The moon hung high in the sky and lit the empty streets with a white, hazy glow. The radiance was painful to Father Prescott’s eyes, so brilliant that it cut through his senses and prevented focus on anything but the dirt of the street before him and a brighter light ahead.
He stumbled forward, though the sensation was of floating, not walking. The street was longer than he remembered, longer than it should be. He felt the weight of their eyes. They stood in doorways, between the homes, in the windows of stables and on the steps of the small adobe schoolhouse.
They followed him with their collective, accusing gaze. Every face was chiseled into a frown of disapproval, or of hatred. They stared at him like the liberated characters in an ancient painting of loss or damnation. They stared at him and he moved on, fighting to look away from their bitter faces, only to face them again in whatever direction he turned.
Ahead the light grew in intensity until it shone like a small sun, or a captured star. It sparked from the base of the chapel, leaped brightly to the sky and washed away the encroaching figures. Father Prescott wanted to hurry forward. He wanted to move into that brighter light, away from the eyes and the stares and the ancient pain that dogged his steps, but his progress was not his own to control.
As he drew nearer, he saw the statue. It pulsed like neon, or white hot metal, molded into the form of a man. Rays of light slashed from a gash in the side of the figure’s skull. Something beautiful and overpowering poured from that small hole and Father Prescott wanted to drop to his knees before it, but he couldn’t. He was held, prevented from drawing too near to the statue itself; prevented from escaping those who closed in now on all sides.
Shadow forms, their features clear, but their bodies obscured, melted into the light. He had the impression that they were pressing their features into the exterior of that light, pressing inward but unable to penetrate the glow.
He tried to cry out, tried to call to them, but he had no voice. He tried to raise a hand to his lips, but found that he couldn’t move his limbs, except in that inexorable march forward.
He came at last to a point in the road parallel with the leading edge of the chapel. The light surrounded him on all sides, and there was a SNAP of energy. He stood within the light, firmly rooted on the ground and able to walk.
The statue gleamed and glittered, flickering now with multi-colored beams of light. The radiance still emanated from the gash in the figure’s head. Father Prescott drew closer, and knelt in the hard packed dirt of the street. The eyes of the statue glared at him in dead, unfeeling anguish.
He noticed, a leather thong had been hung about the throat beneath that glowing head, and from this a pouch dangled. There was no radiance where the pouch touched – it was the single shadowed thing, and Father Prescott recognized it with a gasp.
It was not possible, he knew. This pouch could not be hanging here, and it was so long ago that any of this had happened and yet…
He reached out gently and tried to cup the leather bag in his fingers. It was slick and rubbery, and where he touched it, it grew damp. Frowning, Father Prescott pulled the thing away from the throat of the beautiful, glowing statue, but as he did so, something dripped from the interior of the bag onto his fingers, and from there to the ground at his feet.
He jerked his hand back, but it was too late. The sack began to leak, slowly at first, and then in a steady stream that poured over the white figure, washed down the statue’s body and leaked into Father Prescott’s skin. It spread rapidly upward, like a coffee-stain on paper leaking from the center outward until the entire statue grew dark – all but that hole in the side of its head. Where the dagger should be. Where the light poured out.
Father Prescott cried out and reached toward that light, tried to catch it in the palm of his hand, and failed. The brilliant illumination filtered through his fingers and splintered, fragmenting in all directions and then – very suddenly – went dark.
~ * ~
Father Prescott sat bolt upright on his cot. His skin was clammy and the sheets clung to him damply. His entire frame shook in the aftermath of the dream – vision?
It was still dark, hours before the sun would peek over the jungle and slip in his window. He drew the rough blanket at his feet back over himself, rolled into a ball, and pressed his back solidly into the stone wall of the room.
There was a rustle in the back of his mind. Something unfolded that was as familiar as his own voice, but spoken in another’s. It echoed through his mind, as he lay shivering and waiting for the dawn.
Just four words.
“I believe in God.”
