To Catch a Prince


High Lord Johannus Sentarsin scowled at his court, their fidgeting and the glitter of their finery grating on his nerves. Spineless sycophants, the lot of them, milling around his marble-floored great hall waiting for a chance to snatch an advantage from their peers. And now they cast terrified glances at his throne, judging how likely he was to let them renounce their vows to follow the newly crowned emperor.

“My lord.” A messenger shoved through the crowd, his rumpled livery covered in mud. He dropped to his knees as soon as he reached the foot of the high lord’s dais and slammed a hand to his chest in salute. “News on the foreign soldiers spotted entering our lands. They’ve done no damage, avoided all our patrols and troops as though they know the and, and—” The messenger licked his lips, casting a glance at the lords to either side. Or maybe at Johannus’s guards lining the walls. “Pardon, my lord. Reports say your son, Lordling Arkaen, rides at their head.”

Gods damn it all. Johannus clenched his fist on the arm of his throne. The boy should have been handled by now. He would have been if Emperor Laisia’s men had brought him home as intended, instead of trying to interrogate him. They’d nearly broken the boy with their tactics, and now there was no telling where his loyalties might lie.

“Have you any reports on his intentions?” Johannus sat forward as he spoke, scanning the assembled lords for any potential spies. The wrong ears in this room could damn the entire province.

“None, my lord,” the messenger said. “But the soldiers are outfitted for war.”

“Then we must assume he plans an assault,” Johannus replied. And Arkaen would know how to weave his army through the province to avoid any positions where they might catch him off guard. “Ready the guards and call conscripts from the villages. We’ll also need—”

“Father, no!” His daughter, Saylina, shrieked the protest as she burst through the hidden door behind his throne. Skulking where she shouldn’t be, as usual.

“Silence, child.” He flashed a glare at her, noting the servant he’d hired to watch her hiding in the shadows of the doorway. Useless, just like Arkaen’s guard had been. Johannus waved her away. “Your sentiment won’t change our status. Your brother is lost to us now.”

“Arkaen wouldn’t attack his own people!” Saylina insisted, reaching a hand forward as though she could sway the entire court by sheer force of will. Her plea almost worked and a whisper of uncertainty swept through the gathered courtiers.

“I said silence!” Johannus slammed a fist onto the arm of his throne and fought the urge to stare the girl down. A high lord didn’t answer to children before the entire court.

Examining the now-silent crowd, his eyes settled on the messenger, still kneeling at the foot of the throne as though nothing had interrupted him. Waiting for orders. Thank the gods he had at least one loyalist.

Johannus rose, facing his lower lords with stately focus. “Our prince has overstepped his place.” He should disown the boy here and now, but Saylina was too naive to take his place as heir. “Ready the guards. Call conscripts from the villages. And send word to the nobility to ready their elites for combat.” He spared a glance back at Saylina’s pale face. “First we’ll bring my son home, then we’ll decide what to do with him.”

Saylina frowned, her shoulders trembling with fear in contrast to the frustrated crinkle of her forehead that so nearly echoed her mother’s fury he almost relented. But there was nothing to be done. She was just a child and could never understand the danger of misplaced trust. Perhaps she could be of use, though.

“You.” Johannus thrust a finger at a servant. “Bring Lady Saylina paper and a writing table. She has a message to send to her brother.”


The lower lords’ council cowered under his gaze, every eye turned away from the crumpled note in the center of the table. As if ignoring the insolent response Arkaen had sent would somehow turn this into anything other than a war council planning combat against their own prince. And through it all, Saylina’s plea hung in his mind. Arkaen wouldn’t attack his own people. Johannus snatched the note up and read the words again.

To High Lord Johannus Sentarsin—

You are ordered to submit to judgment by High Emperor Deyvan Corliann, such judgment to be administered by the emperor’s appointed arbiter. Said arbiter will arrive at your capital in five days’ time. Any attempt to delay his arrival or inhibit his review will be considered an act of treason.

—Signed and penned by hand of Arkaen Sentarsin

As if a runaway noble boy had any authority to speak for the emperor. But then, rumors from the north claimed any number of absurdities. Arkaen pandering to the imperial heir to get his way was hardly the most preposterous rumor he’d heard.

“My lord…” The tentative voice of his Lord Chancellor faded at his sudden focus.

“What?”

The Lord Chancellor dropped his gaze, falling silent again, but Baron Oskari Weydert stood.

“You know, my lord, what must be done.” Oskari gestured at the message. “This cannot be tolerated.”

“He’s still my son, Baron Weydert,” Johannus said, fixing Oskari with a glare. “He’s still your prince.”

“Is he, my lord?” Oskari asked. “He’s claiming a role in the imperial council. We both know this empire has seen its best days long past. This is our only chance to act.”

Johannus shook his head, leaning back in his chair. Too impulsive, as Oskari had always been. Even when they were children together making plans to conquer their teachers’ classrooms. But for all the recklessness of Oskari’s comments, he wasn’t entirely wrong. Any plans to break free of imperial oversight would die in the grip of a secure imperial succession. And the newly-crowned emperor was young enough with enough respect that even without a wife he’d no doubt solidify his power in short order.

“My son has chosen his side.” Johannus pushed up from the table.

None of the other lower lords would meet his eyes. No doubt too frightened of Arkaen’s empty threats to admit the truth of the situation.

“We’ll need another method of bringing him to heel without bloodshed. Lord Chancellor, send word to my personal guard. I need to speak with my guest in the high lady’s parlor.” Johannus waved at Oskari. “Attend me, Baron Weydert.”

Johannus stepped around the table, leading Oskari into the hall beyond. They strode down the hall, bare stone interspersed with the elaborate—and now painfully worn—tapestries that Johannus had bought for his wife decades ago. Anger simmered in his thoughts as he walked, Oskari silent but too obviously tense beside him.

“You’ve no standing to challenge me before the council,” Johannus said at last. “I’ve long known your counsel on my son, but the choice is my own.”

“Then I encourage you to honor the plans we made,” Oskari said. After several breaths, he added, “My lord.”

“Don’t test me, Oskari. I’ve enough ire to vent already.”

“Vent on your wayward boy.” Oskari paused, crossing his arms and glaring to the north. “He’s the source of these complications.”

“Arkaen’s a brat.” Johannus scowled. “Spoiled by his mother. But he still has value. Without a proper heir, we can’t bring any change but chaos.”

Oskari turned back to him. “You’ve another child for an heir.”

Johannus looked away, running a hand along the edge of one of his wife’s tapestries. Fifteen years dead and he couldn’t bring himself to take them down, but he stood before them discussing the sale of his only daughter. How could he value his wife’s ornaments more than the daughter she’d given him? But Saylina needed a proper rein if she was to serve the province, and she was the last of his line able to do so.

“Write the contract, then,” Johannus said. “Saylina’s to young to wed as yet, but you can set a date a few years out. Let her settle into her woman’s moons before she takes to a bed. The contract should be enough to secure my legacy.”

“I’ll have my clerk draft the papers.” Oskari bowed. “Are you certain of the other matter? I don’t know that your… guest is to be trusted.”

“It’s the only option if we’re to avoid open war.” Johannus cringed at the thought. That Arkaen could be susceptible to the charm of such a man always made his skin crawl. “Keep your men ready in case the louse fails again.”

“Yes, my lord,” Oskari said. “I hope your boy comes home, for your sake, but beware. By rumor…” Oskari hesitated. “Well, they say he may be as like to use you as follow you.”

Johannus waved the concern away and walked toward the parlor where he’d set his meeting. Down a long-disused set of corridors he hadn’t been able to reclaim after his wife’s death. No servant would let dust collect in the high lord’s palace, but the silence spoke volumes of the ghosts that lived in this wing. A place no one dared lurk lest Johannus find them there defiling his wife’s memory. The twists of his keep felt like a maze here, all corridors he’d known forever but hadn’t seen for almost two decades. He’d courted his wife in that study, securing an alliance with the tumultuous Istalli bloodline. Another turn. There was the servant’s common where Arkaen had hidden as a boy after lashings. He wouldn’t have endured so many if he’d taken his lessons to heart. At least Saylina hadn’t followed her brother into those flaws as she had so many others.

Finally, he reached the carved wood door that led into his wife’s private parlor. The low table inside had already been set for tea, the polished wood gleaming in the soft light from a distant window. No candles lighting the room, but he didn’t need much. Johannus inspected the twin sofas on either side of the table, worn fabric still elegant despite the age. He settled into one and poured a cup of tea savoring the blend of herbs and spices that he’d imported from the southern hills. A slight knock announced the arrival of his guest, escorted into the room by a pair of guards, each holding one end of the heavy chains. Matted brown hair hung around his face and from his unkempt beard. Young enough to be Johannus’s child, the man looked almost ten years older than he truly was. Lines on his face hinted at wisdom he had yet to show.

“Vaiyen.” Johannus gestured at a seat across from him. Sit and have a respectable drink. Let’s talk.”

Vaiyen collapsed into a seat with a rattle of chains and the guards took up positions on either side.

“Yes, my lord.”

His voice was raspy with disuse. What would he use it for in an empty cell among an empty dungeon, anyway? Johannus waited for him to pour a cup of the tea, drop a cube of sugar in, and take several sips. When Vaiyen had settled into his seat and replaced his cup—after the heavy sigh of relief from the warm liquid escaped his lips—Johannus leaned forward.

have a task for you, Vaiyen,” Johannus said. “One which you alone have ever managed, and I hope you can do so again.”

Vaiyen froze, his eyes going wide. “Me?” His gaze swept through the room, realizing, perhaps for the first time, the peculiarity of their meeting. “You can’t mean… My lord, I can’t. Even if he were he, he won’t listen to me.”

“He will be here,” Johannus said. “In five days. You will meet his forces before they try to enter the city and you will gain an audience with my son. Bring him home—peacefully—without his army.”

“I said, my lord, he won’t—” Vaiyen hesitated, looking up at the guards on either side of him. “How would I even convince him to see me?”

“You’ve been quite adept at managing his decisions in the past.” Johannus steepled his hands, hiding the grimace of distaste the admission elicited from him. “One might say you were something of an expert in that task. Until your mistake.”

“I could have done nothing more, my lord,” Vaiyen said. “Lordling Arkaen had already decided a course. The only question he brought to me was the choice of whether to betray my own oath, as well.”

Johannus smirked at him. “So you’ve said. Consider this an opportunity to prove your claims.”

“But—”

“If he asked you to join him, then he will surely welcome your return to his side. Use that and bring my son home.”

Vaiyen scowled, staring into his tea, but nodded. “I will try, my lord.”

“You will succeed,” Johannus snapped. “Or you will watch your family flayed before joining them in Eiliin’s hell.”

