The Marketing Makeover Begins with a Book Cover Survey!

Part of the Book Marketing Makeover I mentioned last week has involved taking a long hard look at the books in my Osteria Chronicles series and accepting that, although the books themselves are well written, the covers and descriptions don’t quite cut the proverbial mustard. So, over the past several weeks, I’ve been studying other books in my genre (Greek/Roman historical fantasy) in preparation to relaunch the series.

Relaunch? But Didn’t You Just Launch Book Three?

Yes, The Maze (Book Three) only came out a month ago, but even before the launch something was eating at me about the current books. Mainly, if you look at my books there is really no cohesion to them to alert you to the fact that they are a series (other than similar font), you can’t tell what genre they belong to (I’ve had more than one person ask if they were history books), and the descriptions lack a punch.

After listening to several marketing podcasts and reading Chris Fox’s Relaunch Your Novel: Breathe Life Into Your Backlist, I realized this cover conundrum (and the lackluster descriptions) may be playing a big part in the reason my books aren’t selling. And believe me, it was a hard truth to accept. But once I embraced this notion, I’ve been all over trying to resolve it!

So, although it’s taken me a long time to admit, my books are in desperate need of a makeover including new titles for some, a new look, and new descriptions.

Ye Olde Booke Covers

We’ll get to the description makeover in a few weeks, but this week is all about book covers (in case the big bold title above didn’t clue you into that). And, as always when it comes to covers, I would LOVE your input on the designs I’ve come up with.

Comparing Myself to Others

Sometimes it’s bad to compare yourself to others in your field, but at other times it’s necessary. This is especially true in self-publishing when you need to see what’s out there, what’s popular, and what readers are expecting.

Step One of the relaunch/makeover was to go to Amazon, go to my genre, and pick a few covers from the top sellers that really grabbed my eye. From these I could get an understanding of the fonts used, the imagery, and what magic i could work based on their style.

A few of my favorites were these…

The covers that most caught my eye and made me want to know more about the books all have some central figure – usually a guy dressed in legionary-esque battle gear – and bold, clear font. None had a ship, none have columns (except as a background), none have a stone maze, and you could tell every book in a series belonged to that series.

Now that I knew what I needed, it was time to start designing. By the way, during this process I had to look at photo after photo after photo of hunky guys dressed (barely) as fighting Romans/Greeks. I know, tough job, but someone has to do it.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind

At the end of the post is a little survey asking your opinion on which of these designs (or collection of designs) you like best and that you think best matches the genre conventions I’ve shown above. So, as you look over the next section I need you to keep in mind a few things…

  • These are mock ups which means fonts may not be perfectly lined up (most should be centered) and the images may need a little nudge up or down, or some tone adjustments.
  • These have not been purchased which means there are watermarks on them. It can be hard but try to look past the “Canva” and grid marks on some and the word “Copyright” on others.
  • I want all six books in the series to have a VERY cohesive look. This means the images will be similar and the font will be in the same place for all six.
  • I will be re-namiing Books Two and Three to have the same number of words as Book One and Four (so all books will be The Something of SomethingThe Trials of Hercules, The Bonds of Osteria, the Battle of Ares, etc)
  • Because I haven’t yet chosen new titles for Books 2 & 3, I’ve just used The Trials of Hercules as a placeholder title for ALL the designs. Designs you see grouped together are the covers in ONE design group, I’ll later replace the titles.
  • Remember that these will most likely be seen as thumbnail-sized images so they need to have a punch at that size.

Enough pre-amble, let’s get on with….

The Designs!!!

My absolute favorite of the covers I came across was The Realms of God one above. I loved the clean look (and the number of words closely matched my titles). Working in a warrior type guy into the design, I came up with Design A.

Design A

There are several similar images of “Warrior Guy with Red Cape,” so there’s no problem maintaining the look of these covers for all six books (I’ve only shown three).

