Friday, October 21, 2016

Promotion—The Necessary Evil

Over the last few months, I've been posting about my Kindle Scout experience at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. This post originally appeared on their blog in July. It has been edited from the original post, since the original had specific, time-sensitive information in it that is no longer relevant. (It involved chocolate. Not to imply that chocolate is not relevant. Chocolate is always relevant.)

Promotional plans, and lessons learned along the way.

I hate promotion. I’m sure I’m not alone. In fact, I’m not sure I know any fellow writers who tell me they love promoting themselves and their work. For me, it’s not even so much that I don’t like talking about myself and my work. It’s just a big workload piled on top of an already big workload, and most of the time it feels like it’s not really getting me anywhere.

I know it’s necessary, though, so I do what I can. I don’t think I do it particularly well, but sometimes I manage to find something that’s actually fun, and that helps.

In any case, when it comes to my current Kindle Scout project, it’s blatantly obvious I need to promote. So, while I’m finalizing my edits and figuring out what system I want to use for my final formatting, I’m brainstorming on some promotional ideas. Here are some things I think I’ll try for online promotion:

Thunderclap. I’m not sure this kind of “tweetstorming” approach works consistently, but I know people who’ve seen some decent results. I think it’s far better to have numerous other people tweet for you than to tweet the hell out of your own audience. Also? It’s easy. And free.

Blog tours. Also free, unless I decide to pay to have someone set it up for me, which I don’t think I’ll do.

Facebook boosted posts. I’ve done this a couple of times but not enough yet to have made any conclusions about the results. I think it’s worth a shot.

Facebook ads. I had some good success with these on a past project, so I think I’ll give it another go.

I’m also going to switch out my autoresponders on my newsletter signup site to send out a sample of the book I’ll be Scouting. I’ve been sending a romance short story to new subscribers, but I think it’s time to switch it up a bit. I’ll also send this sample to my current subscribers. I’ve found that I get very high open rates when I send out freebies. This so far hasn’t really translated into sales, but at least I get people’s attention.

I’d like to hear from anyone who’s tried these promotional techniques, or who’s had a particularly good response from any other on-line promotion approaches, so feel free to hit the comments. The promotional landscape is changing at least as fast as the publishing industry itself, so reports from the “front lines” are always useful and welcome.

This is an encore post, but I'd still be happy to hear from anyone who's got great promotional ideas!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Never Do Your Own Cover Art. Unless You Want To.

 Over the last few months, I've been posting about my Kindle Scout experience at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. This post originally appeared on their blog in June.

The continuing saga of KK’s quest to conquer Kindle Scout.

In order to submit your book to KS, you need to have 1. A book. 2. A cover. 3. Lots of editing and formatting shizz. This post is going to cover number 2—the cover. And my apologies in advance—it’s a long one.

One of the first things self-publishing gurus tell aspiring self-publishers is, “Never make your own cover art.” This is probably a good piece of advice. Unless you want to make your own cover art, and are willing to put in the due diligence to make one that doesn’t look like you put it together in MS Paint (unless MS Paint is an important theme of the book, of course [sets aside plot bunny for another day]).

So…confession time. I do my own cover art. Some of it is stanky (and is on my list to be redone). Some of it is, in my own humble goddess-like opinion, not too damn bad. Why do I do my own art? Because I like doing my own art. I like learning about graphics and Photoshop and Canva and GIMP and whatever else. For the most part, I enjoy the challenge and the process.

I learned to use Photoshop making Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fan art. I made wallpapers with half-naked (and sometimes totes naked) David Boreanaz on them because it made me happy. And I learned a lot. When I started self-pubbing, I used those skills to start making covers. The first few I made—not so hot. But I started learning. I have a friend who works for the cover art department at one of my publishers, and she vets my work. My daughter is about to become a photography major, and has a great skill and eye for art. My college-age son has been making computer graphics for ages, and also has a great eye for art. So they give me feedback, too. Which leads to feedback like, “Mom, her face looks like it has a tumor on it,” and “No, those colors look like three-day-old poop.”

That’s the kind of feedback you need for this kind of venture.

So what do you need to make your own covers aside from somebody—preferably multiple somebodies—to tell you when your painstaking work is a piece of crap?

