I’m by no means a graphic designer. When my first book came out in 2009 I relied on a friend to design my bookmarks, and while she’s wonderful and did a fantastic job, I was always frustrated that I had to rely on someone else. I felt like being able to do this sort of thing myself would be a useful skill. So I downloaded a trial of Photoshop thinking that maybe I could figure it out, and was immediately overwhelmed. I looked into actually taking a Photoshop class but it was absurdly expensive (and I knew that if I didn’t use what I learned regularly, I would just forget it all).
Then about two years ago, another friend told me about GIMP, a free program similar to Photoshop, and she gave me a brief overview of the basics. For a while I used it to play around, Googling for tutorials to learn new tricks (and I didn’t even know the terms to Google — my searches were always along the lines of “how do I cut out text in GIMP to show an image underneath?”). Slowly, over time, I’ve grown more familiar with GIMP (learning about brushes was a huge leap forward for me!).
So for my latest release, The Map to Everywhere, I decided to try a few things. Most articles I’ve read indicate that content with images is most likely to be shared on social media and my own experience has borne this out (I’m much more likely to notice an image in my timeline than simple text). So in addition to tweeting or announcing any book news on my social medial channels, I created image cards as well (there’s got to be some sort of official name for promo images used in social media, but I have no idea what it is!).
Here are a few examples:
Ad sized specifically for Facebook.
Sized specifically for use in Goodreads giveaway.
Sized specifically for Twitter (used in all channels)
Release announcement (sized for Twitter, used in all channels)
Used for Facebook ad (in a/b testing)
Also used for Facebook ad (in a/b testing — there was a third image that used the BN logo)
A few things I learned along the way:
The very first image I created (the BN sale promo), I sized specifically for Facebook. But then I realized that when posted to Twitter the top and bottom were cut off, which reduced its effectiveness. So for future images I sized them specifically for Twitter which was also compatible with Facebook (this is the size guide I used).
When I uploaded images to Twitter I did so through the web. The app I use for Twitter creates a link to the image, rather than a preview in the tweet itself, and it was important to me for the image to automatically show in people’s feeds.
I pinned the tweets with images to the top of my twitter profile, rotating them out every few days.
Facebook is really restrictive on the amount of text you can have in an ad. The first time I ran the Amazon ad it was approved with no problem; the second time it was rejected for having too much text (the BN ad was always approved). Just another note: I also created a specific tag in my Amazon Associates account so I could track how many people actually bought the book from this link.
I added an image to my Goodreads giveaway (I think you should be able to see the actual giveaway page here). I found this made the giveaway listing really stand out (a trick I discovered while perusing other giveaways).
When designing images focused on the social media channels more industry dominated (for me that’s Twitter and Instagram), I tended to use the starred reviews. When designing for more consumer channels (my personal Facebook page and Goodreads), I used author blurbs.
Once I found a format/size that worked, I tended to stick with it. In fact, I created a master image with tons of layers that I just click on and off as necessary to create a new image. I found this also helped to create a sense of branding (especially since the fonts are ones from the book and the images are from the jacket (the blue is the back of the jacket and the tattered paper is from the flaps).
To post these images on Instagram, I just pulled it up on my phone and then screenshotted it — that created a square image I could post to Instagram (another trick I learned via Google).
Anything I didn’t know how to do, I Googled. As I went along, I learned more about better ways to compress images, how to resize without losing quality, etc. But there’s still a ton I don’t know.
I share all of this because a year ago I’d have never imagined I’d be able to do any of these things (I also designed bookmarks, postcards, bookplates, and notecards). And while I don’t think it’s necessary to have images for promo, I’ve found it to be really useful and helpful. I enjoyed being able to get news and announcements out in a second medium and felt like it bolstered what I was already doing.
I also share all of this to show that it doesn’t take a ton to get to a place where you can create workable graphics. It just takes Googling and experimenting (even GIMP is free!). I just looked around at what others were doing, figured out what caught my eye and what didn’t, and incorporated those elements that worked for me. Have I made mistakes with these? Undoubtedly. I’m sure if I’d hired someone I’d have gotten some really beautiful and professional images, but I also would have had to plan ahead and pay for it. All of these I was able to create on the fly.
