Personal Log: Changes (a 2022 Planning Blog, pt. 1)

Sitting down to write as the last thing that I do before bed isn’t great. I’d rather be doing it first thing. Somehow, I keep letting that habit slip away from me. It’s something to work on as we approach the new year. I can take 15 minutes or so early in the morning and write. Then I can go about the rest of the day secure in the knowledge that my writing streak has continued even if I don't write more. Instead, it nags at me.

Today, for example. It was a work day and I updated visualizations, answered employee questions, and edited the website. I also spent time on my breaks working on courses and learning. Despite all of that, the day felt more incomplete because I hadn’t written. I want to address that. I’m happier if I write.

What I often find, though, is that my thoughts go to other things that I need to do each day. Often that’s work. I’m a fulltime librarian. For most of my career, I’ve been in supervisory or managerial positions. Now I'm making a big change and moving over to the IT side of the library. It means giving up pay increases and the status of my current position. In return, I’m gaining an increased focus, less stress, and so many opportunities to learn and serve the library patrons and staff. Even though the job remains mentally demanding, I think it’ll also free up my thoughts enough to make more room for my writing, learning, and other projects.

I love learning. That’s often a distraction from my writing. I have a ton of courses that I want to work through right now. I’ve purchased many of the courses. Many of the creators use Teachable as their platform. Others are on Udemy. I also have courses that I’m doing through library-offered platforms like LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com).

One course that I’m working on right now is Learning Python taught by Joe Marini. I have some experience with Python and have posted a bit about using Python before on my blog to generate titles. I haven’t gained mastery of Python and decided to work through the Python Learning Path on LinkedIn Learning. If you haven’t checked, I recommend you see what online learning options are offered by your local library for patrons. Many do offer access to such learning platforms covering a wide range of topics.

Many of the courses I’m taking are on digital art, 3D modeling, and writing. I’ve also got courses I’m doing to improve my data and visualization expertise. And other developer courses. A focus on learning is a key part of my 2022 plan. There’s always more to learn.

I’m reading a book recommended at work, Think Again by Adam Grant. “The power of knowing what you don’t know.” Even when I’m doing well at something, I don’t cease in striving to learn more. There’s no end. That's the fun. Whether it is through books, courses, or working with mentors—I continue to learn and rethink what I'm doing.

The last two years have been the first two parts of the COVID-19 trilogy. We ended 2020 with the bright hope of vaccines. Hope that crashed down in the long middle of 2021, which now ends with the Omicron variant spreading rapidly in our communities.

I don’t know what 2022 will bring. Maybe there’ll be a second trilogy that follows the first. Whatever happens, I want to share what I’m learning and my progress in my journey as a librarian who writes science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, and more. I hope you’ll join me.

cozy artwork featured

Creating a Cozy Mystery Cover Part 2

I need cozy artwork, images that suggest a cozy mystery experience for my novel The Task of Auntie Dido. In my previous posts, I talked about researching cozy mystery covers, and my process for creating the Kindle cover. This time I'm talking about the process I followed to select and use artwork for the cover.

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Cozy Artwork, DIY vs. Buy?

I want to have my own artwork on the covers of my books. The trouble is, that has held me back from sharing my work. I think many indie authors will choose to have someone else design their covers, working with the designer to come up with a professional and effective cover. That is the smart way to go!

There's a good argument for focusing on writing, and working with other people on things like covers. Trying to do it all myself has slowed my progress and has contributed to making it hard for people to find my books. I know this. I also know that I enjoy learning about design, art, typography and all the rest. That said, I've decided that I need to compromise if I'm going to get my books. I'll put the covers together, but will use artwork created by other artists (for now). I still want to create original artwork but that is the piece that has held things up.

Finding Artwork

I turned to Dreamstime.com for cozy artwork. They offer a number of credit or subscription plans that can be used to download artwork. The subscriptions generally offer a better deal and allow you to download the images at whatever resolution you desire. Dreamstime also uses a royalty-free license that works well for e-books and print books.

In my previous post, I talked about my plan to use silhouetted figures on the cover. Since I decided to purchase rather than create the figures, I started my search looking for vector silhouettes of an old woman and a cat.

