Book Covers: More Important Than I Realized

Never judge a book by its cover? Baloney! Tommyrot! Poppycock! Book covers are important — more important than I realized.

Book buyers buy books for four reasons: they know the author (Stephen King sells on his name alone), they are following a series (Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files), they read a glowing review and are interested, and finally, the cover grabs their attention.* The latter is especially true for freshmen authors like me. Our names aren’t known, our series are just beginning, and no one has reviewed our books yet.

A Path of Stones is selling quite well on the Apple iBookstore. So far, I’ve sold more than 50 copies, and average at least one sale per day. I’ve finally been able to access the Apple iBookstore, via iTunes, to see what the listing looks like.

Because the title begins with the letter A, my book is smack in the middle of the second row of Popular Fantasy. Nice placement. But the cover struck me. It stood out among the other three rows. For openers, it’s the only cover that features two characters, not just one. Secondly, it’s one of only two in which the characters are actually doing something, not just standing there. All the other covers feature portraits or objects. They aren’t boring, but my one scene of action shines in a sea of portraiture.

This is the cover:

pathcovera

I followed Frank Frazetta’s concept that the cover depicts action and drama, even if it does not convey the actual plot of the story. If you look at his marvelous paintings, all of them depict action. Even the classic painting of Conan standing on a pile of corpses conveys action. The action has just passed, and we have a good idea of the skull-cleaving that transpired. We want to read the story to see it for ourselves.

Remember, the the book cover is marketing. Given that the average online book shopper spends about three seconds scanning rows of potential purchases, it is important to grab the buyer’s attention fast. I’d say the cover to A Path of Stones is doing just that. I’ve made enough from the Apple store to buy two tanks of gas and a cheeseburger.

Apparently, Frazetta’s concept isn’t followed much these days. Also, apparently, it still works.

*  Non-fiction book buyers have reason to buy a book that outweighs the four I listed. They’re researching a subject. That’s rarely the case for the reader of fantasy fiction.

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing is often presented as the be-all and end-all of marketing efforts, especially to those of us who are independent writers and publishers.

No, it isn’t! The problem is that the presentation of it to us is painted in broad strokes using a massive brush. It’s over-generalized. It has to be broken down into components. Here is my social media campaign for A Path of Stones, the results, and my observations.

I have four social media outlets: Facebook, WordPress, DeviantArt, and Twitter. The first three exist because I like them, and I’ve been active on them for years. Twitter is simply an exercise in mercenaryism because I still don’t understand what a novelist is supposed to do with a mere 140 characters (besides kill them — a George R. R. Martin joke). Between the four sites, I have 600 friends, followers, readers, and fans.

I began marketing A Path of Stones on those four outlets on January 15. By book release day, February 15, everyone knew I had written and published a novel. The likes, shares, and retweets were phenomenal. The majority of my friends, fans, and followers were behind me. A month later, here are the sales results:

Hardback: 2

Paperback: 0

Kindle: 3

ePub: 53

All those ePub sales were through the Apple iBookstore, a marketplace that I have absolutely no control over. It was a last minute decision when Lulu offered it to me as part of an expanded distribution.

If likes, shares, and retweets translated into sales, I would have made enough by now to buy a car.

Those numbers look dismal! It looks like my social media campaign was a failure. Not necessarily. Let’s look beneath the numbers and at each of the four sites.

My Facebook presence is divided into two parts: a personal profile and an author’s page. My friends on my personal profile are old high school friends, college friends, fraternity brothers, friends I’ve made in Texas, and the core of an old LiveJournal forum that stuck together after the forum folded. The majority of the followers of my author’s page are the same people. Most are younger than I am and have children. They don’t have much discretionary income, and the ones who do are not necessarily fans of fantasy fiction.

My fans on DeviantArt are mostly other 3D artists, and those who like Frazetta-inspired images of buxom women playing with swords. They put the fanatic back in fan. But they like art, not necessarily words. If I had published an art book, I’d probably have sold 50 copies that first day.

