Category Archives for The Business of Writing

All done! HOORAY!

Dear humans,

Normality can resume! Hooray! The human is very happy about this, as she hasn’t written hardly a thing in the past week. She’s itching to get back to what she likes doing the most: writing!

The stats from the vendors are in, and it looks like all of them should be reporting, which is thrilling! So exciting!

Her spend was scary, as on Saturday evening, the male human scolded the female for not spending more of her budget. So, she did this thing and spent more of her budget.

Total spent, rounded up for sake of sanity: $16,500. (Approximately $2.24 per US sale.)

Total USA Today qualifying sales: 7,374.

Total sales: 8,238.

Note: as the investments / tallies this week were for USA Today qualifying sales, that’s what the female used for giveaway purposes. (We love our international readers, but the goal was to try her bestest to hit this list with a book (or in this case, books) from the series.

As of this point, unless vendors don’t report, which we have seen happen, she has a very solid chance of listing!

She’s over the moon with excitement.

But first, there’s a few people the female would like to thank.

On the business side of things: my editor(s) and proofreaders: these books couldn’t happen without you.

To Melissa Storm: Thank you for spending the time to teach me your method of how to run blitz sales campaigns! I know we use different methods now, but your tutoring and help with one of my failed runs was hugely helpful! I learned a great deal from you, which made a big difference in being able to refine my personal method.

To those people I kept bugging in chat this week: thank you for your patience. (Cat, Erin, the poor editor lady… I’m looking at you.)

Finally, to the readers out there: thank you.

Without you, this had 0% chance of happening. Thank you for giving my books a shot. Thank you for sharing with your friends. Thank you for reading.

RJ here, as the felines have decided it is nap time. (Nap time happens after ‘get humans out of bed time.’) Let’s just say my kidneys have been thoroughly tenderized by rambunctious calico this morning.

While I am really hoping the set hits the list on Wednesday, I’m super happy with how well this worked out.

I’d been hoping to barely squeak by with 5,000 US sales. 7,374 far, far surpassed my expectations–and I didn’t spend the entirety of my budget.

Alas, according to the husband, I must spend more of my budget, but I will do that the week Burn, Baby, Burn releases. With some extra help from Melissa, I’m going to attempt to master the elusive bookbub ads. (The paid variety, not the featured deal variety.)

I’m not convinced my husband hasn’t been replaced by an alien, but the alien is a cool alien.

But all in all, this week surpassed my expectations in so many ways.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I hope the posts the cats have made on my behalf have been useful to you. Authors (and readers…) If you follow my personal profile on facebook, I occasionally do ‘Ask me Anything’ segments. This is the best place to find out more about how I function as a writer or ask general questions.

It’s also where to go for some daily doses of insanity.

Now, it’s back to the grind. Time to get back in the saddle and figure out how to do the writing thing since I’ve spent a full week monitoring and fussing with ads. (And stressing.)

Oh, as promised, this is the worst performing ad at $4.25 a click. (I spent $4.25 on that single click before turning off the ad.)

Ironically, I later duplicated that ad, and it became one of my top performers. I changed the header to “Final 24 hours of sale! $27.93 in books for $0.99.”

In future, I definitely need to make sure I do a final 24 hours of sale ad set, because they worked so much better than I anticipated.

Here’s the ad.

Someone send coffee. (Plus cost-effective advertising tips.)

The female (still) isn’t supposed to be drinking coffee, but she’s been mainlining it this week. Between a serious case of tired, annoying mouth stitches of doom, and more excitement and stress than any sentient needs, it’s mandatory. Just like me investigating the new box of toys the human provided yesterday was mandatory.

These ones are still my favorite, and she buys them in bulk from Chewy.com. Chewy’s the best! The female goes onto the glowy clickie box, hands them currencies, and they send me toys!

I have more than thirty of these toys now, and they are all mine because they are my favorite.

So. As I’ve taken over the blog to talk about the female’s sales drive this week, we’re going to do that again! This time, I’m going to focus on cost-effective advertising methods. This is for those who want to start fiddling with ads and don’t know where to begin–and want to make money doing it.

As explained before, the female is doing a “loss lead” campaign. This means she’s going in knowing she’s spending more than she’s earning to reach new readers. The point of a loss lead campaign isn’t to make money–it’s to connect with readers who want to read her stuff.

The other type of advertising is a ROI-centric campaign. ROI stands for “Return on Investment,” and ROI is king when you’re trying to make money.

ROI campaigns are challenging. Most authors don’t have sufficient tools to track the productivity of their clicks. Even when you use affiliate tracking, Amazon prunes out any leads they feel came from friends, family, or acquaintances. (This is especially easy for them to do on facebook, as facebook and Amazon share user data. Please note that anything you click, look at, or otherwise investigate on Amazon does get reported to facebook for advertising purposes. It’s near to impossible to shut off, and it will color your advertising efforts as an author.)

That’s okay, though. Why? This data is what makes you able to advertise to actual readers.

Here’s how it works:

Reader Bob goes onto Amazon and buys 25 fantasy novels, 5 science fiction novels, and 1 romance novel. Reader Bob has now been entered into facebook’s algorithms as liking these things. It also recognizes he really likes fantasy novels, and will be a valuable target to authors who write fantasy novels.

When you set up an ad, and you select fantasy as a target category, your ad will appear to him.

Otherwise, you would be stuck advertising blindly to random people–people who might not even like books! (Yeah, I know. That thought makes us sad, too.)

So, I’m going to showcase one of the best performing ads for volume and for cost. Ironically, while advertising was open to men and women, women clicked on this ad so much more than we expected.

The distribution was 75% men and 25% women. It’s worth noting that she does not usually target men because the female writes romance-heavy books; their clicks tend to be far more expensive. So, this ad was shown to a high number of people who hadn’t seen her books before.

The ad worked out to $0.26 per click. Here’s what the demographic breakdown looks like:

So, you’ve seen what the ad actually looks like, you’ve seen the demographics. Why did this ad work? Well, sex sells, I guess–despite there not being any actual sex within the pages of the female’s books.

That leads us to why this ad set actually did well. The image and the creative were important… but the targeting is the real reason it performed.

Here’s a peek at the targeting she used.

Using market research that she hired her PA to do for her, the female created this list. It consists of three tiers. In tier 1, she defines readers in bulk. This is anything to do with e-reader devices, reading, and so on.

Next, she only wanted people who liked humor or romantic comedies, so she narrowed the audience.

Then, to make certain she’s hitting people who are interested in speculative fiction, she used her market research data, which consists of about 1,000 spec fic authors, the vast majority of them writing urban fantasy or paranormal romance. There are some other authors sprinkled in that may or may not work, but for her purposes, they worked fantastically.

For this specific list, she left off most of the broad keywords, instead using mostly author names for refinement.

This worked out to a pool of 14,000,000 readers, with a shocking number of them men. This ad was made with men in mind, but the human was very pleasantly surprised by how well it worked.

Targeting is critical. If you advertise to the wrong people, you are wasting your money. When the female does reader outreach campaigns, like the one with this set, she wants to hit the highest number of readers possible while still focusing on decent targeting. In ROI campaigns, the more specific you can get, the better off you are. Smaller advertising pools can help you get better leads for the purpose of cheap sales. (The issue with this lies in volume. You can get a really good ROI campaign, but you’ll only get a handful of sales per day on a good day.)

That’s fine. It’s cost efficient, and you may earn new readers more efficiently that way, but it will be a very slow and long battle. Volume is more expensive, but you can reach a substantial number of interested readers who may become buyers later.

The trick with advertising of any sort is the long game.

