Tag: Undead Heart

To Kindle Select or Not To Kindle Select

Amazon KindleHopefully the Bard’s lawyers will let that one slip. While there has been plenty of articles and debates on the merits of Amazon’s Kindle Select Program, https://kdp.amazon.com/select, I figured now is as good a time as any for me to weight in; especially since I have some first hand knowledge. I decided to try out Amazon’s Kindle Select Program with my latest novel, Undead Heart. Basically what enrollment in Kindle Select provides are: lending of your title through the Kindle Reader Lending Library and a share of the global fund, access to promotions and extra advertising and full 70% royalties from some international markets. All that it asks for in return is your soul. Only kidding, but Amazon does ask that while enrolled in the program your title be digitally exclusive to Amazon’s Kindle store. You can, however, sell paper copies through any channel you wish.

Looking at how my previous two works performed in other digital platforms, namely, Barnes and Noble’s Nook store, Lulu.com and Smashwords, my main question was what would I be sacrificing in sales from those channels. Sadly the answer was not much. My sales across those other platforms have not even been a fraction of what I sold through Amazon. I figured I was not giving up anything but maybe a bending of principle with giving Amazon exclusivity to my work, if only for the time being. That is correct. The way the program works is I can choose to leave at any time to pursue other options for my digital sales.

My novel released on the 13th of December last year. To date it has not moved much on the Kindle lending library so that almost appears to be a nonstarter at this moment, but I still have hope. I have to say my pleasant surprise came from the promotion I ran after the 30 day mark on January 13th to the 20th. I ran what Amazon calls a Count Down promotion. You can for the period of the promotion reduce the price of your title and then over time have it gradually increase back to the original price. The best part is you keep the same royalty rate as you normally would have on the title. For my promotion I just went with a 99 cent sale for the whole week.  During the week of that promotion my sales jumped 200%.  Despite the the reduced royalty, 70% of 99 cents instead of $2.99, the promotion accounted for a 300% revenue increase over the previous week. Color me impressed. The biggest payoff to me however was in seeing my book shoot above the 70,000 mark in Amazon’s best sellers rank. On launch my title entered around the 200,00 mark so this was a big showing. Even after the promotion ended the effects of the rank boost carried through for the following weeks.

As you can tell, I am very impressed with how the promotion turned out. I am currently planning a similar promotion at the six month anniversary of the launch. Who knows, maybe once some more reviews show up for my title the lending library numbers will increase as well. Beyond that I do not know if I will remain with the program or as my next book comes out, enter that in the program and send Undead Heart to other digital channels. I have found the Kindle Select Program to be a very attractive option. Is it right for your work? I am afraid only you can answer that.

Formatting Can Save Your eBook

I have learned two things from my most recent completion and publication of Undead Heart. One, you cannot underestimate the power of a professionally done cover. I covered that with this post here. The second thing I learned is better formatting of your eBook can make a ton of difference even if you think you know how to format one. I have Ken at www.yourebookbuilder.com to thank for that. Rather than just going on let me show you some of what I learned.

Alignment

example Poem centered  example poem justified

The example on the left was my original. I formatted the poem at the start of my book, centered at the top of the page. On the right it is formatted a little lower on the page and with a left alignment. The words form an even line up the margin that is more pleasing to the eye. The individual lines also stand out making this easier to read as a piece of poetry.

My chapters maintained a justified look in the original and the new version moves the chapter title down the page a little. In addition the new format tightens up the space between lines just a bit.

example original chapter format  example new chapter format

Scene Breaks

example original scene break  example scene break new

Here the left was my original. Typically a scene break is indicated by a line skip, three *’s and a line skip. This can be a little tricky to do in HTML and CSS. The guru at Your eBook Builder took care of that. Once thing you cannot see in this example is that my original formatting would have problem with the font re-size feature of most e-readers. In the original instance the spaces between the asterisks would have increased along with the font, an unsightly consequence corrected by the correct formatting.

Block Quote

A block quote is an area of text that you want to stand out to the reader as being apart from the immediate narrative. In my book these consist of several journal entries that the protagonist, Larry, reads.

example original block quote  example newly formated block quote

These can be very tricky to pull off in HTML, I did my best on the left but you cannot argue that the new version on the right is head and shoulders above it. The reader will have no question of where this section breaks away from the narrative and where it renters. The extra margins and short line set it apart nicely.