WordPress and Twitter are made up of the same types of folks, writers and artists who band together to learn from each other and support each other. Not all of us like fantasy, and those of us who do may not take a chance on a freshman writer’s first novel. If I had written a book on self-publishing, it would have sold like crazy between WordPress and Twitter alone.

So, it would seem that my social media marketing fell flat solely because my market isn’t represented in my four sites. That is not something that is reflected in the generalized statement of using social media marketing for sales success.

There is a way around that. I could join several forums and Facebook groups specifically designed for fantasy fiction. Then, I could plug my book. I can’t do that. Not only is advertising against the rules of most forums and groups, it’s also poor manners. I’m mercenary enough with Twitter. If I am going to aim my social media marketing deliberately at a specific target, I’d join it, become part of the group, get to be known, and stay silent about my book for at least six months. Then, I’d mention it in an off-handed way, such as “You know, I wrote a book on just that very thing. Maybe you’d like it.” That is a possibility; I just haven’t explored it yet.

Going back to the likes, shares, and retweets for a moment. I received more of those for my “I’m published!” posts than any other at any time. The attaboys sure felt good. Encouragement is worth its weight in gold.

In no way am I discouraging you from using social media marketing. I’m simply saying don’t be disappointed if it appears to generate little to no sales.

Now, all that said, I can see where social media marketing works in an outstanding manner for certain groups. Niche writers for one. Say this blog were about the life of a childfree middle-aged pagan man writing in a college town (it actually is, but imagine if that were the focal point). Over the years, my readers here would reflect similar lifestyle tastes. If I wrote a book on that subject, based on my blog posts, and offering twelve new chapters never seen on the web, it would sell and sell well. In fact, that’s exactly how some best-sellers are written.

The same goes for the Millennial generation. I know a few 20 year olds, and they have more than 3,000 friends on Facebook. They are a collective group of young people. If one posted “My new novella comes out today,” 1,000 of their friends would buy it immediately. That’s just how that generation operates. Mine is different. We Baby Busters are loners. We believe if we can’t make it on our own, we don’t deserve to make it (which is why my Kickstarter campaign was so stressful). Two totally different mindsets. I may pick on Millennials, but I admire their optimistic communalism and I hope it never disappoints them.

The campaign for The Fires of Tallen Hall will no doubt be more successful. I’ve noticed a trickling increase in traffic here, on Facebook, and on DeviantArt. In fact, twice now, someone found this blog by searching for my name, and once someone searched for The Fires of Tallen Hall, which appears only at the end of A Path of Stones as a “to be continued in …” line. That tells me the readers of the ePub edition got curious. They will come back. They will tell their friends. Their friends will visit. They will bookmark this page, and my website. That is called the “soft marketing” approach — word of mouth. To my way of thinking, it’s the slowest, but the best.

 

 

St. Patrick’s Sale

St Patricks Day 2

St. Patrick’s Day is the day that all Americans think they’re Irish, and my Irish wife avoids restaurants and bars like the plague. In honor of the day, I’m holding a sale on all eBook editions of A Path of Stones. They will be 25% off, for March 17, 18, and 19. So, tell all your friends that they can get in on the fun of A Path of Stones for only $ 2.99, both Kindle and ePub editions.

Visit www.njbmedia.com for details.

Have a happy St. Patrick’s Day, and don’t drink any watered down Guinness.

Hard Drive Crash!

Yep. It happens to the best of us. This one is five years old, and that’s about their expected life span. Two crashes and a total blank out (the computer didn’t even recognize that it had a C drive) tell me that this disk is just about ready for the grave.

Fortunately, my father was a TV engineer, and I watched him. Replacing a hard drive is a cakewalk. Also, I was a gamer, and know the gamer’s motto — “Jesus saves, and so should you.” I back up everything!

