Joshua C Cook

Author, Husband, Father, IT Manager

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New Book Covers

Book Covers are an interesting thing. Everyone has an opinion on what makes a book cover ‘good.’ A fact that has recently been underscored by the feedback I’ve gotten about the new covers I’ve done on both Bridgefinders, and Bridgebreaker. Some really like them, some say they are to simple and plain, some say the old covers were better, etc.  Now I did get some actual input that was useful, clarify the fonts, make the title stand out more, etc. I took those to heart, and those were useful.

I should first say WHY I made new covers. I want to start off by saying that the cover guy I had been using, S.A. Hunt is a great and very talented guy. None of this is a reflection on him or his work. I think it’s a far safer assumption to say that I didn’t know what I wanted, so I just went with whatever he came up with. And he came up with some nice stuff. Very nice. The issue however was that over time I realized that the direction we had taken wasn’t what I really wanted for the covers. I made a list of what I like in covers of books I enjoy…

  1. Simple – I don’t like covers with a bunch of stuff going on. I want it to have a central ‘theme’. Interesting, but doesn’t give to much away.
  2. Must give a hint however of what the story is about. – While I don’t want to give away the farm, I hate covers that look interesting, but when you read the story you can’t find any connection to the actual story or characters.

That was it, not much of a list, right?

With that limited criteria in mind I decided I wanted new book covers for the first two books in The Echo Worlds series. But it’s the holidays, money is a bit tight… so paying someone to make new covers wasn’t going to be easy. On top of it I still wasn’t sure what I wanted.

Then it hit me, I would make the covers myself! Then self-doubt hit me, I don’t know a single damn thing about graphic design, how Photoshop or whatever other program people use actually works. I thought it about, vacillating between knowing I could do it, and thinking it would be a total disaster. That being said, I finally decided to get a trail version of Photoshop CC, watch a bunch of YouTube video’s on how to do stuff in Photoshop, and see what I could come up with.

My first effort, while not in use and not very good proved to me that I COULD do it, and that I really needed to know what I actually wanted.  After brainstorming, I went ahead and got the 9$ a month subscription, and started trying things.. and slowly, surely I had new book covers. I think they both show what the book is about, without hitting you over the head with it.

I’ve submitted the changes to Amazon for the eBooks, Createspace for the paperbacks, and ACX/Audible for the audiobooks. The changes are propagating through the systems, so the new covers will be showing up across the platforms, soon. And oh.. here’s the new covers!

Cover for Book 2

Cover for Book 1

Elves? We don’t need no stinkin’ Elves!

Elves. One of the largest fantasy ‘tropes’ out there. I use them to, though mine are a bit more sinister than the ‘high fantasy’ types of Elves. That being said, I just ran across a great TEDx talk from Terry Brooks, titled ‘Why I write about Elves.”

Now, I have read some of Terry Brook‘s work. Not much as of late, and honestly after this talk I think I may pick up some of his stuff again, because I want to see what he’s talking about from my newer ‘writer’ persona. Mr. Brooks makes a good point about taking things out of our world, and translating them to a fantasy world for the purpose of giving writing some weight. Having been a reader of fantasy for more years than I care to mention, there are far to many fantasy books out there that don’t have any substance. There’s a story there sure, but it’s such a surface thing, and it’s highly highly formulaic. I’ve seen other videos and read books where it’s “Hero, artifact, quest.” that’s it.

And yes, that’s basic fantasy, but if that’s ALL that’s there, it makes for a bit of a dull read. Take Tolkien, at first glance it seems like a very light story, hobbit takes ring, destroys it to save the world from evil monster spirit thing.

But that’s only a slight reading of Tolkien. And yes, the movies (which I greatly enjoy, I have the extended releases for all of them.) sort of made it worse. But there are a LOT of environmental themes (Tom Bombadil, Mordor itself, the Scourging of the Shire, etc.) the overarching theme of the passing of ‘old world’ of magic and superstition to the world of men and technology, etc.

