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Wednesday, November 11, 2020

COVER REVEAL DEUX: Thorn Of The Night Blossoms by J.C. Kang

I have found that one of the benefits of self-publishing is total control over pricing and marketing. It’s one aspect which deters some aspiring authors, while at the same time being a challenge which many experienced hands embrace.

For me, it’s been a humbling learning experience. When a book fails to gain traction, an objective postmortem can reveal a lot. Furthermore, self-publishing allows for second—and in the case of my Thorn of the Night Blossoms, a third chance.

Here’s the original cover and blurb:

For an imperial assassin, assignment as a courtesan in the Floating World seems like a waste of her talents... until killers target her clan sisters.

In the legendary Floating World, wars are waged with wit, the strongest soldier can be bound with threads of silk, and flesh is the currency by which life, death, and freedom can all be purchased.

Half-elf Jie doesn’t mind her temporary assignment as a Night Blossom in the most sought-after house. It’s perfect cover for her real work as an assassin in the emperor’s service, and keeps her close to one who matters most. Her life belongs to her clan, but her heart lies with clan junior, Lilian.

Lilian’s talents trade stealth for sensuality, poison for poetry. With looks as sharp as any blade, she can coax information from any man, and still leave him paying for the pleasure. She’s enthralled many a noble, none more important than the warlord who can calm a brewing insurrection. Only her sweet whispers can secure his obedience to the throne.

But now, his increasing abuse has Jie seeking a new assignment for Lilian—even if it means their separation. When killers target clan sisters, and the seeds of rebellion find fertile soil in the Floating World, Jie must choose between loyalty and love.


While my regular readers snapped it up, sales fell far short of previous releases.

I considered:

1.      The idea of a male author writing F/F relationships in a courtesan setting might turn a lot of people off.  Jury is still out on this.

2.      Blurb is too wordy. Usually, I try to keep my blurbs to under 200 words; but I loved this blurb, which my awesome author buddy JC Nelson came up with. His idea, and one which I agreed with, was that it captures the vibrancy of the aristocratic red light district setting. I felt it could help ameliorate the possible skeeviness engendered by (1).

3.      The story sucks. For the most part, it’s been getting 4 and 5 stars from book bloggers. Also, the read-through rate from Book 1 to Book 2 is higher than any of my other books. So, it can’t be that bad?

4.      The story is too short.  At 27k words, or about 150 pages, readers don’t want to drop through

5.      The cover doesn’t draw the eye… and specifically, the right eye.  When analyzing advertising statistics, this was the clear: I was getting one click for every 1,000 impressions on Amazon Ads, one click for every 120 impressions on Facebook.  For my other books, it’s 1/350 on Amazon, 1/30 on Facebook.


So, take 2.  I kept the same blurb, while commissioning a new cover.

Ad clicks went WAY up.  However, I was smacking myself in the head for what you can all see here. The clicks AND sales were coming from Harem readers. These are generally younger males looking for self-insertion narratives. Indeed, Facebook ad analysis showed clicks were coming from males 18-25. Nothing wrong with that, and a sale is a sale, right? There are some authors making a bank off this audience.

The problem is, we’re pretty certain Amazon monitors how fast and far people read a book, and that factors into their recommendation engine algorithm. Thorn of the Night Blossoms would not appeal to Harem readers. The wrong reader means bad reviews and possibly bad recommendations.

Because of this, I panned in with the cover art to show less skin.

It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it was a temporary fix as I went to my illustrator for yet a third cover.

In the meantime, I thought about who my stories’ most enthusiastic audience is.

My reader group mostly has women in their late twenties to early forties, who have been drawn to the stories by resilient female characters. Many found me through the Dragon Songs Saga box: 

Then, I looked at the books they click on in my newsletters:

I see a trend!

Sadly, no woman wears armor in Thorn of the Night Blossom—it’s a rogue story: Ninjas meet Kushiel’s Dart.

Thankfully, there was another book that is in these books’ Also Boughts:

With this in mind, I went to my artist with this image:

He came back with this sketch:

His first color sketch:

I was concerned with the bright pastel colors would give it the wrong vibe, and too much cleavage showing might make it look like a romance. I shared it on the Facebook group, Indie Cover Project with the general question, “What genre do you think this is?”

I was getting the answers I was looking for: Asian-themed fantasy, though I got some choice comments.

My artist’s follow-up got the darker tones, but yet to cover cleavage.  I mocked it up with typography, with one close up like Phil Tucker’s Chronicles of the Black Gate which would bring out the details and cover exposed flesh.

I went to both a secret cabal of Fantasy authors, and also to a Facebook Group with authors who write books like Oath Taker and Daughter of the Shades.

The eminent May Sage came back with the best advice: the exposed cleavage will turn off certain readers in my target audience.

My artist was already late, so when he sent me the final version, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Because at Amazon image size, I knew people wouldn’t notice my amateur photoshop adjustments.

Without further ado, here is the Brand New, Hopefully Last Cover of Thorn of the Night Blossoms:



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