Cover Reveal: Humans In My House and the Animals Beyond It (series book 3)

15 Jun

Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle e-book July 1, 2018.

 

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On Composition: Writing for Children

13 Jun

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When E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s WebStuart Little, and a host of books for adults, was asked if he had a hard time shifting between writing for adults and writing for children, he said,

“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down.”

I fully agree. I’m partial to this method as an author of educational fiction. That’s what I like to call my genre, anyway. It’s made up stories with real-life academics. My goal is to sneak some language, some science, some activism, some human decency into an adventure that, to a child, is just fun.

Not every children’s author aims for the educational, but most children’s books come out of the printing press with a moral or a lesson anyway. Books teach children even when they don’t set out to dictate a fully realized lesson–academic or otherwise–because children soak up EVERYTHING.

It is because books create teachable moments that children’s authors, whether aiming to create a book worthy of lesson plans or not, write UP to children. Why not? What’s the purpose in a book that doesn’t challenge its reader in some way?

Don’t say enjoyment, because books that write up and challenge are enjoyable, too. Frankly, books that don’t stretch the mind get boring. Kids are constantly searching for more. More. More. More.

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So, when writing up to a child, are we missing our target audience? Are we mislabeling our age group? Is it bad that a middle-grade fiction book hangs at the upper end of the age range in difficultly while the story and characters are more enticing to the younger end? Is this bad marketing? Do we need to sell our books to the ages who already use the vocabulary it contains? Do we say, “Well, if that book is too easy, they should buy a book for an older child,” and continue on our way?

No to all of those! Because aging up in books in order to get the desired complexity often results in children reading age-inappropriate story-lines simply so they aren’t bored with its delivery. Writing up to children means delivering appropriate challenges.

And to that I say: why wouldn’t you want to teach that eight-year-old something new within an appropriate and amusing context? Make them ask their parents for a definition.  Make them open a dictionary! Make them revisit first grade methods of sounding it out. Make them say the word wrong a few times before someone hears them and corrects them.

How many times have you heard someone mispronounce a complex word? They didn’t say it wrong because they’re unintelligent. They said it oddly because they learned it from READING! Thank a book that challenged that person somewhere along the way!

So go ahead and put that tough word in your kid’s book. Challenge them academically (whether your book is academic or not) by trusting them with a sturdy vocabulary, honest delivery, and creative contexts. They will accept all of it.

Coming July 1, 2018: Humans In My House and the Animals Beyond It

11 Jun

Humans In My House and the Animals Beyond It chapter two illustration. Illustrator Victoria Lyons, 2018.

The third installment of the Humans In My House series is on its way! Look for a cover reveal Friday, June 15, 2018 and publication July 1, 2018 (Amazon Kindle and paperback).

In Kepler’s newest adventure, he and Emily meet animals from around the world during a trip to the zoo. Find out what conservationists are doing to help keep Kepler’s animal family happy and healthy both within the zoo and in their natural habitats, and learn how you can be a conservationist right from home!

Haven’t read the first two books in the series? Not to worry! Look for sales prices on books 1 and 2 during release, and get the whole series for a great deal!

Humans In My House is for readers aged 8 to 12, cat lovers, and anyone who loves our planet 🙂

Look for complimentary kid’s book club discussion prompts, vocabulary lists, and reading comprehension lessons after release. Downloadable lessons and other materials for previous volumes are here.

PREORDER Nova June: Inventor

1 Apr

It’s finally complete! PREORDER for Kindle ebooks is up and running on Amazon. PREORDER signed paperbacks directly from me here.

Ebooks will release April 7. Paperbacks are still an estimated April 15.

(Amazon preorders help an author’s Amazon ranking because they don’t count until release day. That’s how people can be #1 bestsellsers on the day the book comes out.)

RE-covering (from) A Failed Cover: Some Advice For (re)Branding A Book

29 Mar

This morning I launched the new cover art for Acephalous Book 1 (below).

CREATESPACE PRINT book cover FINAL-300dpi

Why I Made It

I was motivated to re-brand the book with a new cover and summary blurb because sales have been less than stellar and because, sometimes, you just come up with better ideas after the fact. Sometimes it’s not even on purpose, like this one.

