Category Archives: Cover Design

Six Months Out: Working the Promotion Plan

Release date for Waterspell Book 4 is March 18, 2022. Which means I’m now officially in the six-month pre-release window. I’ve got a plan and I’m working it.

Today I made Waterspell Book 1: The Warlock free at every bookseller that will let me: B&N, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords. Amazon is resisting going lower than 99 cents, and I can’t figure out how to “tell them about a lower price.” I thought there would be a button or something to click on the book’s Amazon page, but I’m not seeing it. Maybe Amazon’s zealousness about not being undersold will soon work to drop the Kindle price to free. Google Books also seems slow to respond to my price drop; I’ll keep checking back until the Google page shows it for free.*

*9/21/21 Update: Amazon and Google have caught up. The Book 1 ebook is now free in ALL ebook formats. Price-matching triumphs again. 😀

Most of the rest of today, I’ve spent making Instagram posts to get the word out about a free ebook. I’m not quite ready to post either of these yet, preferring to feature a few more Reader Reviews first, but these graphics are ready to go when the time seems right:

I’ve also reached out to some book reviewers with whom I’ve connected on Instagram. I have review copies (print and ebook) ready to send out in exchange for honest reviews. (Fantasy fans, you need merely ask, and you shall receive.)

Waterspell trilogyThe Book 4 manuscript has gone out to a trusted beta reader who is herself an author. I know that I (and the book) will greatly benefit from her feedback. She’s showing me the great kindness of reading the entire original trilogy to refresh her memory of the backstory before diving into Book 4.

Now it’s quitting time for today, and my neck is stiff from too many hours at the computer. I’ll need to learn to pace myself as the clock counts down to December 18, 2021, the first day of pre-orders, and then to March 18, 2022, the Book 4 release day. I’m trying to figure out when and how to do a Cover Reveal in there somewhere.

Which reminds me: I must also see to a new paperback cover for Book 4. To do that, I’ll need to determine how many pages the book will occupy in print. No point doing that, though, until I hear from my beta reader. Almost certainly her comments will lead to a final round of edits.

It’s going to be a busy Fall and Spring. I’m ready. I have a plan and I’m working it.

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Blurbing Book 4 of Waterspell

Waterspell Book 4 cover detail

Waterspell Book 4 cover detail

A good day’s work. Got my errands done in town this morning, then drafted a heartfelt Author’s Note for the back of Waterspell Book 4 and tweaked the blurb into something I’m almost happy with. Thoughts are welcome. Does this give too much away?

In the House of Verek, it’s five years later. The waters are troubled. Memories are darkening. If the story is to end “happily ever after” for Carin and Verek, old demons must be laid to rest.
Readers of the Waterspell fantasy series will welcome this long-awaited fourth book for the answers it provides to questions raised in volumes 1 through 3: Does the wysard Verek regain his powers, and will Carin make her way back to him? Have Carin’s parents survived the plague that devastated their world, and will she ever see them again? Did Lanse survive the attack by Carin’s defender? Is Lord Legary really dead? And not least: Did the necromancer die in the jaws of Carin’s conjured dragon? Remember: there was no blood in the water. These questions and more are answered in Waterspell Book 4, which picks up the story of the lovers, Carin and Verek, half a decade after readers saw the pair separated in the closing chapters of the original trilogy.

By the blood of Abraxas, it’s about time we learned what happened next.

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TMI: Marketing Info Overload

Too Much InformationMy eyes are glazing and my brain hurts. It began with a BookBub Partners email directing me to a guest blog by author Nick Sullivan, his topic being one close to my heart: Launching Book 4 in a Series. Like Nick, I have a fourth book coming out in about six months. But unlike Nick, it would never occur to me to set up a pre-order for a book being released months from now. That’s yet another marketing wrinkle I must consider.

As is “calling KDP.” What? It’s possible to telephone Kindle Direct Publishing? Nick says he “Called KDP and added eight more categories to both the paperback and the Kindle editions. (When you set up your book in KDP, you provide two categories, but you can contact Amazon and get up to 10.)” Veddy interesting. I had no idea that speaking with an actual human would be possible. I must investigate.

