Author Archives: amandasgreen

Running late

There will be a post later this morning. Sorry, I’m running late and have to be out the door for an appointment in just a few minutes. But I shall return and will put a post up when I do.

Amazon Author Page – by Cedar Sanderson

(Today I’m reblogging a post by my friend Cedar Sanderson over at Mad Genius Club. She has some very good advice for all writers.)

Author page front end

It’s come to my attention that some of you… *looks over her glasses at the desks in front of her* are neglecting a powerful and easy marketing tool. I’m talking about the Amazon Author Page.

Listen up, class, because this is so simple, and it can really help.

Imagine you are a reader who has just learned about a new author. They tried a book, and they want more. This is what we all aspire to. But when they search Amazon for the author’s name, they find very little information, out of order books, no clue as to the rest of the series…

Let’s make it easy for them and collect all the information in one place, shall we? In the process, we may be able to take a casual reader and draw them closer to becoming a fan, someone who will interact with an author and pass the word on to others about that author. Again, let’s make that easy on them. The less clicks, the better. In addition, you see the yellow follow button on that image of my page? When readers click that, Amazon notifies them as soon as I release a new book. It’s like a mailing list, without all the work and time and cost.

Sure, you may have a website, or a blog, or both. Facebook fan page, even. But the Author Page on Amazon has a huge advantage. All the stuff you have for sale is right there. And it’s sortable by publication date, etc. Also, if you don’t have a website, this can be a great place to send people who want to learn more about you (and buy your books). If you’ll recall a while back I mentioned using QR codes on promotional material like bookmarks and business cards, this is one place I send the QR code to, the Amazon Author Page.

You can set yours up from the back end, at the Author Central. If you weren’t already aware of that, you should familiarize yourself with it. There are important tools here, like rank tracking, sales graphs, and all your reviews in one place. Today I’m going to talk about the basics, though.

When you first login to Author Central, you get a homepage with tips and news articles. You want to click on the Author Page tab at the top, and start filling in the blanks. I’m going to tackle the biography in a minute, so we’ll start with the blog section. If you don’t have a regular blog, this can also be your author website. If you do twitter, then you can add that, although there seems to be some uncertainty about the display of the twitter feed on Amazon at the moment.

author page

 

Two important things are the photo, and the bio. I know that most authors hate both of these. Unfortunately, I’m going to tell you that you need both. No, you can’t get away with a cute pet photo unless you only write books about cute animals. Ideally, you will have a professional headshot to put in here. At the very least, a good, crisp, amateur shot will do. Don’t use a grainy cell phone image. Don’t use an old photo that was taken 20 years ago – we can tell. That shirt hasn’t been in style since at least the 80s. (yes, I am thinking of a real example). If you cannot stomach having your face in public, or have reasons that make it unwise, as an alternative you could use art from a book cover or series you write. Not a book cover itself, that’s limiting. But a piece of professional level (not a child’s drawing, unless, again, you are writing children’s books) art would work.

The biography. I suspect all of us dread these. Where to start? How much is too much? How much is too little? I didn’t write mine. I have other versions I did write, but my First Reader wrote mine (and in return, I wrote his) and if you have a partner or friend who is skilled with words, this can be a reasonable compromise. You don’t feel self-conscious about puffing yourself up, and you have something to put out there. How long? Well, as long as it needs to be. You don’t need to include a lot of personal information, but some makes you seem more human to your readers. I recommend injecting a touch of humor into the bio, if you can manage it, or if you must, make it over-the-top funny. You’ll have better reactions to a warmth of personality showing through than to dry facts.

I have three bios I cut and paste as needed – the long one written for me, a shorter version I wrote which is about 200 words long, and a very short 50 word version I originally created for a convention guide and keep as it’s handy. If you’re totally stuck, ask in the comments, and myself, or someone will help out with it.