How I Made It

This new cover art started as a mixed-media painting project. I was going to sell the painting at my event booth because it uses the dictionary page with the word “Acephalous” on it. (I do cat-related ones, too, for my other books, and people seem to like them). After tearing out the page and cutting it to size, I decoupaged the dictionary page to a canvas, made crown stencils to paint around, and once dry, added some copper leaf. When it was finished it screamed, “BOOK COVER!” and I just couldn’t sell it. Enter a high-resolution scan of the original painting, some digital touch-ups for color contrast, and the addition of the second dictionary page plus back-matter for the back cover. (Not as exciting a process as the painting.)

Why The New Art Is Better For A Book

Though the book is a good read on which I’ve gotten favorable feedback, the old cover (below) suffered a fatal flaw:

Published Acephalous Cover Final

It did nothing to indicate genre, subject-matter, or target audience. It was pretty. I liked it. When presented with the book, others liked it. But, it wasn’t a cover that grabbed anyone. Since I can’t put the book in people’s hands, strike up conversations about the book, tell them what it’s about all the time, the cover has to do that for me when away from events and speaking engagements.

Aesthetics and marketability are not the same thing. Marketability goes beyond the general eye-pleasing look of a book and must tell something about its contents. “It’s pretty” isn’t enough. As a YA Urban Fantasy with metaphysical elements and a major, plot-changing power struggle, a line of trees on a snowy path wasn’t enough. That book could have been about anything and for readers of any age. It says nothing of genre, although it might say what genre it isn’t (like fantasy, which is bad because it is). Though the cover comes directly from a pivotal scene in the novel, no one knows that until after reading. This is backwards. The cover needs to divulge a bit about what’s inside rather than what’s inside explaining the choice of cover.Enter the bold new cover I created (image 1).

Breaking Down The New Elements

The new art symbolizes parts of the plot in a more general way than the original, which was a verbatim scene. A scene is not a symbol. Symbols are immediately recognizable and have a connotation without further reading. Scenes have no meaning and give no messages to the audience until played out. Crowns indicate the power struggle, which is a relevant theme on a character-self level, character-character level, and character-world level, and they have a more fantasy-leaning connotation.

The new art includes a definition for the title word, Acephalous for clarity. (Note: If you’re going to name your book with a word most people don’t know and can’t pronounce, the explanation needs to be readily available in some manner. I chose a rather blatant method.)

The new art also has a handmade, artsy feel (because it is handmade) that appeals to me and others on an aesthetic and genre-consistent level. This makes it marketable–looks and function. Current trends in YA urban fantasy covers include dark color palettes, multiple textures/patterns, and either: bold, sans-serif text or wispy serif text verging on filigree. The wispy tends toward the more traditional realms of (high)fantasy, the “urban fantasy” approach meaning it is a modern-day setting in our real world, and the characters are less often fantastic creatures than real people with special traits/abilities. Many covers have people/faces on them (even before they’re turned into movies and re-covered with the actors), but that’s not my personal style. I like readers to envision the characters rather than be told who to see by the cover. Just look at a wall of new releases in the YA section of any book store. You’ll see these traits. Resist the urge to step out of the bounds of your genre to be different than that wall. It won’t necessarily pay off to not fit in. What started as the desire to not do what every other author/publisher is doing with their covers may end with confused readers. There are tropes and trends in marketing for a reason. Symbolism and connotation are deeply linked to language and social cues, and your book needs to look like it was placed on the correct shelf in the correct section of the store or people won’t take these cues to understanding.

Other New Features

In addition to the new art, I also rewrote the back cover blurb. At events, people would read the old blurb, put the book back down, and say something like, “That sounds dark,” or, “That’s just a little too heavy for me/my daughter/my students, etc.” The blurb was killing my sales. While there are many dark moments in the book, it is no darker than any other teen drama or fantasy, and I need people to know that. There are always elements of peril, loss, and hopelessness in a plot structured to show how and when a character is finally smacked by reality. I needed my new blurb to convey that there are high stakes and dark moments, but that they are vital to character and plot development, which must start at low-points in order to show realistic growth through a plot (especially with books in a series). The new blurb is shorter, equally telling, yet infuses a hint of hope to soften the darkness.

To reflect the new cover and blurb, I switched up some of my keywords on sales platforms. Poor sales sometimes have more to do with putting the book on the wrong shelf (even the digital “shelves” and categories used by Amazon and others) than with the book itself. For me, it’s not that people were buying the book, reading it, and disliking it. It’s not the writing. People weren’t buying it in the first place. A reason for this might include lack of visibility, especially for online markets where there is so much competition. The book has to appear to the right people at the right time. Search terms/key words and category matter immensely, and having these set to target the right shoppers helps online stores continue targeting correctly. The more imprints (that’s the people who see the book for sale either by ad or search) that turn to sales, the better the store algorithms learn to keep showing the book to other shoppers like the ones who purchased. Essentially, your book has to be on the right shelf and look like it’s on the right shelf.

