How To Get A Unique Illustration For Your Book Cover

With the explosion of creativity that is the indie publishing revolution, you may have noticed the array of book covers that use similar stock photos in their designs.

99DesignsKeys1

Selection of the initial key designs submitted. All copyright belongs to the designers.

Some authors these days have private photo shoots to ensure their cover images are unique, but what about if you have a smaller budget, or you want something uniquely special in terms of an illustration?

This type of approach can also work for art that relates to your book, e.g. world building and maps, or artwork for marketing purposes

Using 99 Designs to get a custom illustration

Full disclosure here. 99 Designs now sponsor 50% of my podcast, so I was encouraged to try them out. After hearing great things from other authors, I thought I would do something a little different.

99Designs_vandamme99

FINALIST: Copyright 99 Designs designer lucky bast(art), previously vandamme99

I already have a book cover designer in the wonderful Derek Murphy from Creativindie, so I decided to get an image done for my next book, Gates of Hell. I’m just heading towards the end of the first draft and the book features a hunt for the Key to the Gates of Hell. It should be out before Christmas if you’re interested!

My original brief: Create a key to the Gates of Hell. Let your creative darkness loose!

99Designs_BelleIllumina

FINALIST: Copyright: 99Designs BelleIllumina

I wanted to be quite open with the brief, as at that point I hadn’t decided what the key would look like. Here’s what I wrote:

I want an illustration of a key to the Gates of Hell – with the aim that the image is used on the book cover of the book, titled “Gates of Hell,” and also in promotional material.

And also that I can use the illustration to get a pattern made to actually 3D print the key.

I have visions of screaming open mouths and mis-shapen deformities and demons and oozing blackness – but basically, I want a creative image that is still recognizably a key and I want you to use any images that conjure up hell. I am using a group called the Misshapen in the book, so that word may also help. The book is a thriller with a supernatural edge, so dark/scary is good – edge of horror is fine. I don’t mind black & white or color.

Changing my mind based on the designs

Copyright 99Designs designer josephnovi

FINALIST: Copyright 99Designs designer josephnovi

As the designs started to come in, I realized that I was confusing the issue by saying I wanted to turn the image into a 3D printed design as well as a book cover. The two are quite different, and the book cover was always the most important thing, so I narrowed down the requirements as the competition progressed. I also created a Gates of Hell pinboard on Pinterest for the book to give another flavor to the design.

99Designs_MadMaxx

FINALIST: Copyright 99Designs MadMaxx

I had 125 entries from 48 designers in the end, ranging from some really amazing elaborate designs to some striking images.

You get to rate the images as they come in, and that helps the designers consider another iteration. You can also engage in private or public conversations which helps everyone move closer to the desired result.

With 99 Designs, you only pay if you are happy with the design, so there is no risk. Of course, guaranteeing the payment may make the competition more attractive :)

You can also do Polls by selecting the images and then enabling a shareable link for email and social media so people can vote on the designs. I sent the link out to my J.F.Penn fiction newsletter subscribers, as well as sharing on social media and had several hundred votes on the final Poll.

key to the gates of hell

WINNER! Thanks D.C – Danniel Soares

The Key to the Gates of Hell

And here’s the final design, which I love!

It looks like a real key but also captures the desperation of a soul in Hell (in my mind at least) and it came out top of the final poll as well.

Next, I need to finish the book and we’ll work on the full cover design. Since it will be ARKANE Book 6, there are elements of the cover that are fixed. This illustration will just add another dimension, and in fact, provided a story twist that I’m currently writing!

It was an added bonus to have other creative minds that jump-started my own thoughts as I wrote! I just LOVE collaboration with other artists – it’s so rewarding.

I asked the fantastic designer of the winning illustration, Danniel Soares, a couple of questions:

How did you come up with the design based on the (very loose) brief?