But maybe people want a better look at my warrior/gladiator. Using the style of the other three comparison books, I played around with Design B…

Design B – sorry, I cropped my name a bit when taking the screen shot of the right hand one

Then there’s Design C in which I ditched the centering and tossed the words over to the side…

Design C

Once I got tired of going the comparison-book route, I started flipping through the templates on Canva. On 123rf.com I’d found a gob of cool silhouettes of Spartan helmets and fighters and thought these could work into a cover design of some sort, which resulted in Design D…

Design D

I do really like this, but am afraid it might be a bit too comic-booky for the rather somber tone of the Osteria Chronicles.

Sticking with the abstract look, I tried this one on for size (each book in the series would have a different colored background). Meet Design E…

Design E

I worry that this one, while I love how bold and eye-catching it is, says nothing about the genre, but I’ll let you leave your thoughts on it.

Your Opinions Please

If you’re short on time (and who isn’t this time of year), I’d love it if you could just take half a second and tick a circle in the survey below letting me know which design you found most eye-catching and genre appropriate (again, that’s Greek/Roman historical fantasy).

Note: if you’re in WordPress Reader or reading this in your email, you may need to go to this post on my website to respond…just click the post title to get there)

If you have more time, please do leave a comment telling me your thoughts on the designs (what works for you, what doesn’t). I appreciate ALL your input!!!

I’ll have the results next Wednesday and will hopefully have those new titles sorted out to share with you. And, as promised, Finn McSpool and I will be back Saturday with our waxy wonders from the beehive! See you then!!

***

 

Advertisements

Finn McSpool Minds His Beeswax

Those of you who have been with me a while know I share my backyard with a hive full of bees. The girls are all tucked in for the winter, but after realizing I could no longer close the freezer door due to all the honeycomb I’d been stashing away over the season, I decided time was well overdue for a round of beeswax rendering.

And, as you may have guessed, a certain monster was eager to supervise the process. Although I’m not quite sure who gave him the promotion to Supervisor from his position earlier this year as Assistant Beekeeping Beastie.

Still, with an eager monster ready to learn some new skills, I decided we’d discuss this new job title later so we could get our wax on.

Beeswax Beginnings

Some of my wax comes from shifting combs around in the hive especially toward the end of the season when I cluster honey-filled combs into one part of the hive so the ladies have an easier time getting their sweets during the winter. The honey-less comb is all mine!

Other comb comes from collecting honey during the season. With a top bar hive like mine, you remove the entire comb to extract the honey. Sometimes the comb isn’t completely full and the portion that has no honey in it simply gets cut off and tossed in the freezer (kills any icky-ness that might be lurking).

The honey-filled comb, however, gets crushed and squished to squeeze out that liquid gold my bees offer up as their rent payment. Okay, “offer” may not be quite accurate. More like, me trying to act cool and collected as I remove the comb, then having all dignity disappear when one or two bees get too close and I end up running away from the hive doing my oh-my-god-they’re-going-to-kill-me dance. I imagine the neighbors get a good laugh on honey collection days.

Once as much of the honey has drizzled out as I can get, the leftover wax gets added to the freezer pile. Since rendering beeswax is a pain in the stinger, I prefer to do it in one large batch rather than each time I remove combs from the hive….which is why the freezer ends up containing more honeycomb than my actual hive by the end of the season.

Let the Rendering Begin

Since freezer space needs to be allocated for the products of holiday baking, it was time to face the chore of rendering. Knowing how much I hate this task. Finn, boasting his new self-appointed job title, stepped in to supervise from what he called his “Executive Seat.”

Rendering needs to be done not only to melt down those perfect little hexagons into a more useable (and more easily storable) form, but, let’s face it, beeswax that has been used by thousands upon thousands of bees gets kind of gross and that gross-ness needs to be cleaned away if the wax is to be any use.

Why does it get gross? Because making babies is messy business.

