Convergence and the Path to Publication III: On Design & Advertising

[Be sure to check out Part I and Part II in this series, as well!] This past week has seen a flurry of activity as CONVERGENCE marches toward a publication date.

On Sunday, the 16th, I submitted the final draft of my manuscript to Streetlight Graphics. By Monday night, designer Glendon Haddix sent me two potential cover designs to review and critique. I was floored in the best way possible. Both files were a play on what would ultimately become the final image and went through a significant amount of revision. The first cover image was a bit dark and didn't quite capture the mood of the story, but I was still supremely happy with it. I sent back a suggestion to incorporate a bit more of the human element, and Glendon had already begun making some revisions after having slept on the initial design for a bit.

Convergence-800 Cover reveal and PromotionalOn Tuesday, I received two more image files, one of which I knew instantly was my cover. I've already received a few compliments on the design, and I really wish I could take more credit for it! Glendon definitely earned his dues on this one, and I am forever grateful for his rapid, professional, and confident work.

Before we started all this, I had zero idea what the cover should be. The one idea I did have involved a plot-point regarding the convergence web, which [insert clever plug and take advantage of this blog space and try to earn a sale] readers can learn more about in chapter ten of the book. In my mind's eye, it looked a bit like a spider web, or a bunch of bicycle wheels stacked upon one another. As with the rest of the cover, Glendon captured the spirit of this idea far better than I could have conceived if left to my own devices. I liked his representation of this idea so much that the design work even made its way onto the back cover and pops up in between some chapter breaks in the print edition.

In my previous "Path to..." segment, I discussed the vital role that editors play. As far as I'm concerned, a professional design team is just as vital. I have next to no background at all in creative design. Even as a photographer, it's an aspect of Photoshop I haven't devoted much time to nailing down. I can draw an OK stick figure, but anything beyond that and I'm completely lost.

Enter Streetlight Graphics. I had done a fair amount of research on cover designers throughout 2013 was sold on this company by their strong portfolio, recommendations I came across while lurking on the kboards, and from author-publisher, and regular client of SG, Lindsay Buroker. I felt like I'd be in safe hands, and Team Haddix (Glendon and his wife Tabatha, herself an author, operate Streetlight Graphics) certainly did right by me. In fact, the experience has been ridiculously wonderful and they've gone out of their way to help guide this newbie author-publisher with tips on copyright and obtaining an ISBN. Glendon even went the extra mile and delivered a little something special, totally out of the blue, which I'll be revealing to you all soon. In my estimation, Streetlight Graphics is truly a solid and helpful operation, and they've been working hard to help me put my best foot forward. The experience was so good, in fact, that I'm already looking forward to working with them again on my next novel.

A good book cover is essential. It's the first thing potential readers see, and oftentimes it is what motivates somebody to pick up the book or click on the link to learn more about it. It needs to be compelling and vivid and interesting. With e-books, it also needs to look good and retain that same eye-catchingness in smaller thumb-nail sizes.

Look, there's other, better bloggers out there who can extol and entertain you with the divine natures bestowed upon good book design etiquette. All I know is this: it's important, regardless of how much the collective 'we' may lean on the old adage of never judging a book by its cover. It's important to realize that people do, in fact, judge those covers and the content behind it all the time. You don't want to risk having a bad cover or an amateur appearance to deter folks from the book as a whole. A good cover makes a good first impression, and it is the first step toward luring readers in and working to hook them.

As far as I'm concerned, Streetlight Graphics and Glendon excelled in this.

In addition to the cover design, Glendon also worked on formatting the manuscript. In short, he had to take the book I wrote and pound and force it into shape for the 5x8 print template, and corral it into an easy-reading experience for various e-readers. I'll be launching CONVERGENCE on a variety of platforms soon, and not all e-reader formats are interchangeable. Word files are very different from Kindle files, which are different from Nook files, which are different from Kobo files, etc.  So, lots of work, lots of technical know-how. Again, I could have done this myself, but I seriously doubt I could have achieved the professional look that Streetlight Graphics brought to the table.

Every e-mail I got from Glendon made me happier and happier. I cannot even begin to express what a joy it was to receive a PDF of the print-file template and final cover design, and seeing how CONVERGENCE will look as a physical book. Running the e-book files through the various helper app viewers was a thrill of its own. Each step was bringing me closer and closer to publication, not to mention the overwhelming reality of all this.

