Alas, all good things must come to an end. My cover artist of the last couple of years, Jake Bullock, got a full-time job (good for him) and is prohibited from doing freelance projects (bad for me). The good news is that I had just finished The Chained Adept series, but I already had a cover from him for book 1 of The Affinities of Magic series. So I had to start over again for that.
Happily, I've partnered with a new cover artist from Poland, Michal Wojtasik.
His audition blew me away. I only asked for a simple sketch of the scene I had in mind, and look what I got, a day later.
Needless to say, he buried his competitors.
He's completed the actual cover and is working on the one for book 2, Fragments of Lightning. I'll be writing book 4 before I release the first 3 books in the series, one right after another, to try and build up some momentum for the new series.
It's time to look back on 2017 and take stock — what worked, what didn't, and where I spent my time.
Early in the year, just after I released the 4th and final book in The Chained Adept series (On a Crooked Track), I decided to pause my miscellaneous plans, including my audiobook recording, in order to devote the year to a major ascension of my learning curve for marketing, making 2017 the Year of Marketing.
* Third website (for Readers) with professional branding elements – KarenMyersAuthor. This is a companion to HollowLands (for Writers) and Perkunas Press (Publishing). Facebook & Twitter persona to match.
* Courses in Amazon Ads and Facebook Ads
* Advanced newsletter services and landing pages
* Related tooling up in video and other image processing
* New author photos and bio (not getting any younger)
Not all of this was finished in 2017, but everything except the Facebook Ads is now up and running, and the first FB ads should get implemented fairly early in 2018.
While I was doing all this technical stuff, I also tooled up in other ways — republished 20 titles, created ONIX records to make broad distribution more professional, and even added a fancy email signature with the new branding, for engaging with readers or fans.
On the publishing side, there were several unexpected developments.
* Two paid consulting gigs bringing manuscripts to market for a couple of authors, one a colleague and one a stranger.
* New imprints. Three old friends who are not in a position to get beyond the manuscript stage themselves (age, infirmity, tech competence) have manuscripts that need publishing, indie style. I have a long and trusted relationship with them, and it's a great way to get started publishing other authors
Finally, on the writing side, I was able to get some work done. I completed the paused Structures of Earth, the first book and prequel for the new series The Affinities of Magic. I'm well along on book 2 (Fragments of Lightning), and I've lined up a cover artist for the series since my old cover artist is no longer available (stay tuned for several cover reveals).
After my long prior post about all the learning curves for reaching my next marketing plateau, I'm finally (almost) done and have picked up my latest book (Structures of Earth) and poured another 55000 words into it, just in the last month, and finished it. I've missed it badly!
I'm just starting book 2, Fragments of Lightning. I plan to complete the first three books before releasing any of them, and have the fourth one almost done. The first book, Structures of Earth, is a prequel that takes place five years before Fragments of Lightning, while the hero is still a teenager. I expect to write quite a few books in this series, each of them complete, like a detective series. The release(s) of the first few books should happen in the Spring of 2018, one right after another.
The remnants of my 2017 plans
Republishing all titles
I've finished cutting over to ActiveCampaign from MailChimp, and created suitable landing pages on my websites for newsletter signups from various locations.
That was the last thing I needed before updating all my titles (20 of them) with:
Misc. accumulated typo corrections
Longer next-book sample excerpts
Updated contact info
Updated newsletter info
UTM-wrapped links to other books & my websites for Google Analytics
Better TOC & metadata info inside the books
Larger cover images
Improved copyright pages
No one item is important enough, but with all of that I felt it was time to finally refresh all 20 titles, ebooks & print. I even moved from Ingram LSI to Spark for various discount coupon situations in the future as part of it. With any luck, I won't need to revise these particular titles ever again.
Associated with that was getting a copy of ONIXEDIT so that I could use the same distribution tools (ONIX) used by traditional publishers with their channel partners. It is of limited immediate use (only for my PublishDrive and StreetLib partners) but just going through the process was immensely educational about the metadata and channel communications issues that go on behind the scenes in the industry. I'm ready to start transmitting using ONIX to these partners very soon.
The newly branded website just for readers
KarenMyersAuthor is up, and so are its related Facebook & Twitter pages, but I haven't produced content yet, and so I haven't announced it. I need to start getting active there.
It's been quiet on my blog here lately because I've been heads-down going up a bunch of learning curves. I've dedicated 2017 to moving up a big level in marketing, and it's been a larger task than I expected. (That always happens, and I'm always surprised.)
Psychologically, I'm an analyst, and I am attracted to and comforted by a deep knowledge of the tools and systems I use. This usually means I have a pretty good idea of what I don't know. The flipside of that is that it makes me anxious to fill in the gaps.
I wanted to keep the effort this year focused on marketing initiatives but that has a way of spreading.
Here's what I've managed so far… (you can expect specific articles on some of these in the Just for Writers section).
This stuff is like catnip to me. I love to figure out how it works, but it takes time…
Google Analytics and link sources
On the principle that you can't improve what you don't measure, I've experimented with and set some standards for wrapping links to reference articles from my sites that I post elsewhere in UTM codes masked by PrettyLinks. In other words, I pinned down how to use Google Analytics to track particular articles depending on whether the clicks came from the website, Facebook, various groups I participate in, etc., without the links themselves looking ugly.
