Saturday, April 30, 2011

Day 42 - The Secret to Getting Paid

This is the winner.
Ok, so I was going to buy my website template (getting item number 1 from my last blog entry), but apparently that’s not going to happen today. Here’s why: THEY MAKE IT DIFFICULT TO BUY FROM THEM.

As a sales veteran of almost a quarter century now, I am going to give you a little tip that I got from one of the richest men I ever met, a guy who made his fortune in clothing retail. Here’s what he said, and it is as true today as it was back then: “Make it easy for people to buy.”

I know, you were expecting something else, something deep or profound. But that’s what he taught me. He wanted me to understand that just having something good that people actually like is not enough to ensure success. It’s huge, but it’s not enough. The main reason is that people want stuff NOW. Something that looks good today might not have the same appeal tomorrow (this is why they make people wait 10 days to buy a gun… just in case the would-be buyer is making an, uhh, emotional purchase if you know what I mean—they make it hard to buy on purpose). People make buying decisions emotionally. It could be based on mood, it could be the lighting in the showroom hit their inner magpie reflex, it could be any number of things. Things that can go away. Things that pass. So the best way to ensure lots of sales is to make sure that WHEN someone is in the mood to buy your product, they can. Right then. Easily.

Think about it. You went to all the trouble to get them interested in it: you built it, paid the costs, put in the time, then you put it out there, advertised it, spent the energy on it. You did all that stuff.  So, now that it’s ready for sale, make sure you aren’t standing in the way of their ability to say, “Yes, I’ll take that.”

It’s not enough to just have the product on the shelf or visible on a website somewhere if, once a would-be customer finds it, they discover you only take credit cards. Congratulations: you just ruled out everyone who doesn’t have a credit card. Maybe you don’t like people who don’t have credit cards. But for me, I don’t care what you buy stuff with. I just want you to buy my crap.

Here’s an example from the other extreme: my shoe repair guy. This guy is like 8,000 years old. He’s a master craftsman, but he’s behind the times. He only takes cash and checks. No credit cards. No debit cards. Just cash and checks. Well, the last time I was in there, I watched him lose a customer who thought that was stupid, and I watched another customer have to ask a total stranger for three dollars because she’d had no idea it was cash only when she dropped her stuff off. Heck, he even had to wait two days for me to do business with him because I had to remember to bring cash and forgot the first time I went to pick up a pair from him.

So, here’s why I’m telling you all this. Today I was TRYING to buy that website template and it turns out they have made it excruciatingly hard for me to give them my money. I have literally spent the last TWO HOURS trying to find ways to take my money and put it in their hands, and I literally cannot give them my money. What’s even more annoying is that this is the second time in two weeks I’ve had the same problem.

Here’s the deal: the website themes site ( only takes two forms of payment. It looks like they take more because when you click to pay, you see options that say, “Buy with Prepaid Credit” and “Buy Now (via PayPal).”  Below the Buy Now option, you see the following: PayPal, Visa, Amex, Master Card. Below the Prepaid Credit one you see that you have 0 balance with an option to “Make a deposit" (its the green letters; you can't read it very well in this image).

Well the problem starts with the “(via PayPal)” part of the “Buy Now” thing. All those credit card types don’t really mean crap, because you are going to have to use PayPal. Which is fine. I have a PayPal account. So I tried to use it. It’s not working. It works on my credit card, I tested it, balances are going back and forth as of last week (which has to do with the second time in two weeks I mentioned above and will explain shortly), but it wasn’t working here, with these guys today. I even logged onto the credit card account and checked it. No holds. Everything’s dandy.

So fine, maybe there’s some weird glitch with my credit card company approval mechanism or something. No big deal. PayPal can work directly from my checking account too. Except it’s not. I even tried transferring the money directly into PayPal. That’s going to take three days. And, based on the failures of the other payment options, may not work anyway.

So the problem is probably PayPal having a glitch. Maybe there’s some glitch on my credit card that is only glitching at PayPal and nowhere else. Whatever. Who cares? There’s lots of ways to pay… if you give me options. I have other credit cards. Lots of them. They are all just as good as the one I’m using. But since any credit card I use has to go through PayPal, if they have a problem, Themeforest isn’t going to get my money… which they aren’t right now.
So I tried the other option. The direct deposit thing is really another company, sort of like PayPal, called Moneybookers. They appear to have been around for a while, and for the most part are probably okay (but have a look at how long the terms of service document is... I shrunk it down just to fit it all on here, but that is actually a full screen list of 22 different section).

