I’m on Patreon!

Lovelies,

I have edited 15 of 33 chapters for The Last April, my upcoming book! I hope to send it to my editor by the end of the month.

As I’m sure you know, the cost of producing a quality book is substantial. My production team is amazing, and I’m considering expansion to include an audiobook as well as eBook and print books for The Last April. Unfortunately, this is more than my collected funds can cover. Rather than running a Kickstarter campaign like I did for Haunting Miss Trentwood, I’m trying out Patreon.

Patreon is a wonderful way for the community to support my projects while still allowing me to pay for editors, cover artists, and silly things like food and mortgages. It comes from the traditional use of “patron” where a person gives financial support to a person, organization, cause, or activity. This is like the modern version of a Renaissance painter requiring a patron so they can eat and make art!

This is an experiment. Who knows how much momentum will grow or if I cancel this soon after The Last April‘s release. You’re not obligated to support me. I love that you read my content and make comments. My content on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and blog will remain free. The newsletter is also free. If you are able to contribute one dollar a month, that’s fantastic!

Why am I on Patreon?

Back in 2003, I self-published my first book as a high school student. It has been a long journey since then! In the (now 14) years since, I learned a lot about what it takes to be an independent author who creates quality work. 

The biggest thing I’ve learned is that quality work comes with financial investment, not only in the current project, but future projects as well. Back in 2010, I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for my last young adult historical, Haunting Miss Trentwood. I enjoyed the excitement and interaction of crowdfunding, and the community feeling in general.

However, that funding covered the production costs for that book only. My projects since have come out of pocket, including a children’s storybook, a how to book, and new cover designs for the existing historical novels in preparation for my 2017 project.

I cannot use my paycheck to support my writing, sadly. Creative funds are getting short even though I put whatever royalties I earn from previous projects to my new projects. And so I turn to Patreon.

How will I use the funds?

There are a plethora of things that need to happen with a book release, including…

Editor Fees
A good book is nothing without a good editor. Help me keep my editor on retainer so I have enough to pay her fees so you have excellent fiction to read.

Cover Artist fees
A picture is worth a thousand words, and my stories run in the fifty thousand range. Help me hire cover artists who can best represent my hard work so you have something beautiful for your physical and digital bookshelves.

Marketing fees
When I announce a new post on Facebook, a Facebook boost makes sure that the announcement gets onto 1/3 or 1/2 of my followers’ News Feeds. I also need to purchase ads across Amazon, Facebook, and other popular locations. My blog gets a fair amount of traffic each month, and hosting and maintenance fees can add up.

What are you offering Patrons?
Other than the satisfactory glow you’ll feel by helping a writer pursue her publication goals, you will receive Patron Exclusive content that you won’t see on InstagramFacebookTwitter, or my blog. Depending on your subscription level, you have the option to be a part of my Beta Reader group, who will give me feedback on drafts before they are ready for publication.

I hope this grows, but that’s really up to you, Patrons. If I have enough income to let go of some hours at work, I can redirect those hours to my writing and therefore, you!

IMPORTANT NOTE:I set up this as a monthly pledge. If you are an amazing human who would like to donate a higher amount but only intend to make it as a one-off payment, please make sure you choose the right option. Also, please read Patreon’s page on calculating fees. Your pledges will convert into $USD, so donations will be subjected to conversion rates. There is also a small surcharge to keep Patreon funded.

Working with a New Cover Artist

Hello lovelies, today, I deliver my experience working with a new cover artist.

I worked with a cover artist when I first published Catching the Rose in high school (far left). It’s a sweet cover, however, it was too pink and it didn’t feel very modern. Plus, I changed my author brand and wanted to resubmit under the name Belinda Kroll.

When I republished Catching the Rose (middle), I did the new cover work. I also did the original cover for Haunting Miss Trentwood (right). At the time, I thought I was catering to women who preferred sweet romances… Not that you could tell by the covers I created! The original for Catching the Rose was more accurate, but I didn’t have rights to the image for re-publication, unfortunately.

Haunting Miss Trentwood

I’ve known for some time that the covers I created wasn’t getting to my desired audience. I knew this because the Amazon “Customers who bought this item also bought” did not match my expectations. Readers seem to get the gothic part, but not the comedy or light-heartedness of what could have been a very sad, morbid tale.

