Wednesday 23 May 2012

The Man Who Built the World - cover art ideas

The next novel I have due for publication is a stand alone spiritual horror/ghost story set in a fictional Devon village called Tamerton.  This novel is barely half the length of my first published novel, The Tube Riders, at 80,000 words, but is a very concise story with very little filler.  The cast of characters is much smaller than Tube Riders, and the action happens over just a couple of days.
Being the eternally broken person that I am, again I am attempting to do my own cover art.  The novel is still being polished so is some weeks away from publication, but I've already started playing around with ideas for cover art.

Here's a few I've made so far.  All were made using a online photo editor at, because I am such a skinflint that I don't even own a paint program.

This was my first attempt.  This uses a picture I actually took myself at a ski resort and then used a pencil sketch effect to get the strange style.  I like the colour but I'm not too happy with the fonts.

This is the same one with a red wash effect over the top.  While the novel is pretty violent, I think this looks a little tacky.

Same one again, this time with another effect over the top of the text.  I like this one better, but still not much.

For this next effort, I used a picture from  The original picture was of a couple walking away from a gravestone.  I cropped it to this smaller size, then put the same pencil sketch effect over the top.  The font I used for the titles was something strange called 1942.  I think this one looks best in thumbnail, but its pretty bleak.

This is my most recent effort, and is the same as the one above but with a different font.  I made it look embossed by putting the font on, then doing the pencil sketch effect, then putting the font over the top again, using a text effect called water which made it blend in rather well.  I think the titles look pretty good, not sure about my name though.

Edit - just made this one this morning, similar to the themes of the previous one I posted above, but I think the text stands out a little better.  This is probably my favorite so far, and if the book was ready now I would go with this one first out.  I like the way you can just make out the people, but you're not quite sure if you can see it or not.  I also think my name looks better in the middle there.

In a perfect world I would pay someone to make me an awesome cover, but I really don't want to shell out a lot of money if I can't guarantee it'll sell at least enough to cover the costs.  The picture alone for Tube Riders cost 75 UK pounds, and while sales are slowly ticking over it still hasn't recouped that yet, despite me spending nearly every waking hour trying to promote it.  People aren't joking when they say it takes time to get successful, but it makes me mad every time I read a blog by someone claiming that sales slowly pick up ... I read one last night that said something along the lines of "I had just 100 sales in my first month ..." Um, try five, including one to myself ...

Anyway, for anyone reading this who hasn't heard of me (pretty likely), my books are awesome.  Please read them!


Monday 21 May 2012

How to set up a Facebook Ad

Setting up your ad

As part of experimenting with what does and doesn't work in terms of advertising my book, The Tube Riders, I decided to sign up for a short Facebook Ad campaign.

Just as a disclaimer - this post is not intended to tell you how to make a bunch of sales using Facebook, only as a guide to how to set up an ad.  I will comment on my own success or lack thereof at the end.

Years ago I used to work in the head office of a bank and it was my responsibility to get company bills paid.  For expensive bills I was required to get an executive signature, and there were a couple of times I had to visit the company CEO in order to get cheques for Yahoo advertising in excess of 1,000,000 pounds signed off.  Therefore, I was a little worried when I started my ad campaign that I’d end up entering a wrong setting and getting hit by a monstrous bill.

Despite my nervousness, I actually found it quite straightforward to set up.  What you have to do first is set up your ad.

First up, come to this screen, where you choose the page you want your ad to represent, then the type of ad you want.  You can use a page post, or make a new ad.  Then at the bottom, you get a preview of what your ad will look like.

Next, you have to decide who sees your ad.  This is a pretty important section, because you choose the countries, the demographics, and most importantly, the precise interests of the people who will see your ad.  At first, I just chose all the English-speaking countries (I live in Japan, hence the default country you can see), but as I wised up I started to narrow it down to those I thought would most be interested.  For example, as an indie writer, I chose "reading", "kindle", "science fiction" etc, and then a selection of books I thought were similar to mine, such as "Hunger Games".  I also added in a couple of categories in similar genres that I thought would be popular, such as "Star Wars" and "Harry Potter".  At the bottom you can choose whether the ad is shown only to strangers, or to people who already have a connection to your page, and their friends.

At the same time, on the right of the screen you will see this little box which changes as you narrow down your criteria.  This shows the total number of people who might see your ad.  Of course, this isn't the number who will see your ad, because that depends on how much you are willing to pay to get the advertising slots available.

