Q&A Show On Self-Publishing And Book Marketing With Joanna Penn

In today’s show, I tackle more of your questions from The Creative Penn survey about self-publishing and marketing. The last Q&A show was one of the most popular of the podcast, so I hope you enjoy this one too.

joanna penn grinIn the intro, I mention that I visited Highgate Cemetery yesterday and if you’re a fellow taphophile, you can see my pics on Pinterest here. I also mention the ups and downs of Amazon this week, with Joe Konrath and Hugh Howey both singing the praises of KDP Select, while a report on working conditions in the New York Times has been getting a lot of negative press.

I also talk about my progress on the course website for the new Creative Freedom course and how I’ll be unveiling the roadmap video this week. It’s my attempt to demonstrate what most authors are missing in their author business and why most authors don’t make a living with their writing. You can get all the free videos at TheCreativePenn.com/freedom

99designs-logo-750x200pxThis podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna

Special Keyboard - HelpIn the Q&A section, I go through:

  • Draft2Digital and Smashwords and the different sites they distribute your book to.
  • Paid advertising, hiring help for all that indie publishing entails, and the motivation behind being an indie author.
  • The different lengths of novels and novellas and the distinction between book series and serials and Wattpad’s model for serialized book releases.
  • The different audiences for print and eBooks.
  • Blogging and ISBNs and whether they’re necessary for a writing career.
  • On the advisability of crowdfunding for authors and the motivations for marketing your books.
  • Getting traffic to a website without a platform and the reasons for that traffic.
  • The hard work of being an indie author and the choices we make about what we want to do with our time.

If you enjoyed the Q&A, then you can get more videos and audios on making a living with your writing and managing your time at TheCreativePenn.com/freedom.

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Social Media Tips For Writers With Frances Caballo

I learned a ton of new stuff about social media in this interview with Frances Caballo from SocialMediaJustForWriters. I know you will too!

Deviance I’ve scheduled this in advance as I am away in New York for Thrillerfest. In the intro I mention Deviance, which is out on pre-order right now at a reduced price of US$2.99. It’s also July so I reflect on my own 2015 goals at this mid year point and encourage you to reflect on your own.

99designs-logo-750x200pxThis podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna

frances caballoFrances Caballo is an author and social media strategist and runs the fantastic site, Social Media Just for Writers.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the video on YouTube or read the notes and links below.

  • On the time suck of social media and how to avoid it, including Frances’ four-step process for an effective social media strategy. You can also check out Frances’ book: Avoid Social Media Time Suck.
  • avoid social media time suckThe importance of the 80/20 rule on social media, as well as the influence of images.
  • Why social media is not the Shopping Channel and the importance of following the social rules.
  • On authenticity, being genuine and being consistent with your brand, while still respecting your own boundaries about what personal information you share.
  • On which sites writers should be on based on the demographics of the audience for their specific genre.
  • The importance of a professional presence on social media, including avatars and bios.
  • Tips for Pinterest and ways to create more traffic to your blog, including tracking where traffic is coming from, as well as tips about creating and managing images for the various social media sites.
  • On the new mobile video app Periscope, now owned by Twitter.
  • Advertising and the issue of some social media sites being pay to play now, as well as balancing the different type of marketing strategies that are available – content marketing, attraction marketing and paid advertising.

You can find Frances at her website, SocialMediaJustForWriters.com and on twitter @caballofrances

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Audiobook Production And Marketing Tips with Jeffrey Kafer

I’m super excited about growth in audiobook sales in the coming year and today I discuss lots of interesting aspects with Jeffrey Kafer, award winning voice talent and narrator for one of my latest audiobooks, One Day in New York.

In the intro, I mention my tech and health gremlins, the KDP Select page count freak out, the Self-Publishing Summit and the webinar with Nick Stephenson on finding your first 10,000 readers. I also update on my writing: How to Make a Living with your Writing is out now in ebook formats, and Deviance is out on pre-order.

This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets kobo writing lifethrough the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

Kobo’s financial support pays for the hosting and transcription, and if you enjoy the show, you can now support my time on Patreon. Thank you for your support!

jeffkaferJeffrey Kafer is a professional audiobook narrator and an award-winning voice over artist. He recently narrated my first male character audiobook, One Day in New York, and he also runs the audiobook promotion site, AudiobookBlast.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the video or read the notes and links below.

