Sunday, August 26, 2018

Celeste Barclay

I Told You So and Book Covers

Hello Readers,

I'm a cliche, or at least the lessons I learned are...

Well, I can say that I am learning my lesson when it comes to book covers.  

I will have learned it completely, I anticipate, when sales improve.  It's been almost three weeks since I last posted, but that's because of all the learning I've been busy doing.  I bit the bullet and decided to have my two book covers completely redone by a professional graphic artist (The Write Designer).  It is like every cliche I can think of, but most particularly, it's like night and day.  I liked the covers that I designed, but I do not have the software or the means to keep the vivid image alive when it is loaded to KDP.  No matter what I tried, it always looked flat and low resolution.

His Highland Lass Cover 1
His Highland Lass Cover 1

His Highland Lass Cover Image 2
His Highland Lass Cover Image 2

DIY Covers...that flop

I have just enough graphic design (and html) knowledge to be dangerous.  

I have used Pixlr before for other projects, and it has worked really, really well.  It's like a free, mini Photoshop online software. I can adjust the image in any number of ways and even create layers.  I also use Adobe Spark for a lot of marketing images, promo videos, and for Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook images.  However, even with the combination of these two online platforms, and online optimizers, I could not get the resolution (DPI) high enough to create a good quality cover.  I tried over and over again to increase the DPI, but no matter what I did, KDP kept telling me my images were between 70 and 90 DPI.  That's a very long way from 300.

His Highland Lass Cover with Plaid
His Highland Lass Cover 3

Why, you ask.

Why did I think that I could make the covers myself?  

His Highland Lass Cover 4 with banner
His Highland Lass Cover 4

Why didn't I listen to ALL the advice that I read over and over and over again on so many sites and in so many articles?  The answer is simple: I didn't want to spend the money.  When I first started this adventure, I had a story that I wanted to tell and a book that I wanted to attempt to sell.  I wanted to see if I could do it well enough for someone, anyone, to buy.  Even with my multiple versions of my rinky dink cover, I did manage to sell, either through paid purchases or Kindle Unlimited, over a 100 copies in the first 3-4 months of His Highland Lass.  I chose to invest in marketing through paid ads on Amazon and Facebook (shared with Instagram).  I got mixed results with those, and that is for another post.  Now that I've seen that my writing can hold water, I think it's time to up the ante (yes, another two cliches).

Old adages and more cliches...

Haven't we all heard that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover?  

And don't we all still do it anyway?  A book with a great cover can turn out to be a dud, but we were wooed by the enticing cover.  We have all most likely missed out on great gems that never saw the light because the cover wasn't appealing, and we assumed that the story wouldn't be either.  I know that I have been guilty of this.  I know I am still guilty of this, and yet, I still didn't invest in a professional cover for my own work.  A large part of that was also because I didn't have a solid marketing plan before the release of my first book.  I'm still developing it, and my second book book releases in five days.

Another reason why, to go back a step or two, was the cost.  Or at least the perceived cost.  I wasn't sure that sinking $200 for my cover would be worth it.  I worried that I would be in the hole before I even started.  I didn't look at it as an investment.  Now that I have spent approximately that amount on advertising with mixed results, I realize that my first step should have been the cover---are you learning through my repetition? Not to beat a dead horse, but...

Sticker shock fades when it's the right investment for the right price.

Through the wonderfully interwoven world of Twitter, Instagram, and Google, I started to learn more about book cover designers that my initial search for images afforded me.  Once I accepted that I needed to have the covers done by a pro, it seemed like designers were popping out of the woodwork everywhere.  Some of the designers I stumbled across almost made me swallow my tongue with the number of digits after the dollar sign.  Anything with four numbers after the dollar sign with no decimal in sight was immediately ruled out.  I'm no where near that, and honestly, I've seen some amazing work (and even recognized a ton of covers) from designers in the $99-$200 range.  I've learned to live with that amount.

I found and narrowed down to three different designers who had pre-made covers around $99-$120.  I was tempted by any and all three, but I quickly thought about the fact that I'm writing a series.  I needed to take that into consideration and find a designer who could make at least five similar covers.  I also have a rapidly approaching deadline for the new release, His Bonnie Highland Temptation, and I wanted to redo (as in completely start from scratch) for His Highland Lass.  I needed a designer who I was willing to afford for two back to back covers, who could meet my ridiculous deadline of a week and a half, and who would be willing to take on a series.  I reached out to the three designers I'd narrowed it down to, and decided (very happily and incredibly impressed) to move forward with Lisa Messsegee of The Write Designer.  Lisa has created a cover for His Bonnie Highland Temptation in what felt like overnight.  She's been so helpful with little bits of advice here and there.  I am eternally grateful that I turned this project over to her knowledgeable hands.

Moral of the story:

I recently read one of Aesop's fables to my students for a lesson on visualizing what we read.  "The Frogs at the End of the Rainbow" is about three frogs who want diamonds, gold, and pearls.  They hear that they exist where the rainbow ends which happens to be a dark cave with a snake that eventually eats them.  The moral of the story was: from out greatest hopes can come our greatest disappointments.  My hopes were to write a book that people would enjoy while getting away with designing my own cover to save a little money.  The quality of my work was disappointing, and I suspect that I will feel even more disappointed in my own art after sales pick up thanks to real cover art.