Did these make a difference? That’s hard to tell. Which is why I’m glad I really liked the process of creating these. Even if an image was just as effective as a tweet, I had fun and more than anything else, I think that helps make any social media campaign successful.
To learn more about The Map to Everywhere (and purchase a copy!) click here!
I was fortunate enough to be a guest at Atomacon last weekend in Charleston SC. It was the second year for this con, and I was happy to see that attendance increased by a noticeable margin. (It would be way cool to see some of you guys there next year!)
I appeared on several panels, one of which was “Ten Things That Will Make An Editor Stop Reading”. It was based on things we covered during the Live Action Slush panels at ConCarolinas (for those of you who weren’t there, we asked people to submit the first page of their work without their names attached. David, Faith and I listened while one of our intrepid readers read the work aloud. As we heard something that would make us stop reading, we raised our hands. Once all three hands were raised, we stopped the reading and discussed what we felt needed to be addressed. It was a wonderful panel and I think a lot of us learned things, me included.)
Some of the problems we discussed in the Ten Things panel were grammar/spelling, starting in the wrong place, writing about the wrong character, not understanding your genre, infodumps, overuse of cliches, massive time leaps, keeping too much hidden from the reader and neglecting to follow submission guidelines. The attendees seemed to understand, but after the panel was over, I heard a man talking to one of his friends in the hallway. He felt that we’d been overly particular (I think the word he used was ‘picky’) that editors in real life didn’t care all that much and that we really didn’t know what we were talking about.
So I just wanted to say something. I’m pretty sure you’ve all heard it before, but it’s worth saying again and again until everyone has it good and sunk in. Ready? Okay, here it comes…
The editor is looking for a reason to say “No.” Don’t give him that reason.
He’s going to turn you down for egregious mistakes in spelling and grammar. So turn in the cleanest copy you possibly can.
She’s going to recognize that you haven’t kept up with the twists and turns of the market. So read, read, read.
He’s going to want to be tantalized by your characters. So don’t keep it all hidden until it’s too late.
She wants to take a thrilling ride with your story. So don’t be boring.
Don’t give the editor a reason to turn you down. Make it impossible for her to say anything except “Yes.”
And one other thing…be aware of who’s nearby at cons when you decide to complain that the writers don’t know what they’re talking about. *grin*
Often people will find out I’ve co-written a novel with my husband and they’ll say, “I could *never* do that — we’d kill each other!” And to be honest, even when JP and I started writing The Map to Everywhere, we weren’t sure how well it would work. We’re both stubborn and opinionated and I don’t think it would have surprised either of us if we’d had to scrap the project (we’d already agreed that our marriage came first).
Happily, we found that we compliment each other in the best of ways and writing Map together was a fantastic experience! But there were a few things we had to learn (or re-learn) along the way. First, we had to both be willing to let go — this project didn’t belong to either of us more than the other. We were both invested, we both brought a lot to the table, and neither one of us had more say or could unilaterally get their way. If we didn’t agree on something, we had to find a different path forward — neither of us could simply trump the other with a “Well, this is how we’re doing it, so there!”
At the same time, we had to be willing to defer. In this way, I think being married was actually a huge benefit. We’d already spent years together and knew how to compromise. And sometimes compromise means deferring on something with the understanding that down the road your partner will show you the same courtesy. Furthermore, because we’d been together for so long, we were already aware of each other’s work habits — I already knew that JP tended to write early in the morning (which is awesome because I’d start work to find that the book had literally written itself while I’d been asleep!) and we could plan our schedules accordingly.
When it came to the physical writing, we agreed early on that we both had free rein over the book. While I tended to first draft Marrill’s chapters and JP tended to first draft Fin’s, those characters didn’t belong to one of us or the other. When we revised, neither of us hesitated to delete and re-write, regardless of who’d done the initial drafting. Which is one reason it’s nearly impossible for us to figure who actually wrote what in the finished product.
