Thursday, June 23, 2011

I earn an extra $10 on Day 1 of JK Rowling's self-publishing announcement

Joe Konrath has a good post and discussion going on his blog about JK Rowling announcing that she'll be self-publishing her Harry Potter series in ebook format.

This announcement has boosted UK sales of my book How to Format Your Ebook for Kindle in One Hour 350%-700% today.

In the UK I usually sell 0-2 books per day.

Today, I've sold 7 copies in the UK.

So, thanks a lot JK Rowling! You've already earned me an extra $10. :)

And, self-publishing authors everywhere should thank her. This is nothing but good news for all us epublishing folks.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dreaming up character names: Susie Five Eagles for The Elemental Odyssey

The following post has some minor spoilers for The Elemental Odyssey. If you want the full unspoiled reading experience, please go read the novel first. Then come back to read this post.

The names that I dreamed up for the four kids in my novel were carefully selected. Each is related to one of the four elements in some way, giving readers a (sometimes obscure) hint about what the kid would encounter in the story. I'll talk about J├╝rgen Schmidt, Kyle Morgan, and Veeksha Das later. In this post, I’ll talk about how I came up with the name Susie Five Eagles.

I’ve played role-playing games for decades. I started with the Dungeons and Dragons blue book, moved on to subsequent versions of D&D, Star Frontiers, Twilight 2000, Traveler, Harn, Gamma World, Pathfinder, Shadowrun, Deadlands (my favorite), and more.

At one point my gaming group* was playing d20 Modern in a paranormal investigation campaign. Think X-Files but with a lot more shooting. I created a character named Johnny Five Eagles – a tough, Native American petty criminal trying to survive the mean streets of Seattle. I think the name Five Eagles was a reflection of Ten Bears from The Outlaw Josie Wales (one of my favorite movies).

Anyway, I really loved the name Johnny Five Eagles**. Alas, that d20 Modern campaign did not last very long, but the name has always been in the back of my head.

Fast forward a few years. I’m working on the concept for The Elemental Odyssey. Deciding on plotlines and characters and such. I knew I wanted Johnny Five Eagles in there. But, I also knew I wanted two young boys and two young girls to be the main protagonists. Turns out that plot leaned toward the two boys being German and American.

So, I had to make one of the girls a Five Eagles. I played around with a lot of first names, but finally settled on Susie. I think it has the same pleasing sound as Johnny Five Eagles.

Obviously, Five Eagles is a name related to the element of Sky (my version of the Air element). I wanted her first name to relate to Sky as well. But I chose and fell in love with Susie before I could determine if it had any relation to sky or air. Turns out it was a bit of a stretch to find such a connection. Susan is of Hebrew origin and it means lily. In florigraphy, the practice of using flowers to send coded messages, the white lily can mean “it’s heavenly to be with you” and the yellow lily can mean “I’m walking on air”. Both of these fit with my sky element. Whew!  

I had the name and now I needed the character. Each of the four kids in the novel is twelve years old, and three of them are vacationing at Mt. Rushmore. I figured one of them should live nearby, so Susie’s home is the Lakota Sioux reservation where she lives with her parents. She’s very curious, competitive, and loves the outdoors. She’s hiked all the trails in the Black Hills and is the bravest of the kids in the story. She’s not as well-read as Veeksha, nor as well-travelled as Jurgen. She has, however, invented her own hiking food: the Susie Snack!

Susie Five Eagles was the first and easiest name that I came up with for the kids. The others were a bit harder, and I’ll talk about them in future posts.

*By the way, my gaming group makes a cameo appearance in The Elemental Odyssey as soldiers.

**And I still had to use Johnny Five Eagles. He’s the first character introduced in the story, Susie’s brother and a park ranger at Mt. Rushmore who has an unfortunate encounter with one of the aliens.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Free ecopies of The Elemental Odyssey

I finally have my paperback up online and I think it’s time to start trying to promote my new book.

So, if you send me an email at and promise to review The Elemental Odyssey on Amazon and Smashwords, I’ll send you a coupon to get the ebook for free from Smashwords!

If you have a blog or website and review the book there, I’ll thank you in the acknowledgements section of the sequel.

Of course, if you want to buy the ebook (99 cents here) and/or paperback($14.99  here) and review it, it won’t hurt my feelings.

There are many fun and exciting things to do in South Dakota: hike the mountains, see the monuments, explore the caves, watch the wildlife. But what’s not on the travel brochures is getting abducted by magical aliens!
While vacationing at Mt. Rushmore, twelve-year-old Kyle Morgan and his new friends, Jurgen Schmidt, Susie Five Eagles, and Veeksha Das, are hauled on board a strange alien ship and forced to help the animal-like Zurans!
Whisked around the world on a perilous quest, the children solve riddles to find mystical elements for their fierce captors. Scheming against the aliens, the military, powerful elementals, and even each other, the kids must escape before the Zurans can complete their mysterious mission.
About 96,000 words, 396 pages

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Elemental Odyssey paperback now available!

