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Thursday, October 23, 2014

When to Change Your Cover Art and 5 Things to Consider

One of the benefits of the self-marketing movement is that for the first time authors have complete control over their cover art.

A Fallen Hero Rises is the second book I published. It has gone through several cover changes. Below you will see each of them in order. I'll also explain why they didn't work.

1st cover for A Fallen Hero Rises
This was the first cover I designed. I like the mix of colors. However, my name is far to small. The image also did not work well as a thumbnail. Additionally, the dimensions were incorrect making the cover seem warped on Amazon and Smashwords.

2nd Cover - A Fallen Hero Rises
The cover was updated for proper dimensions. It also works better as a thumbnail. However, my name is still too small. The biggest problem is it doesn't feel like a fantasy novel. Being unique is a double-edged sword. It's crucial that your audience be able to look at the cover and immediately determine genre. Which means it should share similar characteristics to other covers in the same genre.

3rd Cover- A Fallen Hero  Rises
Why it works: dragons. Nothing shows a book is an epic fantasy as quickly as putting a dragon on the cover. I like the image but I really screwed up the font. It's almost impossible to read as a thumbnail. Also look a the spacing between the letters. If you look closely you'll find they're uneven. The main reason I changed this, however, was the male figure. He's too old for the demographic. A Fallen Hero Rises is a YA epic fantasy featuring a 17 year old. This guy looks to be in his mid-twenties.

That brings us to the current cover.

I kept the same background and general colors but adjusted the shadow and midpoint levels. This makes the buildings easier to see. You'll notice the color palette is identical to the original cover. However, this cover feels more polished. It's also similar to current covers in the same genre. The font is much more legible and works extremely well as a thumbnail.

Now that you've seen the progression of covers, here are the 5 things I suggest you consider when updating your cover art.

1. Font and Verbage Are as Important as Image

Too often, focus is placed on the image used. It's often the use of font and placement of words that separate amateur and professional-looking covers. The font needs to identify genre and it has to "pop". Look at current best sellers in your genre to determine the types of font used. Don't get fancy. Don't get cute. Put as much time into choosing font and verbage on the cover as Coca Cola or Microsoft would before putting up a billboard.

2. Consider Your Target Demographic

The image has to resonate with your target demographic. Usually, a book with people on the cover is easier to relate to. Make sure the people on the cover speak to the target demographic. That's why most romance novels feature couples. Many erotica covers mimic the look of Fifty Shades of Grey for the same reason. To speed up the buying process, people need to be able to pigeon hole your book in a very specific genre with one look at the cover. If they can't place it into a genre, they won't likely read the blurb. If they don't like the blurb, they  probably won't buy the book. But that's a completely different blog post.

Usually, it is more important that your cover relate to genre expectations than being an accurate reflection on events in your book. Here's the perfect example: the Dresden Novels. On almost every cover in the series, Harry Dresden is shown wearing a fedora. It tells gives the sense of magic and mystery even though Dresden never wears a fedora. Ever.

Remember when Harry wore a hat?
Me neither.

3. Make Your Name Prominent

Remember: you are building a brand. If they don't know your name, you can't build product awareness. Many writers do not have a background in marketing so building a brand is a complete mystery to them. In marketing terms, if you are a new writer you need to build Brand Awareness. For companies, their logo is their brand. For you, it is your name.

Link to Intro to Marketing Principles for Writers
Forbes - Why Brand Building is Important

4. Consistency

Again, you are trying to build brand awareness. You want people to look at a book cover and IMMEDIATELY know it's your cover. Look at all the covers for Stephen King or Dean Koontz. The fonts and color palettes are usually similar. This is especially important for your 5-10 books. If you update one cover, consider updating the other covers to build consistency

This article has several great tips on consistency: 5 Tips for a Great Book Cover

5. Don't over pay for cover art.

One statistic states the average self-published book sells around 150-200 copies (source: 25 Things to Know When Self-Publishing). It doesn't make sense for most people to spend hundreds of dollars on one cover. If you plan on publishing many books, consider taking the time to learn Photoshop (and trust me, it will take many, many months to become an expert). If you don't have the time, there are many avenues to get inexpensive cover art. On the other hand, paying a small amount of money for a bad cover can be equally expensive. Like it or not, everyone judges a book by its cover, especially in the digital world.

Cover art is an important part of your branding as an author.


Amazon: M Joseph Murphy on Amazon: Paperback and ebook
Smashwords: M Joseph Murphy Author Page on Smashwords
Kobo: M Joseph Murphy Books on Kobo

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Preview - Demons of DunDegore

Demons of DunDegore is book 2 in the Sword of Kassandra Series. It features a full-on zombie invasion on a classic epic fantasy world.

Keep reading for a sneak peak.