The bio is just as important as the blurb of a book. Only here, you are the product. You’re selling yourself (hike that skirt up and show a little leg, if you dare…) and you shouldn’t sell yourself short. You are uniquely you, with the voice to back it up, and with some work, that will shine through in the bio.

Finally, make sure that all your books are properly connected to you by clicking on the Books tab. Also, make sure that your series are marked clearly in KDP because Amazon will helpfully link them on their sales listings if they are. Do not, for goodness sakes, list yourself as an editor on your own book if you are the author. Unless your book has multiple illustrations inside, don’t list your cover artist as the illustrator (you can, and should, accredit them in the front matter of your book, instead). Don’t list your editor as an editor in the KDP listings unless it’s a collection of some kind and they were instrumental in pulling the stories together. Ahem… this soap box just appeared under me… *steps down*

Go forth, children, and having learned your lesson, implement it. I want to see links in the comments!

I’m Still Reading

As I noted in yesterday’s post, real life has been a bitch the last week or so. Because of that, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. This has been reading for pleasure, to escape the problems that have been beating me over the head. So, John Ringo’s Black Tide Rising series has been burning up my Kindle and I’ve been loving his take on the zombie apocalypse. I’ll continue the reviews and thoughts on those book over the next few days.

Today’s post is sort of the brainchild of a conversation I had yesterday with some friends who love reading and good stories as much as I do. I know, I know. Folks have different definitions of what “good” means. For me, it is a story that entertains me. Especially at times like this, I want a story that will transport me to a different time and place. I want characters I can care about and a plot that intrigues me. It doesn’t have to make me think deep thoughts but, if it does, that’s fine — as long as it entertains. Without that entertainment factor, I’m not going to keep reading.

And that brings me to another series of books that I’ve loved and have re-read I don’t know how many times. That series is David Weber’s Honor Harrington series. I’ll admit, the series is getting a bit long in the tooth and I’m not as big of a fan of the books Weber has co-authors on. But that’s just me. I still will buy the mainstream books in hard cover, something I very rarely do for any author these days.

On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington) is the first book in the Honor Harrington series. It was also my first exposure to Honor. Honor is like many of us, and it doesn’t matter whether we are male or female. She is confident as an officer but, as a person, she is riddled with insecurities. I identified and understood a lot of what made Honor tick, especially early into the series. She felt herself the ugly duckling because she was tall and gangly and, in her own words, had a face like a horse (paraphrasing). That wasn’t what the world saw. But it was what she saw when she looked in her mirror. She saw the adolescent Honor, not the grown woman. Extremely shy, the victim of an attempted sexual assault when she was younger, she had baggage that carried baggage.

In other words, she was human and I liked that about her.

I’ve seen the complaints that Honor is nothing but a male character with breasts. Why? Because she is a star ship captain and she is a whiz at tactics and she manages to win almost every battle.

Big frigging deal. She also is female enough, no human enough, to have weaknesses. She hurts, deeply, when the people under her command are injured or killed. She has a temper that resembles a star going nova, something I can certainly identify with. She has her blind spots and her weaknesses. Heck, anyone who doesn’t drink coffee is far from perfect.  😉

One of my favorite scenes in any of the Honor books is the one where she has finally screwed up the courage to go on a date. This is a very big deal for her because she has never quite dealt with the emotional scars left by the attempted rape. Add in her mental picture of herself and the very firm conviction that she is the ugly duckling and it is all her best friend, Michelle Henke, can do to convince her to not only go on the date but to do something as arcane and foreign to Honor as wear makeup. The scene where Mike helps her with hair and makeup is both humorous and, to a degree, heartbreaking. For those of us who have ever been insecure in our personal lives, this scene can really hit home.

But the best part of the series? To me, it is seeing Honor grow as a person and as an officer. Slowly, she begins to open herself to others outside of her family and Mike Henke. She suffers loss and comes damned close to flushing her career down the space toilet as a result. She is a woman — and an officer — who feels things very deeply and who holds a very strict code of conduct. When she breaks that code, or comes close to it, she suffers. As a friend, she is someone you would trust at your back, no matter what. As an enemy, well, you don’t want her as an enemy.

