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Monday, July 30, 2018

GUEST POST: Masters of Deception Cover Reveal (Part 1: How I went from bright-eyed new author to jaded marketer) by J. C. Kang

I am honored to have Fantasy Book Critic host the cover reveal for my upcoming new book, Masters of Deception. However, before the drums roll, I felt I needed to explain how that cover came to be.

Let my experience by a cautionary tale, one which will turn any new indie author ready to publish into a calculating cynic.

Many of you may have seen my semi-debut novel, Songs of Insurrection, in SPFBO4’s cover contest. A multicultural epic fantasy, it follows a na├»ve misfit as she rediscovers the lost magic of Dragon Songs.

I say semi-debut, because it started its life as The Dragon Scale Lute, released in March of 2016.

A world of difference, right?

The original screams Young Adult Fantasy Romance, or perhaps Historical Romance. I found the artist, Chacha Wang on Deviantart, and she did a wonderful job painting what I asked. Writer friend and graphic designer Emily Burlingame did the typography and logos. Still, because of style, the book attracted readers who wanted to see the young woman fall in love with the dragon, not vanquish it. Read-through for the entire series dropped off sharply from 500 copies of book 1 to 100 copies of Book 2.

Though I love the illustrations, I followed the advice of more experienced authors and decided to rebrand with new artwork, and even new, epic titles. I re-ordered the chapters and reworked the content. Then, the hunt began. I first searched a thread in a Goodreads group for authors looking for resources, and commissioned Duong Covers.

(It looks a little like a Chinese literature text I read in college)

I wasn’t a fan of that one, and Julie tried again:

I liked the idea—it reminded me a little of Jimi Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire, down to her left-handed playing— but ultimately decided against it. Amazing artist Vanessa Garkova, who I found on Goodreads did a wonderful proposal. However, since she focused on photomanipulation at the time, she was limited by stock art.

(I think she used Chun Li as one of the models)

I also commissioned Sarayu Raungvesh, who I found on Deviantart. He is an outstanding illustrator, who I drove insane with my nitpicking (I drove all my artists insane).

(Another lefty, apparently) Then, I tried Grace Zhu, who I found on Kboards.

(Oppa Gangnam style!)

It was not exactly what I was looking for, so I also negotiated with a critique partner and talented artist, Sylvia Frost, and later approached Meriliza Chan (Elise Kova’s illustrator).

When those options looked too expensive for my dwindling budget, I miraculously found Bob Kehl. To be honest, I was considering at so many candidates at the time, I don’t remember how I discovered him.

Originally, I wanted to stick with character-based covers, but my critique partner extraordinaire JC Nelson suggested symbolic ones. Bob came up with this concept, a mix of eastern and western themes:

(My next story will be titled Book Cover)

There was unanimous approval from kboards, author friends, and marketing gurus—whether that was because they believed in it, or they were just tired of all by pestering. I recycled Emily Burlingame’s logos and had Laura Kang do the typography (she also did the maps). In the end, this became the branded series:

End of story, right?

Unfortunately not. The new look did ok, but not great. They sold about four thousand copies in 2017… which after all the art I’d commissioned, in addition to editing and marketing, my publishing career was still hemorrhaging cash.

I decided on one last ditch effort: bundling the series as one product. With a wife grumbling about all the money I was losing, I drew on old artwork and split-tested it through Facebook ads.

The middle one won out; but even then, I commissioned Laura Kang to do mock-ups, and got feedback from readers, friends, and a core group of authors on spine art and styles:

After I’d finally chosen a version with modifications, I used Photoshop to test out its legibility in prime real estate on Amazon’s product page.

(I see you, Michael Miller)

Then I launched and held my breath. Whether it was devaluing my work to four books for under a buck, or all the promotional help I got from many supportive authors, the series took off.

The results also sold me on character-based covers, which leads to Part 2, the real cover reveal (so be back tomorrow)...



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