 Finally, you have to decide how much you want to pay.  You choose the total you want to pay, over what time frame.  If you click the arrow next to "budget" you can select a "lifetime budget" option, which basically means that whatever you chose to pay is the total for the whole ad.

Under this you select pricing - whether you want to pay for impressions (which is how often your ad is shown) or for actual clicks ("Likes", etc).  Then you select the actual amount you are willing to pay per click.  It gives you an estimated price per click, but I found that you could set the "bid" price a lot lower.  With my campaign, which targeted around 30m people, I could get the bid as low as about $0.12 and still get Likes.  Obviously, the more you bid, the more often your ad will be shown and the more clicks you'll get.  And of course, the more you'll pay.

Once you have created your ad, you will see this screen as your campaign progresses.  The information at the top displays your ad details - the name of your ad, the status (in progress or completed) your budget, and the dates that the campaign is running for.  Below this, the circle is your audience - the big circle is the total possible audience, the smaller, kind of green circle is the reach (meaning the number of people who have seen your ad), and the smallest orange circle is the people who have seen the ad who are connected to other people who have clicked on your ad.

 This screen, which will appear at the bottom of the one above, is your stats.  This tells you how many people have seen your ad within the time you select from the drop down menu (please not that these figures are mostly zero because I copied this screen after my ad had finished running).

Campaign reach - how many people have seen the ad in the time displayed
Frequency - the number of times each person who clicked your ad saw it on average before clicking it
Social Reach - the number of people who saw the ad who were socially connected to someone else who had seen it
Connections - the number of clicks.  In my case, this was the number of people who "liked" my page
CTR - "Click Through Rate" - the number of clicks received divided by the number of times it was shown on the ste
Bid - how much you are currently prepared to pay per click
Price - how much, on average, you actually paid.  By the end of my campaign mine was about $0.19.

My results

I set out with the intention of gaining some exposure for my Facebook writer's page (which, incidentially, you can view from clicking the link to the left of this post ;-) ).  I was under no illusions that it was a way to sell hundreds of books, so I set myself a fairly low budget ($50) and set my ad to run for a month.  In that month, I continually adjusted my perimeters, narrowing down the precise interests of the people I wanted to view my ad, as well as dropping my bid price as low as I possibly could.  When my bid price was around $0.40 per click, I was getting around 30 new Likes per day.  When I dropped it to about $0.15, that number dropped to about 10.  But I was in no hurry.

Was it successful?

Ah, the big question.  In short, to break your hearts, I couldn't identify a single sale being as a direct result of my Facebook ad campaign.  By the end of the month I set the ad to run for, I had spent about $25 (out of interest, I was billed roughly once a week, to my credit card - when you set up your ad you have to specify billing information) and had gained about 225 Likes from more than 100,000 people who saw my ad.  Why didn't I get any sales?  There could have been a number of reasons - one is that in general my book is not very successful (yet ...!).  It has just come out and my sales are in the low double figures.  Also, I don't hassle people - I only post to my author's page when I have something an important announcement.  And very importantly, a lot of the people who liked my page were "serial Likers".  I have been on Facebook about four years and have only liked 53 pages, yet some of the people who liked my page have several thousand Likes, meaning they pretty much Like whatever is thrown at them.

In Conclusion

It was an interesting experiment.  While I can't say that it has helped me sell my book, I do think the exposure may prove useful in the long term, and marketing a product is not something that happens overnight (Oh, how I wish it was...!).  I'm not one of these Facebook haters who thinks the company is trying to take over the world and violate privacy blah blah blah, and I will say that setting up and running the ad was a remarkably user-friendly process.  It's all very self-explanatory, and once I got over my initial nervousness it was easy to do and easy to update if I decided to change my parameters.

Anyway, I have to go and look for more ways to market my masterpiece now.  I hope you found this post useful and I welcome any comments below.

Sunday 20 May 2012

Mount Iizuna, Nagano

The jingle of little bear bells and the hiss of cheap transistor radios fills the air ... that's right, its the start of the Japanese hiking season.

My traditional season opener is the 1917m Mount Iizuna, the nearest significant mountain to my house and Nagano City.  Here are a number of photos of my hike on Saturday May 19th.

A little shrine gate and a couple of fearsome dragon statues guard the hike entrance, which starts at 1205m.

This sign, a little up from the entrance proper, reads "to-zan-do", which translates as "climb-mountain-road".

The path pretty much looks like this for the next hour of walking.

Every so often you come across one of these little statutes, where people leave offerings of coins or sometimes sake (Japanese rice wine). I can only imagine what would happen to these in England - there'd be no statutes left, let alone the cash or booze.