Good fantasy books carry this additional under story out there to the reader, to give them something to latch on to. Even in Tolkien’s work, Elves are portrayed as a very powerful, but old and vanishing race. Leaving the world of Middle Earth to return to their far away true home. In truth the Elves of Tolkien carry a fairly melancholy background, full of betrayal, racism, and tragedy.

I think the point Terry Brooks makes is a very good one, fantasy writers or truly any fiction writer, needs to give thought to giving the reader something real to latch onto, something they can translate to the real world, or even thier own personal experiences. I’ve linked the talk at the end here, it’s a great short video.

 

November Update

November is here, and I’ve been slacking! Well not slacking really, but slacking on blog updates. So what’s been going on?

  1. Election: It happened. That’s all I’m going to say about it right now. In a former version of myself I was a political junkie. I moderate myself on that stuff these days for ‘reasons’
  2. Book promos: I ran a Book Gorilla promo, and did a two week blog tour. I got 14 sales and 1000 pages read out of the BookGorilla promo, but still ended up being a net negative. The book blog tour… well.. it was ok. But I didn’t really get much out of it, no book sales, no real increase in blog or twitter traffic. All in all, I don’t think I’ll do it again. Do NOT take this as a negative on the company I used, they were awesome. I just don’t see the point of the book blog tour after doing one.
  3. Photoshop: I’m learning it! Whoot! Main reason? I want to do my own covers. I’m cheap, I want to make them for myself. Who knows if I get good enough, maybe for other people… maybe.
  4. Writing: I’m working on the next book in the Echo Worlds series, started a new book in a new series, and have had an idea of a book that sort of goes along with the Echo Worlds series. I be busy.
  5. Time of year: It’s the holidays, or at least the Holiday ‘season’ here in the States. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Add in my son’s Birthday (and mine, though I don’t really think about it much.) and personal life is busy.

So all those reasons being said, I still feel somewhat bad about slacking on the blog updates here in November. I shall attempt to do more, and be more active!

Don’t forget that Bridgebreaker is out in Paperback, eBook, and Audiobook!

Author Support

Author Support, and why it’s important.

Let me be the first to say, I’m blessed beyond measure to have a fantastic group of family, friends, and others who support my writing endeavors. Contrary to some, writing isn’t a walk in the park easy. Time, energy, money, all of that goes into the creation of a self-published book. Let’s talk about that shall we?

Time: Writing  is one time intensive project. Ideas come and go, thinking and mentally planning out the structure and ways of the story, the actual writing of the draft can take months. Then there’s the rewrite, then editing, then working out covers, back copy blurbs, dealing with and getting feedback from Beta readers, working out when to release, then the marketing work WITH release, etc. And if your an outliner, the actual physical creation of the outline, which depending on how you do things, can take days or even a week or two. This all takes time.

Time that you won’t spend playing a game, reading a book (though you make time for this.) watching TV, it can take time away from family, friends, all of that.

Energy: I’m of the opinion that good writing TAKES something from you. You give up part of yourself to bring a story to life. Mentally and physically writing can be one tiring experience. Yes sitting in a chair for several hours and pouring your self into a draft *IS* physically exhausting, at least it is for me. This is energy that I could be using for playing with my kids, going for a walk, things like that. That’s not to say that I don’t play with my kids (I do, often.) and I do go for walks. In fact, writing USED to be far more tiring, until I about 11 months ago starting working out again on a regular basis, that’s made a huge amount of difference. (I have some blog posts on that.) But the fact remains, writing eats energy. Why do you think so many writers cling to coffee or tea??

Money: No I’m not talking about vanity press, you should never pay money to someone for them to ‘publish’ your book. But covers (good ones.) and if your paying for an editor/proofreader, you can be looking at a substantial amount of $$$. Now I personally defray costs by just doing the cover thing. I use a word plugin, feedback from beta readers, and a few other methods to get through the editing and proofreading stages. Why? Because I’m cheap. I can’t afford to spend 1400$ or more to get those two things done. Nor would I want to.