How much can you spend and still make a profit down the road if your books are good enough to make people want to continue reading?

Not all books are created equal, and if you’re able to get the first sales but you aren’t enticing the readers to continue reading, as the author, you need to evaluate what you’re doing wrong.

If you’re targeting to the wrong audience, your book could be great but it’s in the wrong hands.

Or you may need to go back to the drawing table and work on improving your writing. (And in reality? Working on improving your writing is a process that never ends. The great writers go into every book wondering how they can make this one even better than the last.)

The female creates lovely little mental breakdowns for herself worrying about this stuff all the time. There is a fine line between “wanting to improve” and “slaughtering the book through unnecessary editing in the quest for improvement.”

There’s also a line between “wanting to improve” and “no longer telling the story you wish to tell for the sake of the almighty dollar.”

The female often writes books she just doesn’t think will work well on the market, but she loves the story, so she writes it anyway. Even knowing there will be readers who just won’t like it because it wasn’t written for the market, it was written for herself.

Any time you do advertising for a book, it’s important to remember there are so many factors at play in earning a sale. The cover has to attract the reader. The description needs to lure them into checking the sample. The sample needs to engage them. Only then will they buy.

And it begins with your first impression, your ad.

In her past experiences, while the CPC is higher, she finds ads with snippets of the writing and a related, textless picture work the best at landing the actual sale.

They clicked after being exposed to your writing style, and they’ve already decided they’re intrigued by what they’ve seen.

Most people will wander off. At a $0.26 CPC rate and a $1.99 cost per US sale rate, that’s a 1 in 7.6 conversion rate approximately. (The female wanted her ads to be between 20-30 cents during this campaign, so using the 0.26 CPC figure for estimates is fairly legitimate.)

This means that for every 7.6 people to click the link, 1 purchased.

Some may have downloaded samples to decide if they want to buy later, too. That’s always a possibility.

As of this point in time, the female has spent approximately $11,000 across all advertising networks for a grand total of 5,024 US sales. That’s $2.18 per sale. (SQUEE.)

She hit her basic numbers (close enough!!) for her acquisitions; some sales were more expensive than others. The only ads she’s running at this point are the really cost-effective ones, which will (hopefully) bring the total cost per sale down.

It’s worth it to the female. She really wants to reach many new readers and continue to build her career.

In reality, if 500 of these readers go on to become fans, she will consider this to be a screaming success. It’s not about the profit in the short term. It’s about finding the low number of people who love her style of books. That’s the entire point of advertising: to reach those readers who will love what you write as much as you loved writing it.

The female is looking to start new relationships with more readers–hopefully readers who will begin to trust her to entertain them every new release.

Decide for yourself how much a new reader is worth. The female picked $2 because there is a decent chance enough people will buy at least one book to cover the cost of the advertising campaign. Will 5,000 people buy another book? Bloody unlikely!

That’s okay, though. Over time, her efforts will pay off. It just might take a few months–or a few years–for that to happen.

And the female? She’s okay with that.

She whole-heartedly welcomes those of you who are reading her books for the first time, and we hope that you have a blast.

Happy reading!

The Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) Starter Pack will be on sale for $0.99 until Sunday.

Edit: Human can’t math. Human’s math has been corrected. See note about needing coffee.

For Authors: Progress of the Sales Drive & More on Ad Monitoring.

As of 8:13 AM PST, the female has sold 4,178 books in the US that qualify for USA Today. In total, she’s sold 5,299 copies of the book.

For 3 days and 8 hours of work, this is fucking incredible. She’s over the moon with delight. As she’s mentioned before, while listing on a solo effort is a dream of hers, the real goal here is to reach a lot of new readers–and hopefully be able to continue working on the Magical Romantic Comedy series on a more reliable level.

It’s not without downside. Pirates have been having a field day with the set, but she’s trying not to think too hard about the readers who want everything for free. (Please, go to your local library and request the books. The set is available in hardcopy, which your library can order for you. It’s also available in several large digital library systems.)

You can still read for free while supporting the authors who work hard to entertain you.

(Also, it’s becoming more evident that pirates are embedding viruses into the files they’re spreading, so all you’re doing is putting your computer at risk when you download books illegally. Did you really believe pirates are stealing material out of their kindness of their own hearts? Seriously. They’re trying to make money off of you, be it through ad views or ransomeware.)

The human, while sighing over this unfortunate reality, is dealing with it. There’s muttering. So much muttering. Curses are sprinkled throughout the muttering.

She’ll be all right. She understood this would happen going into this venture.

It just particularly sucks when the pirates go after something that’s $0.99, especially when the books within the set are worth ~$28.

Insert image of childish temper tantrum here.

At current, she has spent ~$8,900 to sell 5,299 books, which is $1.67 a book! This is below her target goal per acquisition! (Yes, that’s not for USA Today qualifying books, but while the human does what to list as a consequence of her efforts, she loves her readers wherever they’re from.)

It has cost her $2.13 per US reader, which is over what her hoped for $2 per sale figure was, but this is still delightful, and the human is very happy!

Where does she go now from here?

Into the slow swan dive of decline, alas.

While she still has budget, she’s not going to blow out funds unnecessarily. So, today, she begins the hard work of honing ads. All ads over $0.30 per click have been turned off. Any ads that creep over that amount face the same fate.

To try to work towards optimizing her ads, she’s taking the opportunity to reuse all the ads she turned off, lowering their spend substantially, and allowing them to run. The ones that hit into her target goals of below $0.30 a click will stay. The rest will go.

After this batch, there won’t be any new ads created.

So, the goal at this point is to get 700 US sales between now and Sunday evening. That should give her enough sales to qualify for listing without blowing through her excess budget.

Assuming she spends every penny she currently has allotted to ads, she will spend her entire $20,000 budget. (Yes, that’s nuts. There’s over $11,000 worth in queued ads to test out right now. Yes, yes, yes, that’s insane.)

But if she can get the cost per sales down to the $2 mark for that entire ad spend, it was money well spend and a promise made, promise kept.

It won’t happen. What will happen is that 50% of the ads she loaded in for the final half of the week will flop out of the gate with only $5-10 spent. This is how ads work.

You test something, find out if it works. You test it again, because especially on facebook, an ad that doesn’t work one day will do incredibly well the next. Then you test it again, because facebook ad system can be dumb.

The female can’t even with facebook ads sometimes. Once, she kept trying this one dumb ad, and for the most part, it kept hovering around the $0.25 CPC mark. She reloaded it for like the fifth time, changing nothing, ad dropped to $0.09 CPC and stayed there for hundreds of dollars of spend.

It can happen. But it sometimes means you have to test ads over and over and over, and you have to be willing to risk some money to figure out what sort of ads might work when the stars align.

By the way, if you get an ad that does work, change nothing. You can increase your budget, but it’ll stop working as well. ALL ads stop working as well over time. That’s how it works. But sometimes, you just get this one ad that is magical.

Love it when it happens.

I know some people are rolling their eyes over my allowed $0.30 CPC rating.

I am hunting for premium readers. They cost more money. I could get $0.03 CPC if I wanted to target readers globally. I don’t want to target readers globally. So, when you’re setting your goals, decide what kind of reader you want. Yes, you can get cheaper readers than what I target, but I am targeting readers who become buyers later. If your goal is pure ROI, you want to target anyone who will read your books.

I’m only targeting very specific American readers. This means my ads cost more money out of the gate.

The best I’ve ever had on a US ad campaign has been $0.09 CPC, and that’s on a premium, heavily restricted list.

Your mileage will vary.

