William H. Johnson

Archive for the ‘Indie Publishing’ Category

Three Questions for Indie Authors about Connecting with Readers

In Indie Publishing on July 13, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I posed three questions to indie authors in my last blog.  Their focus is on the topic of connecting with readers as opposed to marketing or book production. I was going to pose them during Friday June 25th’s #LitChat discussion on Twitter as part of the INDIE AUTHOR SHOWCASE. The hour flew by so quickly I never got the chance. I’d like to pose them here on my blog and invite discussion.

Q1: Are there ways that an indie author can deliver a satisfying reading experience better than a trad pub? If so, what are they?

My Answer: I believe so. An indie author can boldly defy the standard boundaries of genre to follow a specific vision for a specific story. One reader described THE DARK PROVINCE: SON OF DUPRIN as a mix of three “themes.” She said its part fantasy, part religious fiction, and part erotica. I agree that all three of these elements have a significant presence while the literary theme of religion vs. faith is the primary engine that drives the story. In a standard market each of these subgenres have certain expectations. Marketing the book as any one of these individual elements could risk the creation of unrealistic expectations about the content. The promotional campaign then may require a more creative approach in which the author is more the face of the promotional campaign than is typical in today’s bookselling market. I don’t believe that a book must adhere to the sometimes narrow set of expectations, where it pertains to genre, in order to be a satisfying read. However, an indie author who is passionate and confident in their own unique work may be more motivated to overcome the obstacles of expectation and ultimately better deliver that read to booklovers.

Q2: In indie film, prod value is often sacrificed out of necessity. Does this happen in self pub and how does it affect the reader?

My Answer: I think this happens often to the detriment of the piece in the self pub world. Novels need developmental guidance that can come in the form of editorial evaluations, content editing, and proofreading. All of these services are best performed by professionals. There is generally a cost involved and at times the bulk of the cost of production. As well a compelling cover design, including back cover copy, is a critical part of providing the reader with the initial intrigue.  Finally, a good printing company is needed to bring interior design, exterior design, and the author’s words to life. Skimping on these elements, particularly editorial, can adversely affect reader experience. I recommend indie authors do ample research to educate themselves about the choices. Those choices are many, and making the best decisions on where to invest time and resources will maximize reader satisfaction.

Q3: What are people going through or have they gone through that your book or writing will speak to?

My Answer: This is an answer to consider at any point in the creation of the novel. It really depends on the author. Many authors find it very distracting to think about the reader while writing. This is fine. I wrote THE DARK PROVINCE for me, though as I wrote I did allow myself the space to think: Perhaps there are readers out there who can love this like I do for similar reasons. Once I had completed the book and started working on marketing plans, I allowed myself to step back and take a fresh look on what types of ideas my book spoke to. Other artists who were familiar with the piece in its early stages helped me talk out how this book might connect. I discovered that the central theme of the book was religion vs. faith which is a hot topic in how many people see the world. Even the most loyal churchgoers will now say “I’m spiritual, not religious.” What does this mean? And how does it translate to life’s choices? THE DARK PROVINCE associates faith with something deeper than religious tradition and then rakes its main character over the coals as his loyalties to those traditions come under intense fire as he attempts to follow that faith. I’ve been through this personally. I believe that there are others who have also in perhaps other aspects of their lives. I believe that my book speaks very personally to those people who find this issue personally relevant.

How would you answer these questions?

FIRED UP to be the Featured Author on This Friday’s LITCHAT!

In Indie Publishing, Motivational on June 24, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Bring on the HOT SEAT!

This Friday from 4pm ET to 5pm ET, I will be the featured author on LitChat – All Book Chat as part of a week-long INDIE AUTHOR SHOWCASE. I can’t tell you how fired up I am about this. Fired UP!

It has been a great week with such smart Indie minds as Dan Halloway and D.R. Whitney playing this role during Monday and Wednesday’s chats respectively. Two hours and over 1200 tweets of pure energy has resulted as writers from around the world are coming together to share ideas about how we can take an empowering role in the future of our work. Musicians are doing it. Filmmakers are doing it.

So. Can. We.

So far we’ve been posing questions about the business of publishing. We’ve talked about the benefits of creative control, working fluidly with the timeliness of our material, and preservation of artistic voice.  We’ve talked about some of the nuts and bolts of production: What is POD? How does it differ from off-set printing? What are recommended approaches to the editorial process and what are the costs? We’ve even talked trends on the final format – ebook vs. trade paperback vs. audio novel.

