Tag Archives: cover art

Bound Nominated in Books & Benches’ Cover Contest!

Hey, everyone!

Here’s something cool: Books & Benches has selected Bound as a nominee in their cover art contest this month! Pretty amazing, right?

If you have a second to check out the nominees and vote, I’d certainly appreciate it. Books & Benches works on the honour system, which makes things super easy for you–no registration, no awkwardness, no follow-up. You just vote!

It is one vote per person, though, and multiple votes from any one address will invalidate all of them. Just a heads up in case anyone was tempted to enter more than one. 🙂

Here’s the link! There are some gorgeous covers there, but I think the work Ravven did on Bound really stands out.

Thanks so much in advance for your time! I don’t usually enter my books or covers in contests (I didn’t even know Bound was nominated until last month’s winner told me), but it sure would be fun to see this cover win something.

Kate Sparkes, Bound

UPDATE: It won!

Thank you to everyone who voted, and of course to the very talented Ravven (who gets all of the credit here)

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Author Chat: Celine Jeanjean on Sequels

Hi, everyone! Today it’s my pleasure to host a guest author on the blog. If you’ve been hanging around here, or if you follow me on Instagram, you probably know how much I enjoyed The Bloodless Assassin (formerly titled The Viper and the Urchin) by Celine Jeanjean. The sequel, The Black Orchid, is currently available for pre-order and releases tomorrow, so it seemed like a great time to chat with Celine about the unique challenges presented by sequels.

(Cover art by the excessively talented Ravven)

Writing your first book is hard. The next is another beast entirely.

This post is an edited transcript of our recent chat. As interesting as our tangents about cover art (what is with all of the beheaded hot dudes and drowning chicks, anyway?), reacting to reviews, our dogs, and the current state of publishing were, we’ll try to keep this post on topic. 🙂

KS: So, Celine, would you like to give us a quick introduction to what your books are about?

CJ: Sure! The series follows Longinus (the Viper) and Rory (the urchin). Longinus is a pedantic assassin with an inconvenient blood phobia. Rory’s an urchin girl with big dreams of becoming a famous swordswoman. They meet when Rory saves Longinus during an assassination gone wrong and then blackmails him so he’ll teach her swordfighting. It’s pretty much irritation at first sight for them both. They argue, they get on each other’s nerves, and ultimately become very close in a very platonic way.

The books are both fun action capers, they’re a mix of steampunk, non-magic fantasy (in that they take place in another world than ours) and there’s quite a bit of humour. And then each story has a darker mystery running throughout, where Rory and Longinus find themselves fighting to save the city.

KS: And now it’s sequel time.When did you start working on The Black Orchid? Was that something you had drafted before The Bloodless Assassin came out? Did you have an idea of what you wanted to do?

CJ: I had a completely blank slate after Bloodless Assassin was finished. I always wanted each book to work as a standalone, so I had no particular idea of what would happen next, other than Rory and Longinus would get into some trouble together. Likewise, I didn’t get the idea for book 3 until I was nearly done with The Black Orchid. There’s a bit of an emotional thread running throughout the books, in that the characters grow and change over time, but that’s as much as I know before I start writing a story. Although I think I might know the overall story for book 4 already. That might change as I write book 3, mind you. One thing’s for sure, I have so much fun creating new cities that I think Rory and Longinus will do a lot of travelling as the series develops!

KS: And you gave us a fantastic glimpse of that worldbuilding on your blog not long ago. I can’t wait to see what locations you create next! I find your series process interesting. And it strikes me as brave, because I would totally freak out if I didn’t have some idea what was going to happen next. I drafted Torn before Bound’s release, and Sworn before Torn’s release.

CJ: Yours is a continuous story whereas mine are separate stories with a common thread. I imagine if I wrote something like Bound, I’d plan out the whole thing first.

KS: I really had only a vague idea how the larger story would end when I released Bound. I’m glad I did things the way I did for the series, being able to plant seeds in earlier books that would sprout later, but leaving lots of room for exploration. Each book was a really unique experience for me. Did you find you faced different challenges in writing this book compared to what you dealt with for book one?

CJ: Yes absolutely. One of the challenges I found was dealing with the Worst Case Scenario of writing each book. When I was writing Bloodless Assassin, I kept picturing the worst thing that could happen: that nobody read the book (or that a handful of people read it and left 1 star reviews – I could never decide which was worse). But then I told myself that if that happened, then nobody would actually know about my book, so I could quietly retire it and start again from scratch. That made it less scary because I could see how I’d pick myself up if I failed, so most of the time I was just having fun with Bloodless Assassin.