Anyway, the female is really happy with her efforts, win or lose. Well, realistically, she’s already won. She started the week hoping to get 5,000 sales. (US Sales, but frankly, she’s taking the 5,299 total sales, strutting around the apartment like a lunatic, and taking it.)

One day, her true dream is to be able to do this with a new release. That is the real goal of her ventures and investing so heavily in the Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) series.

She wants to reach readers who enjoy her books and want to have fun adventures with her.

Will that happen? We’ll find out!

Stay tuned. At the end of the week, she will buckle down, sit down, and showcase off the best of the best for ads, the worst of the worst, and otherwise discuss the oddities that is book promotion on facebook.

Oh, were you wondering about her bookbub and AMS efforts?

She gave each site several thousand to play with, but she has no AMS or BookBub paid ads fu, so she’s spent pennies at either site.

Facebook and the BookBub Featured Deal has carried 99% of the weight of this venture.

Status Update: The Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) Series

We need to talk, humans.

This decision has been several books into the making, but unless circumstances change (significantly) with the May 16, 2019 release of Burn, Baby, Burn, the Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) series will be discontinued. We know this decision will upset some people, but all good things need to come to an end, and my human hates hearing how readers complain about how a series should have died at $x number book in the series.

No Kitten Around started the trend of lower average ratings for reviews, which was kinda mostly continued with Blending In, and saw a noticeable dive with Cheetahs Never Win. (Before my human discussed this issue and the series’ imminent end on Facebook, the book had dropped to 4.3* average and had less than 70% 5* ratings.)

To our human, that’s a very clear sign it’s time to hang the series out to dry and work on something else the readers may like more.

Maybe it’s a matter of the haters speaking louder. Maybe people just couldn’t be bothered to buy or review the book.

But here are the facts:

Sales were down.

Reviews were not as happy as before. (Lower average stars, etc, etc, etc.)

This was not a one-off book decision. This was over multiple titles. Sales are a touchy figure to discuss, but here’s a basic truth of the situation:

Cheetahs Never Win was up for preorder a month longer than No Kitten Around, and it barely kept pace with No Kitten Around. Blending In had a similar preorder length to No Kitten Around and sold hundreds of copies less than either other title.

The first week sales are pretty critical for a book, but the human does consider sales after the first week, too.

Sales have been down, period.

Most of that is on the human. She wrote the book. She wrote the description for the book. She picked the cover art. Combined, these things aren’t selling the books.

That’s fine. Sometimes a series just needs to die. Really, it’s okay. We know there are a lot of people out there who enjoy the series, but the human gambled on audibook, signing a contract for Cheetahs Never Win to put it into production to learn the gamble is likely to fail even before the sample 15 minutes is recorded.

Sales of the digital copies generally reflect sales of the audio copies, and it isn’t looking promising at this point. Honestly, the human doesn’t expect Cheetahs Never Win will earn back using the math that she must do to keep writing. (40% goes to taxes, 40% goes to the household, 20% goes to paying for everything she needs to write.)

As sales drop, that 20% figure becomes smaller and smaller, so the human can’t afford to write books people don’t want to read or buy.

The human enjoys writing all sorts of things, and she has a lot of stories she’d love to write that she has high hopes will perform well.

But here’s the thing: she’s already putting in a LOT of books on the schedule this year that will probably not earn back for 3, 4, or 5 years.

Steel Heart is one of these books.

Wild Wolf and The Edge of Midnight are two more of these books.

She’s also working on continuing the Requiem series. More of these books.

She’s doing this because she loves the books and readers have asked.

But they’re poor fiscal decisions.

She really can’t afford to keep writing books people aren’t happy with or have lost interest in and/or just don’t want to see continued.

The Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) books are starting to join the ranks of books that may not earn back.

It’s a gamble she can’t afford right now.

To see this change, this is what needs to happen:

Sales for future books need to go up rather than down. (Burn, Baby, Burn is essentially the series’ last chance for a while.) The human has picked 3,500 combined preorder and release week sales as the number needed to keep the series trucking at around two books a year, with one more Magical Romantic Comedy coming out in 2019 if it reaches the benchmark. 2020 will depend on how many, but she’ll likely do one on May 16, 2020 because that’s what she always does, even if the series does ultimately ‘die.’ (But we’ll see.)

Otherwise, books will release as the human has budget and covers and finishes them on the side.

That does mean there will be more (see the list above) but there won’t be any guarantees on when and why. There won’t be any preorders, and my human will stop investing in the series in general.

Here’s the thing: she just invested $10,000 to breathe life back into this series. While she made the $10,000 back… barely… it did not work as well as hoped. She’ll ultimately make a profit from the investment as new readers pick up the other titles in the series, but the promotion just didn’t do anywhere near as well as hoped.

To her, it feels like the series has reached a plateau, and that’s okay. Maybe it has. It hasn’t been due to a lack of effort on her part, but it’s hard when she busts her ass on a huge ad campaign to drive new readers to a book and it just doesn’t work as well as hoped.

She’s considering herself exceptionally fortunate that the gamble made back its money at all. But she’s not expecting to see much of a profit. That’s life.

But it’s definitely a factor in the decision to retire the series from active production once Burn, Baby, Burn releases.

If this decision bothers you, there are things you can do to help:

1: Be bothered to leave honest reviews. Sometimes, a series just needs to die. That’s okay. Be honest. But please, be bothered. If only the unhappy people leave reviews, then their voices will be heard over those who love the series.

And thus, the series dies quietly, much to the confusion of those who loved the books and don’t understand why the series might be ending.

2: Contact your local libraries and request the books, especially if the book is not yet for sale. They can preorder for their library, too! Their sales definitely count as copies sold.

3: Convince your friends to try the series out. To help out with this, our human has permanently set the price of Playing with Fire to $0.99.

She’s trying, but there comes a point where it’s not worth the time and general investment to continue trying. That’s okay. The Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) books have been a joy for her to write, even during the difficult times.

There will be new books, other series, and books that have humor, snark, and sass in high quantities. But there’ll be science fiction action adventure romps, pirate books with sentient ships, magic, and romance, and all sorts of other things going on.

For long-term series, her next large series is called Seeking the Zodiacs, and the first book will release later in 2019. It will have 13 books in total; one prequel novel and 12 main series books. (You guessed it, one for each Zodiac.)

She’s really looking forward to sharing Hypnos with you, as she’s been having a blast working on it.

But, as always, the ultimate decision on a series’ fate is in the readers’ hands. This has always been the case in publishing. Publishers won’t continue to release books that aren’t selling, and they’re not likely to continue even a trilogy if the first two books don’t do as well as they need.

As an indie, our human has more flexibility than a traditional publisher. But she pays all the bills herself.

And that means when three books in the series start to strike out, perhaps it’s time to say goodbye for a while… at least as a main project series.

After post edit note: Burn, Baby, Burn won’t be available for preorder until 90 days prior to its release date per Amazon’s rules.

Dear Authors: Working with a Cover Artist

Hey, readers.

The Sneaky Kitty Critic here. This post may or may not interest you. It’s more to help other authors out there, but the blog is the best place for this information rather than the human’s preferred facebook. As a consolation prize, here’s a picture of me being majestic.

The magic rectangle box turned me onto my side, but it appears I have retained my cuteness, so this is acceptable.

The medicine the human female keeps giving me has helped some, so we went on a walk. I kept playing with my leash, and this translated to the human pulling out her glowy rectangle box.

Whatever. I got three walks the other day. I’ve reestablished my position as the dominant female.

Now, onto the show.

Before I begin, my human would like me to remind everyone that these are her opinions, which I’m sanitizing to be better suited to feline temperaments.

If your sensibilities require it, we request you add ‘in her opinion’ in front of everything. Typing this crap up is hard on a kitty, and Princess is being huffy today, so I have to do the work. Go figure.