We used Scrivener to draft and revise and it has several wonderful features we took full advantage of. First, the snapshot. Before doing any heavy editing, we’d take a snapshot of the chapter so that if we wanted to refer back or compare versions we could. Second, revision mode. In Scrivener you can set it to revision mode which changes the color of the text. This made it easy to see at a glance what one of us had added (if we wanted to see what had been deleted, we had to compare snapshots). By the end of revisions, the manuscript was a rainbow of colors! Third, icons. We created several new icons so that we could easily communicate with each other which chapters still needed work, which needed to be reviewed by one of us, which were ready to go, etc.
Because really, one of the most important aspects of any collaboration is communication. We had to be willing to criticize each other’s writing and this is always hard to do — especially to a loved one (no matter how many compliments you wrap a criticism in, it can still sting!). Which meant that we both had to take criticism gracefully — we knew we needed to be able to be open about what was and wasn’t working and the only way to do that was trust that we could share our thoughts without repercussion. At the same time, we were generous with praise — perhaps because we’ve always been each other’s biggest fans.
And I think that’s part of what can really make a collaboration work: you succeed when your partner succeeds. Which makes it easy to do everything you can to make sure they succeed.
To learn more about The Map to Everywhere (and purchase a copy!) click here!
No, I’m not trying to awaken your inner 80’s kid. Eleven days ago, NaNoWriMo began. For those of you who aren’t familiar, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, and the point is for you to write 50,ooo words of a novel/story/work. If you’re a slowpoke writer like me, NaNo can be a useful tool to help spill lots of words in a short amount of time.
I’ve always been the type to work better under a deadline, but it has to be a real one, set by someone else. NaNo ends on the last day of November, so if I want to successfully achieve the required words, I have to do it in the short time allotted. I sign up every year, although I’ve only ever “won” once. Not that it’s a competition, not in the strictest sense. It’s a challenge to yourself, to try to get a good flow going.
If anyone else is signed up and wants to be my “buddy” on the site, you’re welcome to add me if you like. But the big thing about NaNo is doing the writing. So if you think it might be a useful challenge to try, come on and join me!
Before I forget, I’m going to be appearing this weekend at Atomacon in North Charleston, SC. I’ll be there with A J Hartley, Gail Martin and a lot of other pretty interesting folks. It’s a great little con, and I know we’re going to have a super time!
If you happen to be visiting the Carolina Renaissance Festival this weekend, be sure and go say hello to Faith Hunter and John Hartness, who are both appearing as part of the Festival’s Time Traveller Weekend event. They’ll be signing books and talking to fans all day.
I’m so excited that it’s finally release week for The Map to Everywhere, the first in a four book middle grade fantasy adventure series I’m co-writing with my husband, John Parke Davis! YAY! In honor of the release, I wanted to share a bit about the origins behind the series because this entire journey really has felt like a dream come true.
From an early age I knew I wanted to be an author even though I wasn’t really sure how one became such a thing. During my final semester in college I realized that if I wanted to write for a living, I’d better get started actually writing something I could sell. So I picked up a romance novel I’d begun drafting years before. I finished that book in 2000 and shopped it to agents, and while I got a few positive responses, nothing much came of it. I then wrote a second romance but by that time had come to the realization that perhaps I needed to look into a more stable career.
So I went to law school. Classes had only just begun when I found myself sitting at the apartment complex pool one day reading my torts textbook. A fellow first year law student named JP said hello and we got to talking. It didn’t take long for us to realize we had a lot in common — we’d both been born and raised in South Carolina, we both enjoyed the outdoors, and we both loved to write.
A year later, JP and I began dating. Upon graduation we moved to Charlotte together to start careers in law. It didn’t take long for me to realize, however, that while I’d loved the study of law, the practice wasn’t as exciting. And so I asked myself: if I could do anything with my life, what would it be?
The answer: I’d be an author. But I hadn’t been doing much in the way of fiction writing over the previous years. At the same time, JP also realized that he wasn’t writing as much as he wanted. So together we decided to change that.
I committed to writing a book a year for ten years in the hope that by the end of a decade I’d have sold one and started a career as an author. JP committed to a project with his brother called The Story Game. The premise was simple: every week one of them would throw out a pitch and they’d have a week to write a two page story centered around that pitch.
This project spawned some amazing stories — some of which JP later sold, one of which inspired my first published novel, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and several that I thought would make amazing novels.