About 45min into the hike the views start to appear.

Here, about halfway up, you can see Nagano City in the distance, beyond which are the mountains of Ueda Sugadaira.

Near the top now, you can see the mountains of the Northern Japanese Alps in the distance.  The best time for views is spring or autumn, as the air is a lot clearer.  In summer, by mid-morning its often too hazy to see anything clearly.

Near the top the trees start to open out.  The bamboo here is all flattened down because the snow has only recently melted.  Most of it anyway...

Another shot from the near the top.  Another hiker can be seen just lower down, gazing out at the view of the Japanese Alps.  A few of those mountains top 3000m and are great hikes.  I usually do a couple each year, although most of the tallest require two days. Luckily most Japanese mountains have hotels on the top...

A little shrine just short of the peak.

Some hikers at the first of two peaks.  Look how kitted out they are - it took me approximately 1.5 hours to get to this point, wearing jeans and a t-shirt with a rucksack containing a bottle of drink and some rice balls.  Some of these people look ready for Everest.

Iizuna has a kind of saddle between two peaks of the same height.  Here is some leftover snow on the path between the two.  I saw several muddy backsides on the way up as I passed people on the way down - this was why.

The peak marker.  The first three kanji are "Ii-zuna-san", the mountain's name. After that it says "San cho", or "mountain peak".  Following that is the height written in Japanese numbers - 1917m.  The altimeter I downloaded halfway up (gotta love iPhones) claimed it was 1922m, so unless I'm three metres tall one of them is a little off.

A hiking group heading back towards the first of the two peaks.  Again, note how well-equipped they are.

A marker at the top indicating which mountains can be seen in which directions.  Most mountains have these, and as always this one claims you can see Fuji on a clear day, some 300km to the south.

Takazuma, 2300-odd metres, still with snow on the top, seen from the top of Iizuna.  It is part of the Togakushi range, a small range of mountains between Iizuna and the Alps.  While not so high, Mount Togakushi, just out of shot to the right, is arguably the hardest day hike in all Japan.  Very dangerous, it has claimed many lives, particularly due to the section known as the "ant-walk" (the middle picture at the bottom).  Having done it twice, trust me when I say its scary.

A nice view from the top across towards Shiga Kogen, one of Japan's premier skiing areas.  Even now, in May, some of the resorts there are still partially open.

The lake in the middle is Iizuna lake.  My house is just over the hill a little past it.

Back at the start, with my car seen through the shrine gate at the entrance, like some kind of metallic god of junk.  It took me roughly an hour to get back down.  All completed within three hours, my legs still felt pretty sore the following day.  While an elevation change of 712m is not much compared to some mountains (The shortest way up Fuji, for example, requires an elevation change of 1350m), it was still a decent morning out.

Here's a view of the Iizuna taken from Nagano City the day after my hike.  The two peaks I climbed are the two separated by the saddle to the left.

Sunday 6 May 2012

My first guest blog and more

Here's me hamming up the merits of The Tube Riders on my first ever guest blog, on the very pretty website Bookingly Yours, run by a very friendly lady called Jenai.

This was my first attempt at a guest blog and so I went for the "shock" value, being outrageous enough to diss The Hunger Games (which looks like a pretty good movie actually) for not having any swearing (I haven't read it but I did Google it to check, and apparently there are a couple of uses of "damn" but that's all), and including a picture of me wearing a stupid hat.

I'm not sure if it'll work but as I haven't sold a book in the last week I guess it couldn't exactly harm my sales unless I grab a pick and start digging a tunnel.

Going back to The Hunger Games, last week I watched Battle Royale, a movie which many people (not me as I haven't seen them both) claim was ripped off by The Hunger Games.  Some kind soul had uploaded to Youtube, and although I haven't seen it in about ten years it was still a very good movie.  When it comes to shock movies the Asians do it best, it seems.  Over the weekend I also watched an American movie called The Univited which was a a teeny horror flick with an impressive ending.  I found out later it was a remake of an Korean horror, A Tale of Two Sisters, which I've noticed in my local video shop on a number of occasions but never got around to watching.  From past experience I know that the originals are usually the best, so I just wish I'd watched it first.  Still, The Univited was surprisingly good.

On other things, that hat in the picture from my guest blog is from when the wife and I went to Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, back in January.  A nice day out, but not nearly as good as Tokyo Disneysea.  Here's another picture from the same day, of me with a bush-shaped Hello Kitty.