I particularly like this sort of brief, giving enough direction ideas, while not being strictly defined. The downside is that you’ll probably need to narrow down on one or two ideas relatively fast, in this contest scheme, so you can present something that already have a reasonably good rendering. Other important consideration is the time it will take to develop it.

Unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to do a 3D sculpture in the foreseeable time (I’m not really “fluent” with the 3D software I have, and I’m not sure my current hardware would be powerful enough for this sort of thing as the 3D mesh grows in complexity), even though this consideration also had some influence on that particular idea, which is relatively simpler, while still at least just as good. The other idea, actually came first, and morphed more or less gradually into the final one.

What are your tips for authors who want to get designs for their books?

An important thing to have in mind before anything are the different sub-domains of graphic artists. In an ideal world people wouldn’t take jobs they don’t really feel ready to do, but that can happen, and the final product will probably suffer as a result.

The main distinctions among professionals who would do the final work are perhaps “illustrator” and “designer” (who will often have their sub-specialties, based on genre, technique, and intended use). The latter deals more with the overall layout and structure of the whole, while the former is more concerned with “isolated” details, even though it’s helpful to have a notion of the planned design, to make it match appropriately — but perhaps some designers would prefer to have the illustrations roughs to see how to layout things around it! The specialty of one will tend to be the weakness of the other, even though there will be some people who do both equally well.

The best way to proceed then is to take some time to look through several artists’ portfolios, trying to find a few who work in styles that match the book.

Maybe while still writing the book, perhaps it could turn out to be a form of inspiration. And make some inquiries along the way, or at some allotted time.

Established professionals, whether they’re solo, a team, or subcontractors of an agency, will likely have a well defined process, describing their obligations and conditions in a more or less standardized contract. With people who are just starting out things can be probably be somewhat more complicated and insecure, due to inexperience, and a natural lack of expertise in the business and administrative side. But that probably can be dealt with some precautions from the author, like coming up with a reasonable contract beforehand, to be filled in eventually. That’s definitely somewhat more complicated, but may worth the extra work.

Services like 99designs can be seen as an intermediate way, since they’re literally being the intermediaries between the artists and the client, offering some aspects of “insurance”, even though I’m not totally sure about the details. I hope it didn’t sound too much like some sort of infomercial, because I’m not being paid to make this sort of advertisement. But even with this sort of backing it’s perhaps interesting to study how to do a briefing that is specific enough and clear in scope, in order to avoid misunderstandings and frustrations from both sides.

What else can you use 99 Designs for?

99designsIf you need visual work done, then there are lots of options for what the designers on 99 Designs can do for you. The services include:

  • Book cover design and custom artwork and illustrations
  • Logos and business cards
  • Web page and mobile apps as well as banner ads
  • T-shirts (I am seriously considering this at some point!)

You can get a PowerPack upgrade if you use my sponsorship link: 99Designs.com/joanna which will supercharge your contest by highlighting your listing, bolding its font, and bumping it to the top of the page. Basically, you can get more entries from better designers.

I found the whole process pretty addictive and since I love collaboration, it’s definitely on my list to do again.

OK, I’d love to know what you think of 99 Designs, or if you have used custom designs/illustrations from other designers.Please leave a comment below and join the conversation.

 

How To Be Successful In Self-Publishing

Last week, I spoke at the Frankfurt Book Fair on the Kobo booth and talked about what it takes to be successful in self-publishing to a small group of indie authors. Thanks to Camille Mofidi from Kobo Writing Life Europe for inviting me and also getting me a star on the walk of fame – see the picture at the bottom of the post!

kobo booth at Frankfurt

With Camille Mofidi at the Kobo booth at Frankfurt Book Fair

Here are my slides from the event and a list of notes with more links is included below.

It is 95% relevant to all authors, with a little bit of German specific info throughout.

Here’s my top tips:

What do you think? Does this sum up what you consider is necessary to be successful self-publishing?

Please do leave a comment below and join the conversation.