  • On changes in the audiobook market and why it’s a good time for authors to do audiobooks.
  • The pros and cons of ACX and options available to US & UK authors who use the service, including royalty sharing with the narrator.
  • On ways that authors can get the attention of good narrators.
  • Whispersync explained and how it effects royalties for narrators.
  • On audiobooks in languages other than English.
  • one day in new yorkOn Jeff’s audiobook promotion site, called audiobookblast.com, how it works and how it differs from BookBub.
  • The frustrating lack of granular categories on Audible and whether this could change.
  • The importance of quality audio clips when marketing an audiobook, ways to get these and what to avoid.
  • Working collaboratively with a narrator and the resulting new piece of art.
  • The future of audio, including Google Auto, CarPlay and streaming services.

You can find Jeffrey at www.JeffreyKafer.com and you can find One Day in New York in audiobook format here on Audible and here on iTunes.

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Author Websites Q & A: How To Create An Effective, Mobile-Friendly Website

How does your site look on a smartphone? Nearly half of all website visitors are browsing on mobile devices.

How does your site look on a smartphone? Nearly half of all website visitors are using†mobile devices.

On a recent post about author websites, I mentioned the importance of a mobile responsive theme. It’s now even more critical to get this sorted for your author website as Google have made changes to their algorithms to favor mobile-friendly sites.

I’ve also written in the last few weeks about the rebranding and retitling of my first 3 novels. As part of that change, I’ve rebuilt my fiction site, JFPenn.com with a new theme. So essentially, I’ve been immersed in website fun for a while now!

As I get so many questions about this from other authors, I’ve asked Sara Whitford, an author and website designer, to go into more detail. Hopefully, this will help with your website redesign or optimization, something we all do as part of the author journey.

1) Why do authors need a mobile responsive website?

As authors, we must know that these days, potential readers will primarily discover our books online. In addition to writing a fabulous story and taking whatever steps are necessary to publish a professional-quality product (such as hiring a copy editor, making sure the book’s cover and interior design looks top-notch, etc.), we also need to establish our author brand by having a website (or two – more on that in a minute), as well as making smart use of social media and diverse marketing techniques to drive those potential readers to our websites where we can accomplish a few things:

  • Introduce them to our library of available content, including our published and forthcoming works, as well as related blog posts;
  • Let them know various places where they can purchase our books;
  • Provide links to our social media profiles in one place so they can connect with us on those sites;
  • Get them to sign up for our mailing lists so that we can communicate with them directly when we have something to offer that we think might interest them.

That said, a huge amount of Internet browsing is done on mobile devices. Joanna has told me roughly 43% of JFPenn.com traffic (the site for her thriller novels) is viewing the site on a mobile browser. I am seeing similar figures – averaging about 40% of traffic to my own sites – is viewing on mobile devices or small tablets.

Createspace is a great, easy-to-use siteóas long as youíre on a computer screenóbut itís a challenge to navigate if youíre on a mobile phone.

Createspace is a great, easy-to-use siteóas long as youíre on a computer screenóbut itís a challenge to navigate if youíre on a mobile phone.

What kind of browsing experience do you think someone will have if they go to your website and it is not mobile responsive?

They’ll not likely stay for long. It’s not much fun, and it’s quite frustrating, trying to navigate a site by pinch-stretching the screen every time you want to click on a link, or read or enter a bit of text.

And now, Google is doing its part to make sure the mobile web experience is as user-friendly as it can be, and if your site isn’t up to their new standards, its search engine rankings will likely tank.

Recently, Google enacted new search algorithms that prioritize mobile-friendly sites in search results.

This change effectively penalizes sites that are not mobile-friendly by not ranking them as high as their responsive counterparts. While a lot of other variables go into website SEO, making sure your site is mobile responsive should be at the top of your list.

I published an article on my author blog ahead of Google’s algorithm change that explains what a mobile responsive website is, as well as some easy steps you can take right now to make your site responsive.

2) What are the top 3 issues that you see on author websites?

