Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Problem With Self-Publishing Short Fiction

I said I was going to talk more about short stories, and comment on some stuff brought up in the comments. Specifically what constitutes a story, especially when you start getting in the flash and micro-fiction areas. How do you do more than a vignette? Or are you stuck with only writing certain kinds of stories when you go really short?

I didn't write about that. I found myself wrestling with a bigger problem. A problem that a lot of indie writers will struggle with if they start writing more shorter works.


It takes just as long to do a cover for a short work as a long one. Sometimes longer -- because with short fiction there is less to the concept, so you don't want to give away the story. But you also want them to be quick and cheap to produce. If it's going to be a 99 cent special and you plan to give it away sometimes too, and not do a print version, you can't spend more time on the cover than on writing the darned story.

And you want a consistent style. If you have a variety of kinds of books, and lengths, it's really great if the reader can tell the difference between the short stuff and the more substantial stuff with something other than price. (Especially with so many people pricing novels all over the place.)

I thought, hey, why not go with a kind of literary look -- short story readers lean toward literary, and university presses also tend to look for cheap and easy for their covers.

So I had this bright idea of using a word cloud of the words in the manuscript as an image. It was really cool and slick looking... for a text book. Not the message I wanted to give. Hmmmm.

I finally realized that "texture" backgrounds are really a good fall back. They are often made freely available by and for 3-D graphics artists, and they are also something to photograph for myself.

Plus, I may even use different specific textures for all the books in a similar series. Like this old book texture I found at Zen Textures, (which, admittedly, doesn't look so hot in thumbnail, but it works well enough). It might be fine to use the same image for other fantasy, with a different 'symbol' and title/text.

This is the cover for the fantasy short story collection I plan to publish this weekend. I'll probably play with contrast and things like that first, but I think I will get it where I want it pretty easily, and if I can re-use it for other short stories, that will be fine. (More about that book next week when it makes it's way through the publishing process.)

In the meantime, I also realized that I am going to have to come up with a bunch of images for Mick and Casey covers. I have four novelettes which I will be publishing. I want to keep a similar look to Have Gun, Will Play, but give the short works a different look (maybe another color than the yellow, and shift around the logo).

But I also have the screenplay to create a cover for. I've already decided on the screenplay layout, and I knew I could use the Mick and Casey logo to tie it to the series, while keeping it clear that it's a screenplay. So tonight I also did that cover. (The title is "Girl Gunslinger, the Screenplay Origins of the Mick and Casey Mysteries.")

So maybe tomorrow I'll get to talking about flash fiction. Hey, maybe I should write something this weekend just for the #samplesunday posting. I'll give it a try. What should I write on? March Madness? St. Patrick's Day? Snow that just won't melt?


azarimba said...

Thanks for the great ideas about covers, Camille!

I'm embarrassed to admit that one of my sisters is a talented visual artist, so I really should be asking her to do covers for me. (And she could use the money, I'm sure.) But for my initial stumbling efforts, I think I want to try and do them myself, so I appreciate your thoughts on the subject.

DavidRM said...

Once I made my decision to release another 5 short story ebooks last week, I started thinking about much the same thing.

I have no problem spending $300 or more for the cover for a novel I will sell at $2.99 or higher. But it's hard to justify spending the same amount of money for an ebook that will sell for $.99. With a profit of only $.35 per copy sold, you would need to sell over 850 copies just to earn back the cost of the cover.

On the other hand: It's not like I have the requisite skill set to properly create a cover, and I don't want to put out something dreadful (and I can *do* dreadful, believe me).

Further (is this the 3rd hand?), it's not like selling 850 copies is really that many copies. And the ebook will be available for a long time, so it should earn its expenses back eventually. Sooner beats later, but eventually can be worked with. If I have to.

Anyway, yeah, covers seem a more significant expense for short story ebooks than for novels or collections.

I feel your pain. =)


The Daring Novelist said...

I'm not an artist, but I do play with them at work. I have training in both art and design, and in art history.

So at least I know in what ways my covers suck. But that's a problem, because I can't afford most artists who would meet my requirements.

Dean Wesley Smith has a great exercise for people who want to learn about cover layout. Take covers in your genre, and learn to replicate them. (You may have to find clip art for the art part -- but if you're not doing it for publication, you can get stuff off Google Images.) The point is to get used to dealing with the type and layout, and learn how to get it to do what you want it to. Learn how to recognize and use fonts.

azarimba said...

Dean made a good point today (14th) in his latest post in his new series about the business of publishing. If you're going to DIY, might as well put out a few short stories and/or short novellas with your own covers, and bite the bullet now. They'll get better!

I find some of yours quite good, Camille.

The Daring Novelist said...

Like I said, I am a para-professional in the field. I've had lots of training.

My point in putting out shorts and novellas is that I am at the stage where they are not worth the extra effort as a learning experience -- I need to find efficient ways to get them done, or they will simply cost me too much effort to make it worth it.