Bookstore Closed (temporarily)

Just FYI: my spring sale is finished and I'm shutting down my bookstore until July 1st. I'll still be able to take orders (for the few things in stock), but nothing will ship until after I've finished my move and gotten all set up and am no longer frazzled by the huge number of personal and professional items on my plate.

Thanks again for ordering signed books directly from me. It really does make a difference!

Spring Cleaning Sale

Hello all! If you follow my twitter, you'll know that I plan on moving sometime this summer. In preparation for that, I'm trying to clean out extra inventory so I have to haul as few books as possible across the country. To do so I'm having a double sale: not only will all the signed books in my store be cheap from today until May 10th (especially the trilogy and novella bundles) but every order over $20 will come with a coupon code for the audiobook of Ghosts of the Tristan Basin, which is currently $14.95 on Audible.

I'm not ordering any new books until after the move, so it's first come, first serve. I'll email you your audible coupon code separately. The sale list is below:


Ebook Store

I've lately had a lot of people requesting to buy my older novella ebooks directly from me via my web store. I've only kept the most recent one up there because frankly, they don't get a ton of sales after the first two weeks, and the "commerce" feature in Squarespace (where I host this website) has pretty limited functionality. So organizing the store can be a pain.

I finally gave in, however, and created an ebook store. You can get all my novella ebooks there in epub, mobi, and PDF. Have at it!

Upcoming Event: Budapest

I will be in Budapest next week on Tuesday, March 29th. I'll have a Q&A session where I talk about writing, fantasy, and the Powder Mage Trilogy followed by a signing. The schedule is below:

- 29 March 5 pm: Panel and Q&A.

- 29 March 6-7 pm: book signing and meet and greet opportunity for fans.

Location: Rácskert pub, Budapest, VII., Dob street 40.-42.

Really excited to meet my Hungarian fans. Look forward to seeing you there!

Facebook Ads for Authors

This is the latest of my essays about being an author, brought to you by my Patreon page. If you'd like to get announcements, coupons, news, and more, sign up for the Powder Mage Newsletter!

For this essay, I've changed things up a bit by running an experiment in marketing. As far as the "behind the scenes of being an author" thing goes, you're watching me throw crap at the wall to see what sticks. Warning: there will be lots of numbers. Hope you find it interesting.

There's a lot of literature out there extolling the virtues (or more often, the lack thereof by companies like Priceline) of using Facebook ads to help grow your business. I've always wondered whether these ads could be used to help spread the word about my self-published novellas, and upon doing some research found that "Facebook ads for authors" have some very loud proponents out there. Being someone who likes to wade into the nitty gritty of the business of publishing when I can, I was intrigued.

One of the loudest of these proponents I found was an author named Mark Dawson. Mark is a self-pubber who has found great success writing mysteries and thrillers. In this interview, he attributes his success to leveraging a combination of newsletter lists and Facebook ads. His method is straight-forward: run FB ads promising a free book with a newsletter signup. Once you have that email address, tailor newsletters to that person offering to sell them more books in the series.

I'm always a skeptic. Mark claims that the ads way more than pay for themselves for him and several of his colleagues. He buys the ads, the ads bring him subscribers, the subscribers buy his subsequent books, he re-invests profits in ads to get more readers. It's a solid theory, but the success of it sounded suspect, and I figured if it worked as well as he said I would have heard of far more authors using Facebook ads. But I was willing to do a small-scale experiment.

Disclaimer that I'm not trained in marketing or a statistician or anything else. I'm just an author trying to figure out how to expand my audience.

My setup was this: using my Facebook Author Page, I purchased $10 worth of ads for each of seven days, for a total of $70. I targeted people who showed interest in Brandon Sanderson and Brent Weeks, two authors I share a lot of readers with, and offered a free powder mage novella to anyone who signed up for my newsletter. I don't have the newsletter-fu of a guy like Mark, but I set up a separate list on my Mail Chimp account to keep track of things. Here's my ad:

The results were... underwhelming? There are two different sets of numbers, one of which is "paid" and one "organic," meaning the people who would have seen the ad on my author page regardless of any money I spent on it. I'm going to just look at the "paid" results, which you can see below:

  • 67 link clicks (people who decided to take a look at my newsletter signup)
  • 29 page likes (people who now (might) see what I post to my author page in the future)
  • 57 post likes (which means pretty much nothing except that they clicked "like")

My new list wound up with 34 newsletter subscribers, roughly a 50% conversion from people who bothered to click on the link at all, which is pretty decent. It's hard to tell whether page and post likes are actually worth anything, but 29 and 57 weren't exactly thrilling numbers even if they are. (It should be mentioned here that FB has been accused in the past of farming out purchased likes to "clickers" in third-world countries)

Considering all that, let's focus on the newsletter subscribers. If you saw my essay on newsletters last month, you'd remember the subscriber-to-sale rate for that one particular email was .6%. I've had higher and lower, but let's run with that number and see where it gets us, assuming that those 34 people are the right audience for future novels and novellas.

