Thoughts on Publishing – Author Central and Kindle Keywords

While at ConQuest last weekend, one of the panels I attended focused largely on ‘Navigating the Amazon.’ One of the points the panelists made is that sometimes the best way to make Amazon work for you is by not focusing too much on how to make Amazon work. Essentially– don’t get caught up in the minute details of using the algorithm to push books to the top or mass produce downloads. The algorithm changes constantly, and really, if we spend our time writing the next book, that will help us increase our sales– since we can’t sell something we don’t have. That being said, there were a couple important Amazon tips that the panel offered: the use of Author Central and a note about Kindle keywords.

First– Author Central. It’s a handy tool Amazon uses to collect all the work of one author into one spot. You’ll need to set this up yourself, but it’s ridiculously easy. The landing site can be found here: https://authorcentral.amazon.com/ You log in using the Amazon account you have, confirm your email address,  then fill in the extra information about yourself as desired. I added an author photo and bio, and connected my twitter feed and WordPress blog. For the blog, it asks for an RSS feed. I copied my WordPress blog address and added /feed at the end of the URL, and it appears to be working. I then added my books, which was as simple as typing in my name and clicking on the button that said ‘this is my book.’ I was even able to add 1000 Words, which is under my maiden name. Both books are now connected to my author page, which means that anyone who likes one story can easily find the others. It’s a really great way to make it easy for potential readers to find your books. No hassle.

The panelists pointed out that the nice thing about Author Central is that once you set it up, you can pretty much leave it alone. The caveat is that you may need to add each new book to your page when you release the book, but it’s super easy to do, and takes hardly any time at all. And since you can connect the author page to your blog and twitter, it’s really easy to drive readers to your other sites.

I hadn’t realized Author Central would be this easy to set up, but I’m glad I heard about it. Plus, it looks kind of cool seeing the page with all your info. Makes it feel more ‘official.’ When I signed up, Amazon said the page could take up to a week to go live, but the page was up within a few minutes for me. Not bad.

If you want to see an example of an author page, you can see mine here: http://www.amazon.com/author/stephanieflint Or you can look up your favorite authors and see if they have a clickable name under their book title. If so, they might have an author’s page. :-)

As a side note, Author Central offers you the option of creating a short URL for your author page. You only get to choose the URL once, so you might not want to rush, but I went ahead and selected my name since I don’t plan to use a pen name or nickname. (See above for example link).

Now, I’m not sure how pen names would work, but I’ve heard there are ways to separate pen names in Author Central. Might be worth looking into if you plan to use more than one name.

Author Central not only organizes your information for readers, but also provides information to you as the author, in regards to how and where their print books are selling, sales rank, author rank, and recent reviews. You do have to set up your author page separately for each of the different countries available, if you want the page available in more than one area. I’ve created the page for the UK, but I haven’t tried the other ones. Not sure I want to accept the terms of service without at least skimming the contract, and while I can recognize a few words in French, I don’t even no where to begin on the other languages.

As for keywords, the panelists brought up something else I hadn’t paid attention to. In regards to uploading a Kindle ebook via KDP (Kindle Direct), you have the option of including seven keywords. I knew that, but here’s the kicker. You have the option to include seven keywords… including phrases. Since Ashes, my YA sci-fi romance, hasn’t really recieved much interest through Kindle, I decided to swap out the single keywords with mostly phrases. Each relate to the book, but since my main keywords were already included in a phrase, I tried out a few combinations I wouldn’t have tried before. It may not do anything helpful, but it’s worth a shot.

Which is the other important thing the panelists said. Don’t be afraid to experiment. If it doesn’t work, well… try something different.

And that’s what I plan to do. Hopefully this post was helpful, and please let me know if you want to see more of this kind of information. :-)

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Behind the Scenes – Rogue

This cover (for Melange Books) one was an example of where having masked layers and the auto-align tool in Photoshop CS6 can be useful. This particular cover was comprised of 13 stock images in total, with a few of them being used more than once in various places across the manipulation (the explosion was made larger/smaller, flipped, and masked in different portions to create the multiple explosion effects). Not only that, but the two people were comprised of seven images, in order to create the pose that was requested. Made it really handy to have all the pieces in place, so all I had to do was replace the stock proof images with the full-sized ones (adjusted with auto-align, of course). My proofs tend to look fairly close to the final image, but not as smooth/retouched.

One part of this particular cover I wasn’t looking forward to finalizing was replacing all the little bullet holes with their full-sized stock image. However, once I got to looking closely (and tested placing the full-sized image), I realized I didn’t need to. The small size and texture affects rendered the slight watermark running through the particular bullet hole unnoticeable. So while the publisher picked up the stock for licencing reasons, I didn’t actually replace that particular stock image. Something handy to keep in mind when finalizing parts of covers that have a strong illustrated tendency to them (just don’t forget to purchase the original stock image).

