Book 3 Cover Taster

Book three of NEXUS is slowly creeping closer, though working seven days a week until midnight is slowing down its progress. The cover is ready, but I don’t want to reveal it until I know when the book will be released.

I will probably also start putting out brief character spotlights as the release gets closer and, obviously, announce that release when I know it. Until then, here is a little square of the cover. Look, it has a foot! A sci-fi foot!

Book 3 Tease

You may have noticed my Facebook and Twitter (oh, and G+…) banners change. That was your first taste!

So until I know more, I’ll try and put out more guides for surviving unlikely situations you’ll definitely find yourself in should you happen to be some kind of Hero.

New Cover

Just a quick update to say that I have changed the cover for the ebook version of Acts of Violence to fit the new paperback version (available soon). There’s a little man and everything! Here they both are:

Acts of Violence paperback cover

Paperback Cover

Acts of Violence eBook cover

Kindle Cover

How to Write a Book: The End

We’ve done the preparation, the writing, the editing, and you feel like you’ve reached the peak of a mountain. Now it’s time to turn around and see the next peak looming over you.

Remember, as with everything that has come in part 1 and part 2, everything I mention here needs its own in-depth research.

THE ROAD TO PUBLICATION

Publication

Perhaps you were writing only for yourself, or your friends and family, or because an alien parasite crawled into your head and made you. In these cases, you may not be interested in publication of any kind. However, even in such cases, you may still want to have a professional-looking book to give to said friends or family, or even to have sitting on your shelf where no one will ever see it but you. And the parasite.

– Which Road?

Will you be taking the traditional route to publication, via an agent and publisher, or will you be self-publishing? Again, this is an entire article’s worth of debate and discussion. Self-publication doesn’t have the same stigma as it used to and is not the easy route, or the one you only take after you’ve repeatedly failed to secure an agent and/or publisher.

Each route has it’s own pros and cons, and you should consider both properly and thoroughly. If you intend to go the traditional route, the next section is irrelevant to you.

– Ebook vs. Paperback

At this point, I’m sure you’ll have done some research…right? You’ll know the kind of prices you’re looking at for paperbacks/hardbacks and ebooks, which is more popular and from where, and which is best for first-time authors. I won’t try to steer you away from either, but I will say that whether you want a hardcopy version or not, you should do an ebook.

E-Book or Print

On the customer’s side of an ebook, they are usually cheaper, meaning people will be more likely to take the risk on an author they’ve never heard of. They are also more likely to buy it on a whim, just to have things loaded on their e-reader; fewer people do this with physical books.

On the author’s side, ebooks cost nothing but a percentage of every sale. Paperbacks cost quite a bit, depending on what source you use, and thus usually need to be sold at higher prices than paperbacks or hardbacks normally would.

Createspace and Lulu are probably the most popular destinations for those wanting physical copies of their book. On the surface, it seems free, but you’ll need to pay for a proof copy before you publish. That’s not really a big deal, although the price to you is usually the same as you would pay for an actual published book.

This leads into the main downside to services such as these. Because they charge so much for print on demand, you will have to up the sale price considerably to even make a tiny profit. I had to up the price of the paperback version of Temple of the Sixth to $14.84 (and £9.99) in order to be making $0.05 through the Expanded Distribution (i.e. channels other than Amazon and Createspace itself). Let’s be honest: that’s a little too much for a paperback.

For Shadow of the Wraith, I now use Lightning Source. They are a little different to the aforementioned places, and require a small annual fee. This fee means that the cost of actually printing a copy of the book is lowered, and I’m able to sell it for £7.99. Bearing in mind that this book is just under 130,000 words, that’s a lot more reasonable.

The percentage of sales I get from the physical versions of the books is so low as to be practically non-existent. Due to this, I made Acts of Violence ebook only. It’s a lot more popular when it comes to unknown authors.

– Cover

Despite the saying, your book will be judged by its cover. If you are taking the traditional route, this will be taken care of by other people.

If you are self-publishing, don’t make the same mistake that so many self-published authors make, and create the cover yourself. Unless you are a very talented graphic designer, the results are likely to be catastrophic. And the worst thing is, you probably won’t even realise.