A novella makes me $2.05. Those 34 people at .6% conversion made me 20% of a single sale. So $.41. That means I spent $70 to make $.41. I'm not great with math but that seems less than fantastic.

Some of you might point out (and I'm sure Mark Dawson would), I'm grabbing these subscribers so I can send them newsletters ad naseum, which is totally fair. Let's say that percentage holds true across every release-announcing newsletter I send for the rest of my career. It would take 170 releases for me to make back that $70.

As you saw in my newsletter essay, I'm pretty optimistic about the powers of "spreading the word" and recognize that there are impossible-to-measure factors when it comes to simply getting your books out there in front of people. Ten of those "page likes" I mentioned above could turn into wild fans that buy every one of my books and tell all of their friends and makes it so I can die happy in a pile of money. Statistically, however, that seems pretty unlikely.

Needless to say, I'm not thrilled with the results of my Facebook ad experiment. I was ready to follow the Mark Dawson technique and drop $100/day into FB ads. If they worked. Unfortunately, that won't be happening. I am willing to concede a few points: 1) that I just don't have right combination of mojo/genre/ad wording/etc to really make a FB ad succeed. 2) that a novella in an existing world might not be as tempting as a full-length first novel as a freebie. 3) That FB ads might work a lot better in scale, and that if I had the money to put $1000/day into them I might get amazing results.

Regardless, I'm not going to be advising my author friends to try out Facebook ads any time soon.

Upcoming Event: Dutch Comic Con

I'm going to be a guest at Dutch Comic Con this coming weekend (March 26th and 27th) in Utrecht in the Netherlands. How dang cool is that? This is going to be my first international trip as an author (AND as a civilian) and I'm very excited for it. Here's my schedule:


  • 13:30 – 14:30 The Business of Writing – Fantasy & Horror Editie
  • 15:45 – 16:45 Worldbuilding – Making the Fantastic Realistic


  • 11:00 – 12:00 Fantastic Action – Writing Action Scenes in Fantasy and Comics

I don't have any dedicated signings, but the convention bookstore will have my books for sale and a spot for me to sign and chat with fans. I'll probably try to be there as much as I can on both days, and tweet when you can find me.

Looking forward to seeing you all there!

Silicon Valley Comic Con Schedule

Hey Bay-area friends! My schedule for this weekend in San Jose is such:

The First Word: Getting Started as a Writer on Saturday at 11:00 AM

It's one thing to want to be a writer, but quite another to type out the first words. Our panel of published authors and seasoned editor will talk about strategies and ways to start a book, and more importantly, how to keep yourself going until the bitter end. Working with editors, coping with draft revisions, and how to know when it?s done and time to send out of the nest will all be discussed.

The Brave New World of Publishing on Saturday at 2:00 PM

The road to publishing has splintered into many twisty paths. Options have never been greater for aspiring authors, but navigating the choices has never been murkier. Where do you start? Indie? Traditional publishers? Or the bumper crop of small presses? What about Amazon and Kindle Unlimited? A panel of authors from indie to Big Five publishers and everything in between maps the routes and outlines the pros and cons of each path in the brave new world of publishing.

The best way to find me is to catch me after one of these panels. I don't have anything scheduled the rest of the weekend, or an official signing, but if you want to get something signed and drop me a message on Twitter Saturday or Sunday, I can try to meet up with you!

Tristan Basin Hardcovers

The hardcovers for the latest powder mage novella have arrived!

And I've got a special treat for those of you who order one! I've commissioned symbols to use in the next powder mage series from the talented Isaac Stewart. The first one arrived late last night, and I was able to get it turned into a stamp before the local office supply store closed. From here on out, I'll be stamping all signed books that take place in Fatrasta with the crest of the Mad Lancers.

The hardcovers will be shipping over the next couple of days. You can still order them here!

