Self Pub Book Covers – A Review

Every book needs a great cover. It’s one of the most important decisions you will make, and indie authors have a fair number of options available. The process for my current book, Rise of the Draman, took an unexpected turn and I ended up using a pre-made cover from SelfPubBookCovers. Let me tell you how I got there and offer a review of their services.

The covers for all seven of my previous books have been designed by the same graphic artist. I assumed she would also take care of number eight and began the process. It became clear after a little back and forth that we were not on the same page! The problem this time was the nature of my book – a medieval-ish fantasy tale requiring a dragon on the cover. This was not her forte, as she mostly deals with modifying photographs or pre-existing artwork. She gave it the old college try, but in the end I had to admit defeat and look elsewhere.

I searched through a passel of websites offering both pre-made and custom covers. Some were very limited in scope (romance books only, for example), others lacked quality, and prices were all over the map. After a while I narrowed my search to those specializing in fantasy, and while this helped, most of them were too expensive or I didn’t care for their blood-thirsty, demon-eyed, dragon-on-the-rampage images.

The first one I contacted offered both pre-made and custom covers at a somewhat reasonable starting price, so I made an initial inquiry. While it wasn’t quite bait and switch, they quickly discouraged a pre-made and pushed for a custom job beginning at $900.00. Sorry, this indie author doesn’t have that kind of money!

In the past, I had looked at SelfPubBookCovers.com, and decided to give them another try. They claim to be the “world’s leading marketplace for high-quality, affordably priced, pre-made book covers”, with 30,000 to choose from. Once you create a user name and password, you can save your favorites as you search – essential, given the number of covers available. After much debate, I made my selection and then the fun began. The one I wanted required a modification. Here is their process:

  1. Please send us the file name of the cover you are interested in, along with a sentence explaining the modification you are looking for.2. We will contact the artist to see if it can be done for our minimum fee of $50 (which is in addition to the cover purchase price).

    3. We will get back to you with a confirmation. At that time we will ask you to purchase the cover and for you to take care of the modification fee.

    4. You will see the modification, and will have 2 rounds of comments/adjustments. If additional changes (more than 2) are requested, there is a $25 per round fee.

    If this is acceptable, please send us the book cover file name and how you would like it modified.

    NOTE: Please DO NOT buy the cover you are interested in having modified until we confirm that the modification can be made.

Seem clunky to you? It did to me, as I was used to dealing directly with the artist myself via email. I also did not like having to pay before seeing the end result, but I understand why it’s necessary. In the end it worked out fine, and the next time it won’t seem quite as daunting. The modification I needed was very simple – exchange the silhouette of a little girl to a boy. After one more minor adjustment, their work was done, AND they kept their promise of a 5-day turnaround (including Christmas day) – impressive!

SMALL-72dpi-1500x2000

Afterwards, you are free to log in and use their software to add the book title, author name, tag line, etc. This can be done any time following delivery of the finished file, though you are limited as to color, font, and placement. Remember – once you make the purchase, that cover will never be sold to anyone else in the future – it’s YOURS.

So what about the cost? Was it truly affordable? Yes. Most of the covers run around a hundred dollars without modifications. Mine was priced at $78.00 + the $50.00 modification fee, for a total of $128.00. For an indie author on a tight budget, this was a terrific bargain.

Will I use their service again? Yes, I expect to at some point. Would I recommend it to anyone else? Again, yes. Even if you are not concerned about cost, they have some wonderful covers available. Give SelfPubBookCovers a try!

Note – if you have found a pre-made cover shop you like, let me know in the comments!

W.I.P. = Weary, Impossible, Provoked

It’s no surprise I am still working on Rise of the Draman, though I REALLY want to get it finished! Why does every project take longer than I estimate?? Can’t I just write and ignore everything else? It’s not all doom and gloom, as I am making significant progress – even squeezing in the holidays and tax preparation. Speaking of taxes, my book income went way down this year and I overspent on promotions. I’ll have to be even more careful – it’s going to be tough.

Anyway, back to my WIP. I completed story five in late November, so what have I been doing for the last eleven weeks? When I started the project, it was supposed to be a series of short stories, released one at a time over several months. Those goals were jettisoned when I realized:

  1. I’m no good at writing short stories. I do just fine with flash fiction or novels, but short story writing is a special ability I don’t seem to have! A bit discouraging, but a good learning experience.
  2. Publishing and promoting five separate titles is WAY more than I can afford at the present time.

By the time I got to the last one (Dragon Rescue), the decision was made to combine all five into one volume. By doing so, it freed me from word count restrictions – and set me up for a lot more work. In the end, the word count went from 80,485 to 108,543 – a 26% increase!

