Get Your Rear in Gear (back-cover matter that matters)

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I’ve written previously about how a book’s cover must be good. It’s got to engage and set a hook. Essentially, the cover has to make them want to pick the book up; the back cover matter has to keep it in their hand. It’s really a one-two punch that makes them want to buy your book. It’s their first peek at what you have and it’s your responsibility as an author to keep them there.

Think of your book like a house. If the outside is a dump, they won’t want to look inside—that’s the cover. A blurb is their peek through the door or window; if there’s a dead hooker lying on the floor, they probably don’t want to go in—the same goes for if it looks trashed and sloppy. Buying the book is the reader’s agreement to come inside and live in this house for a while. Nobody wants to stay in a meth-house with dead prostitutes, no matter how cheap that AirBnB might be… not again.

A lot of Indie writers make the mistake of flying by the seat of their pants on the back cover (myself included). It’s easy to look at it flippantly and think dang, I just wrote 100,000 +/- words… another 200 is a cakewalk. It is not. These might be the most difficult to write well and might be your most important. You have one short page worth of text to convince someone to take this book home—it’s got to be the best page. If you’re like most Indie writers, this will probably also be the text you have at the top of your book description on Amazon, Goodreads, B&N, Smashwords, etc. It is going to be your primary ad copy so do it right.

While I write both nonfiction and fiction, I’m concentrating on fiction here on cover content advice.

What should be on my back cover?
Space is limited, so remember that this is expensive real estate and everything has to work perfectly. What goes on your back cover may be as important as what you are sure to leave off!  If you have an endorsement, it had better be a good one—someone recognized as a bona fide expert or name in the genre… anything less can become a waste of space. Make sure your short bio is written tightly and include a photo, but make it a quality headshot that is cropped neatly. A shortlist of things on your rear would include 1. Blurb/text 2. Small photo 3. Short Bio 4. One-line Hook (sometimes called a logline), single-sentence elevator pitch, or gripping headline 5. Optional endorsement.

 

Back cover elements of the primary text:
The above elements are a pretty good rule of thumb—but how do you write the actual text? Your content should be similar to the story overview pieces you might have included in a query letter to prospective literary agents or publishers. A good formula for this is to 1. introduce your characters (and any brief elements that are necessary to the environment—don’t build a world here or focus on the setting, but if it’s in the 1800’s or an alien planet, you might mention it). 2. Describe the central conflict they face and 3. highlight the stakes. Ask the question what will happen if your protagonists fail.

There are many approaches to take and many writers swear by certain elements/formulas. Here are a few elements you may want to be sure to highlight.
-keep the book “at a glance friendly.” If it looks overwhelming to a casual reader, they probably won’t wade into the text with much sincerity.
-try to provoke emotions or entice readers with questions or promises
-use a rhythm and voice that sets a tone. Think of the book as a movie and the back cover like a movie trailer—you have just a few short sentences to suck them in. Build a cadence and hook them.
-probably the most important is to focus on what your book is about, not what happens in its pages. You aren’t summarizing the plot, you are crafting a hook to the story at large

One formula you might try is proposed by author and editor Victoria Mixon (victoriamixon.com) and goes like this:
When [identity] [protagonist name] [does something], [something happens]. Now, with [time limit/restrictions], [protagonist] must [do something brave] to [accomplish great achievement]/ or [sacrifice high stakes].
Here’s what my book, Wolf of the Tesseract, looks like with this formula:

While investigating a series of strange murders in her neighborhood, college student Claire Jones is kidnapped by a handsome werewolf who claims he’s rescuing her from the clutches of an evil sorcerer. But she can’t run forever and if Claire and her companion can’t reclaim an arcane artifact to end the warlock’s reign of terror, he will unleash the dark god Sh’logath’s cataclysmic power upon the universe, shattering dimensional barriers, and devouring all reality.

Other things to keep in mind:
–The font should be readable and sized appropriately. Pick a color that stands out and is easy to read. I’ve erred here before and quickly made corrections. Sometimes it doesn’t look as nice on paper as it does on a screen; always purchase a galley copy to double check how it looks in print if you are self-publishing.
–Keep the blurb on the shorter side—it should be succinct. Think about the success of Twitter: the shorter something is, the more likely it is to be read.
–Typos, and grammar or style errors are a sure giveaway to a reader that the book was pushed out too early. I’ve found some in my own books and always go back and fix them ASAP… sometimes things get missed by editors, but it creates a huge obstacle to selling people your book. Thanks to POD, you can fix most of these as they arise, but it’s a better plan to avoid them in the first place.
–Pick a consistent voice for your text and think about your audience before you put pen to paper. If the writing comes off as pretentious or juvenile you will probably alienate readers (even if you are targeting pretentious or juvenile readers.) Some voices work, some don’t. Give it thought before you read so you can color it appropriately.

