You Judge Books By Their Covers– And So Does Everyone Else!

I’ve noticed a trend at conventions just based on how people pick up or don’t pick up my books when they walk by: For Steam And Country requires double the amount of books as Star Realms: Rescue Run. Now both of these covers are absolutely beautiful, not complaining about the Star Realms cover in the least, but the cover differential is 100% the reason for it, so it’s worth analyzing.

It started getting me thinking about covers and how important they are to your selling. A lot of indie authors don’t want to spend much money on covers, or simply can’t, and that comes across in the product. A good, professional looking cover on an indie level is going to cost $500-1500, there’s no way around it. And while doing a lot yourself is a good cost cutting measure, this marketing piece which is the big first impression that everyone sees on your book for eternity is not a spot you can skimp.

I’ve seen so many indie books that even if they look clean on the cover (most don’t), they don’t have any sort of grabbing wow factor that makes people stop. This is a problem for your bookselling. There is no better way to convince someone who hasn’t heard of you that your product is pro and worthy of their time than having it look pro and worthy of their time.

Looking at Star Realms, there’s a reason why it doesn’t do quite as good as For Steam And Country in the walking-by-cover department. I’ll put the covers up for you here:

There’s very similar elements to both covers. Both are very thematic so a reader is advertised exactly what they can expect from the books (super important!). Both have a beautiful woman on the cover, both have really good artists who rendered them, some of the best in the business actually, but your eye is naturally drawn to For Steam And Country immediately.  I believe there’s a few reasons why and this can help you think for your cover design in principle:

  1. Colors. This is probably the most important point, believe it or not. For Steam And Country has a bright yellow background. That draws the eye, it’s that simple. The dark grays of Star Realms are out of focus on first glance — there is a the logo’s red which helps as a focal point, but not much else.
  2. The logo looks more fun. While they’re both very thematic, which is good because you want to signal to your readers what they’re reading, Rescue Run looks cold, metallic, almost sterile. For Steam And Country has frills and flows with excitement.
  3. Busy vs. space. For Steam has a lot of space, and that actually bothered me when I was analyzing it. I thought that it would be a bit much, but the space for the character to breathe on the cover draws you to look at her more because it leaves more to focus on. Star Realms has a lot going on. It’s again, beautiful art, and the playing-card version of it looks even cooler and evokes such a story, but the background figures, the busy ceiling, the different logos everywhere, it makes it hard to really focus on the picture and the beauty of the art.
  4. Joan is depicted as a hard, strong woman. Zaira is depicted as feminine, a lot less jaded and more inviting. I can see a certain group of people’s heads exploding at this because they’ll get very angry, but it’s true. From the female perspective, most will identify better with the latter. From the male perspective, their hearts will throb more often for the latter. It’s how it is. Think about how the look of your character (or space ship) will impact your readers on a basic, emotional level, because that’s all covers provide for you.

Thinking of covers that evoke that very same “I MUST BUY THIS NOW” emotion in me for similar reasons, you can go over the points above and see how they tie in. Here’s some examples of covers that gripped me:

 

They all kind of have similar elements to them. A simple focal point, bright colors (even though Brings The Lightning has a faded look to it, it’s pretty bright and thematic), characters that seem to fit interesting ideals, and evocative logos.

Now when I was in the store the other day, I saw a very well-known professional magazine that I thought… well this doesn’t communicate its title, its theme, its feel, or anything else to it. I thought it was a bizarre choice, and it goes to show you that professionals can make big mistakes too:

Yikes. There’s nothing Fantasy or Science Fiction about that. It’s extremely busy. While it does have a bright cover, it looks like something you’d see in a schoolbook or like a pamphlet a teacher would hand out for an SAT question. No fun factor at all to it.

Something to think about for publishers and authors alike. You want the best covers possible for your books, cuz that’s how you’ll sell!

How I Use Rhetoric To Sell Books

I’ve been thinking a lot about the use of rhetoric vs. dialectic lately in life, and how that works as a tool for persuasion. I won’t get into the details of it, but you can look up some pundit guy you may have heard of named Aristotle if you want to get into the nitty gritty. What I’m here to do is give you an example of how it works. You can take this example and put it into every life situation and it will work similarly. You’ll fast learn that dialectic arguments don’t move the needle at all in the vast majority of situations – and for good reason. Even if we have some knowledge on a topic, we’re generally not scholars looking at everything through an academic lens. How does this apply to book selling, you might ask? Well let me tell you a little story.