I can genuinely say that I could count on one hand the number of good author-made book covers I’ve seen. You might think that the content is far more important than the cover – and it is – but if your cover looks cheap, unprofessional, and lazy, it will reflect badly on you and the book. Many, many people will not make it past the cover if this is the case.

Of course, just because someone is a professional doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a good cover. There are professional cover designers out there, but be wary that they aren’t just people who know that a book cover needs a picture, the title, and the author’s name, and so decide that they’ll call themselves a professional. Make sure to look at their previous cover designs. I’ve seen so-called professional covers that are simply horrendous Photoshop jobs too.

Kira cover

Another thing to know is that being artistic and being able to put together a book cover are not the same thing. That said, simply finding an artist may work for you. If you do it this way, the thing to remember is the size ratio. The largest size I have my ebook covers in is 1400×1867 (pixels), and that’s for uploading to Smashwords. Your artist will almost certainly work in a large size anyway, but make sure they know that it’s for a book cover and so needs to be large (the artist made the image for Kira’s cover 2400×3200, which gives me plenty of room to work with), and that it needs to be a certain ratio. If you want, just tell them the minimum size you need (as above, with Smashwords) and ask them to work on it at double that size.

Be aware, too, that ratios will be slightly different for different places. The ratio for KDP is different to Smashwords is different to the paperback. So to be sure, try to know in advance all the sizes you’ll need and tell the artist so he/she can incorporate bleeds (i.e. they’ll make sure the image reaches the limits of the largest size, while the important parts are placed so that they won’t be cut off in the smallest).

If it’s a paperback, you’ll need a back cover and spine as well. Createspace will have a cover template that shows not only the size the image should be, but where the spine text goes, etc. Even if you’re not using Createspace, if the company you are using doesn’t have such a template (although they should), then steal it from Createspace!

Obviously, I’m biased, but I think this method of finding an artist to do the cover art has worked well for me. They create the art based on my (probably overly-) detailed descriptions, and then when they give the me the finished work, I put on the text. Again, you should have at least a basic knowledge of design before you put the text on, or you may end up ruining a perfectly good piece of artwork. I created the plaque for Kira’s cover, and put the text in as though it were engraved, but I did it too small. It looks good on the A3 poster I have on the wall behind me, but you can’t make out the title in thumbnails, and my name is too small even in larger sizes.

– Formatting

Not hugely important if it’s going to sit on your computer, or be printed out on A4 pages and stapled together, but otherwise this is vital. It’s all different depending on whether you are going for paperback (or hardback) or ebook format.

If this is for an agent or publisher, they will likely have their own requirements for formatting. Usually, it should be double-spaced and in a certain font size. Tailor it to their requirements. For self-publishing, continue reading.

Formatting

If you’re formatting for a physical copy, most of what you’ll need to do is obvious: centre the title, author name, and copyright details; set the title, author name, and chapter headings to larger font size and maybe bold; indent paragraphs (but not the first paragraph after a break); set everything to a good, readable font and size; set out paragraphs correctly (again, indented and with no spaces between them for fiction, vice versa for non-fiction); set justified alignment.

Then the printer will have their own requirements. Usually, you will be able to download a template if you really want to, otherwise you can simply set the margins, paper size, etc. to what they tell you.

Formatting for an ebook is both easier and more difficult. Easier because there’s pretty much no design decisions for you to make. More difficult because it’s a more in-depth process.

If you are self-publishing with Smashwords, you’re in luck, because I’ve already written a guide to formatting for that site. I recommend that you do use Smashwords, but I’ll say more about that later.

For Amazon, you should preferably know HTML, as you can make the ebook look exactly how you want it, and ensure there are no formatting issues or glitches (other than by human error). Otherwise, you can simply upload a Word document to the Kindle Direct Publishing platform and it will automatically convert it for you. While this method does seem to be pretty well done, I personally prefer to the peace of mind that comes with knowing I put in something that couldn’t be screwed up by an automated process.

While writing this, I have decided to write a guide to formatting via HTML for Kindle (if you want the guide, let me know in the comments so that I’ll be enthused!), but until then, just follow Amazon’s directions and then go through the converted file with a fine-tooth comb to ensure there are no issues.