Vaiyen paled, taking a deep breath. “Yes, my lord.”

Release Day!


Happy Tuesday, everyone! It’s release day for Wake of the Phoenix!

I’ll admit this feels like a day that both came way too soon and took way too long. I’m very excited to share this world with other readers and find the audience that loves it as much as I do. A very special thanks to all the ARC reviewers who have already given this book a shot and shared their comments. Special bonus for anyone in the Colorado Springs area: I have a couple in-person events coming up over the next couple weeks! Here’s the initial list:

  • Mile Hi Con–Denver, October 1 through October 3. Vendor table on author’s row
  • Book signing–Colorado Springs, Barnes and Noble at (on Briargate near Academy), October 9 from 12-2

I’ll make sure to announce any other events I schedule. I’m hoping to be able to attend more events (when it’s safe) throughout the next few months, possibly outside of Colorado.

The Demon and the Thief


Kìlashà san Draego de Mìtaran paced the elegant confines of his assigned room, a snarl of frustration on his lips. The quiet murmur of the city drifting through his window grated on his patience. Five years in this place and still he’d found nothing of what his gods wanted him to cultivate here among these… humans. Always complacent in the face of danger and joyous at the destruction of plausible dissent. And he sat here among them, wasting time trying to mold the humans into a usable ally when he could have been preparing his clan for the threats whispered by his seeker’s power.

A sharp knock at his door broke into his thoughts and Kìlashà spun toward the sound, a hiss escaping his lips. An instant later, a voice spoke through the door.

“Pardon the interruption, Lord Kìlashà. May I enter?”

Kìlashà let the tension drain from him. Kaen, his gods-chosen kai’shien and lord of these lands, was the one balm to this cursed pursuit. He crossed the room and threw the door open just as a younger male rounded a corner.

“My lord Arkaen, Count Skianda—” The male froze, his eyes focused on Kìlashà.

Anger rushed through Kìlashà, his lips pulling back in another silent snarl. As if he would harm this human for simply speaking to his liege lord. The slightest tingle of his hair brushing the nape of his own neck reminded him of the real reason for their fear. Kìlashà had no people any longer. Not since his sacrifice to save Kaen years before had turned his skin the palest white and left his veins glowing in rivers of magic patterned across his skin.

Kaen stepped forward—between Kìlashà and the younger human—and cast a reassuring smile at the boy. His slender body and slightly shorter stature hid nothing from Kìlashà’s vision. But Kaen would never try to hide events from him.

“Count Skianda needed what?” Kaen asked.

The messenger stuttered, eyes still locked on Kìlashà despite Kaen’s attempt to interject himself. Kìlashà dipped a mental thought into his seeker’s power, twisting the gods’ gift to his will. A minor shift of the timelines and he could see the moment that would have occurred had he waited to open the door.

“My lord Arkaen, Count Skianda demands your presence.” The young human bowed, his palms clench in the folds of his tunic. A sign of his fear at the response he might receive. They had never learned how to trust Kaen.

“Demands, does he?” Kaen replied, smirking at the boy. He stepped away from Kìlashà’s door. “By what authority does my count makes demands on my time?”

“I—Apologies, my lord. He said—”

Kaen chuckled, striding down the hall to lay a hand on the messenger’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, lad. I’m sure he just wanted to impress upon me the importance of his concerns. I’ll see to him shortly.”

Kìlashà let the vision go, focusing on the hallway before him again.

Kaen reached a hand out in entreaty. “You did say—”

“Your human lord desires an audience, kai’shien,” Kìlashà said. The messenger would likely never get the words out.

Kaen glanced back, a flicker of a frown indicating his frustration, before turning back to the messenger. “Count Skianda needs to speak with me in person?”

The messenger nodded, still mute. After a moment of silence between them, he found his voice. “The count said… He needs you n—” Another glance at Kìlashà and froze. Took a deep breath. “Count Skianda said to tell you, my lord, that his need was immediate.”

Definitely not what the human lord had said. Kìlashà could hear the lie this human messenger used to avoid a confrontation. But Kaen nodded as if he couldn’t hear the deception as clearly as Kìlashà. More so, likely. He understood humans far better.

“Please inform the count that I have heard his request and will attend him as soon as I’ve finished matters here,” Kaen replied.

He turned away, gesturing for Kìlashà to follow as he strode into Kìlashà’s room. A ploy to avoid any follow up and give them a few moments to speak alone. Kìlashà stalked back into his room, the messenger’s fear still irritating his volatile temper. He’d never harmed Kaen’s people since they’d declared the war ended. Not even when they’d deserved it.

“Could you manage to not terrify every new servant I hire?” Kaen asked, pushing the door closed behind him. “That’s a perfectly decent lad from a family struggling to get their feet back under them. If he leaves for fear the high lord’s terrifying demon might eat him, the entire family will starve.”

Kìlashà shrugged, crossing the room to collapse into a chair set by his reading table. “And what, precisely, did I do to frighten the child?”

“You…” Kaen slumped against the wall, drumming his fingers against the adorned stone in thought. “Gods. You answered your door too forcefully.” He let out a humorless chuckle. “What are we going to do with them?”

“Forge them into the tool my people need to face their coming adversity, to protect the lives of as many Drae’gon as can be saved.”

“And protect their lives.” Kaen pushed off the wall, gesturing toward the window. “You swore to me that my return was needed to protect my people as much as yours.”

Kìlashà scowled. The humans would have been back at war already had they not returned. And yet…

He was no longer certain that Kaen’s people were worth their efforts. Not that Kìlashà could ever choose to leave, with the visions granted by Ancient Spirits nagging at his conscience. These humans held some value to the gods of his people and none of the Drae’gon had seen it before Kìlashà. He was starting to understand why.

“Kìlashà.” Kaen took a step forward, crossing his arms and glaring. “You swore it. To me.”

“And I did not lie. These humans need your guidance.” What little of it they chose to follow.

“So what…” Kaen trailed off, turning away to stare out the window.

But the accusation flared from Kìlashà’s power.

“What are we supposed to do next?” Kaen demanded. “I’m no good at these half-truths and manipulations. Everything I do here seems to make the province worse. More poverty, more theft, more division.”

“I should see to Brayden,” Kaen said. “The Skianda family has always supported mine. His request may give us some hint of what’s coming.”

He meant something more for Kìlashà’s seeker’s power to use, allowing him to finally identify what they needed to accomplish in these lands. Unspoken, but they both heard the implication. They both chafed at the obscurity of the visions that had sent them here.

“You came for a reason, kai’shien.”

“I just—” Kaen hesitated, sweeping his gaze over the rich furnishings of the room he’d designated as Kìlashà’s haven.

Kìlashà could see the room as Kaen saw it without the aid of his power. Rich furnishings, magnificently broad bed, gilded decorations. All of it crammed into a space barely half the size of the entry room of Kaen’s high lord’s suite. More than either had during the war, and a pittance by the standards of Kaen’s nobility. A slight toward Kaen’s strange, foreign comrade that he hadn’t been able to prevent without revealing too much. But Kìlashà cared nothing for the opulence of the room and Kaen’s anger burned over the insult, not the result.

“I’m not helping them.” Kaen slumped back against the wall, his words an echo of the frustration in Kìlashà’s vision. “It’s been—” He sighed, pacing across the room and back like a caged beast. Like Kìlashà had only moments before. “Too long. You brought us here to unite them, and I’m not able to do that. Are we failing?”

“They are further from war than when we returned,” Kìlashà replied. But they hadn’t accomplished what he’d expected when he’d convinced Kaen to return. Still… “The Spirits do not speak in absolutes. Should we fail to serve Their purpose, it will not be the result of any choice now past.”

Kaen laughed. “So I haven’t completely dismantled the plans of the all knowing gods who grant the ability to see the future just yet? How reassuring.”

“Kai’shien.” Kìlashà hesitated as Kaen focused on him. But he deserved to know. Pushing up from his chair, Kìlashà strode over to where Kaen stood. “I did not foresee this path. Not precisely. But you have done only what you believed best and thus cannot have forsaken the path the Spirits desired you to take. The Ancient Spirits knew of your skill in these matters when They chose you.”

“They chose you for this, Kìlashà.” Kaen scowled, leaning against the wall again. “They chose me for a far different purpose, and I doubt it has anything to do with my political acumen.”

“The Ancient Spirits are immortal gods seeking to protect Their followers,” Kìlashà said. “You think that spent a great deal of time locating the correct person to warm my bed at night?” Kìlashà smiled at the flush that tinted Kaen’s cheeks. “Even that would be a sign of your unique qualities. They have never before expressed an opinion on a Drae’gon’s choice of mate.”

“All right, They have a plan for me, too.” Kaen shook his head. “I’m not entirely certain that’s a good thing.”

“It is a truth. Beyond that—”

Kìlashà froze, the surge of his seeker’s power flowing through him in a sudden flash of vision. Staggering, Kìlashà caught himself on the wall as the moment overtook his senses.

The young female slipped through the crowd, adept at avoiding notice in all the right ways. People saw her, but they’d never remember the grubby form hunched to mimic an older child more than the young adult she truly was. Her hands acquired meaningless trinkets as she strolled, the last swipe catching the attention of Kaen’s guards.

“Hey, you there!”

This was one of the gaudy guardsmen, left over from Kaen’s father but not immediately corrupt. Or not enough to justify banishment, Kaen said. The guard ran toward the female and she dodged past a pair of shoppers huddled over a stall. The crowd seemed to freeze, the young female and her guard weaving through a sea of shocked faces and angry shouts.

Finally, she broke free of the crowd and hurried toward an alley, the guard close on her heels. Both seemed ignorant of the figure shoving through the crowd on the other side. Baron Oskari Weydert reined his war horse to a halt a scant few steps shy of trampling Niamsha, and she fell back. Oskari’s boots hit the ground an instant later, his boot flying into her gut. Niamsha puked on the ground as he stepped back for another blow. The guard stopped behind her, a flash of uncertainty on his face.

“Kìlashà?” Kaen’s hand on his shoulder, the cool feel of stone beneath him. He’d fallen when the vision took hold. “Do you need anything?”

“I am well.” Kìlashà pushed up from the floor, head still spinning with the vision. Too clear. Every color held the sharp precision of a certainty, every action felt like a truth he’d always known. A vile, horrific truth. This would happen, and the Ancient Spirits desired it changed. “I must go to the city. To the market where the merchants built your statue.”

Kaen nodded. “Then I’ll go with you.”

For an instant, Kìlashà hesitated. The human noble would be angry. But Kaen would argue if he tried to refuse the company and the human female did not have that much time.

“Swiftly. Come.” Kìlashà strode from the room with Kaen in his wake. Finally, the Spirits had given him something to do.