Adding new material isn’t the only reason I’m behind,  of course, as there are now internal consistency issues to address and small but important changes which affect all the stories. Oh, and don’t forget a thorough round of editing and another beta read for each one. At some point I also have to create character lists, maps, a terrific blurb, and apply for the copyright. The joys of self-publishing are on full display here, and I haven’t even reached the promotions stage! Whoopee!

Yes, I’m very eager to get the book finished and launched, but I won’t cut corners – even though it’s taking MUCH longer than I thought it would. I’m tired and want to reach the finish line right now, but the race isn’t over. Giving up isn’t an option, no, no, no. I’m going to birth this baby if it kills me, and then promptly forget about the pain as I start on the next one. Yep, writers are weird.

Photo Prompt – SHADE

Shade

His shadow reached me long before he did; shifty blackness with more life than the man. Untouchable, yet a felt presence, nonetheless. It washed over my skin, filling pores and raising goosebumps. I should have run; wrenched myself free and fled from him again, but I could not.

Something in this strange creature touched my soul in a way no other ever had. Could I stay with him? Give myself freely? Get lost in this dichotomous being who simply wanted to love and be loved?

As he neared, shadow merged once again with flesh and the feeling of otherness faded. He smiled at me and extended a hand. I took it with gentle pressure; warm and soft. Together, we sought the darkness, for it was only there he found peace and I could forget what it was that captured my heart.

2019 – A Retrospective

A few thoughts on last year, both personally and as a writer.

ME

  • Renewed a twenty year old friendship – what a blessing!
  • Welcomed another grandson (four grandchildren now)
  • Celebrated my younger son’s birthday, in person, for the first time in MANY years
  • Took on a PT job for several months to help with the bills
  • Moved to a different apartment with better amenities

WRITING

  • Celebrated my two-year publishing anniversary in August
  • Experimented with some flash fiction/photo prompts on my blog
  • Published one full length novel and almost finished a second (see below)
  • Incorporated more show and less tell in my writing
  • Got really good at low-cost book promotions (!)
  • Added yet another genre and audience to my portfolio

 

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My writing plans for the year fell apart! I published my second wolf shifter novel, Traitor’s Moon, in February. The idea was to keep going with book three, but I couldn’t do it. I was burned out and needed to write something different for a while. With no desire to commit myself to another long project, I decided to write a fantasy short story. This turned into a series of five novelettes spread out over the last ten months of the year!

With me so far? The initial idea was to publish them individually, thereby increasing my backlist and pull in lots of new readers with all the extra exposure. Not a bad plan – except it was too expensive. (I also tried putting the stories on my blog in serial format, but very few people read them.) There was no way I could afford to publish and promote five different titles, so what to do? The only thing I could do with a basket full of lemons – make lemonade!

RISE OF THE DRAMAN is a collection of all five books and is presently undergoing a final series of edits. I’m adding new material, replacing tell with show, and correcting mistakes. My beta readers are loving it, and I will end up with a much better novel by the time I’m done.

The cover for this one was another challenge. The designer I’ve been using all along just couldn’t come through for me on this title, so I was forced to look elsewhere. Fantasy cover art, particularly with dragons, is harder to come by and can be a lot more expensive. I finally found a few possibilities on a pre-made cover site, and with one slight change (which cost more), settled on one which will do, but just doesn’t POP the way I had hoped. Check it out here and tell me what you think! If things go as planned, I intend to publish RISE OF THE DRAMAN sometime in February or before.

Every book brings new opportunities to learn and improve, and this latest one certainly did! Overall it’s been a great experience. My biggest regret is not being able to publish the thing in 2019, as it puts me behind my goal of at least two novel-length works per year. If I work hard, maybe I can squeeze out three in 2020 to make up for it!

Author Update

The last few weeks have been brutal! Pre-move, move, post-move. It’s all been very moving, but at last I’m settled in my new place and can stop for a breath. Obviously, my writing has taken a back seat and I’m eager to get caught up.

Story five of Rise of the Draman is almost complete. The last of the story threads are being carefully tied, and then it’s off to my beta readers. When that’s done, it will appear on my blog in serialized format, and your anxious wait will be over! Leaving readers dangling from a cliff this long was never my intention, though be prepared for a much longer installment this time.

I received a wonderful note from a reader recently regarding my Gladstone Shifters books. The poor soul is hooked (yeah for me!) and wants to get her hands on the next in series – only it hasn’t been written yet and I have no idea when it will be. I have three new series begging to be written, and am still deciding what to do. Given my crazy work schedule and limited writing time, any novel-length project I choose to tackle means at least a nine month commitment. My tendency is to get bored and antsy to move on to something else long before I’m done!

Winter made a rude and unwelcome early start here and I’m faced with unfamiliar routes for shopping and work. I don’t mind the change of seasons, but driving on snowy/icy roads makes me tense. In 2014, I hit some black ice and found myself upside down in a snow-filled ditch. The car was totaled, and neither my back nor my nerves have fully recovered. Maybe I’ll work that into a book someday…

 

Weekly Roundup – What a Summer!