Before I begin, take two, this post was done with the blessings of Rebecca Frank of Bewitching Book Covers. Normally, she doesn’t give out the draft material as public shares, but my human begged, and Rebecca kindly agreed to allow two drafts to be used in this post to help illustrate how some designers work. Every designer has a different method, so please be aware of this.

Now, that disclaimer aside, if your artist isn’t providing a concept or draft of your art, there is likely a problem.

Those of you familiar with Rebecca Frank are already aware that she books over a year in advance. Her art is amazing and worth it. Right now, the only way to get onto her client list is through purchasing a premade cover through one of her auctions. Rarely, she opens application for new series work. Some artists have long booking cycles. This is often due to a mixture of art quality, popularity, and price. Rebecca Frank, in the totally-biased opinion of the human, hits all three marks with top points.

Rebecca Frank has done work for all of the authors RJ Blain writes as with one exception. This exception is a critical element of the cover art world.

When you are picking a cover artist, you are picking them for their expertise in graphic design, marketing savvy for genre, and ability to create a product that will help you sell your book.

My human adores Rebecca Frank, but my human would never hire Rebecca Frank for a cover outside of certain fields of science fiction and fantasy. Rebecca Frank’s strengths lie in paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and various flavors of fantasy and science fiction.

Rebecca Frank isn’t a good choice for a contemporary romance cover of any stripe. For that, my human goes to Daqri Bernardo of Covers by Combs, who has also done many covers across all of my human’s brands.

Both have different strengths, and my human picks the project based on who would do the best job for the tone, appearance, and marketing needs she has for a specific cover.

For this post, however, I’m going to focus on my human’s work with Rebecca.

It begins with a concept. Now, here’s something of importance: when you purchase a premade from Rebecca Frank, the cover’s general concept will be predetermined by the premade; the branding elements are already in place. The process is easier on Rebecca because key elements are already finished. (For example, the font and text layout are generally predetermined.)

This post goes into the complete process, assuming you’re not working from a premade. But, it’s important to know that unless you’re on Rebecca’s new series client list, you’ll have restrictions on your series continuation. (You can’t buy a premade and launch a new series using the slot you’ve acquired as part of being a premade buyer.)

All of Rebecca’s design projects begin at the same place: with a form. The form asks for a variety of information, and this information is CRITICAL to get your cover made.

Nothing annoys a graphic designer quite like an unprepared client who doesn’t know what they need in a cover. Seriously, covers are critical. If you’re booking a cover with a designer, KNOW WHAT YOU NEED. Seriously people!!! Know what you need!

This requires work from you. Don’t be that person who, on the day of booking, has no idea what you want because you didn’t invest any time thinking about your cover. Your cover is CRITICAL, humans! SO CRITICAL.

Here’s what you need to get a design project rolling:

1: Title, Series, Author Name.

These are the basics, but you have no idea how often I hear various designers I work with wailing because their client, who has been booked with them for months, has put in zero thought into their title or series name.

We of the Furred & Finned Management understand this stuff is intimidating. Ask some trusted friends, who are making a lot of money with their books, for advice.

Don’t trust a marketer who is not making any money with their books OR their clients books for advice. Seriously.

Follow the money, sniff at it like it’s a delicious, tasty treat, and ask, “why does this work?”

Don’t have a trusted friend who is making money?

Go take a look at the USA Today Bestseller list and the top 100 books on Amazon. These novels are selling. They’re selling for a reason. This reason may be “good marketing” but it’s likely “This title, series, book cover, and description are doing its job of selling a book to a wide audience.”

Don’t be that person who has done zero market research. My human has said this before: unless you’re writing purely as a hobby, with Z E R O care you never make any money, you need to take the time to look into the market, understand where your books fit into it, and where you might be going wrong. While there are trailblazers in the industry, your book needs to stand high over the rest to have any hope of creating a successful niche.

In short, don’t go in expecting to be the next great new author. Realistically, it’s not happening.

Plan on busting your asses, humans. That’s what it takes to thrive in publishing. (And it’s a brutal, hard job.)

Understand your market. It helps. Really.

2: THE COVER NEED NOT PERFECTLY FIT YOUR BOOK.

Underline that. Add italics. Fling glitter. Your book cover IS A MARKETING TOOL.

It is not a “Perfectly match this one scene you really like self-indulgence” tool. And yes, when you cater a cover to perfectly match a scene or personal mental image, it becomes a tool of self-indulgence rather than a marketing tool.

That cover has one purpose in life: TO SELL YOUR BOOK.

If your cover is there to ‘perfectly match your book’s interior,’ you’re probably doing it wrong.

I’m not even sorry for being blunt about this opinion, humans.

Time and time again, we of the Furred & Finned Management have seen good covers be ruined by authors who didn’t understand that a cover’s job is to sell the book.

While Rebecca does do things differently depending on project, once you’ve given her the information she needs to begin work, the design typically begins with the typography. This is how the text will look on the finished cover. That Rebecca begins with the typography is, to my human, a huge advantage. A cover that’s made and has text slapped onto it will always be a cover made with text slapped onto it. My human prefers when the text is a cohesive part of the cover’s design, with the art married to the text from the very beginning.

The rebrand of my human’s Witch & Wolf series began with a black screen and white text. This shows the fonts to be used, the layout of the title text, and the basic concept.

In this specific case, my human picked the font, as she’d fallen in love with it on a site. Rebecca also liked the font, resulting in its use!

The human was very excited about this font. So excited she bought it for herself. I’m not really sure why, as she has the photoshopping skills of a blind rat, but whatever. It made her happy.

What my human liked about this text layout is that it’s different. It stands out. The font is wonderfully gritty and really represents the series well. It’s also elegant, which my human likes.

My human just likes it.

Once the text layout is set, it becomes a waiting game. My human? Soooo dying to see the beauty that would be her new covers.

In this specific case, Rebecca Frank was designing two covers at the same time because they’re the same character, so it made sense to do them at the same time. She doesn’t usually do this. (Bookings are staggered by a few weeks, but the cards fell in such a way where we started the rebrand on two days in the same week.)

Every designer is different and likes working on books in a different way, so talk with your designer about their method.

So, because Rebecca Frank did both at once, my human got to approve both images at one time. I’ll begin with Inquisitor.

Please note this is the DRAFT version.

Like, seriously. It looks great, but it’s a draft version.

It gets better.

So much better.

Why am I using so many short sentences on new lines?

I’m a cat, human. That’s why.

Well, being serious, I need to make space for the next cover, which is the final version of Inquisitor.

Yes, humans. The image takes space and things.

Reasons.

Also, I’m a cat.

So. Here’s the final cover in all its glory. The colors have been brightened. Magic has been added. The ornamental glyph has been brightened and made to stand out.

Hair has been painted. Clothing has been adjusted. Highlights added.

Persnickety things.

Now, you might ask why an old book like Inquisitor got a new cover. It’s a multi-part reason.

The original cover just wasn’t selling. My human really wants to be able to write more Witch & Wolf books, but in order for that to happen, they have to sell better.

She also wants to do audio books, which means she needs to have audio book covers for them. My human couldn’t affordably acquire the rights to get the audio covers; it was cheaper to have new covers done, and since the original covers weren’t selling well, it made sense to gamble and do a complete series rebranding.

(Yes, there’s a noticeable difference already. On November 4, Inquisitor will be a Bookbub Featured Deal, so keep an eye out if you don’t have the book already!)

Now, we’re not done yet.

