Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Books on Writing

You probably have that story you wrote that's so terrible just thinking about it is embarrassing. Letting anyone read it is unthinkable. It's probably the first book you ever wrote. When I started writing, there were a lot of things I didn't know how to do. Even now, I'm still learning but back then I didn't even have the basics down. I was especially terrible at writing not telling emotions.

Here are a few books that helped me improve my writing.

On Writing Horror by The Horror Writers Association



I love this book. It's a collection of essays by well-known horror authors. My copy is a little mangled. I used this one a lot.
 "Find the single facet of that thing that frightens you--that which most everyone can relate to--and use that one facet as a weapon to frighten your readers." (Michael Marano)

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury



I read this book much later in my writing career but it's become my second favorite. I bought it thinking it would just be an interesting read but it's more than that. Bradbury drops some serious wisdom.
"We never sit anything out.
The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.
We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled."
On Writing by Stephen King 



This one is tied for number two. I didn't particularly care for autobiographies but this book Zen in the Art of Writing helped me appreciate them. Like Bradbury's book, On Writing gives some amazing advice. It's also encouraging to reading about King's early years.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress



Here's another book that's gotten a lot of love, as you can tell from the ripped corner. It gives you a nice deep dive into perspectives. It's also one of the books that taught me how to write emotions.

"When you write emotional dialogue, consider whether it's being said at an emotional moment or after the moment has passed. The latter can be more abstract, naming emotions directly ('I loved that dog,' 'I'm grateful'). Keep the former as direct and visceral as the character's temperament allows." 
Breathing Life Into Your Characters by Rachel Ballon


Another book that taught me about writing emotions and generally crafting well-rounded characters. It also talks about Jung's concept of the Shadow, which I've always been interested in.
"In essence, as you make friends or enemies, people learn more about your backstory, just as they learn about your character's backstory through his [or her] relationships."

These are a few of my favorite writing books. What are yours?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Behind the Book Cover Part 2: Cover Reveal

It's done. I've never been so happy to finish a design. In Part 1, I talked about how I began designing the cover for The Unburned Island. Now, you'll see the results.

This was my first idea.


When I realized this image wasn't going to work, I searched the stock images I owned to see if any spoke to me. Most of them were too heavy on the horror or fantasy side. I needed something that straddles both genres.

Then I stumbled across my favorite.

Looks haunted. Nice dark fantasy creature there. The image is illustrated to match other dark fantasy and paranormal covers. Simple enough that it can be paired with some dramatic fonts. One of my sketches in Part 1 had a forest as a background or branches merged with some font. It's perfect.

Next, I needed a color scheme. To Adobe Color CC. I searched for fantasy and dark fantasy colors and came across these:

During this design process, I played around with all these schemes. It also confirmed my research findings that blue, black, white and purple were common dark/paranormal fantasy colors.

The came the hard part. I wanted this cover to focus on typography. I needed to find the right fonts. In Part 1, I mentioned:

Font Squirrel
1001 Fonts
Adobe Typekit

I searched those three sites and tried out different combinations of fonts and colors. 


Didn't like any of these. They're all too hard to see. The combinations don't complement each other.

Eventually, I found fonts, colors and arrangments that I liked:

Then I showed it to my publisher. She wanted to see the cover without the color. I took away the purple.
At that point, I'd been working on the cover so long I couldn't tell if I liked this version or not. I needed more opinions. I'm a part of several Facebook Groups, one of them being Colors in Darkness. I asked group members which cover they preferred. Overwhelming, they liked the black and white one. They also said I should do something with the font so I won't get lost.

Here came the next challenge. Finding a font color. This took forever. I tried different blues, purples, greens and reds, a green/blue/yellow gradient and an orange and yellow gradient. I never really appreciated just how many shades a color can have.

I didn't like any of them. I took a break. I was getting frustrated and couldn't think clearly. Days later, I was working on something else when it occurred to me that I could use a pattern instead of a solid color. I can create patterns from images. I tried different images.

This one looks magical and matches my color scheme.

Since the story's called The Unburned Island, I figured this would give the font a nice flaming look.

In the end, I went with this one because I like the clouds when paired with the font. It has a magical and dark feel.

I played with the colors a little more and here's the final cover! It came out looking more like an ocean than clouds. I like it. So does my publisher.


Summary: 

The entire island was on fire yet only one building was destroyed. Everyone disappeared. The schoolhouse remained unscathed. People believe it's now haunted. The school and the island remained abandoned for years.

One day, Kiran, En and a team of magical investigators travel to the island to banish whatever haunts the schoolhouse. It takes them no time to realize the building isn't the problem. The island is.

