Audio Book

One thing that I heard a lot after publishing On Swift Wings was… when will it be available as an Audio Book? My honest answer was that I hadn’t really thought about it. This entire journey has been an organic one. It started with me jotting down some thoughts in response to Gulliver’s Travels, evolved into me writing a bit of a mission statement which became the foreword, ultimately into completing a full-length (maybe more than normal length) action-adventure satirical fantasy novel with publishing, marketing, editing, cover design, and a million other lessons along the way.

Once the book was finished and published, it became clear that many people prefer to consume stories in media other than print. Reading a book requires singular attention and devotion. Many people feel pressure to do more than one thing at a time, and books are something they listen to on their commute, in the car, while exercising, or as a side-activity. It takes a kind of focus to sit down and read a long novel, so many of my friends said that they’d wait until the (unplanned) audio book. Maybe they were playing with me, but my goal is to have as many people read my book as possible, so I did a little exploration down this alley.

I barely knew where to start. Actually, this could be the title of my autobiography. I knew that Amazon had some Audio Book functions, and some of the writing groups that I follow talk about them a bit. I took to Google and found a ACX, Audible’s exchange program for audio books. Basically, you choose one of three options:

  1. You offer narrators a chance to try out for a fixed rate.
  2. You offer narrators a chance to try out for a portion of the royalties.
  3. A combination of 1 and 2.

I thought this sounded like a pretty good deal, but I did some more research and found that in general the experience on ACX wasn’t that good. Authors felt cheated, narrators felt cheated, no matter how well the book does, somebody feels they didn’t get what they deserve. I don’t like making people feel bad, so I shelved the idea for a while. The idea was still on my mind though, and it kept coming up. Early this year, as Covid forced people inside, I had two choices for what I could do with my writing. I could work on my second book, or I could go deeper into the Audio Book. I started writing the second book, but I haven’t found a voice that I like for it yet. Then I stumbled across a “how-to” series for creating audio books. They gave me a few really good tips, and I got interested in recording my own book.

The face I make when I hear my own voice - Kermit Driving | Meme Generator

Everybody hates their own voice, but this series said something that eased my fears a lot. They noted that the voice you hear recorded isn’t what other people hear, it is your brain’s reconstruction comparing your actual voice and the voice you hear ricocheting through your brain. You actually hear twice the difference in a recording because of this effect. Made sense to me, and with the support of a number of friends who assured me that I had a very good voice for narration, I decided to take up the challenge.

I also wanted to record my own voice reading my own book for my kids. My Grampa narrated Winnie the Pooh for us when we were young and it is a treasured possession to always be able to hear his voice when he was younger. I want my children, and hopefully their children to be able to hear my voice as it is now. This was the biggest driver for me to get this done. I hope that my kids are proud of the book that I’ve written, and no matter what happens in the future, they’ll always be able to hear their dad whenever they want.

XLR Condenser Microphone, TONOR Professional Cardioid Studio Mic Kit with T20 Boom Arm, Shock Mount, Pop Filter for Record...

So, I had decided that I wanted to do and narrate an audio book, but I didn’t know anything about narrating an audio book. I didn’t think my crummy headset would do a good job so I researched microphones and was directed towards a cardioid microphone. I bought everything I needed to make my office into a studio. I put up towels and sheets to reduce echo, attached screens to the phone, sealed the room to keep the noise floor down, used a tablet computer that is very quiet, and learned some tricks about narration.

One of the things I was worried about was, how was I going to read 120,000+ words without stumbling a few times. I read half-an-hour or more to my kids every day, children’s books, many that I’ve memorized now, and I still stumble occasionally. Obviously this is where editing comes in, but even then, I figured I had to at least be able to read a full page without faults. Again, a little education came in handy. First, everybody makes mistakes while reading, and it doesn’t have to be misreading a word. Mistakes include breathing errors (like running out of breath halfway through a sentence) or not maintaining a consistent cadence or energy level, tongue clicks or lip smacks, ambient noise like a cell-phone buzzing or the furnace turning on, and of course the obvious mispronunciation of a word, name, or sentence.