In my mind, watching the development of Honor over the course of the series has been a lot of fun. Her growth as a person and an officer is one of the reasons I’ve continued to follow the mainline series even if some of the shiny has worn off the plots. It is also an example of how you an put a message — in this case, belief in yourself and being flexible enough to learn and grow, as well as a number of others — into your fiction without beating your reader over the head with it. I highly recommend the Honor Harrington series, especially the early books where you can see Honor turning into the confident officer and woman she is in the later books.

(Cross-posted from Nocturnal-Lives)

When the voices go silent

Thursday, Joe wrote about listening to the voices. But what do you do when the characters who have been talking to you go silent? You know they’re there. You can see them standing in the back of your head, snarky smiles on their imaginary faces, shaking their heads and refusing to tell you what comes next in your novel or short story. You try banging their heads against the metaphorical wall but they simply smile and, in their best David Copperfield voice, say, “Thank you, sir. May I have some more?”

Or maybe it is their Kevin Bacon imitation from Animal House?

Either way, they are snarky and stubborn and most definitely not talking to you and you have a story to finish. So what do you do?

Every author has a different way of dealing with this particular problem. Some go for long walks or hike up the sides of mountains. Some start working on another story, knowing that the characters in question will get jealous and start talking, usually very loudly. Others read or clean house or go shopping. Me? I find some chore around the house that lets me bang a hammer and wield a saw, dig holes or haul heavy bags of something or other.

In each instance, the activity is such that you aren’t thinking about your work. Sometimes you aren’t thinking about anything except the task at hand — especially if using sharp implements. What each of these activities have in common is that they let the story percolate in the back of your where the problems with the story can work themselves out without you stressing over it.

Yes, problems.

That’s usually why a story comes to a grinding halt when you’re writing it. Those problems can be real — your plot took a left turn and you’ve written yourself into a corner — or something almost every writer experiences as some point in time. You’ve reached that point in the story where it is no longer “exciting” to write. Some of us struggle with the middle of a story. Others balk when it comes to the ending. Whatever the reason, you have to push through, but sometimes that means stepping back for a few hours or days and letting the problem work itself out in your head.

But, this is where you have to take control again. You don’t just leave it there indefinitely. It is very easy to do just that when you are at the point in the book where you usually balk (for me, the middle). It is even easier to do when you suddenly realize that what you’ve been writing doesn’t feel like what you’ve written before. This usually happens when your craft has taken a leap forward. It is scary because the comfortable feel your writing once had is gone. It will come back. But you have to recognize what’s happened and run with it. (This is where a good Alpha reader comes in handy. Someone you trust to tell you if you are going wrong somewhere along the way. They see your work more clearly than you do.)

Anyway, I’ve rambled on. The short version is sometimes the voices go silent. It’s up to you to figure out why and to poke and prod at them until they start talking again.

So, what do you do when the voices no longer talk to you?

You’ve finished. Now what do you do?

Unfortunately, that’s a question you need to ask yourself long before you actually finish your novel or short story. It used to be that while you were writing your novel, you were researching the market and deciding what agents or publishers you could send it to once you were finished. But, with the advent of e-books and small presses, that has changed. Now you have the options of trying to go the traditional route, trying to find a small or mid-sized publisher for your work or bringing it out yourself. The ultimate decision is yours but there are a number of factors to consider in making that decision.

Ten years ago, traditional publishing was really the only game in town. Self-publishing wasn’t a viable option for most authors and it brought a really bad taste to the mouths of readers and others in our field. The reason was simple. Most of those going the self-publishing route were really simply falling victim to the vanity press scams that had been around for so long. Authors who had tried finding a traditional publisher and who couldn’t understand why their wonderful work hadn’t been accepted would fall for the promises of the vanity press. It wasn’t until they wound up with a garage full of books the author herself had to buy and now had to go out and try to sell that they realized they had been taken. It was expensive and very few ever managed to make their money back. Going this route was considered the death knell for anyone who really wanted a publishing career.