1. An idea of how cover art works. There’s all kinds of advice on the internet about how to improve/create cover art. My current favorite guru is Derek Murphy, from On his site, you can find templates, author tools, and even an online tool where you can create your own covers (I haven’t tried it, so I don’t know how well it works, but give it a go if you’re so inclined). He also has published a book on the topic, which has some interesting advice in it, much of which seems to fly in the face of the advice of other cover gurus. For example, Murphy says it’s not necessary to make the title big enough to read on a thumbnail, which you’ll find as the Number One Guideline for Proper Ebook Cover Art just about everywhere else. Since I’m super contrary, I figured this was the advice for me.

His templates are very cool, but they’re in Microsoft Word (!) and MS Word hates me, so I was unable to bend them to my will. However, I imported some graphics into one of them, got a general idea of what I wanted my cover to look like, then assembled everything in GIMP. More on that later.

2. Some graphics software. I used Photoshop for a very long time, then I upgraded the OS on my computer and the old, old copy I had stopped working. This was very stressful. I swore a lot. Then I consulted my Tech Department (above-mentioned son and daughter) for recommendations. After some fiddling with various freeware packages, I ended up with GIMP. It’s free, and it does darn near everything Photoshop does, and with a similar workflow. (I still needed a tutorial from my son, who helped me with my cover for Lord of the Screaming Tower, but I’m getting the hang of it.) I recommend finding something you’re comfortable with, and then playing with it until you feel less like flinging the computer out the window. Find online tutorials or a mentor-type to get you on your feet.

3. Some PICTURES!! Pictures are the most important part of cover art. Because…well, because cover art. There are lots of places to find photos—istock photo, fotolia, bigstock, dreamstime, etc. Some pictures are pricier than others. My favorite price is free, so I’m going to talk about how to get free pictures you can use for your covers.

Firstly, though, you have to be VERY CAREFUL about this. Be absolutely sure you have the right kinds of licenses for your photos before you put them on your book cover. Some places, like and Wikimedia commons, are mostly public domain, but still be sure to read the fine print. Some pics at Wikimedia require you to change the picture, or require you to credit the photographer. Don’t take shortcuts here—respect the photographers.

Anywho… Another way to get free pics, almost all of which will have the right type of licensing for book covers, is to wait for free trial memberships for major stock photo sites. I coincidentally was offered a free trial to graphicstock and bigstock within a couple of weeks of each other, and as a result ended up with close to 150 images for free. Once the trial is over, you just cancel, and then feel guilty every time they offer you another free trial (in all fairness, though, I’ve spent quite a bit of money at these sites, so I should probably chill). All the pictures I used for this cover came from the collection I downloaded during these free trials, and I have a bunch more that I grabbed with an eye toward future projects.

4. Fonts!! Never underestimate the power of a flippin’ awesome font. You’re probably good with two for a book cover—one for the title and one for your author name, possibly with an eye toward future branding. You can spend as little or as much as you like for fonts, from what I’ve seen. Again, I like free. My current site of choice is They have a gajillion fonts, and they have a Font O’ the Day mailing list, and how cool is that?

You also have to look at licensing with fonts, so keep that in mind. If it says only for personal use, I’d suggest not putting it on a book cover. Look for fonts that are free for any usage or that specifically say free for commercial use. Or, of course, pay for the commercial upgrade if you really like the font.

That’s my basic how-to when it comes to covers. If you’re comfortable doing it, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t. If you’re not comfortable doing it, it’s probably better to outsource it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

But What About Editing?

Over the last few months, I've been posting about my Kindle Scout experience at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. This post originally appeared on their blog in June.

Pros and Cons of Automated Editing—a Discussion of AutoCrit

In the continuing saga of preparing a book for Kindle Scout, let’s talk about editing for self-publishing. This could also apply to editing for submissions, since you need to have your book in squeaky-clean shape before you start submitting to publishers (I know a good number of people who don’t believe this, but that’s for another post…).

If you’re like me, the idea of getting a book in solid shape for self-pub is a bit intimidating. I edit for other people on the side, but I have very little faith in myself to find my own mistakes. I know my manuscripts generally go to the editor far cleaner than many of the manuscripts I edit for other publishers, but there are still mistakes—typos, weirdness generated by Dragon Dictate when I use it, and of course the dreaded continuity issues.

Ideally, before you self-pub a book, you should send it to a professional editor. This can get pricey, though—I’m not sure I could afford myself as an editor right now, and my rates are really low. Nathan Lowell beat me to the punch in talking about using beta readers to crowdsource your editing in his article Bootstrap Your Book. The methods he discusses here are very useful and effective. If you’re lucky, you maybe have a proofer or editor on your list from a publisher you’ve worked with before who might be willing to give your manuscript a gander for a low cost. My group of proofers includes a fellow author I’ve edited for years as well as a proofer/editor from one of my publishers. It pays to make friends in this industry… Bartering can work, too—if you feel confident about your abilities to find typos or point out continuity issues, work out a trade with another author. Or offer large quantities of chocolate.