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

I cannot express, in polite words, how relieved I am to see the end of summer. Hot weather, work hassles, financial woes, writing issues – yikes! It’s time to put it all behind me and focus on what promises to be an interesting fall. I welcome the cooler weather, despite being hay-fever season, as my personal life and writing enter a different phase.

I’m moving again. Yes, you heard me correctly. In about five weeks I’m relocating to another part of the metro area. I was able to secure an apartment which not only offers more amenities for less, but is closer to my jobs and my son. This move will be well worth the hassle, as it should improve my living situation, reduce commute times, and make it easier to see my grandson.

I got a second job. What? Yep, I’ve taken on a Saturday job cleaning offices to help sort out my finances. Last weekend was my first solo appearance and it just about killed me! Cleaning sounds easy, but my body reminded me of all the muscles I hadn’t been using. Aside from aching head to foot and being bone tired, I slept poorly two nights in a row. Reporting for work on Monday looked iffy at best, but thanks to pain medication I made it. Hopefully I’ll get used to the new routine quickly and be able to enjoy at least a little of my weekends in the future. More important, the extra money will relieve some financial pressure and provide much-needed breathing room.

Given the above, it’s no surprise my writing has taken a hit. I don’t expect much to change until after the move, but a lot depends on how much overtime is required at my full time job. It will be a challenge just to produce a weekly post, let alone anything else. I’m going to focus on completing the Rise of the Draman series, including a very thorough edit & polish. The tentative goal is to have it finished by December, and if I have the funds, publish the stories as one volume. Anything else I might have time for is simply gravy.

Things are a bit crazy right now, and certainly not what I wanted, but I know the sacrifices will be worth it in the end. Margo Channing knew what she was talking about when she said, “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

My Publishing Anniversary

On August 14th, 2017 I launched my first five books. Green, uncertain, excited, and overconfident, I made myself the promise to give this writing thing two years. Time’s up!

The desire to throw in the towel is strong, and I came very close to quitting. Being an indie author takes more time, money, and skill than most people realize. The never-ending list of things I still need to learn remains ever out of reach and I am tired of the fight. Amazon has a death grip on indie authors, and I resent having to play their games. It is very difficult to remain motivated and productive without getting something in return – yes, I’m needy! I could go on and on, but you don’t want to hear it and it’s discouraging to lay it all out here.

While I am very tempted to chuck the whole dream, I’m not going to – yet. Honestly, I wish I could pull the plug for a couple years, write like crazy without the distraction of publishing and promoting, and come back with a vengeance! If I did that, I’m afraid of losing what little knowledge and skill I have, and starting over from scratch is not an appealing option.

The biggest reason to keep going is because I enjoy writing so much. I may be a failure on the business side of things, but I’m a good story-teller with tons of great ideas. I still have an awful lot to learn about the craft, but the readers I have are asking for more despite my shortcomings. How can I possibly disappoint them?

So, what’s next?

The money crunch means I will be doing more writing than publishing for the next year or so, but there’s no way around it. I intend to focus on shorter works rather than novels, and will probably set aside romances for more sci-fi and fantasy. In addition to improving my writing skills, I want to set up my backlist for print-on-demand and build my blog readership. I’m also considering a withdrawal from KDP Select and returning to D2D as a distributor. Once I have enough new material written, I need to work on building a newsletter email list and possibly open a Patreon account.

The short-term goal is to make enough from my books to keep writing and publishing. Long-term, I hope to generate a modest income to support me in my retirement years. If it all falls apart, you will be the first (and last) to know, but it won’t be because I haven’t tried. If it were possible, I would write myself a HEA and call it good! Too bad the real world doesn’t work that way.

BOOK REVIEW – Midshipman Henry Gallant in Space

I was drawn to this book by the cover and title, expecting a good old fashioned space adventure. I also found the primary plot idea intriguing – a “natural” human having to prove himself among genetically advanced shipmates. Finally, when the description mentioned “for fans of Honor Harrington”, I was sold!

All too soon, my excitement turned to disappointment.

The book originally appeared in 2013 but is now in its fifth edition. It must be self-published, since a traditional publisher would never have released it in its current condition. I suspect the author re-released it with a new cover and some expensive marketing (how else can you explain 235 reviews?), but left the manuscript untouched. The book desperately needs to be edited, proofread and turned over to a team of beta readers.

This was Alesso’s first book and it shows. As a former scientist turned author, he heavily favored plot over characters, overwhelmed the reader with unnecessary techno-babble, and included trivialities which did nothing to further the story. As to genre, I have no problem categorizing it as science fiction, though the “science” it contains is actually fantasy. Most readers will ignore errors of this sort in favor of a good rousing story, but a number of disgruntled hard science fiction fans made note of it in the reviews. (Don’t get me started on that whole debate!)

