Monday, March 26, 2012

I'll be guest hosting a virtual book launch. Join the fun to win some great prizes

Hello, everyone. 

My fabulous friend, fellow children's and YA author LM Preston, will be having a book launch for her new sci-fi novel Explorer X - Beta, and I'm going to be one of the guest hosts. Drop by for a chance to win lots of wonderful prizes, including an electronic copy of my latest fantasy novel,Toren the Teller's Tale. This will be my first virtual book launch, so I am super excited about this. Hope you'll drop by.  

Book RELEASE PARTY! Join in on the FUN!

Saturday March 31st is the Facebook Jam PARTY!

I'm so excited to announce the details about the star studded guest that will be running the party at my Explorer X-Beta Facebook Release Party!

Here's the PARTEE - link to here the buzz:

Spotlight Author Guest Hosts Keeping the Party Rolling will be:
LM Preston to kick it off - Yours Truly

12pm-1pm (EST) - LM Preston party kickoff

1pm-2pm - Willow Cross

2pm-3pm - Leah Diane Hutchinson

3pm-4pm - C. Lee McKenzie

4pm-5pm - Norwood Holland

6pm-7pm - Alivia Anders

7pm-8pm - Alicia 'Kat' Dilman

8pm-9pm -KaSonndra Leigh

9pm-10pm - Kristi M Worrell

10pm-11pm - Shevi Arnold

The Party Rundown!

11 hour marathon of Spotlight Authors, trivia games, food, itunes gift cards, list of freebie party favors, interactive chatting, singing, dancing, nonstop games, music, prizes and free stuff!! Author segments each hour that are themed and more giveaways!!!

Also having a Twitter release party on Tuesday April 3th, sponsored by #AAMBCBookParty so follow that hashtag on 4/3 if you want to party more :-D

Virtual Tour Schedule for Explorer X-Beta More Prizes More Fun:

April 8th: Mariah @ A Readers Adventure
April 8th: The Plot Thickens
9th: Angie @ My Four Monkeys
10th: Glenda @ Book Reader's Heaven
11th: Krystal @ Live To Read
12th: Nicole @ Purple Peguin Reviews
13th: Shelia @ Shelia Deeth
14th: Luke @ Luke Reviews
15th: Andrea @ So Many Books, So Little Time
16th: Stormi @ Books, Movies, Reviews. Oh my! (Guest Post Only)
17th: Dee @ Book Zone

Writing stories for and about kids that overcome the impossible...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Indie Publishers, What You Need to Know About Book Covers

Indie publishers, think of your book's cover as the most important page of your book. Why? Because it might be the only one a potential customer will see.

People say you shouldn't judge a book by the cover, because that’s exactly what we all do. We judge books by their covers. Your story might be amazing, but if your cover doesn’t grab a reader’s attention, that reader will pick another book over yours.

That’s why you should try to make your cover the best that it can be, and unless you're a professional designer, that means hiring one.

When you’re sick, you go to a doctor.

When you have legal problems, you call a lawyer.

Yet, it’s amazing how many indie publishers choose to design their own covers.

It’s true that you can. You can also diagnose and treat your own illnesses, and you can be that proverbial idiot who has himself for a lawyer. People do things that aren’t in their own best interests all the time. Sometimes they do it to save money, but more often than not they do it because they think they can.

Our mothers told us, “You can be anything you want to be.” And that’s true.

But to be as good as those who have more knowledge and experience than you, you have to work for it.

You can’t tell yourself, “I want to be a doctor,” put on scrubs, and then start operating on people. You can’t tell yourself, “I want to be a lawyer,” put on a suit, and then start representing clients in a courtroom. You have to learn the profession first. And I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to be a doctor’s first patient or a lawyer’s first client. I would want a doctor or a lawyer with experience.

Smart writers know what they can and cannot do, and they hire people to do the things they can’t. J.A. Konrath and John Locke hire cover designers, and it shows. Their books look good, and so do their sales.

Shot of Tequila by J.A. Konrath

The Love You Crave by John Locke

What do these covers have that many other covers of books put out by indie publishers don’t?