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If you’ve read my book, you’ll understand my trepidation. If not, know that I employ a varied and flowery vocabulary, and when narrating, I realized that I didn’t actually know how to pronounce some of the names properly. I also struggled with French words, not because I can’t pronounce them, but because I naturally pronounce them in French, which sounds a little funny in the middle of an English text.

One of the more interesting and useful tips that I learned about narrating: When (not if) you make mistakes, immediately follow them up with a loud “Beep” sound. (Not an expletive, just a loud “beep.”) This way, when you look at the wave-forms during editing, it will be very easy to identify a mistake and really quite easy to edit it out. Another trick that I employed, regarding breathing, was to take a long pause after every sentence to breathe. I would start each sentence with my lungs full of air and ready. It meant that I was full-chested and able to enunciate as well as possible, but I was certainly sore by the end of the narration.

Speaking of sore, reading 120k+ words took around 13 hours of reading at my natural cadence, after editing, this shortened to 10.5 hours. I knew to be aware of the editing process, but even with warning, I didn’t realize how long it would take to edit the work to my desired quality. I estimate that it took roughly 3 hours for each hour of recorded content, so a total of about 30 hours listening to my own voice.

Editing consisted of making pauses between sentences consistent, reducing and removing any background noises, breathing sounds, clicks and smacks, cleaning up subtle mispronunciations, and clipping out incorrect words. Once I was happy with a chapter, having gone through it thoroughly, I exported the file to a high quality MP3. The software I used was Audacity, which was quite powerful, intuitive, and free. There isn’t a single second of the book that I didn’t listen to, review, consider, and optimize. Every pause between sentences was measured and planned to match the tone of the story. When I wrote the story, I accentuated action and tension with shorter words and sentences, the Audio Book features the same attention to detail. When action is happening, pauses are shorter and the book moves more quickly, when in a descriptive period, it slows down with longer pauses and greater verbosity.

Finally, I had to decide how to publish. I had already encountered ACX, but as is typical of Amazon, they encourage exclusivity clauses and generally pay the lowest royalties available. Hearkening to my mission, I wanted the most people possible to read the book, so I wanted to “go wide” as I had with the book itself. After a bunch more researching, I found Findaway Voices. Findaway takes your book and pushes it out, on your behalf, to 43 different retailers including Amazon, Nook, Apple, Google, Chirp, Kobo, Scribd… They take a percentage of my royalties, but again, money isn’t the goal, I want people to read the book and be inspired or consider new ideas. I uploaded all the audio to Findaway, 10.5 hours worth of highly edited narration of On Swift Wings.

It takes time for the audio to be approved and made available on different platforms. The fastest is Author’s Direct, which is hardly surprising, as it is basically my own personal storefront on Findaway. The slowest (and still not available after three weeks) is Audible, though I’m confident that it will eventually be available there if that is your preferred platform.

Humor | Carrie D. Miller

The book is available. Early feedback has been the the quality is good and my voice is clear. I would love to hear more. I would really love to get more formal reviews, especially on Amazon or GoodReads. I don’t know if I can emphasize how important positive reviews are to an author like me. I know you get asked all the time to review products, and it is because it is really important. The only way that I can get word out about my book is if people see at a glance the formal social proof needed to ease their minds.

Please review my book! Please?

Indies Today – Five-Stars

I love reading reviews. Especially when a reader seems to have really connected with my writing, but even when they didn’t. I’ve been fortunate that the vast majority of the reviews I’ve read so far have been positive, or, where more constructive in nature, they have at least reflected some of the comments that I had expected to read. I don’t think that any review has shocked me too much, but it is great to see people with honest feedback.

I got a quicker-than-expected review from Indies Today – and my book is currently on their front page!

https://indiestoday.com/on-swift-wings-by-brett-m-wiens/

This is one of my favourite reviews as the reader really seemed to have connected with the style, the humour, and the overall narrative. This is the kind of fuel that helps push me to keep going, and I appreciate the review from Nicky Flowers at Indies Today. I’m so thankful for everybody who has read, is reading, or will read my book, and even more so those who leave reviews!

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Thank you all so much. I’m making progress on my next, related project, and with Audacity, I hope that within a couple weeks here I’ll be able to draw back the veil of secrecy and share it with the world.