And you can get it for $14.99 on Amazon!

Click here to buy it!

There are all sorts of fun and exciting things to do in South Dakota: hike the mountains, see the monuments, explore the caves, watch the wildlife. But what’s not on the travel brochures is getting abducted by magical aliens!

While vacationing in the Black Hills, twelve-year-old Kyle Morgan and his new friends, Susie, Veeksha, and Jurgen, are hauled on board a strange alien ship and forced to help the animal-like Zurans!

Whisked around the world on a perilous quest, the children solve riddles to find mystical elements for their fierce captors. Scheming against the aliens, military, powerful elementals, and even each other, the kids must escape before the Zurans can complete their mysterious mission.

396 pages

Cover art by Igor Kieryluk.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How I design my ebook covers

In my opinion, an ebook cover is the first bit of advertising you have. Your ebook cover is a billboard to advertise your story. It’s also like a movie trailer, except it’s a static image. Would a movie studio run a trailer of one scene from the movie? Not usually. Trailers usually give you a smattering of what to expect in the movie. Can we do that in our ebook covers? I have tried to do so.

In the rest of this post I’m going to explain my cover strategy and how I designed my covers for Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance and The Elemental Odyssey.

As a disclaimer, I’m providing this advice for non-famous authors. If you’re famous, your name should be the most prominent item on the cover. But, for those of us who are unknown, I think my strategy might work.

The biggest advice I have is about the actual artwork, so I’m going to save that for last. First, I’ll talk about the title and author text.

The Title

Actually choosing a title is beyond the scope of this post. Of course, you should pick something catchy and appropriate for the story, if possible.

For title layout, here’s what I attempt to accomplish:

1.    Title is legible in thumbnail size.

2.    Title color contrasts the artwork behind it.

3.    Title is in a font appropriate for the story.

Here are some examples of good and bad use of titles. Click on the pic to see them in thumbnail size. Notice how the title is illegible in many of them. I’ll let you decide which are good and which are less so.

Be sure to experiment with a LOT of fonts. I have hundreds of fonts and I’m constantly collecting more. When I choose one for a book I usually mock up at least a dozen on the cover (from a candidate pool of dozens).

Sometimes a font won’t work in standard format, but it will in bold. Always check the bold version.

To make your book seem even more professional, use texture, shading, and other tricks on your title. I haven’t done this yet because I don’t know how. I’d like to improve The Elemental  Odyssey title to be something more than just black text. Maybe someday.

Author name

Your author name does not need to be legible in thumbnail size. It would be nice if it was, but there is no way a customer is going to see the thumbnail size of your ebook cover without also seeing your name in text directly beneath it. So, unless you’re famous, keep your name small so people can see more of the cover art.

Most of the same rules apply to author name as applied to title:

1.    Author name doesn’t need to be legible in thumbnail size. It can be, but not required.

2.    Author name text color contrasts the artwork behind it.

3.    Author name is in a font appropriate for the story.

The Artwork

The cover is a billboard for your story. You’re paying good money for an artist to do the cover. Be involved in the creation. You know the story better than anyone, you should decide the content of the cover art. The artist should follow your guidelines and be willing to iterate with you.

1.    Find an artist that you love.

2.    Don’t have a lot of empty space on the cover. The top of the book should have room for the title. Don’t put anything important up there. Ditto for a smaller space at the bottom for your name.

3.    Don’t clutter the artwork.

4.    Make the cover interesting. Make it something someone would want to look at for more than two seconds. This means detail. You don’t need a lot, but a bit is nice. Customers who pause to examine a cool cover will also check out the rest of the book page.

5.    At least one object on the cover must be recognizable in thumbnail size.

6.    Unless you have an awesome idea for a one-concept cover, make the cover a montage of 3-4 concepts.

7.    Use the foreground, midground, and background to full effect.

8.    The cover must be cool. If you look at your cover and don’t think “that’s cool” then don’t use that cover.

Those are the basic rules I use when designing my covers. Here is a more precise strategy for the actual art content and how I implemented them for my current novels:

1.    Foreground depicts the protagonist or other important character. This foreground character is recognizable in thumbnail size and has evocative detail. This can be equipment, expression, body language, or more.