But if you sign up with them, you better stay on your toes.
I was going to sign up for that service, but I made the mistake of reading the fine print. What a bunch of a-holes. It turns out that if you sign up for Moneybookers to make a one-time purchase like the one I wanted to make, you must first open an account (which takes time and does not fit in well with the idea of “making it easy for your customer to buy the website theme you sell”). Upon opening that account, you agree to pay all the extra charges that get added to your purchase price for convenience (not mine) AND—this is the good part—you also agree that if you don’t use the service at least once every 18 months, they can charge your credit card a buck a month forever.

Wow. Really?

I want that deal. I would like to know if any of you reading this right now would like to open an account with my new payment processing company I’m starting right now. I’m going to call it the Financial Undertaking Company, or F. U. Company for short. You don’t even have to use my services, just sign up. And as soon as you aren’t paying attention, I’m going to charge you every month for NOTHING. It’s just a fee you can pay for the joy of knowing me. In fact, I think I will also use your personal information now that I have it to come find your house and kick your dog. I simply love this idea.

Just wow.

Sure I can delete the account after everything processes I guess (they hold your records for 18 months… says so in the fine print), or I can make a point of using the service every 18 months even though their per-purchase fees are high and I have no need for them outside of this ONE item I’m trying to buy. But why should I have to go through all that? Why should I have to add that to my schedule? Come on. I’m just trying to buy a freaking template for my goddamn website.

Needless to say, I did not sign up for that insanity. Which means, I have NOT bought the website theme from Themeforest. I will, but only because I’m not buying on impulse. If it were a book, a CD, or a work of art, I would be over it by now. Kind of like the book I didn’t buy last week because the author only takes PayPal too.

Here’s a little piece of data for you: less than 10% of online purchases are made through PayPal (source). Yes, this number is gradually rising, and yes lots of people have PayPal accounts. Like me. But it’s not a great option if you’re only going to have one or two payment methods. It’s expensive and, not always reliable (either on their side or on the user side). So spend the time and effort to set up a real credit card account. Or have an Ebay option. Or Hell, have a P.0. Box and take checks and money orders. Just make it easy for people to buy.

The End

Oh, but if you care, here's what you get if you go to that link in that long contract I pointed out...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day 33 - Help Me Choose the Look for the Site

Alright, so it's getting close to crunch time (or should be). In fact, the Createspace folks called me yesterday wanting to know where my manuscript was. I had to tell them, "Not quite ready yet." But it's going. I'm going to lean on my editor today, but only a little because I really don't want her to rush. I'll take quality over speed, but I'm soooo impatient to get this thing rolling.

Speaking of which: it is officially at, and a few days beyond, the "middle of April," so I would be a total liar if I did not confess to being completely impatient to hear from Cris Ortega. I am jonesing for her to make something gorgeous like you can't believe. I have plans for not just the book cover, but for my website and, get this, even a video to promote my book when it's done.

On create space, they have a few examples of videos people have done to promote their books. It's actually pretty simple stuff, but very cool, stuff that I can make with the help of some friends from work—and not pay $1200. Check out the example I have linked (which is NOT a fantasy one, but gives you the idea of what can be done).

So, in that vein, I can see having the "camera" pan along parts of the cover art while voiceover does a dramatic narrative summary. I can have stills of good quotes from the pages themselves come in from dark backgrounds, then fade and move away. It only has to be like thirty seconds to a minute, so just enough to tease and just enough to heighten interest. I can use it to promote my book on various sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. With a good script, some clever video, and the artwork from Cris Ortega it will be stunning.

That last part gets me back to my website. So as I am learning the art of website making (very slowly), I have found a template site that has a lot of "themes" for websites that make design easy and that will really help me get the most out of the artwork. I've been poking about, and I found three really cool ones that I am kicking around. One is very bookish, but solid marketing, and two are just plain cool. I would love to find out what other people think. So, in the interest of getting your opinion (and in the interest of seeing how different media channels work together, and whether people will bother to participate across them), I'm having a little opinion poll to help me decide which theme I should use.