Here’s the truth: people aren’t going to magically look at your book, see its value just because of a base description and because your prose inside is so darn good. A lot of people have good prose in their books, I’ve seen many that should have in a vacuum won awards for their innovative and unique storytelling, but sold less than 100 copies. It’s tragic, but it’s how the world works. Once you get over that, you can focus on making sure people see your work. And that’s how you sell.

This weekend I set up selling books at LibertyCon in Chattanooga, TN. Not only did I sell out of both of my books well before the end of the convention, but I also propelled For Steam And Country back into the top 20k of amazon after it was dropping from the initial sales boost. People saw the book at the con and online and looked it up. Why?

There’s a few powerful uses of rhetoric at work here, though I’ve laid many others throughout the launch of this last book that you can look up.

When I first set up selling, one thing I did was draw attention to myself. At a convention, everyone is dressed a little scrubby – it’s for comfort. It gets hot in conventions, you’re walking around a lot. I get it. Not knocking that at all, especially on the fan side. But it does look scrubby. Naturally the first thing I did was differentiate myself from everyone else there so that people look at me. Day one, I wore a suit and reflective sunglasses. Day two, I wore steampunk garb.  It drew people to me because it captures the eye. My book covers do the same – covers are quite important and everyone judges books by them.

Here’s where I failed, and what you can avoid. People came over and looked at the books, and I immediately launched into descriptions of what the books were about. “You see, Star Realms is about a thief who gets hired by her empire because their chief strategist was captured by an evil megacorporation…”  it’s all well and good, but it’s a description. It’s, in essence, presenting a dialectic argument for someone to buy the book based on its plot line. It doesn’t emotionally move them at all.

Fortunately, when the person walked away without buying a book, my wife saw what I did and chastised me. She told me how awful my selling technique was and how there was no emotional connection there. I had a free marketing coach right next to me, and thank God for that! She was right. When I got over the initial butthurt of being told what to do and wanting to fight it, I learned from that and modified everything I was doing, and I focused very intentionally on the rhetoric.

It’s about building emotional connections with your audience, whether that’s online or in person, that’s all that matters. For any argument, any push to change culture in any regard, the rhetoric is how you’re going to do it. DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME with the dialectic. You’ll inevitably get pulled into pseudo-dialectic aruments when you talk anything about culture, what you’re doing, whatever. When you go into that explain cycle trying to counter the “well, actually…” as I call it, one, you’ll never convince the person trying to diminish what you’re doing because their objective is not to have a rational discussion, but to diminish what you’re doing, and two, the more important part, you actually start to lose the onlookers. Just stick with more rhetoric and move on.

Here’s what I did that boosted sales:

One, I just started talking to people about them. People like to be the center of attention and when you take an interest in them. Here’s the key to this: you have to genuinely take an interest in them or it comes off false. It’s very hard to do for a lot of people, even though it sounds easy. Authenticity is everything in rhetoric, as people connect more to what is real.

Once at a connection stage,  I very prominently focused on the beautiful cover and told people how great For Steam And Country was selling. This assures the person that other people like the book and gives them a sense of community. This is 100% why reviews and awards are SO IMPORTANT. They are marketing tools. They are not reflections upon you and your morals as a reader. I can’t impress that enough. Give your author firends these helpful things every time. The difference between indies and a big company is that big company has several paid reviewers who help launch things, and big staffs the vote for the awards. There is no merit difference in the product that is observable to most people. Selling is a pure popularity contest. Awards are pure popularity contests. Once you get over that, the better your friends will do and the better you will do.

Speaking of which, please take the time to review my two books on Amazon if you haven’t, links here:

Star Realms: Rescue Run

For Steam And Country

And vote for Star Realms: Rescue Run for best military science fiction or fantasy for the Dragon Award. It’s free, you can put in other categories later if you want to fill out the whole thing. Just do this now and make sure this phenomenal book gets its due:

http://application.dragoncon.org/dc_fan_awards_nominations.php

Those two things will help me more than you ever will know. Thank you!

Back to your selling. You will get asked what your book’s about periodically, and that’s where your answer has to be tight. Don’t describe your story. When I was at the tail end of having just a few copies of Star Realms: Rescue Run left, this is what I said: “It’s like Rogue One, only better.”

It’s true that there are some elements similar to Rogue One (mine came out first and Star Wars copied me, just sayin’). If you broke it down all the way, it’s a very different plot, but it’s got a lot of the points: 1. Female lead hero 2. Breaking in/dirtydozen style to an evil empire set up 3. Epic climax with danger and fighting.  Okay, that’s all dialectic. You can in turn come up with arguments why it’s not and we can get nowhere (see the theme?).  But the quick rhetorical pitch works because people are emotionally connected to Star Wars. It works for people who both liked and disliked the film because Star Wars is so emotional and because I caveat with “only better”,  people who liked it see that as a cute joke, people who don’t see that as I fixed the problems they had with the movie. It’s rhetorical gold.

