Breaking Worlds Cover Reveal

Lisen sat in the study off her office, her legs stretched out, the hearth cold and dark before her. She’d earned the cold, deserved nothing better. Her life was over. Rinli was dead.

Thus, does Breaking Worlds, Book V in the Lisen of Solsta series, begin—with the slow dirge of the heart’s drumbeat and unrelenting grief over the loss of a child. Such a story must be accompanied by a very special cover, and Aidana WillowRaven, cover artist extraordinaire, did not fail in her assignment.

Breaking Worlds front cover - web

Aidana is a cover artist. There is a difference between a cover designer and an artist. A designer incorporates the work of others (photos mostly) to create original covers for their clients’ books. An artist, on the other hand, starts with a blank canvas, listens to the writer’s thoughts on the scene or object to be depicted, then takes the idea and creates her own vision of it.

I have to say Aidana created a masterpiece this time, and I am thrilled to share it here with all of you. Admittedly, I micromanaged a bit. (I always do.) But she put her heart and soul into the depiction of a moment which doesn’t actually appear in the book; it occurs between one scene and another. Hats off to you, my friend, my collaborator! And thank you for all your hard work.

(Breaking Worlds will be available soon on Amazon in print and Kindle.)

Sometimes Winning IS Everything

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I am proud to announce that Blooded (Book 3) has won this year’s IRDA YA category!

I’ve said it before, and here I’m saying it again. I suck at the marketing thing. The truth is even if you put everything on the line and promote like you’ve got the cure for the common cold, all that work can’t and doesn’t guarantee book sales, even in traditional publishing, much less in self-publishing.  Beyond that, as an author who follows (on Twitter) and likes (on Facebook) a great many other authors, I find nothing more irritating than someone who has nothing to say except “buy my book” ad nauseum. (This isn’t news to those who have read my blog before.)

So marketing—the promoting of self and self’s books—leaves me on the limited edge of what little sanity I still possess. Because here’s the truth; promoting your book mainly to other authors is a relatively futile endeavor. You need to find readers, and readers aren’t following unknown authors on social media; they’re out there reading authors they’ve heard of before. Sigh.

I knew early on that standing on a street corner with a sign pointing to where my books were on sale wasn’t for me. Instead I entered a few contests, most of which I flamed out on, but the one that has provided me consistent excellent reviews and a win last year for Tainted (Book 2 of the Lisen of Solsta trilogy) in the Young Adult category was IndieReader.com with their Indie Reader Discovery Awards (IRDA). I was thrilled beyond on thrilled when I got word of that because that I could promote.  Welcome to déjà vu all over again.

To celebrate this event, books 1 and 2 (Fractured and Tainted) are being offered free from today, May 29, 2015 through Tuesday, June 2, 2015, and Blooded, this year’s winning concoction, is on sale for the first time EVER for $0.99.

And here’s the best part.  The trilogy is complete, so you can binge on all three books and not have to wait for a sequel. Now that’s worth something.

Applause, Applause, a Little Applause

Many, many years ago, I began collecting buttons. Not the kind you use for fastening clothing; the kind with statements on them. You know, the original memes? My first one, given to me by a guy in my senior English class in high school after the summer I first fell in love with The Lord of the Rings read “FRODO LIVES,” in dark blue letters on pale pink. Many more TLoR buttons followed—“COME TO MIDDLE EARTH!,” “FRODO FOREVER,” “FRODO FREAKS OUT,”  and my favorite, “FRODO GAVE HIS FINGER FOR YOU.” I keep those in a small cloth drawstring pouch in my Wedgewood tin along with the rest of these treasures.

The summer after high school I visited Wales, Ireland, England and France. I must have come home with a dozen buttons from that trip. My favorite is the one that reads “UNINHIBIT.” Well, it was the 60s, after all. I loaned that one to someone who never returned it (and if you’re reading this, I want it back). There were also the requisite 60s staples—“MAKE LOVE NOT WAR,” “LONG LIVE THE ETERNAL NOW,” and “MELTS IN YOUR MIND, NOT IN YOUR MOUTH.” Others that were not so common were “EATING PEOPLE IS WRONG” and “UP IS A NICE PLACE TO BE.”