EDIT: I have now written the KDP guide!

– Proofreading

Again, this is unnecessary for those travelling the traditional publication route, as the publisher will deal with this and editing.

Proofreading comes after a professional editor goes over your work and makes you cry. They are the last stop before the book goes to print, and the last hope for errors to be eradicated like the vermin they are. They are unsung heroes.

Incidentally, I’m about to start my proofreading business

Proofreading

First, know the difference between a copy-editor and a proofreader, as you don’t want to be paying for something that you’re not going to get. For example, fact-checking is not up to the proofreader. If you claim King Henry IX had six wives, then that’s your error. Granted, in such an obvious case, the proofreader may spot it, and probably won’t ignore it, but don’t expect fact-checking.

If you’re self-publishing – which you are if you’ve read this far – there’s a good chance you won’t be able to afford an editor and a proofreader. Proofreaders are, although fairly-priced, quite expensive, and editors even more so. All the more reason to learn the difference before deciding which you need.

Most self-published authors tend to go for a proofreader. This may be the price difference, or ego, or perhaps enough work is put into their own editing that a proofreader is more cost-effective. The choice is yours, as always.

One thing I will say, though: don’t go to publication without having an editing professional of some kind go through it. For an average length novel, I would say aim for £600-700 and start saving a little bit every week even before you’ve started writing. Unless you have a money tree. Or a good job.

– Finding An Agent

Harder than writing your work of art is finding an agent for it. You will, of course, need an agent who represents the genre that you’ve written in. This has varying degrees of difficulty depending on said genre. When I was looking for an agent for Shadow of the Wraith, it was quite difficult to find agents who represented sci-fi, were taking submissions, and weren’t looking only for hard sci-fi or YA sci-fi.

Don’t be afraid to query the agency if you’re unsure. They might list sci-fi but not fantasy, and while the chances are that means they don’t accept fantasy, the two are usually pushed together so it’s reasonable to ask. But don’t ask an agent who lists only children’s books if they’ll accept your anthology of erotica short stories, or one who lists only romance if they’ll accept your dark fantasy Game of Thrones killer.

Literary Agent

As usual, a good place to start is the internet. You can find lists of literary agents such as this one, which is for UK agents. There’s not a lot of point trying to get an agent who isn’t based in your country, so search for ‘literary agents [country]’.

Next, follow the submission guidelines for the agents very closely; don’t assume that simply getting in contact is sufficient, or that every agency’s policies are the same. If an agency lists on their website an agent dedicated to your genre, address your submission to that person (unless otherwise directed), using their name in the cover letter.

NOTE: Before you send anything to anyone, take a copy of your work – be it printed, on CD, or on a flash drive – and post it to yourself. Then don’t open it when it arrives. This way, you’ll be able to prove (with the sealed, dated envelope) that the work is yours, should the need ever arise. Which it probably won’t.

Generally, you will need the following:

  1. A cover/query letter – this basically states the genre, the word count, a brief outline (the blurb should suffice), and perhaps anything unique about the book. DO NOT write one cover letter and send it to every agency – address the agent by name if you know it, and if possible, make a mention of something about the agency (without being contrived) that shows you’re not just using the spray-and-pray method.
  2. The synopsis – this is a more detailed outline of the book. It is notoriously difficult to write a synopsis, but read some samples and a few guides on how to write them and it won’t be too much of a challenge. Don’t be afraid to give away plot twists in the synopsis, as much as you want to keep them close to your chest. A synopsis is usually between one and two A4 pages (the agency may specify a length).
  3. The manuscript. Not all of it, of course. Usually, they will ask for around 2-3 chapters or 30-50 pages. By this, they mean the first chapters or pages – and they usually clearly specify that too – so don’t try to pick out the best 50 pages in your book. Make sure it is in the specified format (usually Word, sometimes PDF, or simply posted).

Again, follow the individual agency’s directions closely. Don’t email the manuscript to them if they say postal submissions only, don’t Tweet them your pitch, etc. Do only what they say, or you will annoy them and make yourself seem unprofessional. Not to mention if you show that you can’t read and follow simple directions, why would they want to work with you?