But one story had always stood out to me. It was about a wizard and a ship’s captain sailing a river of pure magic called the Pirate Stream. It was the kind of story that reminded me of what made me fall in love with reading as a kid, and my first thought was that it would make an amazing middle grade book.
I really, really wanted this book to exist and I really, really wanted to be a part of it. It had so completely taken hold of my imagination that I proposed we co-write it. And for years, all we did was talk about it. During long walks we’d discuss character or plot, we’d share bits of stories we’d loved growing up, and we’d talk about how one day we’d really have to sit down and start writing.
I’m not sure that I ever expected that day to come, but in early 2012 I was looking for a new project to focus on and I said, “Let’s do it. Let’s write the Pirate Stream book.” JP readily agreed but even so, it still felt like a bit of a lark. Besides, who knew if we’d even be able to write together — sure we’d been integral parts of each other’s writing process as first readers and editors, but it’s another thing altogether to be co-writers *and* spouses.
And then we started writing and it worked. Like, it *really* worked. We built off each other and the story grew in really amazing and unexpected ways. We were able to assert our ideas without overwhelming one another and compromising came much easier than expected. Plus, it was fun!
By the end of the year, we’d sold it in a four book deal and this week, that first book — The Map to Everywhere — hit shelves. Often I think back to that moment in 2006 when we both sat down with the goal of being able to make a living writing in ten years. I’m not sure either of us would have expected our paths to lead us here, and certainly not as co-authors of a middle grade series.
Truly it has been a collaborative effort in every sense of the word. When one of us felt that our goal may not be within reach, the other was there to keep the faith. And at the heart of it all is our mutual love of story and of each other.
To learn more about The Map to Everywhere (and purchase a copy!) click here!
I’ve never worried much about my age. I didn’t panic at 40, and I’m certainly not going to let 52 get to me, either. But recently I was faced with truly understanding my own mortality, and it’s made me consider a lot of things in a different way than I used to.
We all want to be remembered when we’re gone. In a way, having stories published on paper means we’ll be immortal. Even when our bodies are deep beneath the earth, someone, somewhere will be able to pick up a book and read what we said, experience a piece of our souls that was consigned to the ages thanks to the miracle of publishing. It’s a reassuring feeling. I sometimes look at the copy of Mad Kestrel that sits on my desk and think, “I wonder if someone will read this book fifty years from now?” It’s the natural state of human beings to want to know someone remembers them.
I just finished spending nearly a month taking care of a family member who suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s Disease. If you’re somehow unfamiliar with the condition, it’s a hideous theft of identity and memory that no one recovers from. Not only had my family member forgotten what she liked to eat or where she grew up, but she didn’t know me as anyone but the nice lady who was kind to her. I would remind her of my name, but there was no recognition in her eyes when she repeated it. It was just a word, no different from any other words she would hear in the course of a day. This was a woman who raised two children, earned her Master’s degree and taught high school for twenty years, but now she can no longer write her own name. It’s a horrible tragedy that we have to watch her slowly decline into nothingness.
It occurred to me that I may someday be in a similar situation. I’m not old, but we have no way of knowing what life holds for us. Procrastinating on putting the words together cheats me out of my immortality. So I’ve become determined to write more stories while my hands are strong enough to type the words and my brain is healthy enough to create characters and challenges. I want to live forever.
In 2014, I’m under contract to publishers to write three novels, two each at about four-hundred pages, and one at six hundred pages. I also write a new short story for my ebook series each month, each of which average around thirty pages, making the equivalent of another full book by the end of the year.
So why on earth did I agree to be in eleven anthologies, eight of which required newly written stories?
Crazy? That accounts for some, but not all, of the answer.
The short answer is exposure. Anthologies are great sampler plates. Readers can nosh on stories by a variety of authors and perhaps discover a new author whose books they will explore. Anthologies also create good relationships with publishers and other writers, especially Kickstarter anthologies which require the kind of teamwork rarely seen when you’re not bailing out a sinking ship or holding a trench against enemy fire. And thirdly, anthologies are a fun place to play in a different sandbox and experiment without the risk of a whole book. They can enable you to test out new ideas, tell a story that is fun but not big enough to carry a whole novel, or just play.