Add to Goodreads.

Visit The Unburned Island on April 18th.
...

I'll be taking this image off the market to use it as promo for The Unburned Island. It's no longer available for sale. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Week in Links 3/17/17: Fairy Tail, American Gods, Sword Art Online



Welcome to the weekly roundup of links for fellow writers and nerds.

Book Marketing and Branding
Stop Focusing on Follower Count: 5 Better Approaches for Improving Social Media Use
How to Optimize Pinterest Content for Search
The Complete Guide to Instagram Ads: A Step-by-Step Guide to Advertising on Instagram

Fantasy/Horror/Sci-Fi
New Edition of ‘Fantastic Beasts’ Book Lends Clues to ‘Fantastic Beasts’ Movie Sequel
The Expanse has been renewed for a third season
“A Time For Heroes” Arrives in Doctor Who Season 10 Trailer!

Writing, Publishing and Bookishness
When Do You Know Your Book Is Done?
Every Upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie And TV Show
So, Uh, Yeah… Spider-Man Spin-Off ‘Venom’ Is Coming In 2018

How to Find Beautiful Landscapes


Want to see your post in the next The Week in Links? Email me at audendjohnson@gmal.com. The post needs to be published between today, 3/17 and next Friday, 3/24.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Book Marketing: Finding the Right Hashtags for Instagram & Twitter


How do you find the right hashtags to get engagement on Instagram and Twitter? Instagram is especially...interesting because you're encouraged to use a lot of hashtags. They're important. Your reach will be limited if you don't use them.

Google Search
If you don't know anything about hashtags, the first thing you should do is search Google. You'll find articles listing all the hashtags authors need to know. Most of these lists will be Twitter-specific. Some hashtags, like #amwriting, are popular everywhere. Generally, what works on Twitter doesn't necessarily work on Instagram.

Hashtags for Authors and Book Marketing Pros

I've tried Googling Instagram hashtag but I always end up getting lists specific to Twitter. 

I only found this post for Instagram:

51 Best Instagram Hashtags for Writers to Build Huge Brands

 Wonder why there aren't many Instagram-specific lists for authors?

Examine Influencers
When I first started Instagram, I did random searches for things like books and writing and then made a list of all the hashtags people used.


Here are some that work for me:

#indieauthors #paranormal #darkreads #writingcommunity #writersofig #amwriting #igreads #writerproblems #bloggerlife #bloggersofinstagram #horror #darkfantasy #romance

Since most authors share scenery pics, here are the non-writing hashtags that work for me:

#archtecturelovers #loves_world #canon_photos #fotocatchers #photographysouls #blackandwhite #treemagic #best_skyshots #fiftyshades_of_twilight #fiftyshades_of_nature #landscape

Alway Monitor
For Instagram, Websta will tell you your most popular hashtags. For Twitter, share the same post multiple times using different hashtags and see which one gets the most engagement. 

Try Hashtag Search Sites
Certain sites will give you hashtag suggestions and statistics like exposure and retweets per hour. 

I use RiteTag and search by topic not keyword. This way, I get more suggestions.

There's also Hashtagify. Websta has a search and suggestion tool for Instagram.
...

It's important to monitor engagement. You don't want to waste your time on a hashtag that doesn't work. I used #darkfantasy for Twitter until I realized I'd get more engagement using #fantasy with #horror. I love #asmsg for Twitter. 

When you're searching on Instagram, collect a mixture of popular and moderately popular terms. Those hashtags with 1 million posts are great for exposure but you'd get more engagement from the ones that have maybe 100,000 or even 15,000 posts. You have a greater chance of getting a top post with less popular keywords. 
 
Follow me on Twitter and Instagram. If you like this post, don't forget to share it! I'd love to hear from you. Comment below!

Resources
Your Official Instagram Hashtag Guide for Photographers: A List Of The Best Hashtags How to Use Hashtags on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram

Monday, March 13, 2017

Behind the Book Cover Part 1: Design on a Budget


Designing the cover for The Unburned Island has been a ride. It's taking me over a month. It's one of the hardest designs I've worked on. I'm close to being finished but I'm having trouble getting the right font color.

I started this process with some rough sketches to get an idea of what I wanted to design. The first time I tried this. I used to draw when I was a kid but I stopped for some reason. While sketching, I researched paranormal fantasy covers to get some inspiration and to check out trends in images, type and color.

Here's what I found:

  • Most have people, females, on the cover
  • The type varies but they usually have a magical or dark feel
  • The color scheme is usually black, white, blue or purple or some combination of those color
  • The covers have an illustration/otherworldly feel


At first, I was leaning towards a cover with a person on it because it matches other paranormal books. The problem: this is going to be a series. I had to think about how I would recreate the design. If the first cover in a series has a person on it, that same model should be on the cover of every book in the series, usually in different poses or colors.