Going into this I thought I knew enough about HTML to format the book. I was close. However it took me several hours of my time to just be close. Some of these things I had not considered. For example I included a table of contents but made the error of putting it in front of the book. This wasted two pages for anyone who downloaded the sample. In addition it did nothing for the built in link to the table of contents provided by the Kindle reader. You don’t always know what you don’t know. Now I know more than I did and I know that for the fee a professionally done format can free me up to do what I do better, write the book. Granted not every wallet is the same thickness and not every ego is as malleable so you must make the best choices to suite your goals.  You can bet Your eBook Builder will be working on the format for my next book.

 

 

 

Success

image

I received my first box of books this week. On the one hand it means I need to hit the bricks and get selling, something, I must confess, I am not very good at. On the other hand it means that Undead Heart is truly complete. I like the sound and feeling of that. Sales so far have been better than my other books and I can’t be happier. I do have a sales promotion coming up in about a week in the Amazon Kindle Store. Also if anyone would like a signed copy message me on Facebook and we can work something out.

Phoenix Comicon 2012

Phoenix Comicon 2012 LogoI spent the weekend wandering the halls and exhibitor space of Phoenix Comicon. I get such a warm spot in my heart when I see so many fans of comics, sci-fi and all things geek. How great is it that there is a place we can all make our pilgrimage to once a year, renew old bonds, celebrate our idols and buy cool stuff? Lots of cool stuff. I always come away from these events with such a charge of inspiration. I could probably take the next couple of weeks off from work just jotting down all the cool story ideas. I went this year as a fan, maybe next year I will get a table for my books. I still haven’t graduated from writer to marketer just yet. I am hoping to have both Undead Heart and The 4th Prometheus for sale by next year’s event, there is only 360 days to go.

 

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Editing the Undead

Cover art for Undead HeartWriting a novel is the entertaining part. The real excitement comes when it is time to begin the editing process. And i do mean process. Never kid yourself into thinking that one time past your eyes doth an edit make. You are also kidding yourself if you think you can edit while you are creating your novel. Baby steps, one at a time.

This goes for editing. You are not going to find plot holes and misspellings at the same time. You might but you will compromise both. I tend to break up the editing into to halves, the structure and the skin. When editing the structure, I am looking for plot holes, missing descriptions, making sure character names remain consistent and that all instances of foreshadowing are resolved. Remember that gun you talked about in chapter three better shoot something by chapter 30. For Undead Heart I had an issue where the ending was too abrupt. The pacing was way to fast compared to the earlier 2/3 of the novel. I had to add some more (about 25 pages) to flesh out the ending in a way that slowed the pace a little but not drag it out. This is all in the name of structure editing.

Once that is done then I go for the skin. How does it read? Is everything spelled correctly, are unique names spelled the same throughout,  is my grammar polished and poised to impress, do my descriptions confuse or clarify, is my dialogue natural sounding and easy to follow. This is the point I am at now with Undead Heart. All the plotting is done, all the characters fleshed out (no pun intended), the pace is right where I wanted it, so not it’s time for the polish. You cannot rush this. You can however, take more time than is necessary, at a certain point you have to put the dog on a leash and take him for a walk.

Another key part to my process is not doing this alone. I am fortunate to have my wife, who is brutal with the red pen and a high school librarian. She is also a voracious reader, averaging 2 books a week. Since Undead Heart is a YA novel this falls right in her area of expertise and her input is invaluable. She was the one who caught the pacing problems with the ending on her first read. Together we will get the prose polished to a silvery sheen and then cut out the heart of the vampires, sorry getting carried away. The point I am trying to make is just as you cannot give yourself a back rub you cannot edit your work alone. Get some extra eyes on those pages.

Anne R. Allen’s Blog recently had a post on hiring an editor, which incidentally lead me to this post, that has some excellent tips that you can read here. In addition there are some real helpful tips for avoiding scam artists. It is a sad fact of life that wherever there is a professional there is also the anti-professional lurking in the shadows to scam you out of your money. I have never used a professional editor. This is not because of some over-inflated sense of my abilities but a simple matter of never being able to afford one. That like all things may change in the near future. Right now for the undead it is just the dynamic duo of my wife and I. This will be our third novel together and our best one yet. Get a taste from the trailer here.

