The Everyday Author

For authors who can't quit their day jobs...yet

Month: March 2016

Guest Post: 7 tips for killer book cover design

Intro from D_Sidd: Like it or not, readers judge books by their covers. A cover is the first thing a reader sees and if yours isn’t up to snuff, odds are they’re going to pass your book by. Quality book cover design doesn’t come cheap and the last thing you want to do is write a check for a cover that’s less than stellar. Here’s a few tips to keep in mind from Domi at Inspired Cover Designs.

Right fit for the genre

A lot of authors want to make their cover different from others in the genre, they want something unique. But there are major reasons to stick with genre conventions. If your potential readers don’t immediately recognize the genre of your book by looking at your cover, they will just look somewhere else. This doesn’t mean that your cover can‘t stand out. Take a look at the most successful books on Amazon in your category – what do they have in common, what makes them the right fit for the genre? If you are working with a graphic designer, he will be able to help identify these elements, and work them into your cover. Your cover can still be unique and there are plenty of ways to work with these graphic elements to create an interesting cover.

Less is more

A book cover is packaging, and just like any other packaging, it’s there to grab a potential customer’s attention and tell them what they are buying. Some authors want their cover to show the exact places, objects and characters they created in their book. This can result in a cluttered design which is not effective. Everything which is not necessary to make your customers buy your book must go.

Focus on people

If you don’t know where to start, try focusing on some basic graphic elements which are proven to work. People are drawn to the images of people, which is why they are so often present on book covers. A popular design choice is to leave readers some room for imagination and show characters as silhouettes, or with their faces partially cut out.

Fonts

When deciding the right fonts for your cover, you should consider what is common in your genre. Generally, you can combine one complicated font with one simple font and you should avoid using more than three different fonts on one cover. Contrasting color between the text and the background helps your text stand out.

You may also be unsure about the sizing of the title and your author name. This is a controversial topic. If you are not recognized as an author yet, you will probably want to emphasize the title of your book rather than your author name. However, some authors argue that you should make your author name large anyway, because it gives the impression that you are already successful, and must be worth reading.

Stock photos

You might sometimes see that somebody has used the same stock image as someone else (you might even see many appearances of the same stock image). Don’t worry about using this image if it’s perfect for your book. All you need to do in this situation is to make sure that your book cover looks better and more professional than the other ones using the same stock photo. That way everyone will assume that you were the first one using the image… even if you weren’t.

Productive collaboration with your graphic designer

It’s definitely worth it to spend some time thinking about your book cover before you ask your designer to start working. You should be able to answer questions like:

  • What are the dominant themes of my book?
  • Who is my ideal reader?
  • What is the mood of my book?
  • What existing covers do I like in this genre and why?

These are questions similar to those that a designer will ask when you start working with them. Being able to confidently answer these questions will ensure that your designer is going the same direction as you are.

Promotion

You should think about other ways you can use your book cover to promote the book. You might promote your book on social media, on your personal website, or somewhere else entirely. In all these cases the consistency is the key. The banners you use for promotion should include graphic elements from your cover. That way the readers will know exactly what they’re looking for when they visit your author page on Amazon or elsewhere.

Domi lives in Prague where beer is cheaper than water. She is a graphic designer who spends her days reading, drinking coffee and designing book covers. She enjoys the creative collaboration with authors that creates a beautiful book cover. Domi has her Masters degree in economics and has previously worked in marketing. She also understands the need for solid book promotion and offers promotional graphics to help authors grow their businesses on her website: http://inspiredcoverdesigns.com.

Author Origins: Mark Lawrence

Mark_Lawrence_bioMark Lawrence is married with four children, one of whom is severely disabled. He now writes full-time. Formerly he was a research scientist focused on various rather intractable problems in the field of artificial intelligence. He has held secret level clearance with both US and UK governments. At one point he was qualified to say ‘this isn’t rocket science … oh wait, it actually is’.

Between writing and caring for his disabled child, Mark spends his time playing computer games, tending an allotment, brewing beer, and avoiding DIY.

He has two trilogies in print, The Broken Empire, starting with Prince of Thorns, and The Red Queen’s War starting with Prince of Fools, concluding in June with The Wheel of Osheim. The first book in the Red Sister trilogy is due for publication in 2017.

Introduction: Tell us who you are, why you decided to be an author and where you’re at right now in your career.

I’m Mark Lawrence, fantasy author. I never really decided to be an author, I just wrote books for fun, and when I got ‘bullied’ into sending one to an agent I rapidly got a publishing deal. Currently I’m finishing off my eighth book and I stopped having a day-job a year ago.