Reading more of Nick’s advice, I came to the unfamiliar term AMS. Nick writes that AMS had been “getting away from him.” Well, by golly, it’s sure been getting away from me, since I had never heard the term before today. Googling clued me in: it stands for Amazon Marketing Services. Oh, okay: ads. Yep, Amazon ads have been on my to-do list.

So I let Google detour me from Nick’s Book 4 launch strategy into the YouTube weeds of “How to Do Amazon Book Ads.” The process seems similar to BookBub’s DIY ad platform. Except Amazon makes provision for “negative targeting keywords,” where you enter search terms that you don’t want your book to be associated with. For instance, if your book isn’t free, you can enter “free” and “free ebook” as negative keywords, to keep freebie shoppers from clicking on your title and then getting mad when they see that it costs a whopping $2.99.  Good to know.

But back to Nick’s advice. He names several non-BookBub promo sites: Robin Reads, Freebooksy, Book Adrenaline, BookDoggy, ENT, and eReaderIQ. I see more Googling in my future, as I have no clue what any of those are or what they do or how much they cost.

Nick’s post eventually led me to this related article: “Marketing a New Book Release that’s Part of a Long Series.” In that linked article, author Julianne MacLean offers succinct advice that seems a little easier to follow for someone (like me) who possesses only rudimentary marketing knowledge. Julianne breaks her promo plan into seven steps:

1. Pre-order
2. Cover reveal
3. Social media
4. Book trailer
5. Discounting
6. Advertising
7. Blog tour

I’ve got Waterspell Book 4’s new cover in hand, I’ve made some book trailers, I’m as active as time allows on social media, and my testing-the-waters ads via BookBub have yielded promising results, especially for rebels like me who prefer Barnes & Noble and Nook. When Waterspell Books 1 and 2 were newly released, I did blog tours, and it seems that such tours are still “a thing,” though blogging itself isn’t the hottest communications medium out there.

Which leaves pre-orders and discounting for me to investigate.

My to-do list grows ever longer. It’s encouraging, though, that other writers have worked out doable marketing plans that I can hope to emulate. But not right now. At this hour of the day, I (like Fernando Pessoa) need truth and aspirin.

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Time to Work Out the Plan

Waterspell tagline on sunsetFor a year, I’ve been laying the groundwork:

• New covers, first for the ebooks and now for the paperbacks
• Ongoing work on the audiobooks
• New book trailers, created via Biteable
• Reformatted Facebook author page
• Updated Amazon author page
• Updated Goodreads profile
• Lots of social media graphics newly made at Canva.com

My next steps include looking into the usefulness of these things:

• BookBub
• The Fussy Librarian
• Blog tours
• Goodreads Giveaways
• Amazon advertising
• Written Word Media
• Instagram

I know who I’ll ask for new reviews to augment the glowing reviews that Waterspell received upon the books’ initial publication. The circle I move in, these days, is much changed from the social circle that I knew before my husband’s death in 2012. Now, I number among my friends many anti-fascist activists, folks I got to know after November 2016. Most of them didn’t even know I was a many-times published author; it wasn’t what drew us together. Now, gradually, I’m revealing my past life and enlisting the support of those who are willing to help me recover something of it.

Waterspell Book 1 detail

Am I dreaming, thinking I can relaunch a 10-year-old fantasy series? Possibly. But I’m making final edits to Waterspell Book 4, preparing for a 2022 release. And the audiobooks are slowly coming together, after my wonderfully talented narrator endured a major upheaval in his own world. It took him away from the work for six months—disruptive, yes, but not as damaging to a career as was my own dark, nine-year period of grief and neglect. If nothing else goes too badly wrong, the audiobooks should be released in 2022, along with Book 4.