The late afternoon sun filtered through the heavy blinds of Bishop Michaels’ office, striped the walls and angled just over the heads of the two men seated on either side of the ornate mahogany desk. Tapestries hung on the wall, and the deep pile carpet was thick and soft. The wooden furniture was polished to a high gloss and the sunlight gave each surface the aspect of mellow, glowing flame. Nothing in the office was new. It whispered of ancient times, and power.
Crystal goblets surrounded a carafe that rested on a sumptuous buffet along one wall. The leather of both chairs creaked with each slight motion, and the air hung thick with silence.
Bishop Anthony Michaels sat in his dark, comfortable chair, and regarded the young priest across the desk from him over steepled fingers. The Bishop was the epitome of decorum. He had light blue eyes and a ruggedly handsome face. His hair was dark, graying at the temples – a look that was very distinguished when taken in conjunction with the carefully pressed vestments and the manicured nails. No hair was out of place. No crease or fold of material was out of order. Ordered, in fact, was the word to describe it all, ordered and proper. Immaculate.
On the desk before him sat an array of documents. Some were clipped from newspapers, others were photocopies and faxes, and all were arrayed like a silent army readying itself for the attack. The Bishop didn’t look at them, but the tips of his fingers rested on the papers firmly.
Seated across from him, Father Quentin Thomas leaned in toward the Bishop’s desk. He had tousled brown hair, matching eyes, and a trim, athletic build. He was not as “immaculate” as the Bishop, but perhaps a bit more honest. His eyes had a dark, haunted aspect that spoke of weariness beyond his thirty-four years.
“So,” Bishop Michaels said at last, “what you are asking me to believe, in essence, is that you have experienced The Stigmata.”
It wasn’t a question, but a statement, as though the older man were gathering his thoughts.
Father Thomas replied, his voice quiet and strained.
“I’m not sure what I’m asking you to believe. I’m not even sure what I believe.”
“There is certainly no doubt what these — people — believe.” the Bishop replied, flipping the ordered papers into a jumbled mess with a quick slash of one hand. “People are easily manipulated, Quentin, as I’m sure you have come to know in your own right. The question is, to what are they being led?”
Father Thomas didn’t glance at the papers. He knew well enough what they were. Letters to the Editor. Headlines from “The Rooftop,” a local tabloid newspaper. Faxes from Quentin’s own parishioners, and from The Vatican, and a small paper clipped pile of requests from the local television station. All of them wanted the same thing. Answers.
Bishop Michaels slowly swiveled his chair and gazed out the large, curtained window into the blue sky beyond. He rubbed the fingers of his left hand along the bridge of his nose, and then curled them under his chin. He remained that way for a few moments, and then he spoke.
“I have been a part of the church since I was a young man, Quentin. I have seen a lot of things over those years, and borne witness to a great many – experiences — that I can neither explain, nor understand.”
Father Thomas sat forward expectantly, hanging on the Bishop’s words. His hands trembled.
Then, without warning, Bishop Michaels spun back to face Father Thomas, slammed his hands down onto the desk and scowled at the younger priest.
“I have never heard anything like this.”
He hesitated to let his words sink in. His expression slipped from its austere, almost fatherly aspect to an expression of deep disdain. He continued, biting off each sentence as if he was having a hard time passing the words.
“Your hands itched. You felt something trickle down your forehead in the heat of Easter Mass. You had a stitch in your side – and your feet hurt. Do I really need to tell you, Father Thomas, that these hardly constitute a miracle? You’d be hard pressed to find a priest in Mother Church who has not experienced each and every one of these symptoms during a Mass.”
Father Thomas sat back as if he’d been slapped. His eyes were wide in shock, and his mouth fell open, though it took him several attempts to form words.
“Surely,” he said at last, “you don’t believe I would make something like this up? I know you heard what I said. I did not have itchy palms; I bled in front of my congregation. It ran down my arms – my face.”
He fell silent for a few moments, and then he went on, the tone of his voice far away and bitter. He choked back anger – or tears – but when he spoke, it was controlled.
“I came to you for help.”
Bishop Michael’s countenance remained icy, but he leaned forward over his desk. His hands gripped the edge of the wooden surface so tightly his knuckles were white spots of tension.
“Then I will grant you that help,” he replied. “Make no mistake; I will put this nonsense to rest.”