BW

BOOK LAUNCH LEARNINGS 8: Reviews

PART 8 ā€“ LEARNINGS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING A BOOK SERIES ā€“ Reviews

While the last blog I posted about marketing might have been the most informative and useful. This post is about something that is probably the most important for a first-time unknown author. Reviews. This post will be split between some thoughts bout reviews and a bit about the reviews that have so far been received about On Swift Wings.

I’ve talked about my naivete when it comes to launching my first book. I didn’t really take into account the importance of reviews until far into the process. I’ve said that I figured people would read the book, tell friends, and it would just take off on its own. Once I launched, I realized that people need to be encouraged to write reviews, even their friends. There are rules about close family posting reviews on sites like Amazon, so I didn’t want to risk their accounts and review abilities, but anybody else is free to post honest reviews. Also, though it is very tempting, I’m not going to risk everything to buy fake reviews. I’m not even sure where to go to get them, and I’m not looking.

On Swift Wings is still starving for reviews, any reviews. I have received a couple dozen in various places, several on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, a few here and there on Goodreads, and a number of professional/semi-professional reviews from several legitimate sources. (I really need reviews! If you’ve read the book, please help me by posting a review to Amazon and/or GoodReads. The more people who comment (especially with 5-stars) the more people are likely to give it a try. A friend once told me that she wouldn’t buy a book without 100 reviews on Amazon with an average of 4-stars. I have 10, with an average of 4.6. So… just 90 more of you and I’m there! – this is an exceptionally high bar to achieve on Amazon. First-time authors almost never legitimately achieve that kind of review number, so she can only read mainstream published books.

Friends/Family/Advanced Reader Group

The first place to go for reviews should be your advance reader group. The only ARCs (advance reader copies) that I sent out were to my immediate family, who are ineligible to post reviews on Amazon… oops. Relax, sacrifice a little control, and give out copies to friends that can provide feedback and early reviews. It would also help to get involved in shared-interest groups. Find people with similar interests and connect with them. These are also more likely to provide reviews. These early reviews are crucial to achieving early traction.

Giveaways

Another way I tried to drum up reviews was through giveaways. I gave away 100 copies of On Swift Wings through a goodreads giveaway. I was hoping to get at least 10 reviews that way, I got 1 review and 2 ratings. There is a side-benefit of the goodreads giveaway, everybody who applies automatically has the book added to their ‘to-read’, so there are 303 people out there who have the book in their ‘to-read’ folder on goodreads. My guess is that a lot of people enter these giveaways pretty blindly and amass large quantities of free books they’ll never read. I’ll talk a little about giveaways and contests in my final blog post of this series.

Paid Reviews *** NOT PAID FOR RATING ***

The next place that I went for reviews was a number of paid reviewers. Note: These are paid for the time, placement and quality of the review, not for a positive review. You can pay hundreds of dollars for a professional reviewer to read your book and say its horrible. Fortunately, all my reviews came back with 75% or better stars. I approached a few organizations to find me some reviewers, either professional, or just people looking for new books:

OnlineBookClub.org – Arite Seki – 4/4 Stars
OnlineBookClub.org – Snowflake – 3/4 Stars

Reader Views – Paige Lovitt – 5/5 Stars

Readers’ Favorite – Romuald Dzemo – 5/5 Stars
Readers’ Favorite – Liz Konkel – 5/5 Stars
Readers’ Favorite – K.C. Finn – 5/5 Stars
Readers’ Favorite – Ruffina Oserio – 5/5 Stars
Readers’ Favorite – Lesley Jones – 5/5 Stars
Readers’ Favorite – Rabia Tanveer – 4/5 Stars

There are a number of other options that I haven’t explored deeply including Author to Author, where you review a book from a pool of curated works and authors from that pool review yours. It is all blind, so you aren’t reviewing the person who reviewed you, but it is a way to gather more reviews.

Something I hadn’t thought about, but will also do in the future, is to include a note at the end of the book asking for a review. It felt tacky the first time I heard about it, but now I recognize that many people don’t do things like review a book without being asked. Whether they don’t think about it, or they forget. You get a lot more of what you want in life by asking for it, so next time, I’ll ask for it. Also…

Please review On Swift Wings!

