I always like to try new ways to market my books, and I especially like free ways to promote the novels. But I’m not always timely. A year ago, when I launched the print version of Sacrifice the Living, the novel became eligible for a Goodreads Giveaway. It was in the back of my mind, but I didn’t get around to reading the Frequently Asked Questions until today, and I discovered that the good people at Goodreads recommend doing a month-long Giveaway contest before a novel is published and a second one several months after it hits the shelves.
Category archive: The Book of Bertrand
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Never put all your eggs in one basket. This wise old saying was invoked by many pundits when they wrote their opinions about Amazon’s KDP Select. This is the program that allows authors to offer their eBooks exclusively on Amazon in exchange for having their work placed in the Kindle Lending Library. It also provides for the opportunity to offer your eBook free for five days during the three month contract–a way of getting your eBook out there and building buzz to help paid sales.
This was working out pretty well for me until yesterday morning. I was headed for a month of record sales–nothing that was going to threaten John Locke’s records for sure, but definitely a personal best. But when I opened my Amazon account I put down my coffee in surprise. Apocalypse Revolution hadn’t sold in twenty-four hours. I went to look and the product page and discovered it had disappeared. I held off posting this so I could provide a link here, because until 3:00pm EDST, there is nowhere to go. Nowhere. It’s not available on Smashwords or at Barnes and Noble or at any of the other eBook retailers. All my eggs were in the KDP Select basket, and Amazon had dropped it.
Amazon promptly replied to a query, and they were able to tell me that they could see the product page for Apocalypse Revolution, but there were several back-and-forths over the next 24 hours (one of the delays was my fault) before A.R. miraculously reappeared without notice.
Amanda Hocking let everyone know what she thought of KDP Select when she informed the world that half her self-pubbed eBook sales came through non-Amazon eBook retailers. She didn’t say anything bad about Amazon or warn authors away from KDP Select, she was just letting authors know what they might be giving up.
I’m delighted Amazon solved the glitch, especially because the free days I offered this month generated five great reviews and 12 Likes. I know, small potatoes compared to most eBooks, but I don’t know four of these five reviewers–the other is a friend, but Rebecca put that review up without prompting. The others are not friends and family, so if the product page was totally corrupted and the reviews were lost to the ether, it’s not like I can e-mail the reviewers and ask them to re-post their reviews. I would be starting over from scratch.
The damage is minimal. The Amazon Sales Rank has vanished, probably reset as if it’s a new novel, which is better than what it would be after two days of zero sales. But all those other novels that used to auto-suggest AR, well instead of being the first or second book suggested, it’s about sixth to twelfth. I guess other novels were selling while AR was AWOL. Oh, and the link to AR at the right side of this page is broken. I’ll have to get my IT guy on that.
Even a great tech company like Amazon will have glitches, and their response was certainly fast and professional, but it does remind me that keeping all of my eggs in one retail basket may okay for the short term, but in the long term it may not be the best idea. Stuff happens. Better to be diversified.
The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels. Fitzgerald can write description that is so effortless to read that a whole page of it with no other action is still captivating. But I have to wonder if Fitzgerald’s great work would have made it to a second printing (it barely did) if it had been called The Incident at West Egg. That’s the original title. Not horrible, but certainly not as engaging as The Great Gatsby, and I think the novel really is more about Gatsby than the “incident” at the end of the novel.
My friend and fellow writer, Jill Edmondson, had a blog post about several novels that almost ended up with such mediocre titles. Another example is Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which nearly ended up as Something That Happened.
So when I noted that sales of my novel, The Book of Bertrand were nowhere near the sales of Vampire Road, I had to take a deep breath and ask friends and writers what they thought of the title. You guessed it. I found two fans but the rest totally panned the title AND the cover, even though they loved the novel. The most common comment: sounds too much like Sunday school and looks too much like a bible. Boring.
I had to decide whether I’d stick to the title I’d had in my head for years or try something new. The original title is actually a bit of an inside joke until you get to the fourth novel in the series, so it means way more to me than it does to a reader browsing through Amazon.
When in doubt, go for a 19 kilometer run. Okay, I don’t actually do that very often (the 19k) but the marathon is on May 6th and I’m well into training. During the run I had the inspiration that you can only have when fasting or exhausted beyond all reason and still running. It’s a shaman/spiritual journey thing I guess. I realized that my novel is not just about three people trying to survive the apocalypse. It’s also about three people leading a revolution against a government that is actively perpetuating the apocalypse. It’s about clashes with riot police and the rippers that support them.
So the new title is Apocalypse Revolution, and my brilliant wife suggested that before I change it I should name the other novels in the series to ensure that all the titles would mesh nicely. Since I’ve already outlined them all, that turned out to be less challenging than I would have thought.