These are great topics and require discussion. As indie authors we must be educated. We can no longer be in the dark. We need to know what it takes to make a book if we are going to be the CEO of a book release and distribution project.

On Friday I want to talk about what it means to connect with a reader as an Indie Author. What is that like? What is it you have to offer them in a competitive market of potential reads? If you decide to publish you are doing so because you want to share your words with people. Is it to entertain them? To provoke them? Why do we do it? And why will the reader benefit by entrusting their precious reading time to you?

Here are some questions I will be posing to the guests while fielding questions from the illustrious Debra Marrs who will be moderating LitChat in place of our usual fearless leader.

Q1: Are there ways that an Indie Author can deliver a satisfying reading experience better than a trad pub? If so, what are they?

Q2: In indie film, prod value is often sacrificed out of necessity. Does this happen in self pub and how does it affect the reader?

Q3: What are people going through or have they gone through that your book or writing will speak to?

As artists we are rewarded in a powerful inexplicable way when we have the opportunity to share our work. Whether we’re musicians, filmmakers, authors, or theatre artists there is something about sharing that completes the sacred circle. Let us then remember how important audience, readers, listeners are to our craft, our business, our overall operation. If we dedicate ourselves to giving them our very best, wonderful things will follow.

See you in LitChat!!!

***

To join the chat go to www.tweetchat.com, sign into your twitter account and enter LITCHAT into the hashtag field.

For transcripts of the chats during Indie Author Showcase week, visit http://litchat.net/past-litchats/

The Book Cover: from concept to final

In Indie Publishing, The Dark Province on February 25, 2010 at 2:55 pm

The concept began as a brainstorm between my wife and I about the book’s mood and themes. I remember being young and quite struck by the jewel-like eyes on the cover of a book of short horror stories called “Tales from the Midnight Hour.”

THE DARK PROVINCE: SON OF DUPRIN is in no way a horror story, but it was, in part, inspired by how shame is used as a tool in our society. I felt a  connection between a book of “devilish tales” and one wrought with themes that many find uncomfortable to discuss:  sex and religion.

Step 1: Initial concept sketch by Miya Johnson

Back in November, my wife sketched my cover idea and scanned it to a computer to give my designer something to work with. It consisted of two elements: 1) a woman’s blue eyes that had been almost completely flooded by an an orange hue.  2) The image of a man walking into the light. The former image was created to inspire intrigue and display a certain  sense of mysticism that goes hand and hand with the book’s fantasy landscape. The latter image was chosen to represent a journey from which mankind does not return.

Step 2: Professional designer creates a polished interpretation of concept sketch.

In mid January I received the first pass at the book’s cover. I thought they did a really nice job particularly with the eyes. I also appreciated the layout of the title and the use of blacks and grays as the color scheme behind the bright yellow-orange lettering. What I felt was missing was the beauty of the woman whose striking eyes sat poised to grab a prospective reader’s attention. As well, some in my inner circle expressed that the cover could be a bit genre confusing to prospective readers. As one producer/director friend stated during a facebook chat, “It’s badass, Bill, but I wonder if it’s a little thriller-ish.

In addition to the sketch, I had sent the designer a rough rendering in a word doc that featured Angelina Jolie’s eyes as an example of sensuality. The objective was to display a breath of the “Dark Province’s” seductive culture. I used this and an additional visual that included more shading around the eyes to communicate these ideas to the designer.

Step 3: Author and designer collaborate to add texture and depth to the woman behind the mist. Viola! A new book cover is born!

A thoughtful discussion between the designer and I turned out to be a success! Attention was paid to the eyes and eyelashes to restore the woman’s femininity without softening the cover’s most striking elements. The illusions that gave the woman a more flat, thriller sort of look were shaded and replaced with a more dynamic cloud-like design. This added depth to the image and texture, elements that I felt benefited the entire cover’s presentation.

Why I Dumped Screenplays to Write a Novel

In Indie Publishing, Motivational on January 26, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Coming out of college I had my mind pretty set on screenwriting. I saw everything visually and frankly watched more movies and saw more plays than I read books. For years I slaved over spec scripts for television drama and feature film while at the same time working on my own personal projects that I wanted to produce and direct myself.