(You might notice that the more stars you give, the prettier your review. šŸ˜‰ )

Coles North Hill – Sadly Closed
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Anyway, thank you for reading my blog. I hope that some of the things I have written will be of some value to you. If you feel inclined, I would be thrilled if you gave On Swift Wings a try. It is available all over the place, if you are a fan of your local bookstore, they are able to order it from IngramSpark, it is stocked at a few Coles/Chapters locations, although sadly my local outlet has closed permanently due to the pandemic. Of course the book can be ordered from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indigo, and many other sources. A kindle and eBook version are also available.

As always, I’d love to hear back from you. Tell me what you think.

BOOK LAUNCH LEARNINGS 7: Marketing

PART 7 ā€“ LEARNINGS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING A BOOK SERIES ā€“ MArketing

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Marketing. If you’re a reader, a supporter, or you’re thinking of publishing something yourself, read this one thoroughly. To anybody reading this, I would really love feedback. Marketing is an area where I started with no knowledge, like, basically zero, and now feel I know a solid 0.1%, and that might be wrong, so I’m a solid 0.1% plus or minus a full 1%. I’ve learned a lot, and it still isn’t working. I’d love to know if you know what I haven’t learned yet.

Launch

I’ve already spoken about my launch experience in my previous blog posts, so I’m not going to dwell on it here. Suffice to say, a good launch, with a launch team of friends to help spread the word is a great first step into book marketing.

“Good” Idea

Image may contain: text

When I launched the book, I included one “good” idea. I put that in quotes because I don’t know that my good idea actually contributed to sales, but it makes me feel good nevertheless. I pledged 20% of all the revenue that I earn would be donated to the Alberta Children’s Hospital. I was inspired by the story of Peter Pan, the royalties from which are even today a major source of funding for the Greater Ormond Street Hospital. Whether a good marketing idea or not, I’m not sure, but it makes me feel better to give something back to the community and the ACH is a most worthy cause.

Facebook Page

Another smart idea was to set up and promote my Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/BW.Literature/
This page helped me get the word out in a more formal way, and it is a landing page for posts like this one. I was able to get 100 likes on the page from my friends and family, which was certainly helpful, and set up the platform for my first paid advertisements.

Advertising

I did try to advertise pretty quickly on Facebook. Clever company suggested that many people would see my post about the donation if I paid a few bucks. They did, but I don’t think it amounted to any sales. It got a lot of likes and a few shares. Also, I donated a dollar for every share of that first post. I was braced for my maximum of $500. I figured, if all you had to do was share one post from a friend to donate a dollar to the Children’s Hospital, most of my 500+ Facebook friends, and however-many LinkedIn contacts, and twelve Twitter followers would easily push it past that mark, and as a result, spread the word.

What I discovered was that even with an incentive, I was unable to spur a significant social media churn. I only got 79 shares, even with a Facebook ad running and showing the post to 3600 people around the world interested in Gulliver’s Travels and Jonathan Swift. There was some good feedback on the post that with 407 likes. At the point, I didn’t have a good mechanism for tracking sales and success, but it didn’t likely generate many readers. I certainly didn’t have 400 sales during that period. I also got my first troll through that post, something I had braced for, and honestly didn’t bother me, but I certainly remember his posts. (Thanks to Mike Brown for knocking him down a peg with a Taylor Swift meme.)

Homepage

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As I mentioned above, I didn’t really have a way to track the success or failure of my advertising, and beyond Facebook who proactively sought me out, I didn’t know what other ways to advertise. I paid IngramSpark to include me in their flyer, but I can’t even say for sure that my ad was ever published, me not being a bookstore/library who receives that flyer. I decided to set up a webpage (which is where you’re most certainly reading this.) This lets me see how many people are coming to check it out and from where they are coming. My original ads had the goal of directing people to my Facebook page, and the only metric that they were engaged was if they liked or shared a post.

Facebook is also limiting in that I really can only reach my friends and family that like the page. It is not particularly searchable, and advertising it doesn’t do much beyond itself. Furthermore, you can’t track sales, you can’t see how many people are viewing things, and you have very limited control on layout. This led me to explore setting up my own page. It costs a bit for the webspace, but it is a far more flexible design platform (on WordPress.)