Next challenge was the cover. I’ve hired a professional cover artist but he’s buried in other work for at least three weeks, so I decided to do a quick and dirty cover myself. That didn’t go so well. After three hours of cursing my way through Photoshop and hating the results–there’s a reason I’m not a graphic artist–I sent my feeble efforts to a pro and in no time at all he turned out the great cover that you see at the top of this article. He also created the cover for The Book of Bertrand, but it was all my idea, so its failure to generate interest is mine.
I fully admit that if I had a traditional publisher or agent they probably could have warned me that the original title and cover weren’t going to sell, but the great thing about eBooks is that an author can change these things if necessary. It is important though to have it all locked before doing the CreateSpace P.O.D.
Will all this help my sales? Who knows, but I’m happier with both, so I’ll keep you posted. Which would you buy?
It even has a pre-YouTube book trailer starring a friend who thought the idea was fun. Here it is in all it’s 1999 glory: The Book of Bertrand
It’s so antique it’s quaint. I built the site as a marketing tool aimed at publishers and agents, thinking they’d like a quick and easy way of finding out more about my novel. I didn’t know back then that the publishing industry is extremely conservative, and I’m referring here to the Webster’s definition of conservative: “tending to oppose change.”
I kept track of the page views of the site, expecting that some agents or publishers might visit it a few times, perhaps impressed that I was ready with such a great marketing tool. Guess how many even looked at the page? You guessed it. A big fat zero. In hindsight this should have allowed me to predict how the publishing industry would react to eBooks. The internet is something that even back in 1999 a lot of people wished would just go away.
I even wonder now if having a website hurt my chances of publication. The internet is a big and scary place if you’re resistant to change. I love the internet because it’s changing all the time. Imagine if I’d had Youtube back in 1999. I wouldn’t have had to put up a tiny low res video trailer under the assumption that some people might still be on dial-up with a 56k modem. Yeah, remember that?
I’ll work on a new book trailer with apologies to my friends Mark (who helped shoot it) and Gord (the star). But the times, they are a changing, and they’re going to change again. Who knows what the internet will bring in another decade? My bet is that it’ll be fun and very cool.
Oh, and that very unprofessional voice over: that’s me.
Vampire novels are everywhere. You can find them in bookstores, at the library and on the electronic shelves of every eBook retailer. They’re populated with sexy vampires, conflicted vampires and murderous (as opposed to vegetarian?) vampires. The blood suckers can be found in space, alternate universes and historical fiction.
So why am I launching a vampire apocalypse novel now? I first thought of the idea of vampires having a communicable disease back in the eighties, but that theme is so ubiquitous now that it’s now far from an original concept. My novel is a unique approach, but so are a lot of novels in the genre, those that aren’t simply quick rip offs of Twilight. I could also point out that vampires are still hot, that the majority of the eBook reading public is under thirty years old and that there’s always room for one more vampire, but it’s not really why I wrote this novel.
It’s all about the 1000 Souls. I came up with this concept, this new religion, when I met a Russian in Bokhara, Uzbekistan. The man owned a small hotel. He was smart, professional and a master at supplying tourists with everything they could need at fair prices. He reminded me so much of a South African caterer in Canada that I was stunned. It was as if the two men had the same soul, even though their DNA had taken very different routes down through evolution. These men didn’t look at all alike, but they were the same guy in different bodies.
So as I wrote my vampire novel, the religion of Erics (yes, plural) and the 1000 Souls was born, the concept that there are only 1000 souls spread between 7 billion humans. Ever meet someone and swear you’ve met them before even though it’s not possible? Well maybe you have, but you were shaking hands with a different host body for the same soul.
So each living human’s body is playing host to 1/seven millionth of a soul, meaning you could meet quite a few people with the same soul. It also means that the souls are pretty thinly spread, which is where the vampire apocalypse comes in. Kill off billions of people, and the remaining host bodies now contain denser souls. This makes their human hosts more passionate and daring than our thinned-souled present day humans.
Confused? Like any religion, the devil is in the details. The Book of Bertrand is just the beginning, and religions evolve over time. A quick check of the first centuries of Judaism, Christianity and Islam alone prove that the formation of a new religion is a tumultuous time.
But why vampires? Why not a less dramatic plague like bird flu? Because every new religion at its beginning needs to confront pure evil.
But the biggest reason I’m adding another vampire apocalypse novel to the world, is because I enjoyed writing it. I believe it was J.R.R. Tolkien who stated that he wrote novels that he would enjoy reading himself. I enjoyed reading (and re-reading) the Book of Bertrand. I really like Bertrand and his friends, and I can’t wait to write what happens in the next novel.