In any case, since Nathan covered the bases of crowdsourced editing, I’m going to talk about another low-cost approach—automated editing. Wait, wait—don’t run off. I have Important Things to Say.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Grammarly, which is a site where you can upload your manuscript and have it spit out a number of different grammar issues regarding your manuscript. I haven’t used this site, but I’ve used AutoCrit, which I believe is similar. I’m going to discuss my experiences, what automated editing can and can’t do, how it’s helped me, and why it might be worth looking into.

I stumbled across AutoCrit by accident. I’d gotten a sponsored email from Writer’s Digest with a free offer for a short video course on creating dialogue. I have a tendency to grab and hoard free things (SHINY! SHINY! FREE!), so I grabbed the course. I didn’t notice at the time, but it was from the AutoCrit website. They started sending me emails offering me a GREAT DEAL on a year-long membership to their site. After deleting several of these, I finally thought okay, wait. I’ve got a manuscript I need to get cleaned up. Let’s go sign up for the 7-day free trial and see what this puppy can do.

So I did that. I then uploaded Call Me Zhenya—all 93,000 words—onto the site and let AutoCrit do its magic. It generated about ten reports, which I then downloaded and looked over.

There are, of course, limits to what this kind of editor can do. It’s best to ignore a lot of the advice it produces, much like it’s best to ignore most of the green squiggly lines MS Word automatically generates to tell you you’ve committed a grammar infraction.


The reports I got from AutoCrit found a good number of things I had obviously missed on the forty quadrillion editing runs I’d done on my own. The report on “ly” adverbs was particularly enlightening (My name is Katriena and I am an adverb-aholic). It also found some typos I’d missed and put my horrible word repetition habit into stark relief. (Seriously? 1600 repetitions of “quietly?” Good grief, woman!)

I wasn’t quite as on board with the reports that supposedly showed me show vs. tell writing. The parameters they used didn’t seem realistic to me, as they were mostly keyed to certain verb tenses. The passive verbs report seemed equally arbitrary. I do, however, feel like the time I spent going through the reports and sifting out repeated words, typos, and adverbs was well spent. I also took the plunge and bought the discounted year’s subscription. It seemed like a reasonable price, though I probably would have balked at a full-price subscription.

Overall, I thought it proved to be a good addition to my self-pub repertoire, since it found a good many things a proofreader would have marked up. That means I can send a much cleaner version to the actual humans who read the story later, and that can only be a good thing.

For those who might be curious, the reports AutoCrit provides are:

  • Adverbs in Dialogue Tags
  • Adverbs Overall
  • Clich├ęs
  • Generic Descriptions
  • Passive Verbs
  • Redundancies
  • Sentence Starters
  • Show vs. Tell Indicators
  • Unnecessary Filler Words

You can run these one at a time or all in one fell swoop. You can also decide whether to get a high-level report or a detailed report that shows you exactly where all the noted transgressions are located in the manuscript. This can be in a list form, or highlighted on a copy of your manuscript. You can upload a few pages, a chapter, or the whole manuscript for evaluation.

Overall, I did find AutoCrit useful, and I think it provided a good way to spot some issues I would have otherwise missed.

Monday, October 17, 2016

What Is Kindle Scout?

Over the last few months, I've been posting about my Kindle Scout experience at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. This post originally appeared on their blog in May. This version is slightly edited from the original and discusses my decision to enter the book for a Scout campaign.

Call Me Zhenya is a full-length paranormal romance novel about spies who’ve been genetically altered to have special powers. The hero is a Russian werewolf; the heroine is an American super-brain. Together, they fight crime!

I wrote this book quite some time ago, then spent a lot of time editing and fine-tuning, but mostly ignoring it while I worked on other things that were already contracted. In the back of my mind, I always thought maybe I’d send it to the Amazon contest, or find some other semi-unconventional place for it.

Then Kindle Scout came along. This is a crowdsourced publishing platform—you put your book up, cover and all, and people vote you up or down for a publishing contract. Amazon’s editors then evaluate the books and pick the ones they want for publication. Publication is not entirely based on how many votes you get—KS is looking for well-written work that doesn’t require massive editing.

So KS ended up in the back of my mind, too. But when I finally decided it was time to do something with the book, I submitted it to a lot of traditional places first. I really felt it was one of the more mainstream-type books I’d written in a long time (HA HA HA HA I used “I” and “mainstream” in the same sentence pardon me), and might just have a chance with agents/publishers.