I try to post here when I have some time. Keep things active and provide some engagement.

The blog

Somebody once said that the more I promote the book, the more confident people are that it is good quality. The blog is a way that I can share my thoughts on things publicly in a way that hopefully shows my confidence in the book. I’m reading it to my son right now and each time I read it I find myself surprised at how good it is. (In the gaps between when I read it, I question whether I did too much of something, or too little of something else, but then I read it again and feel a good sense of accomplishment. Anyway, the blog is a way for me to share thoughts and ideas, and hopefully get some feedback.

Goodreads

This will reveal how little I knew going in, but I didn’t know anything about GoodReads when I got started. Another good way to reach a lot of people. I did a giveaway of 100 eBooks several months ago. Originally I was hoping that I’d get at least 100 people that wanted it, and by the end I got 369 requests, which was cool. The real aim here was to get a bunch of reviews, unfortunately I only got a few. It cost $119US to run the giveaway, and I was, perhaps naively, hoping to get a dozen or more quality reviews. I think that of the 100 people who received a free copy of the book, I got 1 five-star, 1 four-star, and 1 three-star (who was also the only one to write actual comments.)

Facebook Posts and social media

I continue to try to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to share the book, to post blog entries etc. If there is one thing I learned on here, it is how valuable it is to have a circle of friends and family who are active and who like, comment, and share regularly. You can be pretty sure that the people who are closest to you will see all of your posts and they will likely read some or most of them, but if they don’t like/comment/share, it ends with them.

I’ll go into this a little deeper, because it may help to understand how these things work. If I post a blog entry, photo, etc. then maybe a dozen people will see it in their feed. I can pretty much identify them based on how often we comment/like each other’s posts. I don’t know the relative values, but if they share the post, their top 12 will see it as well. If all 12 of them like it, it will probably get served out to a wider audience of my friends. If all 12 of them comment on it, it will certainly be served and prioritized to a larger proportion of my friends. If a large number of those people like/comment, and share, then it will be served out to ever-increasing circles of people (see viral.)

People who aren’t trying to market something like a book or song may not realize just how important their support really is. Likes and comments are more than just about ego, they are huge algorithmic supports. Whether you like/comment on my stuff, if you have other friends that are trying to promote their business, this is a key way to do it.

If you just want to support them, despite not really being interested in their products, like their posts. If you’re willing, even better to comment, because then some of your friends may see that you commented on something, but definitely friends-in-common will see it. For maximum support, share the post as well. Social media thrives when posts are seen and commented, so those that gain the most engagement get priority.

Amazon advertising

I fiddled with some Amazon ads early as well. I poked a few keywords (like 5) and did some automatic targeting but didn’t see any serious benefits. What changed on this front was when I stumbled across Bryan Cohen. Early this year (and again as I’m writing these) Bryan set up a course on Amazon Advertising. Honestly, I haven’t had enough time to watch even a fraction of the content, but what I learned has changed the way I approach Amazon ads. This year my ads have been served out to almost 750,000 people. I really ought to watch the entire series of his course, because I haven’t generated many sales yet, but I believe that had to do with a cover that wasn’t fit for purpose and fairly amateur salesmanship on my part.

I also stumbled into a good bit of feedback from my friend Lin He from a toastmasters event. She fed me an opportunity to speak about my book and I went into a spiel about Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift and then a little about my book. Her feedback was that I sold her on reading Gulliver’s Travels, but not necessarily On Swift Wings. When I reevaluated my advertising, I realized just how true that feedback really was. I started every sales pitch with a description of an entirely different book, and spent 80% of my time describing what I liked about it and why I wrote my re-imagination thereof. I should have been focusing on my book and its contents, and perhaps casually tossing out a reference to the original source material. Now I describe my book and ultimately reference Mr. Swift’s work in more of a passing style.