There’s still the print spread to worry about. Yeah. Print covers. Print covers are complicated. If you use KDP, it’s a little less complicated, but… you need a cover artist you can trust, especially if you use Ingram Spark like my human does. My human wanted affordable distribution to libraries, and Ingram provides that much better than Amazon. Beyond that, it’s personal preference. My human feels the print quality is better at Ingram, but there are downsides, too. If you’re not in the Alliance of Independent Authors, there are a lot of fees at ingram. My human is a member. At current, my human estimates she has saved approximately $500 on fees from having a membership. She’s also making more money on print books with zero extra effort. Bonus: fans are no longer complaining books aren’t available because Amazon dropped the distribution ball after the Createspace to KDP switchover.

In short, my opinionated human claims you can take Ingram out of her cold, dead hands. And as people want more books, don’t take it from her. Who else is foolish enough to do my bidding?

So, back to the specifics. To build a print copy, you need a page count, trim size (physical size of book,) know if you’re using white or cream paper (they’re different thicknesses, which changes the spine size,) and have a description for the back of the book.

Ingram users also need the book’s print ISBN. You may need to know the price of your book as well.

Yeah. It’s complicated.

In good news, audiobook covers are not as complicated, humans! You just need to ask your designer for them, and they magically appear. After you pay them, of course. Because they do magic to make the covers look wonderful in all format sizes.

The Furred & Finned Management thinks it’s very pretty.

And yes, as soon as my human figures out the details, she’ll be working to get the main Witch & Wolf books into audio. It really depends on if she can find a good producer.

It’s complicated.

Publishing is very complicated.

At the end of the day, it’s worth while for my human. But it’s complicated.

The easiest thing you can do for yourself is to follow instructions. Designers ask questions for a reason. Give them an honest answer and let them do their job.

So often, an author’s worst enemy when it comes to covers? Themselves.

So, as a recap, here’s The Sneaky Kitty Critic’s Guide to Not Fucking Up Your Cover:

  1. Pick an artist who specializes in YOUR genre.
  2. Do not base your cover on a specific scene in the book. It rarely works well.
  3. Colors, tone, and ‘feel’ of the cover matter, and it should match the MAJORITY of your book. Your cover is how a reader decides if it matches their reading interests.
  4. Don’t nitpick the cover to death. Seriously. Nothing breaks a cover artist’s general enthusiasm for your project than beating them to death with nitpicks. Correct errors, yes. But don’t nag them about every little detail. It never helps you and does hurt you. An enthusiastic artist does better work. Don’t beat the enthusiasm out of your artist being nitpicky. You want quality work. But you want quality art that isn’t a battle. If your artist can’t provide high quality work without needing you to nitpick them to death… you picked the wrong artist. Pick a new one.
  5. BE ENTHUSIASTIC. An artist who sees you’re excited and happy with the work is more excited about your book, too. If you’re apathetic towards your own cover, can you really expect your artist to be enthusiastic? No. Bring a good attitude to the table. It really helps.
  6. Bring a good attitude to the table. Seriously. If you’re a jerk, your artist isn’t going to give you their best work. They’re going to save their heart and soul for a client who isn’t a jerk. Treat them well, and they will treat you well. (And yes, this is a complain that the Furred & Finned Management has heard directly from designer friends who have hell clients who suck the joy out of work. Don’t be on of those people.)
  7. To continue on to point 6: Just like an author can move on from a cover artist, cover artists can fire authors. If you like a cover artist’s work, treat them well. Pay them promptly. Respect their work and contracts. (Don’t be that person who hasn’t read the contract and becomes upset when the contract bites you in the butt. Contracts are legally binding, and you’re buying a complicated license for your art.)
  8. Last but not least, understand that you’re buying a license. Unless you provide *ALL IMAGES AND FONTS AND DESIGN TOOLS* you are purchasing licenses to use those images, fonts, and tools in specific ways. You do not have unlimited rights to these images. You do not own the art or original images. Even if you get exclusive image stock, unless YOU took that picture and YOU own the COMPLETE rights to the image… it’s not yours to do with as you please. Read your contracts and terms of licensing. The contracts for cover designers will make a lot more sense then. P.S.: You often license custom illustrations, too. Having an artist paint you a picture doesn’t necessarily mean YOU own that image. You just may ‘own’ a better license for that image. Know. What. You’re. Buying.

Good luck, human!

 

A Cat’s Guide to Bad Businesses with Good Authors

Dear humans,

If you’re a reader, this may not interest you. Sorry. Every now and then, the Furred & Finned Management goes out on a limb to help another struggling author try to turn their bad business into success. My human? She loves helping people. She can’t help a lot of people, but she’ll try to take another author under her wing to give them a better chance of turning their dreams into reality.

But sometimes, sometimes we come across something so boggling we need to tell a cautionary tale of how not to run a business. Honestly, this applies to most businesses.

The Furred & Finned Management would like to state we have the author’s permission to discuss this venture.

It began with a single word: taxes.

You might want to grab a drink for this one, possibly some headache medicine, because meeeooooooooow, with an emphasis on the ow.

I’m convinced no one actually likes doing taxes. My human finds some form of glee in certain elements of the venture, such as turning a chaotic pile of receipts into something that actually makes sense. But in reality? Come tax season, the Furred & Finned Management works overtime keeping the human from brutally disemboweling herself with a rusty spoon before committing an act of self-defenestration. After making use of some gasoline and a match.

Fun stuff.

Well, one of her closer friends is an author, too, and the tax issue came up. Since my human was working with new software, she volunteered to help her friend make sense of the taxes and get her set up for better business practices. practices that would let her friend actually make sense of the expenditures and things like that.

For those of you who want to follow along or poke at the software being used, we’re using QuickBooks Self-Employed. (Why yes, I did just slip in an affiliate link on my human’s behalf. Because it’s a good business practice to try to earn as much legitimate funds/savings as possible. More on that later.)

We’re mostly using this software to make a sensible list of our receipts, our transactions, and our income to hand over to our various accountants at tax time and track how much our quarterly payments should be. It’s very useful for that. So very useful. My human loves it, because as long as she takes the 20 extra seconds when paying for something, she no longer has to worry about it later. Building good habits is a critical part of running a successful business.

My human’s friend? She’s a good author with a bad business.

Boy, is it ever a bad business. Ouch.

(And yes, we really did get her permission to post this shit. She’s currently in her box of shame while wearing her cone of shame, and she’s okay with this… because the Furred & Finned Management is going to call out the human for having done similar shit earlier in her career.)

But this is how and why my human recognizes the mistakes her friend has made. For the sake of this post, her friend’s name is Meowy McMeowyson.

Meowy McMeowyson loves bright, shiny things.

Meowy McMeowyson has many stories she wishes to tell.

Meowy McMeowyson wants to succeed and thinks of the future.

Meowy McMeowyson works hard.

Meowy McMeowyson does a lot of the right things.

Meowy McMeowyson does them all in the wrong way. And yes, there is a wrong way, humans. No one likes admitting that, but it’s the truth.

There are right and wrong ways to operate a business, and it’s very easy to do things the wrong way. This isn’t a post to teach you the intricacies of running a profitable business. The Furred & Finned Management would have to write an entire book on it. In the writing business, it’s really hard. Really hard. For every author who succeeds, there are at least a hundred more who never break even on their stories. I think the actual statistic is even less in an author’s favor. In reality, most authors spend their hard-earned money from other work to pay for expenses. And it’s hard justifying putting cheaper food on the table to write a book.

My human started that way, too. She did a lot of extra freelance work. She scraped the barrel for pennies and may have robbed a few couches of their loose change to get started. She begged for help getting started through a crowd funding campaign. Luck factored in her being able to continue writing. The male human played an even bigger roll, letting her muddle through on the extra earnings the household brought in trying to transform her hobby into a career.

