Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Kindle Unlimited: Hugh Howey, Free Books, and My Compromise


Indie writer and poster child Hugh Howey recently wrote an article about what a "knockout" Amazon has scored with their new Kindle Unlimited subscription program.  I, personally, have mixed feelings, as I know a lot of people do.

For Hugh's post, just click here.

I have ultimately decided to post three of my smaller works on KU as well (which are pretty much free to download if you have a subscription), which I'll show in a minute.

First, this is the gist of the comment I posted on Hugh's blog, which is the argument and compromise I ended up making with myself:

I’m in the same boat as many: I have objections to Amazon becoming the all-powerful dictator of the industry and to exclusivity, but, gee, it’d sure be nice to sell some books, too. Thanks, Hugh, for this article, which has started me thinking.
Points I’m considering:
1. Obviously, I’m against giving all the ebook power to one retailer, no matter how nice their product, or how good their business savvy. I’m also against making my own work only available to their customers and not to others.
2. When the whole “pay per page” thing first came out, my first reaction was, “Amazon’s cheaping out on us again.” And that hasn’t changed in my mind. I assume they’re making a killing and passing the loose coins onto us, the sacrificial writers.
On the other hand:
1. The subscription service buffet is a nice way for readers to experiment on authors and books they might not otherwise give a try.
2. Some books just don’t seem to sell well, no matter how many retailers we have them on, most notably the shorter works. And, yes, Amazon sells more than all the others combined. Only one month did I sell more on B&N than on Amazon.
So between my conscience, my feeble sense of business, and my need to reach more readers, here’s the compromise I’ve come up with while reading this article and everyone's comments:
I think I’ll pull some of my shorter books that don’t sell well anyway, throw them up exclusively on KU for a little while, and see how they do. The shorter page counts won’t yield much raw income, but maybe they’ll serve as “free samples” that will drive readers toward my full-length books, which they can purchase for a full-book price rather than fractional cents per page. And I’ll leave these primary books non-exclusive (which do sell, at least a little, with other retailers) so I’m not cutting out non-Amazon customers and I’m not willingly handing one company the fate of the universe.
A good compromise for me, and a fun experiment to see how things change.
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For those who don't know, the KU program is great for readers, but not necessarily for writers.  We often end up getting far less in royalties than we would have had the reader purchased the ebook normally, and we get paid per page read, not for the book itself.  (What kind of Big Brother shit is involved in tracking how many pages you read, I don't know...)
But, because of the reasons I outlined above, I'm going to give this a try.  So what books have a sacrificed for this experimental cause?  My three shortest ebooks, and I'm considering posting a couple more novelettes in the superhero vein in the not-too-distant future.


Click here to find their homes on Amazon:

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Superhero Movies: Batman V Superman, Avengers, and Hungry Gods?

Superheroes aren't just for nerds anymore.  With spandex entering the mainstream these days, especially in Hollywood, and mega-blockbusters like Avengers and the upcoming Batman V Superman, it's only natural for me to do a fancast for my superheroes v zombies novel Hungry Gods.  

DC zombies by Jophiel Ray Saura

Fancasts are a lot of fun (I did one for my fantasy novel Tarnish too), though my Hollywood knowledge is limited, as you'll see with my first character:


SPITBALL

With the leading role, I again had the problem of being too old to know today's younger actors.  So I went to my good friend Google, and found an article of the “top 25 best actors in their 20s,” or something like that.  And one stuck out to me more than the other, partially because I recognized him—duh!  I like his look and his talent for Spitball, and he already has experience playing a smart-assed superhero: Spider-Man!  (Which is also a good draw for the superhero movie crowd, ya know?)  So my top choice at this point would be Andrew Garfield


The actor I actually had in mind originally was Seann William Scott, of Role Models, Bullet Proof Monk, and Dude, Where's My Car?...  Yeah, I know.  But he'd work if he were younger, I think.  Turns out he's a month older than I am, so hard to play a 22 year old.  



SILK SPIDER

Filling this role is easy, a no-brainer.  Tough chick in her 30s, preferably blonde, excellent actress who's also a badass: Charlize Theron, most recently of Mad Max: Fury Road fame.  (And let’s face it, she's the star of that movie – Tom Hardy’s Max was more of a bit part next to her.)






Back-up actress: maybe Ronda Rousey who has been generating buzz to play superheroine Ms. Marvel. 



GARGOYLE
Though he’d be mostly costume and make-up (or maybe even CGI), Gargoyle needs a strong casting.  And Spitball (a big movie fan) already cast his part for us in the book: Samuel Jackson.   



FRANKENSTEIN

Speaking of Tom Hardy…  The mysterious, creepy, nameless soldier who massages Spitball’s shoulders before sending him into the Blackout Zone, known only as Frankenstein for now.  He needs a big, tough bastard to play the part.  



Big difference between this role versus Mad Max and Bane from The Dark Knight Rises: I’ll let the audience see his face!  (Even Max had something over his face for half the movie – was that a joke, a reference to the Batman movie, or just coincidence???)