So here are my tips regarding cover artists…

Know What You Want

Find Examples

Seriously. Don’t commission a cover artist until you have a solid understanding of your genre and audience. Read a lot of books. Collect covers of the books you want to emulate or compete against. I had a secret Pinterest board just for cover art.

Write Good Content

Know how to write compelling back cover copy. I scoured Amazon looking for good descriptions that made me want to read the book. I keep a file of good descriptions. I spent an entire afternoon picking the structure apart so I could replicate the recipe.

Determine Your Distribution

Know where you want to publish your book. If you’re working with print, Amazon’s CreateSpace has different standards than Lightning Source’s IngramSpark. If you’re working with eBook only, that is an important distinction as well.

Find a Cover Artist

Believe it or not, I found my cover artist by looking on the back cover of a book released by a newer member of my writer’s group. I visited her website and looked at every cover she had created. I confirmed she followed the young adult historical trend, but not in a derivative way. I confirmed she understood the genre, young adult historical comedic gothic (say that three times fast). I confirmed she had an online presence (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, any would have worked for me) so I could determine her responsiveness.

Plus, I read in her bio that she lives in my city. I love that! I was so excited to support a local artist. Things you should keep in mind when choosing your cover artist:

  1. Are they design savvy?
  2. Do they understand your genre?
  3. Do they understand your audience?
  4. Are they responsive?
  5. Are they in your budget?

Contact/Commission a Cover Artist

Once I was convinced, I contacted her through her website. This was her preferred method of communication. For the love of all that is efficient, don’t contact your desired cover artist through your preferred contact method. You’ll never get a response and you’ll lose the opportunity. This is a time for the two of you to interview one another. You’re looking for a solid professional relationship, where both parties can commit to a timeline and have explicit expectations about what is required to complete the task.

A professional cover artist, no matter how much they charge for their services, will have a design brief/form for you to fill out. On this form, you will (should) be required to provide:

  • Title / subtitle
  • Author name
  • Tagline
  • Back cover copy
  • Author bio

My cover artist also asked for content ideas. She wanted to know the theme of the story, who the main characters were with generic physical descriptions, any important scenery details*, and any important relationships.

* Haunting Miss Trentwood is an English manor story; we don’t leave the house so it became a feature of the cover.

A professional cover artist will also have a contract for you to sign. This should include all the details of your agreement, including:

  • Deposit/retainer for services
  • Estimated total fee
  • Timeline
  • Who covers cost for stock art
  • How many design hours are included in the base price
  • How many revisions are included
  • What happens if a change request occurs (what constitutes a change request? are there fees associated?)
  • What are the final file formats
  • When/How are the files delivered

Collaborate with Your Cover Artist i.e. Let Them Do Their Job

Now, my cover artist was super fun to work with. I had this idea in my head, and I felt pretty strongly about it. However, I’m a software designer by trade and I know when my client thinks they know what is best… they usually don’t. So I gave her exactly what I thought I wanted, I gave details about wanting silhouettes, a bright cover, a bit of mystery, and some color suggestions. I gave her access to my secret Pinterest board. And then I sat back and waited. Anxiously, like a kid at Christmas told not to touch any of the presents.

She blew me away with her collaboration skills. I approved all silhouettes before they were composed together in the final cover art. I approved the fonts. I approved the color scheme. Then I sat back and waited again for the first draft composition. I basically went with her design with minor tweaks.

The back cover was easier since it’s simpler. I submitted my publisher logo (Bright Bird Press), my author bio and author photo. I like to include my author photo because I write under a pen name and it’s nice to confirm with family and friends that I did, in fact, just publish a book.

You can tell from the before and after that hiring a cover designer is definitely worth it…

If you’ve been on the fence about hiring a cover artist, I encourage you to do your research. Hire someone you can trust. Someone you can collaborate with. Someone who makes you dance with joy when you receive your new cover art!

How to Rock an Author Festival with a Self-Published Book

LocalAuthorBookFestival

Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting a local author festival with a teacher friend of mine. By my eye, it was about 60 – 70% local self-published authors. Let me tell you, my indie heart about exploded at the sight!