Powder Mage Wallpapers

A couple months back, I asked on Twitter if anyone could whip up a desktop background using one of the cool symbols Isaac Stewart did for the Powder Mage Trilogy. Lo and behold, Chanh Quach delivered with these:

I've been using the dark one ever since. It occurred to me recently that others might enjoy them too, so I got both Isaac and Chanh's permission and now, if you'd like to use them yourself, you can download them right here. I'm not sure what sizes these will look best in, only that they look great on my own computer, so feel free to experiment. Enjoy!


Hey guys! In a future Patreon essay I'd like to talk a little about why people pick up books, so this poll is a little of my own research. Thanks for giving it a quick look!

Why did you first try Promise of Blood? Choose the one reason that really sealed the deal for you.
I loved the cover art.
I loved the concept/description.
Recommended by a friend/relation.
Recommended by an author/creative type I respect.
Recommended by strangers in a bookstore or online (like on /r/fantasy).
The reviews on Amazon/Goodreads/etc.
I found Brian through social media or met him in person and wanted to try his books.
Found it through my book club.
It was on a "best of" list.
Please Specify:
Do Quizzes


This is the latest of my essays about being an author, brought to you by my Patreon page. If you'd like to get announcements, coupons, news, and more, sign up for the Powder Mage Newsletter!

There's a lot of talk about marketing yourself as an author online; reaching your audience, pushing your books, etc. If you're a self-published author this might be one of your primary pursuits every day and even if you're with a traditional publisher, you're probably still worried about what you can do to push your books. Publishers are spread thin these days and rarely do anyone but the bestsellers (or expected bestsellers) get a big marketing budget.

So what does an author like me, who loves the business side of things and wants to do everything in my own small amount of power to further my career, do to get my books in front of more people? Well, there's a ton of little stuff, with varying success rates (all depending on who you ask), but today I'm going to talk about newsletters.

First I'm going to make a caveat: there are authors out there who are wizards with newsletters. They've got dozens of lists and track every report and go absolutely crazy. I'm not one of those guys. I've got a free MailChimp account with 1281 subscribers and I take a middling interest in the reports. It's not huge, but it's mine. I'll also say that these are all my own experiences and theories and mileage may vary.

Second, I'm going to walk things back a bit. In my experience, a newsletter isn't going to get your name out there to new readers. Aww, but that's what you said you were talking about today! Yeah, well newsletters accomplish the second most important part of selling books: they get your stuff back in front of readers.

I use a newsletter to keep my readers informed about what's going on with my writing. I announce new projects, send them coupons for my store, send them info on pre-orders, and buy links when a project hits the shelves. Remember, these are people who already want know about me and want to learn more so the chances of them clicking the buy links are WAY higher than when I post these things on social media. It's also sitting in their in-box rather than just scrolling by on Twitter.

Reader retention is a huge part of the industry and doesn't get talked about very much. I sold the Powder Mage Trilogy to Orbit. Not just one book, but a trilogy. That means I need people to pick up Promise of Blood, but I also need them to pick up Crimson Campaign and then Autumn Republic, too. A lot of that comes down to taste: if they didn't like the first book they won't buy the second. But a huge amount comes down to knowledge. If they don't know the second or third books are out, they can't buy them! The same theory applies to the novellas I write in the Powder Mage Universe. Getting a sequel (or novella) in front of an existing reader is more important than getting it in front of a new reader.

So, back to the newsletter. You might not have a huge audience. It might be 20,000 people, might be 1281, might only be 100. But that's 100 people who want to know that your latest book has come out. To get a better idea of how significant this is, let's take a look at the numbers. Warning: this might get boring.

My latest powder mage novella, Ghosts of the Tristan Basin, came out on Tuesday. I'd already tweeted and sent out a newsletter about pre-orders, so my engagement on Tuesday wasn't it's highest but we're still going to compare it via tweet versus newsletter (on the day of release).

I tweeted an Amazon buy link. It had 2562 impressions (people that saw it). 12 people clicked on the link. That day my Amazon Associates account had an 8% click-to-buy ratio. That means (maybe) one person bought the novella from that tweet. That's .03% of the people who saw it.

I sent out an Amazon buy link via newsletter. 670 people opened the email. 48 people clicked buy links. At 8% that's four sales. That's .6% of the people who saw it. Significantly higher number and I sold five Tristan Basin hardcovers from 29 clicks on a different link in that same email. You can see the information that MailChimp provided me with right here:

Awesome. Great. You can see how a newsletter is much more effective than shouting into the void that is social media. Except wow, look at those numbers. They are not great. I have no idea how they compare to the rest of the industry as a whole, but as a lay person that's super discouraging. So why bother with a newsletter (or Twitter) at all?