So, first, below are links to the three themes I like. I've posted a small screen shot and link to the actual demo (full size) for each. I hope you'll go look and click around on them, because they are gorgeous on a full screen, and part of the appeal is how they WORK.  Try to imagine a book (actually try to imagine a trilogy and beyond). Keep in mind, that the cover art for my novel will be sumptuous (see blog Day 16).

So, check these out then go to my Facebook poll and vote for the one you like best. Or if you just refuse to go to Facebook and find the poll, then at least tell me which in a comment at the bottom of this blog entry.  Okay, here they are:

Theme 1 – This one is gorgeous, simple and elegant. But viewers do have to click on something to get to the book since it doesn’t appear instantly beyond the artwork. That can be a marketing minus point.

Theme 2 – This one is also gorgeous and makes the book (and/or a video) easily viewable at least in part via the sliders. (I love how they slide up like that). This is my favorite... I think.


Theme 3 – This one is not "gorgeous" at all, but it puts the book front and center. It's probably the best one for having core marketing principles at work. As a demo, it's boring, but with the MY book cover graphics in there, it would probably look really cool.

Okay, now go to find my poll question and vote for the one you like best. And thanks.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Day 28 - Diction... It's not just fun to say. (Tips for good revisions.)

So I’m still in edits phase of this manuscript process. Well, technically my editor is in it, but I’m in that mood set and working on a different novel doing revisions (and trying not to be impatient—sigh). So I’m spending a lot of time thinking about editing, and about language and why each choice matters.

The other day, I was poking around some writers' forums and came across a conversation in which the essence of word choices came up. Here’s a bit of what was said by someone who was making a point about the limits of language, in particular, as it pertains to a disabled character versus an ambulatory one. This poster wrote:

. . . [I] decided to change my play to make the leading lady disabled. Before she became disabled she could walk, stride, pace, run, amble, stroll, step, skip, bound, hop, etc., etc. As soon as she was wheelchair bound she couldn't do much more than "wheel" or "move" - it seems the disabled do not even get equality from the English language!
Now, beyond the obvious and nauseating political correctness working there, there is another, and real, issue here. And it comes down to taking time to think about what your words mean and what they are doing in your story. This is a matter of diction.

This dude has as many verb options . . .
Diction is fun. And it’s not just fun because it has a penis reference buried inside it for those of us still sporting sixth-grade mentalities; it’s fun because it allows you to create space and meaning. It’s the difference between a story being told in a boring way or in an interesting one. First I’ll show you what I mean, then I’ll dig up some examples from writers who really do it well. Let’s start with the example from that writer’s forum.

. . . as this chick does.
Her premise is that there are fewer verbs for describing motion for a wheelchair bound character. So, using two people for examples, I’m going to create a scenario using what that forum poster gave us to work with. I’ll have a character named Hercamer who can walk, and a character named Gertie who is in a wheelchair. We’ll have both characters at a lake somewhere on a hot summer day. Here goes:
Hercamer walked to the water.
Gertie wheeled to the water.
Okay, so both of them got to the water. By the argument made by the poster on that forum, if I were to want to revise that sentence, I would only have a few options for Gertie, but several for Hercamer.
Hercamer stepped to the water. Hercamer ambled to the water. Hercamer hopped to the water. Hercamer strolled to the water… bounded to the water, skipped, ran, paced, etc.

Gertie moved to the water. Gertie rolled to the water.  And that’s it.
So the point that there aren’t lots of “rolling” synonyms when compared to bipedal options is, perhaps, arguably true.

But this is where diction comes in. Diction is about choices, and, more importantly, it's about story. It’s about adding words that enhance the story and engage the reader. It’s not just about conveying in the simplest way the “reality” of what happened.

Whatever my little story is, it isn’t a story about someone walking to the edge of a lake or wheeling to the edge of a lake. Or is it? Please tell me it’s not, because if it is, it’s the worst story of all time. Once upon a time Gertie wheeled to the edge of a lake. Dear God, kill me if that is ever a story.