My human made many of the same mistakes Meowy McMeowyson has made.

Here’s what the mistakes were and why they’re mistakes.

1: Money Matters

Publishing is hard. Advertising a book is hard. You need a strong cover, a better book description, and even better writing to make a sale. Here’s a tough pill to swallow: money matters. Cover art is the easiest element of the sales triad. You pay someone good money to make something beautiful designed to sell your book. Writing the book description requires a deep knowledge of the market. If you don’t know who your audience is, you won’t know how to write descriptions meant to cater to them. The hardest part is writing, editing, and formatting the actual book. No one likes being told their book needs work. No one likes being told the reason a book isn’t selling is because the book itself lacks that spark that makes a reader want to turn the page.

My human is constantly working at writing a better book. It’s hard on her because she just wants to write. But she wants to entertain. But she also needs to make money.

Money matters.

This is her only source of income. It’s how she puts food on the table. She works far more than 40 hours a week putting words on the page and bringing them to market. There are a lot of people out there who say money shouldn’t matter to authors and that they should love (and publish) for the love of writing.

No. Money matters. For authors who rely on their books to feed them, writing is a business, not a charity. My sister and I, as well as the finned menaces, rely on the money our humans bring in to take care of us. And we only get to see any of the money for food, rent, and bills if all our staff has been paid and the government has gotten their share of the pie.

Only then do we see any of the money.

Money matters. Money matters. Money matters. For hobbyists or those who are wealthy enough to spend a lot of money on a single book, by all means. Write for passion alone. But please, please, please remember that many of your favorite authors are treating their books as full-time jobs and rely on their income to feed themselves and their family.

Money fucking matters.

Please don’t feed the mentality that your favorite authors don’t deserve a paycheck. Take a moment to imagine a world without entertainment.

Turn on the tv. Imagine what it is like to flip through the channels to find only dour, serious news reports paid for by the government. You have the weather channel. You have some government-funded documentaries.

There are no movies. They require writers.

There are no television shows. They require writers.

There are no children’s shows. They require writers.

They require actors. They require artists. They require makeup artists. They require graphic designers. They require musicians.

Imagine a world without music.

You turn on the television, and there’s not even a jingle to separate the segments of the news. There are no theme songs. There are no background melodies anymore.

There’s silence.

Artists, writers, musicians… they all deserve to be paid.

Money really matters, and the mentality that authors shouldn’t be paid because they’re frivolous hurts everybody. Free, free, free only takes you so far.

Imagine a world without art. Without music. Without movies, television, or books. It’s a dark, dreary place without life and spark.

Whether you realize it or not, art is an everyday part of your live. Even the clothes you wear today is the result of an artist’s hard work.

Forgetting that money matters is a huge mistake for everyone involved, and the failure to pay attention and focus one’s efforts (financially) is a recipe for disaster.

2: Only Buy what you NEED

My human is the crowned champion of failing at this so hard core. Nowadays, she plans differently. She can get away with that because she’s investing profits back into her business. When you’re not making profit, the Furred & Finned Management would like to take a moment to remind you to avoid buying that thing you don’t need.

You want to keep writing (and selling) books. We get that. We definitely get that. And nothing is stopping you from doing that. Do it, but do it wisely.

Meowy McMeowyson is very, very bad at this. Meowy McMeowyson is so bad at this she’s spent over 10,000 on things she simply doesn’t need. She won’t use the things she’s purchased for at least five or six years. Maybe longer. There are some things that were purchased that will never be used.

The Furred & Finned Management, along with the helpful human with a calculator, sat down with Meowy McMeowyson and explained why this was a really bad idea.

Investing for the future is a good idea… but only if you have the excess profits to do so. The math works a little like this. (This is only for purpose of example. Please don’t use this math as your actual business practice. It’s an individual choice.)

Let’s assume it takes $1,500 to fully produce a brand new novel. This assumption includes the following: $750 for editorial. $250 for cover art. $500 for copyright fees, basic advertising, general misc expenses for the novel. My human spends between roughly $750 to $1,500 per book depending on length, cover artist, and advertising options.

That’s a lot of money.

It’s instinct to want to hunt bargains when you’re looking at a $1,500 gamble to produce a novel. (Oh, boy. Let me tell you about my human and her anxiety attacks investing that much into every book. We have to pay everything up front. Because that’s how the business works.) There are ways to lower fees, but here’s the problem.

A lot of authors buy shiny covers because they’re beautiful. My human? My human is majorly guilty of this.

So is Meowy McMeowyson.

There’s one critical difference between my human and Meowy McMeowyson. My human is taking her hard-earned profits and reinvesting them into the business. She’s hedging for rainy days. If the money runs out, she only has to worry about her editing fees. Authors who aren’t making profits should not be hedging for rainy days. Focus on the here and now. Buy only what you need.

To buy new covers, my human has to sacrifice out of her advertising budget to do so.

Here is a glorious gallery of my human’s guilt.

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My human’s friends and fans may recognize some of these covers. Fowl Play is currently available for preorder. Cheetahs Never Win will release December 25, 2018. Blood Bound will release in February 2019. Storm Called has been drafted, and my human has begun typing the story into her glowy magical rectangle box. Hidden Talents has been started, as has Sword Maiden, Cold Flame, Pirate Magic, Lost & Found, and Sink or Swim. Amber was purchased because it fit so well with The Captive King and the human had already written an opening for a novella. It was an impulse buy, however. A luxury. One she’s itching to work on but would need to take a week of time off work strictly to research to make happen.

When the end game is making money, this is a glorious gallery of unpublished mistakes.

But there are ways to transform mistakes into success. But it involves strict rationing (AKA cover bans aahahaha oops) and understanding that hedging bets is not the same as putting food on the table.

Let’s break down what this glorious gallery of mistakes cost my human.

Some facts before I start tossing numbers, may have some variation as my human can’t quite remember if two of the covers were custom or premade. (Don’t ask.):

  • Number of Custom Covers: 8
  • Number of Premade Covers: 25
  • Number of Covers beginning new series, thus leading to extra purchases: 2
  • Number of Customs purchased due to new series: 13

The covers cost my human between $140 to $200 a piece. We’ll roll with $160 as an average. The customs purchased due to new series cost $299 each.

Total Cost of this Gallery, including customs purchased due to new series: $8,889.

Meowy McMeowyson has far outspent my human in the cover department, both premade and custom.

Yeah, those numbers hurt. They hurt a lot. My human spent almost $9,000 in luxury money on cover art.

It’s also worth noting this isn’t a complete gallery of all these little mistakes made over the years. My human has many covers stashed for series completions. My human prefers to use the same artist for an entire series, so she hires according to that preference. She books the entire series with the same artist after getting the initial premade. It lowers her stress levels substantially. This is also part of hedging her bets with luxury money.

If the readers stop buying, she can keep writing because she has pretty covers.

But this is a mistake, especially if you’re not making profit to begin with. The Furred & Finned Management would also like to take a moment to remind readers mistakes can turn into success. That’s what hedge betting is all about. Some of these covers will go on books that never make a profit. That’s an unfortunate reality. Others will fly off the shelves and startle my human most gloriously.

It’s okay. If you’ve done this, it’s not going to ruin you. You’re just going to have to rein that horse in and change how you think.

For the record, my human just bought Rise, Crash, Soar, Sunshine’s Gambit, Sunshine’s Trial, and Sunshine’s Triumph because she has no restraint and when everyone says those three covers are so perfect for your brand… it’s worth making that expensive mistake.