Father Thomas sat still as stone. His face was trapped halfway between confused anger and hope. He had never seen the Bishop so angry, never seen him lose his calm demeanor, even for a moment. He didn’t recognize the man facing him across the desk, but he very much wanted to be able to trust him.
Bishop Michaels caught that glimmer of hope, and stomped on it quickly and viciously.
“Don’t mistake me, Father Thomas, I see through you. I don’t know how you did what you did, or why. I don’t know what you think you saw or felt, or what you sold to those appointed to your care, nor does it concern me. If I had the slightest inkling that you had experienced a miracle that inkling died when you told me, not more than a few minutes ago, that you don’t even know what you believe.
“I know that there is something to this, but I know equally well that it is not a miracle from God. Miracles, in this day and age, are rare, and very precious. I will not have you making a mockery of them in a parish under my control.
“I also have no idea what we are going to do about these,” he swiped his hand through the pile of papers, and the frustration behind his anger shone through clearly.
Father Thomas remained rigid, as if all flexibility had been lost to his limbs, but he managed to respond, and he managed to do so in a clear, level voice.
“It is nearly Easter, Excellency,” he said simply. “All that I have asked of you is that you attend, and, if something like what occurred a year ago should return to me, that you should see, and advise me.”
The Bishop smiled then, but it was not a pleasant expression. He pushed off from his desk, fell back into the heavy leather of his chair, and laced his fingers together, holding them against his chest.
“And what is it that I will see, Quentin?” he asked smugly. “Will there be lots of blood? Will I hear angel choruses in the background? Will there be souvenir programs handed out at the door, do you think, or will I have to purchase that? What would be the price, I wonder? Will the walls tremble? Will I get to be on national television and cry ‘Praise Jesus’ like some white-suited flame-tongued televangelist?”
The sarcasm hung in the air like a bitter cloud.
Michaels hesitated, just for a second, and then said, “I will be there. Count on it.”
Father Thomas stared at the Bishop for a moment of unbelieving silence, and then lowered his head. He nodded slowly and turned, his shoulders bowed. He had come expecting something; he didn’t know what it had been, but not this. The Bishop’s reaction had shocked him to his core. He exited without reply, leaving the heavy wooden doors open behind him.
Bishop Michaels watched the doorway until all trace of Father Thomas disappeared, and the soft brush of robes and vestments ceased to echo. The afternoon had grown late, and the light that streamed in through the windows had fallen away. The shadows lengthened slowly, stretching out from all corners of the room and following the light.
On the edge of the old wooden desk, the Bishop’s grip tightened again. His nails threatened to dig into to the polished surface, and his hands trembled so powerfully that the shivers ran up his arm and shook him back to his senses. Almost absently, he reached out and gathered the scattered papers back into a neat stack.
He stared at the doorway where Father Thomas had disappeared and fought back the anger that threatened to boil out of control. He didn’t glance down at his desk, because there were loose objects on that surface, and he didn’t trust himself not to throw them. There were beautiful, ancient things surrounding him, on the desk, the shelves, hanging from the walls, and he was on the verge of devastating it all, rushing around the room to smash the Tiffany lamp into an ancient Sumerian vase, or to yank the hand-woven rug from beneath the table that held his cut-crystal.
When he had slowed his breathing enough to trust his hands, he released the desk and reached to the bottom right hand drawer. There were two tumblers there, and a small flask. He pulled one tumbler and the flask free, and poured two fingers of amber liquid. He stared at it, frowned, and then tipped the flask again, doubling it.
When the heat of the brandy began to seep through his nerves and calm him, he poured again, and reached across the now shadowed surface of his desk for the ornate black phone.
~ * ~
On a nightstand across the world, another phone rang. The shrill sound drove itself through the darkness and snatched the room’s occupant from the warm, comfortable arms of sleep.
Cardinal Sean O’Brien, thick, swarthy, and not at all happy at the prospect of being awakened before his appointed hour, rolled in his bed and pulled the pillow more closely over his head. It did no good. The phone was loud, insistent, and came with none of the amenities of American phones – like an answering machine.
