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Boom and Bust Free Day

At Number 6 for SF Adventure last week. I like that.

I promised when I started this blog that I would share raw numbers whether they were good or bad. So today I have to share the results of yesterday’s free day experiment.

I didn't stay up till 3:00 am to see where it got to on the 1300 download day, but here's where it was when I crashed at 11:00pm

A marketing expert I know constantly says, “Test and measure. Test and measure.” Unfortunately, in the amazing universe of the internet there are way too many variables for a proper quantitative experiment. The first free day I ran for Apocalypse Revolution, back in mid-February, a respectable 550 downloads flew out the door in a day. When I ran a second free day two weeks later I didn’t expect much, and for most of the day the were only about 30 downloads. Then something very strange happened somewhere in cyberland, and in the next four hours over 1300 copies flew out the door. What weird corner of the internet picked me up that day I simply don’t know, but I sure wish I did. That put me in the top 500 on the Kindle free bestseller list, at least it was at 485 when I went to bed with California still to finish downloading.

Apocalypse Revolution up there with the big names in Science Fiction

But for the most part, unless you really spread them out and promote the heck out of them, free days have diminishing returns. Perhaps its because the dedicated SF readers have already snapped up my novel, or perhaps it’s something to do with how Amazon promotes them, but the numbers usually go down the more free days you offer. That means the paid afterglow that usually comes with the free days also goes down.

The Old Cover Shoot'em Up

Last week I decided to run a free day for the old cover of Apocalypse Revolution, just a little something to say that I gave the $400 I spent on that cover a fair chance. As I mentioned in my last blog, I was never thrilled with it. I didn’t expect too many downloads, but a respectable 347 downloaded throughout the 24 hours. Enough that I ended up 713 on the Kindle free bestseller list. That also put the novel at #6 for Science Fiction Adventure and #19 for horror. Not earth shattering, I know, but I enjoyed the ride. I especially liked the moment when Apocalypse Revolution was beside Wool. That’s fun exposure.

The New Cover. They're clearly trouble.

So yesterday I ran a free day with my spiffy new cover. I thought it would blow the doors off the free day. In the UK it did well relative to last week. But on this side of the pond (which oddly, includes Australia) only 72 people downloaded the novel. I guess I’d saturated the market. I refuse to believe the old cover worked better than the new cover and I point to the UK numbers as proof. Last week only nine downloads, this week 28. Or maybe they just like the new cover better in the UK.

Now I did zero promotion for both these free days, not a single tweet. I have one free day left before my KDP Select runs out, and I’m debating whether to run it. However book two of the 1000 Souls is nearly complete, and I’m still trying to build a following for the whole series.

I still love free days though because I want people to read my writing, people who have as much fun in my world as I do. I know only a fraction of the free downloaders are actually reading the novel, but hey, a fraction is more than zero. It’s a start.

Finally, A Cover I Love!

Final Cover for Apocalypse Revolution

I’ve heard many traditionally published authors complain that the downside of having a contract with one of the big six publishers is that you have very little say in the cover art. I do sympathize, but in the indie world we have the opposite problem. We have all control of the cover art.

This may sound like heaven to some, but I haven’t much of an eye for graphic design and worse, I really don’t know much about covers in general. When I purchased a book last year, I never thought about what drew me to it if I didn’t already know the author. I rarely looked at a cover or thought about why I liked it or even if I liked it.

I’ve had to climb a steep learning curve since, and this is where an agent or a publisher could have helped (assuming they were good at their jobs.)

A great cover that didn't reflect the content

So Apocalypse Revolution went through three covers in the last six months. The first was a very biblical number that was totally my idea. The graphic artist did a great job bringing it to life, but it hardly sold at all. It occurred to me that people might think this was some nut-bar religious conspiracy piece, or worse, some dull treatise about an undiscovered book of the bible.

A cover that gives a sense of action but has stock photo written all over it

So I went to the pro, the same one that Joe Konrath uses, but unfortunately he was swamped. I’d have to wait weeks. I changed the title to emphasize the action and the genre, and I slapped together a quickie cover myself with the new title. I had my graphic artist fix my amateur rough draft. That cover actually worked better and sold better, so I felt it was worth the two week wait for the next cover, the one that would be stunning.