One of the better articles I’ve read about this from fellow bloggers can be read here:
https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2013/05/casey-demchak-back-cover-copy/

 

 

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Review: Dragon Teeth

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This was almost my Searider Falcon

I was super excited to come across Dragon Teeth in a bookstore while I was setting up for my own book signing. As a teen I read any Crichton that I could get my hands on, starting with Jurassic Park and Andromeda Strain. For my fellow SF fans, I felt an awful lot like Admiral Adama from Battlestar Galactica as he finally completed Searider Falcon, a book he read often and never allowed himself to finish until Roslin (his love interest) asked him to. Adama never read further than a certain spot because he “didn’t want the adventure to end.” So many feels as I read.

The story is solid Crichton. Some spots are less polished, which seems likely to be the a reason that he hadn’t yet sent it to publishers… it did feel like a second to last draft in some respects, but it’s still worth a read and it makes it almost more endearing than less so, given the post-humous publication. I felt much the same as with Tolkien’s Song of Kullervo (though Dragon Teeth is much more completed than Song of Kullervo was and I can see why Tolkien seemed to have abandoned the work).

Some have speculated that this book is either a money-grab by Crichton’s family or that the book was mostly ghostwritten and has garnered some negative reviews. It’s no Sphere or Jurassic Park, but it certainly has the language and feel that Michael Crichton writes with… some of those criticisms may come from the first 30% of the story which is decidedly less polished and less important to the narrative which reads simpler. (I wonder if this was an earlier draft than we’ll ever guess and editors did all the polish work to keep us from knowing that this was his first phase for the story which would’ve been later layered with greater subplot—it is certainly shorter than any of MC’s previous dinosaur stories, but he has written with this linear plot style before [I’m thinking Andromeda Strain.] That feeling does come out with how hurried the trickery comes and goes between Wyatt Earp, Johnson, and Emily as they try to get beyond the post-Deadwood encounter with Professor Marsh.) As far as a money grab, I don’t even care. As a fan, if I knew that there was a nearly finished manuscript being held from the fandom because it wasn’t finished, I’d be upset.

If you haven’t gotten your hands on this one yet, get down to the library and reserve a copy… or better yet, click here and pick up a copy in print or ebook. And I barely even mentioned it—but it’s got Wyatt Earp in it! How cool is that. Dinosaurs and Indians.

 

State of Writing

Had an optimistic week: positive response from a literary agent, hit all my marks at work, made a cool author connection, read a great book, and edited well past the halfway mark in WotT2. I would really like to finish the second draft this week if possible (though it might not happen because of my workload: I’m at camp with a bunch of youth through Saturday this week.) I’ll have this book wrapped up and ready for beta readers within a couple weeks, though, and then onto the final draft of TKR3! (right after I finish an official query to a literary agent who seems like a good fit–what she enjoys reading seems a perfect match for what I write).

Are We There Yet? Plot Your Roadmaps.

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I’ve written before about having a plan. It’s important to have at least some sort of a plan for marketing, promotion, and also writing. I’ve been both a seat-of-the-pants writer and also an outliner when it comes to my manuscripts. I strongly recommend some kind of written track to help you get from the beginning of the story and to the end; having an outline, or at least some sort of well-rounded chapter summary will help immensely when you are editing.

This week we are talking about Choose Your Own Adventure stories. Perhaps this is the most important kind of story to have a map for your plot arcs. I read a great article recently about building a story map for CYOA storylines. As a teenage fan of them, I’d always wanted to write a CYOA… and maybe I will do just that in the near future.

In the meanwhile, I’d recommend that you check out this interesting article over here:
http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/cyoa-choose-your-own-adventure-maps

My advice for this week is to play with maps that trace out the story plot arcs. It helps keep your main focus pointed and allows you to interweave your subplots seamlessly around the primary arc and then tied them altogether in a succinct way that will have greater impact to your reader. It will also let you know where you are in your story progression so you can properly build a climax and denouement, etc.