What is really going on is that this lake scene is the continuation (or beginning) of plot, of the pursuit of desires on the part of real, living humans occupying the space, the actual physical place, of the story. That is what was missing when the poster in that forum wrote what she wrote. She was completely leaving out everything but the most basic constituent of the writing. She was just worried about how to write the actual mechanics of a character's motion. The sole focus, and therefore limitation, was about verb choices centered on how the character got to the water.

Who gives a shit?

Nobody cares if Hercamer walked to the water or Gertie rolled. That’s boring. That’s basic motion. Walking is crap that every toddler figures out by the time they are one and a half. Rolling is crap that a character in a wheelchair at a lake is already expected to know. Those verbs add NOTHING to the story.

What the forum poster was missing is that all the “ambling” and “strolling” that she was including for her upright character was beginning to prod at possibilities for her bipedal character in a way that she wasn't doing for her disabled character. Why does someone amble? Why do they stroll? Because they aren't in a hurry, that's why. And why couldn’t someone in a wheelchair have similar verbs to use?
Hercamer ambled his way to the water.
Gertie meandered her way to the water.
What matters is that neither character is in a hurry. There is something going on in the story that drives them to behave this way. The verbs reflect their motivation, their emotions and state of mind.

Moreover, verbs can also reflect a sense of place. The right ones can give sensory depth, add to the setting of the story, making place and temperature and even time more meaningful.
Hercamer leapt over large rocks on his way to the water.
Gertie wove her way around large rocks on her way to the water.

Hercamer trudged through the deep sand on his way to the lake’s cool embrace.
Gertie yanked and hove her way through the deep sand on her way to the lake’s cool embrace.

Hercamer stumbled his way down the rocky slope towards the water.
Gertie rattled her way down the rocky slope towards the water.
Obviously, I could go on, but you get the point. The only limitation any of our characters have is going to be us. I know that when I am writing a first draft, I am immersed in the dream of my story. I’m sort of watching it happen in my head and taking notes. So I don’t always get all the best verbs (or nouns) in. I might find that my disabled character did a lot of wheeling and rolling through my original draft when I go back through. But that’s the fun of revision. First drafts are fun because they are riding the wave. Revisions are fun because they are making art.

So, that said, I’ll give you a few examples from a couple of great writers. I’ll start with THE greatest writer of all time, Shakespeare. I’ll go with a play most folks know and take three lines from Macbeth

The west yet glimmers with some streaks of day.
Now spurs the lated traveler apace
To gain the timely inn… (3.3.7-9)

Okay, before breaking this down, let’s add some contrast. The odds are, if I was writing a similar scene in one of my stories, and perhaps you would as well, I would have written something like this:

The sun was setting as the traveler rode towards the inn.

I just said the same thing he did, and there is nothing wrong with what I wrote. But look what mine is doing versus what Shakespeare's is doing. Mine is just TELLING you that the sun is setting; it’s just TELLING you that someone is on a horse. My verbs are doing crude, basic work. Just the facts, Ma’am. 

Shakespeare gives you more. Shakespeare is engaging you. He’s not telling you what the sun is doing; he’s making you see it for yourself. He’s rendering an image in your head and YOU have to figure out from that visual experience what is happening. It’s almost a riddle, and you have to be involved in it to know what’s going on. You know you’re looking west because he starts you there, then he gives you “glimmers” so now the west in your mind lights up some, not a lot, just a glimmer, because that is exactly the verb he wanted for you. Then you get what’s left, some streaks of day. Not “streaks of day” but “some” streaks of day. So, we have this remnant of day glimmering and there’s only “some” of it left (which works nicely with “yet” in “yet glimmers” to give the sense of nearing dark as opposed to approaching day). With surgical diction, Shakespeare has rendered a sunset for you. You must extrapolate it though; you must participate. Which is interesting. It requires you become engaged. People always say that a good book is “engaging.” That’s an excellent word to hear about a book, right? Well, that’s what Shakespeare just did. He engaged us as readers. Me writing “the sun went down” is not engaging. It’s just telling you what happened. You don’t get to do anything. Yawn.

The same can be said for the “Now spurs the lated traveler apace.” That’s just like the walk or roll thing for Hercamer and Gertie. Shakespeare could have had the horse walking, or trotting or something equally banal. But he didn’t. He had the rider spurring. So we have in our heads the horse moving AND the rider acting in some fashion upon it. We now know he’s not just slumped in the saddle or sitting rigidly or anything else. He’s spurring it towards the inn. That’s what we should try to do when we write.

