Cover Suckage, Bad Branding, & Other Indie Marketing Oopsies I’ve Made on My Way to Selling 1.5 (now 5+) Million Books (A Post for Self Published Authors)

Was that blog title long enough? :) So, some of you know that I make my own covers. I even shoot some of the YA one’s myself. Anyway, I posted the info below for people who ask what were some of the major factors in my recent accomplishments, which include 6 New York Times bestsellers since January, TWO #1 Amazon bestsellers, and over 1.5 million books sold.

I’m 100% Indie and never went the traditional publication route (my control freak article in FORBES sheds a little light on why I self-published), and the stuff below played a huge factor in my success.

Thought I’d share for all my author friends out there.


Okay, my all time fav covers are YA PNR. Angel wings, demon eyes, and fluffy skirts on kick ass young women. *swoon* So, when I go to make an NA cover, my brain is like, “But it needs a dragon…” Technically, dragons make it fantasy, but dude – dragons are awesome! What romance cover wouldn’t look awesome with a dragon in the background with its wings sprawled?

So as you can see, my creative self is conflicted when I make new covers. I’ve posted some of these before, but I wanted to do it again, and include a final cover that had a branding issue. This kind of stuff is visual and I don’t know about you guys, but it helps me to actually see the difference, which usually results in a face palm.

SECRETS was the second book I wrote in the romance genre.



This one was the biggest oops: I wanted the cover to reflect the artistic stuff in the book. Problem: No one could identify the genre of this book based on the original cover art. Someone mentioned they thought it was going to be a thriller when it first came out. I was like, you’re cray cray, dude. And I was totally wrong.

What I learned: COVERS ARE STOP SIGNS. They should quickly reveal as much info about your book to the reader as possible and this did not. As soon as I changed the covers to the current version, sales shot up. By Christmas 2012 (book 1 in this series appeared last summer) the series was selling better than I’d ever hoped.

You’ll also notice that I had a pen name, which I stopped using late last year. Even though the pen name wasn’t a secret, people didn’t buy the books. It could have been the covers, or it could have been a lack of fans for Ella. By last summer, I had a small, loyal fan base for HM Ward. Ella had around 5. I could have branded both names, but time is an issue so I didn’t go that route. I used the name that already had the following – mine. :)

Here’s another example of stupid cover mistakes–SCANDALOUS. This book was my debut romance novel, and it was a sleeper. It did nothing for 9 months and then shot up and landed on the NYT bestseller list. In Jan of this year, I changed the cover and pulled it back under my name just before running an ad. People saw it, could tell what it was, and tried it. Plus, the ppl who read it when it first came out really liked it, so they pimped me out – all 5 of them! Seriously, those people are awesome and I can’t thank them enough. Don’t be stupid like I was. I had a serious cover crush on the old version and did NOT want to change it. The painting on the cover is IN the book. Short version: I was really stupid. Don’t wait 9 months to change covers or descriptions on books that aren’t preforming.



Okay, and here’s the last cover screw up I’ll show you for today–STRIPPED. :) This is my next novel (no dragons :( ) and it needed to be tied to the DAMAGED series. I did something stupid, in terms of branding. I have a series within a series. People weren’t getting it, so I’m trying to go back and brand the covers better.

This book was giving me all sorts of grief. The tone was a little off and the type-font was bugging me. Yes, I made it, but sometime I don’t see the issues until later. I think the mismatched branding was bugging me. I changed the cover last night and by this morning, the preorder ranking shot up quite a bit.



The new cover has that somber thing that DAMAGED has, plus matching fonts which should help connect the series. Now, instead, of comments like ‘LOOK! ITS SUPERMAN!’ the fans are saying ‘Awh, what’s the matter with Peter’s brother?’ which is way closer to the reaction I want.

Making my name legible was also a face palm. Ah dher.

And then when this book was on preorder, everyone and their dog started using the cover image. So I had to change it again. This is the current cover:

Anyway, I have more examples of me being stupid, but the point of this post is to actually see the issues and not be afraid to change them and try something new. If you have a solid story and it isn’t selling, go back to the trifecta of awesomeness: COVER, TITLE, BLURB. Those things combined make a little stool, and all three legs need to be functioning to get ppl to look at your sample. If one is off, it knocks over your whole thingamadobie. Mine have been off and that’s okay. We’re not locked into keeping a crappy cover (meaning it doesn’t sell) b/c we’re indie. Change it as many times as it takes.

Examine what works and what doesn’t. Change things one at a time to see what the issue is. I totally thought it was my books last year. I was slamming my head into the wall b/c I wrote SEVEN new romance titles, all of which were sucking up the charts and doing nothing. It’s amazing how tweaking a few things can change EVERYTHING. Since Jan of this year, I’ve had 6 titles on the New York Times bestseller list. It’s like, SHUT UP! I know! And if I kept my artsy covers it would have never happened.

I’m supposed to be in the writing cave… gots to go. Hope this helps someone see the things that took me nearly a year to figure out. :)

*Update: My numbers jumped from 1.3 million to 1.5 million. Forgot to add this months sales. :) Told you that I’m a dork.

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CATALYST is 2nd on the Hot New Releases List!