Background website improvements
All three of my publishing-related sites (see below) are now SSL-enabled (they use https:// instead of http://).
I'm tracking all my sites in ManageWP.
All the sites have stepped up a level for SEO improvements (Yoast) and I keep an eye on Google's latest demands for mobile compatibility.
All the sites now have structured data for the basic entities (organization, person, etc.), and the new reader-oriented site has structured data for the book entities. This should result in better “knowledge cards” and other enhanced displays for Google Search results.
I create all my own book images, even the full covers (based on background art & illustrated text from my partner artists). I found the simple flat 2D images boring for some uses, and didn't like my amateur versions of 3D, and I also knew I would want more sophisticated versions of the images for Facebook advertising, so I worked with a freelancer to create four separate Photoshop automation “engines” to supply sophisticated output based on flat image inputs.
One engine supplies basic 3D images, from two directions.
Another engine creates a display of all formats for each book page on the site.
A third engine creates book bundle images, useful for Amazon AMS or Facebook ads, or for newsletters.
The fourth engine creates a casual book stack for Facebook ads.
This sort of Photoshop automation is completely beyond my limited amateur use of Photoshop, but I can use the template provided by my freelancer well enough to produce the images, and the results look nice and professional.
I'm working on a scifi story collection called There's a Sword for That (using a fantasy motif in a scifi context — just for the fun of it). The tales come out of a weapons shop on a space station, which you can see on the cover.
The collection won't be ready for a while, so I've released a couple of two-story bundles in the meantime, for your amusement.
I have a few scifi short stories lined up for release, and here's the first one — Second Sight, a story about unintended consequences.
BORROWING SOMEONE ELSE’S PERCEPTIONS FOR A POPULAR DEVICE CAN ONLY MEAN COMMERCIAL SUCCESS. RIGHT?
Samar Dix, the inventor of the popular DixOcular replacement eyes with their numerous enhancements, has run out of ideas and needs another hit. Engaging a visionary painter to create the first in a series of Artist models promises to yield an entirely new way of looking at his world.
But looking through another’s eyes isn’t quite as simple as he thinks, and no amount of tweaking will yield entirely predictable, or safe, results.
Typically one speaks of being surrounded by ghosts. Where I live, however, the ghosts are surrounded by us. So are the ghosthunters.
We live in an log cabin, built by Christian Baughman. In 1812 he took out a warrant for a hollow tucked into the base of the Allegheny Front in central Pennsylvania. To convert a warrant on a piece of land, you needed to survey it and make improvements, and the cabin was part of those improvements. He patented the property in 1812 and Baughman Hollow Farm came into being.
Baughman Hollow Farm was originally about 400 acres that started at the head of the hollow and spread down to the south and east. In the next generation, the farm was divided among the children, and then Dr. Robert Piper (1865-1936) began reassembling pieces of it in the late 19th and early 20th century before he passed it along to Cosmo Mannino, the “Banana King” (1879-1965). By the time we acquired the place from the Mannino estate, in the early 80s, and did a bit of reassembly of our own, it was back to about 300 acres, though no longer a working farm.
The road originally ran up the hollow on the west, turned to the right to run along the base of the Allegheny Front, past the cabin and the barn, and then turned right again to run back down the hollow, to Van Scoyoc road, at the site of the famous circus train wreck. In 1840, John Baughman, son of Christian, donated a bit of ground just above that last turn, at the head of the hollow, to serve as a cemetery. Baughman Cemetery is currently run by an association founded in 1926, and it's still active despite its small size.
It's a tiny cemetery, dominated by the names of local families who are still in the area. Their relatives come by to visit on holidays or just to pass the time, some on ATVs from the adjacent hollows down the old part of the Baughman Hollow Road which is now an internal farm road.
Our farm surrounds it entirely, on all sides. The little patch with its slumbering graves is raised above the surrounding land and sheltered by the Allegheny Front. The cemetery is closed from dusk to dawn so that everyone can rest in peace. It's a quiet, tranquil, private place, as little country cemeteries tend to be.
Or it would be, if it weren't for the ghosthunters. Or the teenagers desperate for a place to party or make out. Or the transactions in illicit substances. Some weekend nights, it feels like we get all three simultaneously.
I'm not sure which is worse, but the ghosthunters are high on the list. You see, Baughman Cemetery is famous in the community of credulity.
The Pennsylvania Ghost & Paranormal Research Team — I can't tell you how often I've wished we'd installed some microphones and speakers from the cabin so that we could respond to the flashing lights of the ghosthunters with some spooky wails from hidden locations. I know that my dogs who wake us up in the middle of the night to tell us about the shenanigans outside would agree.
(We may do this yet…)
I have some sympathy for the teenagers — I was that age once — though I have to wonder about the sensibilities of bringing a hot date to a cemetery to make out. Drunken parties are more reasonable.
But I have to draw the line at vandalism. The maintenance shed was destroyed recently, and that requires real money from real people to repair. And then there was the sit-around-the-campfire-and-tell-spooky-stories party that ended up with a burning car in the midst of our woods. We were lucky it burned slowly.
Nope, haven't seen a single ghost. All the lights, moans, and hiccups have human origins.