Edith Wharton
Ok, so to end this, I’m going to leave you with what I consider to be the finest example of descriptive writing ever penned. While you might find something you can make an argument for being as good as this, I do not think it’s possible to surpass this. I believe an entire semester of college writing could be taught out of this paragraph alone. Take some time and really look at all of this slowly and carefully. It will make you a better writer if you do. Watch the verb choices and how they function despite what this passage might at first appear to be. Observe the nouns as well. Look how much each adds, not just to description, but to theme, to scale, to personality, to history. There is nothing wasted in this, and this is not the sort of thing that one writes in a first draft. This is diction at its finest. So, without further adieu, here is a bit from Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence:

The immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in middle life like a flood of lava on a doomed city had changed her from a plump active little woman with a neatly-turned foot and ankle into something as vast and august as a natural phenomenon. She had accepted this submergence as philosophically as all her other trials, and now, in extreme old age, was rewarded by presenting to her mirror an almost unwrinkled expanse of firm pink and white flesh, in the center of which the traces of a small face survived as if awaiting excavation. A flight of smooth double chins led down to the dizzy depths of a still-snowy bosom veiled in snowy muslins that were held in place by a miniature portrait of the late Mr. Mingott; and around and below, wave after wave of black silk surged away over the edges of a capacious armchair, with two tiny white hands posed like gulls on the surface of the billows.
That's what good writing looks like.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Day 21 - Inspiration from Despair: Using rejection as a positive force

I said in an earlier entry that I would write about my first rejection. I think rejection is an important conversation to be had, and anyone who writes with any kind of seriousness has to deal with it. Even big shot writers get rejected. Granted, they can usually get picked up somewhere else, but they still have to deal with it.

The trick to dealing with rejection is, well, dealing with it.

My first rejection came when I finished my first novel way back in 1995. It was a novel written in large part thanks to the writer R. A. Salvatore. I’d been a fan of Fantasy literature ever since reading the Hobbit when I was a kid. I read everything after that: Edgar Rice Burroughs, C.S. Lewis, Phillip Jose Farmer, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Piers Anthony, Terry Brooks and many more. But R. A. Salvatore’s dark elf trilogy (books: Homeland, Exile and Sojourn) was the one that put me over the top. They were so good. The world Salvatore made was so amazing, such a palpable place, so real, it was a universe so wondrously escapist that when I finished reading I was charged with energy to write, with an overwhelming need to write a novel like those. There was just nothing I had ever wanted to do more.

The problem was, I didn’t know how. I mean, sure, I knew how to write stuff. And I’d written lots of short stories and things. But how do you write a NOVEL? That’s not just something you sit down and crank out, right? Even if you want to, you write yourself into corners, get lost, or lose your drive after a week or two. So I was just burning with the need to do it, but really didn’t know what to do with all that inspiration.  

A typical Franklin Covey store
As chance would have it, the company I was working for sent me to a time management seminar put on by the folks at Franklin Covey right after I finished reading that trilogy. You’ve probably seen their stores at the mall. If you walk into one of those Franklin Covey stores, it looks like it’s just a day-timer store, a calendar store, an organizer store. And, on the surface, it is.

However, what I really learned at that seminar was how to get big, intimidating, even impossible-seeming things done. They taught the art and the mechanics of how to manage projects. As a retail store manager, it was great. As a would-be novelist, it was beyond great. They taught me how to put down a dream on paper, formulate it as a goal—even as a personal value—then break down that dream’s constituent parts, chopping up each of those parts into actual, achievable tasks. Big, scary things like writing an entire novel become little daily tasks like: write for twenty minutes.  If you tell yourself to write a novel, you’ll never do it. It’s too much to ask. However, if you tell yourself to…

Day 1:      Work on my outline for 15 minutes
Day 2:      Work on my outline for 15 minutes
Day 3:      Start writing – 20 minutes a day
Day 4:      Write for 20 minutes
Day 5:      Write for 20 minutes
Day 6:     Etc. five days a week for 6 months (or 4 months or 12… whatever)

BAM, you have a novel (or at least a first draft).

