Monthly Archives:: October 2014

‘The Plains of Kallanash’: first promotion results

October 29, 2014 Publishing/marketing, The Plains of Kallanash 4

When ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ was published in September, I took the decision not to do any serious promotion. There were several reasons for that, not least the fact that I hadn’t got a clue what I was doing, so very likely I would be wasting both time and money. But the main reason was the received wisdom that promotion is pointless until you have at least three books out. Why promote a single book, the thinking goes, when you can’t offer an enthusiastic reader anything else? Once you have three, preferably in a series, then promoting book 1 leads to increased sales on books 2 and 3.

But I’d decided to enroll with KDP Select (it seemed easier to stick to Amazon until I had a better grasp on this publishing lark), so I had free days to use. And I’ve been active on Goodreads for years, so a giveaway there seemed a good idea.

Goodreads Giveaway 16th Sep-26th Oct

The purpose of a Goodreads giveaway is not, in fact, to give away oodles of books, hoping for people to read, rate and review. Since the only product that can be given away is the print version of the book, that naturally limits the scope of the prize (LibraryThing is the place for ebook giveaways). Publishers with big marketing budgets can afford to give away ten or twenty books, but self-publishers will probably want to limit themselves to one or two. What you hope, however, is that a lot of people will sign up for a chance to win the book, and along the way will notice it, add it to their shelves and (if you’re lucky) buy it. It attracts attention to the book.

The biggest signups are at the beginning (when the book appears on a list of new giveaways), and at the end (when it shows up on the ending soon list). I had almost 60 signups on day 1, then around 5-10 a day until the last few days, when numbers skyrocketed. Eventually 1,632 people entered the giveaway, with 264 on the final day alone. However, I discovered that the giveaway ended the moment the calendar ticked over to the last day (26th). I’d expected it to run right through 26th, giving Sunday browsers a chance to enter, and I could pop the winning copies in the post first thing Monday. I shall know for next time.

Was it worth while? For getting the book noticed, certainly. Over 800 people added the book to their to-read shelf. However, it’s only produced 8 additional ratings and no extra reviews. It’s hard to know how many people actually bought the book as a result. It was priced at $0.99 for most of the time, and free for the last day, so I’m sure a few picked it up, but there was no obvious spike in sales. Taking postage and packing into account, it’s probably cost me less than $30, which is not a lot for the number of people who now know the book exists.

KDP Select Free Days 25th/26th Oct

I chose the weekend of 25th/26th October for my first 2 free days to coincide with the end of the Goodreads giveaway. I paid $20 for a Bknights promotion on 25th, and the book was also mentioned on various lists, Tweets and websites which trawl Amazon looking for new free books. I advertised the free days on my blog, on Twitter, on Google+ and on Wattpad. I’m not a big Facebooker, so I didn’t post there.

The price drops to free at midnight Pacific time, or 8am UK time, so naturally downloads were slow to start with – just a few copies in Europe. Things started to pick up around 8am Pacific time, and then increased dramatically around 10am Pacific with around 120 downloads in the following 2 hours. This is around the time of the Bknights promo, so although Kallanash was placed well down the list, it was clearly very effective.

After that downloads dropped off slightly (yes, I checked every hour!), but the overall results were better than I expected:

Day 1: 532 downloads

Day 2: 252 downloads

Total: 784 downloads

Most (689 or 88%) were from the US, but there were 45 from Germany, 39 from the UK, 10 from Canada and 1 from Italy (Ciao e grazie, persone d’Italia!).

Most entertaining of all, the pace of downloads on day 1 weaseled me into the free bestseller charts, peaking at #401, and reaching #7 in the free Sword and Sorcery sub-chart, and #8 in the Epic Fantasy sub-chart. Which was all great fun to watch (and take screenshots of), but of course it doesn’t mean anything. Free downloads don’t affect normal sales rank at all, and only drive sales if they number in the thousands. The only thing that’s changed is that 784 extra people now have a copy of the book stuffed into a dusty corner of their Kindle. And maybe one or two of them will read it. Eventually.

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Sci-fi (?) review: ‘The Mengliad’ by Jana Janeway

October 27, 2014 Review 0

This has an intriguing premise: imagine that half the people you see around you everyday are not, in fact, human. Imagine they look the same, but genetically they’re very different, so they avoid daylight, eat differently… No, no, come back! These are not vampires. I did get worried for a moment, I’ll confess – all that preferring the dark – but these are Mengliads, and they’re quite different from vampires. Instead of drinking blood, they eat — actually, I won’t spoil the surprise by revealing that, but it amused me hugely.

Jessica has a normal, if somewhat dull, life until something happens to revive her dormant Mengliad DNA and she becomes (more or less) a Mengliad herself. I liked that there’s no halfway, blended state, you can only be one or the other. And there are no superpowers in evidence, just a somewhat different physiology. And discovering how that differentness affects her is just part of Jessica’s problem.

Being only the tenth accidental conversion in Mengliad history, Jessica is a target for the scientists who want to research her situation. She’s also a target for the section of Mengliad society who want to keep themselves uncontaminated by mixed-blood individuals, and it’s not research they’re interested in. And both groups want to keep the whole thing under wraps so that regular humans never find out about Mengliads.