Big props to the Westerville Public Library and their community coordinator, Erin, for celebrating local over method of publication. It was a wonderful event! They had food trucks throughout the day. There was cute swag to purchase, which the proceeds supported the library. Everyone was cheerful despite the heat. They even had a local community hot jazz band playing which kept my little swing dance feet bouncing. This was their fourth year, and I fully intend to be a part of their fifth!

However, I was a little disappointed in some of my fellow indie authors’ table displays. Some were engaging, some were lackluster, and some looked 100% thrown together. I don’t want that to happen to you. With the help of my teacher friend’s commentary of what caught her eye or scared her off of each booth, I’d like to share what I learned in a short hour.

2016bookFestival1

Sell a quality product

I know this is a given but go with me here. When you go to a festival, you’re more likely to blend in than stand out. Especially when your competition is other self-published authors. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to look like you aren’t an indie publisher at all. Have a compelling, professionally-designed cover. Have good back cover copy. Have pretty pens to autograph your book. Have a nice display (we’ll get into this later).

Beyond having a quality product, also have a  nice packaging when you sell your product. My friend bought a children’s book and it was handed to her in a Ziploc bag. Now, that’s not terrible by itself, it shows a thoughtfulness that the author didn’t want anything to happen to the book in transit. However, the inside of the bag was wet. No bueno.

Tie a ribbon around it, throw a bookmark in it, or drop it in a nice paper bag… maybe stamped with your logo or social media info? If you can make it look like a gift of some kind, do it. Everybody loves presents!

Accept multiple forms of payment

In this day and age, you have to assume people aren’t carrying cash anymore. Services like Square Up and PayPal Here are convenient for small businesses like indie authors. They are also well worth the small transaction fee to ensure you make a sale. I’m relying on PayPal Here for now because it also processes checks so it’s just a bit more flexible.

Our poor author from above had to rely on the other author at her table to accept my friend’s credit card payment. And then had to borrow a pen to sign the book. It was a little awkward.

Have a booth buddy

boothBuddy
Maybe this is your spouse, child, friend, assistant, whatever. When you’re engaged in a discussion with a potential customer and another person wanders over, you have a back up person who can answer questions or sell a book for you. This also ensures your booth is manned if (when!) you’re asked to go to a different part of the festival to read some of your work.

In this photo, the wife of John Margeson, an author-illustrator, did a fantastic job selling the product and showing how proud and happy she was for him. He was inside doing a reading, but she still caught our attention and we were sad we missed him because he had an easel set up to do caricatures.

Build an attractive tablescape

In a world where Instagram exists, we indie authors really need to step up our game. The word “tablescape” can be traced back to a 2009 portmanteau of “table” and “landscape.” When I joined Instagram with a dedicated author profile, I was shocked and awed that people spend so much time taking photos of books with flowers, pearls, tea, and other pretty things. Why can’t we do that at author festivals?

tablescape

The morning of your festival, go to Walmart and pick up some flowers and throw them in some dollar store vases… as long as they don’t clash with your book topic. I mean, you wouldn’t want bright pretty flowers if you wrote a tragic story. Use your discretion and do something that grabs the attention of passersby.

The tablescape above was simple and adorable. I had to take a photo! I might be buying some copies for my animal friends as Christmas present. Especially since there is a special Christmas book, and he had little Santa hats on the cat figurines!

bannersMy teacher friend pointed out that the tables that had a vertical element grabbed her attention. To her, it showed the author took that extra step to market their products. They were “professional” in her eyes. We both loved the mini banner displays of cover art that a couple of the authors had. One author told me they had them printed at FedEx Office. I suspect you have to go into the store to get this because it took me a while to find that PDF.

Anyway, we both liked it when we could read details about the book without having to talk to a human being. Maybe we’re both introverts, or maybe we’re both regular book buyers. No one wants to feel pressured to buy anything, and the longer you speak to a seller, the more obligated you feel to buy something.

I’d rather not have someone buy my book out of obligation, so I’ll do my best to have sell sheets in acrylic holders with the back cover copy in large text, along with the price and accepted forms of payment.