I’m thinking those two events could be and should be enough to spark new interest in the original trilogy. If I will get out there and promote, dammit. It’s no secret that promotion takes money, and I’m prepared to pay, within reason, for advertising. Here’s what I plan for my first sponsored Facebook post:

waterspell-fb“Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and Charlotte Brontë.” From award-winning author Deborah J. Lightfoot, an unforgettable epic fantasy that readers call “extraordinary, enthralling, completely unpredictable.” Think “Jane Eyre meets a sorcerer.” Coming in 2022, Book 4 of Waterspell will complete the series. Print & ebooks available. Audiobooks in progress. http://www.waterspell.net

Amazon advertising and BookBub being completely new to me, I’ll need to discover how they may or may not fit into the budget. But at least I’ve got a little ready cash to spend on a new promotional push. The 2020 Pandemic Year not only gave me time and opportunity to pursue audiobooks and to write Book 4, it saved me money. I went nowhere and cooked meals at home. Everything I didn’t spend on travel and restaurants is now earmarked for book promotion.

I hope to Drisha this plan of mine will get these four books in front of the readers who will most enjoy them. At this point, it’s readership I want—not fortune so much, just a tiny bit of fame to validate the years I’ve spent obsessing over this story of mine.

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Impossible to Beat Goodreads Into Submission?

GoodreadsFor good or ill, I mostly ignore Goodreads. The interface is maddeningly clunky. It resists all efforts to correct or update book details. The simple act of uploading a new cover creates multitudes of “new editions” which are no such thing. Edits are not saved immediately, making the person behind the editing wonder whether they stuck at all.

I write this while waiting the minimum 15 minutes to see whether the new Waterspell paperback covers got uploaded correctly (inevitably showing as “new editions,” creating a vastness of editions at Goodreads when there are, in fact, only the three editions in the real world: Paperback, Kindle, and other ebook).

The multiplied editions don’t annoy me nearly as much, however, as Goodreads’ insistence on changing the books’ titles. They are properly titled Waterspell Book 1: The Warlock, Waterspell Book 2: The Wysard, and Waterspell Book 3: The Wisewoman. In Goodreads’ infinite wisdom, however, the books are shown with their subtitles first, and the actual title—Waterspell—in parentheses. I frown at them taking such liberties with my books, but there doesn’t seem to be much I can do about it.

My antipathy toward the Goodreads interface keeps me from participating widely on that platform, which undoubtedly redounds to my disadvantage. I know it’s popular with avid readers, and I should reach out to connect with fantasy fans who spend time there. But egads, Goodreads! Why in this age of technological marvels does your interface feel 20 years old? Has it grown too huge and bloated to revamp? Are we stuck forever with this wallowing mess of a website?

I think it’s been 15 minutes. Now I shall log in again and see if any of my edits stuck, or if I must try, try, try again. <sigh>

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How Do Books Get Discovered?

“The trick isn’t to get people to read your book. The trick is to get people to hear about your book.”

So said a participant in a recent Authors Guild webinar about book marketing and promotion. The comment struck a chord, for I’ve struggled to get my books more widely noticed. The reviews they have garnered suggest fantasy fans would enjoy reading Waterspell, but too few members of my intended audience have even heard of the series.

Anticipating the release of the audiobooks (which are progressing now, after a six-month hiatus in which Life with a capital L again intervened to back-burner them), I’m trying a mix of old and new ways to reach my audience. My newest effort is through two particularly lively Facebook groups:

  • The Reading Corner Book Lounge: “A fun and friendly place for bookdragons to discuss anything and everything bookish! We have a wide variety of members worldwide who read all sorts of genres. We frequently host readathons and have several group reads every month if you choose to participate. We also host author Live interviews a few times a year.”
  • Fantasy-Faction – SFF Book Discussion: “Fantasy-Faction.com is one of the world’s largest fantasy and science fiction book communities. Each week we bring readers book reviews, author interviews, articles on the genre, up-to-date news and much, much more. Our site has proudly been nominated for the World and British Fantasy Awards and twice won the Reddit Award for Best Fantasy Website.”

Reading Corner allows authors to self-promote, within limits. Naturally they ask writers to comment and participate with the other posts, and to not join for the sole purpose of self-promotion. I’m enjoying the group immensely and find it easy to participate as simply one avid reader among thousands. Group members read everything, but fantasy is a popular genre among them. The tone is unfailingly supportive and polite. They enjoy each other’s company. I’m not yet ready to straight-out ask for group members to read and review my books, but I anticipate a positive response when I reach that point.