Groaning, O’Brien rolled over and slapped ineffectually at the nightstand, nearly overturning the glass of water he kept by his side at night. As he came fully awake, his fingers regained their dexterity, and he managed to snag the receiver from its cradle with an irritated grunt.
“Yes?” he said.
The sound of someone breathing was the only answer for a long moment, then, Bishop Michaels’ voice crackled over the line.
“Sean?” he said. “It’s Tony. I . . . I’m sorry to call. It’s so late. I should just let you . . .”
O’Brien sat up and ran his hand back through what remained of his hair. He was alert now, and he detected something odd in his old friend’s voice. Something he knew he should recognize, but that did not come to him immediately.
“It’s fine, Tony,” he said. “You never were one for ceremony, in any case. What is it?”
“I’m not sure,” Bishop Michaels replied. There was a slight slur to his voice, and suddenly Sean knew what it was he’d heard. Tony was drinking. It had been a long time since he’d last helped his friend with that particular demon, but once the circuits connected in his mind, Sean knew.
“It’s San Marcos, and Father Thomas. You remember I told you about the – disturbance last Easter Mass? Since then things have gotten a little crazy here, Sean. The media is up in arms . . .”
Sean thought quickly. There were a number of ways this could be headed, and he didn’t like any of them, but if he chose wrong, he would be no help to his friend.
“So,” he said softly, “I take it you still think there’s nothing to it?”
“How could there be, Sean?” Bishop Michaels asked. He sounded as if he were pleading, as if he needed someone to either back up his opinion or set him straight quickly.
“This is California,” Michaels continued, “not the Holy Land, or even the Vatican. Oddballs and lunatics are regular citizens here – and the Church has had its fair share. I’m sure I’m on the speed dialer of every tabloid reporter and crackpot in the city.”
Cardinal O’Brien leaned back against his headboard and focused. He knew that Tony wanted something, something he could provide, but he wasn’t sure if it was help – or just a set of ears to listen, or a wall to bounce this off of. It was critical that he figure it out, because if the slur remained in the Bishop’s voice, they’d have to send someone in – and Cardinal O’Brien did not want to see his old friend in that position.
“What can I do,” he asked at last.
“I’m not sure,” Michaels replied, his voice weary. “I’m not sure if I can do anything, either, but I intend to try.”
“How,” Sean asked.
“I wanted to give you a heads up, Sean,” Michaels said wearily. “I intend to attend the Easter Mass at San Marcos this year. I’m going to film it – cameras directly on Father Thomas. The media will be excluded, of course. I’ve called in favors from the local police. They’ll be lined up in the parking lots and on the road, probably even bring in helicopters, but they won’t get into the church.”
“Is that wise,” Sean asked. “How will the parish react? Do they support him? Are they afraid? We wouldn’t want to seem intrusive, or harsh.”
“I’ll keep it all as low key as I can,” Bishop Michaels said. “I will do everything in my power to make it seem routine, as if maybe we want to have the film for training, or a documentary. I’ll even pretend to believe, if it can help us through this and on to normalcy. Something. I won’t come across as the ogre, but I have to set this to rest.”
The line went silent for a moment, and Cardinal O’Brien broke that silence.
“What if you can’t?”
“That’s what you’re there for, isn’t it Sean?” There was a light chuckle at the other end of the line, and Sean relaxed slightly.
He stared off into the shadows of his dark bedroom. His mind was drifting, and he was thinking about other churches, other places, and other times. He shook his head, realizing the line had remained silent for too long.
“Try to keep an open mind, Tony,” he said softly. “Call me, one way or the other, the minute the services have concluded.”
“Of course,” Bishop Michael’s chuckled again. “That’s why I called you now, Sean. If this thing blows up in my face, I know you’ll be there to wipe it off – but if it doesn’t, I expect full credit for my good deeds.”
They both laughed for a moment, then O’Brien’s tone grew grave once again, and he asked.
“How have you been, Tony?” He hesitated, and then added, “You sound a little more tense than usual. Maybe you should pack up your things and pay a visit to Rome – unwind a little.”