My Franklin planner
Each item was a “to do” on my day-timer (those calendars they sell at the Franklin Covey in the mall). The calendar was just a way to chart your dreams. It was part of a system that I still use almost twenty-years later. I can’t imagine not having it.

So, that’s what I learned from Franklin Covey. I left the seminar with energy and the ability to plan. One of my main excuses for not writing was that I didn’t have a computer back then. I was too broke. So, too inspired not to start, I began writing by hand. It took me the course of a summer. My “bite-sized-pieces” to use the Franklin Covey trainer’s words, was a plan of twenty minutes writing a day, but I rarely stopped at that. Most days it was an hour, three hours, sometimes more. It turned out the hard part of writing was getting started, not the actual writing. Getting started is hard when you don’t know what it is you are starting. But it wasn’t hard to start twenty minutes, and it wasn’t hard to commit to doing it. I confess, there were some days in the middle of that novel, when it was really becoming a drag and I didn’t know where the story was going, that I was watching the clock and checking out immediately at the 19:59 minute mark. But I didn’t quit, and by the end of summer I finished it. Then I finally got a computer, typed it up, and sent it off to TSR (that’s the company that invented Dungeons and Dragons).

I wrote a cover letter to go with the manuscript I sent, one that, looking back, was really, really sappy: it was all, “This is my first novel and, because you guys brought so much fun into my world as a kid, I am letting you have first crack at this amazing fantasy work which is sure to make millions for us all.”

The first one got a position of honor and a frame...
Fortunately for me, they were kind. More than kind. I actually got the single kindest rejection letter from them that I’ve gotten from anyone to date. A kind editor saw the cover letter and must have thought, “We can’t kill this idiot’s dream, even if he is obviously clueless and sent us the most unpolished and horrific manuscript of all time.”
Because that’s what I sent. In retrospect, just, wow. It was so bad. I mean, I think I spent two weeks proofreading it one time through and sent off. Man, was I naive. Oh well, live and learn. And I am grateful to this day for such a kind rejection letter. It was typed out actually to me (not the standard form letter I usually see), and it acknowledged my book by name, so I knew (or felt like) they had given my manuscript the care I was so sure it deserved—even though it was actually total crap.

... the rest of them get stabbed with tacks.
Not that I wasn’t let down when it came. I was. I was totally bummed. But I didn’t give up. I hung it on my wall because I read once somewhere about Piers Anthony, one of the all time great Fantasy writers, having filled up a room with rejection letters pinned to the wall. So, encouraged by that, I pinned up my first rejection proudly and commenced to collect more. I wrote other things, children’s stories, and eventually another novel, and now another. I have a pretty good collection of rejection letters going. Not a room full, but I’m working on it. Give me time.

Rejection letters don’t bother me anymore, not deeply. They used to, but the more you get, the less it pisses you off. It’s sort of a frustration bell curve. You start out okay with it, because you braced yourself logically when you began, then you begin to get frustrated as they mount in quantity, and then finally you resign yourself to them. It’s just how the system works.

Or worked.

Perhaps self-publishing will change everything. Open up the possibilities. I’m hoping so. Like I said in my bio: I am tired of being rejected for a book that has never been read. So, we shall see. But, for anyone out there struggling through, dreaming of a book or story in print, but dreading rejection: don’t. Don’t dread it. Each rejection letter is a badge of honor, like a purple heart medal for a dream that keeps getting shot. Shot, but not shot down.

And the world is changing.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Day 16 - Secret Artist Revealed

In my first entry, I said I had a really amazing artist who has agreed to do the cover for my book. I didn’t want to say who it was until I had a couple of things worked out. One of these was getting my website up, which I have. Now, by up I mean, barely up, but it is up, and it is up totally by my own hand, my singular willingness to learn how, and to fight the Romulans in their own space with their own technologies. But, I have triumphed (I’ll put a link at the bottom of this blog entry). The other thing was to make sure the artist really was going to do it for me, because, frankly, her art is so amazing that I still can’t really believe she is willing to work my project in. But, sometimes fate shines on us, so yesterday I got confirmation that she doesn’t mind me making a big gushing fit about her awesomeness on my blog, so, well, that’s what I’m about to do.