Whatever works for you is great–just make sure that it actually works and your not just avoiding the extra work of writing an outline (but, like I always say–writers write… so when I’m playing with my thoughts and putting them on paper so I remember my ideas it’s just a matter of reorganizing them into an outline, anyway). I’ve found it’s easier and quicker to get where I’m going when I know the way there.

A second look at the Ultimate Ending (review)

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Last week I got to a book on my reading list, Enigma at the Greensboro Zoo. It’s a Choose Your Own Ending book from Ultimate Endings. I did not survive… but I was inspired. (It’s partly behind the series of CYOA blogs this week at Inside the Inkwell.) All the feels and nostalgia were present in the book.

I did like this title a little less than the one that I read last time. That might’ve been due to the theme, I’m definitely a SF/F reader above all other genres and the “weird” elements didn’t seem very quick in coming on this title (the Enigma part of the story—experiments on the animals under “Project Fusion”.) Also. I pepper sprayed a penguin…not my finest moment.

The action did seem a little more drawn out than other that I’ve read and it took a few more pages than I would’ve liked on the initial run up and between choices. Maybe I was just feeling a little ADD when I read it, but I enjoyed the book nonetheless. I admit, I cheated, too. I did skim the book after coming to a few endings and found the Ultimate Ending. I had to know what was happening in this freaky zoo.

If you like CYOAs as a kid, like I did, check out their website and find a title that intrigues you! I love the format and design of the UE books, where some endings are bad, some are good, and only one is the Ultimate.
http://ultimateendingbooks.com/

State of Writing

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I decree that it’s Choose Your Own Adventure Week on Inside the Inkwell. This should be fun. In the meanwhile, a quick update on my progress last week. I actually wrote a new, early chapter last week in Wolves of the Tesseract: Through the Darque Gates of Koth and mostly finalized the cover art. I had a lot of supplemental, minor things I intended to insert in earlier chapters, but based on some of the structure I decided to write a new scene/chapter in order to put them in since they didn’t really fit as smaller, aside snippets to the action already happening. About eight of thirty-two chapters are edited now for the second draft. Hope to finish up over the next month or so and then let it simmer before my next revision when my eyes will be fresher (should also be able to get it out to my beta readers around that time. I sent a few new queries to agents as well, and did some business side of things. Forecast looks good, and I’m probably on track for my 2017 writing goals.

Book Piracy Survey

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I was selling books at my booth at a comicon and had been discussing my stories which were of interest to someone I was pitching to. He actually had the gall to simply tell me he would read it after he pirated it from the internet. It kind of took me aback for a second, but we had a chat about ethics and piracy and how some of my stories have made more money for internet pirates than they’ve ever generated for me. In fact, one of my books was reposted under a new author with the same summary description and a poorly edited cover with an altered title and my name covered with a black box and new name over it.

In retrospect, I don’t think he “had the gall” to tell me his intentions. I think I had a good enough rapport with him that he was just being honest and it kind of slipped out. When I think of books and publishing, epiracy isn’t usually something I think about right away… I always think of movies and music as being the target of pirates because our culture has told us so much about it via the media… pretty much every video since the 1980s has had some kind of FBI warning giving us consequences for intellectual content violations and the Napster scandal of the early 2000s told us that Lars, Metallica’s drummer, would personally show up at your house and beat you with a wooden shoe if you downloaded music illegally. Nobody has really talked about books… I mean, pirates can’t even read, right?

Interestingly, Nielson’s did a study on book piracy, as reported in the NYT in March 17. “E-book piracy currently costs U.S. publishers $315 million each year in lost sales.” I know this sounds pretty benign as an Indie/self-published author… but when you look at it realistically, it means that YOU are a U.S. publisher—so this has a direct effect on you.

Here are some of their findings.

  • The majority of illegal downloaders are 18 to 34 years old, educated and wealthy (the digitally savvy generation).
  • Roughly 30% of illegal downloaders either obtain their content from friends via IM, email, or flash drive or from downloading from public/open torrent sites.
  • Illegal downloaders acquire, on average, 13 to 16 ebooks per year—only 3 to 7 of these ebooks are acquired illegally.
  • Men are more likely to pirate a book then women (66% of illegal downloaders are male).
  • 44% of illegal downloaders surveyed reported that they would be much less likely to illegally download ebooks if they believed it harmed the author.