There was silence, just for a second, and then Michaels chuckled again.
“When this all blows over,” he said, “I might just do that. It’s been a very long time.”
“That it has,” O’Brien agreed in mild relief.
“Get some sleep, Sean. I’m sorry to have woken you so late. I spoke with Father Thomas, the priest I mentioned, earlier this afternoon, and it just wouldn’t let me go, you know?”
“I do,” O’Brien replied. “More than you know, Tony. Sleep, now, that has never been a problem for me. May God be with you, old friend.”
“And also with you,” Bishop Michaels replied.
There was an audible click, and then the dial tone blared to life. Cardinal O’Brien sat for a while, holding the receiver in his hand as the tone buzzed angrily through the silence. Then, as if waking from a light doze, he stared at it and placed it back onto the cradle, returning the room to silence.
He thought briefly of another man, a younger man. The Cardinal reached up without thought and pressed against his nightshirt with the palm of one hand. He felt the familiar bulge of soft leather, and he stroked it as he thought. Father Prescott was in South America, but he would be returning soon. If things progressed… Still, that was something to think about only if necessary.
He lay back, stared at the intricate pattern of shadows on his ceiling, and off to sleep.
I’ve decided that, while I wait for the final bit of this project to come to pass and fall into place, that I’ll try and find where I was when it first began. I wrote a post in my Live Journal back in December of 2003. That was the day that I announced that the publisher of the upcoming collection, Lost & Found, had greenlighted the project and that we could begin work. It seems like a lifetime ago, but things are what they are. Everything has shifted around me, and so, I will go back to those early days and remember the work that I did – the stories I wrote, and why, and share it all again here…
Lost & Found will be a book of stories inspired by the kinetic art of Lisa Snellings. Lisa has inspired my writing more than once, including providing the original inspiration for the noveltte that became my novel Deep Blue. When I realized that I was not the only person she inspired, and that at least one other author had written a number of pieces brought to life through her images, I got the idea to invite that other author, and Lisa, to create a book with me. That book will be Lost & Found – and at this writing it is one half a story from completion – just waiting on my much more famous and incredibly harried collaborator to find some days / time to do it justice. Not going to dwell on that – going to remind everyone of my own part in this ongoing project.
Here is what I wrote back in 2003 about the story that would become “Square Magic,” and that is inspired by a photograph of one of Lisa’s 3D pieces, “The Bendyman”. That story is complete, and spooky, and waiting on my hard drive to be released on an unsuspecting world…
Here’s what I wrote:
deep_bluze (deep_bluze) wrote,
@ 2003-12-12 13:22:00
At this point, I tried not to let anything leap fully formed into my mind. I work better that way, I think, with a vague image, but no set-in-stone outcome. What ended up sticking in my mind was an image Lisa named “The Bendyman.”
If I get the okay from Lisa, I may link to a picture of the 3D art piece that she photographed to give you a better idea of what I was looking at. The Bendyman is a crouching, leering, harlequin character with a truly evil expression on his face. He is crouched sort of Batman style, one hand on the ground before him. On the ground at his feet, much smaller than he is, so he looms over her, is a woman. She is on her hands and knees, hair draped down to cover her features. Over her is a dome shaped cage that might have been formed by bending down the monkey bars on a playground.
The image evokes several sensations immediately. You get a sense of something repressed. Something trapped deep inside, and very powerful, will not release her. You get the impression of something larger than life behind that repression, something – or someone – that she can’t escape, and an underlying sense that this force, or presence, is active, malevolent, and filled with glee over the situation. It’s a powerful piece of art.
That is the foundation. What swirls around that foundation, currently, is a sort of whirlwind of images and ideas I’ve already been playing with. I don’t know a better way to describe it. I go over and over the current obsessions in my mind, and then, eventually, one overlays itself onto the foundation I’m trying to fit, and catches. That is how I got to where I am now. Where that is, is the beginning.