Engage your reader

Last, but certainly not least, engage your reader. Something about the authors who sat behind their table just felt off-putting that day. Maybe because it made them look tired (poor posture?), or overheated… I don’t know.

I do know that every author we spoke to was standing, or leaned forward in their chair to “grab us” from across the table. It was much easier to chat with the authors who stood to the side of their table, because then they could move around and explore their tablescape with us, rather than dictating to us. Even the authors who stood behind their tables, fiddling with their bottle of water, were more engaging than those sitting down.

For some reason, the authors who sat at the table writing seemed… intimidating or scary. Perhaps because speaking to them would have felt like interrupting a creative session. And I guess that’s kind of my point. When you go to a festival, you’re not wearing your creative author hat anymore. You should be wearing your marketing hat. When I say marketing, I don’t mean sleazy, “buy my book, guys and gals, you won’t regret it!” I mean engaging your audience.

Capture emails

Spanking of engaging your reader, have a note pad where interested readers can sign up for your mailing list. You can ask for their name and email, or, keep it simple with just the email. Next time you’re at a festival, email your list a couple of weeks in advance so people can visit with you again!

Anyway, I hope these observations helped! Let me know in the comments about other effective techniques that worked for you at an author festival or otherwise.

Use KindleSpy for Genre Competitive Analysis

Authors can and should conduct analysis of their competitors. How do I know what I’m writing will sell? Are other authors selling similar content? Is there a gap that could be filled by my work?

These are important questions which can be answered by competitive (cooperative) analysis, and I’m sharing my process using KindleSpy to help me out.

competitiveAnalysis

Write a Cooperative Analysis

First, why cooperative analysis? I like to think of authors as a collective building a body of work together, which define and shape the genre. Some may disagree with me, but I liked the term when I read it in Marcy Kennedy’s guidelines:

  1. Compile a list of comparable, but more successful, authors
  2. Study their book descriptions
  3. Study their commonalities (pricing, categorization, cover design)
  4. Read their reviews (avoid what they “did wrong”)
  5. Determine what makes you special

While this list is pretty self-explanatory, I think the most difficult task is determining your set of comparable authors. If you’re not already reading the popular authors in your genre, how do you find them?

This is where I began using KindleSpy to help me out, and I suggest you try the same.

Use KindleSpy to Find Comparable Authors

Purchase and install KindleSpy in your browser (Chrome or Firefox). Watch the installation video, get familiar because it’s about to get weird. Or it did for me, anyway, because it has me questioning whether I’m writing in the correct genre!

Once I installed KindleSpy, I searched for “civil war historical fiction young adult” in the Kindle Store (the dropdown to the left of the Amazon search box).

There are 225 books in this category, not bad, but not good either. There are few books, so I could jump to the top of the pile if I wrote something amazing, but, sales are slow because it isn’t a popular search term.

kindleSpy_search

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find the correct search terms or categories which make the popularity, potential, and competition indicators green. You want something that is super popular (searched often), with great potential (revenue per keyword), and low competition (you’re unique enough).

Once you find the correct keywords you’re hoping to write for, study the top 20 list of authors per Mary’s suggestions. Learn how they use the search keywords, how do they categorize the book, what sort of covers do they market with?

Utilize the keyword and word cloud analysis to determine how to make your book findable in the Kindle Store, which of course influences your marketability!

This cooperative analysis is the another step of my authorpreneur plan series, where I’m sharing how I’m controlling my fate as an independent author. You can read my previous posts where I defined my goals and stories, identified my readersdefined business operations, and outlined a draft of my product plan through 2017.

Proposed 2017 Product Plan

DeathtoStock_Clementine10smYou guys, I am loving Marcy Kennedy’s blog series about breaking down how an independent author can be even more legitimate by defining a business plan. You can read my previous posts where I defined my goals and stories, identified my readers, and defined business operations.

What I find interesting is that the previous steps should be stable across multiple projects, as long as I retain the target audience and other general business needs. Moving forward, however, it seems the product plan, competitive analysis, etc, will depend on each individual project that sits under the business umbrella. Here we go!

Product Plan

This is a list of everything Bright Bird Press intends to produce over a given span of time, including novellas, short stories, speaking engagements, and merchandise such as posters and t-shirts. Since the Bright Bird Press business plan had a calendar goal of December 2016, it makes sense that this product plan include and extend beyond that date.