Fantasy Faction dragonFantasy-Faction, on the other hand (the dragon is their logo), does not allow advertising or “buy my book” posts. It’s wonderfully informative, however. I’m learning a new vocabulary for discussing the fantasy genre: terms like “grimdark” and “reactive protagonist.” One post so neatly summed up the elements of classic, epic fantasy, it gave me a kind of template for describing Waterspell’s place in that subgenre:

Waterspell fits firmly in the realm of epic fantasy (but with an environmental fantasy twist) … It’s got ancient and mysterious magic, a Hero/Heroine’s Journey (with a twist), a passage from one world to the otherworld, a (reluctant) Chosen One, and a search for belonging and redemption.

One frequent Fantasy-Faction contributor described her favorite genre tropes in terms that left me in no doubt: She would like Waterspell. Now I’m wondering if it’s cricket (honorable, acceptable, not insectoid) to message her and offer her a review copy in exchange for a fair and honest review. I have to think it over and seek advice. Mustn’t offend (or get kicked out of the group).

New Paperback Covers

Book 1 The WarlockAnother thing I’ve learned from participating in these two bookdragon groups is that fantasy fans still buy physical books! I had assumed that ebooks were more popular with my intended audience. Personally, I prefer the convenience and portability of ebooks, and I’ve gradually culled my library of physical books. When I got new ebook (and audiobook) covers made, I thought I wouldn’t bother with updating the paperback covers, too, since the Waterspell paperbacks are much more expensive than the ebooks and haven’t sold as well.

My thinking has changed, after realizing that fantasy fans are collectors as much as they are readers. They love beautiful books, they want to hold them in their hands, and they want to display them on their bookshelves. Therefore, I have returned to my cover artist, Vila Design. and placed an order for new paperback PDFs to match the ebook covers, to be uploaded at Lightning Source.

Tweaked Facebook Page

I had wondered why my books’ Facebook page didn’t look like other writers’ pages. Visitors had to scroll past layers of Facebook-imposed clutter to reach the heart of the page. Finally I dug deep into the Settings (they bury it deep) to discover I was using FB’s “Standard” page template. When I changed to the “Public Figure” template, voila! The page cleaned up nicely. Much less clutter at the top. I’m glad to discover the fix but wonder why it was so hard to find.

Author page screenshot new template

And so I press on, trying this and that, seeking a wider audience for my work … convinced, at the end of the day, that nothing really succeeds except word-of-mouth. Personal recommendations are gold.

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Having Fun Again

How great it is to read that Far Side creator Gary Larson has published his first new cartoons in 25 years, and he’s sort of coming out of retirement – though with no deadlines. Larson said he is having fun, “exploring, experimenting, and trying stuff” – without the pressure of daily deadlines.

“So here goes,” he wrote. “I’ve got my coffee, I’ve got this cool gizmo [a digital tablet], and I’ve got no deadlines. And – to borrow from Sherlock Holmes – the game is afoot.”

While I’m not in the same league as Gary Larson, I completely identify with the delight he’s taking in all the creative potential contained in new technology. He wrote: “I hail from a world of pen and ink, and suddenly I was feeling like I was sitting at the controls of a 747. But as overwhelmed as I was, there was still something familiar there – a sense of adventure. That had always been at the core of what I enjoyed most when I was drawing The Far Side, that sense of exploring, reaching for something, taking some risks, sometimes hitting a home run …”

I feel the same way about my Waterspell books. I began writing the story in 1996. Created my first website for it in 2000, using what was then a modern app called Web Express. I attended writers conferences and pitched my books to various editors who invited me to submit the manuscript. Some of them never gave me the courtesy of any reply, afterward. Several did reply, but every one of them rejected it with some version of: “Definitely captures interest, it’s beautifully written, it’s very cinematographic” … but, “The first book of the series must be a standalone. We won’t commit to publishing all three books of a trilogy.”

In other words: Every major publisher who looked at it wanted to publish only the first book, and if it wasn’t immediately as profitable for them as the Harry Potter series, they’d kick me to the curb. I’d be on my own to publish Books 2 and 3.