How To Read Your Own AudioBook And Sell Direct To Customers

I love ACX.com and I am all in with my fiction there, but I’m also a podcaster and after years of doing my own interviews and audio, I decided to read my own non-fiction audiobook, and sell it direct!

Here’s how.

microphoneRecording the book

I live in a basement flat with pretty good acoustics for audio i.e. no high ceilings or wooden floors, so I knew it would be OK to record here. If you want to record yourself and distribute professionally, you are likely to need a studio, but I went ahead at home and just stopped if it got too noisy.

I am not hugely technical and I didn’t want to do much post-processing, so I focused on a quiet background. You can sort out noise in post-production, but ideally, you want a clean read, which is why so many podcasters and audio people record in padded cupboards!

I have a Snowball mic and used Amadeus Pro software on the Mac to record the initial files. You can also use Audacity, GarageBand or whatever free software you have.

scrivenerI had Scrivener open to the book and read from the screen chapter by chapter. I saved each audio file at around 20 minutes and managed two or three per day.

I actually found it was really tiring to concentrate, plus my voice struggled so I drank a lot of peppermint tea to keep it going. When I made mistakes in the file, which was at least every couple of minutes, I would clap loudly and then be silent for a few seconds. This creates a visible spike and space on the file so you can find the bits to clean up without having to listen to the whole thing again.

Yes, you WILL make mistakes. It is not easy to read a book aloud! I have renewed respect for my audiobook narrators.

I decided to make the audio more interesting by adding my own little comments at the end of some of the chapters, giving the people who bought that version a little extra something. I also found a few bits I wanted to change as I read the book aloud, so I did update the ebook files as I read. It’s great to read aloud for that final proof-read!

Editing and QA process

business audiobookAfter I finished a couple of 20 minute files, I would edit them in the same software. I removed all the mistakes and silences and gulps and coughs.

I then used Dropbox to send the files to my virtual assistant who listened to the audio to check for any other issues. I left in things that were natural speech but removed clear errors e.g. when I had left the same section in twice, or a little burp from too much tea!

After the QA process and final edits, I put the files together to create six files of one hour each.

I also included an intro and outro little piece of music which makes it sound professional. I get all my royalty free music from Incompetech, an amazing site with loads of music options.

Then I used Auphonic.com to level the sound and add the metadata and tags so it looks nice in your mp3 player.

I decided to package the 6 audio files with the DRM free ebook files in Kindle and ePub formats as the final product. I made the cover on the left with Canva.com, a fantastic tool for creating images.

Selling the file

I’ve talked about your options for selling direct before.

SelzMy choice is to use Selz.com to package the audio files with the ebooks in Kindle and ePub formats.

I also set up a discount code which is in the back of all the ebooks and print books so those who have already bought the book in other formats can also get the audiobook version if they like for $5 reduction. Click here to go straight to the audio sales page on Selz so you can see what it looks like.

Results

In the first 13 days, I’ve sold 16 audiobooks directly at a total of $305.53, and also 24 copies of the ebook directly at a total of $119.76.

selz audiobook

The Selz shopping experience

It’s not going to buy me a house but it’s also not bad for the first couple of weeks and in a direct sales channel that I only introduced recently!

The 24 direct sales of the ebooks may ‘cannibalize’ sales from the ebook platforms but I get a closer relationship with my customers and I get the money within a week, instead of waiting a couple of months.

It’s early days and I expect Business for Authors to be more of a constant seller, as my book, How to Market a Book, is as well.

The book is mostly evergreen material so I don’t expect to have to update it for a while. I’m definitely considering recording my other non-fiction books as well. It is a time investment but I think they will be pretty constant sellers. I’ll keep my fiction on ACX.com but for non-fiction, I think I prefer this option (but I reserve the right to change my mind!)

Positive feedback

Here’s one happy customer, Henry Hyde:

“What a fantastic resource you have created. I’m really glad I bought the audio version with the extra Henry Hydedownloads, and your little asides are lovely, reinforcing how very human and surprisingly humble you are despite your amazing achievements.