The more time I spent working for the studios, the less interested I became in using that path to fulfill my dreams. I became inspired by indie films and decided the way to go was to produce and shoot my own pictures without having to lock horns with a studio executive editing my work to look like projects past in order to increase the bottom line.

I wanted the freedom to create something truly original, but things didn’t go quite as I’d hoped. The costs and collaboration needed to shoot short films at my desired standard marred my ability to experiment with the medium. To film even a simple drama set locally in present day was beyond what I had access to. Not to mention the new budget I’d need to create the finished product into an indie DVD! It was really depressing.

My wife, who had been working on a manuscript for a number of years, suggested I try writing my work as a novel. With nothing to lose I wrote a chapter or two and it came out nicely. But I remained unconvinced. I yearned for the big picture.

Then a friend turned me on to iUniverse and I began researching self publishing. I was shocked to find how easily one could publish and distribute a book. Mind you, this is coming from the perspective of an indie filmmaker…compared to the half million dollars needed to produce a film on the cheap, the cost of self publishing a book looks like a few pennies in a bucket.

In the film world, it would cost somewhere between the budget for The Dark Knight and Avatar to make my debut novel into a movie. Another piece I’m working on would be closer to the budget of Cider House Rules. But as books they cost precisely the same to make: a few thousand dollars.

And I get the freedom to write any story I want. I get to be the writer, director, and production designer. I get to design the sets and sculpt every expression on all the actors. Talk about a control freak’s paradise! All I needed to do was sit down and do the work. And that I did. I began writing the first draft of the THE DARK PROVINCE in June 2006 and was finished by Thanksgiving and I will get to see it released next month!

Today it’s easier to produce and sell your book than it has ever been. Access to the best editors, cover designers, and printers are just a click away. Though the apparent cutbacks in acquisitions by traditional publishers are enough to leave a writer in despair, a simple change in perspective can send that same writer into the streets, dancing like nobody’s watching.

First Glimpse of the New Baby

In Indie Publishing, Reflection, The Dark Province on January 22, 2010 at 11:17 pm

When my wife was pregnant with our first child I often told her: “God, I wish he would hurry up! I want to get his autograph!” It was the best way I could describe the anticipation of finally meeting this new member of our family. After ultrasounds, birth classes, talking to the midwives and actually feeling him kick around in her womb, he’d become somewhat of a celebrity to me and I was dying to catch a glimpse of our new star.

Now, five years later, THE DARK PROVINCE: SON OF DUPRIN is that new celebrity in our home. Anything we hear from production is like hearing a new baby’s heartbeat.

We got the news about receiving editor’s choice for writing and editing quality. A few weeks later the news came in that the baby was recognized as “Rising Star.” The heartbeat was healthy. The ultrasounds looked good; ten fingers ten toes. But oh to actually see it!

Last Wednesday we finally caught the first glimpse. My production manager had agreed to send me a screenshot of the cover once the designers were through with it.  I knew it was coming. Still, when I got up that morning and checked my e-mail, my mini meltdown alarms went off when I saw the message in my inbox. I called out to my wife who’d risen earlier and she rushed upstairs.

“Can you handle it or do you want me to look first?” she asked.

We agreed to open the file together.

And there it was, literally staring back at me: a pair of blue eyes almost completely overtaken by an orange hue. They were the eyes of a woman gazing through a gray mist just as I had envisioned and shared with the art director.  Below those eyes were the words: THE DARK PROVINCE…and just below that in smaller letters embedded in a yellow stripe…SON OF DUPRIN.

Beneath that perfect stripe the gray mist opened to show the silhouette of a man walking through a tunnel of stone into white light: the archetypal image of rebirth. Again, it was just as I envisioned. Beneath that traveler’s feet stretched the name “William H. Johnson.”

I was speechless.

Suddenly all the weeks I’d waited felt like a dream. Like that cover had always been sitting right in front of me, where I could easily see it.

My wife printed a low res version of the book cover, front and back, and taped it to a small book for me to keep on my desk so I could pick it up from time to time and feel like I was holding the baby.

My son, who is just starting to read little books, said to me yesterday.  “When you’re book comes out, Dad, I’m gonna buy one.” I didn’t bother to mention that it was a book written for an adult audience and not really appropriate for the little guys. I have time to explain that one. Instead I just gave him a hug and thanked him for his pledged patronage. Then he bounced away to do bead art with his little sister.

I feel very blessed to have a house full of “Rising Stars” and am looking forward to the latest addition…just weeks away!