I thought about using this design, which I actually created as premade book cover to sell.

If I used this cover, I'd have to take is off the market. Had to think about it. Also, I couldn't find stock images of this model in different poses. I could use the same image but then I run the risk of the series covers all looking too similar. I searched for other images but couldn't find any that I liked. In any case, my funds are dry so can't afford to buy images.

In the end, I decided to go with a typography heavy design. I always wanted to create something like that anyway. Many sites have some nice free royalty free fonts.

My favorites are:
Font Squirrel
1001 Fonts
Adobe Typekit

This is a design on a small budget, sort of. Adobe Creative Suite isn't cheap. This design took the longest but, compared to my other covers, this one was cheaper.

Since I want to have some fun with type, it was time for more sketching. I found this kinda relaxing.


I did this to brainstorm how I could arrange the fonts. I created a Pinterest board for book covers with nice fonts to get some ideas. In the end, I decided to go with a simple arrangement.

This was my first idea:

Combining one of my initial ideas with some dramatic typography.

Too much horror and not enough fantasy. The Unburned Island is set in a fantasy world. I don't want people looking at the cover and assuming it's a straight horror story.

I've actually been having trouble categorizing this story. The characters are paranormal investigators. Each story in the series will be a new case. These investigators have powers, some are even shifters. The closest genre I thought of was paranormal fantasy:
Fantasy that often includes elements of the occult, vampires, werewolves, and other mythical beasties from modern folklore. Usually (but not always) takes place in an urban setting. May also include Fantastical Romance elements or incorporate the detective genre. - See more at: http://bestfantasybooks.com/fantasy-genre.php#paranormal-fantasy
The story doesn't quite fit into this category, though. It has mythical beasties from modern folklore but I didn't rely on the lore. I made up my own. I don't want people coming into my story thinking they'll read about vampires, witches and werewolves.  The Unburned Island has non-shifter magic users but they don't call themselves wizards or witches.

Come to think it, my main genre, dark fantasy would be good too:
A fantasy subgenre that combines elements of fantasy with horror. Dark fantasy is often used to refer to horror fantasy and include stories about demonic creatures, mummies, vampires, and the like. - See more at: http://bestfantasybooks.com/fantasy-genre.php#dark-fantasy
#Paranormal gets more engagement on Instagram and Twitter. Dark fantasy is more buzzwordy than paranormal fantasy- it was easier to research the former. I'll use both. The cover trends are similar anyway. Genre is important because it helps you determine how you'd market/position your books.

I'm ready to be done with this cover. Maybe I need to take a short break from it to get some perspective.

 Tune in next week to see the final version of this cover.

If you're on Pinterest, check out The Unburned Island board to visit the world and the characters from my story.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Week in Links 3/10/17: Deadpool 2, Zelda, Thor


Welcome to the weekly roundup of links for fellow writers and nerds.

Book Marketing and Branding
Your Author Bio: Does it help your Book Sales or Stop Them Dead?

Fantasy/Horror/Sci-Fi
Jon Snow warns about ‘The Great War’ in new Game of Thrones season 7 teaser

Writing, Publishing and Bookishness
Self-Publishing And Diversity: Tips For Writing Diverse Books

Nerdy  Deadpool 2’s trailer has a Firefly Easter egg. What does it mean?
Ryan Reynolds Announces Domino Casting for DEADPOOL 2

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Writer Problems: Journal Obsession


Most of my writing is done in Word, Evernote and a Character Planner app but I still love journals. I used them more often in the past but my writing style changed. If inspiration hits me while on the go, I open my note taking app. Even so, I feel strange leaving my apartment without a journal on me. Paperchase is my favorite brand. Their covers are works of art.

I never use the pocket in the back but I love that it's there.

Some journal even have beautiful interiors. A Harry Potter journal I own has a crest at the top of each page. It gets in the way but it's so pretty.




At this point, I buy journals to add to my collection. It's unlikely I'll actually use them all. I do try to write something in them but I rarely fill them up. I'll probably do more journaling once I get back to writing Book 4 of The Merging Worlds series.






Is anyone else as obsessed with journals as I am?

Follow me on Instagram to see more journal photos!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Why Authors Should Consider Social Media Marketing


I was going to call this post " Why Authors Should Use Social Meda." Then I thought about it. Social media doesn't work for everyone.  

I was editing and then designing a cover for a Christian inspirational story. I started thinking about how the author would market it. The book would be better for traditional marketing- getting it into libraries, churches, reading groups... Knowing the author, I couldn't see them spending time on social media.