2.    Midground depicts other character(s) with some action suggested. Not necessarily recognizable in thumbnail size.

3.    Background depicts the setting. Not necessarily recognizable in thumbnail size.

Here’s how I came up with the design for my two novels with Igor Kieryluk, the artist:

Foreground: The main character, Noose, is large and in the foreground. Even in thumbnail size you can get a good idea of what he is and what he’s doing. He has some good detail, such as futuristic guns that suggest science fiction and attire that suggests a hard-boiled detective atmosphere.

Midground: The name of the dance club, Stiltzkins, in bright neon. which ties in nicely with the title. Three other characters from the book are in front of the club, shooting at Noose. This reinforces the action implied by Noose’s pistols.

Background: A flying police car, implying criminal activity. A skyscraper with dirigibles flying around it. Both of these imply a futuristic setting.

Title: Thick, gritty font easily legible in thumbnail.

Author name: Same but smaller font. Doesn’t block any important art.

Foreground: One of the primary aliens, a raccoon-man named Bozabrozy. Since the story is about a group of aliens coming to Earth, I decided to use one of them as the focal point instead of the protagonist children. He’s got some detail, such as his magical blue potion and pouches.

Midground: The four children in the story. American Kyle Morgan, German Jurgen Schmidt, Indian Veekhsa Das, and Native American Susie Five Eagles. The detail here is their attire, body language and expressions.

Background: Mt. Rushmore is the setting for the first several chapters of the book. The flying ship is also very important in the story, and its odd design (four sails) is something that I wanted to depict.

Title: The font is kind of fanciful and implies swashbuckling, of which there is plenty in the story. Igor also left me a bunch of open sky up there, enough to put the title and the series information.

Author name: Thanks to the fog and blowing leaves/twigs, Igor has given me more room to put my name.

So, as you can see, I put a lot of thought into the composition of the covers. I don’t see a bunch of other covers similar to mine. Maybe because my strategy isn’t good? I guess I’ll find that out. 
What do you think of my covers?

Monday, June 6, 2011

How do I market my ebooks?

Short answer:  this blog, more books, price, trading excerpts, Facebook, Twitter, author website, online reviews

Long answer:

I started my epublishing adventure back in late September 2010. My first full month of sales was in October, during which I sold 13 copies of my anthology Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds. I had been hoping to sell at least 30 in October, but that didn’t pan out. I was a bit disappointed.

In November I released my second book, a full length cyberpunk novel  titled Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance. I started paying for advertising on Project Wonderful, Bing, and Google. I also bought a sponsorship on Kindle Author. I spent about $240 in total on this advertising, and even though I was selling very few copies a day, I saw no obvious uptick in sales. By the end of 2010, I had sold 164 units. I decided to stop advertising because each click was costing me up to 80 cents with no way to determine if that resulted in a sale. Since I only make $2 per novel  that was a high price to pay.

In January I released How to Format Your Ebook for Kindle in One Hour. It sold very well from the get go. I attribute this to my author following here on this blog. Without doubt, this blog helped sell HtFYEfKiOH. This is an obvious example of perfectly targeted free advertising. I already had a following of authors interested in epublishing, and I wrote a DIY book targeting them. Voila! Predisposed customers.

In March, I lowered the price of my Dwarf novel from $2.99 to 99 cents. It went from Amazon Kindle sales rank #6000 to #333 in about 6 weeks. In May I raised the price again to $2.99, and royalties tripled.

Also earlier this year I traded excerpts with John G. Hartness. An excerpt from my Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance went into his Hard Day’s Knight, and vice versa. We’re both now getting free advertising with each other’s fans. No way to determine exactly how many sales this results in, but it’s definitely not zero.

I’m also going to trade excerpts with Manley Peterson, between his Bloated Goat novel  and my The Elemental Odyssey. I just haven’t had time to do it, which isn’t too bad since  TEO hasn’t sold more than a couple dozen copies yet. Don’t worry, Manley, I’ll send you an excerpt soon.

I’ve also put excerpts from my own work into Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance. This book sells anywhere from 27 to 90 copies a day, and every excerpt in there gets free advertising.

I have a Facebook account with 33 friends. I use it purely to announce blog posts and release information. I don’t use it for more than that. I’ve heard that some other authors use Facebook much more diligently, building their customer base by being very active. I just don’t like Facebook and so I can’t/won’t exploit that marketing avenue to its fullest extent.

I also tweet notifications about my blog posts and releases on Twitter. I have 58 followers. I know other authors use it for communicating and discussions. Keeping track of dozens of feeds and hundreds of tweets is way too much of a time sink for me.

Maybe I could generate more interest and fans by committing more time to Facebook and Twitter. Do other authors find these venues to be helpful? Let me know in the comments.

I’ve only had a couple interviews and reviews. I certainly appreciate these opportunities. These certainly can’t hurt. My hope is that they have resulted in at least some of sales over time. Unfortunately, I have yet to see any sales spike on the same day or soon after an interview or review.