What was the hardest thing about balancing writing with a day job? What is the hardest thing about writing for a living now?

Without wishing to sound obnoxious, I didn’t find anything hard about writing while having a day job. If they hadn’t closed down the entire research department I would probably still be there. To write a 100,000 word book in a year you only need to write 300 words a day. I can easily write 300 words in half an hour.

Writing while not having a day job is even easier. I guess the hardest thing is not letting Facebook and twitter eat my day. Weep for me.

Tell us about your schedule and habits back before you made the move to full-time (or what you’re doing now if it hasn’t changed).

I don’t really have a schedule or habits other than those imposed on me. Most of my time was taken up with work and looking after my very disabled youngest daughter. I did my writing when she went to bed. If I don’t feel like writing then I don’t. Fortunately, most of the time I opt for writing over the alternatives.

I’ve always been very relaxed about writing – it’s something I did for enjoyment, and I still enjoy doing it. I’ve never sweated over a piece of fiction.

If you don’t mind, would you tell us how your sales first started out? How many books did you have out before you started seeing traction?

I was lucky enough to be published by big six (five) publishers (Penguin and Harper Collins) and by imprints that focus on a small number of authors (Ace and Voyager. Their releases tend to generate a decent amount of buzz and they have the clout to get their titles in bookshops. Additionally some elements in the online genre community did me the enormous favour of getting outraged by my first book and writing the sort of scathing reviews that generate great interest (I don’t think anyone ever believes they will sink someone’s career with outrage). So I had traction from day 1.

At what point in time did you make the decision to support yourself/your family as an author?

I had enough income to quit my day job but no great inclination to do so. The entire 200-strong advanced research department at the aerospace giant I worked for was axed out of the blue in an internal political move. So now I’m full time.

Do you support yourself completely from writing books or through a variety of work? If so, what else do you do to pay the bills?

Just writing. A great many authors on the shelves of any high street bookshop will need a day-job to keep the lights on. I’m very lucky that my decent sales (a million books in five years) and modest life-style mean that I can support my family on my writing income.

Was there ever a point when you felt like quitting writing or didn’t think you’d ever become a full-time author?

I never did think I would become a full-time author and it was never my goal. I never thought about writing in terms of quitting or not quitting because I wasn’t writing to achieve some goal – I was writing because I enjoyed it. If I stopped enjoying it I would have stopped doing it, with no sense of guilt or failure. I would have called it starting whatever replaced it rather than quitting writing.

What’s one thing about your author career that not many people know?

Some people seem surprised that I don’t listen to my audio books … it’s a medium that doesn’t work for me, so I’ve never listened to more than the first couple of minutes of the first book.

What’s the single best piece of advice you have for authors who can’t support themselves with their writing yet? What should they be focusing on?

Again this question feels odd to me because it’s coming from a very different mind-set. I had the luxury of a job I enjoyed. As a child I wanted to be a research scientist. As an adult I was one. Making money from writing wasn’t a goal.

I could say to write for its own sake. If you enjoy writing then whether you’re published, or sell widely is just a bonus. The truth is that the vast majority of people who write will make very little money from it, so to me it’s sensible to only do what makes you happy writing-wise and if you luck out, great. Other people have very different approaches.

The epic post on how to succeed as an author

Disclaimer: As you may have guessed from the title, this post is humongous, so here’s the short version: Want to know how to succeed as an author? Write more, better books.

There. You can leave now. Go write a book. Get to work. But if you’ve got a few minutes to kill, proceed to the epicness below.

How to succeed as an author

It seems that as publishing continues to grow and evolve in our modern day, everyone is looking for (or selling) courses, books and services to help you shortcut your way to the top. The problem is compounded by the fact that what worked for Author A today might not work for Author B tomorrow. Let’s face it: growing your writing and authorness into a full-time or even decent part-time paycheck isn’t easy. There’s no straight, proven shot to success. Or is there?

Marketing strategies and tactics will continue to change and evolve, but as time goes on, I’m more convinced than ever that there’s really only one thing that matters. Are you ready? Lean in close and pretend you didn’t read the answer in the disclaimer.

Write more, better books.