Self-Publishing Guide Part 5: Marketing Resources


If you’re just here for a list of great marketing resources, this is your lucky day. I’ll re-iterate what I said in the first piece of this marketing discussion: If you haven’t planned your marketing, you should do that first. Take a look at part 4 of this self-publishing guide for an overview of how to think about marketing your books and think about the elements discussed there before picking among the resources below.

Marketing Tools

  1. Social Media. Yes, I know, many of us hate the concept of becoming engaged in social media, but here’s the thing. You don’t have to do much. I’m occasionally on Twitter, by which I mean, maybe 3 posts a week and sometimes I don’t even open the app for a week, mostly my comments are responses to other people in the writing community. I have like 300 followers (which is basically non-existent in the marketing world). But my tweets about my book have gotten some attention, so it’s working for me (sort of). This isn’t about becoming a social media giant, it’s about finding a small group of people you can connect with somewhat regularly and then occasionally mentioning your book in relevant posts. And you don’t have to be on every platform, just the one or two that work for you. If you happen to be someone who loves making videos, go for YouTube. If you love creating interesting photos to convey a message, Instagram. When in doubt, join the Twitter writing community and answer writing tweets that sound interesting to you. The key here is to have at least half, preferably 2/3rds of your posts have nothing to do with anything your audience has to pay for.
  2. NetGalley. A lot of people don’t even know what this is until they start researching publishing. Netgalley is basically a web site that helps authors distribute advance copies of their books to readers for free in return for a review. Now, you won’t get 100% return. I got 362 readers and about 40 reviews… and that was a pretty good return. Still, this is the web site traditional publishers use, and if you go for discounts through BooksGoSocial, ALLI, or even just the listing offered through membership in the IBPA you can get listed for a reasonable price. If that’s still out of your range, there are other options for this type of service, but they don’t have as good a reputation in the publishing field. I genuinely don’t know how good or bad those other options are.
  3. Bookbub. This is a featured listing you purchase through the company after your book is released. You are not guaranteed a spot and if you get selected, the cost is relatively high. For a fantasy book, for example, buying a feature costs between $480 and $2500. While I haven’t directly used this company, I’ve heard very, very good things about them from those who have, including that they made way more money than they spent on the listing. But nothing is a guarantee. You could easily drop a thousand dollars here and make less than a quarter of that back in ROI.
  4. FreeBooksy/BargainBooksy. These are the same website, just slightly different services based on whether you’re offering a free or reduced price book. It’s basically the same deal as BookBub but way, way cheaper and with more flexibility. You can choose to list your book for between $45 to $110 dollars, or you can request a spot as a deal of the day (if you meet their criteria) for between $100 to $170, or you could promote an entire series (if you have more than one book out) for about $170. The subscriber lists for their fantasy genre are not much lower than Bookbub, though they are lower. Despite that, I know a few self-published authors who swear by advertisements on these sites.
  5. Amazon/Facebook/Bookbub ads. Purchasing advertisements can be a good plan, but there’s a few caveats. First, this is rarely worth the money before you release your first book. For the most part, an unknown author buying ads for their debut novel’s pre-order is just throwing money away. Once you have a couple of books out as a backlog, though, buying ads to spotlight a pre-order for the next book in the series might work. For those of us releasing a debut, ads after release might do some good. What I’ve heard is that the targeting algorithms may need regular tweaking, you may need to spend a decent amount on ads to get much return, and it’s hard (but not impossible) to make this worth the investment when you only have one book released. Since my book isn’t out yet, I can’t give you personal experience, but that’s what others say who have tried this.
  6. Emailing reviewers personally. Reviews are the lifeblood of any self-published book’s success, so including reviews from well-known reviewers is a great marketing strategy if you can get the people in question to try the book. This will also be the single most work-intensive portion of any marketing campaign that includes it. The reason for that is that you probably don’t want to just blast a mass e-mail at these reviewers. Instead, you want to evaluate the options and pick only the people who will be good for your book’s image—and between blogs, YouTubers, review magazines, and other social media, there are tons of reviewers to comb through, and some of them won’t accept self-published books so sending to them is a waste of time. As well, you want to give each reviewer a reason to care about picking up your book, which typically means explaining how your book fits in with the other content on their platform. That only works if you know what content they have on their platform, so there’s another mountain of research. That also means you have to write a slightly different form letter for each reviewer—and yes, use a form letter with a couple sentences of personalization. A personal letter to everyone will take you several months. But if you can get a few well-established reviewers to give you reviews (say, Fantasy Faction, The Fantasy Inn, or Fantasy Book Critic), people will definitely notice your book.
  7. SPFBO (or SPSFC). These are contests created by a couple of established members of the publishing industry specifically to help good self-published fantasy and science fiction books get more recognition… You know, because some people are fucking awesome. SPFBO was the original, standing for Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off and created by Mark Lawrence to get ten different well-known fantasy blogs to evaluate and discuss self-published fantasy books. This year is the first year of the spin-off, SPSFC, which I believe stands for Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (or maybe Contest?) to give the same voice to science fiction books. The submission windows are small (submissions rarely stay open for an entire day), but if you catch it and have a qualifying book, it can be great for your publicity.
  8. Foreword Reviews. Every self-published author should be submitting to Foreword Reviews. It’s free and while they might not choose to review your book, if they like the book and give it a review, it’s a huge step in the right direction. Again, reviews are the lifeblood of a successful book launch. This does not hold true for their affiliate, Clarion Reviews, which is probably perfectly reputable but is not free. Clarion reviews is a paid editorial review site. There’s nothing wrong with these, but there’s a time and a place for them and it’s not for everyone.
  9. Kirkus Reviews. Kirkus Reviews is another paid editorial review site. They have a pretty big reputation in the publishing world, so you may want a review from them. But they aren’t quite the giant they used to be. These days there are several editorial review sites, and many of them are cheaper (Clarion Reviews, Blue Ink Reviews, etc.). Before deciding which company to use, first decide if you want an editorial review. One of the best uses of this type of review is as advanced marketing to gather some feedback you can quote either on your book cover or in a “readers said” page in your opening pages. This requires you to have a book ready to submit in time for them to read and review the book before you start your marketing in earnest. Completely honestly, the reason I didn’t do any of these type of reviews is that I mis-timed my release and wasn’t able to submit a copy early enough to get the review for my marketing. There are other uses for these reviews (Amazon has an entire section where you can add editorial reviews of your book to build hype) and they aren’t useless, but I simply wasn’t willing or able to pay the prices required to get one when I couldn’t add the quotes where I wanted to use them. These range from about $300 to $600 per review, depending on the site and the length of review.
  10. Building a mailing list. This is a big, big deal in a lot of writing circles. The main piece of advice I hear from a lot of successful authors on how they built an audience able to support themselves is that they built a mailing list and started a newsletter to keep the interest of their audience. If you look around my site, you’ll notice I don’t have one. I may start one, but so far I haven’t known what I’d even say in a newsletter. I have no desire to spam anyone’s inbox with junk mail, so I won’t start a newsletter until I have something to say. That said, a lot of authors insist this is the number one marketing tactic that worked for them. I doubt they’re all lying. If you can create meaningful content for a newsletter without losing all your writing time, this is a good tactic. You can even get help building your newsletter subscribers with the service AuthorsXP, and possibly save some money doing that through an ALLI discount code.
  11. Submitting to competitions. I’ve mentioned SPFBO and SPSFC by name, but there are plenty of other reputable competitions you can submit your books to for visibility. A couple reputable ones I know of are IndieBRAG and the Foreword INDIES. If you google self-published book competition, you’ll find a ton, and probably half to two thirds of them will be scams. I use the ALLI listing of competitions (found here) to evaluate any competition before I decide to submit to them, and if it isn’t there I typically assume the worst. It might be fine, but I’d rather not be the example that teaches others about a poor decision.

Now I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list of marketing tools. ALLI has some discount codes for a few other providers that I haven’t even mentioned and there are plenty of things not listed on ALLI’s web site. But this should definitely get you started.

As a quick reminder. Many of the above resources only work if you’ve done the work to create a quality product targeted at the right readers. Keep in mind at every stage that self-publishing has a reputation of being lower quality, so any defect someone finds is likely to be added to the heap of “self-published novels suck and no one ever edits them” that plagues everyone who tries this route. I’ve had reviews that claim my book needed a good editor because the reader didn’t like the pacing, but my editor (who was a former employee of a traditional publishing house before she went freelance) thought the pacing was perfect. Anything you can do to look more professional (read: more like a traditionally published novel) will make you look more legitimate to readers on the fence about your book. Within reason. At the end of the day, every reader who loves your book has just as valid an opinion as those who don’t, so when you feel like crap about a bad review/comment/whatever, remember: Listening to only the negative comments disrespects every reader who loves your book. Don’t disrespect your readers. Trust them when they praise something in your book and focus on those elements when finding new ways to talk about your book. Use their words if you can (with permission, of course). Honest readers are the best marketing simply because money can’t buy their opinion.

Self-Publishing Guide Part 4: Marketing Planning


One week until my book releases! Thanks to everyone keeping an eye on my blog. I’m very excited. Over the next couple weeks I’ll be trying to release a few additional posts to help build some additional visibility. Speaking of that…

We’ve finally reached the end of my personal self-publishing guide. Today we’re focusing on a thing that frustrates most self-published authors (including me): Marketing. This topic is a little different from the others in this guide for a few reasons. First, there is no “correct” way to do your marketing, because a strategy that worked for one person will rarely work for a second person, sometimes even in similar genres. Second, we’re going to start with a paradigm shift about your book as a whole, and discuss some things you may want to think about before you ever get to the actual selling your book stage. And third, I’m nowhere near as confident in my knowledge of the practical elements of this area as I am about the others in this guide. That said, I’ll tackle this as thoroughly as I can and hopefully be of use to others trying to build a career in self-publishing.

Since I got a little more long-winded than usual this time (and marketing is a complicated topic), I’m actually breaking this into two posts. Below is an overview of the things to do to prepare for your marketing journey. In a couple days I’ll be releasing an additional post in this guide, which will outline specific marketing resources and their pros and cons. I highly recommend taking a look at the content below and making a plan before moving on to the next one. Using good resources poorly will hurt you more than using the wrong resources. Why, you ask? Because good resources will get you in front of readers, and then those readers will think your book is bad. Bad resources will simply waste money and get you little to no visibility.

So, to start off, let’s look at some basic principles of good marketing. You need to have a good product (write a good book), have good packaging (buy a well-designed cover), and present the product in an interesting way to the right people (properly identify your genre and sell it well). Each of these is its own mini challenge, and we’ve covered some of them in the previous few posts. You may see some repeated messages (do not skimp on editing), but remember that in this post we’ll be talking about the effect of each of these on your marketing, as well as looking at some ways to utilize those earlier decisions in your presentation of the final product.