The secret artist is….   Cris Ortega  (

Here’s one of my favorites of her work, At the threshold of oblivion:  
Image © Cris Ortega

She’s got tons of these, and if you haven’t seen her work before, and you don’t mind having your mind blown by awesomeness, then go have a look at her page. Her attention to detail is breathtaking. Just look at the fabric, the soft, incredible folds, the tactile quality of what you see; look at the reflections and shadows and textures in the cloth, the picture frames, the wallpaper, the glass… this is godly work. Her art is reminiscent of old masters like Rembrandt and Vermeer, and of modern fantasy icons like the Brothers Hildebrandt and Boris Vallejo. And that’s just the stuff that ISN’T the gorgeous figure of the beautiful woman with the radiant skin and the aspect of both quiet strength and enticing vulnerability.  

Here’s another that inspires what I’m hoping she will do for my story as far as composition for the front cover. Imagine the girl as my heroine, the robot as my young sorcerer, and the background as space (you'll see if you check at my website later). This one is called Ex Machina:
Image © Cris Ortega

Again, look at the absolute mastery. The figures are alive, the light play is bright where it should be, but she's not afraid of the dark either. The woman is rendered suggestively but with class, the setting is wonderful and anyone that enjoys spending time exploring a work of art can easily drop a lot of time into this visual paradise.

Cris Ortega has a series of books called Forgotten, and she puts out calendars that would be grace incarnate upon any wall. I hope you will do her and me the honor of having a look on her site (I've also included Amazon links below). If you enjoy gorgeous images wonderfully wrought, then you have nothing to lose by looking.

The fact that she has deigned to grace my novel with artistry of this magnitude is such an auspicious thing for my project. They say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but let’s be real. People do. We all do. Sure, we go for familiar authors, intriguing titles, but every single one of us has, over and over again, walked by a book with a kick-ass cover, paused, and picked it up to see what it is about. Yes, they frequently don’t sound as good as they look, but we looked. That’s huge.

I have faith in my story if people pick it up. But my name carries no weight. I am not a brand like R.A. Salvatore, Terry Brooks, or Steven King. Heck, the only semi-brand I have as a writer is the Shadesbreath thing on HubPages, which is cool, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not going to get my book picked up by anyone as they pass by… especially since that ain’t the name that will be on the spine.

So the cover art matters. And I’m banking—literally and figuratively---on the cover appeal of amazing art to help me out. Cris Ortega’s figures, particularly her female figures, are gorgeous. They are sumptuous without being cliché. They are sexual without being gross. They are youthful, mysterious and alive.

The genre my novel is in relies on a target audience that is predominantly male. The heart of the age range is ages 15 to 25, though many (like myself) found it much earlier and will probably read it until the day they die. You do not need a degree in human psychology to understand how highlighting the heroine of my story in luminous hues and lifelike beauty can only help me get people to pick up my book or get them to click on an icon and at least see what it is about. From there, my summary, my first pages, and perhaps equally, the reviews about it on Amazon and other sites will have to close the sale. (I’m hoping to recruit some of you to do those Amazon reviews, by the way.)

So, there you have it, my secret artist is finally revealed. It’s Cris Ortega. She’s amazing and I can’t wait. She expects to start on my project mid month, so I’m working on sketches and stuff to send her, so she can start helping me develop the idea. Speaking of which, I have one of the concept ideas up on my new (and totally under construction) website. If you’d like to have a look, go for it. Look at my drawing and then imagine what Cris Ortega could make out of it. I can hardly wait!

My website is at (and don't laugh... it's my first one ever. How many websites have YOU made totally from scratch? Besides, I just got it up; I have professionals taking over from here.)

You can get Cris Ortega's books on Amazon too:

Friday, April 1, 2011

Day 14 - A Commentary on Networking - or - Don't Be a Douche

While this blog might be about my first self-publishing adventure, this isn’t my maiden voyage when it comes to social media and just general online activity. And so it is that, as I make my way into the online networks that are important for anyone wanting to market a product or service (like a self-published book), I see people doing some just plain horrible marketing. When I started this blog, I expected that I would be blogging about my experiences working with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and HubPages along with my own website when it comes along (will be wrestling with that this weekend) and whatever else I find. I expected to be learning stuff and sharing. I didn’t expect I’d be giving pointers so soon. But I am going to. Here goes:

Don’t be a douche.