In no particular order, I’d say my top three issues with author websites are that they either don’t look professional enough, they don’t have fresh content, and they often aren’t responsive, or mobile-friendly.

  • Joanna Penn's fiction website, jfpenn.com, is a great, professional-looking site.

    Joanna Penn’s fiction website (jfpenn.com) is a professional-looking, mobile-friendly site.

    You need a professional-looking website. It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to get a decent looking website. If you’re willing to do the work, you can learn to put something that looks quite professional together for yourself. I’m always teaching myself new things when it comes to website development and you can too!†Nevertheless, even if you decide your time is better spent elsewhere, go ahead and set a little bit of money aside and hire someone to help you set up a site that you can maintain yourself. Your website might be the first place a potential reader comes into contact with you before ever even reading one of your books. You just don’t want it to look amateurish.

  • You need fresh content. Give readers a reason to keep coming back. If your site is nothing but a billboard advertising your current books, they’ll (maybe) spend a few minutes looking to see what all is there, but that’ll be the end of it. Ideally, you’ll have a subscription form of some sort for your e-mail list. Joanna has some great information about that right here. While you write fresh content, try to keep it timeless. That way, you can employee a fantastic auto-sharing plugin like Revive Old Post, which will automatically (and randomly) share your content on the social media networks of your choosing based on a schedule you set up.

3) What are some of the other key aspects an author needs on their website?

In addition to the obvious author site must-haves such as information about your available titles, editorial reviews, forthcoming projects, and an author bio, I also suggest the following:

Connect with your readers.

Are you using social media? You should be. You don’t have to answer every tweet or Facebook post, but you should at least give readers a means of connecting with you on at least two or three social media sites. If I had to pick just three, I’d choose Goodreads (because of all the readers!), Twitter (because it’s fun), and Facebook (because you likely already have a built in network there and it’s so easy to share new blog posts, book news, and so forth). I have a longer article about Social Media for Writers here.

You want readers to be able to easily share content from your site, so make sure you are using social media share buttons on each post.

You want readers to be able to easily share content from your site, so make sure you are using social media share buttons on each post.

Use share buttons.

In addition to making sure that your site has fresh content regularly (whether it’s weekly or monthly, whatever you can manage), you should also have share buttons at the bottom of any articles so that people can post them easily to their social networks. Don’t worry about grabbing share buttons from all of the social media sites. There are plenty of plugins that can help you accomplish the same thing.

Use attractive images.

Please don’t decorate your site with clip-art from your word processing software. I mean, the occasional cutesy image is ok, but otherwise, try to keep it professional. Don’t worry if you don’t have Photoshop or Illustrator. Two great tools that can help your site look its best are Canva and Dollar Photo Club.

  • Canva.com is a site that will let you create professional quality graphics in sizes specific to different social media (such as those perfect Twitter banners, Facebook covers, etc.) or in whatever dimensions you need. You can upload your own images to incorporate (such as a book cover or your photo), plus they have a variety of free elements you can use to build your graphics, or you can purchase premium elements for a dollar a piece.
  • DollarPhotoClub.com†is a massive high-res stock images library where you can find the perfect graphics for any project for only a dollar each.
TheCreativePenn.com website highlights Joanna's expertise and has a tone reflective of her non-fiction books. It's very different than her fiction book website as seen above.

TheCreativePenn.com website highlights Joanna’s expertise and has a tone reflective of her non-fiction books. It’s very different than her fiction book website as seen above.

4) Many authors are confused about branding and colors for websites – what do you recommend in terms of branding?

Most authors will want to focus on developing a site that accurately reflects the tone of the books they write – that is, if they stick to one genre. For instance, someone who writes serious military thrillers probably doesn’t want a website full of cheerful pictures of kittens and rainbows.

Take a look at your book covers and try to find common elements such as colors, fonts, and related imagery. When a reader visits your site, you want to draw them into the world of your novels and other content that is relevant in some way.

Occasionally, authors will write in two or more wildly different genres. When they do, they might want to consider setting up more than one site – like Joanna has done with thecreativepenn.com and jfpenn.com. The former, she uses for her non-fiction writing books and related blog. The latter is for her thrillers.