So, here’s the compromise that you can use to keep getting those shinies while making the type of mistake you can be proud of later.

First, understand your financial situation.

Seriously. Meowy McMeowyson had no idea what her financial situation was. Literally. My human offered to help because my human has no common sense. (In this case, my human offered to be hired in a PA-type role to handle organizing and registering Meowy McMeowyson’s expenses into tax software. It is Meowy McMeowyson’s responsibility to double-check my human’s work and make sure everything matches up. What Meowy McMeowyson is doing is illustrating the problems in Meowy McMeowyson’s financial situation so they can be fixed.

Then, after you’ve acquired base understanding of your financial situation, understand where you’re going wrong.

Here are some facts of life that may trigger screaming and crying fits.

  1. A cover without a book can’t sell the book.
  2. A book without a cover can’t be sold.
  3. There’s no point in having a gorgeous cover if your readers have no way of finding you.

Let’s talk about these in closer detail.

A cover without a book can’t sell the book.

This should be obvious. No matter how pretty your new cover is, if you don’t have a book to go with it, you just flushed money down the drain. If you just bought a cover you didn’t need, there are a few ways you can handle this situation.

You can ask your cover artist if you can sell the cover at original price to someone else. Most cover artists require their permission to transfer the license to another person. (Read your contracts carefully.) And typically, the cover artist has final say in if they’ll allow that license to be transferred. (Yes… that cover doesn’t actually belong to you. You’re licensing it, typically exclusively. Many designers have unlimited licenses for digital use because that is what the stock sites have. If you have print covers, you probably have a limitation on number of print copies you can sell before you have to renew your license. Pay attention to things like this. It’s important.

Let’s talk about Huntress, my human’s newest release.

Huntress was a mistake. Actually, Huntress was a real mistake leading to a loss. My human somewhat regrets the mistakes leading up to, well, the book itself being a bit of a financial mistake. Let me set some records straight: this sounds bad. For her wallet, it is. The book failed every expectation my human set out for it. She’s proud of the book. She’ll always be proud of the book. But she does not expect that book to do that brand any favors.

Here’s the anatomy of this specific mistake.

The book cover was sold as a FCFS sale in a premade cover group. My human pounced on this cover the instant it was posted and snatched that baby up. Why? It is everything my human loves about UF/F covers. It sang to her. That part will never be a mistake. She would have to check the invoices, but the Furred & Finned Management believes the human paid $200 for the cover. The book cost ~$500 to edit. Ish. My human spent about $300 on various advertising failures trying to get the book traction. Huntress released on July 31 after a 90 day preorder cycle at $0.99. The book was increased in price to $4.99 on release day.

Huntress has made $578.27 at time of posting. This isn’t a request to buy copies. It isn’t a plea of any sort. it’s just fact. This is why the Furred & Finned Management has chosen against leaving a link to the book. This isn’t about boosting sales.

This is about the anatomy of a book launch failure.

Huntress accomplished one thing my human secretly squeals over when no one is listening: it’s her first book to ever crest 1,000 preorders. So, to the thousand of you who grabbed a copy, thank you. The Furred & Finned Management and the humans (both of them) really appreciate your support.

But if we were to look at this book from a pure business perspective, it’s a failure from top to bottom. It’s current performance will eventually lead the book to paying for itself, but it’s riding off the coattails of the successful titles. That happens. It’s okay.

but it was born as a mistake, it grew as a mistake, it published as a mistake, and it still is a mistake.

But failures can be turned to successes in time. Growing a brand, becoming profitable… it’s a journey, not a destination. There will be mistakes and failures on the way. But it’s always important to acknowledge your mistakes and failures. Success isn’t someone getting lucky. Success is taking all those mistakes and failures, piling them on top of each other, learning from them, and climbing on top so you can make another mistake or failure and climb over that one, too.

If you’ve made this mistake, it’s really okay. We all make mistakes. We all fail. We all waste money we wish we hadn’t. What matters is if you take a solid look at your business practices and decide how to turn the car around.

But every time you see that beautiful cover you think you can write the perfect book for, stop and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Can you realistically afford this right now? (IE, will you have to stop eating to pay for it?)
  2. Will you end up in debt for longer than it takes for the next royalty payment to come in?
  3. Will you use the cover within the next six months? (If a trilogy set, will you publish the first book within six months?)
  4. Have you partially written the book you will use with that cover?
  5. Will this purchase put my business in debt?
  6. Do you have a bunch of other mistakes waiting for their turn to be written?

Just stop and think about it. Wait 24 hours. If the cover is still there, think about it harder. (This is what happened to my human with the Sunshine books. So many people thought it was a perfect fit and knew my human wanted to write stories like that. She ultimately caved to peer pressure. The peer pressure cost her (and her business) $600. She regrets nothing.

Here’s the critical element of consideration: she regrets nothing.

To make it work, she’s found a way to get Sunshine’s Gambit to publish in roughly 6-8 months. (Rise, which was a minimum bid on a premade auction, will be in the 8-12 month window. Longer than my human would like, but… that’s the way it is.)

My human spent that money out of her profits after discussion with the male human as it would come out of the savings account and the household budget.

Nowadays, my human mostly relies on #4.

She also looks at her list of unfinished books with covers made and booked, which helps a lot to stop her from wanting new covers. The covers must sing to her soul and be spectacular for her to consider buying them.

Every last one of these mistakes is burning a huge hole in my human’s pocket.

Don’t be like my human. Collecting beautiful covers is a mistake if you can’t write the books fast enough.

My human should be covered for the next ten years of her career. Roughly.

(Also, it’s worth noting that both of the human’s cover artists will spray her with their water bottles of author repellent when she considers misbehaving and won’t let her spend her money unless she can justify it like what the actual fuck. The two past set acquisitions slipped under the ban due to perfection for brand and after a great deal of thought and schedule shuffling to make room for them.)

In short, my human essentially signed up for an extra 5 hours of work a week to make those six covers viable. She’s currently working 50+ hour weeks.

Everything comes at a price, and that price isn’t always money.

A Book Without a Cover Can’t be Sold.

This is the flip side of the previous point. Not having a cover is as much shooting yourself in the foot as having one without a book. Having a good cover is critical if you want that book to succeed. There’s a reason the best sellers all have professional covers. There’s also a reason all the covers in the same genre in the top rankings all look the same.

Here’s an example:

One of these is not like the others. This screenshot was taken on July 27 when Hoofin’ It had a US Bookbub. (The book did very well. On behalf of the human, the Furred & Finned Management thanks you all!)

The colors are all toned down. Hoofin’ It sticks out like a sore thumb. A very blue and yellow sore thumb. Naomi Novik’s book uses blue and yellow, too… but it’s not as bright. (It’s a gorgeous cover and us kitties love it.) But these are the types of covers that are currently selling books. Let’s just say my human takes risks in every element of her business, from marketing to covers to content. Her entire brand is founded on being different. And that leads to failure and more mountain climbing.

It’s a mistake to bank too many covers, but it’s also a mistake to not have covers when you need them. The advice, such as it is, is pretty simple: toe the line carefully.

There’s no point in having a gorgeous cover if your readers have no way of finding you.

Here’s where Meowy McMeowyson went really wrong. She spent more than five digits on covers she won’t use for at least five years and less than a thousand on advertising.

Yeah. That’s a problem.

Advertising is hard. No one really likes marketing. The newsletter droppers, outside of Bookbub, tend to be more misses than hits. My human only uses them when she’s doing a huge push during a sale. She usually loses money on those venues, but they do pay in terms of branding. (The more often someone sees a product by a person, the more comfortable they become with that product. It’s a major foundation point in marketing. You build familiarity, familiarity leads to interest, interest leads to sales.)