As a blog tour host, I come across many fantasy/horror books. When I see ones with a lot of reviews, I check out the author's social media account to see if I can get any tips. Many times, the author would have maybe 100 followers on Twitter and the same amount of Facebooks likes. Social media had nothing to do with their reviews. I've studied authors who make a living as a writer by simply publishing 4-5 stories a year. They don't do much marketing. 

So if you don' think social media is for you, that's fine. 

This post came to mind because I'm coming across authors who think social media is a waste of time. Understandable. You have to be active for months without seeing any results. You're on Twitter and the only interactions you get are people spamming you to buy their books. You join Facebook groups and get more of the same. On Instagram, people follow you to raise their numbers only to unfollow after you follow them. There's always a new site you "should" use. Social media can be a time suck with little measurable results.

Social media is not just about selling books.

People fall in love with/follow a personality, a brand. You earn their trust and eventually, they'll check out what you're selling. Don't go on social media thinking only of getting people to buy your books. It's about making connections. It's about providing something your audience wants. It's about making people across the country, the world, aware of your exitance.


Side Note: Some authors found success using Facebook advertising. I don't have the time or the money to navigate the maze. I ran Facebook ads with little success. They've gotten people to like my page but with Facebook's new algorithm, more likes without increased engagement mean people probably won't see your posts.


I will admit, I'm a bit biased. I love social media. I'm interested in anything to do with digital publishing and social media/discoverability is a huge part of it. (Discoverability is finally recognized by my spell checker! For awhile it kept marking it as misspelled.) 

As an introvert, I love social media because I can "talk" to people through writing. I'm getting better at face to face conversations but my personality comes out more through my writing. Through social media, I get to connect with a lot awesome people. Campaigns like We Need Diverse Books showed if you make enough noise on social media, you can cause changes to happen in the "real world." I'm an amateur photographer with no connections. People see my photos mostly because of social media.  


There is some pressure for authors to be on social media. You've probably heard this before, "if you're writing for young adults you should be Instagram or SnapChat." On the one hand, Millennials and Gen Zers are all over Instagram and SnapChat. On the other hand, if you're on a network and you're not enjoying yourself, it'll show. You'll start to lose followers. Honestly, a fantasy author, for instance, could focus on Reddit and they'd probably see some good sales. Some authors focus on Goodreads or Pinterest.

Just because "they" say authors need to be on a social network, doesn't mean you need to be there. 

Social media is tricky and it can be a pain but don't dismiss it off-hand. You can connect with some great people online. Digital marketing is important, especially if you're an indie author. Take time to do research, come up with a marketing plan. Social media marketing is not something you just jump into and hope for the best.

5 Mistakes Authors Makes on Social Media
11 Reasons Indie Authors Need Social Media (And How to Get It Right!)
Five Keys to Developing a Solid Social Media Strategy

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Week in Links 3/3/17: Guardians of The Galaxy, Nintendo, Get Out


Welcome to the weekly roundup of links for fellow writers and nerds.

Book Marketing and Branding
Book Marketing: Using Amazon Ads to Grow a Newsletter List
11 Storytelling Formulas to Supercharge Your Social Media Marketing

Fantasy/Horror/Sci-Fi
14 Things You Missed in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 Trailer!
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - World Premiere Trailer Get Out director Jordan Peele wants to change people’s minds with horror movies
The Women of NASA LEGO Project is a Go!

Photography and Design
The fundamentals of understanding color theory

Want to see your post in the next The Week in Links? Email me at audendjohnson@gmal.com. The post needs to be published between today, 3/3 and next Friday, 3/10.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Last Shadow Gate by Michael W. Garza




Title: The Last Shadow Gate
AuthorMichael W. Garza
Genre: YA Fantasy
Release Date: March 3rd 2017

Summer vacation was never supposed to be like this.

It was bad enough Naomi had to be shipped off to her dad's home for the summer and deal with her half-brother Gavin, but when the siblings are forced to spend their break with their great-grandmother in upstate New York, everything changes. An investigation into the strange disappearance of their great-grandfather forces them to retrace his footsteps. They discover a gateway between worlds and encounter extraordinary creatures in a land where the people are desperate to escape the coming of a shade lord. To survive their adventure, Naomi and Gavin must settle their differences and find the elusive shadow gate that will take them home again.





Michael W. Garza often finds himself wondering where his inspiration will come from next and in what form his imagination will bring it to life. The outcomes regularly surprise him and it’s always his ambition to amaze those curious enough to follow him and take in those results. He hopes everyone will find something that frightens, surprises, or simply astonishes them.





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