Sunday, June 17, 2012

Tweeting Is For The Birds

I have a confession to make. I've never signed up with Twitter, mostly because I just don't understand it. D'oh! I've been on Facebook for awhile, and I was very active on it initially, but got away from it a bit. The whole social media thing is a bit foreign to an introvert like me. However, I know if I decide to self-publish that social media is a great way to network with readers and people to show off my work. So I'll probably try to re-familiarize myself with Facebook at some point.

But Twitter! Argh! I wish I understood it. Even just looking at other people's pages, I can't seem to figure out what the deal is. There seems to be a lot of disconnected statements/replies, and I don't know what anything is referring to. What makes someone worth following? Are tweets as random as they seem or am I totally missing something? Sounds like I have some reading up to do...

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Genres and Pen Names and Publishing--Oh My!

Something's been tormenting me, and I'd like to talk a bit about it. Ever since I first started writing, I've written in multiple genres. It first started out as just me experimenting in a new hobby and figuring out which one I liked the best. There were no clear-cut winners in my mind. Sure, I've always had a soft spot for horror, but I've written in many genres and enjoyed them a lot. And I've never given it much thought.

Here's the thing. When I started researching publishing/self-publishing, I kept seeing things brought up about building a "brand". Now, I figured this meant getting your name out there, publicizing your books etc, but apparently if you write in different genres you run the risk of ruining your "brand". I kind of get the point of this. For example, if Stephen King suddenly started writing romance novels under his current name, there might be a bit of an uproar from his horror fans. However, the funny thing is that Stephen King doesn't just write horror. Different Seasons, for example features a collection of four novellas: Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil, The Body, and The Breathing Method, none of which are horror. If you haven't read the book, maybe you've seen the movies the first three were adapted into (The Body became Stand By Me). Either way, the stories were more general fiction than horror. Even other books by him, such as Misery, to me are not so much horror as they are suspense/thriller. Firestarter could be considered "supernatural", but it too is not really horror. I could go on and on, his library of novels is so huge. But this makes me beg the question, is breaking genres or this so-called "brand" really going to alienate readers?

Some authors love to use multiple pen names to "organize" their work. But in self-publishing especially, marketing seems like a nightmare when it comes to juggling names. How does this work with social media for example? Or blogging? It seems like it would be hard enough putting one name out there, let alone 2 or 3 or more. I've contemplated using multiple names and not making it a secret to readers and using a "main name" for marketing, but this still seems overly complex to me, so I'm incredibly conflicted.

There's also the aspect of that, I don't really like the idea of using pen names. The ones I've come up with are variations of my own name, just because, as silly as this may sound, I don't like the idea of someone else taking credit for my work--even if it's a made-up "someone".

The only exception I can think of where pen names seem like a necessity are for widely different genres, like erotica and children's books (or even young adult). But what about horror vs romance? What if you write horror, romance, and paranormal romance? Is the bridge then gapped? ;) Ugh! Too much to think about!

With the vast number of books being put out there now with how accessible self-publishing is, I have to wonder if author names are even being remembered that often. I know that sounds a bit sad, but seriously. Even as a writer, I've read books I loved, but I couldn't tell you the author's name. I tend to remember titles, and go back and re-search the title to see the author's library of books. It's not that it's not important (obviously), it's just one of those things. It's sort of like I tend to forget who directs movies, even if I love them. I guess I'm better at remembering content rather than names. But is this common, or am I the exception?

I'd love to know what people think about this. Would you be "turned off" by an author who wrote in multiple genres? Would you lose interest in their work or feel betrayed? I have such mixed feelings about all of this, and it's driving me batty!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cover Design Blues

When you self-publish, one of the major obstacles, imo, is cover design. I know many authors opt to pay a cover designer, and of course if you can afford that, great! But for me, because money has always been tight, usually if there's a free or cheap way to do something, even if it takes more work on my part, that's pretty much the path I travel. I guess you could say I'm more afraid of debt than hard work.