Clear, legible text--You'd think this would be a no-brainer, but I've seen so many covers with titles that couldn't be read once they were shrunk down to the postage-stamp size they appear in the Kindle store. It's not enough that the title of your book is legible on your book's page. The title also has to be legible when the cover of your book is shown super tiny alongside the covers of other books on Amazon search page.

• The simplicity of the design--Each cover contains just one element that pulls focus. With Konrath's book, it's the glass of tequila. With Locke's book, it's the girl's body and legs. You know right away what you're supposed to be looking at. There's only one text type in Konrath's cover, while Locke's has two (although it probably would have been better with just one).

Everything fits the book’s title--The book entitled Shot of Tequila shows a shot of tequila. Look closely at the glass, and you see two guns. Clearly "shot" has two meanings here. The red of the cover makes you think of something hot and spicy, maybe even dangerous. The only fault I can find with Locke's cover is the font selection. The title appears to be in Comic Sans, which is one of the most overused fonts, and it isn't very sexy. But there's no denying that cover is saying this book is about the love you crave, a beautiful, sexy, red-hot kind of love.

Emotional response--Both books use red to imply something hot. Konrath's cover conveys something exciting. There are guns in it, and the word "shot." Someone is going to get shot. Don't you want to know who, how, and why? Locke's cover screams craving for hot romance.

• Color balance--these covers use very few colors--just reds, yellows, and darker and lighter variations of those two colors-- which makes it much easier to achieve harmony, balance, and a unified message. Too many colors create what is known in the newspaper business as the "Carmen Miranda" affect, after the singer known for her colorful fruit-covered hats. Yet too many indie publishers think the more colors a cover has, the better. You also don't want to go too far in the opposite direction. Black-and-white is fine for interior pages, but you should put some color on your cover. Just one element of color can be very powerful. Like the red apple on the almost black-and-white cover of Twilight. That single element of color really pops. (The Twilight cover works for other reasons, which I hope to cover in a future article.)

Flow--Flow is all about where your eye is drawn and where it goes from there. See the way the curve on J.A. Konrath's name mimics the curve of the rim of the glass? See the way it acts like the bottom of the glass or maybe light shining through it? That really makes you pay extra attention to the glass, which is important, because that makes you notice the two hidden guns. And look how everything in John Locke's cover is pointing to... You get the picture.

I've designed close to 100 magazine and newspaper covers, but I wouldn't have been given that first job if I didn't have the education and hadn't proven that I knew what I was doing in that newsweekly's layout department and as its illustrator. My editor wouldn't have let me design the most important page of his magazine if I was just some person who woke up that morning and said, “I want to be a magazine cover designer.”

So unless you have a design background yourself, hire a professional who does.

In a future article, I plan to explain how to choose and work with a book cover designer. Stay tuned.

BOTTOM LINE: Smart indie publishers know what they can and can’t do, and they know they need to hire people to handle the things they can’t, like designing their own cover.

What about you? Which books have covers that you think really stand out? What made them stand out? What do you think of the covers of indie book in general?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Want to get it perfect? Why that's the worst thing you can do.

I've been teaching my home-schooled daughter a course on creating graphic novels. The course is partly about writing and partly about illustrating. Both are connected. They're both ways to tell a story. The story you want to tell is up to you.

My daughter has come up with a great idea for a story, and she's very excited about it. That's wonderful. She wants to be a writer someday, and this course will teach her a lot about that. I'm teaching her a lot about that. I've been an editorial cartoonist, and I used to edit a comics magazine. Each issue of Iton HaComics (The Comics Paper), which was a Hebrew comic book comprised mostly of American comic strips, included an article I had written on a comics related topic. I also have a teacher's certificate, and am an experienced writer, editor, and illustrator, so I think I'm a pretty good teacher when it comes to this topic.

We've been using You Can Do a Graphic Novel by Barbara Slater as our "textbook." Slater shows you don't have to be a great artist to create a great comic book. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning how to write and draw a graphic novel. It might be just a start, but it's a very good start.