I also own several political buttons, from Tom Hayden’s Senate campaign in 1976 to Kerry/Edwards in 2004. I have a great quote on a beautifully crafted piece which reads, “Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got!” credited to Janis Joplin. And how about “NO MATTER WHERE YOU GO THERE YOU ARE”? Ain’t that the truth.

“HOMOPHOBIA DESTROYS FAMILIES”

“to Life, AIDS ACTION COMMITTEE”

“PRO CHILD PRO CHOICE”

You can see it’s an eclectic selection (though the politics remain fairly stable). I even have one that simply says, “HERO,” in white on red.

Today I’m a hero to me. Today I can announce that I am now officially “Award-Winning Author D. Hart St. Martin” whose second book in the Lisen of Solsta series, Tainted, won the Indie Reader Discovery Award in young adult fiction. See their review. Long live the eternal now!

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Celebrate this event with me. Both Fractured and Tainted books are free for Kindle from 5/30 through 6/3/14.

*The theater cat from Archy and Mehitabel

A Poetic Pause

I rarely write poetry, but once in a while, a poem bursts forth.  This is such a moment.

The Dancer

In the scarlet light of an abandoned dance hall at sundown
The woman dances alone, twirling as though led by a partner.
She dances alone to a tune only her ears can hear.
She dances alone but there’s no way to tell
If she’s happy or sad, or simply nostalgic.
For a moment in time only her mind remembers,
And the room echoes foot falls softened by slippers,
The kind that one wears from bedroom to bathroom and back again.
But here in this room she moves step by step
Dancing alone to music unheard by anyone other than her.

Ah, the stories her lightness of foot must enfold,
Wrapped up like presents strewn under a tree,
Awaiting an opening, but she keeps them hidden
So she can dance alone, dance alone,
Dance alone like a once-spry ballerina.
The music plays away in her mind.
The music guides her every step on the dance floor.
A wall with no gate fully surrounds her
To keep out the prying ones, the questions
She’s never been able to answer.

She’ll dance alone till the questions stop coming
And the dancing evolves into the only, the lonely, her sole occupation.

Craft versus Crap

Last week I made the mistake of critiquing something online that was written by someone I hardly know.  This person didn’t ask me to critique it; it was only a general call for comment on a small opening paragraph in first draft.  Now, personally, I think sharing a first draft is like sharing an uncooked pie—hard to cut and even harder to get out of the pie tin.  In addition, the person didn’t know me or my work—I don’t have a “name” or reputation—and had no reason to trust a word that I wrote.  And I wrote plenty.  (When will I learn?)

But this is not about my woeful and misbegotten critique.  It’s about respect for the craft.  Any craft—painting, acting, architecture, dancing, singing, writing, whatever—anything that requires experience, practice, time and the input of others who know what they’re talking about.  Shortly after I posted my lengthy critique, encouraging this person to get some more practice in, get input from a writing group, etc., before attempting to publish, I got slapped hard (my name wasn’t mentioned, but unlike my private critique, this was public) for being “mean and vicious.”  Condescending and arrogant I’ll accept, but mean and vicious?

Anyway, I swore off critiquing online where my tone of voice and my facial expressions can’t be included in the picture and where they don’t know me from Eve so who am I to say anything negative.  Then I moved on with my life.

Last night on American Idol, I watched as three very talented, very experienced and very committed judges (Harry Connick, Jr., Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban) gave magic golden tickets for the next stage of the competition to contestants they felt had a chance and denied the same to those they felt either needed to practice more to try in another year or needed to reconsider their life choices.  They rejected these people (the ones the show followed through the process) in as gentle a way as they could while still being honest.  Most of the rejects came out of the audition room in tears, hugged their friends and family and appeared to pretty much get on with it, some vowing to work on improving and then return to try again.