Google Advertising

I didn’t try google advertising for a long time. Dumb. When it finally dawned on me to give it a shot, I directed readers to my webpage who were interested in Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift, Online Books, Fantasy/Adventure, etc. I was able to drive a lot of traffic to my webpage and a few sales came out of that which was good. I didn’t yet have any decent metrics on my page, but I assumed that I was seeing positive response even if costs were outweighing sales for now.

Unfortunately, when I did get the metrics up several weeks later, it became apparent that a number of people (or bots) were clicking on the links, but they were generally spending less than two seconds on the webpage and almost never (0.05%) were clicking on any other links on the page.

I tried redesigning the page and focusing the ads, but nothing has worked well there so I’ve shut down my Google ads for now. I’d love some feedback from people who have tried to view my page, if somebody knows why people are bouncing so quick, I’d love to hear it.

Preview

Another idea I had was to make the preview of the book more widely available during the pandemic. Amazon allows readers to read a sample, I figured I could put a few chapters out there so that potential readers could see what they are in for if they buy the book. I haven’t had a lot of uptake on this. I can see who has read what chapter, and only in the past couple weeks have I seen anybody click past the first chapter, but I am seeing several, and a few sales from those people, which is great to see.

I have said before that the goal is to get as many people to read the book as possible. Making money would be a nice side benefit, but if a million people read the book and I earned a total of $10, that would be incredible. If you haven’t yet, read the preview and see what you think. Write some comments, start a conversation. Hopefully it gets you interested in the book. I know the style is a bit of an antique and the vocabulary is challenging, but if you can push through it, you’ll learn something, probably lots of things.

Another thing that one of my reader’s said was that they appreciated the dictionary feature on the kindle. Give it a try, I really think that a broad audience would enjoy the various parts of the book.

Unfortunately, I have to charge something for the book. If I make it free, there is no way for me to offset any advertising or marketing costs. Furthermore, if I chose to charge basically nothing, people would assume it was worth basically nothing, and they still wouldn’t read it. Please read it, please review it, please talk to me, please like/comment/share it!

Contests and reviews

One of the more successful avenues that I’ve taken is contests and reviews. I’ve submitted my book to several professional and paid review services as well as a few different contests. Many of these reviews are not able to post the review directly to Amazon, but I’m able to quote the reviews there. I’ve been quite pleased with the number of four and five star reviews. I have yet to have a professional reviewer deduct more than one star, and the reasons for that deduction have been remedied. Most reviewers have been very favourable towards the book. In addition to the ego stroke that positive reviews provide, it also grants some level of authority to the book, and connects with the reviewer’s readers. I’ve had reviews from Readers’ Favorite, Reader Views, OnlineBookClub, and a verdict from IndieReader.

I’ve also put the book into a few contests. I won the Reader Views Canada West region, placed second in the Reader Views “Humor/Satire” category, was a finalist in the IndieReader 2020 Discovery Awards, and I am waiting to see the results of the Readers’ Favorite on September 1. Similar to reviews, these lend a note of legitimacy and authority to the book, helping it to stand out from the literally hundreds of thousands of new books published each year independently.

For a while my book was leading on the OnlineBookClub.org’s Book of the Year (popular vote), but a suspicious entry has blown past me (and everybody else) with 699 votes in the past two weeks (versus 280 for me in second place I’ve been amassing for six months. Last year’s winner had 325 votes, which was my target.) To be fair though, the book, “Wisdom” has the benefit of a 2/4 star official review driving it forward with a summary that reads: “boring, unoriginal, and unprofessionally edited.”

I’d love to get a few more votes on there, even if it seems first place is out of reach, I can still win the best Fiction. To vote, click here:

Vote for On Swift Wings – OnlineBookClub.org’s Book of the Year

I really hope that this post was of value. I wonder how many of you will read right to the bottom of this long meandering post and like it, comment on it, and/or share it, having now a greater understanding of the relative importance. I would love it if you would read my book or even just give the preview a chance.

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Stay well and may your world always grow! (You know, once the end of the world is over.)

BW

Book Launch Learnings 4 ā€“ Cover and Interior Design

Part 4 ā€“ Learnings about writing and publishing a book Series ā€“ Cover and interior Design

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I’m going to move from editing to a couple other contracted roles: Cover Design and Formatting.