Then along came e-books and Amazon’s Kindle. Smashwords and a few other sites had been around before but none had captured the market the way Amazon did. Then Amazon did the one thing traditional publishing still gnashes its teeth over — it opened the Kindle Digital Platform to indie authors and small presses.

And thus began the publishing revolution that is still causing ripples and waves throughout traditional publishing and reader buying patterns.

So what do you do to get your book out there if you are going indie?

BookBub has a pretty good article about the various sites you can use to distribute your books as an indie author. (Note: the same information is valid for small presses.) I don’t agree with everything in the article and there is one piece of information that is a bit misleading, but it is a good place to start looking for information.

a bookbub-distributor-comparison-chart

The misleading information in the chart is where it says Amazon pays every 60 days but that Draft2Digital pays every month. Both are correct but with explanation. Amazon basically pays two months after sale. So, when Amazon pays royalties at the end of this month, it will be for sales made in June. But, and here is where the chart is misleading, if you have sales each month after the initial 60 day waiting period, you will be paid every month.

Regarding Draft2Digital, it pays every month — once it receives payment from the outlets you have said to distribute your work to. That doesn’t mean you get a payment the first month you are with D2d. It depends on the rules of those outlets and I’m not familiar with any of their affiliates that pay out the first month you are in the store. So, be prepared for the same 60 day delay you get from Amazon.

I will admit that, for my e-books, I am exclusively with Amazon right now. The reason is simple. After looking at my sales from the other outlets, I realized I was basically losing money by having to deal with the conversion and accounting for the other outlets. A minimum of 95% of my sales were coming from Amazon and those few sales I was getting everywhere else simply did not justify the time and effort it took to convert to the appropriate formats and the time and effort it took to keep track of the financial end of things.

Yes, I know I could upload a DOC file and let Smashwords or D2D convert it to the appropriate formats. The problem with that is you have no control over the conversion and you have to be particularly careful with checking every page after they convert it to make sure everything look good. By converting to ePub myself, I had full control and I could tweak the file as needed before uploading it to the site for distribution. Yes, I still had to check to make sure nothing went wrong — always assume Murphy will come visit — but not to the detail that I had to using another format.

For print, I use Createspace. Part of the reason for that is the ease of use. Part is the lack of cost — unless I buy an ISBN from them. Then it is only $10 — and the ease of getting the book listed with Amazon. I am considering trying IngramSpark and will update everyone if I do. However, as an indie, the vast majority of my sales come from e-books and that is where my focus remains, at least for the time being.

All that said, the BookBub article is a great place to start when considering how to get your book into the hands of your readers. From there, it will be trial and error as you upload your files, check them and then track them for awhile to see what sales outlets are best suited for your work.

What to do?

The past several days have been exhausting but enlightening ones both on a personal and on a professional level. Our local library has been holding its annual book sale and I’ve been doing what I could to help out. Now, before you start thinking I’m a socially-minded gal who loves to volunteer, remember, books. Thousands and thousands of books I get to play with. Some new and some going back to the early 1900’s. It is a bibliophiles playground.

One of the parts of helping at the book sale I love the most is being able to talk with the people who come in looking for bargains. Some come in with detailed lists of what they are looking for. Others bring in lists of what they have already read so they don’t duplicate what they already have in their library. There are even dealers who come in with their bar code readers or appropriate apps to see if we have anything they can snap up for a bargain and sell for a profit.

Those folks are fun to work with but the ones that get my writer’s brain to working are the folks who come in looking for recommendations for a new author or a title they haven’t read before. Sometimes they are wanting to return to reading a genre they left years ago because of the way the genre had changed. Most often, those folks once read every fantasy and science fiction book they could lay their hands on and then, in the 80’s and 90’s — and later — left the genre as it became more about writing to the message than writing to the story. Now they are hoping there are authors writing to the story again and come looking for such books — or books from the time when they still enjoyed reading the genre.