In my case, while I don’t have plans to write many non-fiction books like Joanna, I still enjoy blogging about the tips, tricks, and hacks I’m learning as an independent author-publisher and giving back to the indie community by sharing those with my fellow writers online. Still, I realize the readers of my Adam Fletcher Adventure Series probably don’t care much about how I use Scrivener or that I’m a fan of plotting my novels on index cards. For that reason, I have two websites: one is my author site, the other is for my book series.

5) What do you recommend if people want to do it themselves?

In short, I recommend is a site built with the WordPress platform and using the Genesis framework by Studiopress, along with one of their brilliant child themes. Right out of the box, all of their themes are mobile-friendly and they make SEO easy. I have a more detailed article here about developing an author website.

6) What do you offer if people need help?

If you have questions, please contact me via my website. I'm happy to help!

If you have questions, please contact me via my website. I’m happy to help!

I’m always happy to answer questions via my website if I am able, but I also hire out my services to help create high quality, professional-looking websites at affordable prices.

I’m a newly published author, so I’m still dependent on my day job designing websites to pay the bills. I’ve been building websites for nearly two decades with all varieties of technologies, but for the last five years, I’ve become a huge fan of helping people build WordPress sites using Studiopress themes. I’m also experienced at integrating social media, setting up podcasts, content planning, SEO, and much more.

sara whitfordMy hourly rates are competitive and no job is too big or too small. If you’re interested in finding out what it might cost to develop, or just upgrade, your own website, you can contact me via the form on this page.

Sara Whitford is a writer, historical researcher, editor, website developer and homeschooling mom of one very cool boy.

On Changing Book Titles And Covers: My Own Experience And How You Can Do It Too

I’ve just been through a massive rebranding process: re-titling and re-covering the first 3 books in my ARKANE series, and updating the back matter for all the other books.

A hefty amount of work!

Here’s why and how, just in case you want to go through this sometime. It’s quite a long, confessional style of post. I’m ‘fessing up to my mistakes, so be gentle with your comments!

First up, here are the awesome new covers: Stone of Fire (previously Pentecost), Crypt of Bone (previously Prophecy) and Ark of Blood (previously Exodus), designed by the wonderful JD Smith Design.

New ARKANE coversSo, why change my fiction book titles anyway?

Basically, none of us know what the hell we’re doing when we start writing :)

Here’s how my first book title journey went.

In November 2009, I joined NaNoWriMo in an attempt to write something fictional. Amusingly, I videoed the process – here’s Day 1, and you can follow the whole journey here. The working title for the book on Day 1 was Morgan – and Morgan Sierra is still the name of my main character and alter-ego, so that hasn’t changed.

Pentecost, Prophecy, Exodus

Original covers of the first 3 books. Pentecost by Joel Friedlander. Prophecy and Exodus by Derek Murphy, Creativindie. I loved them all!

Then I started to incorporate aspects of Carl Jung and psychology of religion into the book, and the working title became Mandala, after the patterns in Jung’s Red Book which I was reading at the time. As I continued to write and edit over the following year, the title changed again to Pentecost – based on the pillar of fire that (in my story) empowered the stones of the Apostles.

I have a Masters in Theology from Oxford University, and although I don’t adhere to any religion, my interest in all things religious/supernatural/paranormal/spiritual/psychological drives my writing. Oh yes, and my favorite movie is Con Air, which explains why I blow so much up in my books :)

“From the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona to Castle Houska in the Czech Republic, no one destroys landmarks better than Penn. Despite her penchant for demolition, Penn’s GatesofHellsmallerGATES OF HELL is a must read. I enjoyed every page.” Amazon review from i Love Reading

I then decided that I would write books with titles that began with P in this series. So the next book was Prophecy – based on the prophecy in Revelation that a quarter of the world must die … (cue dramatic music) … and then I wrote Exodus, which doesn’t even begin with P … you’re getting the idea now that I didn’t really have a clue back then!

At the time, I didn’t do any kind of market research into the niche or my audience, or what the covers might look like, or what my target market would expect. I just ‘had a feeling’ about the type of books I wanted to buy and read, and I buy anything with faintly religious sounding titles.