Anthologies also allowed me to explore what it’s like to fund a book through Kickstarter or Indiegogo without putting a whole novel or novella of my own on the line. I learned a lot about what works, what doesn’t, how much promotion it takes (a lot—and then some), how to structure the offerings, etc. It was a fantastic learning experience. I was part of five crowd-funded anthologies this year, all of which over-funded their goals, several of which became Kickstarter Staff Picks, and one of which became the most successful Kickstarter literary project to that point (Athena’s Daughters).
Writing for anthologies also gave me the opportunity to get to know several publishers better. Silence in the Library, Dark Oak Press, Dark Quest Books and Zombies Need Brains, LLC are the publishers doing most of these anthologies, and I’ve appreciated the chance to deepen relationships with them. You never know what doors an anthology might open. I originally wrote “Buttons” as a short-story for Solaris Books’ Magic: The Esoteric and Arcane, and Solaris ended up coming back and asking me to do the Deadly Curiosities novels in that universe!
Three of the anthologies this year were reprints, one of which was a charity project. These cost me nothing in new effort, helped out good causes (World Fantasy Society and British Fantasy Society as well as CJ Henderson’s medical expense fund), and got additional exposure for my original Deadly Curiosities short story, Buttons. Easy.
The other anthologies were all over the map. Two were steampunk, one was horror, two were superheroes, one was in a shared universe, and two were urban fantasy. And, oh yeah, there was also the new novella that I posted free on Wattpad.
The Wattpad novella was a chance to reach a whole new group of readers, especially those who are ebook/mobile-device users and perhaps a little younger, a little more female than my epic fantasy audience. It was also a way to try out a new book delivery system and a new technology, and I’ve been pleased by the results—as the numbers bear out. (You can find The Final Death at my Wattpad page.)
Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens and Dreams of Steel 5 let me explore the steampunk universe of our upcoming Iron and Blood books by using a couple of minor characters in a spin-off set of Sound and Fury Adventures. They were not only fun to write, but they helped us clarify our world building and thinking as we simultaneously worked on the full novel.
Realms of Imagination and Athena’s Daughters took my urban fantasy stories set in my Deadly Curiosities universe. It’s always fun to create bite-sized stories with familiar characters, and as I do, I’m world building and character building, as well as giving readers extra tidbits to enjoy between books.
With Great Power and Heroes were superhero anthologies, quite a stretch for me. I was terrified, which is why I said ‘yes’. Well, and because of who asked. CJ Henderson asked me personally for a story about a female superhero who was really different for With Great Power. Ron Garner asked me to be in Heroes. How could I say no? But seriously, it was scary stepping out into territory that I don’t usually explore with my writing. I like superheroes, but I’m not the comics guru that many of my friends are. So it was interesting to see what I could come up with, and gratifying to really like what appeared.
Icarus: A Graphic Novel was my first shared universe. I was a stretch goal author, and the assignment was to write an extra vignette set in the world of the larger novel with the same characters. It was a challenge to not only write in someone else’s world and with his characters, but to try to match his writing voice, which was very distinctive. It was fun, and certainly not my usual fare.
Big Bad 2 is a horror anthology, with tales from the perspective of the villain. Again, this was new to me, but it sounded fun and John Hartness asked, so I dove in. I’d had an idea bouncing around for a while, and this gave it a home. Again, it was a chance to take a risk with minimal risk of disaster.
So there you have it. I made a little money from some of the anthologies, and perhaps will see a small royalty check or two, but I knew up-front these weren’t big money projects. I did them for the fun of it, to try out something new, to help out friends, to be part of a group effort, to raise visibility and possibly gain new readers, to strengthen relationships and to play.
The 2015 anthologies are already lining up…..space, corsets, weird Westerns, oh my!
My Days of the Dead tour still has plenty of treats in store—check out where to find the interviews, excerpts, freebies and giveaways at www.AscendantKingdoms.com. And if you want to stay in touch, please follow me @GailZMartin on Twitter, ‘like’ my Winter Kingdoms Facebook page and my Amazon author page, and join my newsletter list!