Then there are those who are looking for certain authors, often names I remember from my childhood and early adulthood as authors my father enjoyed reading, as also eye openers for me as a writer because of why they want to find the likes of Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney and others. The reason they are looking for books by those writers or others like them is the ease of the story, the emphasis on plot and character and not on sex. The lack of f-bombs every other word.

And that all makes me, as a writer, think about what I should be writing. Yes, I have to look at what the market wants. But the market is much broader and certainly much deeper than traditional publishing believes. Who knows how many readers have felt left behind by the emphasis by traditional publishing on putting out books that are nothing but clones for Fifty Shades of Gray or the Hunger Games or the Da Vinci Code.

That is why the influx of quality indie published and small press published books has been so good for the reading public. For those who have made the transition to e-books, it means a return to affordable reading. Most indie and small press e-books top out at $4.99. That’s a big difference from the $13.99 currently being asked by the publisher for Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, the somewhat controversial follow-up to To Kill a Mockingbird. Then there is James Patterson’s latest, Alert, that is currently selling in digital form for $14.99.

But even more important is the fact that the upswing in indie and small press publishing have brought back a lot of the sorts of books folks have been looking for and not finding. Science fiction, once viewed as the the very poor red-headed step-child of publishing has seen a number of indie authors not only making money but making good money writing space opera and military science fiction that celebrates things like honor and duty and gives the reader a story that takes them on a roller coaster of events and emotions. Sweet romances and those with just a hint of sex have returned to the scene and readers are celebrating because not everyone wants to have the down and dirty played out in graphic detail once, much less multiple times during the course of a book. They want the romance, that dance that sometimes goes awry before everything finally falls into place.

So, when I see articles like one that came across my feed this morning telling writers to write to the market, I frown and get ready to fisk the article. Most often, those articles tell you to look at the New York Times or USA best seller lists to determine what you should be writing. (Of course, those are also the articles that tell you you should be trying your best to be traditionally published before ever considering going the indie route.) My issue there is that those lists are not only manipulated by publishers and book sellers and determined by pre-orders and then by Bookscan numbers. Then there is the little fact that those lists are also completely at the whim of the publication putting them out. Remember how Ted Cruz was kept off the list for awhile because the publication in question accused him of bulk ordering his own book, or having others do it for him, thereby artificially inflating the numbers? Finally, after Cruz and his publisher as well as others came back and publicly denounced and denied the accusations, days later the publication allowed the book onto the list. (I won’t go into the possibly political reasons why the book was initially kept off the list).

However, when an article tells you to look at the Amazon best seller lists, I find myself agreeing, especially when you look at the sub-genre lists. Why? Because you are seeing what folks are buying in basically real time reports. Amazon updates those lists every hour or so. You can see what books and e-books readers want. That means if you want to write space opera, you can go to that list and see what sort of books are selling. You can even sample those books for free, no matter who the publisher is — unless, of course, the publisher has decided not to allow you to and that, usually, is a red flag for a bad book.

So, all of this is a roundabout way of saying that you can write to what is selling but that what’s selling now is a far cry from what traditional publishers want us to believe. Don’t give up writing that sweet romance or that cozy mystery where your heroine is chaste or whatever. There is probably someone out there wanting to read it. But, do your homework. Go to Amazon and check the genre and sub-genre lists. Just remember, the deeper into the breakdown of the lists, the easier it is to get listed in the top 100. Those books may not be selling more than a few a month.

However — and this is a big however — if you write a good yarn, if it is well edited and well formatted, if it has an interesting cover and blurb and if you tag it with the right meta tags AND IF YOU FOLLOW UP IN SHORT ORDER WITH THE NEXT BOOK IN THE SERIES OR ANOTHER IN THE SAME GENRE/SUB-GENRE the bigger the chance your sales will increase. It takes time but if you keep putting out quality work and keep rewarding your readers, you have a chance of building your readership. No guarantee but then there are very few guarantees in life, are there?