Sadly, writing doesn’t pay well. There are millions of self published books out there. Millions. I average 20$ a month most months. This is not a money maker! I write because I enjoy creating stories, and sharing them. Sure, I’d love to be the next Hugh Howey, but that’s not going to happen. (For those who don’t know who he is, Hugh Howey is a self-published sci-fi author who hit the big time.)

It boils down to this.. if your an author, get a support group. Get family, friends, others who will give you support and help. Nothing helps more than hearing from someone “I love your writing and stories.. never stop.” Feeling discouraged? Those people will get you back on track.

If your a family member or a friend of an author, give them that feedback, they need it. They may not ask for it, but trust me, hearing things like that always helps, always means something.

Author support. It’s important, it doesn’t cost anything, and in the end, only makes you a better writer.

Bridgebreaker, Where we are now.

Bridgebreaker has come out! It’s out on eBook, Paperback and audiobook. I’m doing some promotion in a few places, plus my first ever blog tour at the end of the month. (Two week blog tour.) I’m not sure what to expect on that, but I look forward to the experience. I’ll be updating the blog with links to Bridgebreaker as well on the eBooks page and the main page link to whatever the most recent book for sale is.

All that being said where are we now?

Bridgebreaker, like every other book I write kinda drained me a bit at the end, so as usual I took a few weeks off, clear my head so to speak, and then to jump into my next project. I had originally thought that this would be Book 3 in the Series. However I’ve got this other idea that won’t let me go, that’s been bouncing around in my head. So I’ve decided to work on TWO books at once. (I’m a fool!) Book 3 of ‘The Echo Worlds’ is very very tentatively titled ‘Bridgemaker.’

This other idea floating around is titled ‘The Green Miles’ and it’s Book 1 of ‘Worker Road’  I’m not saying anything else about it at this point. 🙂

So otherwise, I’m good, and things are moving along. Bridgebreaker is not selling great, I was actually somewhat surprised by the lack of sales on the book, other launches were far more successful. I’m not sure as to why however though. Cover Art? Not sure. Things just seem a bit.. flat sales wise. I’m hoping the two upcoming promo things this month will juice things along a bit.

All in all though I think Bridgebreaker is a really strong book, and far stronger story wise than the first book. In fact I reached out to a few people who left three star reviews of the first book, and recruited them to leave reviews of the second book. Interestingly enough, those people gave me far better reviews for the second one, as it hit all the points that they felt like the first one was missing.

 

So a few blog updates to come, and some promo’s. Combine that with two WIP, and a final read through and notes on another authors work.. busy times!!

 

Dragonlance – Reading with a Writers eye.

Dragonlance. Good pulpy fantasy. And it is pulpy, as much as I like it. It’s a book series based off a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. There are formulaic parts, and early on, the characters aren’t super well defined. That being said, it’s just good solid fantasy. Now I’ve owned this ‘Annotated’ copy for years now. But it’s been more than a few since I read it. I recently came across it again in my books, and being in between series, decided to pick it up again. I’m very glad I did.

See, the annotations included with the book are by the authors. The last time I read this I hadn’t even begun to start writing, it was only a super vague idea and hint of a thought. Now, after pushing out 4-5 books, picking this up and reading the story AND the authors notes, has made for a very interesting read so far. One, the notes give a great deal of background information, why decisions were made, how the characters grew, and the thought process that went into making various plot points. In short, it’s a view into the two authors mind about the story. And some rather interesting take aways on back story, timelines, and giving the world your creating a history. Giving the readers a sense of time, that they aren’t just being thrown into a new world with no anchors to make it real.

Is Dragonlance great epic fantasy? I don’t know. It’s a little long in the tooth these days, and while some of the characters seem cliche now, I’m not sure how cliche they were at the time. But still, I’m finding this read through, reading with the eye of a writer, a very interesting, and rewarding experience.

 

In other news: Bridgebreaker, the second book is being released the 12th, so in a week. I have no idea how the pre-orders have gone, I’m not sure there is a way to even see that. I have lined up 5-6 release day reviews as well. I shot for ten, but doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. So I’ll take 5.