The end result is a fast and furious chase to keep Jessica safe and avoid the many bad guys. Now the plot is wafer-thin, there’s a huge amount of angsting and crying and clinging to the hot bloke for comfort, and every third word seems to be italicised for no obvious reason. And you know what? It didn’t matter. This is a lot of fun, there are plenty of twists, the sex is hot, the action is heart-pumping between bouts of angst, and I found myself reading faster and faster to find out how it ends. Be warned, though, the ending felt more like a respite before another outbreak of chasing around.

I’m torn between three and four stars, but the sheer entertainment value (and the hot sex) bumps it up to four. And the opening; isn’t this a great opening paragraph? How can you resist?

It’s survival of the species, and that’s all it knows. Needing a blood meal, the protein necessary to its offspring, it searches the streets of New York for a victim, unremorseful.

Spotting potential prey, it swoops in for the kill. Biting into warm flesh, it takes what it needs without regard to the owner, but danger presents itself, and it can’t obtain all it requires. Another source is vital.

From its vantage point, it doesn’t take long to find. Soft flesh, warm blood, it starts to feast, the task nearly complete.

Darkness.

“Stupid mosquito.” She slapped the insect hard, killing it, and then flicked it off her arm before continuing towards her destination.

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Historical fiction review: ‘The Birth of Venus’ by Sarah Dunant

October 27, 2014 Review 3

I loved this book. Right up until the very last chapter, I loved it. And then… if I hadn’t been reading on my Kindle, I’d have hurled the thing across the room. Ack. I can’t talk about the reasons for this without giving away spoilers, so if you don’t want to know anything, don’t read the second half of this review.

Here’s the premise: fourteen-year-old Alessandra is the oddball of her fifteenth century Florence family. She’s not beautiful, as her sister and two brothers are, she’s not content to follow the prescribed duty for a well-to-do woman and either marry and push out babies, or take herself to a nunnery, she’s been educated and she has artistic talent. Her drawing is a secret, abetted by her slave maid, Erila. She yearns for freedom, but is constrained by the need to remain virginal. But when her father employs a painter from the north to paint the family chapel, Alessandra is drawn to him, despite the prohibitions on both of them.

You would think, given all this, that the story would play out as a romance. Girl meets painter, girl is attracted to painter, painter is attracted to girl, insuperable obstacles… yada yada. And to some extent, it does. But the author has ambitions far beyond the simple romance; she wants to write Literature. So what we get instead is historical fiction with the romance pushed firmly down to the bottom of the priorities list.

And it almost works. The backdrop of Florence – the city itself, the art, the social culture – is beautifully and lovingly drawn, with an almost painterly richness of colour and texture. The political setting, with the fall of the powerful Medici family and the rise of a charismatic religious leader, is covered pretty well, although Alessandra’s situation means that she misses most of it, and has to depend on other characters to tell her what happened. This leads to long, slightly info-dumpy dialogues. And sometimes the plot contrivances to get her into place for some historic event were creaky, to put it mildly. However, the complications and swirls of political fortunes were well described, and I was never at a loss to understand what was going on.

The characters were, in some instances, interesting, but all too often their motivations were unclear or downright unbelievable. Alessandra’s brother, Tomaso, for instance, is a major influence on her life, and not for good. Much of what happens to her is because of his machinations, and it’s hard to see why he chooses to be so evil towards her. Sibling rivalry just isn’t a good reason for some of the things he does. Why does he hate her so much?

Both the mother, with her own chequered past, and the slave maid Erila, are actually much more interesting than Alessandra herself, who always seems to be the victim of other people’s needs and manipulations. Her husband, too, is a fascinating character. All of these are people who, unlike Alessandra, made their own decisions, their own lives and remained true to themselves (yes, even the slave, who seems to have had more freedom than her mistress). The painter would have been interesting if we had ever seen enough of him to judge, but he remains a shadowy figure for most of the book. I did, however, like the conceit of not naming him, so that readers can imagine their own favourite northern painter in the role.

And then we come to the ending, and here is where everything fell apart for me. However, the rest of the book was very enjoyable, so it merits four stars but with a hazard warning: this is NOT the book to read if you want a satisfying ending.

Spoilers ahead… Read more »

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FREE this weekend: ‘The Plains of Kallanash’

October 25, 2014 Publishing/marketing, The Plains of Kallanash 3

Yes, folks, for the 25th and 26th October you can download a copy of ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ completely free from any Amazon store. If you already have a copy (thanks!), tell your friends about it. It’s an epic fantasy adventure with a strong romantic theme, and at 564 pages, it’s a traditionally sized fantasy, so plenty of story to get your teeth into. Magic, mystery, a barbarian war and an unconventional marriage – plus a dragon (sort of!).

Link to your local Amazon to download a free copy from the side bar.

Here’s the blurb:

Thousands of years after a magical catastrophe reshaped the world and pulled the moons out of alignment, the secret of magic has seemingly been lost. At the centre of the vast, forbidding Plains of Kallanash lies a land ruled by a secretive religion, whose people fight a never-ending war against the barbarians in the wilderness beyond the border.