The cells of a honeycomb aren’t used only for honey, but also for making babies. Wait, I should rephrase that….my honeycomb isn’t some sleazy by-the-hour motel. It’s more like a nursery where the baby bees grow from teensy tiny eggs into bees…and they do that growing within casings that get shed into the cell as the future honey makers change from larvae to pupae and all that other insect-y type of stuff you learned back in grade school.

Plus, bees are going in and out of the hive all day during the spring and summer. And I’ve yet to see one of these girls wipe their feet. So, even though bees are fastidiously clean, some dirt gets brought into the hive and left on the comb.

Rendering cleans away all this…after a while. To make the wax more liquid and easier to strain, you heat water and then melt the wax directly into the water. And let me tell you, this first melting is disgusting. All manner of muck (those casings I mentioned) comes out of the wax making a soupy mix so nasty even the most heartless Dickens character would hesitate to serve it to an orphan.

“Please sir, may I have…ew, never mind, I’d rather starve.”

This batch of witches’ brew gets strained, leaving most of the casings behind.

Blech!

The wax-water medley is allowed to cool and, by the magic of physics, the wax floats to the top while the icky water stays on the bottom. Finn, in his supervisory capacity, made a close inspection of the wax and declared it wasn’t clean enough yet.

Unfortunately, one round of melting-straining isn’t enough to fully clean the wax (you can see why I put this off, right?). It takes about three or four rounds of melting and straining fun, each time using finer straining cloth, to get the wax fully clear of muck. Of course, this would go faster if my supervisor would stay out of the sieve.

Even with Finn’s “guidance” I eventually got the wax clean enough for use. And what was that use? Well, since this has already turned into a lengthy post, you’re going to have to come back next week for the results of Finn’s waxy workings (no, Madame Tussaud is not involved).

“Um, Finn, that isn’t cheese.”
“I thought it tasted a little waxy..”

What about you? Have you gotten around to any projects you’ve been putting off? if you have bees, what do you do with your wax? Any favorite bee-related products? Go ahead and share in the comments!

Again, I’ll be back next Saturday with the results of all this rendering, and next Wednesday I’ll once again be seeking your opinion on some book covers, so be sure to drop by then and throw in your two cents…into the survey, that is, not the wax.

***

 

Time for a Book Marketing Makeover, aka “My Book Sales Suck”

Since today’s post is about my books sales, it could very easily take on a rather dismal tone. But since moaning and groaning isn’t the point of this week’s indie author musings, I promise I’ll try to keep it as upbeat as possible without going all Pollyanna on you. Because even though I’m starting from (almost) nothing, at least I’m starting and not giving up (okay, maybe that was a tad Pollyanna-ish)

I think I just gagged.

The Hard Facts – My Book Sales This Quarter

Okay, this is taking a HUGE amount of bravery to reveal and I nearly chickened out because, let’s face it, these numbers are absolutely embarrassing. Before I “show off” my recent book sales numbers keep in mind that I am not doing this in any way to say, “Oh poor me, go out and buy my books to make me feel better.” I mean, if you’re going to buy my books, I want you to buy them because you’re interested in them, not to toss me a $3.99 bone of pity.

And I also don’t want in any way to seem unappreciative to the wonderful people who have bought my books over the past few months (all three of you…haha), because I do really appreciate your support (and the emails from a couple fo you saying “I love this book!” – thanks Weekes and Helen).

So my big sales numbers over the past three months are….

  • September – 4 (no, that’s not a typo…four)
  • October – 8 (woohoo, sales doubled)
  • November – 28 (The Maze‘s launch month)

Yeah, that’s a grand total of 40 books in three months. Given that there are indie authors selling 40 books between the time they wake up and the time they’ve poured their bowl of Wheaties, those numbers are awful to say the least.

I Should Be Bitter

Keeping in mind that I am not an optimist, those numbers should have me tossing all my notebooks into the recycle bin, breaking my pencils in half, and trudging down to the nearest Walmart to get a job I’m more qualified for like emptying trash bins.