I picked up a new one last night for $ 79. It’s also a full terabyte. The old one was only 750 G. So, I’m gaining ground. In the process, I remembered that I had a pair of usused RAM chips. Several years ago, I bought a pair to upgrade to 32 G, but the third and fourth slots aren’t active. So, I swapped them in for the have-to-be-worn-out originals. Next month, I’ll pick up an OEM CPU chip, then I’ll have a refurbished computer, all for under $ 200.

Now comes the hard part. Just because I backed it up, doesn’t mean it’s ready to copy over. I have to reinstall all those DAZ modules — shoes, clothes, people, sets, swords — One. At. A. Time.

I’ll be here for a few days.

After One Week

A Path of Stones released last Wednesday. After one week, this is how the book has performed:

1 hardback sale

1 Kindle sale

23 ebooks on the Apple ibookstore

Not great, but not bad, either. I didn’t expect it to be a phenomenon in the first week, much less on the first day. My marketing approach is known as “soft,” meaning I release the book, do some preliminary announcements on social media, and then let word of mouth take it from there. “Hard” marketing involves phone calls, press releases, and free copies to reviewers. No need in that for the first novel.

What’s surprising are those Apple sales. I signed up for the Apple store simply because Lulu offered it as an expanded marketplace option. All I can figure is the book description appeals to people with iPhones and iPads.

Even more surprising is a hit on this very blog today. Someone found it by searching “The Fires of Tallen Hall.” That is the title of the second book, which I’m currently writing. The title appears at the end of A Path of Stones, on a “to be continued” page. So, someone finished A Path of Stones and wanted to see if The Fires of Tallen Hall was available.

I’ll chalk this week up as a success.

The Importance of Book Descriptions

We publishing Browncoats (Firefly reference; allusion to Independents there) are responsible for all our own marketing. Nowhere is this more crucial than in the book description we write for the various e-marketplaces.

I’m assuming you’re writing fiction. For us, the best option is to use our elevator spiel. If you don’t know what that is, ask yourself how you can summarize your book to a perfect stranger in the two minutes required to travel by elevator in such a way that he wants to buy your book. They’re short, to the point, and juicy.

This works, you crazy hep cats! I just released my book A Path of Stones today. That means, I activated the links on my website. The books have been available on Amazon, Lulu, and the Apple ibookstore for a week now. I already sold eleven ebooks in that week! It can only be because I wrote a humdinger of a description.

Here is the one for A Path of Stones:

Newly initiated wizardess Aura Lockhaven has a strange power within her that enables her to perform miracles. The path of the enchantress offers her hope to harness that power before it kills her. To discover more, she visits the Valley of the Mystic Moon, the home of the Order of Enchanters. The Order is not so enchanting, however. A monster wants Aura’s soul. A vengeful ghost wants her head. A renegade lawman wants both. A mad noblewoman believes Aura is the fulfillment of a prophecy. Finally, there is something about her mother’s maiden name that attracts the wrong kind of attention. Aura may not survive walking A Path of Stones.

My main goals in writing it that way was to convey what the story was about, in suspenseful terms, and to let the reader know this is not another story about a group of mismatched characters walking 1,000 miles to save the world from an evil villain. I must have achieved my goals.

Writing for Bowker’s Self Published Writer newsletter, Penny C. Sansevieri goes into much more detail than I can. I’ll simply link you to her article and tell you to read away: How Great Book Descriptions Can Help Sell More Books.

 

 

 

Don’t Quit!

Never give up! Never surrender! — Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) in Galaxy Quest

I am 54 years old, and tomorrow I publish my first novel.

Technically, A Path of Stones is my fourth novel. The other three are in landfills. They were horrible.

I wrote my first novel when I was 24. The second when I was 27, and the third when I was 35. Things got in the way. It’s hard to function with a personalty disorder you don’t know you have. It’s hard to think when your mind is clouded by chronic depression, and it’s undiagnosed, much less untreated.

I lost thirty years. So what?