The day before the demons came, Grandwyn arrived in the city of DunDegore. He stood on the deck of a ship, his tiny fingers gripping the railing. No one seemed to take notice of him. Amid the wide-eyed faces of tourists coming to the holy land, he looked like an ordinary peasant boy. But he was much more than that.

A thin layer of early-morning mist blanketed the water between the boat and the approaching shoreline. Behind him, a crowd of strangers searched for signs of the legendary city. Two days ago, the ship had left the dock in Karaj Robat. After being on the water for so long, Grandwyn was eager to be back on solid ground.

Beyond the shore, thin pine trees shot up over thirty-feet tall. Grandwyn looked past the trees for his first glimpse of the ruins:  enormous structures of white stone as tall as mountains. Even from here, he could tell the ruins were ancient. Large chunks had crumbled away to reveal a metallic framework underneath. According to the brochure Grandwyn held in his hands, the metal never rusted or degraded despite being thousands of years old.

A woman in a blue dress stepped out of the crowd to stand beside him. “First time on the island?”

Grandwyn nodded.

The woman glanced down at him. “Aren’t you a little young to be travelling by yourself?”

“Who said I was traveling by myself?” Grandwyn crossed his arms and looked up at the woman. She looked to be the same age as his mother and was nearly as beautiful. Something in the way she looked at him made him feel uneasy. As if she wasn’t truly looking at him. “Besides, I’m not too young. I’m eight.”

“Oh.” The woman smiled. “That old? I stand corrected. Do you know the story behind the ruins?”

“Of course. Everyone knows the story. DunDegore was a Behersker city, one of the last to be abandoned when the ancient ones left for the stars. There are fifteen large buildings, the ones we can see from here, and a few dozen smaller ruins. No one knows exactly what they were used for. All we know is they’ve been there for as long as anyone can remember.”

“You’re very bright.” The smile slid from the woman’s face, her eyes grew cold and distant.

“Did I say something wrong?” Grandwyn asked.

“No.” The woman shook her head and her eyes refocused. When she spoke again, her voice was warm and comforting, almost motherly. “I just realized it’s been a very long time since I’ve talked to a child. I had a sister once. She was about your age when she…well, the last time I saw her. We were so innocent. Everything was one great big adventure.” She looked over her shoulder at a patch of shadows. “It’s not too late for you, you know. You could always stay on the boat. Head back home.”
Grandwyn took a step away from the woman. “Why would I want to do that? I’ve come all this way. It doesn’t make any sense to head home now.”

“No. I suppose you’re right.” The woman sighed and hung her head. “You and I are both on this ship until the very end. If you’ll excuse me, I hear someone calling me.”

The woman walked away and vanished into the crowd.

‘Strange,’ Grandwyn thought. ‘For a moment it sounded like she knew why I was coming here. Like she was afraid for me or something. But my mother was wrong. There’s nothing to fear. The fieldbenders will take me in and that will be that.’

The ship slid through the water as it followed the shore. As time passed, the sun burned off the early-morning mist and the docks came into sight. Twenty docking platforms stretched over more than a quarter mile. Crowds spilled out from dozens of large ships similar to the one Grandwyn was on. Many smaller boats were parked along the wooden piers. Grandwyn climbed up on the railing to look past the harbor, to where the city truly began. While not the largest city he’d ever seen, DunDegore was more grandiose than his hometown of FleshPrayer. Multi-storied buildings pressed close together. People milled through the narrow streets while scores of street merchants tried to sell them souvenirs.

As the ship approached the dock, the crew grew suddenly active. Moving with practiced speed, they tied the boat off and lowered the walkway. Passengers, most of them smiling, left the ship, suitcases in hand. Grandwyn stood with the rest of the tourists at the end of the pier next to a middle-aged woman selling flowers. He looked around for the woman in the blue dress. There was no sign of her.
He disembarked from the ship and entered the city, walking past open-air restaurants and the tacky gift stores. His destination was far from the tourist part of town. Grandwyn stopped in the doorway of The Sixth Tower Inn and took a piece of paper out of his pocket, verifying he’d come to the right place.

“This is it.” He refolded the piece of paper, put it back in his pocket, and stepped inside. The Inn still reeked of sweat and spilt beer from the night before. There were only two other people in the bar: an old man drinking by himself in the corner and a tall, plump southerner wearing a faded black uniform standing behind the bar.

“Boy,” said the man behind the bar. “Get your butt out of here. This be no place for children.”

Grandwyn took out his money purse. “Your name is Bentley, correct? I need a room, sir. My mother told me you rent them. You’ll remember her, my mother. You visited her the last time you were in FleshPrayer.”

The man narrowed his eyes, studying Grandwyn’s face. “Aye. I see the resemblance, now that you mention that.” He looked toward the front door. “Is she here, your mother?”