This is the result:

SBibb - Rogue - Book Cover

SBibb - Rogue - Back of Book Cover

Stock images from Dreamstime:

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-giant-explosion-image11961605

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-miami-skyline-image18771783

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-office-building-image37590020

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-woman-soldier-beautiful-young-gun-image45220857

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-woman-military-clothes-army-girl-full-length-gray-background-image31818118

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-elegant-young-handsome-bodybuilder-image23014601

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-young-man-gun-image19881447

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-handsome-man-sexy-outdoors-playful-smile-image33633873

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-couple-photographing-themselves-beach-young-ocean-image33893019

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-beautiful-woman-military-clothes-isolated-sexy-fit-army-girl-full-length-white-image46894231

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-lone-hiker-brick-sidewalk-image939658

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-blue-fire-flames-image7329188

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-bullet-hole-image8175422

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Thoughts on Writing – Pantsing vs Plotting

I recently went to ConQuest, a science fiction and fantasy convention in Kansas City. It was amazing, to say the least, given that I’ve been wanting to attend a writing convention for the last few years. (Plus, I got a couple of my favorite books signed by Brandon Sanderson, and he is an awesome panelist. Just throwing that out there). Anyway, one of the writing panels I attended suggested that, when it came to writing blog posts, to write about what you’re working on.

Of course, I try to post once a week with behind the scenes information about my book cover design work. I hope that the information is useful in multiple ways. First, it highlights the book. Nothing big, but it does promote the cover for the publisher and the author. Second, it highlights what I’m doing. Yes, I hope that potential clients will see the work I’ve done and decide to hire me later down the road. But third, I hope these posts provide useful information to authors who are considering self-publishing, whether they hire me, someone else, or do it themselves. I also hope the posts provide useful information to other cover designers who are looking for tips or tricks to improve their work. I’ve certainly found blogs with behind the scenes information about book cover design useful in my learning. So please, let me know if you have questions about the cover design process. I’d be happy to offer insight if I can.

That being said, I also do a lot of writing. Writing (and studying writing and publishing) is my passion. I love seeing the worlds and characters I explore. So I’m going to try the advice the panel offered and see if I can write the occasional post about what I’m working on or what I’m contemplating… my thoughts on writing in general. You may hear a lot about my story-writing progress, and maybe my theories on publishing. And I’d love to hear your input. What do you think about the topics I’m thinking about?

With that in mind, let’s jump into the first topic that got me thinking about writing a blog post. Plotting versus pantsing. A plotter is someone who plots out everything in advance. They may have outlines, they may have fully developed worlds, they may have every scene figured out in their head before they even write a single sentence. Pantsers are the opposite. They write “by the seat of their pants,” and outlines drive them nuts. They want to see where their characters take them, and explore the world as they go.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being either. Everyone’s writing style is different. But there’s a good chance you’ll be a little bit of both, maybe leaning one direction more-so than the other. Me? It depends on the story I’m writing. Some of my original stories were very much “pantsed.” I daydreamed the story in my head, but when I wrote the scenes, I let the characters go where they wanted to go (or where the scenery seemed interesting). When I started work on my Distant Horizon universe (which got me back into novel-writing after doing short stories for a while), it was plotted out. My husband (then fiance) created the world for a role-play game between the two of us, and about halfway through the campaign, I decided to log the adventures of my main character in the form of the novel. We continued developing that story, which has been through many rounds of edits and beta readers, and is currently being queried to agents.

Since then, I’ve written a few other stories in the Distant Horizon universe. Some were more plotted out than others. They each had a general outline, but I had a little more freedom with them to maneuver and explore. And even with Distant Horizon, I did quite a bit of exploration with it outside of the original game before I was finally happy with the story as a novel.

Then last year, for Camp NaNoWriMo , I decided to write The Messenger of Gaia, a science fiction space novel based on another role-play my husband and I played. Though the role-play game relied very little on actual dice rolls, the written story was heavily plotted. I had a heavy-duty synopsis/outline I worked from, and I wrote an even larger outline for the second book, since I realized it would be a while before I get the chance to write the rough draft for that particular novel.

Now I’m working on a story called The Wishing Blade. YA/NA fantasy, based on a rough draft I wrote in 2003. The original manuscript is… rough. We’ll go with that. But I’ve been wanting to rewrite it for a long time (tried several times, in fact. Got 10,000 words in on one rewrite, but I made it too heavily adult fantasy and took it in a completely different direction, which didn’t work. I also wrote a version of it as play for a playwrighting class… that particular version is terribly over-dramatic and cheesy), and I finally got the idea that if I worked on the manuscript from scene to scene, rewriting but sticking to the original premise, it might actually work. So far… it has. I’m about 45,000 words into the new version, and I’m enjoying it. In a sense, I’m being a plotter. I’ve got an “outline” (the original rough draft) that I’m following. However, I’m also being a pantser. I’m not sticking directly to the original story (which had a 200-year’s war worth of plot holes), and if I see something interesting… I’m running with it. I’ll write it, daydream it, and see where it takes me. In the long run, I’ll have a stronger novel.