With Black Orchid, I have readers now, and those readers have expectations. Which is a wonderful thing, of course, and I’m incredibly grateful, but I’ve found that this time my Worst Case Scenario is much harder to ignore: the idea of people who loved Bloodless Assassin reading Black Orchid and putting it aside, disappointed. I found myself second guessing what I wrote a lot more. Writing a book 1 in a series is far more freeing because there’s zero expectations, so you can literally just have fun with it. With book 2 there’s definitely a whole lot more pressure. Thankfully I did manage to set it aside most of the time so I’m not quite a basket-case yet.

And then from a more ‘technical’ standpoint, I found that with a sequel you have more of a balance to tread. You want to have the stuff people seemed to love in book 1 but at the same time make book 2 a unique thing that’s not just a rehashing of book 1 (I’m looking at you, bad Hollywood sequels). And part of that for me was trying to make sure there was as much of a sense of discovery in terms of the setting in Black Orchid as there was in Bloodless Assassin, despite it taking place in the same city.

KS: I think we may be kindred spirits. We have the same worries/paranoias. ^_^

CJ: Did you find publishing book 2 harder than book 1?

KS: I think the hardest thing about writing the middle book in a trilogy was making it its own story. None of them are intended as standalones, but each book needed a complete story arc and a definite challenge for each character to overcome, and Torn had to bridge the gap between the beginning and the series climax.

Do you have any advice for authors embarking on the sequel experience?

CJ: I think for sequel writing, the most important thing is keeping reader voices out of your head – even if it’s very positive stuff. One thing I fell prey to while writing Black Orchid was at some point consciously trying to please readers. I wrote this whole (rather large bit) which was totally created on the back of some very nice reader comments — because I really wanted to give them more of the stuff they’d liked. And it was totally wrong for the story and I had to cut it all out. That’s not to say it was worthless, it might even be transformed into a little side novella, but I realised how important it is not to let people into your head as you’re writing.

KS: That’s good advice! I think that was one place where having a definite idea of where my trilogy/story was going helped me. People wanted certain things to happen, and I already knew “no, that’s not going to be a thing,” or “I think this person will be happy about where this goes.”

CJ: Yes, that would really help. Probably a big advantage of trilogies over standalones
Did you know how the whole thing was going to end by the way, from the start?

KS: I knew a few big things, but not exactly how they would happen or how everyone would get there. I’m glad I knew the things I did so I could get those ideas started in earlier books and build to them rather than throwing concepts in at the last minute, but I’m also glad I got to explore and be surprised.

To wrap up:  What do you think makes a strong sequel? You mentioned bad movie sequels. How do you avoid that?

CJ: For me a bad sequel is a sequel written for the wrong reasons. Bad Hollywood sequels for me stink of business men rubbing their hands at how much money they’ll be able to make from it. A sequel has to be written with as much artistic integrity as the first book, and if the story was done at book 1, then it needs to stay done at book 1.

KS: Thanks so much for taking time to chat with me about sequels! I think we’ll need to do this again some time. Unleash all of our ideas on all of those other topics on the world. 🙂

CJ: Thank you so much for having me, this was fun! We should definitely do it again, if only to cover some of our many, many tangents! 😉

Here’s the link to The Bloodless Assassin (which you should all definitely check out–one of my favourite indie books from the past few years), and to the sequel, The Black Orchid. You can find Celine here at her site.

Thanks for joining us!

-K


The Things I Did Wrong

Here’s another post that’s mostly of interest to fellow writers. Several people have asked me about how I launched the book, how I get reviews, how it got noticed by Amazon… often my response is a blank stare, but here’s what I did. Hope it helps! Just remember that you have to do what’s right for YOUR book.

 

There’s a lot of advice out there for self-publishers. I’m not going to add to it. I don’t have enough experience to advise anyone on anything, though I’m happy to point you to resources that have helped me (see end of this post).