Back then, I knew a lot about non-fiction marketing, but nothing about how to market fiction.

I published Exodus in December 2013 and I started questioning my titles at that point. I was getting some 1 star reviews saying that the books weren’t Christian (they’re not, even though they are respectful to all religions). I wanted to target the Dan Brown market – but I should have realized that his breakout book was called ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ NOT ‘The Jesus Code.’

Champagne to celebrate the launch of my first novel!

Champagne to celebrate the launch of my first novel! It was only the beginning …

While my books are based on biblical history and archaeology, they are about as Christian as James Rollins, Simon Toyne, Steve Berry and others who write mainstream conspiracy thrillers/action-adventure. I have a lot of Christian readers who enjoy the stories, and I am respectful to all faiths in my books, BUT I am not a Christian and I don’t write books that are specifically Christian.

So the next book I wrote was: One Day in Budapest. A much more mainstream title that encapsulated the fast pace and also the geographic element of the book. I’ve continued to write ‘Day’ novellas and am very happy with those.

I make up titles for new books as I am getting ideas, and usually change them at least once before publication. For example, Day of the Vikings started out as Ragnarok. Gates of Hell started out as Inquisition.

pentecost prophecy exodus reboot

Reboot of the covers with Lara Croft style figure … turns out my readers describe Morgan as a female Indiana Jones :) By Derek Murphy from Creativindie – I still love these covers too!

I changed my ARKANE covers again in March 2014, after a number of articles about using people on the covers convinced me to do the same.

We added a Lara Croft style figure on the first 3 books, and also changed Desecration from a white, artistic, literary cover to something more befitting a crime thriller (as below).

All of this demonstrates how hard titles and cover designs can be when you do this alone.

As for the title change – essentially, I’ve been considering a change since Exodus came out and recently I signed with a new agent. We have lots of ideas for potential foreign rights markets and changing the look and feel of the series now will help with pitching. So I bit the bullet, made the changes and despite the pain, I’m really happy with the result.

remake desecration

Both covers by Derek Murphy, Creativindie. I love them both but the white looks a little too artistic for a crime thriller :)

So, what’s the conclusion from all of this?

It takes time to get to know your own voice as a writer

It takes a few books to really get to grips with what you’re writing, who you want to be as a writer, how you want your brand to look and also what your books even mean.

It also takes time to understand what your readers think about your books. Who do THEY compare your work too?

My VA, Alexandra, and I recently went through over 1000 reviews on my books to work this out. My readers compare my ARKANE series to Clive Cussler and Indiana Jones, as well as Dan Brown & Steve Berry – with a hint of National Treasure, James Bond, Daniel Silva, Matthew Reilly and Kate Mosse. I’m happy with that :) and so we used those authors as models for the new covers.

JF penn siteSurprisingly, the whole process of working through what the ARKANE brand is has made me more comfortable in my thriller writer skin. Taking a step back has enabled me to evaluate where I am, where I’m going, what I want to write next.

Although I’ve talked previously about my shadow side coming through in my fiction, about how I am two people, I am finally feeling that I am becoming a more integrated soul. To illustrate this, I’ve just changed my JFPenn.com site and made the whole thing a lot more smiley. My books are actually really fun – yes, a high body count – but pacy and full of adventure. Just like Con Air :)

It’s time I embraced the entertainment side of being a writer and stopped being so serious! (I’m going to blame Oxford and my literary upbringing for that!)

So how does all this apply to your author journey?

Best practices for book titles

For non-fiction – unless you are super famous/have a platform and people will buy anyway – use SEO/keyword research for some part of your title, either the main title or the sub-title. Read more on this here, when I retitled my first non-fiction book and sales jumped 10-fold.

Also, listen to this interview with Tim Grahl about using PickFu to test titles. This is also a great article on the truth about picking non-fiction book titles.

Author brandingFiction book titles are really difficult – so difficult that there are very few blog posts on it on the internetz. Fiction titles need to:

  • Communicate a promise to the reader – which is further aligned to the cover images – which mesh perfectly with what the customer expects in the book. If there’s anything that jars the reader in any imperceptible way, they won’t buy.