Bridgebreaker

Bridgebreaker, the second book in my series, The Echo Worlds, is now out on pre-order! (click that link to be taken to the pre-order page.) And there was much rejoicing. Release date is September 12th, and I’m looking forward to it. This marks the first time I’ve really been able to get a series started, and I’m already mentally laying out the next book. Once I get a good handle on everything I’ll be jotting down main points and getting down to the business of actually writing it out.

Bridgebreaker has greatly improved by the help of my great Beta Readers (who get a shout out in the book.) They all gave great feedback, useful feedback, and I think made the story a great deal stronger. I have heard that so far everyone who has read it feels it’s a stronger story than the first book. Not that Bridgefinders was bad at all, but this part of the series has more emotional ‘oomph’ than the first book did, which was actually by design.

This also marks the first time I’ll be trying two new marketing strats with a book release. Namely pre-orders, AND lining up release day reviews. So far I have 5 or 6 release day reviews promised to me. I’ve given out ARC’s (Author Review Copies) and have given them a timeline to get the reviews done. I’ll be sending out reminders to them a few days before, and the day of release as well, hopefully this will give this book, and of course the FIRST book a bit more viability.

I would be stupid if I didn’t also give a shout out to my cover artist guy, S.A. Hunt, who put up with my last minute requests for changes. I greatly appreciate it, and the issues were totally creations of my own rush to get things done. If your ever looking for a cover guy, S.A. is great!

So Bridgebreaker is being released, I’m starting to work on the next book, I’m accepting auditions for the Audiobook version of Bridgebreaker, the paperback is pretty much ready to go (once I push it out for release) and things are lining up nicely!

Marketing, Bridgebreaker, and Future items

Marketing : It’s complicated. So I did my mega-ultra-super marketing push.. and sold.. 34 units. 34 units at the sale price of 0.99 cents. Which because it was a countdown deal I got 70% of still at least. 🙁 Had a bit of a tail, but not a huge one. So all in all it wasn’t that successful. Looking back I think I made one really serious mistake, with so many services running at one time, I really have no idea which ones were truly successful, and while ones weren’t even close. Lesson Learned! I think I’m going to back off a bit on that, and marketing Bridgefinders in general. As it’s been said before, the best way to sell more books is to WRITE more books. So in that spirit.. I’m close to being down with the sequel to Bridgefinders! The cover above is in fact the cover of the next book, Bridgebreaker!

(And yes, there was much rejoicing.)

Currently the book is being read by Beta readers. Once I get that back, and ponder all of that input, I’ll be making changes, tweaking things, some more minor edits, then, publish time! I will again be doing an audiobook as well, so that will be going on, etc. So yeah, busy!

On future items.. I’m mulling over an idea of a story I sort of started once, and never finished. This is going to be a “I have nothing to work on so let’s work on that” project. So I don’t expect this to be something I’ll be pushing super often or super quickly. Who knows if I finish it, and polish it up I might do #pitchwars next year for it. Maybe not. I’ve discovered that while I love self publishing books, and find it fun, the idea of being ‘commercially’ published doesn’t really appeal to me much. I dunno. Maybe it’s because I am not fond of putting myself out there in that manner? Who knows.

Beside the point though. The real point is the coming of Bridgebreaker! Keep it tuned here to find out when it’s out. And as always remember to subscribe, join, follow, and all the above to see where I go with all this next.

 

— Josh

E-mail list Marketing

E-Mail list Marketing seems to be the holy grail of the self published author marketing world. And I can understand why, a dedicated list of readers who sign up to find out when you have a new book out. That usually means they will at some point buy it. More sales lead to better rankings, better rankings lead to more people seeing it, which leads to more fans, more e-mail list sign ups and so on.

It’s a great and wonderful thing.. Assuming you can get it working right. I’ve talking about what a pain book marketing is in the past, and it is. I’ve tried review stuff, and tried the free book promo. I’ve tried twitter storms, and ads. Ads on Facebook, Ads on Amazon. None of it has been particularly effective. Now, there are services that use e-mail lists and send your book to their sign ups. The downside is of course that your book is competing with everyone else’s book on those email lists, which is one reason I’ve been a bit turned off from using those services.