Apparently not. The responses I got were either, “This doesn’t suit our needs at this time,” or “Wow, I liked this a lot, but it doesn’t fit our line/paranormal isn’t selling right now.”

So, after numerous rejections, I decided to move on, and now I’m preparing the manuscript for Kindle Scout. I have some misgivings, but then I always have misgivings (“Do you really have sufficient justification to eat lunch right now?” “Are you sure you really need to stop what you’re doing and go to the bathroom?”). Aren’t you glad you don’t live in my head?

On to some meaty stuff:

Kindle Scout offers a good many pros and not many cons that I could see. The manuscript has to be unpublished—not even on a blog or Wattpad, for example. You also have to be sure you’ve done all the heavy lifting editing-wise, and you have to supply your own cover. Then, during the voting process, you have to run some marketing to get votes. If you’re chosen, you get an advance of $1500 plus Amazon’s marketing machine working for you. The contract is very straightforward, and outlines exactly what the conditions are for you to ask for your rights back.

If you don’t win—here’s where I was a bit surprised. To prepare for this, I started scouting books (4 out of 9 of my choices have gotten contracts—pauses to buff nails and look smug). If the book is NOT chosen for publication, a couple of things happen that I thought were actually pretty neat and author-friendly. First, if you subsequently publish the book through Kindle, Amazon sends out an email to everybody who voted for your book. So if you get, say, 300 votes but no contract, you can then Kindle-fy the book and all 300 of those people will be notified that your book is available. In addition, if you vote for books, those books stay on your Kindle Scout page. The ones that have been published on Amazon will now have a link to their buy page even if the book was not chosen for publication by Amazon. Now that’s a perk.

If a book you voted for is chosen for publication, you receive a free copy and are encouraged to read and review the book to further assist the author you voted for.

My assessment, then, is that this is a positive thing pretty much all the way around. I also read several articles online where industry watchdogs and the like analyzed the contract, just to be sure I wasn’t missing anything. Overall, I feel pretty good about that aspect of it.

Getting Ready to Go Scoutin’

My first step to prepare my book was to sign up for Kindle Scout and start scouting books to find out how the process works and also to check out what kinds of books are being submitted (gotta scope out the competition, natch). The KS page presents the cover, the first chapter or so of each book, a blurb and an interview with the author. I usually check the blurb, then read the first chapter until I nope out of it. If I don’t nope out before the end of the excerpt, I give it a vote. That’s my full process. I am lazy. And I’m still scoring almost 50%. (I actually have no idea how that fact is relevant to anything, but I’m still bragging about it. Because I can.)

The next step is marketing. Not for the specific book, but for everything else I’ve ever published. (Okay, maybe not EVERYTHING.) The goal here is just to get some additional people’s eyes on me. I’m focusing on my mailing list and my Facebook page. I also revamped my website (actually both websites, but the Elizabeth Jewell site isn’t as relevant to this effort). I’ve read several books and articles about marketing as a self-publisher. From those books, I’ve pulled out all the advice that’s common to all or most of them, figuring those are probably the most efficient and effective approaches (they’re also the ones that make the most sense to me). In the mean time, I’m also preparing the manuscript and the cover art.

I see I’ve run on quite a bit, so I’ll stop here. Next time, I’ll talk about the nitty gritty of getting a cover prepared and cleaning up the manuscript. In the mean time, go check out Kindle Scout on your own and vote for some books! It’s fun! I promise!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Guest Post from Fellow Scouter Heather MacKinnon

Today I'm turning the blog over to Heather MacKinnon, whose Kindle Scout book, Changed, is in its last few days of campaigning. She's also about to get married! I had already scouted Heather's book when I started my campaign--drop by and hand her a vote!

One night changed everything.
Being Changed into a vampire wasn't in Adrienne's post-college plans. But when she wakes up in a strange basement and can see perfectly in the dark and move impossibly fast she's left to navigate this new world alone. Thankfully, Nicholas steps in to help her adjust. As their feelings grow, she finds out her centuries-old maker is looking for her and determined to make her his wife. Can she outrun the vampire who Changed her and explore her feelings for Nicholas before it's too late?

Tell us a little bit about your book, Changed. What brought you to write it? What do you like most about it?