Before we go any further, please take note: your book is a product. It is not your personal baby or your journey to self-discovery or your dissertation on how the world should change. It can be any or all of those things in the writing and editing stage, but when you’re ready to sell it, your book is nothing more than an object that some people might want to purchase. If it doesn’t give a particular reader the experience they wanted, then it was not a good product for that reader. It will almost inevitably be a great product for a different reader. Your job, as a marketer of your book, is to get your book in front of the readers who will consider it a good product.

Where Do I Even Start?

The first step of marketing your book is determining who to market it to. Many successful marketers will tell you to determine your readers before starting your book, and to some extent you should, but as a discovery writer I tend to lean away from that sort of pre-determination. I sat down to write an epic fantasy novel. The fact that it became a character-heavy, slow-burn political epic fantasy with LGBT+ characters was just something that happened along the way. Despite that, when I started planning marketing, I needed to know that I had a character-heavy, slow-burn political fantasy to know how to sell the book. I’ll address the LGBT+ aspect in a moment.

The value of determining your readers is that it let’s you determine what they consider a good book. Every reader group will have a different definition of this, so it’s important to know who you’re targeting so you can see what other books they’ve enjoyed. This will determine what types of edits to make. An epic fantasy audience is far more likely to enjoy longer scenes with subtle character work and expansive descriptions. A more traditional high fantasy audience probably wants a faster pace, fewer descriptions or more minimalistic narration, and slightly less subtle plot. Whether or not a particular passage is an info-dump will largely be determined by your target readers, not your editor and definitely not the publishing world as a whole. Your readers’ favorite books are also a great source of cover art information to help you determine what elements work best as visuals for your packaging. There’s a few static things all readers like (books without copious typos and covers that look like the elements go together, for example), but a lot of things will vary by target audience. So know your audience before you start trying to sell the book (preferably before you edit the book).

Determining your readers is best done through beta readers. They are the ones who can tell you if the story fell flat for their expectations and what they wanted out of the read. You’ll probably start out with just a few close friends or family, or maybe even members of your writing group, as members of your beta team. It’s a great idea to find additional sources of feedback from places like Scribophile, paid readers from Fiverr, or maybe even twitter or discord groups. This can give you a much broader view of the work you’re creating so you know who to target it toward.

What genre am I, really?

Once you think you know your genre, it’s time to decide how to target your descriptions of the book. As I said, I started with “epic fantasy” and ended at “character-heavy, slow-burn political epic fantasy with LGBT+ characters.” That second level of specificity is something you need to convey in your marketing text without dropping the entire description every time you mention the book, and it’s important that you target the book at that subset as precisely as you can. Here’s why.

My book currently has a 3.5 star rating on Goodreads. The reason for that is that it was characterized in a way I didn’t expect in some of the early reviews. They referred to the book as a “queer political fantasy.” Many of these reviews were extremely complimentary and I love how many of them engaged critically with the book and discussed both positive and negative elements they encountered. I, personally, recommend the review by “Lexi” on Goodreads to anyone wavering on whether or not they’d like my book. I think they did an excellent job, highlighting reasons why someone might or might not enjoy the work. But I would never pitch my book as a “queer political fantasy” because, to me, that implies that I addressed serious issues related to LGBT+ relationships, lifestyles, or just in general focused the plot line around LGBT+ interactions. That’s not my book. My book is about a man who is technically considered a traitor trying to keep peace against a nobility that dislikes him for fighting against the previous emperor in a civil war. The fact that my main character is a gay man in an established relationship with another man is largely a sidenote to the plot (although I am genuinely humbled by people who point to my book as an example of positive LGBT+ representation). However, because of the label “queer political fantasy,” a number of readers came to my book expecting a heavy focus on the LGBT+ relationship, expecting a homo-normative world, or potentially just not really excited by slow-burn, character heavy political epic fantasy but still interested in what this book was doing. Predictably, my book did not connect well with those readers, and they left honest (and universally extremely polite) negative reviews. I appreciate those negative reviews for helping to clarify what my book isn’t and helping guide the right readers to the book, but let’s be honest. Sometimes it hurts to see the lower rating. And, of course, that’s not the only negative reviews I’ve gotten. No book is right for every reader.

But this brings me to a very important point about choosing your readers. At the end of the day, the readers define your genre more than you do. I wouldn’t define my book as queer political fantasy, but a lot of readers have, so I have to accept that label. A similar situation happened with Daniel Greene, a popular fantasy YouTuber. He released his debut novella back in March and was surprised that it was rated among the “dark horror” genre. Now, from what little I know of the book, it should be, but he didn’t think to categorize it that way. Nonetheless, his book is in that category because it’s the category that his readers use to tell others like them what to expect. This is actually a story that I’ve heard several times among self-published authors: they wrote a book, pitched it to their audience as one thing, and after release or in ARC reviews got feedback that it didn’t fit that thing but worked well as something else. So, be aware that the elements you include in your story may define it in ways you don’t intend. Have a gay protagonist? It’s LGBT+ regardless of your intentions. Have a mutilated baby in the first few pages? It’s dark horror (and why did you think that wasn’t, Daniel?). Have a book that centers around two characters starting a romantic relationship? You’ve written a romance, whether you intended to or not.

So, when you’re planning your marketing copy, consider what elements you want to highlight as central to readers and what elements you won’t be able to escape. From that you can start deciding how to pitch the book to readers. And that pitch is critical.

Finding the Right Pitch

The primary marketing text for your book is the description on the back of your book. This has several different names depending on the circle you’re talking to. I’ve heard it called the book blurb (or back cover blurb), the synopsis (a real synopsis for a literary agent is a VERY different thing), or even the book catchline (also a different thing). I think the proper term is back cover blurb (from my connections in the publishing industry) so feel free to call it whatever you want, but that’s what I’m calling it here.

One of the most common mistakes that debut self-published authors make in preparing their books for release is not creating the back cover blurb well. I have no statistics to back that up, but this is a hill I will die on. A massive number of self-published novels have back cover blurbs that say things like “[Novel Name] is a thrilling new mystery featuring [plot element 1] and [plot element 2]!” Traditionally published novels don’t have back cover blurbs that read like this because all that says is that the author of the blurb (likely the author of the book) thinks the book is good. The point of a back cover blurb is to tease the feel of the book, not explain the idea behind it. Read the blurbs of some traditionally published novels to see what I mean. There may be lines that say things like the above quote, but those are always attributed to a different person that the author, often a well-known review site or another author. These lines aren’t actually part of the blurb but are actually cover quotes, often also called “blurbs” by traditional publishing in what sometimes feels like an intentional attempt to be confusing. But they are never written by the author. The blurb on the back of your book is basically the same as the blurb you’d write for a query letter. Here’s a few tips:

  1. The back cover blurb is almost always in third person, present tense. This is true even when the book is in first person and/or past tense. There are a few examples of blurbs in different tenses that work, but they are mostly gimmicks that work once or blurbs that work for a specific type of book but not in general
  2. The blurb follows an established formula: introduce character along with some hints of inner conflict—>introduce central conflict of the book—>hint at difficult choice character will have to make. If you have multiple important characters, introduce them in the order that makes sense for the flow of the blurb and then make sure your conflict and choice paragraphs address both characters. If you have more than two important characters, find a way to cut it down to two. Maybe three characters can work, but that’s pushing it.
  3. Make sure your blurb has a mini-plot arc of its own to tell. That arc has a beginning in the character description, a turning point in the central conflict introduction, and a cliff-hanger resolution in the choice paragraph. If those elements don’t flow from one to the other like a story, then you’re blurb is either confusing (and probably focusing too much on small details) or boring (and probably glossing over things too much).

Keep in mind that editing is just as crucial here as it is in the rest of your book. If you have clunky sentences or confusing wording in your blurb, most people won’t even give the book a shot.

A Final Warning

A last thing to remember. A lot of sources will recommend that you start building a following on social media, a blog, or on some other platform before you ever reach the point of discussing a book release. Be careful how you do this. I’m going to use Daniel Greene again as my example here, because I was really excited for is book until I learned what it was about.

Daniel Greene has built a reputation as a YouTube book reviewer, fantasy commentator, and all around SF/F buff. I came pretty late to his channel, but some of his favorite series are also some of my favorites. So when I heard that he was writing a book, I assumed that it would be in the genre that he built his reputation around. Admittedly his world is fantasy, but as discussed above, it’s also horror. And not just horror, but semi-modern fantasy horror surrounding detectives investigating a murder. Nothing could be further from the books I came to his channel to hear about (and still be in the fantasy genre, at least). His “marketing” tricked me into assuming his book was something it wasn’t, and I was very disappointed and may never even attempt to read his work (not because of some personal offense, but because I just can’t handle horror stories).

A similar story is true of both the iWriterly channel and Jenna Moreci’s YouTube channel to lesser extents. They were both more clear about what type of books they were creating, but their YouTube content has nothing to do with their book topics. Someone who came to their channel for writing advice would have no reason to think their books would appeal to them and vice versa.

To be clear, none of these authors have done anything wrong, per se. I picked three relatively popular YouTubers who had released books precisely because they are examples that it can work to build an audience from unrelated content. But it’s worth considering if that’s the audience you really want.

That wasn’t the audience I wanted, so my solution was this blog. Half personal experiences with publishing that even non-authors might find interesting and half fiction bits taken from world-building for my novels.

Find the middle ground that you enjoy and believe in and stick with it.

Sample Pages!

2021-09-28T07:00:00

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Wake of the Phoenix Release Day!

My debut novel, Wake of the Phoenix, has finished distributing ARC copies and early reviews are coming in. While the book is not for everyone (and no book is, really), you can tell from early comments on Goodreads that a number of readers are connection well with characters and are intrigued by the political conundrums. If you missed getting an early copy, take a look at the sample chapters below or go pre-order your copy!

More traditional blog posts will be back next week, including part 4 of my Self-Publishing Guide, this time discussing the challenges of Marketing, as well as potentially a new fiction story the same week.

Self-Publishing Guide Part Three: Final Packaging


Welcome back to my self-publishing guide, driven by my personal frustration with finding useful resources when planning my own self-publishing journey. Today I’m going to examine topic number 3 of my guide: Finalizing Your Book for Release. This is a topic that is going to cover several smaller elements that are often brushed off in other self-publishing resources. “Once your editing and cover design is done, you’ll need to get the interior formatted, file for copyright, and upload the files for distribution.” Awesome. How does all that work? How do I get my book in the hands of readers and how do I make sure the interior looks appropriate? Do I need a copyright?