I’m going to have to listen to the whole thing again, this time in conjunction with the written version and workbook … My head is buzzing with ideas … I’d recommend this book to anyone running any kind of creative business, not just writers and publishers. A massive round of applause for what is bound to become the go-to reference work in the field.” Henry Hyde

You can listen to a 20 min sample on SoundCloud here, or click play below. You can also find out more or buy the audiobook package here.

 

I’d love to hear your comments on this topic. First of all, do you like to listen to audiobooks read by the author? Do you want to try doing this yourself and do you have any questions?

 

Copyright, Publishing Contract Clauses, Image Use And Avoiding Getting Sued With Helen Sedwick

There are questions that come up over and over again in the self-publishing world: What does copyright even mean? How do I write about real people and not get sued? How can I protect against piracy? Today, I interview lawyer Helen Sedwick about these and many other legal issues.

In the intro, I talk about the new Kindle Voyage, heading to Frankfurt Book Fair and what I’m learning from Dean Wesley Smith’s productivity course that has resulted in 20,000 words done for Gates of Hell, my next novel in the last 9 days.

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

helensedwickHelen Sedwick is a California attorney with 30 years experience representing a diverse range of businesses and entrepreneurs. She writes historical fiction and has also written the Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook to help writers self-publish while minimizing legal risk.

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

We discuss:

  • legalhandbookHow Helen studied creative writing, but eventually went to law school when she wanted to earn more money, but she continued to write on the side. 30 years later, she self-published her historical novel, Coyote Winds, and learned so much about the process. She wrote a guide to help other authors based on her legal perspective.
  • What is copyright? When does it come into existence and how do you register it? Using the metaphor of a house you own, Helen explains how each room represents a certain right, and how you can best exploit those and protect yourself.
  • Some key publishing contract clauses to watch out for. Limit the rights by length of time, or the format asked for. Make sure that a publisher will actually exploit any rights you sell. How the end of the contract is managed and when you get your rights back. Defining ‘out of print’ in a digital age.
  • On writing memoir and real life people and events – without getting sued! Considering privacy issues and country differences.
  • On piracy and enforcing copyright. How to use take-down notices. But basically, obscurity is more of a risk than piracy, and some authors use piracy as a form of marketing these days.
  • Avoiding scams in the shark-infested waters of self-publishing. Check out Writer Beware. We also discuss competitions and which are worth entering.
  • Collaborating with other authors, translators and other professionals. What you need to consider if you want to work successfully with other people.
  • On working with attorneys and lawyers – if you need one.
  • How setting up a business can be great for optimizing your finances.

You can find Helen at HelenSedwick.com and on twitter @HelenSedwick. I highly recommend you read her amazing blog, buy her books and email her if you have legal questions. You can also leave comments or questions below.

Q&A Time: My Journey, Writing Routine, Author Platform Tips, Global Publishing And Mistakes

I recorded this video for the Gulf Coast Writer’s Conference recently and I thought you might find it interesting as well. It’s 26 mins long and contains slides and images as well as my talking head :)

Thanks to thriller author Michael Lister for the invitation! I also recently interviewed Michael about his religious thrillers, if you like similar fiction to me.

I answer the following questions:

  • To me you are the epitome of an indie author and entrepreneur. Can you share with us the journey that has gotten you here?
  • What percentage of your time is spent being an author and what percentage an entrepreneur? What do you think a person needs to be both?
  • What is your writing routine? How long does it typically take you to write a novel?
  • Can you touch on author platform for us?
  • Can you tell us what you think works best for indie authors, what those who are experiencing success are doing best?
  • What are the biggest mistakes you see authors making?
  • Can you touch on what you’re doing in foreign markets and translations?
  • Write. Publish. Repeat.   Respond   :-)

 I’d love to know if you like these type of videos, as I could do more of them to answer more of your questions. So please do let me know in the comments a) if you like this style of video post and b) what are the questions you’d like me to answer.