Changed is a story about a young woman who's made into a new vampire against her will. In this world, the Change is something that involves forms, an orientation, and a training facility. Although vampires remain hidden from humans, their world is governed and orderly. So, when a newly orphaned vampire shows up, she throws a wrench into their well-oiled machine. I’ve actually written a version of this story already but it was not very good and so this one is almost entirely from scratch. What inspired me was a lifelong love for vampires and their dark and mysterious world. What I like most about this book is that it concentrates on an aspect of vampires we don’t see often--the new ones. You’ll follow my main character as she learns how to not only stretch her abilities but also curb them when necessary.

Heather MacKinnon
Why did you choose to send the book to Kindle Scout? What did you see as the advantages to this publishing platform?

I’d been planning to self-publish Changed when I saw a small ad for Kindle Scout on Amazon. I read over all the material they provided and then did some research of my own into other author’s experiences with publishing with Kindle Scout. The benefits seemed plentiful (advanced royalties, professional editing, and the mighty power of Amazon marketing) and the drawbacks few (not being able to control the price of my book, and not being able to publish on any other platform) so I decided to take the plunge!

Are you planning more books in the future? Will you be sending them to Kindle Scout, or go a different route?

I’m already in the process of writing a modern romance right now. I’ve put it on the backburner for the moment while I deal with the last few days of my Kindle Scout campaign and get ready for my upcoming wedding (October 14th is so so close!). Other than that, I have a few ideas for stories flitting around my head that take place in the same world as Changed does. If the book is received well, I might flesh some of them out further. If I’m selected for Kindle Scout, I think I would submit other books for a campaign as well. If they don’t choose my book this time, I’ll probably just move forward with self-publishing from here on out.

Tell us more about yourself. Why do you write, and what’s your favorite thing about writing?

I write because I read. Obsessively. I had to finally get a Kindle Unlimited subscription because my fiance almost took my debit card away after seeing how many books I’d bought in a month (just kidding, he wouldn’t do that, but he was definitely concerned--see upcoming wedding comment above!). After reading so many fantasy and romance novels and picking out parts I loved and parts I didn’t, I decided to try it my way. Once I started, I found more and more ideas coming to me that I wanted to make into stories. I have about 3 floating around right now and the only reason why there’s not more is there’s literally no room left (see Kindle Scout campaign and wedding comments above!). My absolute favorite thing about writing is making a reader feel what I want them to feel. When someone reads my work and is outraged at the bad guys or swooning over the good guys, that’s the biggest payoff for me.

Thanks so much, Heather, for dropping by the blog! And don't forget to stop by her Kindle Scout page and take a look at Changed.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Finding Anna--the Doctor Who Connection (More about Call Me Zhenya)

When I write, I find it really helpful to find real people to "play" my characters while I'm spinning the story in my head. Sometimes I base them on pictures I find in magazines, but in most cases I cast an actor or another well-known personality, and incorporate some of their quirks into my characterization. It helps the characters come to life for me, and makes it easier to write about them.

In this post, I talked a little about how I tuned in to the character of Evgeni. It was finding my Evgeni that got this version of the story moving along. But I also had to find Anna before I could really get underway.

Anna was a shakier process. Originally, I had pictured Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Eliza Dushku), but as the story changed into its current form, that didn't quite work. While I was doing my initial work, the news arrived that Elisabeth Sladen had passed away. Elisabeth played Sarah Jane Smith in Doctor Who back in the 80s and also in some of the more recent incarnations of the show. She was the first companion I saw, when I started watching Doctor Who with Tom Baker's first story, "Robot," back when the original series was being broadcast on PBS.

Right away, I wanted Anna to be a sort of tribute to Elisabeth Sladen. But she herself didn't quite work for me in the head canon of the role. I named Anna Slaten in her honor (yes, I changed it a little--it just seemed like the right name for Anna although, as an aside, for some reason I kept also calling her Stanten, and had to weed out those typos in the last few drafts), and then started looking at other Doctor Who companions to fill her role. I tried Karen Gillan for a while, but that didn't work. Finally, while I was catching up with some episodes, I hit upon "Planet of the Dead," and the one-time companion Christina, played by Michelle Ryan. She was a kickass type who liked to wear black, and she immediately felt like the right face to put on my Anna Slaten.

I also "cast" Delgrado. This was a strange process, because I had him pictured very clearly in my head, but then couldn't place the face of the actor who had taken him over (this isn't the first time this has happened...). Finally I realized he was Clark Gregg, Agent Coulson from the Marvel movies and now Agents of SHIELD.

You can take a look at all my "casting" photos as well as some other research materials I used for the book on my Pinterest account. And please take a swing by my Kindle Scout page and drop me a vote!