Actually… according to the advice I’ve read, I’m doing a lot of things wrong. That’s not to say it hasn’t worked out for me. Bound has had a decent run at the top of a few sub-category best-seller lists, and has sold more e-books in its first few months than I projected for its first few years (Don’t be too impressed– I’m a conservative estimator). But according to a lot of people*, I did all of this wrong:

  • I didn’t launch the book at free or 99 cents.
  • I didn’t go exclusive with Amazon’s KDP Select. Because of that, my book is not available through Kindle Lending Library or Kindle Universe.
  • I invested a not-small chunk of change in editing my first book, before I knew I had an audience and before I knew I could make the money back.
  • I released at the beginning of the summer sales slump.
  • I didn’t pay for a blog tour, get into the big e-mail newsletters, spam Twitter, do follow-backs to gain followers on Twitter or Facebook, or pay for any advertising outside of a $6 Fussy Librarian spot (which didn’t seem to do anything, but hey. $6 for exposure, right?)
  • I didn’t have several books ready to go all at once.
  • I didn’t contact a lot of book bloggers.

That’s… that’s a lot of stuff I did wrong. Okay, maybe not wrong, but it went against a lot of advice. I followed my gut on these things, and I know that I’m lucky it’s paid off so far. That’s why I’m not saying “DO THIS, DO IT NOW.” Your Mileage May Vary is a HUGE thing. But if you’re curious…

Here’s what I did instead:

  • I started with an intro sale price of $2.99 to thank friends, family, and blog readers who were already supporting me, and also to make it easier for readers to take a chance on an unknown author. This lasted two months, and then the price went up to $4.99. Both prices are great value. That’s not to say I’ll never do a low-price promotion in the future, but I’m glad I started out at 70% royalties with Amazon. The $2.99 price point paid for the next book.
  • I uploaded to Amazon through KDP, and to Kobo, B&N, and iBooks through Draft2Digital (because the Smashwords meatgrinder was intimidating, and D2D is super simple). Sales at the other stores are 1/50 to 1/100 of what they are at Amazon (yes, combined). There have been times when I considered going exclusive, but I know it takes time to gain traction at those other places. And Amazon has been amazing. They have not penalized my book in any way for being non-exclusive. They just want to make money, and even if my sales are a drop in the proverbial bucket for them, they’ve been good to me so far. Select is a fantastic tool, and can be really helpful for gaining visibility, so it’s the preference for many authors when a book first comes out. I just want to point out that it’s not an absolute necessity if you’re as uncomfortable with exclusivity as I am.
  • see here for more on the editing experience. It was amazing, and I have no regrets.
  • I have no idea how the book would have done if I’d waited to release in the autumn, or at Christmas. Maybe it would have done better. Maybe a lot worse. Maybe it would have been competing with bigger releases, or maybe there would have been more people buying when it was topping those little lists, and I would have made more sales. I’m not experienced enough to say. But I’m not complaining about how things have gone, and I hope I gave some people an enjoyable summer read.
  • As to the e-mail lists, they probably would have helped if I’d released at 99 cents, but above that I don’t know that subscribers pay much attention. Keeping this one in the arsenal for later, as I do think they’re a great way to get the word out about sales/promos. And blog tours… well, I didn’t have an official one, but I’ve had some amazing, kind, and helpful fellow writers offer to host me for interviews, and I think that helped get the word out. I am so grateful to everyone who has done that, or who helped out with the cover reveal and release announcements. You’re the best. Also, acquaintances/friends/blog followers who read the book early on and went out of your way to share it with friends… you’re superstars. /end sappiness
  • Oh, and those Twitter follow-backs, yadda yadda… I still don’t see the point of having 10,000 followers if no one is actually interested in what you have to say, and only follwed you to inflate their own numbers. I do try to follow people who follow me on Twitter, but if you’re only posting #promo #promo #buymybook, I’m not going to stick around to keep you as a follower. Sorry. (But hey, if you tweet real, original thoughts, make me think or laugh, or reply to my stuff in a non-promo way, I’ll stick around through whatever occasional promos you put out there. Well done. Let’s be friends!)
  • Book two is coming out sooner than it probably would with a big publisher (8-9 months after book one, probably), but I can’t put out a book every two months like some people can. Is that going to hurt me? Will readers forget about the series before book two comes out, or stop caring? Maybe. Time will tell. But I hope my most passionate readers will get the word out again when the time comes. And they say not to promote your first book because you don’t want to hit it big when you don’t have more to sell to new fans. Well… I didn’t promote, but things have gone pretty well, and I have nothing in the back to offer people right now. We’ll see what happens.
  • I do wish I’d contacted more bloggers for reviews, but I’m shy. I’m also polite, and won’t send form letters or mass e-mails, so researching and writing requests/offers is time-consuming. But I should do it. Book bloggers/reviewers are amazing people who put their personal time and effort into adding value to the reading community, and I want to get to know more of them.