Because the above data isn't actually complete. It only contains the minimum number of people who bought my novella directly at that time and place. An indeterminate number probably saw the tweet, or newsletter, then went back later on to buy the item in question, or had already bought it because of previous marketing I'd done. It's commonly understood that most people need to have seen an item in multiple places before they'll actually buy it. Marketing is all about walking this line of saturation (enough to buy, not enough they hate your guts and wish a pox upon your family).

And even if you ignore the intangible sales and benefits, I can do easy math. At this point, because I'm using a free MailChimp account and not advertising via Twitter, the cost of all the marketing I described above was just my time. Let's say twenty minutes all told, and I sold five novella ebooks for a $10 profit, $8 of which came from sending out my newsletter. I'm not going to scoff at a Chipotle bowl and that's not even including the profit of getting people over to my website store.

Newsletters are a hugely useful tool for authors, even those like me that just take advantage of the basics. They can be intimidating, but once you learn how to use them require maybe half an hour every month. And remember as a reader, you can always sign up for the newsletter of your favorite authors to hear about the stuff they have coming out. You know. Like mine.

Ghosts of the Tristan Basin

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you'll know I've been hinting at this new novella for quite a long time. Well, it's almost here. Ghosts of the Tristan Basin is the latest addition to the Powder Mage Universe. It takes place eight months before the events of Promise of Blood. Here's the synopsis:

Taniel Two-Shot is a powder mage with the Tristan Ghost Irregulars, a band of volunteers who have made a name for themselves fighting in the Fatrastan Revolution. They range through the swamps of the frontier, cutting off enemy supplies and raiding towns while Taniel hunts the Privileged sorcerers that make the Kez armies so powerful.

When a desperate call for help comes from the nearby city of Planth, the Irregulars aren't the only ones to answer and Taniel must deal with another hero of the revolution: Mad Colonel Styke. But not all is well within the young Fatrastan government, and more hangs on the defense of Planth than Taniel and his companions could possibly know.

I'm particularly excited about this novella because it's the first glimpse you'll get of Ben Styke: a viewpoint character in Sins of Empire, book one of Gods of Blood and Powder. Ghosts of the Tristan Basin officially releases on all your favorite ebook vendors February 16th, with hardcovers to follow March 15th. If you want to get it right now, you can buy a direct download from me.

Pre-order below:

Another Birthday Giveaway!

Hey guys! Today is my 30th, so all this week I'm giving away a powder mage novella to everyone who subscribes to my email newsletter. All you have to do is confirm your subscription (check your spam if you don't see it) and then click on the link on the confirmation page. I'll be sending all current subscribers a link to the download on Tuesday.

For those of you unfamiliar with my short fiction, here's the quick scoop: I write side stories within the Powder Mage Universe as a way to supplement my novels. It lets me explore themes and backgrounds I don't have time for in the books, and gives my fans a little something extra to read while they wait for the next full-length installment. I try to write these novellas so they can be read on their own, and many readers find them a good launching point into the Powder Mage Trilogy.


I'm giving away Murder at the Kinnen Hotel. It's a murder mystery featuring a young Adamat, long before he became the private investigator you meet in Promise of Blood. Subscribe and it's yours!

It's a good time to subscribe, because you'll get information regarding the next novella within the coming weeks.

Brian's ConFusion Schedule

The weekend of January 22nd is coming up on us quickly. If you're in the Detroit area during that time you have the chance to witness something special - The March of the Authors. This is when almost seventy industry pros of various shapes, sizes, and specialties make the long, cold trek to Michigan in order to participate in ConFusion.

ConFusion is a small genre convention that has, in recent years, attracted a huge number of pros who now view it a bit as VacationCon, where we can go for a quiet drink to hang out with out friends and interact with fans without the enormity of a comic con. It promises to be something special this year and, as usual, I'll be there hanging out for the whole weekend. Below is my schedule:

Saturday 9:00:00 AM Author RPG: Planet Mercenary!

Authors from across the genre spectrum come together to put Howard Tayler's new game, Planet Mercenary, to the test. Come watch these exceptional creatives put on a show and enjoy some laughs. Please remember to give the players their space.

Howard Tayler (M), Brian McClellan (M), Delilah S. Dawson, Cherie Priest, Mur Lafferty, Robert Jackson Bennett, Saladin Ahmed, Brent Weeks

Saturday 12:00:00 PM MacArthur to MacGuffin

From the King's Army on the march, to the trying to survive basic, to the epic clash of Helm's Deep, the genre reader can hardly escape military operations. Is the military an integral part of genre fiction or is merely an easy milieu to deploy? What about the military makes it such good fodder for genre stories?