I have had a long time fascination with Talismanic magic. I once owned a book that explained how the sigils of demons, elementals, and angels were to be discovered. This involves, according to the source I read, taking the number that is associated with whatever force you are interested in, and then finding the “magic square” for that number. A magic square, for those uncertain, is – in this case – a square divided into rows of smaller squares. In the smaller squares are numbers, and in every direction you can go, in all rows, they add up to the same number. This gives you a backdrop for drawing the sigil. Then there is another process by which you take the name of whatever it is you are trying to summon, or control, or draw some quality from, and you trace the numbers involved with that name across the magic square. The resultant design is a sigil of supposed power.
Anyway, all of that is neither here nor there. I have no evidence, one way or the other, as to the efficacy of such a process, but it got me thinking. Then I read a story about the folklore behind hopscotch. I started to wonder what might happen if you played hopscotch on a magic square. I started to wonder a lot of things, and when I wondered them at the right time, I saw a hopscotch square warped and bent over the figure of a woman, over-looked by a leering harlequin, and I started to write. Thus far, I have finished the first 1000 words. The working title of the tale is “Square Magic.
Sometimes you have to step back, consider your options, and punt. A few years ago I wrote a book titled Vintage Soul. This book was loosely based on a plot that I tried to sell long ago for White Wolf’s World of Darkness. They didn’t like it – it didn’t fit their universe. The idea stuck with me. Don’t get me wrong – there is no WOD in my novel…just the basic conflict between a magician and a vampire.
Anyway. I wrote the novel, building it around the character “Donovan DeChance,” Donovan DeChance is a supernatural jack of all trades. He’s a collector of old books, manuscripts, and spells, which he is in the process of scanning and archiving onto a huge computer memory array. He works as a private investigator and troubleshooter in times of supernatural crisis. The darker, inhuman elements of the city come to him when things are going wrong, or when they need a particular spell or ancient secret. Donovan understands the balance of powers in the universe, and has dedicated his life to seeing they remain balanced. It has been a very long, very interesting life.
That first book, about the kidnapping of a beautiful 300 year old vampire, came out a coulpe of years ago (two years after being written) and it died on the vine. It was bought for an SF / Fantasy line that died before it was published, and moved to that company’s mystery line, where no one (apparently) knew what to do with it. It got decent reviews, but few sales. It’s now remaindered, and I’ve retrieved the rights. I have also collected comments from fans and readers and have great ideas for revising it before it ever sees the light of day.
Meanwhile, though, expecting that it would NOT flop, I wrote another novel. This novel, Heart of a Dragon, is also based on an older idea – a story I published long ago in Deathrealm Magazein and that has been reprinted at least once in collections. That story was “In His Heart Live Dragons,” the story of a young artist named Salvatore Domingo Sanchez. I incorporated that into a new Donovan DeChance novel, and I have to say – I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written. It is ALSO a pre-cursor to Vintage Soul, chronologically. This is what I’ve done.
My own company, Crossroad Press, has released “Heart of a Dragon” in all the various eBook formats. It has become Volume I in the DeChance Chronicles. I will be revising Vintage Souland possibly even retitling it, and bringing it in as Book II – both will also have audiobooks available and down the road, print editions. The third book, “Kali’s Tale,” will follow eventually. The hope is that a fandom will build,. If you like series books like The Dresden Files, you should love Donovan DeChance. If you like the idea of a book collector as a hero…it’s another plus. I also plan on ding some shorter pieces that will be “origins” stories for various players in the novel…Donovan, his lover Amethyst (who is a Geomancer by trade) possibly Club Chaos, the local underworld/overworld gathering place … Old Martinez from the Barrio…there are a lot of shorter pieces I could write to fill in gaps. I intend to have fun with this, and I hope it will build into something special. With that in mind, I offer you the links to HEART OF A DRAGON – it’s only $3.99 for Kindle, Sony, Ipad, Kobo, and almost any eBook device you can imagine. Unabridged audio to be announced soon, once a narrator is lined up for the series. I hope you’ll read with me and meet Salvatore Domingo Sanchez, a young artist with an amazing ability – The Dragons, the bike club that befriends him, Old Martinez, sorcerer and guardian of the Barrio, Anya Cabrera, crazed Voodoo priestess, and — of course – Donovan, his cat Cleo, and Amethyst. I hope you’ll love them as much as I do.
