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Friday, 20 November 2015

Worldbuilders and an Auction

Every year, Patrick Rothfuss, the team at Worldbuilders, and a couple of hundred of the coolest authors, artists and gamemakers around do this thing to raise money for Heifer International, which plants trees, provides livestock, and helps people do something as basic as EAT with dignity.

For every $10 a person donates, their name gets entered into a lottery for a chance to win signed books and games, and I've been donating copies of Marking Time to the lottery since it was the only book in the series. Each year I have more books to give, and last year, Maria, at Worldbuilders, asked if I'd consider donating something bigger that they could auction off on ebay.

A tuckerization (yep, it's a thing) of a character in Waging War earned $150 for Worldbuilders. The winner of the auction gave me a name for the character - Tam - and two characteristics: curious and clever. I had a wonderful time weaving Tam into Waging War, and because curious, clever people named Tam seem to require it, I gave him green hair. *nefarious giggle*

I was asked for another tuckerization this year (seriously, it's a word. Look it up), and the auction just went live on ebay. This one's a much bigger deal, because this character gets to play a part in the LAST IMMORTAL DESCENDANTS BOOK IN THE SERIES!

Here's the link to the auction on ebay.

The other things up for auction right now are SO COOL that you should see them all. Here's a list of Author-y things on Pat's blog.

And even if you don't bid on a thing, please consider donating $10 or $20 or $50 to Worldbuilders. Flocks of chickens are my personal favorite, but I'm also a huge fan of planting trees.

Mostly, I'm just proud to be part of so much generosity.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Cover Design - The Birth of a Book Cover

Aren't they gorgeous?!

First - news. The publication date for Waging War has been set, and I'll share it with you when the pre-order link goes live. There's a plan in place and I'm finally on schedule, and on track.

Gemma, the lovely narrator for the Tempting Fate audiobook, will be starting production on Changing Nature this month, and we'll be working to get that published as soon as possible. Thank you so much for your patience on both.

So, the new covers...

Writers and readers are very visual people. Writers have to paint pictures with words for readers to see in their heads as they read, which is why most writers I know have inspiration boards.

When I first began plotting Marking Time, I built my inspiration board into a collage with which I covered my writer's notebook.

You can see where the color tones for the first book came from. As I got closer to finishing Marking Time, I started to think about its cover. This was the first image I found that really inspired me.

I could never find a photo credit to track down the artist for permission to use it, so we tried to replicate the look in a photo shoot. It didn't work.

I thought I would be marketing the book to young adults because, well, Saira is seventeen. So every cover idea I came up with was sent to my then eighteen-year-old niece for her thoughts. She's an inhaler of books, as all the women in my family are, and her usual criteria for buying a book is cover first, then page count. If the cover doesn't appeal, or it isn't long enough, she puts it back on the shelf.

These were my early attempts. My niece was always supportive, but she didn't really love any of them, thank goodness.

The progression is like looking at the birth of a cover, and what we finally created took nine hours on screen-share and a skype call to London, where my photoshop-skilled husband was working at the time. My niece approved, and a cover was born.

I love my old covers. I love that they were relatively gender-neutral, and not age-specific. I love that they are striking and graphic, and showed readers the different artifacts of the Immortal Descendant families. Oh, by the way, here's the Monger Ring...

As time went on, and I finished books two and three, I began to really pay attention to marketing. Readership took off when I made Marking Time free, and various book lists and advertising outlets kept it in the spotlight just enough to drive sales to the other books. I began to see a pattern in the reviews, and a study of reader demographics confirmed that the vast majority of my readers are women between the ages of 25 and 55. Some young men, and some retired men have read them and become very generous supporters of the books, but I realized quite early on that young adult readers tend toward browsing at bookstores, like my niece, and my access to them has generally been through mothers and aunts and grandmothers who found Marking Time and shared it.

They say the most powerful person in the world is the one who stands on a street and waves traffic in the direction it's already going. The trick is just figuring out which direction that is.

Penny Reid is a romantic comedy author with a huge readership, a giant brain, and a massive heart. She is also a very dear friend of mine with mad graphic design skills, and when we began talking about the idea of re-branding the series to appeal directly to the women who are its biggest readers, she played around with some of the elements in the stories to create the new cover for Marking Time.

She created these stunning covers in a day, and then designed the covers for Waging War and Cheating Death in another day. I sent the new covers to my niece, now twenty-one years old. Her reponse:

"I would totally buy them."

It takes every ounce of self-control I have not to post the covers for the whole series everywhere, because they're so gorgeous and inspiring to the stories inside them, but part of the marketing thing is actually having a marketing plan.

I've never had a marketing plan before. I've always just raced through my final edit notes, hit "publish," posted a few "It's Live" teasers on facebook, then spent the next couple of days formatting the paperback.

The new plan actually puts integrity into my releases. I already have the paperback elements in place, a lovely design duo is working on creating graphics and teasers with a unified theme (another of the MANY things I've learned from Penny Reid), and there are dates on a calendar that make my editor very happy.

These new covers actually represent something bigger than just re-branding the Immortal Descendants series to appeal to readers of historical mysteries and time travel romance. They have created organization, and a schedule, and deadlines I have to meet because it's not just me hitting "publish" anymore. And they have inspired me to actively seek the audience for my books, rather than hoping readers just randomly stumble into them.

So, to any readers who may not have taken a risk on that first free book if these had been the covers - thank you so much for your support and generosity as I attempt to wave the traffic of readers in the direction they seem to be already going. And to everyone who has read and enjoyed The Immortal Descendants series, your shares, your recommendations, and your support of these books is the reason there's traffic in the first place.