There’s a lot of other tricks to it as well, but this is just the one example, and this is how I sold out of books so incredibly fast at a convention, so I could spend time having fun and looking at other people’s books. It works online. When you want to do something with the culture, post your memes, be funny, be quick witted. That’s all that matters in this internet era. If you want to see change, it starts there. If you don’t believe me, look at how great writers like Nick Cole and Brian Niemeier consistently sell. They’ve got different tactics to some degree, but they are adept at emotionally connecting to their readership. Try stuff out, take what works, ditch what doesn’t. Worry about the details after you’ve won..

How To Win (Or What I Learned From The French Open and Rafael Nadal)

I was talking with my dad this morning about the French Open tennis tournament. Before I lose you with sports talk, this is a great metaphor for life that I think is worth your time, so stay with me.  One of the tennis greats is Rafael Nadal, who had a stellar early career, and in the last couple of years has really fallen back in terms of the elite tennis players. The French Open marked a triumphant return where he crushed everyone. He’s 31, which is old for tennis, meaning he doesn’t have the strength/speed of the youngsters coming up, so he has to play his game now and play it smart.

And that’s where the life advice comes into play. I noticed, observing Nadal, that he doesn’t play on the defensive. He directs the flow of play, puts himself out there hard. He plays with aggression, and he plays to win at every moment, and more importantly, no matter the score, he never lets up with that.

That’s the attitude it takes to win. You have to be aggressive, you have to push hard. You have to fire your shots and let the chips fall as they may. Nadal was drilling his shots down the lines, inches from being out so often, and yet those are the shots that his opponents can’t recover from. Think about it.

Life is a risk, and it’s about attitude. The winners in life have confidence, and that’s one of the big key determinants of their success. Nadal has the confidence to take those shots, to play a smart game even though he may not have the physical prowess he used to – and it pays off. Moreover, what confidence does is it makes your opponents feel overwhelmed by you.  Over time, they see your prowess and they start to panic, and when they panic, that’s when they’ll make their mistakes. Confidence is something you can train yourself in. It’s all about how you talk to yourself internally. There’s plenty of books about cultivating that that you can check out, and I recommend Gorilla Mindset.

Next, you have to have a solid strategy in place to begin with, and stick with it. There’ll be points where commentators and bystanders will be out there criticizing your every move – when it looks like you’re against the ropes. That’s part of the swing of life, but it’s also nothing to fear. The commentators don’t care, their “concern” for your strategies is not something that should be second guessed in the middle of play, and it never helps you to do so. The peanut gallery is not there to help you win. Those people are only there to tear you down, nothing else. Stick with your game plan. The minute you equivocate, you lose. Nadal stuck with his game plan through a whole tournament, and through his smart play, he achieved his victory. You can too.

The last thing that you have to follow like Rafael Nadal is to strike hard, and strike fast. Pick your targets with precision and execute. It can’t be haphazard, it has to be according to plan. His shots right down the line or cross court are intentional every time, and that’s what it takes to throw your opponents off balance and achieve victory.

It’s really beautiful watching Nadal play, and inspiring for life. You can take everything he does in working hard, being supremely confident, and executing your game plan into any situation. It doesn’t matter what it is. That type of mindset will ALWAYS come out on top. Just power through the injuries and the bad times and you’ll get there.

When You Converge Into SJW Politics, Everyone Loses

It’s a very simple formula. I could teach a business class on this and it would be very useful for young college students.

Step 1: Have a nice company that produces something everyone enjoys.

Step 2: SJWs enter the company, start removing anyone who’s not SJW and replacing with political operatives.

Step 3: Company loses its focus, starts focusing on negativity politics, witch-hunting and virtue signaling.

Step 4: Company completely loses its audience and revenue.

Case Study 1, Marvel Comics.  As we know, converged as per above. And the result is disastrous. 

Case Study 2, Bioware. Mass Effect loses its focus placing politics ahead of content in a $40 million debacle. And franchise destroyed. 

There’s your business lesson for the day. No one wants to buy that. They want fun, action adventure out of their entertainment. That’s why they’re there. I understand this, which is why my books are wall to wall fun.

So class, what do you think then happens when something with an extremely niche audience such as Baycon does this in the face of strong competition for entertainment? I expect at some point over the next five years that I’ll be called in to consult on how to make that con into something again. Hopefully it won’t be too late.