It will be helpful to set up some kind of document to keep track of what agencies you have submitted to, when, who has responded, who has rejected, etc. You will probably be submitting to quite a few agencies and you don’t want to accidentally do so twice.

Rejections

You will be getting a lot of rejections, unless you’re very lucky or have insane, never-before-seen talent. Don’t forget that a lot of agents will have interns or whatever who look at the submissions before any actual agent does, and it might not even get past them. Cruel and unfair, but reality. Also, plenty of agents have to confer with their colleagues even after they decide they like a manuscript, so the final rejection may come after long deliberation. Just look for lists of how many times famous authors were rejected, and you might feel a bit better.

You’ll have come across the warnings in your RESEARCH, but make sure you don’t waste any time with an agent (or publisher) who wants you to pay them for anything. At best this will turn out to simply be vanity publishing (where your books will get printed out and then sit in a warehouse doing nothing), or at worst it will be a scam. Real agents will only ever make their money as a percentage of what you earn.

– Finding A Publisher

This will be taken care of by your agent, once you have secured one. While actually getting an agent is a very big step, getting a publisher will be equally difficult and stressful. But at least your agent will be doing the work for you.

There are some publishers – indie ones – who will accept submissions directly from authors, in the same way as an agent. One problem with these is that their funds will be limited, and you will end up doing a lot of work to market and get your book into bookshops and so on. On the other hand, authors are having to be more involved in that with bigger publishers these days anyway. And an indie publisher will have the enthusiasm to do the best they can for you; they won’t be foolish enough to be in it for the money!

The bigger downside is that this is the area where most scammers operate. They will pose as indie publishers, waiting for naïve, hopeful first-time authors to walk into their trap, thinking that they’ll cut out the middleman and keep more royalties. Again, though, if there is any mention at any time of you paying the publisher for anything, you know to walk away. Which means not signing anything until the entire process and obligations of both parties are down in writing. Make sure to read that writing very carefully, and if you don’t understand anything, get professional help to read it (asking the publisher what it means kind of defeats the point).

But genuine indie publishers do exist; I’m friends with one on Facebook.

– Where To Self-Publish

If this is the route you decide, there are multiple platforms for self-publishing. To name just a few:

Buy from Smashwords

As I mentioned, I use Lightning Source and Createspace for the paperbacks, Lulu for a hardback, and KDP and Smashwords for the ebooks. I looked into Feed-a-Read and found it to be too expensive, and the same goes for Lulu – although the special edition hardback of Shadow of the Wraith is for sale, I really only went that route for myself.

In the future, I will only use Lightning Source for paperbacks, as Createspace is expensive and has pretty poor service. If you decide to publish in paperback, do plenty of research into who does what. You’ll want to know where they distribute to, and if it costs extra to distribute beyond their own marketplace (Createspace only recently made it free to distribute to outlets beyond it’s parent, Amazon, even though in reality this means simply listing the book title with those outlets, not shipping physical books to them).

When it comes to ebooks, I don’t think there’s any need to look beyond Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and Smashwords. Obviously you’ll want your book available on Amazon, for Kindle. The way to go about this is directly publishing with them. As I mentioned, I will at some point write a guide to properly formatting your book for KDP with HTML, but until then, just follow their directions.

You will be hassled at first about enrolling the book into KDP Select. This requires you to give Amazon exclusivity for 90 days, meaning you can’t publish the ebook anywhere else. Again, research it. I enrolled Shadow of the Wraith into Select, and got a lot out of it. I was able to set the book to free for up to five days within those three months, and a lot of real sales came out of that. However, when I did the same with Acts of Violence, I think something had changed. The free days yielded no real sales at all. I can’t be sure, but I think when I first did it, the book’s rank remained high for a while after it was free, allowing it to be seen more. But the second time round, the rank disappeared the moment it went back to normal price, meaning it didn’t have any extra exposure. I won’t bother with it again. It’s only 90 days, though, so perhaps you’ll decide it’s worth a try.

After KDP, really the only other place you need to go is Smashwords. There are others, but Smashwords pretty much covers everywhere you’ll want your book to be sold, including Apple iTunes/iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. It will also be distributed to three companies that sell to libraries, a handful of places you’ve probably never heard of, and will be sold on Smashwords itself. It will also turn up in places you don’t expect, like Waterstones and so on.

