start adding “surprise” fees or delays at the last minute because they know you want your book published.  How do you avoid this?  Well, in almost each and every case (unless you’re married to your cover artist), I recommend drawing up an agreement.  If you go through a site like TBCD, said document will be inherent to the terms the artist puts up / site maintains.  However, if you’re doing this independently, either the artist will have a standard form.  At worst, you can always has things out via email provided you save your messages.

When you do the agreement, make sure you, the author, are explicit in what you want.  I have found that if an artist is really experienced, he or she will help you with this.  For instance, Wayne Scarpaci, the artist who did the painting for the hardcopy of Acts of War and the “Death of Kongo” work on my table up above, asked prescient questions that I had not even thought of about paint schemes.  Justin, when I sent him what I wanted for An Unproven Concept, asked me questions about where the furniture needed to be placed and the scale of the alien cruiser based on the narrative.  Anita regularly asks me questions about lighting even as I’m getting growled at for wanting “Just one more change…”.  In all three cases, they help me find things that I would totally have flubbed.

If the artist is inexperienced, like other activities in life communication is key.  Thus, when I say “explicit” above, I mean if having a certain shade of a color is critical to your vision then specify “teal” versus “cyan.”  Also make sure that your artist knows what platforms you’re planning on putting the cover up on.  Think you’re mad when they get your order wrong in the drive through?  Spend $400 on a cover and find out that it can’t be uploaded on Amazon due to arcane choice the artist (who is now not returning your emails) made.  (No that did not happen to me.  Yes, I know of someone it happened to.) Neophyte or experten, in all cases get the master files (.tiff, high dpi .jpg) so that you’re not dependent on your cover artist’s continued mortality, sanity, or availability to fix a problem.
Seems like a crapload of work, doesn’t it?  Well, just so you don’t have to go through this whole thing again, let me distill it into 10 takeaways:

 

  1. Budget for cover art right after you budget for an editor, and for the same reason.
  2. Don’t be afraid to look at alternate sources to find cheaper, but still serviceable cover art.
  3. People say they don’t judge a book by its cover.  They lie.
  4. When possible, get the rights for your art.
  5. Networking is key.  If you see another author’s cover art you like, make sure you ask them where they got it.
  6. A good cover artist is worth their weight in gold.  Make sure you take care of your cover artists by, in the spirit of #5, telling other people about them.
  7. Make sure you have an idea what you want before you contact the artist, convey it clearly, then draw up an agreement that takes care of both parties.
  8. Remember that it’s going to be a thumbnail.
  9. It’s not just the picture–cover design and font choice are important.
  10. Genre, genre, genre–fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, military sci-fi, etc. are all different listings on Amazon for a reason, so plan your cover design accordingly.

Hope this was helpful.  I’ll likely cover marketing next, but that may be a bit.