—David Niall Wilson
You can buy Heart of a Dragon at:
I have seen far too many ‘gurus’ chime in on this subject, and after nearly a year in the business of growing a digital publishing company, I feel like I have some value-add to bring to the mix. I’m not a ‘guru’ and do not ever want to be considered one, but I have been doing this for a while now, and I’ve observed some things you might find usesful. It’s worth the effort, I think, to try and get it all into perspective in my own mind.
First of all, books are books. Stephen King’s eBooks sell better than those of a new writer no one has heard of. Blogs about and reviews of Stephen King books get more notice than those of lesser-known authors, and generate more sales. Authors – in short – who were already popular before putting their titles out in eBook format are still more popular than authors who were not. Authors who bring an audience from mass market publishing to their eBooks sell better than those with no track record. These are facts, and no amount of blogging, posturing, or tears will change them.
So what do you do?
There are solid answers. Covers matter. That said, you don’t need to go out and break the bank on a professional cover designer to get a very good, commercial cover. I’ve done some extensive analysis on our titles, and I can tell you that there is absolutely ZERO evidence in my data to show that the cover art is a huge factor unless it is godawful. If your little brother did it in Microsoft Paint, or you let Calibre generate it for you, or the colors are all mis-matched, you’re going to lose sales for the same reason a similar cover would not work on a print book. It looks amateurish.
That said, there is a lot that can be done with Photoshop, and there are people out there with some amazing artwork that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. You just have to look for them. Join the community at Deviant Art and meet some of the wonderful artists there. Browse the public domain photo sites. You may pay some for the rights to an image, but you can often find one you’ll like for a very reasonable price – or even free. Then all you need is to study some books, see what sort of font and text arrangement appeals to you, and find someone capable of dropping it onto your image. All that is a fancy way of saying – most of you aren’t going to make hundreds of dollars on your eBook right off the bat, and investing a bunch of cash in a cover is a serious risk that isn’t really necessary, in my opinion (and experience). Some of the covers we’ve used that I think are the most mundane have resulted in great selling titles, and several titles with amazing covers have not done well at all.
Copy-editing and format matter. If you just run a word document through some conversion program and slap it up, it’s not going to look good. If you don’t get at least one other set of eyes carefully going over your work, it’s not going to read well – it’s going to have typos. Almost no-one is perfect enough to write without errors…and though you may see them easily in another person’s work, you may also NOT catch them in your own. Do yourself a favor and – even if you have to pay a small fee for it – find a proof-reader worth their salt. Then salt them.
On most eBook sites you can assign “Tags” to your books. This might seem trivial, but it is not. There are whole groups out there cross-tagging one another’s books to bring the numbers of people “agreeing” with them high enough to bump them up the search ranks. On Amazon, for instance, if you search the word BLOOD – the book with the highest ranking on that search term is going to come up first. Also, books that have the word BLOOD in their title may start getting that book listed in the “related” products and sent out in “you might also be interested in” e-mail notices.
Price matters. If you are a known quantity,and you present new, original work, you can get more for your eBook. If you are NOT a known quantity, or if you are bringing back older work that can be bought used and cheap in print editions, don’t be greedy. If you charge the $2.99 league minimum at Amazon, you will get more per sale than you ever got from a print publisher per sale by a huge factor. Print books pay (average) 4-10 percent royalty. If you sell your book through Crossroad Press – for instance – you get 80 percent of $2.05 (about what Amazon pays us per sold title after deducting their “delivery” fee) – that’s a good chunk per sale, and it adds up fast. We sell new, original works higher – $3.99 and $4.99 – and those seem to be workable prices as well, but keep in mind what you are asking of your readers. Ignore everything else and buy my book. Give them as many reasons as you can.
Do a good write-up for the book. I sometimes have a hard time getting my authors to help with this, and I do what I can, but a good solid “hook” in the product description is crucial. In print publishing you usually have little or no input to what the publisher puts up as a description, but here – in the digital world – you can write it and even change it with impunity.
When you get reviews, respond to them positively, even the bad ones. Never drop to thelevel of a sour-voiced reviewer. You’re just playing into their game, and you’ll regret it before all is said and done. Remain professional.