COLONEL BABCOCK

Frankenstein’s boss, though a minor role, might as well have a cool actor in there too, right?  Bruce Willis is one of my faves, and I think he’d make a good secret Army asshole.



ZOMBIES

Maybe we can borrow some of that horde of undead extras from The Walking Dead to fill out our zombie ranks?



What about the rest of the Phen Five?  Well, we’ll have to wait until the movie for Twilight of the Gods comes out…  (Book in production right now.)


Monday, August 17, 2015

Blurb Doctor: Writing Book Blurbs and Descriptions


Like most other writers, I am not confident in my blurb-writing ability. 

“Blurb,” for those of you who might not know, refers to the little description of a book or story that you read on the ebook site or the back of the book.  It’s the “sales copy,” the brief squirt of information that tells you what the book is about, just enough to get you interested without ruining the whole story for you.  And it’s hard to do. 

Recently, writing guru DeanWesley Smith has blogging about this very topic, which has been very helpful for me.  Even though I don’t find all the blurbs he’s been giving as examples all that alluring, at least the principles are there.  He uses a basic, general structure, and comments on others’ blurb-writing philosophies as well.  Strangely timely in its release, BookBub also published an article with some tips.

So taking a page from these notes on the subject, I’ve been reworking some of my own.  The main principle I’ve been in serious violation of has been don’t give away the whole plot.  After all, what’s the fun reading something if you already know what’s going to happen.  It’s like reading a story about the Titanic; you know how it’s going to end.

I’ve come up with a loose structure now that I’m trying out, based on DWS’s examples.  Though contrary his form, I’ve added taglines to the beginning.  Something to catch your attention, like on a movie poster; some bite-sized, quick-to-sample bait that gets the reader to the next paragraph.  Hopefully it works.   

So my experimental structure is kind of like this:

1. Tagline. (If I have one worth trying.  If not, skip it.)
2. Character/world intro. (Along with the cover, also points to the genre.)
3. Introduce plotline/conflict, but only up to the first page/chapter.
4. Raise the stakes/cliffhanger (if not done in #3) or give additional incentive to read this.

Each of these should be kept short, so the whole thing is short.  For Smashwords, you also have to provide a 400 character version, which is damn good practice for keeping it brief, and I use the same blurb in my back-of-book Fugitive Fiction Library listings.  I have read some advice from one online market saying that the more you give in your description, the better.  But that’s contrary to what DWS and others are saying, and I tend to agree with them.  I think the blurb should be short, easy to digest, and just offer enough to pique a reader’s interest. 

Applying these new principles, here’s a few of revamps. 



The Thorne Legacy

He'll be court-martialed.  If he lives that long.

Corporal Cranston Thorne is the black sheep of the family and about to be kicked out of System Guard for his selfish and reckless behavior.

His father, Captain Thanos Thorne, would like nothing more than to see that happen.  Unfortunately, he can’t stay for the trial.  A remote outpost at the edge of the system has gone silent and he must take the fleet out to investigate.

The real danger, however, isn’t at the edge of the system... 

A Writers of the Future contest finalist.




Tarnish

Being a hero isn’t as easy as the tavern tales would have you believe. 

Billy Cole has always been a quick study, be it at telling tales, brewing ale, or swordplay. 

And yet it surprises Wil Thunderstrike, his alter ego, at just how hard and fast the lessons come on his first venture into the real world of back-alley thieves, traveling talespinners, and warriors of renown.  

Wil’s quest is to find epic heroes to save his home town, but it'll take more than a sword and the inspiring tales of his legendary idols to survive the harsh world beyond Redfield.  And the further he travels into the night, the darker he gets.

Tarnish is a grittier coming-of-age story than you’re used to, where destiny is forged, not written.  

What kind of hero would you be?




The Prince of Luster and Decay

In war, men don't only fight the enemy. Sometimes they must also fight themselves.

Sergeant Knox leads the Head Knockers, a unit of scout-saboteurs in the war against the Dread Duke and his armies. They are the favorite squad among Captain Brighton’s Stormwalkers, until an ambush kills the Captain, half the company, and Knox’s best men.

Now the new Captain has new orders.  He’s sending the Head Knockers to investigate the possible source of the attack.  The town they find appears empty, but there’s something waiting for them there.  And they’ll need both heart and steel to defeat it.

This stand alone, sword and soldiery novella gives a glimpse into history of the fantasy novel Tarnish.

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How did I do?  Any suggestions?

This last one I didn’t change at all.  I’ve already hurt myself too many times trying to fix things that weren’t broken, so I exercised restraint this time.  I’m just including here as another example.  The first line here is more about including key words and comparison stuff to say, “If you like these, you’ll like this too.”  The tagline is the second paragraph.


Hungry Gods

Avengers and Watchmen meet The Walking Dead and Pulp Fiction.  Spandex adventures for adults.

Superheroes.  Undead.  ‘Nuff said.

The country’s premier superhero team is missing.  So when a mutant monstrosity goes on the rampage, it’s Spitball to the rescue!  He’s a third-string hero today, determined to be first-string tomorrow.  And the Army may be giving him just the chance he needs.  Spitball’s been invited to undertake a secret mission into America’s heartland.  What he’s about to discover, however, is not a chance at stardom but a horror movie come to life...