There are some things the book doesn't get into, though, things like overcoming perfectionism. You might think perfectionism is a good thing--wouldn't it be great if we could all get it perfect the first time?--but perfectionism leads to fear, and as Yoda says,  “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” 

First you want to get it perfect. Then you're afraid that--surprise, surprise--you can't get it perfect. You can't. No one can, especially not the first time. It's impossible. Then you get angry with yourself and with your work because you can't do the impossible. Then you hate your work, so you give up on it. And then you and your work suffer. And that does lead to the Dark Side, because you're depriving the world of the gift you could have given it, and if you go around feeling miserable all the time, you'll make the world around you miserable as well.  

You suffer because you've given up on something before you've barely started. Creating a comic book--or a graphic novel, or a short story, or even a blog post--isn't about getting it perfect. No one cares if your character's eyes look gorgeous. No one. So stop obsessing over those eyelashes, and just get the story written and the pages laid out. You can edit later, but only if you actually write the darn thing. You can change the drawings around over and over, but it will be a lot easier to do if you didn't waste ten minutes drawing eyes you might have to edit out later. 

Look at Barbara Slater's artwork. It isn't gorgeous. But it's THERE. She's done it. She created something. So has Scott Addams, the creator of Dilbert; Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts; Cathy Guisewite, the creator of Cathy; and many other comic strip artists who don't draw particularly well. Maybe one day you'll be a great illustrator or a great writer. Let me tell you a little secret. Even then you will not get it perfect. It's an impossible dream.

So forget about trying to get it perfect. Let go of your fear. Instead, embrace joy. Because the truth is that writing and illustrating are a pleasure. They're fun. They're all about dreaming on paper. As far as I'm concerned, they're the most fun you can have. So have a ball.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Researching my romantic YA ghost story

I'm currently editing Ride of Your Life, a romantic YA novel involving ghosts in a theme park, when I came across this website:

I know that several deaths and injuries take place in theme parks every year, but to see just the ones that happened in 2011 compiled like that is disturbing: 24 people died and many more were badly injured. The "lucky" ones end up with broken bones, but others lost limbs. Wow. 

Ride of Your Life was inspired by what is probably the worst amusement park accident to have ever happened in the USA: the Great Adventure Haunted Castle fire that killed eight young people in 1984. 

Friday, March 09, 2012

Geek Q for March 8th, 2012

Shevi’s Geek Q for yesterday: 168 (very high!)

Yesterday was Purim, so my Geek Q was very, very high, and it was AWESOME! 

I love Purim. It's my favorite holiday. We go to the synagogue to hear the story of Esther, and every time the evil Haman's name is mentioned, we make a lot of noise. Kids and some grownups wear costumes. I saw a Smurfette, a crayon, a Supergirl, several small Batmans, and lots and lots of Hogwart students. 

My daughter was a black cat, and I wore this:

Steampunk Angel tee from ThinkGeek

Creativity: Off the charts high! I wrote a short story about Esther in the king's garden, and I printed it on a scroll I made to look like a megillah. I also made the coolest bento boxes with a garden theme to give to friends. There were pizza rollups made to look like roses, and I put them on baby spinach leaves. I made a garden salad with flower-shaped carrot, cucumber, and cheese pieces, as well as homemade croutons. And there were flowers made from fruit and chocolate sauce to dip the fruit in. It was healthy, beautiful, delicious, and so much fun!


Ate: Snacked on vegetables while I was preparing them. We had Chinese takeout for lunch.

Fun level: High! There was a great ventriloquist who entertained at the synagogue after Megillah reading. There was also a minstrel with a guitar.

Friday, March 02, 2012


Anyone can be an Amazon Kindle bestseller by playing the numbers, and I'll tell you how in a moment.  

First I want to explain why I would never do it.

I want people to buy my book because they want to read it. And I want people to be happy that they bought my book after they've read it because something in it moved, inspired, or entertained them. I want readers to love my books. If I didn't, I wouldn't spend a year or more carefully writing and polishing each one. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have spent over a decade honing my craft.

In Toren the Teller'sTale, there's a wizard who says he will not accept payment until he knows the customer is fully satisfied. That's how I feel about my books. I don't want to trick readers into buying something they don't want or need. I want them to feel that their money was well spent, that my book was worth every penny and more.