So, I had no idea it was there. I just clicked around last night on Amazon, looking for another book to buy (ran out of stuff to read again) and I saw my book in the sidebar. Look! That’s me! Hooray! Just thought it was cool and wanted to share.

vampire ya book, new release teen, hot new teen series, bestselling teen vampire

I’m surrounded by traditionally published, kickass books. I mean, two are House of Night! It’s so exciting!

If you haven’t read BANE yet, go grab it. It’s on sale for 99 cents right now. If you’re wondering how a vampire book could possibly be different, read the first chapter of BANE and see for yourself. The reviews on Amazon alone floored me. BANE has only been out a few months and really had no following when I launched it. It climbed up the sales charts and has been hanging neck and neck with DEMON KISSED.

BANE pulled in it’s own audience. You guys rock! Thanks for trying something new!

CATALYST is on sale for $3.99 right now. You can get it at these retailers:

If you want to be notified via email on release day, text AWESOMEBOOKS to 22828. You’ll get a reminder email with the book cover, description, and links to book. I’ve gotten a lot of thank you letters for offering this. I’m glad it works and you guys like it!

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How to Write a Query Letter that Doesn’t Suck

self publishing, query letter, query, how to write a hook, indie publisher, agent

The woman in the picture isn’t in the process of constructing a query letter.  You can tell from the lack of ARGHS! in the painting, and the pleasant expression on her face.

Writing a good query is HARD.  I went totally insane trying to figure out how to write a killer query letter.  I read, read, read — I even paid to take a class on how to write a query letter.  And guess what?  Every single one of them said what a query letter kinda, sorta is.  Lots of these resources said what a query letter isn’t.  That’s like saying ice cream isn’t an apple.  Correct, but not helpful.

My query letter for DEMON KISSED received several requests for full manuscripts, and multiple offers of representation from top NY agents.  I thought I’d share what I’d learned since a lot of people have problems with it.  The query letter is a crucial part in the publication process whether you self-published or go traditional.  The query is the same thing that goes in the description line on Amazon, and the back cover of your book – minus the intro and conclusion.  The query will also be used when your book goes on submission to publishers.  If you are a writer, the query letter comes up over and over again.  It’s important to rock it.

So, how do I write a good query letter?

These are the best tips I’ve come across.  Forget everything else for a second and see if this helps.  Getting overwhelmed is the track to instant query letter suckage.

Every query needs a HOOK.  A hook is something that ensnares the reader to read on.  Its a concept – an idea that grabs your attention.  A good way to think of the hook for your book is to ask yourself this: what is the one event that spurs my book into motion?  If you removed this event, your book wouldn’t exist.  In my book, it’s the initial fight with Jake and the demon kiss that followed.  That one thing totally screwed up Ivy’s life.  If that event was removed from the storyline, there would be no novel – no series.  It’s crucial.  It’s the catalyst for the entire book.  So, what’s yours?

Less is more.  Hone the body of your query down to 300 words or less.  You’re a wordsmith.  Act like it.  Use the words that pack the most punch.

Word things positively - It uses fewer words and tends to be more concise.

Make the stakes crystal clear.  What happens if your protagonist fails?  What are the repercussions?

Remember that the query is a sales letter.  This is the most important thing I realized.  I’ve been in sales for most of my adult life, so sales is nothing new.  But, I had other writers swear to God that a query was not a sales letter.  They said that I was wrong and going straight to Hell for suggesting such a thing.  Well, my query got lots of attention very fast, so my sales theory worked.  Why?  Because that is exactly what the query letter is doing – it’s selling the highlights of your idea for a novel.  The query is fast, action packed, and a succinct showcase of your book.  They query is meant to grab your attention and make you want more.  It’s a tease.

What does this look like in a query letter?  Here’s the query I used for DEMON KISSED that got so much attention:

“The Valefar boy tricked Ivy Taylor into kissing him, but he took much more than a kiss – he stole her soul and left her within inches of death. By surviving, Ivy is drawn into the conflict between the Martis and the Valefar. The war between these two immortal forces has raged for millennia without distraction. Until now.

Ivy is an anomaly—she is the only person who has ever walked away from a demon kiss alive. Her survival gives her unique and deadly abilities. Too powerful to ignore, Ivy is a threat to both armies. These two ancient enemies will stop at nothing to kill the seventeen-year-old. Surviving is nothing new for headstrong Ivy, but her survival has never depended on another person before. This time it does. And if she misplaces her trust, she’s dead.

To her horror, she starts falling in love at the worst possible time—with the enemy. He appears to be protecting her. But she can’t be certain if he is trying to help her, or help himself to her power. For Ivy, trusting the right person is the difference between love and survival, or a deadly demon kiss.  -Query for YA Paranormal Romance novel Demon Kissed by H.M. Ward.

This is the hook: The Valefar boy tricked Ivy Taylor into kissing him, but he took much more than a kiss – he stole her soul and left her within inches of death.” 

The query is a short little tease – that’s it.  What ever you do – don’t write a summary!  And don’t feel bad if you submit and keep getting rejections.  Many authors will submit a query 100 times before they get positive replies.  The authors who submit one query and then land a legacy book deal with one of the Big 6 – well, they’re imaginary.  That doesn’t happen.  Keep a list of who you submit to, and don’t waste time submitting to agents or publishers who don’t do your genre.  Remember, this is about refining your query til it sparkles.  Make your query a sparklie tease, and you’ll get agents requesting your manuscript in no time!

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