Glendon also designed some Facebook images for me, which you can see (and, if you're of a mind to, Like the page) here. Seriously, go check them out. They are awesome!

What this all shapes up to is the larger point of advertising the work. I need to expose it and get it out of the vacuum of my life and into the lives of others. I'm hoping the effort pays off and that all this can generate sales and good word of mouth. In my earlier piece on editing, I said that it wasn't enough for an author-publisher like myself to get two out of the three fundamental aspects of book production correct. A well-written book can (and, likely, will) still be ignored by shoddy cover design. Worse yet would be a work that could be well-written, but poorly edited and riddled with errors, and have a nasty looking bit of art adorning it. These things don't play well with savvy readers, so an author must produce a well-written, well-edited, and well designed novel. This is what I have striven for from the very first day I started writing CONVERGENCE back in August 2011. Only time will tell if I succeeded, but this has been a very exciting week and has given me some hope of success in this experimental publishing effort.

Just hours after receiving the final cover design, it gained some traction thanks to a supportive social media network. In some ways, the cover itself has become a sort of convergence web all on its own. I started my Facebook author page Wednesday morning and got some friends and family to join me there. I started getting 'likes' from their friends, people who were complete strangers to me. In turn, that page and the CONVERGENCE cover art drove some traffic to this blog, setting a record for the most views I've had here in a single day. Both FB and this blog have also, in turn, gotten me a few positive hits on twitter and some compliments (yay!) across all these various forums. To go from having very little recognition in this effort, aside from my wife and close relatives and friends, as well as a few devoted blog followers and twitter friends, to reaching total strangers has been a heady, heart-warming experience.

Now, keep in mind, these are just baby steps. But, in about 6 hours I reached 32 Likes on that Facebook page. Roughly half of that number are people I don't even know. Things slowed down a bit after that initial burst, and by Thursday morning, I was up to 41 Likes, but still maintaining that half-and-half split as people outside of my immediate circle became drawn in. And the only thing to draw them to that page was the word of mouth from my immediate contacts, and the cover art (plus a very brief 'about' section, and a link to this page). According to Facebook's Insights summary, over 70 people were reached by this initial cover post in those few hours. Within 24 hours, that reach had expanded to over 200 people and have 50 individuals talking about CONVERGENCE. This reach was organic and unpaid for, and there was a pretty strong engagement from those who liked the page and took the extra step of liking that cover image and sharing it on their walls. At the time of this writing (Sat., Feb. 22), my FB followers has doubled, that half-and-half split still pretty reliable but with a slight edge going toward the friend-of-a-friend margin. As such, my reach has more than doubled, as well. Not bad for only a few days. The true test, of course, will be how many strangers this reaches as the work builds momentum and generates more word of mouth. We're only in the preliminaries here, and this door swings both ways. As I said, these are only baby steps, but still very important strides forward in these pre-release days.

My main goal in the days prior to unleashing CONVERGENCE and letting it loose into the wild is building on these levels of engagement and keeping people interested, and hopefully invested, in the work I've produced. Facebook is a good platform to build from, as is this blog. Both can open up avenues of conversation, and twitter is a useful tool for quick bites of back-and-forth. I can be reached at any of these levels, and use these tools to, (again) hopefully, reach others. I'd like to build up some level, even if only a tiny bit, of pre-engagement, a sort of priming the pump to get people ramped up to read. To that effect, I worked on getting a nice chunk of fresh material posted on this site and spreading the word in the form of a three-chapter PDF excerpt. Almost immediately, this link began drawing in new views to this site, and I had ten fresh hits to that single page within a half-hour of posting. It also saw a few Facebook shares and a couple tweets, and although those numbers are currently sitting in the single-digits for each share site, it is still a minor spread of word-of-mouth advertising and hopefully it's whetting some appetites. On the stat side of things, this excerpt helped me maintain my blog hits  and number of site views with very little attrition over the last three days.

We'll see how all this goes. If I'm lucky (and never underestimate the amount of luck required in this business of writing and publishing), the next part in this evolving "Path to..." series can look at some release news and maybe even some sales numbers! I'm in the very early days of all this, but so far it's been incredibly exciting and rewarding. To those of you out there who have been following along and rooting for me - thank you! I appreciate your support tremendously; it means an awful lot to me.

[Keep reading: Part IV, Part V]

Michael Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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