That being the case, I decided my only rational response was to publish all three books on my own. How fortunate for me that I went the indie route! Have I made any money? Nope. My royalties have not come anywhere near covering the time and effort I’ve put into these books. But I’ve retained control, which has me in a great position to enjoy the benefits of new technology. Like Gary Larson, I’m having fun exploring modern tech’s creative potential, while freeing myself from deadline pressures.

The creative spark for my current project began in December 2019, when my sister-in-law gave me an Audible audiobook gift membership. I immediately downloaded The Lord of the Rings, the unabridged edition narrated by Rob Inglis.

My god! What a masterpiece. Inglis’ narration is astounding. He speaks Elvish, Dwarvish, and Orkish. He sings the songs. He correctly pronounces unpronounceable words. I found the whole audiobook experience to be far superior to rereading the books myself, and even better than the movies. The audiobooks combine the best of both: the dramatization of movies, with the completeness of  books.

My readers had been encouraging me to produce audiobooks of the Waterspell series, but I thought the cost would be prohibitive. After so immensely enjoying The Lord of the Rings, however, I decided to look into it.

And that’s when I discovered the creative potential of new technology.

It turns out that Audible has this nifty “Audiobook Creation Exchange” (ACX) by which writers and narrators can find each other, and work together easily and affordably. I’ve been astonished by how simple it was to post an excerpt, invite auditions, and immediately find the world’s most perfect narrator.

(More about him in a later post. We’re still working on Book 1. When we’re nearing the end of Book 2 and the books are set for release on Audible, I’ll be launching a bragging campaign about the extraordinarily talented narrator I found through ACX.)

My delight with new technology extends also to the ease of getting book covers designed these days. Even in 2011, when Waterspell Book 1 was initially published, getting decent covers proved difficult. I was never satisfied with the covers on the first editions, and I’ve been thrilled to discover that things have evolved to the point where writers can easily connect with talented graphic designers who’ll create good-looking covers using stock images. The new covers, created by Vila Design, are vastly more appealing than the books’ first-edition covers.

And like Gary Larson, I’m now doing this work for fun. I’ve got my coffee. I’ve got no deadlines to meet except those I set for myself. I’ve got no one to please but myself. No editor’s opinion counts with me now, for “Book 1 must stand alone” has been established as the fallacy that it is. Readers and reviewers have described the Book 1 cliffhanger-ending as “wonderful” and the series structure as “getting bigger and bigger.” I always knew that I knew what I was doing.

Having a new collaborator, however, in the person of the professional narrator who’s hard at work on the audiobooks, has sparked my creativity in an unexpected way. Hearing the narrator give each of my characters a distinctive voice has made the entire story seem new to me again. I swear the man has become Lord Verek — he voices the wysard so powerfully, and so close to the voice that I’ve heard in my head for years, that it’s simply uncanny. You just wait ’til you hear him.

Working with the narrator has proven to be such an inspiration, I actually cranked out the long-neglected Book 4 in a mere two months: May 6 to July 6. It’s a roughish first draft, it’ll need fleshing out — particularly as I work through the existing trilogy with the narrator, and recall details that I’ve forgotten. But it’s a solid start, and by this time in 2021, I expect to be publishing Book 4, which ties together some of those threads (not really loose ends) that remained from the first three books.

That’s how I’ve been spending the 2020 coronavirus lockdown: working with an excellent audiobook narrator, working with a talented cover designer, and writing a fourth novel. Like Gary Larson, I’ve been freed by the creative potential of all this new technology. It’s making my life fun again, after several dark years of grief, and feeling like I’d never write another word of fiction.

I wasn’t actually sure I still could write fiction. But I’ve shown myself that I can. And I’ve got my sister-in-law and other family members, my narrator colleague, my graphic-design colleague, Audible, ACX, Rob Inglis, and all my lovely and supportive readers to thank for pulling me out of my personal black hole and getting me creating again. Love you all! ♥

Waterspell, a fantasy trilogy by Deborah J. Lightfoot

Waterspell, a fantasy trilogy by Deborah J. Lightfoot

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