I’m going to break down these elements here, discussing tools I’ve found useful in this process, costs to expect, and what elements of each are important. This one got a little long, so use the headings to find the piece you need to know about.

Formatting

By far the single most important piece of this step is the interior formatting, but that doesn’t mean it has to be difficult. As well, the complexity of your formatting will vary depending on what formats you are releasing your book in, so let’s start there. Are you releasing a print book? A hard cover? Just an e-book? You’ve probably thought about this before (at least, I hope you thought about it when considering cover options), but this is the first place where your decisions will be different based on what formats you want to release.

If you’re releasing a print book and an e-book, the formatting for those two formats is pretty different. I did this formatting myself and it’s entirely doable, but there are also a number of other options for getting formatting done. Here’s a few of the options:

  1. Some distribution options allow you to use their system to auto-format your interior content. I know that Smashwords, does this and I am pretty sure that Amazon has a system for this as well. Check with your distributor to see if this is an option, to take this step off your hands entirely. Many of these are free for using the distribution system.
  2. Some software exists that will do formatting for you, allowing you some pre-set choices to customize your book without any real effort on your part. The most obvious of these is Vellum, but it’s Mac specific.
  3. Some more complex software exists that will let you do complete customization of your formatting if you learn the way the tool works. The most popular of these is Adobe InDesign. While this is a tool that can be learned relatively quickly and there are some pretty good tutorials on YouTube, this is the option that risks you being able to really screw up your book if you aren’t careful.
  4. You can hire a professional formatter to lay out the interior of your book. This is relatively inexpensive, running somewhere between $100 to $300 depending on the vendor. Also, some cover artists will include interior formatting as an add-on to their cover design services. In the instance of formatting as an addon to cover design services, it’s somewhat common to get a discount on the formatting cost for pairing the service with covers.

Personally, I feel like there are too many options to get your own interior formatting done to justify hiring a separate formatter just for interior design. If you’re getting a good deal by pairing it with your cover design then go for it. It can be a bit of a process, so if it’s cheap to take the process out of your hands, go for it. If, however, you are looking for it as a separate service, check out the softwares and auto-formatters before you look at vendors. The best reason to hire a professional formatter is that you need some customized formatting but you can’t learn to do it yourself in the more complex formatting softwares that exist. Mostly, this means you’re picky about what your interior looks like or you have a lot of pictures in your book. If you choose to do this work yourself, it is entirely doable, but the tools available to you will vary by what computer system you use.

If you’re using a Macintosh, you have an awesome tool available to you: Vellum. I tested this one despite using PCs myself and it’s a great tool. You can play around with all the formatting you might want before you pay for the software, resulting in the best trial of a piece of software I’ve ever seen. When you’re ready to create the final files to upload to your distributor, it’s a one-time fee of $250. That cost allows you to format as many books as you want without any additional fees. I love any software that has a one-time cost instead of a subscription system. As well, Vellum is particularly good at simple, well-crafted formatting that makes both print and e-books look great. The two downsides are very situational, but can be pretty frustrating if they affect you. First, you can’t use Vellum on a PC. While you can rent time on a Macintosh server through services like Mac-in-Cloud, that adds to the cost and adds back in the requirement to manage time carefully when doing your own formatting. Second, Vellum doesn’t work great for picture-heavy books, like illustrated chapter books or picture books.

If you’re using a PC there are fewer softwares that will just do this for you. I’ve heard rumors of a few that are in production, but nothing that is solid enough I’m willing to mention it here. I’ll be keeping an eye on this and will update the blog if I find something on par with Vellum for the PC. On PC, the best software is actually Adobe InDesign. While it can have a bit of a steep learning curve, the YouTube tutorials make it easy to get basic formatting done for print books. Translating that print formatting into e-books can be challenging, but again, YouTube has tutorials. My personal favorites for YouTube tutorials are here for print and here for e-book. The most frustrating elements of this software are the subscription model, which means the longer it takes you to learn the software the more it costs, and the risk that the flexibility available will let you screw up your formatting. Always check proofs before finalizing anything with using InDesign.

Copyright and Other Registrations

Do you need to copyright your work? Yes and no. Your work is automatically copyrighted when you wrote it, so technically filing for copyright is redundant. That said, when you file for copyright, it makes a legal record of the work as belonging to you. That can matter if you ever need to defend the ownership of the work. So how likely is that to happen? Honestly, pretty unlikely. Most authors never have to think about defending their work from plagiarism. But it does happen, and if you do a Google search, you’ll find dozens of instances, including a slew of reports related to an early review distribution site where some people were apparently registering, taking the work from the review site, and publishing it on Amazon as their own. The author can contest that and should win, but it’s messy, especially if they hadn’t yet filed for copyright. Personally, I just created the book in the appropriate distribution sites and didn’t release it, so anyone trying to do that would find the book already exists there. My book hasn’t been pirated, but I couldn’t tell you if that’s related to my copyright, my pre-creation of placeholder versions, he security of the particular review site I chose to use, or just because no one knows who I am and so hasn’t bothered to pirate my book. You are probably in the same boat as me. You can take a dozen precautions, you’ll almost certainly never see any issues, and you’ll never be able to know if that’s because you were careful or because no one cared.

All of that said, I do recommend you copyright your work. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and if you do get hit by thieves you’ll kick yourself for not having the legal documentation. So, if you want to do so, here’s the process.

First off, you don’t want to copyright your work until after you’ve done 98% of all edits and adjustments you will make. This is because you need the file you copyrighted to match the file you released. If you rewrote five pages of chapter 7 after filing for copyright, then chapter 7 isn’t covered by that copyright filing. The exact threshold is somewhat vague, but in general, copyright as late as possible, but before you send the book out for ARC review readers. And if you don’t know what that means, don’t panic. I’ll discuss ARC reviews when I get to marketing, because they’re really a pre-release marketing tool. Typically proofreading is minor enough that you can do that after filing for copyright without risking issues, but copy editing is too much editing to do after filing.

Once you’re sure the book is ready to file, you go to the web site of the United States Copyright Office (or if you’re outside the US, you find your local office for registering creative works). Once there, you create an account and click the buttons to file for copyright of a literary work (even if you’re writing trashy romance—they aren’t judging the literary quality, they’re categorizing what item you own). The forms are pretty self-explanatory, but you will have to upload a copy of your work, so make sure you have a digital copy. You can also send in a physical copy, but I recommend just sending the PDF from your formatting. This costs $65 (I was quoted $55 about 6 months ago, so I think this recently went up). The catch is that you do have to include the contact information of the owner, which is stored in their database. You may want a separate entity like a single-member LLC to own the work if you’re concerned about personal privacy. Other than that, it’s a very simple process. There exist companies that will do this for you, but they charge an extra fee for doing the work and it’s very simple, so I would tend to do it myself rather than hiring a legal services company to do it. Save the $50 or so.

On a similar note, this is a good place to discuss ISBN numbers. These are a separate thing from copyrights, but the copyright office will ask for one. The ISBN is just a unique number that identifies your book. You need one per type of book you are releasing—i.e., one for print, one for audiobook, and one for e-book, but Kindle e-book and Nook e-book can use the same one. Some people have run into issues using the same ISBN for Nook and Kindle e-books, but it appears to be a mistake in how they were filing through various distributors. You can use the same ISBN. ISBN numbers cost about $100 each, or you can buy a block of ten for $300. Sometimes there are sales on blocks of numbers, but not always, so it might be worth keeping an eye out in earlier stages to find a good deal. ISBN numbers never expire, so buying a block is worth the discount either way if you can afford it. ISBN numbers are another place where you are required to list your personal information as an item of public record. So, again, if you’re concerned about privacy, creating an LLC might be the way to go. There’s a lot more involved in that than just filing, though, so look into it before doing so. Unfortunately, I decided not to, so I don’t have a lot of great advice on that.

Some people will tell you to just use the free ISBN that Amazon will offer you. If you’re only publishing an e-book you can do this and there isn’t a penalty, but it does limit what you can do with that book. You can’t use that Amazon-provided ISBN no Barnes & Noble Press, for example. It belongs to Amazon. If you want everything to be Amazon exclusive (and there are reasons to do so), then this is a perfectly reasonable option. Just know what you’re giving up to do so.

Distribution

Finally, let’s talk about distribution for your book. Basically, this is just about deciding how readers are going to find your book. There are two major categories for distribution: Print distribution and E-book distribution.

E-book Distribution

The vast majority of self-published e-book sales are purchased on Amazon. I don’t know the exact number, but it’s something like 90% of all e-book sales. That said, there are other distributors. Barnes and Noble has its own self-publishing platforms and Amazon doesn’t make your book available there (or, probably more likely, Barnes and Noble doesn’t choose to pay Amazon to carry their books). Kobo is a popular platform in Canada and Amazon doesn’t distribute through Kobo. Many libraries can’t list your book as an e-book if it’s only distributed through Amazon. But only Amazon has Kindle Unlimited, which is a service which lets people pay monthly for as many books as they can read. Kindle Unlimited is a great way to get people to give your book a shot, since it costs subscribers nothing to take a peek inside.

One of the other very popular methods of listing e-books is through a distribution conglomerate. Two of the most popular ones are Smashwords and Draft2Digital. These are services where for a small fee (often charged as a percentage of your royalties rather than an up front cost) they will send your book to various other distribution channels. As a result, you can use one location to distribute to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and libraries. Awesome! But, there are some drawbacks there as well, primarily that Amazon won’t let you earn the 70% royalties they advertise when you’re selling through a conglomerate. So, do you use a distribution conglomerate or Amazon or some combination thereof?

When I was first investigating self-publishing, someone told me the best path was to list on Amazon and Barnes and Noble personally, then use a distribution conglomerate for the rest of the platforms. That is no longer the case. I don’t know if the person in question was right at the time—it was several years ago now—but this is not true right now. The reason for this is that Amazon does not allow you to run a discount promotion on your book if you aren’t listing exclusively through them. As a result, if you want to use a conglomerate, you should list there exclusively, because you can run a discount through that service which will apply to Amazon. But if you listed separately on Amazon, then your Amazon book doesn’t get the discount.

But I just said that you don’t earn 70% royalties on books sold on Amazon that are distributed through a conglomerate, didn’t I? This is true, but you are getting 35% royalties and that 35% isn’t reduced for delivery costs. Most people don’t realize that the 70% royalties on Amazon aren’t really 70%. Instead, Amazon charges a distribution cost which it deducts from your 70% royalties. Now, for most e-books that distribution cost is around fifteen to thirty cents, so that my $5.99 e-book makes me $4.10 instead of $4.25. But if your e-book is much cheaper than mine, that distribution cost can be more significant. It’s worth noting at this point that Amazon doesn’t allow 70% royalties on books listed at less than $2.99 (unless it’s a temporary promotion), so if you are listing your book at $0.99 you won’t be paying for distribution.