You want readers to go, “Oh! I saw that book before. It’s good?”

And then you want readers to also go, “Oh, yes! I read that book. It is good!”

That’s how the real magic happens. You want the sales. You want the returns on your investment… but you want your branding. You want to build a name. You want to get people used to seeing you around.

Advertising is a critical way of accomplishing that.

How you advertise will take experimentation and a lot of work. It’s hard. For some, facebook ads work marvelously well. For others, it’s a horror show. Apply this to every single marketing type ever. The Furred & Finned Management wishes every viable venue of advertising could be discussed here, but it’s just not possible. So, we’ll keep this one short and sweet.

If you have covers for the books you’re working on right now, say no to the cover and say yes to learning how to advertise your book. You’re going to lose money. You’re going to have to experiment. You might have to budget to replace that cheap cover you purchased because that’s what you could afford. You might have to rewrite you book description to make it do a better job of selling your book.

But if your book isn’t selling, there is a reason for that.

That reason is one of the following:

  1. Your cover needs to be replaced because it doesn’t look professional, doesn’t represent the genre you’re writing, or otherwise doesn’t fit your target audience.
  2. Your description needs to be rewritten.
  3. You need to work on your writing skills and focus on writing a better book.
  4. No one currently wants to read what you’re writing. (While writing to market will fix this issue in many ways, it is TOTALLY possible to sell an out-of-market title with a spectacular cover, description, and book backing both.)

This is a hard pill to swallow. No one likes being told there’s a problem with any one of these things. Fix it. Go ahead and whine in private, but seriously. There’s only one way to resolve those problems, and that’s to put your ass in the chair and work hard at fixing those problems. The cover art costs money or selling your soul to the devil or bartering to fix. (Most authors simply do not have the necessary skills to create a professional piece of cover art.) Rewriting the description takes skill, but it’s typically the easiest to fix. Politely ask your friends, who are having good success at selling their books, for help and advice. Just be aware you will have to do 95% of the work. They won’t be writing the damned thing for you… unless you offer to pay them good money for their time. Maybe then. My human doesn’t know. My human learned the hard way and have never paid anyone to write their descriptions. There are freelancers who will write descriptions for you, however. Prices vary.

As for writing a better book, keep working at it. Keep writing. Read often. Reading helps you learn to write. (Really. It does.) Learn what makes a book tick. If you’re having problems figuring it out, hire a developmental editor, one who will teach you everything. (You want someone who coaches, not just someone who will look at your plot structure and make suggestions on how you can fix it and general input. Ask before you hire. You need a comprehensive developmental editor who will give you lessons as necessary.)

These editors are the most expensive type of all. Expect to pay a lot of money with a slower turnaround. It takes time to write up those editorial letters.

And here’s the kicker: when your editor tells you you’re doing something wrong, take a good, close look at it and figure out why it’s wrong. If you don’t know, ask.

If your editor replies, “That’s how it’s done in the English language, and you can verify it in the Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Style guide…” Well, fix it. Those two books are excellent guides on how to use the English language in fiction and non-fiction.

My human’s editor finds this problem very often, so the Furred & Finned Management is going to take a moment to give you a brief lesson.

Dialogue tags. They work in a very specific fashion in the English language.

This is correct: “I love cats,” Bob said.

This is correct: “I love cats.” Bob bounced up and down in his excitement. “I really love cats!”

This is correct: “I love cats,” Bob said, bouncing up and down.

This is also correct: “The real difference between cats and dogs,” Bob said, “is where they go to take a shit.”

This also correct.” “The real difference between cats and dogs?” Bob bounced up and down. “It’s all about where they go to take a shit.”

This is NOT correct: “I love cats,” Bob bounced up and down, “I really love cats.”

Explanation why this is not correct: Bob bouncing up and down is an action, not a dialogue tag. And while you can link to segments of speech with a comma following a dialogue tag, you can’t use an action in this way.

Let’s break it down: “This is a sentence,” Bob says, which is a dialogue tag.

Says, said, tells, shouts, screams, whispers… these words are dialogue tags. Bob is speaking in some fashion.

Bob bouncing is an action. Actions are not methods of speaking.

Use a comma only when you’re following with a dialogue tag. If in doubt, simplify.

Are you using a speech form? (Said, says, screams, yells, whispers.) If yes, use a comma. “I love cats,” I whispered.

Are you using an action without a speech form? If yes, use a period. “I love cats.” I ran into the wall in my excitement.

Are you using a speech form and an action? If yes, you use a comma! “I love cats,” I whispered, rising to my feet. “I want to own every cat in the world.”

That’s dialogue tags in a nutshell. (There are some other rules, but these rules will typically help you dodge complaints from your editor.)

Ahem. Please excuse that derailing of the subject.

Back on track. In closing, running a publishing business is hard. It’s heartbreaking. It tests the limits of authors around the world. My human sees writers lose hope every day. They’ve worked for years without any success. They have piled their failures upon one another, climbed up on top, only to discover there are more failures looming on the horizon. They see success around them, and they question themselves. Why do they do this to themselves? They’ve spent so much for so little.

It hurts. Every day you’re in the hole, it cuts deeper until the only thing left is questions.

Why, why, why?

You have to decide what you want out of writing for yourself. If you want it to be luxury art, something you do for the pure joy of writing, without ever wanting to make a profit off your work… this post isn’t the place for you. (But thanks for reading it anyway.) But for those who do want to rise over that pile of failures to find success…?

It took my human over twenty books to get traction, and that was only after tens of thousands of dollars of poor choices littering the path.

Here are some of the mistakes she’s made outside of the cover work world:

  1. Spending money on services that didn’t serve her actual needs. (Knowing what you need vs what you want is tough. There’s no easy guide for that one, but… if you’re not sure it’s a good move, it probably isn’t a good move. Get recommendations for the company you’re hiring. If you find a lot of people with bad experiences and an equal number with good experiences, think about that carefully. Everyone will have a bad experience with a service provider, but if there’s a lot of negativity about a business outside of ‘oh my god so expensive’ then there’s possibly a problem. A good way to validate someone’s experience is to ask how much they spent on the services, total. (If someone has spent more than $10,000 on a company and has a list of reasons why not… that’s definitely worth a little more than someone who spent $100 on a company and had a bad experience. Ask for details, listen, and judge for yourself. Do this for every provider.))
  2. Not listening to gut instincts on red flags better. (If you feel something is wrong, it probably is.)
  3. Hanging out with the wrong crowd. (Wait, what? Okay, here’s the deal. Authors are great support if you’re hanging with the right tribe. Singular people? Often fantastic. But once people mob into groups? It’s bad news. Make your own tribe of people who will support you, but avoid the mobs. If you see people involved with mobs over and over… you may want to avoid. You’re going to lose time to drama, time you could have spent writing instead.)
  4. Avoid the drama. It’s not worth your time. You don’t need to know or care about who said what in the latest author vs author dispute. You could be writing instead.
  5. Too many groups. Seriously. Drop them unless mandatory. You could be writing instead.
  6. Not ditching all those damned little time-consuming things that prevent writing. You guessed it! You could be writing instead.

This ramble has consumed 5,700 words. It’s a good thing it’s my human’s day off today.

But, if you come away with any lesson here… don’t be like Meowy McMeowyson or my human. If you’re not making profit, don’t add to your debt buying things you don’t need. My human would’ve started making profit a hella lot sooner if she’d just stuck with buying what she needed and letting the shinies go. Well, most of them.

Bad human!

Thanks for reading, and the Furred & Finned Management hopes you’ve found something useful here.