Invest in the professional cover design, and do yourself a favor by freeing up your time and labor for what you excel in: writing.

Cover reveal for His Bonnie Highland Temptation!

His Bonnie Highland Temptation The Write Designer
His Bonnie Highland Temptation Pro Cover
 The Write Designer (Lisa Messegee)

What do you think about using professional cover art?  Do you agree or disagree with my opinion?

Comments are always welcome, and I respond to all of them personally.  

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Celeste Barclay

How long do you keep your book publicity going? (Part 2)

Hello Reader,

We are back for phases 2 and 3 of how long do you keep your book publicity going.  This is where we will look at long-lead media which is essentially your long term relationships for publicity.  If you didn't catch Phase 1, check out part 1 to read about getting your publicity strategy going with social media.

Phase 2: Long-Lead Publicity

Typically, this is what your publicist would research and create, but there is a good chance that if you're an indie author and self-publishing, your publicity team is you, yourself, and well, you.  So what is a long-lead?  Like I just said, it's like your long term relationship.  It is print media that needs to be sought and booked anywhere from 3 to 6 months in advance.  They need a "long lead" up time to fit your review, promotion, or advertisement into their schedule.  It takes time to cultivate these relationships if you don't have the backing of a big name or a well established name in the publicity world to back you.

If you're still not sure what I'm talking about, think of Publisher's WeeklyO, the Oprah Magazine; Reader's Digest; and Booklist. These print outlets begin lining up their content months in advance and often only feature books during the month they are released.  This keeps them current and relevant.  This requires you to use forward planning and consider the publicity landscape.

You need to ask yourself some questions:

1. When do I think I will release my new book?
2. What type of magazine or print media would be interested?
3. How do I get in touch with them to find out their lead time?
4.  Do I have enough time?  If yes, how do I submit my work?

Once you've answered these questions, you'll have a better idea of how to proceed.  If you think that print media is a way to go, then you'll want to craft an email that can be sent to all the outlets that desire an advanced look at your work.  This will give them time to read, digest, and then review your work.

Long leads are especially important for works of fiction!

For non-fiction, the needs of the individual outlets can vary.  If you send out your inquiry too far in advance, it will get forgotten and too close to publication will result in a "no".  You will want to research the lead times and stagger your email approach to meet the requirements of the outlet.

So far this has been fairly general advice on how to seek out long lead media outlets, but....

Not all media outlets are created equally...

Phase 3: Short-lead Publicity

This phase generally takes place when the book is finished and almost ready for release.  With the long-lead publicity inquiries, you might still be writing chapter three of thirty three when you start reaching out.  With short-lead publicity, your work should be ready to go on demand.  These are your local daily newspapers, your online outlets, most radio and TV.  This can run over into the first month or two of the book being on sale.  This where you can go to town in a sense.  You can send out your email blitzes to hundreds of outlets to try and get at least a handful or two to bite. From what I can have read, it seems that many of the big publicity firms will pitch books to hundreds(!!!) of outlets for each campaign.  With so many options, it might make your wonder whether your publicity should or could ever stop.  

Remember the law of diminishing returns...

You can spend an exhausting amount of energy trying to capture the attention of those hundreds of outlets that I just mentioned, but remember they often have smaller audiences than the long-lead outlets which by their very nature tend to be major media sources.  It takes time to find those hundreds of outlets, to do your research, to send out inquiries, to follow up, to come to an agreement, and then it's a comparatively smaller audience.  If it's you, yourself, and you, then using this much time and energy will only get your less of a return on your investment of (wo)man hours.

So what is the takeaway from Phases 1, 2, and 3?

Phase 1:

This is where you reach out to your more organic and direct followers to build your media platform and begin your strategy.  You create the subscriber lists and the newsletters for direct email.  You use your social media accounts to share your blog posts, articles of interest, and information about your books.  This is the micro version of your publicity and probably should have started a week ago. Duration: Ongoing but largely at time of release

Phase 2:

This is your entry into macro publicity.  This is the long-lead publicity and requires a strategy to be in place well in advance of your newest work's release.  You will be reaching out to the larger media outlets and trying to snag their attention upwards of 3-6 months before your release.  Create a list of potential publications, generate a standard long-lead inquiry email, and send it out.  Follow up periodically as needed. Duration: 3-6 months PRIOR to your release

Phase 3:

This is your OMG my book is almost ready for sale.  Use your smaller publicity outlets when your book is ready to go.  They need less time to plan for your feature.  You will need to approach many to get a few, but that is the case with all publicity campaigns. Duration: 1-2 months from your release 

And the upshot is...

When your publicity ends, you can still market your books.  

1. Use the resources you developed and implemented during phase 1.  
2. Use Facebook and Twitter to link to your reviews.  You can boost/promote these posts to keep a wide reach.  
3. Use Instagram and #bookstagram to post pictures of your cover on an ongoing basis to keep it fresh and memorable.  
4. If you ordered print copies to send off to long-lead outlets and you have leftovers, do a giveaway on Goodreads and use Facebook to advertise it.
5. Check with reviewers to see if they offer a newsletter where you can purchase ad space for quotes from their review.

Hopefully this will help you gain a better understanding of the different phases of publicity and what to do when it comes to an end.