A couple, however, got pissed.  The following are not direct quotes, but they capture the essence.  “That Harry Connick is stupid.  He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”  “I’m the best American Idol contestant ever.  They’re idiots for turning me down.”  The gist was that these people hadn’t been listening.  They didn’t care about craft; they cared about fame.  And that’s the stupidest way to approach the creative life where fame is rare and fleeting and the work and the process should be the real reward that you seek.

My advice to this person I insulted badly was to learn the craft and then finish the book (with all the hard work that entails, not to mention the writing) and only then to consider getting it published.  I see too many books shot up to the magical place in the sky where electronic books go to live that haven’t been rewritten once, nor have they been proofread or edited by anyone other than the author.  This gives all of us indies a bad reputation.  Yeah, what you, the unwilling-to-trust-the-process author, do is screw it up for those of us who struggle with commas and “just” and “only” and why-would-the-character-do-that-when-they’ve-never-done-it-before dilemmas.

So please, I beg of you, do this one thing when you choose any creative endeavor.  Give a shit.  It matters.

A Cover, A Cover–My Kingdom for a Cover

When I set out on the journey to share Lisen of Solsta’s journey with anyone who would listen, I really had no idea what I was in for. All I could see was that independent publishing meant I didn’t have to write any more query letters, that no agent or publisher would send me one of those one-size-fits-all rejection letters ever again, and that the control was all in my hands.

Well, not quite.  Self-publication requires a multitude of skills beyond just writing.  Here are a few of them:

  1. More-than-amazing proofreading skills and the patience to do it just one more time.
    Or…the money to pay someone else to proofread it for you, someone you trust or someone a friend knows and trusts.
  2. A knowledge of what Word can do and the willingness to follow the suggestions on your print-on-demand (POD) publisher’s web site in order to make the print copy look professional.
    Or…the money to pay someone else to format it for you, after which you must make sure they formatted it to your specific instructions and it looks the way you expected it to look (unless they have a logical explanation for why they did it differently, of course).
  3. An average intelligence in order to fill out the forms for the POD publisher, making sure the name of the book is correct, you’ve included all pertinent authors and contributors, and have chosen tags that will call others to your book when they search.  (And don’t forget your cover artist as one of those contributors—see #4 below).
  4. The artistic expertise to create a stunning and seductive cover.
    Or…the money to hire someone to collaborate with you, listen to your ideas and then bring them to life.

It is this last item I have opened up Word today to address.

I wrote my first book, Fractured, with a great deal of care. I rewrote it and rewrote it, submitting it over and over to the writing workshop I trust with my life, and when I’d reached the magic moment of READY, I did everything listed above.  Except for the cover.  I used a template from my POD publisher and a painting that was in public domain.  It wasn’t a bad cover; I did a fairly good job at it.  But it wasn’t the sort of cover that attracts young people, and my book was YA fantasy.

And it bombed.  Big time.  Fractured was named an IndieReader.com Best Indie Book of 2013, but I think I sold no more than a dozen copies.  I did get 5-star reviews from everybody who read it, but they were all friends and family, save for that IndieReader.com review (also 5 stars).

There was a disconnect.  Great book, no response from potential readers.  What was the problem?  I’ve written before about how even the larger details of marketing elude me, but I do keep getting myself and my books out there.  No, the disconnect was that adequate-but-uninspiring cover.

So…I hired a cover artist—a good one.  I had her start on book 2 (Tainted) so I could get that one published.  She did a wonderful job.  See?

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A couple of weeks after Tainted’s publication, my artist, Aidana WillowRaven, asked how we were doing in sales.  Nowhere.  I hadn’t wanted to look because I knew it wasn’t doing that well.  Who’s going to buy the second book in a series if they haven’t read the first one, and clearly few people had read the first one.  I came clean with Aidana and said that things might go much better if we got the first cover done and out there.

So now I’m on the line.  The new cover for Fractured is finished and available on Kindle.

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Gorgeous, isn’t it?