There are  a lot of results. It is worth the time to explore, check out related or similar images, and consider what will work for the cover.

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Choosing Cozy Artwork

I ended up selecting two sets of vectors, one for each. Since these are sets, it meant that I had different poses to experiment with and can use others with other stories. After adding the figures, I still felt like the cover needed something more. I ended up downloading a third image of a Victorian house, which I added behind the orange overlay and applied effects to give it some texture.

Final Touches

I like this new cover much better than the one that I created for the first edition of the book several years ago. It will be interesting to see if readers respond to the cover. I think it fits well with the elements that I noted when looking at other cozy covers. I have a few things to do with the interior files but I hope to have it finished and available by the end of the week.

Next up? Designing Science Fiction Covers. I have plans for a new edition of Dark Matters and for a brand new release, Stowaway to Eternity.

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C. Auguste Dupin expects simple things out of his day. A sunny spot beside the fountain to nap. His tuna delivered at precisely the right time by librarian Penny Copper. He didn’t expect someone to stuff bodies in the book returns and disrupt his entire day!

The only thing left to do? Apply his considerable intellect to the task of identifying the killer while guiding Penny to the answer.

Book with text

5 Ways to Release More Books Faster (Without Going Insane)

What's the best way to fail as a writer? Not writing. What's the next way writers fail? Not making their work available to people who can pay for it. Robert A. Heinlein's business rules for writers make these points abundantly clear. Today it pays to release books fast. These quick techniques can help you release books faster so that readers can discover your work. I'm putting these into practice myself to get my backlist up and available.

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Focus on your cover first

Covers matter. A cover that doesn't entice readers to check out your book is a cover that fails—no matter how attached you might be to the artwork, design, or other elements. It's the single biggest factor on whether or not anyone gives your books a chance. You want to release books fast, but start with your cover.

I've released plenty of books without effective covers. I'm working to fix that now. My problem? I want to illustrate my own covers. That's terrific, except that I don't have many of my titles available and my available books don't have effective covers. It's a weakness that I plan to address as I work to release all of my books.

Your cover will change

I run into the trap of imagining the perfect cover. It doesn't exist. An effective cover now may not work in five years. Tastes change. Standards change. Your cover needs to change with the times. Look at current design and get a cover that works.

Don't worry about cost

If you can't afford (or don't want to) pay for someone to design your cover, you can figure it out yourself. Look at covers on books like your book and come up with something that will work. Do the best you can right now. Change it later, when you can, when it's needed.

Focus on one format

To release books fast, pick one format for your book to focus on first. Get your books up as e-books on Amazon. Don't worry about print, large print, audiobooks, hardcover vs. paperback, going wide or being exclusive. Figure that out later. To get started, simply have a clean file of your book and a cover, and upload them to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

Why KDP? At least in the US, it's the biggest market. Start with the biggest payoff. You can always add other markets later (even if you're initially exclusive in KDP Select). I think it makes sense to expand to multiple formats and markets. I plan to do that too (I have with other titles). Right now, however, I have more titles that are not available than those available! I need to get my books up, and work on improving them when I have time.

Write more books

If you want to release books fast you also need to write more books! And write books faster. Mostly that means being consistent with your writing. You might want to check out my quick guide to goal setting. Figure out how much time you will spend writing your book and decide on a schedule. If you're like me and work a full time job, you may not write as fast as you'd like, but being consistent counts.

I already have a backlist of titles to put up. I'm also working on a new book right now, with a long list of additional titles to write. Some in my current series, others in new series, as well as some standalone titles. Figure out what you need to do to make time for yourself to write. Have fun!

Writer T-Shirt

Use boilerplate templates

Use boilerplate templates to release books fast. Create (or have someone create for you) a template that you can easily use for multiple books. Save time on your interiors by using the same templates. This works especially well for novels, even more so in a series, since they will have a consistent appearance. Make sure that you use styles. One of the biggest issues I see people run into is formatting selected text instead of using styles. Whether you're working in Word or InDesign (or something else) find out how styles work and use them! With a style you can modify the details of the style and instantly change all text with that style. It's a huge time saver and also lets you tweak and customize your templates (say for different series) with a few clicks.