Grandwyn shook his head. “Not yet. She’ll be here in a few days. I’m to wait for her.” Approaching the bar, he reached up and placed a gold coin on the counter. Then he stepped back so he could look the man in the eyes. “This will cover us for the week, I believe.”

Bentley took the piece of gold, examining it for a moment before placing it in his pocket. “Will do. But why here? This gold could buy you much better rooms in DunDegore. Especially for someone as esteemed as your mother.”

“This is where I’m supposed to go. Can you show me to my room, please?”

Bentley wiped his hands with a towel and stepped away from the bar. He grabbed a key from the wall and motioned for Grandwyn to follow. They walked up two flights of steep stairs, stopping at a wooden door. Bentley opened the door and passed the key to Grandwyn.

“It’s not much, but it’s the best we got. No running water. Outhouse be out back. Take the stairs at the end of hall. Be careful heading down at night. It’s not lit. Rarely used, actually. Most of my guests only need a bed and a closed door. They usually leave after a few minutes.”

Grandwyn raised an eyebrow, confused. Bentley blushed.

“Sorry. I assumed you being from FleshPrayer and all you’d be used to that kind of talk. Forget what I said, kid. How old are you anyway?”

“Eight. Just turned.”

Bentley exhaled slowly. “What are you doing traveling by yourself? It’s a dangerous world out there. More so than ever if you believe the rumors.”

“You don’t say.” Grandwyn raised a hand. It crackled with purple energy. “I can take care of myself.”

Bentley took a step back. “What are you? Fieldbender?”

Grandwyn nodded and slipped out of his travelling cloak. “They don’t usually take initiates as young as me, but they say I’ve got potential. Both my parents trained as elmire ahk.”

Bentley straightened his shoulders and smoothed the folds of his uniform. “Might be best if you don’t show your abilities down below. Even though there’s a guild here in town, most people are scared of benders. And you being so young they might assume the worst. Think you’re fod sel-onde or something. Listen, why don’t I bring your meals up to you? We don’t get many children at The Sixth Tower Inn. We attract a certain type of patron.  I don’t want them trying to take advantage of you. I wouldn’t offer to do this for most guests, but your mom is something special.”

“Thanks.” Grandwyn nodded and waited for Bentley to leave. Then he closed the door, locking it. Looking around the room, he found a thin layer of dust covered everything, including the bedspread. “I suppose it could be worse. And it’s only for a night. Tomorrow, the fieldbenders will take me in. Or they’ll kill me. Either way it will be over.”

Grandwyn had lied. He wasn’t a fieldbender, not yet anyway. His abilities surfaced several months ago. Like fieldbenders, he could manipulate the reality field: His abilities included being able to  move things with his mind, shoot beams of energy from his hands, and create ice out of thin air. At first, he practiced in secret. One day, his mother discovered him creating ice sculptures. Terrified, she made him promise to stop.

“I love you, baby,” she had said as she kissed him on the forehead. “Nothing will ever change that. But if other people see what you can do, see what you are, they will want to hurt you. Kill you.”
“But why? Fieldbenders can do what I do. People don’t hurt them.”

She shook her head and pulled her clothes tighter around her body. “But, you’re not a fieldbender, Wynnie. They spend years in meditation and study, learning to do what comes to you naturally. You are fod sel-onde. You know what they do to people like you.”

“I’m not!” He stomped his foot and sparks of energy formed around his eyes. “I’m not a monster. I’m just self-taught. Let me go to Karaj Robat. They have the best fieldbender guild there and…”

His mother had placed her fingers over his lips. “Absolutely not. You can never go to Karaj Robat. If the fieldbenders there learn about you, they will end you. Promise me you will never go there.”

In the end, Grandwyn had promised. Which was why he was on the Isle of DunDegore instead. The fieldbender guild here was smaller but still respected. The journey here took almost two weeks. He escaped when his mother left town to attend a political conference to ensure he had a good head start. By now, she would have read his note and learned why he left. It was only a matter of time before her network of contacts tracked him to DunDegore. If he wanted a chance to plead his case to the fieldbenders, it would have to be tomorrow.

He warped the reality field in the room. In a flash, all the dust disappeared. He opened the window and leaned out. Fresh air blew his strawberry-blond hair around his face. Below, a gray-haired woman wearing a red uniform glanced up at him. Her face wrinkled with confusion. Grandwyn smiled and waved to her. She turned and walked away, but not before looking back at him over her shoulder.

Torch Karehn looked back over her shoulder at the young boy in the window. For a moment, she thought she’d felt the reality field being manipulated. When she saw the child, she realized she must have been mistaken. He was far too young for a fieldbender.

‘Look at me,’ she thought. ‘Jumping at shadows. I need to control my nerves. With luck, we’ll find it soon. If not, if the worst happens, my flock will need me to be strong.’