But weirdly enough, I’m not doing any of those things. And no, it’s not because I’ve put myself into a drunken stupor so deep that my brain is only functioning well enough to keep me breathing (in which case I’d probably still be able to get that bin job at Walmart).

It’s because I’m weirdly certain I can turn those numbers around. No wait, not literally turn around, that would only be 04 sales….figuratively turn around, as in boost, increase, skyrocket (okay let’s not get ahead of ourselves).

Naive Dolt or Savvy Salesgirl?

With such dismal numbers it may seem naive to think anything can be done, but I’ve recently taken an attitude adjustment toward my writing (which started back in early fall). Because I feel like my writing skills are pretty strong (always room for improvement though), I know shitty books aren’t the reason for my poor stats. It’s the fact that I suck at marketing.

Part of my attitude adjustment lately has been educating myself on how to better market my books. Sure, I’ve read loads on marketing over the years but I’ve taken a scattergun approach with the idea that doing everything will boost sales. It doesn’t. It causes burn out, frustration, and there are some aspects of marketing I hate (yeah I’m talking about you social media).

Instead, i’ve been absorbing all the possibilities and narrowing down what might work for me and that is slowly being cobbled into a concrete marketing plan which is going to include a few things I’ve never done before. No, not sky diving with a giant parachute decorated in my book covers. Yet.

Inspring Words

Part of this education has come from listening to a few podcasts (Smarty Pants, Mark Dawson, and The Creative Penn). One of the top things I’ve learned is that the only person to blame for my lack of sales is me. On the same side of that coin, this means that I’m the only one who can turn those sales numbers around.

The second thing is that if I’m going to succeed in this, I need to have concrete goals and I need to treat writing as a business. So I’ve sat down and mapped out a five-year plan of goals (very meager goals for Year One, but moving on to bigger goals by Year Five) and, after years of telling myself I need to do so, I’ve finally opened up a separate business account for my writing income and expenses.

Expenses? Gasp! Yes, I’ve gone too long thinking I can market without spending a dime and it’s beyond time to get rid of that Scrooge-esque mindset. I’m not going to break the bank, but I have set aside a tiny budget for ads.

Beyond that I’m learning that I need to examine my books more closely and try to understand why they’re not selling. I’ve been doing that and have come to the understanding that my books’s covers and descriptions really don’t fit their genre. There’ll be more on all that next week.

I’m also going to be rolling out a whole new mailing list with loads of fascinating features and goodies, but again, more on that to come.

To Infinity and Beyond

Geez, how would Amazon calculate the royalties for infinity book sales? Well, I may never find that out, but as I move forward with this whole process I’d really love to see a quarterly sale number much higher than 40 (every Douglas Adams fan just said, “How about 42?”). Of course, I’m not going to bore you with every detail of my marketing highs and lows, but I am planning on perhaps a monthly update on how the goals are proceeding and I sincerely hope you’ll join me on this journey!

How about you? Any Pollyanna/attitude readjustment moments for you this week? Any “picking yourself up by the bootstraps” times in your life? Tell me all about it in a comment!

You’ll be glad to know that Finn McSpool is re-entering the blogosphere this Saturday with his foray into cosmetics chemistry. And, as I said, I’ll be back next week to reveal what in the world is going on with my books and to get your opinion on some new book covers!

Speaking of chemistry…

 

 

Continue reading

Limited Time Offer!!

Oh, sorry about that super sleazy salesman title, but I’ve been listening to hours upon hours of marketing podcasts and yesterday’s listening binge ended with the sage advice, “Putting ‘Limited Time Offer’ at the top of any sale is the best way to boost interest.” I mean, no one likes to miss out, right?

But it’s true. We’re nearing the final days of my own limited time offer. So if you haven’t taken advantage of it yet, you better get your cyber-shopping fingers moving by 30 November because time’s a tickin’ to  pick up both The Maze  and The Trials of Hercules for only 99 cents each…that’s over 65% off the retail price!! Continue reading