What I found in my conversation was that this data is absolutely true: almost half of these illegal downloaders simply don’t understand how obtaining an ebook illegally affects an author. That 44% doesn’t realize that they directly impact the writer’s bottom line. The craziest thing is the mental disconnect between the wallet and the internet: “The most common age-range of an e-book pirate is between 30- and 44-years-old with a yearly household income between $60,000 and $99,000.” Heck, if I could make 60k annually from my books I’d do this full time!

If you want to read someone’s book and make over 30k per year, you should probably pay the man. If you really can’t afford it, probably just ask him or her on the condition that you will refer all your friends and leave a stellar review online! I can’t think of a time I ever turned away someone who wanted to read my stories… if you REALLY can’t afford to get it, here’s the best way (and it even helps the author)… ask your local library to get a copy. If it’s not in their network they will purchase it!

 

 

State of Writing

 

Crazy week. Like always, I guess. It was actually my weekend that nearly killed me. Here’s what it looked like:
Fri-up before 7am to volunteer in weight room with teens… work till 5pm, fix stuff around the house till late, try to go to sleep early (to no avail) leave for Twin Cities around midnight
Sat-get to Park N Fly around 3am. and catch plane to chicago, grab an Uber, setup table for Printer’s Row Festival in the AM and find a Starbucks… talk to people all day and battle the wind-tunnel that is downtown Chicago. 7pm, Uber back to the airport and try to nap for 90 min before flight–no success. coffee instead. Flight back to MPLS… three quick catnaps, but I kept waking up myself with snores (and disturbing hte other passengers.)
Sun-midnight, back in MN. get to my car for drive home… oh, now my body says it can sleep? Crawl into bed about 2:30am… can’t even see straight

I was a little tired. I think this week slows down for me… but lots of busyness and a few work meetings will keep me productive. Since I finished WotT2 recently, I’m in general editing before I let it sit and simmer for a while so that I’ll have fresh eyes on it. Hoping to have that first edit done over the next two weeks. I’m mulling over a large scene to add to Fear in a Land Without Shadows (like, 7 months after the final draft… this is why we let this rest for a while) that will really help color in a relationship between two friends in the book and reinforce why everyone is so scared of the dark.

Tuesday book reviews should be up again beginning next week.

10 low-key nonelectronic marketing ideas

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Here is an interesting graphic from the folks over at christianpublishers.net. Some of these may seem a little outside the realm of normal marketing tactics, but I’m all about finding something new. Too many people get caught up in doing the same thing everyone else is doing.

Sometimes what everyone else is doing is what has been tried, tested, and true, but often it’s an easy way to get lost in the crowd and Indies desperately need to stand out. While I can’t swear to all of the efficacy of all of them (especially since I live in a rural area and half of them aren’t even possible for me [no HOAs or local XN papers,]) anything to set you apart is worth a shot, provided its positive and well done.

A week ago I wrote about some advice given by a venerable author and linked to his blog. If you read it you may have noted his distrust of “blog tours.” Honestly, I do share that same reticence. It’s good to do it when it presents itself, but I’ve not seen much success with it for the reasons he pointed out: it seems like everyone does them and there’s not much quality control… blog tours seem an easy way to got lost in a flow of low quality stuff. Separate yourself from the noise when possible and be creative; use your ideas to highly target your audience (like my comic book I had produced as a promo vehicle for my novel, Wolf of the Tesseract.)

I particularly like the bathroom stall and cable TV ideas, especially if it helps target your niche market… does your book apply to an older generation or have localized interest? Cable TV is great (and probably free). Is it sports centered or appeal to guys especially? Many advert services provide space right above the restroom urinals where guys’ eyes are going to be locked for about 45 seconds.

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State of Writing

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I know I was shooting for four chapters last week and had to apologize to my wife for seeing very little of her–I pulled down about seven and finished the dang book using up most of my nonwork time. Wolves of the Tesseract: Through the Darque Gates of Koth weighs in around 100k words and will grow only slightly in the second draft (took lots of notes during writing about foreshadowing and development points I needed to make but didn’t slow down in the middle of it all).

Back to some blogging and cover art work this week and then off to Chicago for Printer’s Row Lit Fest this weekend. Come see me if you’re around. I’ll be at the Black Rose Writing booth all day Saturday.