So, in short, publish with KDP and Smashwords.

– Advertise

Don’t sit back and expect the book to start selling by itself. Inform those writing groups and whatnot that you’ve been in contact with, use Facebook and Twitter (learn to use hash tags properly), find other websites to join and utilise, such as creating an author profile on Goodreads.

Advertise

Forums are good places to go, if you are going to participate in conversations, and not use them solely for advertising. There are two Kindle-specific forums that I use occasionally: Kindle Users Forum (UK) and KBoards (US). Each have some small downsides, such as restriction of threads and posts about your own work, but if you use them right, you’ll see a spike in sales.

As with everything else, research. The advertising part is a process almost as in-depth as the rest, and there is no sure-fire way to success. There are places to get free press releases, review bloggers to get you well-written reviews, and plenty of other things you won’t think of if you haven’t researched.

PROFIT!

Profit

Or more likely, don’t. Receive a trickle of money, if you’re lucky. Either way, keep advertising and keep writing.

THE END

Anatomy of a Book Cover

As usual, a slightly misleading title. I’m not going to share my theories of what makes the perfect book cover. I’m going to share my process of getting a book cover. Because I don’t have anything better to do.

Step Uno

The first thing I do is think what I want the cover to be. Quite an obvious step.

Shadow of the Wraith, Kindle coverPaperback cover

For Shadow of the Wraith, I decided I wanted a stark space scene, with the almost-titular ship looming over a planet featured at the end of the book. I later decided that I wanted a different cover for the e-book version (I don’t really remember why). I decided that one should be slightly more informative, so I decided that it should show the ship heading towards an Earth-like planet (Orion), having just cut straight through another ship. I thought/hoped that would give an idea of the threat before people even read the blurb.

Temple of the Sixth Cover

For Temple of the Sixth, I wanted an image of the titular character (the Sixth) standing at the mouth of her ‘temple’, seemingly oblivious of the predatory animals stalking her. She had to be looking out at an eclipse. From within, a thin stream of blood was to trickle out. The first part was a scene from the start of the book, and the blood and eclipse were references to the supposed End of Days omens that start appearing halfway through the book. The blood stream ended up looking more like a crack in the ground though.

Kira Cover

For Kira, the cover seemed obvious to me. The ‘camera’, as it were, was to be looking down a street in the city. Cold, dark, scary. The end of the street was to open into a stark desert, with nothing in sight. In between the two, I wanted Kira, as though stuck between two worlds, both equally unwelcoming. She had to be looking out towards the desert, where her future was. But it’s bleak, empty, nothing on the horizon. Above, the sky was to be dark and stormy.

Wyrd Worlds Cover

Wyrd Worlds is a sci-fi and fantasy anthology by several authors. To be completely honest, I wasn’t fond of any of the covers other authors were putting forward, so I created my own. It’s very difficult to put together something that portrays both sci-fi and fantasy at the same time, and I think the others were trying to hard to accomplish that, so I decided on something that didn’t try. Something fairly plain that also clearly showed that it was an anthology. The books putter-togetherer created a poll and mine was voted the cover to be used.

Acts of Violence Cover

Acts of Violence was different to all the others. I had to work at it! For the others, the cover presented itself to me easily, but for AoV I couldn’t decide. I had a few ideas, mostly comprising rain and darkness. Eventually I decided on a scene from the book. I thought that having the main character, Jack Mason, sitting in a diner, staring across the road at a club, gun on the table, would convey some sense of what the book contained. It would be the small, subtle things that would make the difference.

Step Zwei

Now, my second step is simply emailing the artist to see if he’s available to do the cover. But I had to find the artist first.

For Shadow of the Wraith, that wasn’t too hard. I did the cover myself. Then I decided to have a different one for the e-book, so I had to find a proper artist. My first (and only) stop was deviantART. deviantART is full of artists of all kinds and degrees of skill. There are amateur photographers all the way through to professional oil painters selling their work for thousands. Quite a lot of concept artists for games and films have their work on there.