So there it is. I didn’t do it all wrong, of course. I did some things right:

  • I used keywords to get the book into relevant sub-categories on Amazon so that it would come up on Best Sellers and Hot New Release lists sooner than it would in the big ones.
  • I put a (polite, no-pressure) note in the back of the book saying how important reviews and recommendations are to a new book/author, and asked those who loved the book to share it.
  • I sent out Advance Reading/Review Copies (ARCs). Not as many as most people do, I think, but they went out, and most people followed through with reviews.
  • I wrote the story I wanted to read, not the one I thought the market wanted. Actually… this would be considered wrong by some, but it was the right thing for me. And I made it a good book with the help of incredible beta readers and a good editor. It’s not a perfect book. There is no perfect book. But it’s the one I set out to write, and it delivers good value to readers, and that knowledge helps me shrug off bad reviews from people who find it’s not their cup of tea.
  • I paid for good cover art from an artist who knows what looks good and what sells. I listened to her advice when it went against my personal preferences, and it worked out beautifully. She let me help (cover model selection, font choice out of a few she liked), but I let her lead based on the book info I’d sent. I really need to to a post on that some day. There are beautiful, high-quality pre-made covers out there, but none of them fit my book. This does, and I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said they gave Bound a chance because of the cover.
  • I ripped my hair out for two weeks over writing a blurb (sales copy) that seems to be fairly effective, and I made sure the Amazon sample was both good AND representative of the entire book.

If you’re looking for indie publishing resources, I’ll list a few of the ones that helped me below**. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope this has been helpful for someone. Just remember: I am not qualified to give advice. This is just what worked for me. I’m not an expert. A book does not a career make, yadda yadda. ‘kay? Good.

*Yes, according to some people I did these things right, too. Conflicting advice is conflicting. It’s just a fun way to frame the discussion of something people keep asking about. 🙂

**Please note that though none of these authors pay me for promotion, I am using Amazon affiliate links and receive an itty-bitty bit of money if you buy through them. Well… I will if I set it up right.  It costs you nothing extra, but does help me out. 🙂


Hey, Look! It’s a book.

Like, a real book.

It came on Wednesday, delivered by a very nice man with a floofy mustache and a white van. I was crying before I even opened the box, because that’s how I roll when I’ve been waiting years for something.

No, not waiting. Fighting.

This has never been easy. I’ve never taken shortcuts, though there have been detours and unexpected destinations.

I have never worked this hard for anything, and it is totally, completely, mind-blowingly worth it.

10374079_10152471641055325_1349617090979388647_n

 

Six days to launch.

 


Cover Reveal: Bound

Friends. Darlings. Beloved peoples and kinda-creepy lurkers.

Today is the day.

You’ve all been so supportive and patient. I’m not going to make this all wordy. Here you go. Please feel free to share.

(Cover art by Ravven)

 

bound_promo

 

Welcome to Darmid, where magic is a sin, fairy tales are contraband, and the people live in fear of the Sorcerers on the other side of the mountains.

Rowan Greenwood has everything she’s supposed to want from life—a good family, a bright future, and a proposal from a handsome and wealthy magic hunter. She knows she should be content with what she has. If only she could banish the idea that there’s more to life than marriage and children, or let go of the fascination with magic she’s been forced to suppress since childhood.

When Rowan unknowingly saves the life of one of her people’s most feared enemies, that simple act of compassion rips her from her sheltered life and throws her into a world of magic that’s more beautiful, more seductive, and more dangerous than she ever could have imagined.

Rowan might get everything she ever dreamed of—that is, if the one thing she’s always wanted doesn’t kill her first.

 

Available in e-book June 26, 2014 — like my Facebook author page to join the celebration!

(paperback availability TBA)

Chapter One available here

Add to Goodreads here

Links to fantastic bloggers who are participating in this reveal (thank you, all of you! More to come as posts go up):

 El Space

Celine Jeanjean’s Blog

A Keyboard And An Open Mind

Giraffes on Trampolines

The Raven’s Quill

My Random Muse

Jessica Minyard

CK Rich


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