Another let-down involved the central idea that the MC was a natural human, while all his shipmates were genetically enhanced. I expected this thread to have a far-reaching influence on the story from start to finish. It didn’t. Yes, it was mentioned from time to time, but the reader is never really told why it was important or how the MC miraculously turns out to be better at his job than everyone else. Great idea, but so poorly executed as to leave the reader wondering – is that it?

With such a shaky foundation, I find it incredible that the author is about to release book five in the series. Apparently, there are plenty of folks out there who disagree with me, willing to accept both the manuscript errors and clumsy storytelling. Of course, even a poor quality product can be successfully marketed – remember pet rocks? So I wish you luck, Henry Gallant, but you’ll have to conquer the universe without me.

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Coming next week: looking back on my first two years as an author and hopes for the future.

August 21st – the first installment of Rise of the Draman book 4, Dragon Quest!!

Weekly Roundup – MY SCHOOL BUILDING (Another Blast From the Past)

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

In my dusty old school folder I found a poem I had turned in for an assignment. It’s written in longhand cursive (does anybody even remember what that is?), and even though it received a grade of B+, was torn in half. For some reason I changed my mind about throwing it away and kept the awful thing. Though undated, the text itself tells me it must have been written in the 8th grade. Considering the subject matter, and the humorless nuns who filled the place, it was awful ballsy of me to turn it in!

 

MY SCHOOL BUILDING

Your rugged features are frightening,

You’re ugly as can be,

I hate your personality,

I think you’ve got it out for me.

I really think you’re ignorant,

And stony-faced and cold,

You always make me say “I can’t!”,

You’re impersonal and bold.

I’ve been with you for eight long years,

And hated you all the while,

Your sickening lunches psyche me out,

They look like garbage piles.

Yeah, yeah – I know it’s wretched poetry, but the sentiment still stands! I have very few good memories from my Catholic school days – which ended up being grades 1-12. My parents thought they were doing the right thing, and who knows? Perhaps attending a public school would have been even worse than my experience at St. Albert!

By the way, I got even with the blue-haired lunch ladies in my senior year. I did a spot-on impersonation of Roseanne Roseannadanna, who reported on the awful state of things in the cafeteria. It brought down the house. HA! My best comedy performance ever! I still believe the blue hair came from the toxic food fumes and not as a result of their rinse.

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Rise of the Draman, my fantasy dragon series, is coming along nicely. Both books one and two are now available on my blog, and book three DRAGON BONDS will be featured soon! I’m already working on the next story, which will be in two parts as books four and five. If I have the funds, I will then publish all five books in one volume. Depending on sales and interest, I may write another five stories with the MC as a teen.

The next project will be a new mixed-genre series of shorts under the working title of “Curiosity Shoppe”, and I am eager to get started! I have a boatload of cool story ideas to use and it will be difficult to choose which ones make the cut.

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To celebrate my birthday (WOO HOO!), I am taking time off to enjoy a three-day weekend. Most likely, I will use it for writing and other author-related tasks. I might even get some extra sleep! My older son is sending me a gift, my younger son took me to a cool animal park last weekend, and my best friend is taking me out to dinner on July 4th. If you want to help me celebrate, gifts of cash or chocolate are always welcome!

WEEKLY ROUNDUP – Medieval Maundering

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

My current project is a series of fantasy novelettes which began with Dragon Child. While not true period pieces, the stories are heavily influenced by the life, language and customs of medieval England. When I set out to write a dragon story, it seemed fitting to place it in the days of kings, castles, and mythical beasts. As a piece of fiction, I am free to alter the particulars to fit the needs of my story, yet I wanted to keep it anchored in history.

Let me tell you, researching the medieval period has been an interesting experience! I needed information on nearly everything: language, clothing, food, occupations, religion, government, common names, housing, transportation, weapons, education, marriage, childbirth, farming, entertainment, and monastic life. Mind you, this partial list only covers the first two stories in the series!

This era is often romanticized in book and movies, but life was short and hard, holding few comforts – particularly for peasants. Did you know:

  • 30% of children died before age 5
  • peasants shared their one-room windowless homes with their animals
  • bathing was rare and streets were filled with excrement
  • medical care was virtually non-existent
  • average lifespan was around 45
  • marriageable age was 12 for girls, 14 for boys

I purposely ignored or altered some of the disturbing/depressing facts when building the world for my stories, but the medieval period provided a wonderful foundation. It’s easier, I think, to imagine dragons living in a mostly forgotten age of long ago, and it’s certainly more fun to read and write. In addition, this strange “new” world of pseudo Middle Ages provides me with a much needed break from contemporary settings.

(Author update April 6, 2020 – The book was published today as RISE OF THE DRAMAN, a five story collection.)