So far the reviews I’m getting are telling me that I am succeeding by my own definition of success, even if I’m not selling millions of copies or making bestseller lists. I am doing what I set out to do: I’m getting my books into the hands of people who enjoy reading them.

A lot of people would say that I'm naïve, and they may be right.

They would say that even the major publishers play the numbers to get on bestseller lists, and have been doing so for years. They would say that major publishers have huge advertising budgets, and little indie publishers have to play the numbers in order to compete. I don't know if that's true. I hope it's not. In any case, I'm not going to stoop to that level. Of course I want to win the game, but only because I’ve earned it.

Okay, now let me tell you how someone can turn almost any book into an Amazon bestseller. It has something to do with Amazon’s new program: Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDP Select).

To understand KDP Select, you must first know what KDP is.

KDP is the Amazon program authors can use to get their e-books into Amazon's Kindle store. The regular KDP program lets publishers keep 70% of the retail price of their e-books (provided they’re priced between $2.99 and $9.99).

KDP Select, on the other hand, lets publishers make money based on the number of times Amazon Prime customers “borrow” a book for free.

Amazon Prime customers can borrow any book in the KDP Select program. To help authors encourage customers to choose their books, each author is allowed to give away his or her books for free for up to five days while that author is in the 90-day KDP Select program. The amount of money authors can make in the KDP Select program fluctuates and is based on the size of the pot every KDP Select author earns a portion of, and on the relative number of free borrows each author’s books have seen in relation to the number of free borrows other KDP Select books have seen. In other words, if 500 copies of your books are borrowed for free and everyone else in the program averages 1,000 free borrows, you’ll earn much less than everyone else. Contrary-wise, if you book is borrowed 1,000 times for free and everyone else's books are borrowed 500 times for frees, you’ll make a lot more.

The main way to draw attention to your book so people will consider borrowing it is by giving your book away for free for five days. Amazon will promote your free book at that time, and you can promote it too. You can't sell your book through, the Apple iBookstore, or any other online retailer when you're in the KDP Select program. It becomes your only way to make money. There is, therefore, a huge incentive to sell a lot of free books while you’re in the KDP Select program.

Every day, Amazon customers have the option of choosing from over 100 free books. So why would a Kindle owner choose your free book above another? What’s in it for them?

Now it’s entirely possible that what’s in it for them is a great book, but that’s not why Amazon customers trawl the freebie bestseller lists. People are willing to pay for great books--but they’re also willing to take a chance on something that may or may not be good if they don’t have to pay for it.

So what incentive are you going to give Amazon’s customers to get them to choose your book over someone else’s?  


STEP ONE: write a book.

You don’t need to know how to write, and it doesn’t have to be a great book. Don’t even think of it as a book. Think of it as a product. Based on their reviews, many of the writers on the Amazon Kindle freebie bestseller list don’t really know how to write, and many of those who do are giving away a single short story or essay, not an entire novel or nonfiction book. You don’t have to write a masterpiece, just something you can slap a title and cover on and call an e-book.

STEP TWO: give it an enticing title and a nice cover.

You don’t really have to know anything about book design. There are places you can buy premade covers for $50 or less. Here’s one that has a clearance section with lovely book covers for just $18:

STEP THREE: ask friends and relatives to post 5-star reviews for you.

I recently got into an argument with a writer on Amazon because I said her suggestion to write reviews for your own book is unethical.  She argued that it is common practice. As a former consumer columnist, I consider any attempt to mislead consumers unethical, and I think putting your words into someone else’s review is misleading consumers. However, there are apparently people who have no problem with it, and that’s the competition those who join the KDP Select program are up against. Remember, you're all getting a portion of the same pot, so if someone has better sales, it's at your expense. 

STEP FOUR: get a Twitter account.

The longer you’ve been on Twitter and the bigger following you have there the better.

STEP FIVE: sign up for KDP Select.

Mark the five days you’ll be giving your book away for free on your calendar.

STEP SIX: buy some Amazon gift cards.