I have no graphic design experience. I've dabbled in the past, just playing around in Paint Shop Pro, but never really had mad skills at it. Several years ago, I tried my hand at self-publishing, long before the surge of ebooks and e-readers and what not. I went with the company, which actually is not a bad choice if you wish to self-publish print books. I thought their quality of printing was very good, and I really liked how my book turned out. But I digress.

When it came to self-publishing that book, I had to do a cover design or pick out one of their designs, which I didn't want to do. I always want my books to stand out and look as unique as possible, so that they have the potential to be memorable at first glance. Call it ego, or call it strategy, whatever you want. This is just how I feel. So I got to work researching cover design and figuring out if and where I could find pictures to use, since I have next to no talent in drawing.

If you're like me and have limited artistic ability, I'm going to share some tips that will hopefully help you out. And these are tips I've learned in my own limited experience, so take it for what it is. I'm not a professional cover designer, but I strive to do the best in any endeavor I take on.

For the sake of this post, I'm gonna gear this towards authors who can't afford to hire a professional cover designer. Just a quick FYI, depending on what you want and who you go with you're usually going to have to spend anywhere from $50 to upwards of thousands of dollars for a cover design. For me, thousands of dollars might as well be millions, and even $50 is more than I can afford, especially considering my personal goals of how many books I'd like to release in the long run. So, let's examine free options.

First and foremost, you need a program to actually do the work in. The pros tend to use Photoshop. Ever see the price of Photoshop? Yeah, I knew that was out for me. Luckily, there's a great option called GIMP, which is free and available for Windows and Mac. If you've never used a "paint" program, it does take some getting used to. It can be very overwhelming at first, and for this reason you'll probably want to keep it simple if you're going in with zero experience. Start out by playing around with the program and learning the tools and "doodling" on a blank canvas, before you start your cover design. It'll get you more familiar and comfortable with the program.

I'm not gonna write a whole tutorial on this subject, because there are ample tutorials out there already. The one at AbsoluteWrite is very helpful.

If you aren't a total newbie at graphic design, and want to learn about Photo Manipulation (the act of taking multiple photos and editing them together to form a new image), I highly recommend these tutorials:

The important thing is not to read a tutorial and then attempt your own project. Actually follow the tutorial exactly, to see how the end result is accomplished. This will help you learn the tools within the program. Learning how to deal with layers will be your best friend, trust me.

If you're looking for free photos to use, I highly recommend you checking out the links here: 15 Best Places for Designers to Get Free Stock Photos Online

A couple things to note about royalty-free images (whether free or purchased) is the legal aspects of model and property releases. Starting with model releases, if you use an image with a recognizable person in it (usually this means a face shot), it is important to contact the photographer to see if they can offer a model release. If they can't, you might want to see if they can get some sort of written permission from the person in the photo. If not, you're best bet is to move on. This can be frustrating when you find the right person to represent a character in your book, but it can save you a lot of legal trouble in the future. Just because someone takes a photo of something, doesn't mean they have the right to give permission to use it, if it infringes on someone's privacy or property. For example, if someone takes a picture of the Dumbo ride at Disney World and puts it on a royalty-free site, and you use it, you're looking at big legal issues from Disney. Not so much for personal projects, but for anything you wish to use on a product (such as a book), you need to be careful. Properties (buildings, stores, houses, etc) also require a property release, if the property is recognizable. This gets a little bit more complicated because how far is recognizable? If you can alter the image to a point where the original building looks very very different, you might be in the clear. I'm not a lawyer, so take my advice for what it is, but if you're worried, try to pick out "neutral" pictures, where you won't have a problem at all.

Another issue I tend to see a lot with self-published books are font choices. The basic fonts (Courier, Arial, Times New Roman, etc) are free to use, however aren't usually the nicest choice for book covers. I recommend checking out FontSquirrel. These fonts are free to use for commercial purposes, and a lot of them look very nice.

If cover design is still too daunting or you just can't get the hang of it, I recently heard of a site called Fiverr, where people offer a multitude of services for $5. If you search for "book cover design" you will find people who are willing to design a cover for you and it'll only cost $5. I can't vouch for this, I have never used the service, so I'm unsure of the quality or reliability. Other authors have used them though and recommended it. It might be worth a shot for $5.

I hope this blog post helps some of you.