So go read a good book and write a better one.

 

Open floor

Many apologies, everyone. I’m still seriously out of pocket. So, this is your chance to ask the Twisted Writers any questions you might have or suggest topics you would like us to discuss. I’ll be back next week.

Later!

Is it time to worry if you have a Nook?

In my post over at Mad Genius Club earlier this week, I wrote about Barnes & Noble appointing a new CEO and how one of his first challenges would be to determine what to do about the Nook Division. From the beginning, B&N has been behind the proverbial 8-ball when it comes to the Nook. By the time it debuted, Amazon had already pushed out the Kindle and had a thriving e-book store. B&N’s ebook store was trickier to navigate and some of the restrictions on the Nook were enough to drive most geeks up the wall. But B&N continued fighting and, in the process, has lost millions of dollars.

Unfortunately for B&N supporters, the problems the company faces are numerous and go beyond the Nook. But the Nook, and the related e-book store, is a major problem and has to be dealt with as soon as possible. That is especially true after the roll out two weeks ago of a new website that was broken. A quick check this morning shows there are still problems. Of the top five best sellers in the Nook store, two will allow you t read a preview online. Of course, instead of opening up as a popup on the product page, it opens in a new window. That is a problem because it means you have to navigate back to place your order if you are looking at it on your laptop or desktop. The preview window is slow to load and I am talking very slow. Most folks aren’t going to wait for it to finally come up. Instead, they will do as I have, move on to something else. As for the other three titles in the top five, there is no preview. Whether that is a software glitch or the publishers deciding they don’t want to risk potential buyers seeing how bad a book really is, I don’t know. But it doesn’t look good when you can’t see a sample of 3 of the top 5 best sellers.

Now comes news that B&N truly is closing down its Nook operations overseas. As the article states, this isn’t too surprising. For one, Nook books were available overseas only via a Windows 8 app (the exception being in the UK). Here is the email, translated from German, that customers received:

Dear Customer,

We recently announced that Barnes & Noble and Microsoft have agreed to terminate their commercial partnership. As a result, payments through your Microsoft account no longer supported. In addition, the NOOK App for Windows will from August 7, 2015 are no longer available outside the United States. This means that your NOOK content can no longer open on a Windows platform.

Our records indicate that you are outside the United States and that you are using your Microsoft account as a payment method in your NOOK App for Windows account. Therefore, you may be eligible for a refund from Microsoft for any purchases you have made with your Microsoft account.

So, what does this mean?

Right now, no one really knows for sure but speculation runs from B&N leaving the e-book market completely to finding a buyer for the Nook division to the new CEO somehow managing to save it all. My guess is that they will continue to try to find someone to buy the division. That would be best for the customers because history shows us that B&N isn’t really dedicated to the e-book.

If you have books you have purchased for your Nook or Nook app, I highly recommend you back them up. In fact, back them up on several different media formats. If you want to break the DRM on them so you can read them on non-Nook apps/devices, there are instructions on the net on how to do that — that that I am recommending you do that (nope, not at all. Not saying you should break DRM which is illegal in some areas. Not at all. This is the disclaimer. Yep, it is.) The reality of the matter is simple. We’ve already seen B&N destroy one market when it took over Fictionwise. How many people lost their books in that transition? How many more will lose their e-books if B&N shutters the Nook division completely or if it sells?

As an author, this is when you have to seriously sit back and ask yourself if it is worth putting your e-books up on the site. First of all, they put out a new, and supposedly improved, website that was broken and that cost everyone money because customers couldn’t use it. But then you face the issues of what happens if they shutter the division or spin it off and then it goes into bankruptcy (also a possibility although a long shot). If someone buys the division, do you want to have your work automatically roll over into their new store or do you want to have a chance to see how things shake out there?