As such, the time span will cover a little more than two years (remainder of 2015, and all of 2016 – 2017). This will help budget and plan for hiring editing and cover design services as needed. This timeline will change as required (e.g. I anticipate buying a house in 2016, which might make the business take the backseat for a while).

2015 Projects

  • Complete the Bright Bird Press business plan
  • Build Facebook and Twitter presence by sharing interesting historical content
  • Fiction project (in progress, details under 2017 Projects)

2016 Projects

  • Continue working on the fiction project as outlined in 2017
  • Establish relationships with Ohio Historical Society, Grove City historical society for potential marketing and community outreach opportunities
  • Create merchandise for 2017 fiction project

2017 Projects

  • Fiction project (as hinted in 2015 Projects)
    • Title: Untitled Grove City, OH 1865
    • Summary: When an amnesiatic Confederate soldier collapses at the feet of Unionist Alina Miller, she must decide between family obligation and personal patriotism while the country  hunts for President Lincoln’s killer.
    • Length: 45,000 word novella
    • Genre: Young Adult Civil War
    • Ebook Release: April 2017
    • Print Release: April 2017
    • Audio Book Release: TBD
    • Budget: $1000

Future Projects

  • Looking for Mr. Knightly – Late Victorian YA – A bookish girl falls off her balcony into quite the adventure.
  • My Unwitting Heiress – Late Victorian YA – A twin is left to pick up the pieces after her sister sprints from the altar.
  • The Shortie and Crooner Chronicles – Children’s mystery book (series?) – Sleuth dogs use their super sniffers to solve crimes, to be written under another name.

 

My Author Business Operations

DeathtoStock_Clementine6smToday I continue my trek down authorpreneurship by following Marcy Kennedy’s business plan guidelines, where we focus on how my business will run. Until now, I’ve set my goals, chosen my stories, and identified my readers (I could probably tweak the last one a little better).

Summary Paragraph

Bright Bird Press will distribute Belinda Kroll’s books through all available online distributors, focusing on Amazon. Books will be produced in both ebook and print formats, with a focus on ebook. Income will be reinvested into the business until each book earns back what was invested into it for production and marketing—plus 10%. All additional income will be paid to Belinda Kroll as a salary.

Business Structure

Capital Investment

At the time of writing this portion of the business plan, the Bright Bird Press account has $759 (rounded down) available to be counted as seed money.

This account is separate from my personal accounts, and all purchases from this account are used expressly for either Bright Bird Press or my other freelance gigs. At this time, all funds that did not come directly from another freelance gig are available for the book portion of the business.

Legal Structure

Bright Bird Press is a sole proprietorship under my legal name, to be considered as one of many multiple lines of business. My co-authors are considered contractors and therefore have received a portion of book royalties in the past. Royalties to said co-author contractors will not be remitted if the cumulative royalty amount over a six month period (Jan – June / July – Dec) is below $100.

Production Responsibilities

Formatting of ebooks and print books will be the responsibility of Bright Bird Press unless noted otherwise on a per-project basis. Cover design for print and ebooks moving forward will be hired via contractors, unless the contractor work is deemed unsatisfactory, at which point Bright Bird Press will be responsible:

Editing services will be hired via contractors, as Bright Bird Press is unable to self-edit with credibility:

Marketing events such as blog tours and giveaways will be the responsibility of Bright Bird Press. Special marketing events such as book launches may require event organizers:

Contract Threshold

Unsure at this point when Bright Bird Press will require hiring more services such as formatting and other marketing needs. This will be revisited at another date. At minimum, the royalties from Bright Bird Press will need to meet $2000 within a six month period (Jan – June / July – Dec) to justify hiring out more services.

Equipment Requirements

The income from Bright Bird Press, in order to self-sustain, will offset costs for:

  • A computer
  • Production software (i.e. Adobe Creative Cloud licenses for InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop as needed)
  • External hard drives for file backups
  • Printers and printer cartridges
  • Marketing supplies (via Vistaprint)

These costs factor into the production and marketing overhead per project, and as such, salary will not be paid out until these costs have been recuperated, plus 10% beyond the original overhead.