Analyze your methods

With each book, take a look at your methods and processes. What can you improve to help you release books fast? You don't have to improve everything or analyze everything. Pick one process and ask, how could I do this better? Test your processes. Track how long it takes, make a change, and track it with the next book. With each book try to find one or two things that you can do better. It will pay off over time.

I also recommend that you use these methods when you start and don't hire someone. Learn how all of this works. Figure it out. Test and improve. Identify those areas that have the biggest payoff in helping you release books fast. Later, after you have worked through the process with many books, you'll have a better sense of whether or not it makes sense to hire someone to take over parts of the work. You'll have a much better idea of what you can give someone else to do, and a better idea of how long it should take (and cost), if you've been doing it yourself first.

What ideas do you have?

What ideas do you have to release books fast? Share in the comments!

Alien eye

Catching the Eye of a Sci-Fi Reader

Who doesn't want to fall in love? Hopefully, you've had the experience of seeing that one perfect book cover that captures your gaze, pulling you into an intense and engaging experience. It entices you to pick it up. You run your fingers across the cover. Maybe you turn to read the sales copy or maybe you don't because the cover has captured you so completely.

Although today you might just look and then swipe right.

Online (Book) Dating for Sci-Fi Writers

In truth, most book sales, whether print or e-books, take place online. We're not picking up the book with the cover that catches our eyes. We're looking at the book's online profile. We read the sales copy. If other people have picked up this book, we might read what they say. If we like what we see, we buy the book. Often that means in e-book formats, though it can be print.

If we enjoy the book we might go back to that author for a second date. A third. Maybe, if it's a great match we'll give every book by that author a chance. It all starts with that first look that catches the eye.

As writers, we know the importance of making a good first impression with our book covers. I'm working on improving my covers right now, as a part of the reboot project.

Studying the Bestselling Covers Using Amazon Lists

I tend to picture book covers from decades ago when I think about science fiction book covers. The covers that I grew up seeing in bookstores in mass market paperback formats. I also love old pulp covers.

Design has changed since then. Covers need to work as thumbnail images. Most book sales take place online.

Category Covers

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Sample Covers Selected by Amazon for Categories

Looking at Amazon's categories, they've selected a number of titles to represent each category. Although some of the titles appear to fit the categories, others seem odd to me. I wouldn't call Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish novels cyberpunk, for instance. Ready Player One might be a better fit. Artemis works for Hard Science Fiction.

The sidebar lists a much longer list of categories. You can also just scroll down to the list. Ready Player One sits at the top with over 15,000 reviews (at this point).

Looking For a Match

Pick a category that seems to match your novel. I'm going with the Genetic Engineering category first for my novel Dark Matters. Here are a few of the titles at the top of that list:

These show a variety of styles. Most without a complicated scene, except for Genome. My Moreau Society series centers around detective Brock Marsden. He incorporates alien DNA into his own using Galactic technology. This gives him unique abilities. It takes place on a world with many different species of aliens, as well as standard humans. Other categories might be Colonization or Adventure.

In the Colonization category we find these sorts of covers:

The covers differ in some ways from the previous category. Persepolis Rising is the only one with a complicated cover painting more in the style of older science fiction. Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles has that ‘classic' look to it. Most use simple shapes that translate easily to thumbnails.

Turning to the Adventure category we find:

Familiar names on this list! Bradbury's cover hits the same red, black and white theme. Brown's covers are easily recognizable as part of the same series. Ready Player One sports the movie-branded cover. Philip K. Dick's cover resembles the Brave New World cover.

Let's compare these to titles from the Mystery category:

Author names are much larger on these books than the science fiction titles, although you see a bit of that with Atwood and Corey. Other colors show up in these covers. I could see incorporating some of the mystery elements into a design that is more clearly science fiction.

What Are Your Favorites?

Let me know in the comments which cover designs and elements you like. What should I focus on for my new covers? I need to come up with new covers for all of my reboot titles. Right now I'm focusing on science fiction. I'll do some more posts as I get further along in the process.