The Sword of Kassandra was missing.

Torch Karehn was head of the local Aerie, a religious center for the Church of the Pheonides. When the Sword of Kassandra appeared months ago, she volunteered to transport the weapon to safekeeping at a local monastery. Working with Sirion, a fieldbender from Karaj Robat, she had crafted a security system to hide the sword at the monastery. Many forces in the world could use that weapon for evil things. And the system had been successful.

Until last night.

As she rushed through the streets, many waved to her. She forced herself to slow down, to smile back at them. Part of the burden of being a leader was to never let others see your stress. If the people of DunDegore saw the fear she felt inside, rumors would spread like wildfire. She stopped to shake hands with one of her flock, Mrs. Jonstone. She ruffled the hair of the woman’s son and pretended that everything was right with the world. Inside, she wanted to run.

Eventually she reached her destination. The front doors to the local fieldbender guild were tall and imposing: twenty-foot tall thick slates of metal-reinforced wood. Two guards armed with swords stood outside. Three months ago, the Sword of Kassandra had been recovered during an archeology dig. Ever since, the fieldbenders had become suspicious of strangers, heavily restricting admittance. Both guards recognized her as she approached and pushed the doors open for her.

Inside, away from the public eye, her composure melted. She leaned against a wall and stared down at her hands. They shook. She clenched them and took deep breaths until the shaking stopped.
The main foyer was empty. Most initiates would be in classes at this time of the morning. The man she needed to see would be on the second floor. She raced up the wide stone steps before her, no longer caring who saw the panic in her face. The fieldbenders could keep secrets.

She stopped in front of an open door. Inside, young men and women wearing the white robes of initiates stood in a circle, hands extended inwards. In the middle of the circle, purple energy swirled and twisted creating ornate shapes. This was Akashic energy, the foundation of the fieldbenders’ abilities. One of the initiates, a young man with brown hair, saw her. His eyes went wide in surprise. He lowered his hands and left the circle. The other initiates tightened the circle without hesitation to cover his absence.

“What are you doing here?” Instantly, he seemed to remember decorum. He bowed respectfully. “Apologies, mistress. I…”

Torch Karen grabbed his forearms. “We have no time for niceties, Mikhel. I need to speak to you.” She looked over Mikhel’s shoulder at the others. “Alone. Where can we ensure we’ll not be overheard?”

“This way,” Mikhel said. “There’s an empty classroom next door.”

Once inside the empty room, Torch Karehn sat on a bench and clasped her hands together tightly.
Mikhel remained standing. “Should I set up a shield?”

“No need. I’ll be brief. We have a disaster. Listen closely. I won’t have time to repeat this, and I need you to speak with your leaders.”

“You could speak with them directly.”

She shook her head. “I don’t have time to deal with inter-denominational politics. That’s why I came to you. I know you. Trust you. As soon as I leave here, I have to head to the Aerie and make preparations in case the worst happens.”

“What do you mean?”

Torch Karehn bit her lip. “Something happened at the monastery last night. We were attacked. The Sword of Kassandra was stolen.”

Mikhel sat down now. “But how? Sirion…”

“Sirion is dead.” She covered her mouth. “That’s the first time I’ve said it aloud. Whatever hit the monastery last night proved too powerful for him. What they did to his body…”

“Damnation.” Mikhel ran a hand through his hair. “We have to let the Sage know.”

Torch Karehn shook her head. “You know that’s not an option. Because of what happened with Defksquar, the Sage has distanced himself. He no longer trusts the fieldbenders.”

“But surely he’ll want to know. Defksquar isn’t even in Karaj Robat anymore. Rumor has it he’s deep undercover somewhere.”

“Wherever he is, he’s working for Karaj Robat. Contacting the Sage is not an option. I’ve known the Sage for a very long time. When his mind is made up, nothing can sway him. Believe me. I’ve tried. Now, I need you to focus, Mikhel. After I set up defenses at the Aerie, I’ll contact Elmontrazar. He left a nizarian device that allows communication across great distances. I’m going to ask him to send reinforcements. Speak with your leaders. Tell them to prepare.”

“Prepare for what?”

Torch Karen stood, her expression steely. “You know what the Sword is capable of. In the wrong hands…”

She could not bring herself to finish the sentence. From the expression on Mikhel’s face she didn’t need to.

Mikhel’s face paled. “I guess a part of me always knew this was going to happen. When I first went south to Karaj Robat and told them about the Sword, something told me things were only going to get worse. How much time do we have?”

Torch Karehn’s lower lip trembled. “We may already be too late.”


Amazon: M Joseph Murphy on Amazon: Paperback and ebook
Smashwords: M Joseph Murphy Author Page on Smashwords
Kobo: M Joseph Murphy Books on Kobo

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