I’ll start sounding a bit like a broken record here, but when I started thinking about this, I figured that I can draw my own cover pretty well, and formatting, well, honestly, how hard can it be to pick a font for the book…

This was typically foolish of me, as I have learned pretty quickly. I can make a cover that looks really amateur, and an interior format that looks like I wrote a high school report, perhaps a little better than average, but not professional.

Formatting

My editor, Bobbi, suggested that I get the interior formatted. I have grown to trust her judgment now, and not knowing any better, and the costs not being too rough, I decided to take her advice. This was a good decision. She is affiliated with Indie Publishing Group and she was up-front about that, but strongly encouraged me to get it formatted by somebody professional. I talked with Chrissy, the head formatter, and felt good about it so I took the leap. It really made a huge difference. It didn’t cost a lot, it didn’t take a lot of time, but what she sent back was significantly better looking than what I had sent. Better font, took care of necessary margins, consistent titling and accents, and a bunch of little touches I don’t even recognize to name. As a bonus, they also posted my first interview as an author!

As a result, I would also recommend any would-be self-publisher get their book formatted as well!

Cover Design

Similarly, but more easy to demonstrate, I’ll show off the same kind of feedback about cover pages. I expect I’ll take some ribbing for this, but here was my original cover draft:

Not really meant to be a finished product… just a working title page… Knowing more, I bet I could do better, but I still wouldn’t.

This wasn’t actually meant to be the finished product, more of a proof of concept idea. Still, looking back on it, it isn’t very good.

I searched a bunch of places for cover designers and for a while I considered putting a competition out there for graphic designers to submit an entry. It sounded like a great idea, for not a lot of money, get a bunch of different designers to submit their entries and get a great cover. When I thought about it a little more, and thought of some of my friends who do that kind of work, it occurred to me how horribly unfair that would be. Dozens of people do a bunch of work, submit an entry and only one of them gets paid anywhere near what their work was worth. Writing a book wasn’t about getting rich, but that would have been a nice perk… Writing On Swift Wings was about sharing ideas and hopefully having some great experiences, conversations, and to grow as a person. I didn’t think screwing a bunch of poorly remunerated artists would help me achieve any of those objectives.

A second idea was to contract an artist friend to paint something for me. I approached a friend of mine, but she turned me down as she wasn’t able to find sufficient time to do it. Pity, that might have been something pretty special. I thought it would be cool to have the cover be a piece of art that people might be as happy to have sitting on their shelf as it was to read.

Ultimately I conducted a long web search for professional designers and found one a couple that I quite liked. One of them turned me down saying they don’t do illustration… which wasn’t what I asked for, but the other, JD&J design stepped up.

I gave them a little guidance… I gave them too much guidance. I wanted to let them be artistic, and use their skills, but I steered them too much. I got the cover that I thought I wanted, I was happy with it, and it is the original copy that I used for the first year of publication.

I certainly have no complaints about them, but a key lesson I learned was that giving an artist too many instructions and not enough rope results in less-than-optimal results. I got what I asked for.

After a year, I approached JD&J again and said, I’d like to revisit the cover. I don’t think that this tells the reader much about the story. It doesn’t really tell them that it is a fantasy-adventure novel at first glance, and a strong lesson to take away is that you have to give the readers what they are expecting in a cover unless you’re already a huge recognized name.

I phoned JD&J and we discussed it, and after a full revision they returned with a series of great ideas and we settled on the current cover.

Beautiful Cover by JD&J Design

Much better. Wish I had let them do their thing completely from the start…

Beyond making it look great and professional, the benefit of hiring a professional cover designer, much like the interior designer is that submitting the book to the various services I used to publish (IngramSpark and Kindle Direct Publishing) was a breeze. It just worked the first time… I can’t imagine how much pain it would have been for me to try to pull that off myself.

Next: Publishing (Oh, did I learn a lot here.)

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Book Launch Learnings 2 – Writing

Part 2 ā€“ Learnings about writing and publishing a book Series ā€“ Writing

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Yesterday I wrote about my planning process, today I write about… writing.

Before you begin writing a book, make sure you enjoy writing. Unless you’re planning on writing a ton of books, or you are certain to catch lightning in a bottle, writing is tough and not frequently rewarding unless the act of writing itself is of interest to you.