A good cover but I couldn't figure out how it would fit with the series

But two weeks turned into a month, and two months and nearly three. The problem with a good cover artist in this new e-book world is that they’re busy–very busy. When I finally did get the promised cover, I understood how traditionally published authors must feel. I didn’t particularly like the cover, and yet I felt I had to go with it because this cover artist had a proven track record. His covers sold books. He knew the business and had been deeply immersed in it for years.

Sales did pick up, but I haven’t been able to shake the fact that I don’t particularly like the cover. Is that supposed to be Vlad or some generic ripper? But the real challenge of the rippers is they look just like anyone else. They’re scary because of their choices and their actions, not their appearance. To me, this said nothing about the content of the novel. I think as a publisher you don’t want to surprise people. You don’t want them to get half-way through before they realize that it’s not the novel they believed they were buying when they looked at the cover.

The other big problem is that with a series of five novels, the covers should carry a theme. A reader should know it’s from the 1000 Souls series simply by looking at the cover.

So I went back to my first graphic artist and we sat down for lunch at a restaurant on St. Clair with a patio in the back. We spent a sunny hour talking covers, themes and my novel. He set me to work. He wanted outlines of all five novels. He wanted descriptions of the characters, symbols and settings. It was pages of work over two days, and I highly recommend it for anyone writing a series. Know where you’re going and why.

So cover number four is now up on Amazon, and sales jumped already. I’m going to run a free day this Thursday and compare it to the free day I ran last Thursday to see if there’s a difference. I’ll keep you posted.

Now I love looking at the cover of Apocalypse Revolution, and the cover of book two is coming soon. And we’ll being doing a new cover for Vampire Road (book four) to fit it into the theme. I can hardly wait.

Oh, and if the old gun target cover is still displaying on the right of this blog, don’t worry. It just takes a little while for the new cover to chug through the system.

Bloody Words Handy Links

My Bloody Words Bony Pete Award from 2006

This is for the all the great people who attended our ‘Making e-Book’ panel at Bloody Words. Near the end of the panel I promised to post some handy links for those wishing to e-pub their novels. So here we go.

For the cover: I don’t vouch for any of these websites or own stock in them, but I’ve heard good things. First, those that provide royalty free photos that are good for cover art:

Morguefile, Stock xchange, Dreamstime, and Stocked Photos.

For paid photos there is also iStock Photo, which has images from $12 to $25 that are great for covers. For much higher end images you can try Getty Images. This is much more expensive, but they have some great artwork.

With an image and Photoshop or Powerpoint you can create your own cover, but it’s worth every penny to hire a professional cover artist unless you’re graphically talented. I didn’t fail grade nine art, but the teacher used to shake his head and not speak when he looked at my art, and it wasn’t because he was awed by my genius. For my short stories I did my own covers. For my ebooks I hired a different graphic artist for each of the novels. Now that 1000 Souls is a series of five, I’ve commissioned a talented artist to work up a theme that will carry through all five covers. So Apocalypse Revolution will soon have a new cover, and I’m glad because the vampire-target cover just never really worked for me. Live and learn.

Now that you’ve got the cover, you need to get your meticulously proof-read and edited manuscript ready for publication. Here’s the link for the Smashwords Style Guide, which you should use to massage your MS Word document into shape and cut all extraneous code. Do this first whether you’re publishing on Kindle or Smashwords.

You can load up your cleaned and pressed MS Word Document, but I used Mobi Creator first for my Kindle version, a free software that puts the MS Word into a Kindle friendly .prc file. Sorry Mac users, it’s PC only. I had to partition my hard drive and run Windows XP on one side.

This turned out to be handy for Calibre, a free software (yes, PC only) that makes ePub format files. You really only need an ePub format if you want to load it up on any non-Kindle e-reader. This is a handy way to give beta copies to critics and friends to read before you publish. When you do publish, Smashwords takes your clean MS Word doc and converts it to ePub and every other e-reading version you can think of, so you don’t need Calibre at that stage unless you want to sell your novel from your website with no third party involved. I don’t recommend this unless your famous.

Don’t be intimidated by all this. If you can read instructions and aren’t afraid to make mistakes you can e-publish. Remember that everything can be fixed because it’s not brain surgery.

For those of you who are more advanced, you’ll want to go with Kindle Gen. Amazon is promising forward compatibility if you use it for your eBook.

So there you have it. One week of evenings and a very little bit of study and you can publish your eBook. Just remember what all three panelists said: make sure someone other than your mother has read it first, and listen to your editors.

Happy publishing. Send questions. The adventure is just beginning.