First, I trawled through page after page of art to find artists whose work I liked. Then I would send them a message to ask if they were interested in doing a commission, and if so how much they would charge. Most said no, or were too expensive.

Secondly, I went to the forums, where there is a specific section set aside for advertising your project to find an artist. I got a number of responses there, including one from Mark Williams. I told him some more about what I wanted, and he thought he could do it and quoted me a good price for it.

Since it was the first time, I wrote up a brief contract to specify what work was being done and how much I was to pay him and who had what rights and so on. I don’t do that any more, but it’s probably a good idea the first time you work with someone.

Kira came next, and Mark was unable to complete it, so a friend of a friend (Cui Yuan) did the cover for me. His style is just right for what I want in my covers, so I stuck with him for Temple of the Sixth too. He was unable to do Acts of Violence, so I went back to Mark for that. The picture of Juni was drawn by Mark too, as an apology for having to stop halfway through doing Kira’s cover.

Steppe The Third

Now comes the tricky bit: working with the artist. Artists are fond of doing their own thing, and it can be difficult to get them to do your thing! You have to find a balance between cementing the important parts of the cover, and leaving the artist to their creativity and freedom with the rest.

The first thing I do is put together a very rough and ridiculous looking example of the basic layout. Thankfully, I’ve deleted those from my computer, so I can’t show you. Then I write as detailed a description as I can, including quotes from the book/s if it’s a scene, or involves a character.

Temple of the Sixth Rough Draft

By Cui Yuan

Next, the artist does up a rough example of his own, to show me what his vision of the cover is. Sometimes, I draw a little bit over it to show what changes I want. Then it’s a process of more and more alterations and slightly more detailed previews until the whole layout and ‘camera’ angle and sizes and so on are correct.

The artist then puts in full detail and colours and shadows. Then it’s a matter of going back and forth to sort out little details.

Step Chetyri

Once we are both happy that the artist has finished, he sends me the full-size image (and I pay). Then I make my own little alterations to it. These may range from simply inserting the title and my name, to changing colours and the like. I have not yet employed the services of someone who can create the title and its font for me. So far, basic and fairly plain fonts have suited the covers well enough.

And that’s about it. Below, I’ll post some images from the process of each cover (though I don’t seem to have the process images from the e-book version of SOTW).

I always recommend against people doing their own covers (mildly hypocritical), as I have yet to see more than a handful of covers that the author has done themselves that are actually decent. People DO judge books by their covers, and it will always be the first thing they see of the book. It needs to look professional. Searching the internet for some stock images and shoving them together in MS Paint will not achieve this. That’s not to say that getting a good artist will result in a good, professional cover. Book cover design is an art in itself, in a way. But I’ve also seen a good deal of covers created by so-called professional cover designers that aren’t much better than those stock image ones I mentioned. So you simply have to shop about and make sure you see plenty of previous work by the person.

Hopefully this was helpful, or at least vaguely interesting.

Shadow of the Wraith – Me (E-book version by Mark Williams)

My first idea for SOTW

My first idea for SOTW


Second try

Second try


Hardback Cover

Hardback Cover


Paperback Cover

Paperback Cover

Temple of the Sixth – Cui Yuan

Cui Yuan, Coloured Update

Cui Yuan, Coloured Update


Coloured and Shaded

Coloured and Shaded


Final Version

Final Version

Kira – Cui Yuan

Cui Yuan, WIP 1

Cui Yuan, WIP 1


Yuan's Final Version

Yuan’s Final Version


My Final Version

My Final Version

Wyrd Worlds – Me

Original Idea

Original Idea


Wyrd Worlds Final

Wyrd Worlds Final

Acts of Violence – Mark Williams

I started this one myself before I knew the title. It was more to waste some time than a realistic effort to make a cover.

Rough Attempt 1

Rough Attempt 1


Rough Attempt 2

Rough Attempt 2


Rough Attempt 3

Rough Attempt 3


Rough Attempt 4

Rough Attempt 4

Then I contacted a professional.

Mark Williams, First Sketch

Mark Williams, First Sketch


First Update

First Update


Mark's Finished Version

Mark’s Finished Version


My Finished Version

My Finished Version