I’ve just divided everyone reading this. Half of you are nodding your heads and the other half are probably ready to leave something in the comments about “getting discovered and increasing visibility” or something like that. I confess, I’ve hopped back and forth over that fence myself. But three months into my journey as a self-published author, I realized I was going to have to write A LOT of books (thanks to the Write. Publish. Repeat guys and Hugh Howey for this epiphany). The aforementioned sources made one thing clear: I couldn’t take another five/six years dabbling on my next manuscript if I was serious about making a living as an author.

Hugh Howey famously advocates sitting your rear in a chair and writing for ten years before you determine if this is for you or not. I see this as sort of a trial by fire. If you spend ten years writing books and making each of those books better, you can’t help but improve. And, if you spend ten years chasing this crazy dream, it’s a pretty safe bet to say you’ve got the willpower to spend the rest of your life producing. If you want to make sure you know what you’re getting into, check out this post by Howey: So you want to be a writer?

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some numbers

What are successful authors doing: the study

Last month, Written Word Media released a study of over 19,000 authors. They wanted to know what separates the “emerging authors” making > $500/month from the “financially successful authors” making < $5000/month. I recommend checking out their full report but for our purposes here, I’m going to touch on just one of the three findings they published. What do you think it as?

That’s right. Financially successful authors write more.

One more time. FINANCIALLY SUCCESSFUL AUTHORS WRITE MORE.

How much more? Almost twice as many books on the financially successful authors’ backlist (an average of 13.75 vs. 7.4 with the emerging group) and almost twice as many hours spent per week writing (16 for emerging authors and 31 for the financially successful). Not only do they write more, but the successful authors have been doing it longer (greater than three years vs. emerging who were all less than three years). At the end of the day, production is king. Scratch that. Production is emperor. If you’ve only got an hour each day to work on your author business, I’d argue that you should squeeze out every last second of it writing. Not just any writing will do, though.

That’s not writing — that’s typing

Excuse the Truman Capote reference, but you can’t just spend years banging on a keyboard with no thought about upping the ante with your prose, your plotting, your characterization or anything else. You can’t just write MORE books you have to write more BETTER books.

Last week, I read a great post from James Clear about staying the course and being consistent in your efforts. He also touches on Malcolm Gladwell’s famous 10,00 hours rule with one important distinction.

As Clear points out in his article, hundreds of thousands of people have likely put in 10,000 hours of writing through email. What’s the difference between them and a brilliant novelist whose prose drops your jaw and transports you into his story? Clear calls it re-work: “Average employees write emails once. Elite novelists re-write chapters again and again,” he says.

Re-work in our case is rewriting and revising. Taking that pile of first draft crap and shining it until it’s a diamond. To quote Clear again: “A lot of people put in 10,000 hours. Very few people put in 10,000 hours of revision.”

A lot of authors write a couple of “meh” books. Very few authors consistently produce books year after year all the while improving their craft. More from Howey:

“You’ll revise it to perfection and delete the bad parts. The key is to have something down to work with. So learn to fail. Keep going. Ignore the sales of existing works. Ignore the bad reviews. Keep reading, writing, practicing, and daydreaming.”

This isn’t just for self-published authors, either. If you’re going the traditional route, you might have to crank out ten books before you even get one that is picked up by a publisher. Sitting around shopping that first book for years on end doesn’t really help your writing skill. Sure, that book might get a little better and you might improve a bit, but it’s nothing compared to completing the process all over again from start to finish. Kameron Hurley sums this up perfectly in a post on her site called Finish your Sh*t. Here’s an excerpt:

“I’m constantly aware of my own mortality, and I have so many, many stories left to write before I go. If you want to be the best at what you do, you have to keep learning, and keep leveling up. I’m never content to stay in one place.”

Staying in one place doesn’t just mean not writing. It can also mean writing at the same level over and over. You’ve got to push your boundaries. More BETTER books.

In a post called the Calculus of Grit (hat tip James Clear for including this reference in his article above), Venkatesh Rao talks about a theory he calls the Three Rs. They go as follows: reworking (in our case, revising), referencing, and releasing. We’ve already discussed reworking and, for the sake of time, I’m going to skip referencing and go straight into releasing. Here’s what Rao has to say about that:

“If the environment is so murky and chaotic that you cannot strategically figure out clever moves and timing, the next best thing you can do is just periodically release bits of your developing work in the form of gambles in the external world. I think there’s a justifiable leap of faith here: if your work admits significant reworking and internally-referencing, you’re probably on to something that is of value to others.

“If a post happens to say the right thing at the right time, it will go viral. If not, it won’t. All I need to do is to keep releasing. This realization incidentally, has changed my understanding of phenomena like iteration in lean startups and serial entrepreneurs who succeed on their fifth attempt. It’s mostly about averaging across risk/opportunity exposure events, in an environment that you cannot model well.”