The paperback is another story.  Between typos in the back cover copy due in part (only in part) to making modifications too quickly to proof it properly and my dear POD publisher’s digital proofer somehow making the cover look like a printer somewhere had run out of ink, I’ve had to submit the thing, so far, a total of three times.  Aidana remained loyal and committed to getting it right and spent most of an entire day on my project when she could have been moving on to other work.  Heaven and the Goddess bless her.

Here’s my point.  Spend the money on a cover artist.  Find someone you can work with, someone who cares, someone who will put their arm on your shoulder and tell you they are your collaborator and they want it to be perfect as badly as you do.  In the beginning, I couldn’t afford this, and many who read this won’t be able to afford it either.  But spend as much as you possibly can.  Go as high as you can to get the best you can afford.  Look for sales, look for discounts, whatever it takes.  Because a book is like a beloved child, and first impressions do count.  If it’s truly good enough to publish, it deserves the very best you can give it.

Judging a Book by its Cover

A year ago, I published Fractured, the first book in the Lisen of Solsta trilogy.  At that time, I couldn’t afford to hire anybody to do anything for me, so I edited, proofread and formatted the book for both print and e-book myself (see the 2-partBeware of Falling Rocks along the Learning Curve” below).  I also designed the cover, using CreateSpace’s template and inserting Waterhouse’s “The Lady of Shalott” for the picture because the subject of the painting appears appropriately “fractured.”  It was a decent cover, considering my good eye for layout but my nonexistent abilities as an artist.

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Here’s the problem, however.  It’s a great cover for a historical novel.  Adults, in the main, tend to appreciate the clean, unflashy lines of a pre-formatted book cover.  On the other hand, YA (young adult) books require something much flashier to grab the attention of teenagers.  You have to dazzle them with color and seduce them with something a little sexier than a painting in the Pre-Raphaelite style, even if that painting is a classic.  In other words, the cover was boring.  Beautifully executed…but boring.

Enter the idea of hiring a cover artist.  I began my search for a cover artist back in March.  My quest began with a woman who designed from stock photos.  She created excellent covers, great for romance novels and the like, but Lisen required a specialized touch because she’s not quite human.  I moved on.  My second potential cover artist used photographs, but what she did with them was incredible.  I loved her work and made an appointment to start working with her a couple of months after our first contact (her first free moment).  I couldn’t wait.  I was all worked up and excited.  The time came, I e-mailed her and asked if she was ready, and she begged off—too busy and my concepts were too complicated.

Sigh.

I tweeted and posted to Facebook the details of the horns of my dilemma.  Aidana WillowRaven tweeted me back and offered her services.  I knew I was about to come into a little extra money, so after we chatted online for nearly an hour, we struck an agreement for all three books.

It took time, more time than I’d anticipated.  But I began to recognize the difference between someone who Photo-shopped stock photos and an actual cover artist and designer.  It was a collaborative effort.  I described Lisen to her, and she created a first draft of what she saw based on my description.  I critiqued that initial effort and requested changes, and in the second draft, Lisen took form.  It’s amazing how I felt looking at her in that draft.  She looked nothing like what I’d pictured for years during the writing, and yet she was Lisen.  My Lisen.

The drafts moved on through clothing, the pouch (eventually eliminated from the first cover completed, the cover for Tainted, the second book in the trilogy), and finally the setting.  This last Sunday morning, Aidana and I both signed off on the picture, and on Monday I had the remainder of the cover for the print version.

I am thrilled.  I’d say thrilled beyond words, but I seem to be having no  difficulty finding them at the moment.  We will start work on book 1 very soon, and I hope to reissue Fractured before the end of the year.  In the meantime, I have begun writing book 3, Blooded, and plan to publish it sometime in 2015.  Have hope, fans.  I’d set a 2014 publication date for Tainted, and I’ve come in early on that one.  Maybe Blooded will write itself and be ready for publication by the end of 2014, but I don’t want to make any promises I may not be able to keep.

So, here it is—the reveal.  Ladies and gents, meet the gorgeous, seductive cover of Tainted, available in both print and electronic editions and due to hit a retailer’s web site near you in early November.

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