All of this is going to be a matter of personal preference, but here’s the best, simplest way to think about the options for e-book distribution:

  • If you want to be available at multiple different vendors, expect to have significant sales in foreign countries, or expect significant visibility from libraries, use an e-book conglomerate.
  • If you plan to rely heavily on Amazon because you expect primarily US based sales, or if you are doing rapid release strategies (I.e., releasing 3-5 books over the course of a single year at regular intervals to build hype) and therefore need to rely heavily on Kindle Unlimited, or you are a genre that traditionally does very well on Kindle Unlimited (most YA and a lot of romance), then go Amazon exclusive.
  • Only do a hybrid release where you are manually uploading to Amazon and Barnes and Noble separately from an e-book conglomerate if you do not intend to ever do a price promotion (which would probably be poor marketing techniques, but it depends somewhat on your release plans).

Print Distribution

Print distribution is much simpler than e-book distribution. There are only a couple of common vendors that do print on demand options, and the most common ones are Amazon and Ingram Spark. The print quality for these two options is actually pretty similar, although at one point Amazon had a reputation for being a bit lower. That doesn’t seem to be the case now, but the reputation still lingers and has come repercussions.

At a base level, Amazon is much easier to use for creating books that Ingram Spark. The Amazon system is streamlined and user friendly, and it has plenty of info boxes and helpful features to make the process easy. The Ingram Spark system is complex in part because it’s the same system they use for smaller publishing houses which use them, many of which need the more complex system to record all the data they use to identify and categorize their books.

Still, the most significant of the differences between Ingram Spark and Amazon print copies is the ability to get your book placed on some bookstore shelves. Larger chains like Barnes and Noble won’t tend to carry books printed by Amazon regardless of quality. That might be a competitor thing, but they cite quality in most discussions about it. If you have a local indie bookstore you want to place your book in, I’d talk to them in person and see if they have a restriction. It may be harder for them to order books when printed through Amazon since Ingram Spark is a more well-established distributor of print books to physical stores. Another major reason for Amazon being refused by many retailers is that Amazon won’t let you discount your book for other vendors where Ingram Spark does. Most retail locations require you give them a discount of approximately 50% on the list price so they make a profit on selling the book.

Another difference is the cost to you for copies you might want to distribute. Amazon has slightly cheaper author copies than Ingram Spark, and in some cases is quicker at printing and shipping them to you. As an example, my book costs $6.76 to print on Ingram Spark and $6.03 to print on Amazon. That difference actually has a pretty significant effect on profit, especially if you want to give a discount for any reason.

As a quick guide, if you want physical copies to give to friends, sell at conferences, and let people order physical books online, Amazon may be the best option. If, however, you want to have a chance of seeing your books on bookstore shelves, you probably need to use Ingram Spark.

Publishing Services

The one thing I haven’t mentioned in this list is publishing companies that offer to create your book and distribute it for you. Many of them often offer marketing services as well. Some examples of these are Bookbaby or Lulu. I’ll briefly address those services here, but I am a poor resource for that, so if you’re interested I recommend finding reviews on those types of services and looking for others who have used them to discuss.

The concept behind companies like Bookbaby or Lulu is that they offer a collection of services (often cover design, editing, formatting, printing, and distribution all in one, as well as marketing in some cases) and charge the author for those services. Typically you can buy the entire package or just a subset of the services offered. The marketing for these services typically says things like “All the benefits of traditional publishing and the control of self-publishing!” Sounds great, right? But the thing to keep in mind is that these companies aren’t similar to publishers. They don’t make money by selling your books, they make money by selling services to you. This point was driven home to me best by a demonstration I saw at a conference. The presenter opened a web site for one of these conglomerates, selected “create book”, told the system that he had a cover already made, had formatted his own files, and needed no services from the company, and the cost to publish an e-book on Amazon was $200 despite them selling him none of their services. Uploading those files to Amazon yourself is free.

Sacrifice


The door slammed, startling Arkaen Sentarsin out of the rough plans he was outlining on the map before him. A glance up. Kìlashà leaned against the wall, the noise of his arrival clearly an intentional warning to Arkaen. His heavy black cloak made a stark contrast to the ghost-pale skin and glowing veins that always set Arkaen’s heart racing with a touch of fear. Not of the man himself but of the power that had taken hold when Kìlashà sacrificed his own will to that of his gods in return for more power. A bargain to save Arkaen from a deadly wound.

Arkaen pushed the memory away and sank into the chair behind him, dropping the bit of charcoal he’d used to mark targets. “It’s done, then?”

Kìlashà cocked his head, the glow of his veins pulsing in time to his even breathing. Too calm for the task he’d just finished. The pose sent a shiver through Arkaen. Hardly the man he’d known before this transformation. But then, no one really knew Kìlashà before Arkaen had been taken captive. Before Kìlashà had risked everything he believed in to save Arkaen—barely more than a spoiled noble brat—from his own stupidity.

“Your tyrant has been removed.” Kìlashà’s hesitation seemed almost planned to allow Arkaen to finish his thoughts before interrupting them again. “You have made the arrangements?”

The statement barely qualified as a question. Kìlashà had no need to ask what Arkaen had prepared. Another courtesy he’d adopted to ease Arkaen’s discomfort. Guilt left an ache in Arkaen’s throat. How much change could he demand from Kìlashà and still claimed he honored the man beneath?

“We both know that answer,” Arkaen said. “Deyvan’s in position to claim his throne. The resistance will crumble without a proper leader. We’ll be at peace in a fortnight, at most. As soon as the messengers reach the northern armies.” He drummed his fingers on the makeshift table before him, the slab of rough wood a reminder of the squalor he was dooming his comrades to endure. As if he needed more to regret.

“They are better served by your absence than your contrition, kai’sh—”

Kìlashà cut off, a shudder running through his body. For barely an instant, he looked unsure, eyelids drooping as if to shut out the world and shoulders tense. A moment of the humanity Arkaen had brought into his life, and the one thing they shared in equal measure: fear that Kìlashà’s gods were wrong about Arkaen and about the relationship Arkaen and Kìlashà supposedly shared. Arkaen pushed up from his seat, crossing the room in three quick strides to lay a hand on Kìlashà’s cheek. Cool to the touch, as a gentle breeze on a warm day, the glowing veins releasing no heat.

“I trust you.”

The tiniest hint of a smile touched Kìlashà’s lips. “A kai’shien bond is not a matter of trust.”

“But you saw it,” Arkaen replied. “You’ve told me over and over that a seeker’s visions are driven by their own skill. You saw this connection, and I trust you.”

Kìlashà cast a look up through the long, elegant lashes that would have had a dozen noble woman tumbling over themselves for his attention. If they’d stopped screaming at the rest of his appearance long enough to notice the sculpted beauty of Kìlashà’s face. Or the lean strength of his physique, or the gentle care behind his too-often harsh decisions. But none of Arkaen’s people would ever see beyond the flaws they perceived in Kìlashà to know the truth. With a gentle nudge against Arkaen’s hand that served both as affectionate caress and a reclamation of his personal space, Kìlashà stepped around Arkaen and stared into the empty shelving on one wall.

“How certain are you of that trust?”

“What?” Arkaen turned to frown at him. “I’ve told you. I’ll go anywhere with you. I—” Arkaen sighed. “Once I might have argued for my duty to my homeland, but they left me. Abandoned me to be tortured into submission by a malicious bastard. I owe them nothing any longer.”

“But they need you.”

“I don’t—” Arkaen froze, the tone of Kìlashà’s statement registering. Hesitation mixed with sorrow. They both knew what returning to the Laisian Empire meant. For Arkaen’s freedom and their relationship. “You want to go back?”

Kìlashà shifted to lean against the shelving, fixing an impassive look on Arkaen’s face. “It is not a matter of what I desire. It is what the Ancient Spirits have set before me. Without your guidance, your homeland with fall into further conflict and many would die that the Ancient Spirits require alive.”

“So your gods want me to go save the people They’re protecting your clan from?” Arkaen’s skepticism was audible even to his own ears. But this new vision of Kìlashà’s couldn’t be true, anyway. Arkaen’s father held sway over his homeland with an iron grip no one would dare challenge. Unless his father was the problem.

“Humans so closely tie destiny with desires.” Kìlashà scoffed, waving a hand as if to dismiss Arkaen’s questions. “It is not that They wish for you to do Them a favor. They have selected me as Chosen of Their will and designated you as my kai’shien. The performance of Their will demands the preservation of your human empire intact. Were we to choose a life among the clans, that empire would fall and the will of the Ancient Spirits would be thwarted.”

Arkaen smirked. “So it’s not that your gods want a hand. They just chose to warn you that not doing what They suggest results in the destruction of civilization as we know it.”

“Precisely.” Kìlashà’s whimsical response held enough mirth that Arkaen almost wondered if he’d lied about the vision to tease Arkaen. But no. The tension in Kìlashà’s posture was real. And he’d been genuinely worried about Arkaen’s trust in his powers.

“Then we have no choice,” Arkaen said, his voice turning sober. “Gods. I’d hoped—”

No need to finish that sentence. They both preferred to avoid the den of lies, intolerance, and pompous self-importance that had overtaken Arkaen’s home province after he left.

“There is always a choice, kai’shien,” Kìlashà pointed out. “We could leave them to their fate.”

“You don’t believe that.” Arkaen shook his head, leaning back against the door Kìlashà had used. “Leave Deyvan to face a second rebellion newly crowned? Or my sister alone in that mess? And even beyond the ones we care about…” Arkaen hesitated. He’d always been so sure of Kìlashà’s opinion on unnecessary death, but too many of their comrades wouldn’t agree. A glance at the intense focus in Kìlashà’s face eased his concern. “You wouldn’t leave innocents to die simply because the other option was more comfortable.”

Kìlashà strode across the room, laying a finger under Arkaen’s chin, tilting his face up as if to kiss him. “I would.” Kìlashà’s voice was barely a whisper. “For you.”

A thrill of excitement ran through him, Kìlashà’s finger sending a jolt of pleasure into him, running across his entire body. Of all the people in this war—in all the nations of these lands—Kìlashà, the chosen hand of the gods, desired Arkaen. And desired Arkaen enough to abandon his service to his gods. The enormity of it left him speechless, staring into Kìlashà’s tar-black eyes without any sense of an appropriate response.

A sharp knock on the door broke the tension, a painful release of the connection between them.

“I will follow where you lead, kai’shien.” Kìlashà stepped away, returning to the shelves as if the empty space would answer the question lingering between them.