Visit forums and bulletin boards and blogs that are related to a: your genre and b: eBooks in general. Be a pro-active part of their communities before blowing your own horn, or it will backfire.
Make sure your author info is available. Set up your Amazon Author’s Page. Set up your Smashwords profile. If you get reviews complaining about typos – proofread and re-publish. Never believe that because someone else did a thing, you can copy what they did and it will work for you…it’s not going to. Each book, and each author, is unique in some way, and requires an individual approach.
Product, product, product. If you have words sitting around out of print, or languishing for years without publication, I suggest you dust them off and get them out there. A body of work in eBook format can generate steady sales much more quickly and reliably than one, or two eBooks. One thing is certain – a story or novel on your hard drive for ten years unread made you no money at all.
The bottom line is – you don’t need a guru. You need hard work, patience, attention to detail, and the same bit of luck you always needed to succeed. It’s easier to get IN the door of digital publishing, but the doors are open very wide. In the old days readers clamored at the publishing door for more to read. Now those doors are big and revolving, and the readers disperse in all directions as they pass through. Latching onto them and drawing them to your work is a whole new ballgame. Pay attention, learn from what you see, don’t let ANYONE tell you the best way to do a thing is”blah blah” unless they can show that “blah blah” has worked for a lot of people over time. And just SAYING that it has worked isn’t enough. Show me stats on how that new expensive cover built sales. Show me, in other words, the money. And don’t do it by showing me someone already successful.
Also, don’t listen to tales of inflated sales. You can go to Novelrank.com and put in the AISN of any book there and track it. If it’s already being tracked, you just log in and add it to those you are tracking. This way, when someone claims a thousand sales, you can check, and if you see a title upcoming you want to keep an eye on to see if something someone did worked for promotion – you have some (albeit imperfect) stats. I’ve seen some eye-opening whoppers told on the net about huge sales that I observed personally through Novel Rank to be much smaller. Keep in mind that Novel Rank is not perfect, and that it only tracks from the moment you START tracking, so any sales prior to that you can’t see. Hype is what it is.
I am happy to offer advice if asked, but that’s all it is. I don’t know how to make your book sell better for CERTAIN – I only know what is working at Crossroad Press. We’ve grown in leaps and bounds, sales are up (best month ever happening now).
One last thing…Kindle Nation Daily sponsorship. While this is not a guaranteed success – I have found that if you listen to them – go in with a good cover price, a decent cover, at least a couple of good reviews on your book already (and not fluffy, gushing ones either – real reviews) – you can generate a good number of sales that last over several days…
We have sponsored several books there, and at least three of them did very, very well. I would recommend their service to anyone.
Enough for one day…
Okay, I am one of the least likely people on the planet to utter a racial slur. I fully understand that perception can be everything, and that many of our children have a hard time disassociating themselves from modern culture when experiencing history. My seventeen year old son watched “Blazing Saddles” with us last year and was horrified by the same thing that bothers people (apparently) about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn…that stupid “n” word.
But there is no excuse for watering down classic literature. Mark Twain didn’t write Native American or slave into his original text, and I don’t want my kids reading the book some new, less dynamic way just to shield them from what bastards their grandfathers and (in many cases) fathers) were. Why not just write into our textbooks that things didn’t really happen the way they did and …oh. Wait. They’re doing that too.
Listen up, you mooks. This is not just ridiculous, it’s dangerous. Throughout history the civilizations that allowed their history to be rewritten to political or social agenda were almost always the same ones reviled by future generations. If we change the way things were, we not only do a disservice to our own heritage, but we risk losing the truth in the shuffle…teach the kids why the language is the way it is in Mark Twain. Discuss it. Learn from it. Don’t change it so it’s just a nice little story about two boys…
God only knows what they’ll want to do to my books – but I can tell you – libraries across the country carry them currently – and now, along with the fear of dropping into obscurity – I can add the notion that I might become censored, or known for writing something in language that isn’t even my own.
In the words of Brittany’s defender on Youtube… “Leave Twain alone, man…”