For me, it is a non-issue because I gave up on B&N long ago. When they changed their indie publishing program to the current one, I had trouble uploading files that weren’t broken in the process on their end. It didn’t matter what format I uploaded. Their process broke the files every single time. I finally gave up and went with Draft2Digital to handle the uploads for me. Of course, doing so cost me money and the low sales, very low when compared to my Amazon sales, made it not worth the time or money. So I pulled out of B&N and haven’t looked back.

But, if you have a Nook or if you publish through the B&N indie platform, I recommend you keep a very close eye on what is happening and start figuring out what your next move is going to be. Do not get caught unprepared if something does happen with the division.

Happy Fourth!

Here’s wishing everyone a happy and safe Fourth of July.

United States Capitol Building in Washington DC

United States Capitol Building in Washington DC

Getting Graphic with Your Work

My friend and fellow blogger over at Mad Genius Club, Cedar Sanderson, has been doing a series of posts on cover creation. Today, she tackles not only that but postcards and bookmarks as well. So, with her permission, I’m reposting it here since it is something we all need to keep in mind as we look at ways to promote our work. You can find her other posts on the topic here and here.

Getting Graphic With Your Work by Cedar Sanderson

And I’m not talking about describing the gory bits in gruesome detail. No, I had planned to do a walk-through tutorial today about creating a logo for your writing business. I hadn’t anticipated two things. One, to do a proper logo you need to create a vector file rather than image or illustration. I’ll get into what that means when I do the post – for today it matters because a week ago I ended my subscription to the full Adobe Creative Cloud, dropping back to Photoshop and Lightroom, and that means I don’t have Adobe Illustrator for showing how to do a logo. Which isn’t a bad thing, because most of you don’t have that, either, or you wouldn’t be asking me to show you how to do this. I did a little research, and downloaded Inkscape, the cousin of my favorite freeware graphic program, Gimp. Then I ran into the second thing I hadn’t planned on. You see, I’m getting married next week. I’m also traveling for several days attendant to that. I am afraid I ran out of time this week to teach myself Inkscape and create a tutorial. So! I put together some odds and ends of graphic design projects that can be useful to you all, and one that I was specifically asked for. I will be around to chat in comments, so feel free to ask questions. Oh, and Amanda wanted me to point out that things I discuss in this post, like guides and flattening layers, are pertinent to those of you working on print covers. So pay attention!

Postcards and Bookmarks

Having something to hand to someone who is interested in your book is a great thing. You can, of course, default to a standard business card, nothing wrong with that. You can do a lot with those. But today I’m going to talk specifically about the layout and requirements of the bigger, more art-heavy promo material. I take them with me to conventions to sign for people who own my ebooks but want a signature. I hand them out to… anyone who remotely looks interested when I say that I am an author. I give my local libraries packets of 50 bookmarks to keep with all the others on their counter. I can mail the postcards to libraries, schools, and other venues and promote myself and my books (I rarely actually do that, but it’s a possibility).

While you are shopping for a printer, you will discover that there are a lot of variations in size available. I’m using a 4×6 inch postcard, the standard size, for this batch. I may switch it up with the next one. Book marks can be laid out in the same way, so I won’t cover them individually now.

In Gimp, open a new file. Set the size to 4 inches by 6 inches (or what your printer requires), and then drop the Advanced Menu down, and set the dpi to 300 or 400. Do not leave it at 72 dpi, the default, as this will be rejected by any reputable printer and will look terrible if printed. Now that you have your new file open, pay attention to the print requirements for bleed. You will want there to be no live elements (important text or graphics) within 0.25 inches of the edges. You can click on the rulers at the left side and top and drag what is called a ‘guide’ to mark  your bleed area so you don’t put something there by accident.