I have received a couple free bits of advertising based on my blog post: The Keys to Epublishing Success. The German online magazine, Spiegel, mentioned me in this article. I saw a huge spike in blog visits from this. I was also mentioned in this article in the Huffington Post online. No way to know how many sales I might have gotten from these mentions, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

How exactly did my marketing efforts contribute to sales? I have no idea. What worked and what didn’t? Hard to tell. All I know is that the sum total of my marketing efforts has helped me sell over 7500 units and earn over $6200. My royalties have gone from $4.20 in October to $2913 in May. I must be doing something right.

So, what’s this mean for you?

Unfortunately, I can’t give you any concrete advice that will guarantee continued increases in revenue. There are way too many variables and all these marketing efforts are just a part of the story.

However, I can give you some advice on where you might want to commit your time for marketing:

Cover: This is the first bit of marketing prospective customers see. Pay for a great cover. Don’t skimp. Both Igor Kieryluk and Les Petersen are great artists and can do covers for under $1000. Your cover is your best marketing asset on Amazon. Make sure it’s great.

Description: Your description is the second bit of marketing prospective buyers see. Make sure it is really good. Find other books in your genre that are selling well and look at their descriptions. Emulate them.

Good book: If you wrote a poor book, it won’t sell. So, write a good book. This will get you good reviews, which will get you more customers.

Price: Experiment with price and keep each price constant for at least 2 months to see the impact.

Blog: definitely create a blog to give fans a way to connect with you. This is the largest non-writing time sink that I’m willing to commit to. Go read a few more author blogs to get an idea of what kind of content they concentrate on and then decide which you want to emulate. Or come up with your own style!

Author website: if you are comfortable creating a website then you should definitely create your own author website. If not, and you don’t want to pay someone else to create your website, use your blog as your website.

Facebook: Create an account on Facebook and at least use it to announce blog updates. If you enjoy using FB, then go hog wild. It can’t hurt.

Twitter: Create an account and tweet your blog updates. If you love Twitter, then use it to its full potential.

Trading excerpts: These are no-cost, minimal effort free advertising opportunities. Find authors of similar genres and ask them if they’d like to trade.

More books: The best way to make more money is to write more books. All your current fans are instant customers for your new books. Your fans will buy buy buy. Take advantage of their interest.

Online reviews/interviews: I haven’t gotten very many of these and I haven’t seen any direct sales impact. However, I certainly wouldn’t refuse to do an interview. Again, these can’t hurt. Even bad reviews might give you some exposure that could be helpful.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Elemental Odyssey paperback proof

I received the first proof for my paperback version of The Elemental Odyssey from CreateSpace.

The book is 6 inches wide by 9 inches tall by 15/16 inches thick. To give you an idea of the size, here is the book next to my spokesdog, Andy the Jealous Chihuahua.

What do you think?

The CreateSpace process has been pretty easy. I formatted the interior and cover myself with no problem. It just required some Photoshop ability.

I submitted the manuscript on Monday, they approved it on Tuesday, and I received the proof on Friday. Quite quick.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

May 2011 sales report

May was my eighth month selling ebooks.

I sold 2406 units of 4 different titles in May. That is a decrease of 20% from April’s sales of 3009 units. Sales for my 3 biggest selling titles declined. :(

My average sales per day were 100.3 in April and 77.6 in May.

Well, that doesn’t sound good at all, does it? But that’s only one part of the story. The other part is my royalties, which increased dramatically:

My royalties increased from $1454 in April to $2913 in May. That’s an increase of 100%.

This was because of my price increase for Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance. On May 9th, I raised the price for this ebook from 99 cents to $2.99. This change reduced the sales of the novel, and I think also hurt the sales of my related anthology, Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds. The anthology rode the coattails of the novel on the way up in sales numbers, but also rode the coattails on the way down. Even so, total royalties increased for the month.

Thanks to the surge in royalties from Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance, I’ve now made more money than I’ve spent on epublishing. I’ve spent about $4100, but I’ve earned royalties of $6200. That’s about $2100 in profit!

If sales continue at a similar pace, I’m hoping to earn at least $15000 in gross royalties for 2012. That’s pretty good for my first year, and much more than the $3000 I was hoping to make when I started this adventure.

In the daily royalty chart below, you can really see the dramatic increase in royalties in May. For the last several days, though, there has been dramatic fluctuation. I’ll be interested to see if that calms down or continues.

I’ll keep the novel at the higher price throughout June to see how much sales continue to decline, or maybe they’ll level out. I don’t really have any guess about that yet. But, I’ll lower the price back down to 99 cents in July.
Stay tuned!