Don’t go to a website, sign up for your account and then hit the forums with posts like, “Hi. My name is Blah-blah and I’m writing a blog about my new book. Come have a look.”

If that is your first post, you are well on your way to being a douche. Now there are some places that have forums that ask you to do just that. And that’s great. Go for it. I know I certainly do. But you have to do more than that. You have to give something. If you are really only going to a site to promote your books or whatever, you are not giving. You are taking. If your only purpose is to show up and fake some interest for the reasons of linking to your stuff, then you are being a douche.

On LinkedIn for example, I’ve joined some groups and see people asking questions to start forum threads, stuff like: “What’s the right way to do XYZ?” and “What do you think about such-and-such technique?” On the surface, those look perfectly fine. But when you see the same person asking the same exact question on every similar forum and in every similar group, and there is a link to their stuff on every single post, you can’t help but suspect you might be dealing with a douche.

Look, nobody is fooling anyone. We all want to sell our stuff. I mean, duh, right? But here’s a little secret I’ve picked up during my twenty-five years in sales and marketing: People don’t buy from assholes.

So, you have to give. You have to join communities with, at the very least, a genuine intention of giving something to the community. This means, don’t join communities you don’t think have value to you. For me, I’ve found a writing group on LinkedIn that, as I said above, has some really smart, smart people talking about stuff and GIVING UP GREAT IDEAS… for free!  They’re giving advice. Good advice. Interesting advice. Advice I can verify. Stuff I didn't know before but will really, really be happy to know as I do this self-publishing thing.

So, by picking a community that has people like that, I get something. Something besides people to scream my links at over and over hoping for some reason they’ll decide my link is somehow going to take them to something better than any of the other nine thousand links they see every day.

Now that doesn’t mean I don’t want them to check out my links. I do. But to do that, I have to earn their interest. Which means, I have to be genuine. I have to participate. For real. Not just faking it, coughing up crap that looks like engagement, but actually taking time to read people’s posts and think about them (people love it when you listen to them). Then, if I come across something that I have particular knowledge on, I can take the time to reply. I can give what I have to the community. For me, it’s writing advice; I’m full of lots of verby/nouny writer crap. It’s what I know, and I’m decent at it, so why not share?  I can offer sales tips, some marketing experience too. So, I do. Hopefully some of it will help someone else in the kind of way I am learning cool stuff from them—"them" being the people giving for real too—them being the people whose links I will (and have) checked out.

And being real isn’t just true on forum type engagement like I’m talking about with LinkedIn and of the sort I see on HubPages too. So here’s another big tip for  you about social media, especially Facebook: your page should be about THEM, not you.

Now that probably sounds counterintuitive, since your Facebook page is, well, yours. But the thing is, you have to make your social media page be interesting to THEM. Hearing about your crap all the time isn’t that interesting. I’ll even use myself as an example for both doing it right and wrong.  Here’s a screen shot from my Shadesbreath page, take a look before reading on, particularly the stuff with the red arrows:

Alright, look at the top half of that. Do you see the 376 impressions and the 4.26% feedback? Plus, it has 14 comments and 2 likes. Now look at what it is, what the post is about. It is a question I asked about THEM, my readers. I asked something about them, and they got involved on my page. That’s good stuff. And what’s important from a marketing standpoint is that Facebook pages show up (or not) in other people’s feeds with frequency that is affected by reader engagement.

Which leads me to the bottom part of that same screen shot. Look at my second post. That is a post about me. It’s me being a marketing whore and trying to get people to come read MY STUFF. Look at how effective that was. A big fat goose egg for feedback and only 90 impressions. That means not even all of the people that have liked my page got that post sent to their feeds. That is NOT good marketing. And that is my fault for being too much about ME and not enough about THEM. I didn’t deserve readers for that post because I was being too much of a marketer <cough>douche<cough> and not taking time to have fun, genuine fun, with people via my page. And more importantly, via their pages.

So anyway, the point of this blog entry today is just one of sincerity. We all want to sell our crap. And there is nothing wrong with that. But we can’t expect to just jump in and talk about ourselves. Nobody cares. People only care about people they like. And people like people who deserve to be liked. You get what you give, you know?