I chose to lay out this postcard with three covers and represent my Pixie trilogy. I would not put more than four covers on a card, you don’t want it to appear cluttered. postcard layout

Open as Layers (found in the File menu dropdown) the covers or art you want to use. I generally use a jpg or png version of the covers so I don’t have to manage umpteen zillion layers in GIMP. Scale the covers to the desired size, you can do this easily with a right-click on the image and selecting Scale Layer. Using the move tool, place the art where you think you want it. Keep in mind you may have to move it again. This card was designed to have text on the front and a blank back, but you will note there is not a lot of text. This is a tool to interest them in what you have to offer, enough that they will take the next step. In the highlighted box, I have my website address. In the other corner, I have a QR code. These are scannable with a smartphone or tablet: this particular code will take them to Pixie Noir’s Amazon sales page, where they can look inside and read the sample. I want them there so they can buy as soon as I hook them.

When you’re ready to print, you will save this file as a pdf, just as you did for the cover for print. Make sure when you do so that you first merge all the layers, but save your work before you start this process. If you look closely at the screenshot above, you will see several layers of images, text, and other elements. All of those need to be flattened, or bad things can happen in the printing process. Right click on each layer thumbnail and select ‘merge down’ from the menu. DO NOT SAVE your xcf file at this point! You want to preserve all your xcf (Gimp) files for later. I’ll show you why in a minute. Now that you have everything smooshed, drop down the File Menu and select Export. Export your file as a pdf. Close your file and click discard changes.

Batch-Editing Art and Covers

This last week I had a chance to help out a friend who was in a bind. He had commissioned art for the covers of several stories, but they lacked a unifying element to tie the series together, and he wasn’t sure what to do to further signal his specific genre with the typography. This is not something many of you will ever have to do, most of us deal with one book at a time, but there are occasions when it’s a useful task, such as aligning covers for a series. And I told Dave I’d show how I did it, so he can tackle it himself if it happens again.

What I did was to open the first layer of artwork and lay the text out on it, along with the graphic unifying element (tentacles, to signal Lovecraftian cthuloid elements in the stories).

I’ll explain how I added the tentacles. After poring through the Dollar Photo Club for something suitable, I came up with the illustration below.

 

This is an illustration rather than a vector, which is better, but it will work.

The first thing you need to do is right-click the layer thumbnail in the righthand window, and look at the bottom of the menu, where you will choose ‘add alpha channel’ which allows you to have a transparency rather than white (default) background. Then I chose the ‘select’ menu, and then ‘select by color’ and clicked on the black around the octopus. Then I clicked on delete and eliminated all the black, leaving a suitable graphic.

The graphic element, I can now manpulate it without overlying it's background on the art.

Finally, I had one cover laid out with title, author name, and graphic unifying element (hereafter GUE).

Note all the layers in the righthand window.

Choose ‘Save as” from the file menu and name the file appropriately. Save it as an XCF file for now, you may need to manipulate it again. You will note the GUE is seen in the upper left and lower right corners. I had put just a little bit showing, and changed the mode (see top of righthand window, above opacity) of the layer to make it look like I wanted. Experiment with this, dodge, burn, lighten… powerful effects here.

Now that I’m happy with the fonts, layout, and this cover, I can move onto the next one. I simply click the little eye next to the layer thumbnail and make the art disappear. Eventually I will delete the unused layers, but I want all of them right now in case I need to make changes.

Layers

The art isn’t gone, it’s just not showing on the work area any longer.

I've already altered the title, and the GUE, the author's name I don't touch.

Now I go up and open the art for this cover from the File>Open as Layers menu. You may need to drag the art layer thumbnail in the righthand window down, until it is under the other elements. You may also need to scale it so it is the same size as the background you see above. Play around with your GUE layer some more, until it looks right on the art.

What the final product of another cover in the same series looks like

Using Save As, name and save this file, then repeat with changing the title and the art for each cover you are doing. Dave had six, but it took very little time once I had every thing set up to manipulate the art and GUE under the layers of the text and modifying elements (drop shadows and that sort of thing).