You can start with just one $10 card and then build up from there. If things pan out, you might give away up to six $25 gift cards, which is one for every two weeks you’ll be in the KDP Select program.

STEP SEVEN: go on Twitter to announce you’ll be giving away a free Amazon gift card, and repeat this step over and over.

 Make the giveaway conditional. For example, you’ll give away a gift card to someone who re-tweets about the contest when you reach 1,000 borrows or 5,000 free downloads. You can even give away some of the cards when you get a certain number of Twitter or blog followers, 5-star Amazon reviews, or Facebook fans. Use the correct hashtags so that people looking for Kindle freebies or contests can find your tweet easily. Your tweet would look something like “#Win a $25 #Amazon gift card when my #Kindle #ebook reaches 2,000 #free downloads! Buy here (link) and RT to enter #giveaway”.

Notice how that tweet says nothing about the book itself? That’s because with this method, you’re not selling a book—you’re selling an opportunity to win a free Amazon gift card. You’re essentially selling free raffle tickets to get people to do what you want!

If you don’t think people are doing this, go to Twitter and see just how fast the #free or #giveaway hashtag flies there. It’s dizzying.

There are thousands of people on Twitter who are looking for free stuff, and they’ll be more than willing to download your free e-book to get it.

So writers are posting tweets like the one I wrote above, and those tweets are getting people to download their books in droves. They might download your book and never read it, but what difference does it make? Your book will be a bestseller. It’ll appear on the Amazon bestseller list along with all the other bestsellers. You can even put “Amazon bestseller” on your book jacket. And that will help you get a bigger share of the KDP Select pot, because all that attention and the bestseller status will help you get your book borrowed more times than the next guy’s book.

I’m not saying there isn’t a time and a place for giveaways. They can be great if you’re trying to get Twitter or blog followers or Facebook fans. They can also be great for rewarding the fans you already have. What I am saying, though, is that if you’re using giveaways to sell books, you aren’t really selling books.


NUMBER ONE: I know how to play the numbers game—and I don’t want to play it.
I want people to buy or borrow my books because they want to read my books, not because they want to win some sort of giveaway.

NUMBER TWO: I don’t want to compete with writers who are willing to play the numbers game.
I’m a writer, not a salesperson, and in the KDP Select program, salespeople have a distinct advantage over writers. That would make my book look bad, because it would be lower down in the bestseller list, and other books—many of them poorly written—would be above it. How would that look if my free book didn’t sell as well as someone else’s book an Amazon customer tried and hated?

NUMBER THREE: giving your book away for free once devalues all of your work forever.

They do say, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”

Someone once did a psychological study to see if people enjoyed a piece of cake more if it was served on a fancy dish. It turns out they do. They also discovered that a $100 bottle of wine actually tastes better if you know it costs $100. In fact, a $9 bottle of wine tastes better if you think it costs $150.

So what happens when you give your book away for free?

Those who are in the KDP Select program find they sell the most copies when their book is free and within the few days after those free days, which is when your book is riding the bestseller list high from all those free downloads. The sales and free borrows for that particular book often stay high for a while and then gradually drop off. 

However, the increased sales rarely carry over to the author’s other books—and a few writers have noted that some readers who picked up that one book for free have expressed that they expect to get the writer’s other books for free too. Instead of enticing readers with a free book, these writers are actually losing potential sales on their other books.


In the end, the Amazon sales rankings and bestseller lists, which both writers and readers tend to focus on, say virtually nothing--when it comes to free books, or books that were free at one time--about the quality of a book and everything about the writer’s ability and willingness to do anything to sell that book.

This isn’t to say that all the writers that sell a lot of free books play the numbers or manipulate reviews. Many of them don’t. But beware the company you keep, because many other writers on the free bestseller Amazon Kindle list do. 

And as a reader, do your best to read between the lines when it comes to the bestseller rankings and the reviews on those books. Maybe you’ll luck out and find a diamond in the rough, but don’t be surprised if it turns out to be rock salt in disguise.

So as you can see, the numbers can be played. The only question left for writers to ask themselves is if they want to play them. I don’t, so I fold. Now that I know the rules, I am sitting this game out.