Hungry Gods is a fast-paced adventure of costumed superheroes, government conspiracy theories, and flesh-eating zombies.

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I am far from an expert, but I thought I’d share my learning process with the world and see if anyone else has some advice, or maybe even benefits from my experiments.


In either case, let me know!

Monday, July 27, 2015

ANOTHER military sci-fi cover using FREE graphic design software

A couple weeks ago, I experimented in a half-assed manner in creating a new cover with KDP’s Cover Creator.  The big drawbacks to this new cover were 1) it wasn’t very inspired or impressive to behold, and 2) it could only be used on Amazon and was not usable through any other medium (like Nook, etc.).  So last week I sought out yet another cover design, and this time I used two different FREE graphic design programs to get it done. I now have the FINAL cover for my contest finalist SF novelette, The Thorne Legacy.


I’m especially proud of this image (mainly because I did it myself).  It clearly relays the story’s genre and more clearly states that this is an adult story, rather than young adult.  Plus, it just looks cool! 



So how did I do it?  How much did the whole thing cost? 

Only two dollars and a few hours of my time. 

There are many sources of royalty free and creative commons licensed artwork.  I got the two images I used here from the Dollar Photo Club, which requires a monthly membership of $10, but gives you 10 downloads for that and allows more at a dollar each.  Now this may be too much if you’re not consuming a steady diet of images, but the site serves as a darn good source.

I have had Photoscape on my laptop for two generations now (meaning two laptops), which is a free and very user-friendly photo editor, but is also somewhat limited compared to something like Photoshop.  I also downloaded Paint.net, which mimics many of the features on Photoshop, but also has a downside: it pretty much sucks when it comes to text or titles. 

So bouncing back and forth between these two, and using my own rough skills gleaned from watching my wife use Photoshop, I created a background canvas, altered image colors, clone-stamped the starscape, then overlapped my two modified images, and faded and erased much of the top layer.  BAM! a cool cover image is born.  After doing it in 5x8 format, doing it again for the square audio shot literally took only minutes to complete. 

In the final stage, I bounced back to Photoscape again and planted my titles and text. 

The only thing I can’t do for this on these two programs is create a PDF paperback cover, which I’ll have to reflect back to my wife and Photoshop back home.  (Though that’s not a priority at the moment, it will allow me to revive the paperback edition of this novelette, which I discontinued because I wasn’t happy with the previous cover results.)

FINALLY that uncomfortable itch at the back my mind has faded away.  I can stop glancing back at Legacy’s cover image and continue forward to the next big project.

Here’s a look at my previous covers:


This one only had about a week up on Amazon, created with the same soldier image and using the KDP Cover Creator, which is a nice program but can only be used on Amazon, leaving me to find something else to do for my other outlets.


I still really, really like this one, derived from original artwork created specifically for this story by artist Julius Camenzind, but I have also had a few reservations about it (thus the ghost itch that wouldn’t go away).


Here’s the very first one I made myself (using Photoscape) when I first published this story.  I have since used the blue planet (with my wife’s help) to create an AWESOME cover that I plan to use for a future collection, which will include Legacy and set the stage for my Endless Dark Universe of science fiction books.


If you’re still reading this far, Thanks!  (And while you’re at it, why not read The Thorne Legacy too?) (hint-hint

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Question of Cover Art Design, And Your Opinion Matters!


I have struggled with cover art for this story ever since I published it.  We all know cover art is a major element for a book, and a huge factor in book sales.  Does a book's art and design draw in readers?  Does it convey the genre, pique your interest, and make a professional presentation?  It should, or it isn't doing its job or helping you reach your goals.

**Notice the survey at the top right of this post...**

I thought I had the problem solved with Julius Camenzind's cool action scene image.  But...  I have two issues with it.  One, I'm not real thrilled with the figure in the foreground (presumingly Thorne himself); and two, when printed out in paperback form, the image proved to be too detailed and just too busy to make a nice, clean cover.  So as much as I like this image, I still feel this is an incomplete mission.  The cover still isn't where I want it to be.


So the other night, I spent too many hours on a new one.  I wanted to experiment with Kindle's own in-built cover designer, and so after shopping around for an image I wanted and altering it to fit my tastes, I plugged it into Kindle's device to see what it could do.  And mostly, I like the application.  The biggest drawback on the KDP Cover Creator is that I can only use it on Kindle.  I can't download the image for use on other sites, at least not that I can see.  And that makes perfect sense, especially for Amazon, who encourages us to only sell with them in the first place.

The image itself... Well, it's far simpler, which seems to be the way to go.  And it's kinda cool and gives more of a military thriller feel to the book, but is it better?  Does it answer "yes" to those questions I asked above? Are potential readers more likely to react to it?


Please take a second to share your opinion with me.  Visit the survey question, Which "The Thorne Legacy" Cover Is Better? and simply click on an answer. 

Your feedback is appreciated!  

(In fact, if you want to say more than the survey allows, just leave a comment!)

Thank you.