Since this new cover has just launched, I have no proof that my efforts work on this book, but I have high suspicions they will. These changes will compound as books two and three in the series are released, as the more books you publish, the easier you are to find. And now, I have a definite style and image theme to work from when creating those series covers. Expect to see the dictionary page plus crown silhouette continue, re-styled, in later volumes.

Other authors and marketers make similar decisions to overhaul stagnate back-list titles all the time. Experts in the publishing field recommend this method in hundreds of publications. (I recommend How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn and Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century by John Brookshire Thompson.)

The Takeaway

Don’t be afraid to let go of what isn’t working just because it took a lot of time to create. If you put that much work into the original, you told yourself it was worth it. If it isn’t selling in that state and you’re unwilling to change it, what are you saying about that piece of work? That it was only worth one attempt?

It may feel for a while like the first attempt (or however many) was a waste of time if it has come down to a re-do, but I think it’s a much larger waste of time to let something that isn’t working linger with no results when the addition of a little more work could reap huge dividends. And yes, it is about the money.

(Authors will tell you that they do it because they love it, because they can’t resist the compulsion to write, because they will explode or go mad if they don’t. This is true beyond words. But when an author sets out to make a living by writing, all the love for the craft in the world can’t finance life. If that means I put in another 80 hours recreating a cover for a passion-project book I started at 14 years old and, despite my expectations and yearning for people to read it, is going nowhere, so be it. I put 12 years into that manuscript before it published. You better believe I want it to sell.)

Hopefully I’ll be able to update this post in a year with clear results that prove the experts were right and that my changes worked. I’ll keep adjusting until they do. It’s worth the extra time to me. The first try wasn’t a waste. Failed first attempts only remain failures if nothing is done to resolve the issue. Once there’s a success, that “failed first attempt” becomes a special edition, a limited run, a rare collector’s piece. And those are usually worth more to fans and readers anyway.

A final, somewhat contradictory note:

I fully acknowledge the validity of quitting while ahead, cutting your losses, and prioritizing by cost-benefit analysis. I said it was about the money, and the above are cost-related decisions. I respect every author’s decision to forge ahead with multiple attempts or to say, “That really was a failure. I’m done.” The threshold for if and when these decisions are made is different for all authors. For every project and timeline, there is a point that, when reached, makes it impossible to ever, in a lifetime, make enough money on it to pay back the effort involved, much less turn a profit. My stance in this article is based on my threshold for this project. I haven’t met that threshold yet.

RE-BRANDING: Acephalous Book 1 NEW Cover and Blurb

29 Mar

CREATESPACE PRINT book cover FINAL-300dpi

These new paperback covers are available only on Amazon. Ebooks now have this cover on all available platforms (Kindle, Smashwords, iBooks, and Kobo).

Love the old cover? My remaining stock, both Advance Reading Copies and Final Publications, are now event exclusives. Visit one of my events for a special signed copy. Less than 300 ever made.

New Back-Cover Blurb:

Breena wishes she was someone else and uses her dreams to escape. When a dream-figure presents the opportunity to transform, she seizes it. But, the learning curve to her new identity is steep and painfully loses its charm. Her teacher’s plan is chaos, and it’s spreading. Bree wants to do the right thing, but when she finally steps up, it’s too late, and she must sacrifice a part of herself to survive.

For the How & Why of the new cover, read on.

Triple A Book Blog Reviews Humans In My House and the Stars Above It

19 Mar

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(This book review by Triple A Book Blog originally published here: https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FTripleABookBlog%2Fposts%2F1362158520597724&width=500 Republished with permission.)

An adorable sequel, our cat friend from the first book gets a name from Emily. She names him Kepler and attempts to explain why. Kepler, Emily and one of her friends then go outside to watch a meteor shower.

The dream sequence Kepler has is fun while also being highly informative. It was a widely interesting way to teach the kids I read to about the universe around us.

I adore these books and hope to see more of Kepler, Emily and friends in the future.

(Read Triple A’s review of Humans In My House series book 1 here and their interview of Amanda Marsico here.)

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