Tom Doyle, Stina Leicht, Brian McClellan, Steve Buchheit, Brent Weeks

Saturday 2:00:00 PM Beyond The Hero’s Journey

Joseph Campbell wrote about the hero's journey in 1949 and it has become the default character arc of western writers for the past sixty years. But, there are many human experiences beyond heroism as narrowly defined by Campbell. What narrative types exist beyond the Hero's Journey? And why aren't they more widely 

Cameron McClure, Brian McClellan, Max Gladstone, Miriam Weinberg (M), Paul Kemner

Saturday 3:00:00 PM The Rise of the Novella

The last few years have seen a resurgence of shorter forms of fiction. Novelettes, novellas, and even short novels are doing better than they have in years, through self publishing and traditional publishers like Harper Impulse, Publishing, and Subterranean Press. Is this resurgence a result of a digital evolution or declining attention spans? What does the future hold for fiction under 50,000 words.

Melissa F. Olson, Brian McClellan, Jason Sanford (M), Yanni Kuznia, Carl Engle-Laird

Saturday 5:00:00 PM Autograph Session 2

Saturday 8:00:00 PM Would You Rather?

Hosted by fantasy author Sam Sykes, the contestants will play a science fiction and fantasy inspired game of "Would you rather?" Expect shenanigans, adult language, and laughs.

Brian McClellan, Sam Sykes (M), Cherie Priest, Greg van Eekhout, V.E. Schwab

The Autumn Republic in Paperback

Hey guys! I'm happy to announce that today is the launch of The Autumn Republic in trade paperback here in the US. It should be available in your local bookstore or online and if it's not you have my permission to get someone at the store an earful (politely). For our friends across the pond, the mass market will be available in the UK on Thursday.

A quick FAQ regarding the paperback:

  • No, there are no plans for a mass market in the US or a trade paperback in the UK.
  • No, I'm not sure why they decided to print them one way here and one way there.
  • Yes, I have a limited number of copies of both the trade and mass market available in my store.

Thanks for all the support, everyone! Below is a list of buy links for the paperback (looks like the cheapest buy is on Now I'm back to working on the next Powder Mage novel!

United States

United Kingdom (mass market)



Commissioning Powder Mage Cover Art

This is the latest of my essays about being an author, brought to you by my Patreon page.

Today we're going to talk a little about self-publishing. I've gone on about self-publishing at length, both regarding the debate over self-pub v. traditional pub and just generally about the process itself, but I'm going to get a little more specific this time by walking you through the process I've taken in commissioning art for my Powder Mage short fiction. To give you some comparison for the rest of the piece, here's the covers for my traditionally-published novels:

My traditionally-published covers, design by Lauren Panepinto and photo illustration by Gene Mollica and Michael Frost

My traditionally-published covers, design by Lauren Panepinto and photo illustration by Gene Mollica and Michael Frost

You're going to find a variety of opinions on cover art, from the "whip up something in Microsoft Paint and slap it on the cover" to "if you've spent less than $5000 on your cover you're obviously an amateur." Two extremes, to be sure, and most of us fall somewhere in the middle. At the end of the day, though, your cover art is the public face of your book. Most people will see it before reading a single word, perhaps even before noticing your name, so it's a hugely important bit of your novel.

girl of hrusch avenue cover.jpg

My first foray into tackling cover art myself was for my short story, "The Girl of Hrusch Avenue." This was totally experimental, as I didn't know at the time whether anyone would actually buy any Powder Mage expanded universe material. Therefore, I had absolutely no budget and tried to go the "whip up something in Paint route." After I spent way too much time flailing around, my friend Isaac Stewart (who did the maps in the Powder Mage Trilogy) eventually took pity on me and threw something together.

As you can see, he matched the font with my novels, slapped on a bit of musketman clip art, and added a dash of color. It's not awesome, but if you consider it cost me all of a "treat me to lunch sometime" from a friend it's really quite nice. I wound up using the same template for two more short stories because frankly, even after they were a reasonable success, $.35 per sale is not making enough money for an art budget.

My next plan was a little more ambitious. Because of Amazon's payout structure, I knew that if I wrote something three times the length and charged $2.99, it would make six times as much money per sale. I also suspected I would sell more in general and so I gave myself a real budget for self-publishing what would become my first novella, Forsworn.