Arkaen sucked in a deep breath to calm his racing pulse and stepped forward, pulling the door open. Beyond the portal stood Jarod, the stocky, blond-haired Serr-Nyen native who had appointed himself captain of Arkaen’s personal followers. He snapped to attention, clapping a fist across his chest in salute.

“Milord Phoenix,” Jarod said. “Yer flameguard stand ready. What orders?”

Another twinge of guilt hit him. Arkaen’s followers—the self-proclaimed ‘flameguard’—would have nowhere to go without him. At least half had defected from armies he’d defeated, and a decent number of the rest had been thieves or cutthroats before he’d conscripted them. Only under Arkaen’s leadership had they found a sense of unity and purpose. Where would they go if he vanished into the wilds with Kìlashà?

“Come in.” Arkaen gestured to the table where he’d been mapping out targets. The last bastions of support for the now-dead emperor, Caildenn Laisia, and the places where Kìlashà’s visions said no negotiation could succeed.

Jarod cast an appraising glance at Kìlashà and crossed the room, scanning map with a swiftness that couldn’t have given him any information. But Jarod had a network of informants almost as extensive as Kìlashà’s gods-given powers. He likely knew the plan already and had come only to hear the orders in person. Arkaen paused beside him, tapping the map in pensive thought. The flameguard had stood by him as no one but Kìlashà had. The northernmost post would be impenetrable without them. But they’d earned his respect.

“Which one’s ours, milord?”

“None of them. The main forces can split between these three.” Arkaen pointed out a trio of targets. “I need you south with me.” Arkaen turned away, fighting to hide the guilt of his decision. The northern outpost couldn’t ignore the attacks he had planned. Leaving them unharried would mean a much higher casualty count. But returning to the empire would require Lord Phoenix to disappear and lordling Arkaen Sentarsin to return from war by emperor-apparent Deyvan’s side.

“We leaving our men to die?” Jarod’s voice held none of the condemnation it should have. Trusting in Arkaen’s decisions even when he knew they were wrong. “Ain’t like you.”

“This war won’t be ended in battles over strategic citadels,” Arkaen said. “Kumiho is heading south to take Bloody Emperor Laisia’s throne. I’ll be by his side, and I want my flameguard as protection.” He cast a sharp glance at Jarod. The flameguard had always been a bit hesitant about Deyvan. “For his protection as much as mine. We need this transition smooth to put any bitterness to rest.”

Jarod smirked. “That ain’t how war ends, milord. But we serve.”

With another salute, Jarod strode from the room to deliver his orders. Arkaen stared at the door, not seeing the room as his hands squeezed the edge of the table, the rough wood digging into his skin. Home, where his father had set a guard to spy on him and that guard had lied, using his childish insecurity as a tool to control him. To manipulate him into—

“Kai’shien.” Kìlashà stepped away from the wall, pausing in the middle of the small room. “There are preparations to make if this is to work.”

Like preparing himself to face Vaiyen once more. His own parting words rang in his head. I would have fought for you. The least you could have done is tell me you didn’t want me to. But that was false. Vaiyen had done far more than fail to tell him a truth. Arkaen looked up, meeting Kìlashà’s eyes.

“Will I regret this?”

“Hundreds of times,” Kìlashà replied. “But not for the reasons you expect.”

Arkaen smiled, his fears soothed by the answer. Not a lie to spare his feelings and not a manipulation to get his way. Kìlashà trusted him as Vaiyen had not. As his father had not. As no one in his life had. He pushed away from the table.

“Then let’s go save the bastards.”

Self-Publishing Guide Part Two: Covers

Welcome back to my self-publishing guide, driven by my personal frustration with finding useful resources when planning my own self-publishing journey. Today I’m going to examine topic number 2 of my guide: Cover Design.

Let’s start with a quick overview of the process, and then I’ll take an in-depth view into some of the important things to know about cover design. I’ll also include some specific resources at the end. Spoiler: One of those resources is the Alliance of Independent Authors!

How does cover design work?

The basics of cover design go something like this. First, you have a book mostly written and decide you’re going to self-publish. Then you google “book cover designer” and get several hundred results with prices ranging from $200 to $2,000 and maybe beyond (or occasionally less). You have no idea what you’re doing, so you send a bunch of questions to a few designers you like. Make sure to ask details of their process at this stage so you know what to expect. This includes number of revisions and what you’re allowed to do with the final images if that information is not clearly conveyed on their web site. Eventually, you pick someone in a price range you like with covers that you think look decent and you hope things work out. That designer probably books three months to a year out, depending on how popular they are.

Did you read my editing post a couple weeks ago? Noticing a trend in timing? Don’t ever expect to book custom services less than three months out unless you’re paying for a rush job. It’s extremely rare to find someone with good experience with an opening right when you contact them.

When time comes for your design, you have a design meeting. You and your designer will discuss your vision for the cover and typically some details that help the designer get a feel for the genre, themes, and tone of your book. The process from there will vary depending on your designer’s process. Mine sketched an initial concept on a video call with me right there. It was some seriously impressive work, even though it was understandably rough. Others will take some time to create a couple mock-ups and get your feedback. You can provide some feedback here, but once a concept is agreed on you typically can’t change the broad strokes of the cover idea. Then the designer sets to work. Throughout the process, make sure you give specific, thorough feedback on adjustments with as much detail as possible (and images when able) to help your designer create what you want. The more information they have, the better product they will create for you. Also remember that you are the customer in this transaction, so asking for a change isn’t an inconvenience. It’s literally what you’re paying them for.

A good designer will give you regular updates on a schedule you know ahead of time. My designer took about five weeks and gave me three updates in that time. He also did the text layout on the cover (i.e., the title and author text and the back cover copy). Make sure you know if your designer will do the text layout for you. This is an important step that you need the right software to do well or you’ll ruin your beautiful cover. When this is done, you’ll receive final files ready to include in your final packaging.

Now, everyone knows that covers are important to a book’s success, but what that actually means can be a bit vague. In my experience, most newer authors (and some experienced self-published authors) make one of several mistakes when planning their cover design.

  1. They don’t understand what the cover is really for.
  2. They bring ideas that are either too specific or trying to convey too many things.
  3. They don’t understand the different styles of covers and what they do.

Let’s take a look at these mistakes and how we, as authors, can be better prepared for our cover design.

What is the cover for?

A lot of authors have very romantic ideas of what their cover is and how it might look, but at the end of the day, this element is a very practical thing. The book cover is marketing imagery. It is not there to add context or details to the story. It’s not intended to give readers visuals on certain moments or characters. And it’s definitely not there to make the author geek out about how cool it is to see a scene or character or setting from their book drawn out. This may seem somewhat counterintuitive, since for many of us our favorite covers feature dramatic moments from the story. But take a moment, pull out one of those favorite covers with a scene from the novel, and compare it to the actual description of the moment in the text. I bet it’s very different. There’s a few reasons for this.

First, the cover isn’t for your readers. It’s created to entice other people–people who haven’t read your book–to give the story a try. To those people, the inaccuracy of that scene is meaningless. They don’t know if that’s what happened or not. All they know is if the scene gives them the type of feeling that makes them want to open the book.

Second, the cover must convey your genre and some approximate themes or feel of your book. Can you name a single scene from your book that accurately gives an impression of genre, theme, and feel of your book? Few books actually have that scene, and for those that do, the scene in question generally falls into the too complicated category that we’ll discuss in the next section.

Third, most books that have any sort of scene on the cover like to include the major characters. Does you book have an Avengers: Assemble moment? If so, honestly, maybe consider if it comes off as too cliché. It might be fine, but it probably doesn’t also include an enticing representation of genre, theme, and feel. There’s other reasons why our favorite scene-specific book covers are often inaccurate the the moment in the book, but it boils down to one thing.

Good book covers are complicated endeavors trying to sell the book in a dozen tiny ways, and that job is typically not done well by any given scene within any given book.

What book covers are good at is getting attention. They need the right color contrasts to catch the eyes of appropriate readers. Dark fantasy shouldn’t have bright yellows and golds and romances shouldn’t be all muted greys and browns. At least, not without a major contrasting theme to draw the eye. Whether or not your cover has characters on the front also depends on your genre and the focus of your book. Is it a character-driven political fantasy? Give us an image of characters with obvious tension (but probably not any weapons in hand). A fun-filled sword and sorcery? Cue the lightning bolts and fantasy creatures. Steamy romance? Someone better be half-naked on the front.

The point of all of this is to create an image that you can share as widely as possible which makes the right readers excited to pick up your book. No one wants a reader looking for political fantasy writing a review of the steamy, contemporary romance novel. Maybe they’ll like it, but that’s not who you wrote it for.

Bringing the right ideas to the discussion.

Now that you know the point of the cover, let’s discuss what cover ideas are useful in selecting your cover. This is important both for choosing your designer and for your first discussion with your artist. In your initial google search for cover designers, you probably noticed a trend. Most books had one, maybe two, characters on the front with some sort of dramatic scene behind them. If they didn’t have a character on the front, they no doubt had one central image with a secondary image behind that contrasted the first image. The reason for this is that design is all about drawing the eyes to the right places. Many authors come into the process wanting some complex scene but that defeats the purpose of the cover. It makes every part of the image important, so the browser can’t focus on what the cover is saying.

In the last section I said that your cover needed to convey three things to be effective. First, the genre. Second, the theme. And third, the feel (or tone). There’s a hierarchy to these three things, and honestly, my list is out of order.

The most important thing for your cover to show is your genre, and I don’t mean “fantasy.” My political epic fantasy has a very different cover from Patricia Brigg’s newest contemporary shapeshifter fantasy for very good reason. Her cover needs to convey a fast-paced actiony genre while mine should look like a methodical, and possibly dangerous, dance of manipulation.

After the specific genre, your cover needs to convey tone of the book. Using my own as an example again (viewable on my books page here if you want to check it out), the lighting streaming from the windows contrasted with the shadowy figure on the side gives a sense of danger approaching. As well, the presence of the sword without it being directly active adds to that tone. There’s no open conflict on that cover, which fits the pacing of my book, but there’s definitely tension in the image. I’m quite happy with my cover, but that’s as much because it’s a good representation of what the reader can expect as because of the quality of the art.

Lastly, theme or a hint of the theme or plot is common in cover art. For mine, a reader would realize that the shadowy figure is my secondary protagonist, Niamsha, while the main figure on the throne is my primary protagonist, Arkaen. Those facts aren’t critical to my cover being strong, but it adds a little hint extra, juxtaposing the two primary characters before you even open the book and giving the reader a sense of what is to come. This element is less important enough that it can easily be omitted without harming the quality of the cover. And that is why covers so often feature scenes not present in the actual book, or present only with significant alterations. The cover isn’t trying to give you a visual prologue, it’s trying to tell you what type of book this is.

What cover style is right for you?