Time

The first question is time. You really need to find a way to make time for writing or you’ll get nowhere. I started by writing in the margins of my time. There is a reason it took almost three years to write On Swift Wings. I bought a fold-away keyboard for my phone and I actually wrote about half of the book the same way I did my planning, on the train, at lunch, whenever I had five minutes of time. Sometimes that meant that I didn’t write anything for a few days or weeks at a time.

One thing I did to buy myself time, no laughing, was to delete all my stupid games off my phone. I wanted to write a book, and it occurred to me that all the time I was spending tapping on games that are surprisingly addictive, and yet really boring and unimportant, was consuming those little blocks of time that could be used productively.

A second thought was to avoid social media. I didn’t delete them, but I made a conscious effort to not spend idle time scrolling through it. You’d be surprised how much you don’t miss out on things when you don’t read thoughtless nonsense all day.

As I got deeper in, I set aside blocks of an hour in the evenings to work, and that helped get the book done much more quickly. I set some goals for myself and posted them so that everybody could see what I was doing. It is a way of holding myself accountable. I don’t like letting people down, even if they don’t really care if I do.

Read and progress

A mistake that I made, writing over a long period was that I often forgot what I had written before. When I got to the editing phase this required me to go back and correct double-writings several times. I usually remembered what I wanted to write, I rarely stopped thinking about the book, but I definitely forgot whether I had already put it down a page or two back.

It is certainly easier if you re-read what you’ve already written to ensure that the contents and style flow the first time. If not, you’re in for an editing adventure. If you can write it all in one go… you might be a magical wizard. Most people can’t pump out a quality novel of 100,000+ words in one sitting. Take your time to cover your flow.

Be flexible

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I’ve stated in my planning blog that I wrote out the exact flow and structure I intended to follow including a very specific ending. As I wrote the story, I didn’t like the ending that I had originally envisioned. It didn’t fit with the tone and content of the story, and would have felt extremely out-of-place at the end of it. I believe that the readers would have felt cheated and confused. If I had rigidly held to the original plan, it would have made the story worse.

Similarly, at several other parts of the story, I realized while providing details and descriptions that the original plan left me with too little breadth to paint the necessary picture. I really wanted to avoid any deus ex machina fallacies, where suddenly a most fortuitous event magically gets the character out of a sticky situation. I wanted the story to provide reasonable solutions to problems if the main character could find it. At one point my editor, Bobbi, wrote a comment that read something like, “Isn’t that lucky?” She flagged something really important there that I had done inadvertently, and fortunately it gave me time to carefully fix it.

Re-write

The first time I write something, I usually get the gist of what I want and a readable story, but if I go back and read it, I usually criticize the crap out of it and re-write it several times. Each time I re-write, it keeps the plot, but I tend to add more literary devices, more vivid description, and better satirical elements. I know it makes the process much more time-intense, but taking the time to re-write is a really important part of my process.

A word of warning though. If I let myself re-write something too often, it becomes an overly-cerebral pile of nonsense that nobody wants to wade through. You have to trace through Beautiful Mind-style cobwebs of interconnected thoughts, often with key links deleted during the re-write.

Trust that you’ll cover any glaring issues during editing, but make it good enough first. Editing isn’t cheap or quick.

Check Requirements

Here is something I didn’t know when I started. Different genres expect different word counts. I was aiming to have a good book, I didn’t really care how long it turned out, but I wanted it to probably be >100,000 words. Depending on your genre, 100,000 words might be way too many or too few. Look up what you’re writing and find out. In my case, my editor suggested that literary fiction could be a little longer, so I got a bit lucky that way. Another consideration is that when printing your book; number of pages directly affects cost. I wouldn’t trade quality for a few pennies per book, but if you write a Tolstoy-like epic with a million words, it’ll eat your profits, and probably reduce your sales enormously.

I’m certain there is more that I’m forgetting, but my window of time for the day is closing.

Tomorrow: editing.

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I hope that this section on writing is of some value to you. If it is, comment here or get a hold of me through my Facebook page. Iā€™d love to hear from you!