It doesn’t matter if A Path of Stones will be released on February 15, 2017, or February 15, 1987. What is important is that it will be published. Time is irrelevant.

Something in me refused to quit. I’m stubborn. Yeah, I’m stupid like that. Tomorrow, it all pays off.

Don’t quit. You are not too old to accomplish your dreams.

An old joke goes something like this:

Man One: “If I go back to graduate school, I’ll be 40 when I graduate.”

Man Two: “How old will you be if you don’t go back to graduate school?”

Age only matters in the military and in parenthood. I don’t recommend joining the Army at 50 or becoming a mother for the first time at 90 (leave that to Sarah in the Bible).

Today is Valentine’s Day. Give yourself the gift of love. Dust off those old dreams. Try again. You owe it to yourself, no matter how old you are.

If I can do it, personality disorder and all, then so can you.

 

 

Internet Meanness Is Cowardice

I read something upsetting today, and it’s all about internet meanness.

Taylor Davis is a phenomenal violinist of considerable talent. Certainly, she plays mostly movie themes, but she puts her soul into them, and reworks them to make them her own. She hosts a YouTube channel where she shares her songs with the world, for free. That’s also good marketing for her CDs and tours. She shares joy and light with all of us. Go take a listen, especially to her versions of “Skyfall” and “A Game of Thrones.”

Today, Ms. Davis went on Instagram Live to show her fans her studio, work process, and answer questions. Well, she was bombarded with mean. As she wrote later on Facebook, she was “really surprised at the number of people who were saying really disgusting, perverted and hateful things to me while I was trying to show my newest project to everyone. It honestly made me feel terrible.”

There is no excuse for that. None.

That is just mean.

If you don’t much care for Ms. Taylor’s style, or that she plays mostly themes from movies, TV shows, and video games, that’s fine. If you’d rather listen to Lindsey Stirling or Jenny O’Connor, that’s great. Your entitled. Not every artist appeals to everyone. Personal taste is acceptable. But the solution is to walk away and not listen. That’s what civilized people do. It’s what adults do. There is no call for insulting Ms. Taylor, or anyone else. Internet bullying is not acceptable, under any circumstances.

No one deserves that. Not the teen posting selfies. Not the mother showing her newborn. Not the grandfather bragging about the bass his grandson caught on a Snoopy rod and reel. Not a violinist trying to make the world a little bit better. No one. As Ms. Davis herself wrote, “They may not know me personally, but I’m still a normal human being who has real feelings and emotions and can be affected by things like that, and it’s still just as mean to say something like that online as it is to say to someone’s face.”

If you would say these horrible things to someone’s face, then you’re a bully. If you wouldn’t say them to someone’s face, then you’re a coward.

It’s epidemic.

Are you going to tell me that the same people who are still talking about the 2016 World Series and the 2017 Superbowl are cowards? The same people who spend millions of dollars of superhero movies and Star Wars are cowards? We like watching heroics, so why don’t we show it ourselves.

We the People of the United States are better than that. In our infancy, we tackled the greatest empire the world has ever known. We stood up to Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan, at the same time mind you. We defeated smallpox and polio. We put twelve men on the Moon. And now, we’re cowards? We’re as mean as those enemies we fought? Yeah, well, apparently so.

We are mean cowards, hiding behind our monitors like vipers behind rocks waiting for mice. This has to stop. Otherwise, it will only grow worse. It’s already begun to creep out from behind the monitor into the streets, where we shoot people just for what they wear.

Turn on the evening news and prepare to be deluged with vomit inducing scenes of meanness. That is our fault. We are all guilty to some degree. You and I. We can stop it today.

Spread a little kindness. Be courageous. Make that clerk at Wal-Mart laugh. Smile at a stranger. Be polite to that person in the Facebook thread, even if you totally disagree with his argument. We can’t stop all the meanness, or defeat all the cowards, but if we remove ourselves from the epidemic, it diminishes just a little bit. Then, the internet will be a bit brighter.