Ultimately, the title, cover and description are your primary marketing materials for your book.

Yes, you need to write a great book. That’s always the first thing. But if you don’t nail those 3 elements, no one will pick it up or download a sample.

This is one of the mixed blessings of being an indie author – creative freedom means you get to title and cover your book how you want. And yes, you might get it wrong. Luckily, we get to change things if we want to.

One other thing, there is no copyright on book titles in English, so you can use a title that others have used. But I wouldn’t publish a book called The Da Vinci Code or Jurassic Park. There is copyright on book titles in Germany and potentially other countries, so be careful with your titles in translation.

OK, let’s get into the nitty-gritty details.

Won’t changing the covers and titles confuse readers?

Readers can’t download the same ebook twice, so as long as you keep the same numbers on the various stores e.g. ASIN on Amazon, then there won’t be a problem. Also, you can add ‘Previously published as …’ in all the important places.

The main issues have been print copies, as they require new ISBNs – but I gave the change a positive spin and did a giveaway of signed First Editions to my fiction email list (signup and free book here!) It was really popular and I got lots of positive feedback about the new covers and titles too.

What are you growing for the long term?

What are you growing for the long term?

Yes, you may end up annoying a few people but to be honest, I’m only 40 and I have many, many years of writing ahead of me. I want to position myself for the long term so I needed to do this now as I have more coming in the ARKANE series. Better to do it now rather than later, when of course, I become a 10 year overnight success :)

How to change ebook titles and covers

You don’t lose reviews or rankings if you keep the same ID numbers on the various platforms e.g. ASIN on Amazon KDP. Just change your source files and metadata and republish. Add in an extra line ‘previously published as’ so people don’t get annoyed.

If you have lots of books, you will have to update the back matter and sales descriptions of all the other books as well to reference the changed books. It took me several days to do all this and it was extremely painful – BUT hopefully worth it! I also took the opportunity to add teasers about the next book in the series so hopefully that will also increase sell through.

Here’s some more specifics per store.

KINDLE – It takes a couple of days for the cover to update even though the interior files will update really fast on the store. This meant that there were a few days where the title didn’t match the cover and I held my breath expecting bad reviews. No way to get round that though and everything was fine. My author page looks awesome now :)

author page

KOBO – No issues at all. Changes went through fine.

iBOOKS – No issues at all. Changes went through fine.

NOOK – The key field is on title, so you’ll need to ask for their help. My sales have been so low at NOOK recently that I just went ahead and lost my history and reviews. If you have a huge audience on NOOK, then this might make you think twice about re-titling, but re-covering is no issue.

SMASHWORDS – No issues at all. Changes went through fine.

How to change print book titles and covers

Unfortunately, a title change means new ISBNs which means new files. You need to unpublish the old ones. Make sure you order a few copies for posterity. You never know, they may be valuable one day!

Stone of Fire 3DI use Createspace and free ISBNs so I created new projects for all 3 books, changed the interior and cover files and republished.

Link the new versions through Amazon Author Central and ask them to unlink the old ones. You can never get rid of the older editions in that they will be available as secondhand, but you can make sure the new books are linked to the Kindle version with all the reviews on.

I also updated the print files for all my other fiction books with the name changes as part of the series in the back matter and took the opportunity to update my Author Bio and other small things while I was there.

How to change audiobook titles and covers

audioMy audiobooks are published through ACX and it has been a bit of a pain. It should be simple enough. Contact the help at ACX and ask for changes to the projects. Send them the updated cover, opening and closing credits and that should be it.

Unfortunately, because I sent 3 at the same time, the helpdesk got confused and loaded the wrong title and cover to the two of the books. I’d suggest this wouldn’t be an issue with just one book – and it worked out fine in the end.

Was it all worth it?

Yes, indeed, although I suspect I will be updating links on this site for years to come. I needed to take a good look at my fiction brand and the new covers and titles give me a good base going forward. As the first 3 books in the series, they are super important and STONE OF FIRE is my permafree title, so it needs to look good. I’m confident that my agent will be able to take these to foreign markets and overall, I am super happy with the changes.

What do you think? This has been a megapost, so please join the conversation and let me know your thoughts in the comments below.