The Most Epic Book Giveaway Ever? #MASSIVEsffGA

Pleased to announce that I am a part of a MASSIVE giveaway of paperback books. Someone will win 50 Science Fiction and Fantasy books from this really cool contest, including one of the most talked about Space Opera books of 2016, Amazon Top-10 Space Opera Bestseller and Alliance Award Nominated Star Realms: Rescue Run

You’ll get 2 free ebooks just for entering, and 2nd prize is a $50 amazon gift card. Sweet! Go tell your friends! Enter here:

http://dreamingrobotpress.com/giveaways/massive-sff-paperback-giveaway/

Engagement Is More Important Than Number Of Followers

Late last year, after being personally attacked as usual, I got into it with a different writer friend of author M. Todd Gallowglas — who I want everyone to know totally is associated with me and has been my friend for a number of years, and who would certainly love for you to mention how you discovered him through my blog ( @MGallowglas and https://www.facebook.com/mtoddgallowglas/ respectively). In fact, he loves me so much that he decided to, in California where it is dangerous for me and my family, stand up at one of his public shows and tell his crowd how great of friends we are even though I’m a lowly Christian Conservative (yes, I had my identity called out and it was frightening. He did fail to mention I’m a leading voice of Hispanic science fiction authors though, sadly), and how that it’s important to maintain those friendships despite disagreements. I’d heap praises on his open-mindedness and truly enlightened mindset myself, but I’m currently blocked because he’s so tolerant and diverse he literally can’t even. 

Anyhow, the first thing the random person did was mock me about my number of Twitter followers, which is funny as the fellow had one of those accounts where he follows several thousand people, and so they follow him. It’s a marketing strategy, one in which I get a LOT of twitter spam from writers, marketers, bloggers, etc. You may have seen it too. Some person with a lot of followers follows you, you follow them, and you get a DM about their product or going to their page or whatnot immediately.

It’s funny because these people pay for their twitter followers, and most of the big followed accounts, unless they’re a brand you’ve heard of, have done that. I think a lot of people realize it’s a marketing strategy by this point, and that it doesn’t work, but it’s almost instinctive to give a follow back out of courtesy. I’m not sure it actually helps at all.

I was looking at another person’s twitter today, someone who has a pretty sizable name that most people in niche entertainment communities would know the name at the very least, and saw several thousand followers of this person. Now this one wasn’t the type who had paid marketing, unlike the person who criticized me, but had them from naturally being active on twitter for a long time. Though the person has several thousand more followers than me, the person has about 900 likes to their posts, while I’ve got close to 8,500 with a meager follower base of 500.

What’s important is not the number that you have — and this goes for Facebook likes or whatnot as well — but the amount of engagement you’re able to generate. If people are active with you, if they’re THINKING about you, that’s more likely to translate into both short term sales and long term loyalty. I have high levels of engagement across my social media platforms (especially on gab.ai where it’s a superior social media platform than all the others), and I can rest assured that a much higher percentage of my followers both reads my blogs and buys my books than the average person who bought theirs. So while Mr. blocked me paid for his follow-base and mocked me over it, I’m still winning the game, and probably better than he is.

Here’s some tips on how to make sure you create engagement:

  1. Post about things that you’re passionate about. Passion shows. People respond to it.
  2. Post about topics that your followers care about. I saw a great tweet from Ralene Burke, fellow author and book marketeer. She said (paraphrasing) if you keep tweeting your book over and over for sales, you’re not adding value. You need to say something substantive. This is darn true. This is why I should never blog about baseball because my followers don’t care or read it as well. I’m still gonna do it cuz of #1 though. Because that’s authentically me. And people want to connect, and crave authenticity in this fake internet world at the same time.
  3. Reply, like, care about your followers. This is a big one. If someone reads my books, I want to interact with you because thank you I love you. If someone promotes my books after that, I double love you. I write a lot between the blog and my book (4-5k words per day in aggregate), I have a real job, I also have a family. I don’t sleep as it is. So If I miss something, it’s not personal. But if I’m tagged especially in a conversation, I will do my best to respond and engage and retweet every time. It’s so important and is the difference maker in what accounts are fun, and which ones people kind of ignore.

So far, engagement has been high for me, and that’s translated into sales. I hope to keep it that way. If you don’t follow me yet:

@jondelarroz – twitter

@otomo – gab.ai

https://www.facebook.com/jondelarroz – facebook

http://delarroz.us15.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=3c0d4761bf596db6605e25975&id=e7c61287b0 – mailing list

Test out the points above for a month and and get back to me. Would love to see how it works for you!