Once you have a budget, you have to find an artist. You can try to do so off a recommendation, or you might have a friend you can use. I spent a couple of weeks looking through DeviantArt accounts and emailing artists whose work I enjoyed. I gave them a summary of what I wanted and asked for cost and turn-around times. I must have emailed forty different people. Only about a third ever actually returned my messages and of those, only a small handful could work with my budget of around $400.

As an aside, I want to be very clear on something: don't rip off artists. Don't try to bully them into working "for exposure" and don't stiff them on the bill at the last minute. It's just fine to have a budget and just fine to negotiate ahead of time. Every artist is going to have different amounts of leeway and different prices. If someone is adamant on a price you can't afford just thank them for their time and move on. Being a prick about it may save you a few bucks—but word gets around. Don't be that guy.

I was hugely lucky to find Rene Aigner. He's affordable, talented, he answers all my emails in a timely manner (I've heard horror stories of pro artists who just sort of disappear for six months at a time), and he works dang quick. Because we'd had a previous email chain regarding character art he was willing to come down a little bit to meet my budget. All in all, he was (and still is) a delight to work with.

The first thing you should know about commissioning an artist is that they are not the art director. You are. You have to make the decisions about who and what goes on the cover—the colors, the characters, the text (which the artist doesn't necessarily include in their services). The artist is doing exactly what you tell them to do which means that if you're unhappy with the final product it's just as likely (or more so) to be your fault as it is theirs. For each of my covers, I've given Rene a very specific set of instructions regarding the foreground and characters, and then been a bit more vague on the background.

Some people have the talent to be their own art director. Some people don't. I'm not saying I do, but I've got particular tastes and generally know what I want ahead of time. I also have a couple of graphic designer friends (Isaac and Jen) who I can consult when I'm in a quandary.

For Forsworn I wanted something that threatened violence, with the immediate dueling theme of the novella. The background is fairly vague because of budget constraints (and because the duel referenced takes place in a blizzard) but the characters and foreground present a deadly, powerful picture.

Servant of the Crown is an immediate follow-up to Forsworn, so I wanted it to have a similar aesthetic. We see Erika on the front, but instead of facing her challenge she is back-to-back with her new ally, a young Tamas. We still have the threat of violence, but off-screen rather than on, and we have a cityscape instead of the snowy mountains. The detail meant it was more expensive than the Forsworn cover, but I knew it was going to sell so I didn't mind paying it.

Murder at the Kinnen Hotel was a murder mystery more than an adventure novella, so I went in a different direction. The violence this time (this is a Powder Mage story after all) comes from the guillotine. It's far more passive than the other two, with Adamat looking on thoughtfully. Here are some of the "in progress" shots that Rene sent me.

My latest finished project was the short story collection, In the Field Marshal's Shadow. I wanted to remove the clipart covers of my old short stories from sale and bind them all in a single book with a better cover. Because it's five different stories under the Powder Mage umbrella, I just went with a still-life that hearkened back to the opening credits of Sharpe's Rifles. This was probably the easiest to "direct" because it's so straight-forward.

I just got the art for the next (unfinished) project, a new novella following Taniel's adventures in Fatrasta, from Rene this week. You can see how he sent me a number of templates to choose from based on my initial requests, and the direction we ended up taking it.

Something I've tried to do for each of my novellas is give them a different color scheme so that they're easy to differentiate on the shelf. I want them to look like they're in the same series (hence the same artist and style for each one) but I don't want them to all look exactly alike.

Once you have the final cover art, you still aren't done. You have to get the text in place, have the sizing redone to fit Audible's parameters if you're doing an audiobook, and design a back cover if you're doing a physical book. All of this I go to my graphic designer friends for which makes it easier, but it's still more time and money the project 

Commissioning art can be a bit of a crap shoot. You can run into any number of problems, from your own wobbly budget or inexperienced artistic eye, to a flaky or inconsistent artist. Prices fluctuate hugely, and you have to dig to find a good match of affordability and skill. Like I said, I was dang lucky to find someone who met my budget and was still in the top-range of skill. Now that I know exactly what to expect, I don't mind paying Rene more for a greater amount of detail and the fact that his time is in far greater demand than when we first started together two years ago.

All-in-all, it's been a fantastically rewarding experience. I've learned a lot about the business and techniques, and I've also gotten way more respect for the job my art director does at Orbit. It was certainly one of the scarier parts of self-publishing and learning how to get through the process has been very fun.