But as I work on the last chapter or two of the sequel to Bridgefinders, I’ve decided to try things a bit differently.

The ‘best’ service for this kind of thing is Bookbub. The problem is of course, that Bookbub is both very pricey and VERY hard to get into. Yes, getting lots of sales or downloads is nice. Very nice. And when I say a lot, I mean a LOT. For a reduced price book (down to 0.99 cents.) I’ve read of authors making 300-400 even up over a thousand sales in a single day or two. That is crazy to think about. Free book promos do even better, sometimes cracking 30,000! Of course it costs the author over 400-500$ sometimes to run on Bookbub as well.

Based on the fact that Bookbub has turned me down (again.) I’ve gone instead for the following approach.

On August 8th-10th, I’ve got a book countdown deal running. For those two days, Bridgefinders will cost 0.99 cents, down from 2.99.

Bridgefinders will be featured in newsletters going on to e-mail lists from the following services:

Book Barbarian

Books Butterfly

Bargain Booksy

Book Goodies

Book Scream

Fussy Librarian

Yes, I’m using the shotgun approach. 🙂 About the only one missing from this list is Book Gorilla, who I wanted to use as well, but I miss clicked and selected a promo I didn’t want. By the time I got it fixed I couldn’t run with them in the time frame I wanted. So, not using them. I’m not going free for the simple reason that I’ve done free, and not seen free turn into a lot of sales at this point. As I come out with more books in the ‘Echo Worlds’ series, I think running a free book promo on the first book would be worth doing, but at this point, it doesn’t help.

I’ve been investigating creating my own E-Mail list, but haven’t really taken that step yet. But using all the above services, for a fraction of what it could cost to run this on Bookbub, I’m hoping will pay off. I’ll update after the promo has run!

Forward, Onward, or where have I been?

Forward to the light! Well, almost. OK, so my updates to the blog have been in fact fairly sparse lately, I will try to work on that in the future, and hopefully I will. I’ve got a LOT of irons in the fire as the saying goes right now, and all of that is taking up time. First off, I’ve been writing, and writing a lot. A lot. This of course is a very good thing, as I had hit a bit of a wall mentally, and wasn’t sure where I wanted to take things. I’m sure the wall was also partially getting out of ‘writer’ mode as summer time activities with the family took precedence a lot, and I don’t begrudge that.

But anyways, I’m shooting for mid august (or sooner) to be done with this draft of the next book in the Echo Worlds series, Bridgebreaker.  You will know by now I’m not an outliner, and I’m still not, but to help me get past the wall I took 15 minutes (yes only 15, I set a timer.) and jotted down everything else I wanted to happen in the story.  Not chapters, but just single compact sentences about what else needed to go on. This seems to have helped me a great deal, as I’ve plowed through a great deal of it already. Once I get done with the draft I’ll send a few days crawling over it with the help of my word add on ProWritingAid. I got it and hated it at first. Then as I learned to use it more, I’ve gotten to love it. No, it’s not perfect. And yes, it makes mistakes sometimes. But it’s really helped me with my addiction to commas as well as pointing out where I repeat myself often.

Embarrassingly enough I tend to use the same phrases rather often and close together to boot. The add on does a very good job of finding those, so I can modify the flow a bit. Once I’m fairly happy I’ll be passing the draft on to.. BETA READERS! (yay, and there was much rejoicing!) I have, currently, 4 very good, through, Beta readers on point. I’d like to have an even five, so if anyone wants to put their hat in, PLEASE let me know via contact me here on the blog. After beta reader feedback, or possibly during that phase I’ll get a cover made by the ever talented S.A. Hunt, who did my cover for Bridgefinders.

Then a few more tweaks, and the next step forward! 🙂

Other updates coming in posts: A new video on my quarterly goals (bleh), a before and after on marketing Bridgefinders, and a few useful links I’ve been hitting often. So basically, stay tuned!

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