By now, some people are confused by what I mean when I say “style” of cover. Aren’t I talking about themes, or whether or not to include characters, or how to convey genre? No, although some of those decisions will affect this one. I’m talking about a fully illustrated cover versus a photo-conglomerate cover. My cover was fully illustrated, it’s beautiful, it fits my book perfectly, and I paid a pretty penny for that thing. You can get cheaper fully illustrated covers, but I loved this designer and I have to say, he didn’t disappoint. I already have 25-ish reviews and the book doesn’t come out for just over a month yet. That’s not my advertising at work. That’s the cover.

But for some books, a cover like mine would be a terrible idea. A great example is Jenna Moreci’s The Savior’s Champion. It’s basically The Bachelorette meets Gladiator where the competition winner gets to marry a magic goddess–with some fun plot twists, of course. The feel of that book is more modern than mine in a lot of ways (despite it still being a low-technology setting), and as a result, a photo-conglomerate cover was perfect for her work. The covers of that series rely heavily on symbols with the scenes more as background shots when they’re present at all, and they look amazing.

She does not pay anywhere near as much as I did for my cover. Like, probably half of what I did and she got exactly what she needed. But my book wouldn’t have thrived on that style of cover design.

And this is what I mean by style of your cover. This is something only you can decide, and unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of tips. The best I can do is drop you some cover resources and suggest you consider which artist is making covers that might be next to yours on a bookstore’s shelves.

  • The Creative Penn. I mentioned this site for editing resources. She also has a great listing of book cover designers.
  • The Alliance of Independent Authors. I told you you’ll hear a lot about them in this sequence. They’re the resource I wish I’d checked out before making a bunch of decisions. I might have still used my designer (I mean, that cover…), but this is a great place to check for discounts and find reliable vendors.
  • The resources page of my cover artist, Jeff Brown. I hate to be that person that raves about someone then doesn’t recommend him, but he charges $2k. You probably don’t have that cash. I didn’t have that cash until a family member saw his work and donated the money to help me get the best. But Jeff understands that his prices might be out of your range and maintains a listing of other cover designers that he considers good alternatives if you like his style. But if you do have that cash and you want an illustrated cover, Jeff is amazing.
  • Reedsy. I haven’t used their cover design but they do operate a marketplace of cover artists just like their marketplace of editors.
  • Artstation. This is another place that I have heard about and have no direct experience with. A lot of people found great artists here. Daniel Greene, for example, found his cover artist here (Felix Ortiz, I think?). I have heard of other artists through other connections. It’s a good hub to check out.

Let me leave you with one final piece of information: A rough guide to cover pricing.

Photo-conglomerate CoverFully Illustrated Cover
Premade CoverRanges from $75-ish to $300-ish, depending on coverRanges from $250-ish to $500-ish depending on cover
Custom CoverRanges from $150-ish to $800-ish; prices depend on complexity, number of elements, number of revisions, and types of covers (e-book, print, audiobook, etc.) Ranges from $500-ish to $2,000-ish; prices depend on complexity, number of elements, number of revisions, and types of covers (e-book, print, audiobook, etc.)
Additional offeringsSometimes will offer formatting included or for small additional fee, also often have addons like banner images or ad design from the cover image for $25-$75 per item.Rarely if ever offer formatting services, more expensive packages may include banner images or ad design from the cover image; may also offer these separately or as addon services. Some illustrators also do character art and/or map drawing for additional fees.

Desperate Times


Saylina strode down the hall, her eyes trained on the wall just above her escort’s head and fingers rubbing gently on the grip of her fan in tension. Just enough decorum to look in control while her nerves ran wild. Her father, High Lord Johannus Sentarsin, hadn’t summoned her for nearly a year now, leaving her to the care of her tutors instead. Had he found the notes she’d been exchanging with Lady Arianne Skianda and her brother? Or maybe he’d heard about Saylina’s vigorous search for a malleable husband. The southern trade lord’s youngest looked promising, but without a favorable contract to go with it, her father would never agree.

The servant pushed aside the wide double doors, revealing that smallest court gathering Saylina had ever seen. Her father standing on the dais. his long time friend, Baron Oskari Weydert, loitering near the steps where the herald should have been. But only five other lords graced the chamber. Too few for even a facade of formality to feel reasonable. She crossed the floor, newly bought marble that must have drained the province coffers to scraps. But her father had more concern for image than frugality these days. Not that she could blame him, when his image as a loyal servant to the bloodthirsty emperor was all that had saved her from the dangers of imperial court.

Saylina paused several feet from the group and bowed her head. “You summoned me, Father?”

“Saylina.” Her father gestured to the chair by his side. By his left side, where tradition sat his blood heir. “It’s time we discussed your future, girl.”

“Of course, Father.”

She stepped onto the dais, each step seeming to grow as she crossed the distance from common courtier to province heir. The chair felt too hard under her hands, her narrow, girlish frame of not quite fifteen years too small to fill the place intended for her brother, Arkaen. Saylina eased onto the seat and lifted her chin, meeting the eyes of the few courtiers her father had allowed to attend. Only the most notable of the lower lords. Not even the Skianda family, although he might have simply refused to allow Lordling Brayden Skianda to fill his father’s shoes. But Baron Oskari Weydert was here, along with a handful of others her father had known for decades. Everyone, she realized, who had voiced fears over Arkaen’s loyalties.

“What did you want to discuss?” Saylina pushed an innocent smile onto her lips, turning away from the lower lords to meet her father’s gaze.

Her father scowled. “You’re not a halfwit, girl. You know what that chair means.” He cast a glance at the other lords and sighed. “We can’t trust him any longer. It’s more than rumors, now. Our own scouts saw your brother at the head of a rebel army.”

A chill ran through her. Rumors of treason had been enough to tear the lower lords’ council apart, some defending Arkaen’s honor while others demanded he be removed from the registry of Sentarsin kin. If there was real proof…

“How many saw him?” The calculations circled her mind. If it was only a couple scouts they could cover it up. Prevent High Emperor Laisia from blaming the entire family for her brother’s treasons.

“That’s not the point,” her father replied. “Your brother is lost to us. We need to find you a proper husband to rule—”

“Gods damn your pride, Father.”

She leaped from the chair, her formal skirts swirling in a flash of temper she rarely showed. A flash of temper that drew her father’s fury to the surface and she could see his rage brewing under the calm facade of his mild frown. Her heart pounded against her chest, the danger of her insolence leaving her entire body shaking. But this was bigger than her or her father.

Saylina turned to meet his eyes again, fighting for some semblance of reason in her tone. “Emperor Laisia won’t care who’s to blame or who you plan to succeed you. Can we hide Arkaen’s actions and protect our home?” Her throat clogged at the next thought. But it might be the only way. “If we send assassins…” Her eyes burned. Arkie, her beloved brother, who used to sneak sugary treats into her bed after the cook had banished them both. “We can claim he was coerced.”

“Emperor Laisia has no reason to doubt my loyalty,” her father replied. But she could hear the uncertainty in his voice. “I have served his needs since he confirmed my seat when he was still a boy.”

“She’s got a good head on her shoulders, my lord,” Baron Weydert said. “Better to protect the province first. I did warn you of these actions when he first left.”

Not someone she wanted to agree with, and certainly not on the proper way to depose her own brother. But if these reports were true, Arkaen had damned himself.

Her father spun to face Baron Weydert. “I don’t need your lectures any more than I need strategies from a barely weaned girl, Oskari. I’ve seen to the boy, of course. No one who saw him will tell any tales, and Arkie won’t be sighted anywhere else. Not living, at least.” He fixed a narrow-eyed stare on Saylina as her heart skipped and her eyes burned. “I called my council to name an heir.”

Saylina stepped back, the back of her legs rubbing against her brother’s chair. A chair he’d never sit in again.

“Your lords serve.” Baron Weydert bowed low, his cloak falling to one side and dragging the floor. “I only thought it prudent to discuss the matter, my lord. My guards reported these measures have only just begun. Surely additional caution only serves the needs of our subjects.”

Baron Weydert cast Saylina a guarded smile. And winked. Almost a conspiratorial, friendly gesture, as though he were a peer trying to impress a crush. Gods above. He’d tried to marry his daughter to Arkaen. His son was betrothed to a lady serving at the imperial court. And his wife was long dead. Surely the baron couldn’t mean to take her hand.

“Then do what you will, Oskari.”

Saylina’s focus snapped back to her father, the casual dismissal of Baron Weydert’s challenge impossible to ignore. A lower lord did not spy on his liege. Or at least, he didn’t admit to doing so and the reigning high lord pretended not to notice that everyone did. It was a matter of etiquette. To treat such a breach as meaningless could only mean that her father had been in confidence with Baron Weydert on this already.

“Thank you, Father.” Saylina straightened. Gods, let her be mistaken. If only she could be sure she’d read the situation wrong. “I feel better knowing our council is monitoring the situation.” She licked her lips, casting a hopeful glance at the other lords. All silent and most bored. They had no intention of challenging Baron Weydert for whatever he’d planned with her father. “I’ve given thought to my marriage. There’s a southern trade-lord’s son—”

“No.” Her father shook his head. “When you were just a daughter, maybe, but not as my heir. We need to solidify the province.” He turned toward Baron Weydert and Saylina knew she hadn’t been wrong.

“Brayden.” She nearly shouted the word in a rush to speak before he suggested his childhood friend for her husband. Her father froze. “Brayden Skianda. The family is old but his father has taken to focus on his own lands more than the province. Brayden is more than a little frustrated with his own impotence. An ally for your heir and a chance to honor one of our valuable but less prominent allies with a gift of Brayden’s sister as a bride.”

Except Brayden was halfway through a very complex negotiation for his own wedding to another woman. But at least it was a name her father couldn’t immediately reject. He turned back, the endless pause hinting that he wanted to dismiss her suggestion. Finally, her father sighed.

“I’ll talk to Count Skianda, but that’s a complicated suggestion. Don’t get your heart set on him, girl.”

And just like that she had a reprieve. Time to find a husband that her father wouldn’t reject. If such a man existed. Saylina rose and curtsied.

“Shall I retire, then, to write the invitation?”

Her father considered her for a moment before nodding. “See to your lessons. I’ll write the invitation. Province business is none of yours.”

As though he hadn’t just named her heir in her brother’s place. But she’d expected it. Saylina straightened and crossed the room, refusing to meet the eyes of any of the other lords. A high lady did not beg for approval from her subjects. Stepping out the door, she counted out twenty steps before she let herself run through the halls, her finely held control finally on the edge of breaking. She’d better warn Lady Arianne that her brother was about to get a marriage proposal before her plans fell apart before she got them started. And hope she hadn’t just chosen an ally of someone about to betray her.