This applies directly to writing books too. When it comes down to it, the publishing environment today is “murky and chaotic.” Realizing there are thousands of factors you have to figure into author success, producing a bigger, better catalog is the one thing you have within your control. Marketing and advertising will change and evolve but having lots of good writing available for readers is your ace in the hole if you’re shooting for full-time.

There’s a reason Hugh Howey and countless others didn’t find success until they had several books published. Keep on keeping on, writers. Keep writing more better books.

Guest Post: There and Back Again — Michael Fletcher

It’s the oldest story in the world, boy meets girl, boy marries girl, boy gets a book published with a Big-5 publisher, publisher decides to pass on the sequel, girl tells boy maybe it’s time he got a job.

Maybe I should back up.

Back in 2014 Harper Voyager bought my dark fantasy novel, Beyond Redemption . It came with a fairly sweet advance (at least for an unknown author) and the book went on to sell translation rights to German, Polish, and Russian publishers. While I certainly wasn’t rolling in money, the book made enough that I could afford to work part-time and focus on my writing. As Beyond Redemption was bringing in amazing reviews (starred and boxed review from Publishers Weekly, rave reviews from BookList, the Library Journal, and a host of indie book reviewers) I decided to gamble and write the sequel.

In a twelve month period I wrote and edited two novels totalling over 270,000 words. The first was a direct sequel to Beyond Redemption, the second an unrelated story taking place in the same world. With all the amazing reviews I was confident the publisher would pick up both novels and I looked forward to another year of part-time work and more writing. In fact, if the advances on these two novels were the same as the first and both sold translation rights, it was entirely possible I wouldn’t need a day job at all. Things were tight but I had a plan and my amazing wife supported me chasing my dreams.

And then in late October I heard from the publisher that sales of Beyond Redemption were far lower than expected and at that time they were unwilling to make an offer on the next books.

F@*!

Let’s talk numbers. The book was published June 16th, 2015. Between then and late October the book sold ~750 copies. The publisher wanted to see sales closer to 2,500 copies. Clearly I was well short of that. Harper Voyager suggested we reconvene in the new year and see how sales were then. At that point I went on a mad publicity drive doing guest posts, interviews, and Q&As anywhere that would have me. I’ve talked about this elsewhere so I’ll cut it short. When we talked again in January the sales were sitting around 1,700. While my publicity push had definitely helped, the sales were still well below what HV wanted. They passed on the two books I’d spent the last year writing, wished me the best of luck, and said they would be very interested in seeing more work from me (unrelated to Beyond Redemption) in the future.

It was a kick in the gut. All of a sudden I was sitting there with two written books and no income beyond a part-time job that wasn’t making nearly enough to live off.

The first thing I did was get extremely drunk. For about a week. Maybe longer. I just know that there was an empty 40 oz Jameson bottle in the recycling box every week for a while alongside all the usual wine and beer empties. Ok. It might have been a month.

I might be ‘new’ at this, but what that means is that I’ve only been writing for seven years. And in seven years any serious writer amasses a truly staggering amount of rejection. I collected over one hundred rejection letters before I sold my first short story. It was two years of chasing agents and publishers before I landed a small Canadian publisher for my first novel, 88. Was I really going to let this stop me? Hell, I’d sold a book to a big-5 publisher! Beyond Redemption wound up on fifteen best-of-2015 lists! Apparently I could write at a professional level!

Putting away the whiskey I had a chat with my agent. She said that while the other big-5 publishers would pass on my novels for the same reason Harper Voyager passed, there were a number of excellent mid-level publishers who might be interested in a sequel to book that had by this point sold over 2,000 copies. We spent a two months writing and tweaking proposals, and now we’re shopping both books to a list of about a dozen publishers. It’s early days (it’s only been two weeks) so it’s too early to know if there will be interest. In the meantime I’ve begun work on another fantasy novel that has nothing to do with Beyond Redemption.

Things didn’t go the way I wanted, but no one ever said this was going to be easy. If you’re going to fold the first time shit goes sideways, you’re in the wrong biz. If the mid-level publishers don’t bite, I’ll self-publish which will be a whole new adventure, one I must say both terrifies and excites me.

If I may be so bold as to offer one piece of advice: Don’t write your sequel until there’s demand.

If you’re curious to hear the next chapter, I can check back in a few months with an update.

Cheers, folks!

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