Designing a Front Cover

Writers are often the last person consulted about the cover for their work. In most cases the publisher turns the responsibility over to the graphic artists in the marketing department. Independent writers are their own marketing department so coming up with an interesting and attractive cover falls to us and is either a benefit or curse depending on your mindset. Many writers are left thinking, where do I begin. To that end I wanted to post about the design process that went into the cover for my latest novel, Undead Heart. I broke out each piece that went into the design and what I was thinking when I made the choices I did.

Basic Concept

I had a good idea for the cover I wanted based on the content of the work. The novel is a YA vampire story with werewolves, zombies and features a teenage guitarist in a Heavy Metal band as the protagonist. This already gave me some very usable images and themes. I wanted to convey the music and the vampires right away. That is when I came up with the idea of having a guitar on the cover with a blood splatter. I had the guitar in my collection so that was a quick photo away. Finding the right blood splatter made for some interesting Google image searches. Remaining mindful of copyright and keeping on the law abiding side made some first choices unavailable, but eventually I came across something I could use and liked.

Photo

I chose my Charvel Model 4 guitar for the picture. It is my oldest guitar and closest in design to what one would associate with Heavy Metal music. It is also all white with black pick-ups so it does not overpower the text for my name and title. I wanted just the guitar so I decided to take the picture right in the case to make removing the guitar in the image easier if needed. As an experiment I used two cases, one with red felt and one with black. I eventually chose the black felt case over the red. I wanted this to be a full cover picture and since a book is longer that it is wide a vertical shot of the guitar worked best.  I knew the title and my name would go across the top and bottom of the book to keep it in line with my previous works already on sale, so that limited the angle of the shot and what part of the guitar I needed to focus on. Knowing that I would be adding a blood splatter limited the picture to capturing mostly the left side opposite the controls.

Guitar with red caseGuitar in black case

 

 

 

 

Design

Cover with blood splatterOnce I had the photograph I needed to add in the blood. There was no way I was putting either fake or real blood on my 25 year old guitar. To that end I used the photo editing program Gimp. It is an open source program very similar to industry standard Photoshop. The chief benefit for using it is that you can download it for free. I did not worry about image size just yet. In fact at this point the bigger the better. Once you have chosen the trim size for your book you can adjust the size down to fit. This is always easier and looks better than having to scale it up. Gimp, like Photoshop uses layers to create a picture. Each element of the picture rests in it’s own layer like the pages in a book. The background layer was the picture of the guitar. I then created another layer for the blood splatter, scaling it and positioning it to where I wanted. Once I was happy with how that looked I merged the two layers into one. I did this so that I could apply a lighting effect or filter to the picture as a whole. I didn’t want the effect applied to the text so I left the titles for another layer. After much experimentation I decided on a spotlight effect that I really liked and applied that to the image.
Cover with spot effect

 

 

 

Titles

Black spot cover with textAt this point it was time to add in the text for the book title and my name. Following my previous work I placed a title on the bottom of the cover and my name on the top. I tried a number of different fonts before finding one that I thought I could live with. Living with it was not my goal so that is when I enlisted some help. I enlisted the services of a colleague who just launched a new Literary Media company, IronQuill. One of the first suggestions was since this is a YA novel the font needed to reflect that, it also should have a Heavy Metal vibe. I looked at several possibilities until finding one that I liked the best. Another suggestion was to put the title at the top of the cover. Because of the arrangement of the guitar and the fonts used this created a more striking look. Lastly and something I had not considered, was replacing the spot effect with grungy patina on the guitar to create the idea of decay. I thought this was an excellent way to bring in the zombies to the cover. All in all it was a great process, working with IronQuill and now I have a cover that meets all my needs. So, without further ado I present the cover for Undead Heart.

Cover art for Undead Heart

The one thing I hope you take away from this and what I have learned is that cover design consists of several seperate pieces. Many of those pieces you will know but a few will not cross your mind. Working with someone is a great way of making sure you explore all the possibilities and get a design that is striking, informative and makes the reader pick up the book or hit the download button. The person you work with doesn’t have to be a professional but they should know something about the your book. A professional can make a basic design really shine but they can only work off of what you provide them.

 

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