Ep 028: “Book Covers and More”

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Welcome to the 28th episode of The Author Hangout, a “Hangout on Air” designed to help authors, especially self-published and indie authors, with marketing their books and improving their author platform. Authors struggle with various aspects of marketing and we are here to help!

“Slow down. A book is not a pop quiz. It’s not a race. I would advise authors to take absolutely all the time that the book or yourself need to create and craft that book the right way.”– Jason Gurley

Book Covers and More

In this episode bestselling author and retired book cover designer Jason Gurley, talked with us about book cover design, his projects, and some great tips about marketing books.

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He’s a software designer by day and a successful indie author by night, with multiple novels, short stories and anthologies to his credit. He is making waves in the self-publishing world producing bestselling works such as Eleanor, The Man Who Ended the World, and Greatfall. Since its release in 2014, Eleanor has been acquired by Crown Publishing and is set for rerelease in 2016. Please join me in welcoming science fiction and fantasy writer, Jason Gurley.

How did you become an author and publish your first book?

The interview starts right off with Jason’s story:

“I started writing novels when I was right out of high school. I was 18 years old. That first novel and the two novels right after that went into a drawer. Happily so, all these years later, I’m very glad those aren’t out in the world! Though it was heartbreaking at the time to realize that they weren’t ready and neither was I. I was 18 then. I’m 36 now and I’ve been self-publishing my books since 2013. The very first book that I published online in e-book format was called The Man Who Ended the World, as you mentioned, and I wrote that novel mostly to remind myself that I knew how to finish a book at all. I’d been working on Eleanor that quite almost 13 years and I wasn’t entirely sure that I was ever going to finish it or anything else ever again So I thought about entering Amazon’s novel competition, the Breakthrough Novel Competition and I wrote The Man Who Ended the World in about three and a half weeks because I found out about the contest a month before the deadline. And so I just went to work on something that was going to be fun and exciting to write.”

He also shared a bit about how he knew he wasn’t ready, which is good for a lot of authors to hear.

What is your most recent book or project?

“The most recent book is still Eleanor. I mentioned that I’ve been working on this for 13 years. We’re now going into year 14. Eleanor I self-published in the summer of 2014 and as I mentioned it was acquired by Crown in the fall, which means that since the publication date I’ve been doing pretty much nothing but editing the book. The story remains the same but we’re just looking at different ways to sort of tighten it and enhance it so it’s an even stronger book when it comes back out. But Eleanor is…you might describe it as a modern fantasy. It’s sort of a literary novel masquerading as a genre novel in some ways. But it’s a multi-generational family saga about this, otherwise, innocent family that is just fragmented by grief and by things outside their control.”

He also talked a lot about how his book was picked up with a publisher, and howthat whole process worked.

Can you tell us about a time when you really struggled as an author?

We love asking this question… Jason was happy to answer:

“I think the biggest struggle for me with Eleanor, in particular, has been an ongoing question about what the book really is. Though I spent about 14 years working on it, I think it took about 12 ½ to 13 years to be able to answer that question. I began writing the book when I was 23 and I was asking myself these big questions about who I was and what the world around me meant and what I believe and didn’t believe. And for a very long time, Eleanor was sort of my vehicle for answering those questions. And that’s a really boring book. Nobody wants to read a book about an existentialist at 20 something, asking himself a lot of questions. It wasn’t until I realized that I spent long enough trying to answer these questions that in my real life, I had sort of done it myself already. So the book could become what it needed to be. It didn’t have to carry that burden and that was exciting. That meant that I could either drop it altogether, and do something else or I could go back to these characters that I had spent more than a decade with and find out what the right story to tell was. That was a very big challenge.”

As a former cover designer, what are some tips and ideas of what authors should be considering when working with a designer or doing their own covers?

He starts with this:

“The first thing I would suggest is unless you already, as an author, unless you already have some form of design experience, I strongly advise looking for a professional who can help you. Book cover design may look on the surface like a very easy thing but it’s a very nuanced art and it also requires the objectivity that an author usually doesn’t have about their own work.”

This is also a great tip that many indie authors do the opposite on:

“As far as tips, I would suggest that literalism, depicting an actual scene from your actual book is both boring and limiting. It seems to prevent readers from imagining the scene for themselves and especially characters for themselves. And that’s no fun for anybody. Every time that you flip open a book, you can read a story about the attractive blonde on the cover, you’re going to picture that blonde and it’s going to take away from your own ability to enjoy the story, to create it for yourself.”

He finishes it up with:

“Typography [the fonts, font size, font spacing, etc] is incredibly important; much more important than the artwork or the imagery on your cover is. Great type sells the book.”

He gave some GREAT advice about cover pricing, especially for indie authors.

There was also some great tips for knowing that you have a great cover versus have a so-so cover.

What one marketing tactic is really working well for you?

Jason shares a tip, which many authors also recommend:

“Creating a mailing list and inviting readers into your own process by doing so. What I mean by that is not necessarily spamming them with book sales and book deals and whatever you’ve got going on. But more bringing them into the world of your stories and what it means to create them. So I’ve used my mailing list to not only just give away books or tell people about something that’s coming out but to invite my readers to beta read a novel. I think about 60 of my readers beta read Eleanor before it was published. I also do things for them like, with Eleanor, it was a pre-order. If you would send me a screen shot showing you had pre-ordered the book, I would send you an exclusive e-book that was related to Eleanor and couldn’t be purchased or downloaded anywhere else. Little things like that that connect them to what I’m doing but also make them feel like they have an investment in what I’m doing.”

Did you catch that? Authors always wonder what to write to their mailing list that isn’t just “Buy my book”. How is he getting people to pre-order his book? He is providing additional value. Sure, there are people on his list who would have pre-ordered the book anyway. By adding the additional value in the extra book, it gets people to want to buy the book. You can’t just say “buy my book”, you have to give people a reason to want to buy the book. Build the mailing list, focus on the reasons people will want to buy, and the book sales will come.

He also has a GREAT tip about how to make connections with other authors, and how to make some money on the side to be able to pay for covers you may not otherwise be able to pay for. Do not miss this, so be sure to listen to the whole interview.

If you started over today, what 3 things would you tell yourself to help you sell more book?

He talked a bit about setting realistic expectations, and then got to the meat of it:

“Slow down. A book is not a pop quiz. It’s not a race. I would advise authors to take absolutely all the time that the book or yourself need to create and craft that book the right way.”

On that note, he concluded with this:

“In a year, in 10 years, in 20 years, it’s going to matter not at all to most people what the current trend or the bestseller charts at the time you’re writing now are, what’s going to be important is your legacy as an author.”

How can people connect with you?

“You can find me online at jasongurley.com. That’s G-U-R-L-E-Y. If you like my work, read one of my books. If you like my books, sign up for that mailing list that I mentioned before. I promise you it’s full of good things and often other authors that I think you might be interested in and I try to give back in that way. Certainly do that. And I’m on twitter @JGurley.”

Even if you aren’t interested in his books, you should subscribe to his mailing list to get a great idea of how exactly to run an author mailing list.

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