Does that mean I’ll always straddle the pantsing/plotting line? Nah. It’ll just depend on the story I’m trying to tell.

Am I enjoying playing with different methods of writing? You bet.

I suspect that if you’re having a hard time writing something, you might want to try a different method of writing. Instead of trying to force a story to follow an outline, you might see where the story takes you when you let it run wild. (Sort of wild. You may need to reign it back in after a bit). If running wild is causing your story to go in circles, try stepping back and outlining. Do whatever works best for you.

Now, I have a main character who is currently plotting an assassination to attend to. I hope this post was useful, and please let me know what you think. :-)

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Behind the Scenes – The Anthropologist’s Daughter

This is a cover for Barking Rain Press. For this cover, we wanted a clear connection to its related series cover ( The Revolving Year ), so we used the same background, same position of the lead character, and same placement of text. Since this is a prequel, this cover has a younger character. However, while the stock image we chose for the field (we wanted to change the seasons to match the story) has a young girl in the image, her hair was too long for the main character. Normally I’ll just photoshop the hair, but it turned out she needed more of a pixie/elfin cut. Now, the story of this goes that I was heading out of town to go visit friends at an anime convention (Naka-Kon… wonderful convention for those of you who like Japanese anime and culture), and while there, I noticed one of my friends had the same hairstyle that I was looking for. I asked if she’d mind me taking a picture of the back of her head for the cover, got permission, and voila! One pixie cut ready to go! I photoshopped the cover to include the new image, thinned the neck a bit to make it fit better for a child’s, and this is the result. Sometimes you’ll find the image you need around you. And it’s helpful to have a camera on hand when you do. :-)

SBibb - The Anthropologist's Daughter -  Book Cover

 

SBibb - The Anthropologist's Daughter - Wrap-Around Book Cover
Stock images from Shutterstock and from my own personal stock.

http://www.shutterstock.com/pic.mhtml?id=105630767
http://www.shutterstock.com/pic.mhtml?id=99948338

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Behind the Scenes – The Curse of the Fairfield Witch

A cover for Melange Books.

For this one, the author and publisher already had a few of the stock images chosen that they wanted to use for the cover. I took what they had, tweaked the placement, added the title information, tinkered with coloring to give it the spooky graveyard look, then did the retouching.

Since they already had the model chosen, and already had the full-sized stock image, I went ahead and did the major retouches on the proof image. It saved time in the long run, especially since I made that image into a smart object so that I could easily move it around.

The author later found the background he liked, which I retouched and manipulated (removing the lampposts) to fit better with the graveyard in the story. We played with the idea of adding headstones in the background, but they proved to be too distracting on the near-final, so we removed those. Sometimes less is better, especially when you’re trying to design a cover that will catch the eye and not make the potential reader sit there trying to figure out what a particular element is. (Unless you want that particular surreal effect, then go for it).

For the back cover, the author requested we use one of my first proofs for the background, only edited to work as the back.

This is the result:

SBibb - The Curse of the Fairfield Witch - Book Cover

SBibb - The Curse of the Fairfield Witch - Back of Book Cover

Stock images from Dreamstime:

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-portrait-beautiful-gothic-girl-wearing-halloween-costume-studio-shot-black-background-image34206917

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-old-misty-graveyard-night-mystery-group-tombstones-image34053926

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-gothic-graveyard-3-image12561567

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-blue-fog-dark-forest-fog-night-image37184209

 

See the previous books in this series: Spirits of the Pirate House and Roberto’s Return

 

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Behind the Scenes – Mira’s Last

A cover for Melange Books. This is the third in The Sword of Lumina series. (See the previous covers: Mira’s View and Mira’s Hope ). Though I used a similar model for the face, I was able to find a working image of the same model for the body, then made sure the style of the covers matched the complete series. The title placement remained the same, while the mood of each cover was matched to the mood of the particular book.

SBibb - Mira's Last - Book Cover

SBibb - Mira's Last - Wrap-Around Book Cover

Stock images from Dreamstime:

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-elf-beautiful-gray-background-image37782997

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-portrait-beautiful-woman-image14803877

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-old-rusted-broadsword-image24282162

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-sunset-beach-image679100

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-spooky-castle-image14970564

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Behind the Scenes – Shadows of the Night

A cover for Melange Books. For this cover, we tinkered with a few ideas before finally settling on the current design. While I initially searched out models on Dreamstime, the publisher suggested that Romance Novel Covers might have the particular type of character we were looking for.  I went through the site, selected a few I thought fit the art form’s description of the character best, and tested them in the proof until we decided this one worked best. I gave the city a night glow, and this is the result:

SBibb - Shadows of the Night  - Book Cover

And the back cover option, including the text provided for the spine and the ISBN/publisher information:

SBibb - Shadows of the Night  - Book Cover
Stock images from Dreamstime:

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-towering-skyscrapers-image20897660
http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-red-smoke-abstract-background-image13422380

Model image from : http://www.romancenovelcovers.com

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