Amongst the nobility, double marriages are the norm. Junior wife Mia always dreamed of attracting the attention of the dashing lead husband, but never dared to compete against her lively older sister. Hurst has spent ten frustrating years as junior husband, longing to test his skill with a sword in battle, longing for his beloved Mia to turn to him.

The mysterious death of Mia’s sister thrusts the marriage into turmoil. As Mia and Hurst struggle to adjust and find out what happened, they uncover sinister truths about the ruling religion. But the gods are unforgiving; even Mia’s innocent questions carry a terrible punishment. Hurst is prepared to risk everything to save her, even if it means taking up his sword against the barbarians, his own people, and the gods themselves.

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Other World Mapper: Kickstarter

October 23, 2014 General 1

I’ve always been terrible at art. Really. I can’t even draw convincing stick people. It never really mattered much, though, because I never needed to. I left all that painting, drawing and generally arty stuff to those with a talent for it.

But now I’m writing fantasy, and really, a little drawing skill might be a rather useful thing to have, because – maps. Every fantasy world has to have a map, right? I’ve had people ask about maps for my stories. Oh, but you’ll have one when the book is published, won’t you? Well, no, because: see above. And I really can’t afford professional artwork for a map.

Now, I know there is already software out there that supposedly allows anyone to draw maps, and I’ve even tried some of them, without any success. My hand-drawn back-of-the-envelope efforts are better, frankly. But I keep hoping for something simple enough that even I can use it.

And here’s something that just may work for someone like me: mapping software that really does look simple yet effective. It’s called Other World Mapper and there’s Kickstarter for it which runs until November 7th 2014.

Check it out at: http://kck.st/1rTYfBZ.

Here’s a sample of what the software can do:

 

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Mystery Review: ‘Hushabye’ by Celina Grace

October 18, 2014 Review 0

This is one of those British-based police procedural books where the author did pretty much everything right – interesting characters, a nice (but not gory) murder mystery/kidnapping, some intriguing reveals along the way – all in a pleasant, undemanding style. I enjoyed the read but it never quite caught fire for me, somehow.

The central character is Kate Redman, a detective with a history, starting a new job with a case involving a disappearing baby and a murdered nanny. The parents are a workaholic self-made businessman and his Z-list celebrity wife. Kate has to unravel the mystery while staying on the right side of her new colleagues and keeping her past firmly out of sight.

None of this is particularly radical, but the methodical police work rustles up enough clues to keep the pages turning. The writing style is sometimes pedestrian: whenever our trusty detectives meet with potential suspects, greetings are exchanged, cups of tea are offered, chitchat is documented in exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) detail.

However, it never gets too slow, and the characters are drawn with a light hand, with just enough detail to bring them to life. The settings are described in a more minimalist way. For instance, the police station is said to be “a charmless, redbrick sixties building”, which Brits can visualise instantly, but non-Brits might have more trouble with. There’s some low-key British humour, as well, which is easy to miss.

The conclusion was fine, with a nice build-up to the reveal of the culprit and a not too over-the-top dramatic climax, nicely resolved. After which the cops all sat round in the pub explaining everything to each other. Guys, we got it, OK? There were only one or two missing pieces that needed an explanation at that point.

And then – one of my pet hates – the story ended at the 86% mark, and the rest was filled in with a chapter of a different book altogether. Sigh. This always makes me feel short-changed. I might well buy the next book in the series, but it will be because I enjoyed this one, not because the author has sneaked a chapter into this book.

An enjoyable, easy read. Three stars.

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Kindle Unlimited: a change of heart

October 16, 2014 General 2

It’s only a couple of weeks since I wrote about Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s all-you-can-read subscription service, and concluded that I probably wouldn’t bother with it.

And there I was this morning, looking at a non-fiction work and dithering. It was one of those how-to books that are so common nowadays, under a hundred pages but not too expensive. So why did I dither? Because I knew perfectly well that if I bought it, I would skim through it, find a few paragraphs interesting, forget the rest and never read it again. Very few such books are real ‘keepers’, that I would want to go back to repeatedly.

I could have got it for free through my Prime account, of course, but I can’t do that from the Amazon book page. I would have to find my Kindle, connect to the store, search for the book all over again and only then can I click the button. And I can only read it on my Kindle, not on the computer or tablet or phone. Plus, it’s limited to one book a month.

Then I saw that seductive ‘Read for free’ button. The little spiel about Kindle Unlimited. The free trial. Sign up, it called to me, and you can have this book and loads more without paying a penny. Reader, I signed up. And lo, it was simple to one-click that book, just as simple as buying it. Then Amazon helpfully offered up a bunch of similar books that I might like. So I one-clicked them, too (except the one that wasn’t in KU, dammit).

All of a sudden, I see a point to KU. It’s not so much for fiction (I still have my backlog of 50+ books waiting to be read). It’s for all those non-fiction books that may (or may not) be useful, but the sample is too small to tell. I can download them, skim them, send them back if they’re useless. Probably I’ll use it to try out fiction too, to see if I like an author or not, experiment with genres. It’s a no-risk option.

I’m converted. Who’d a thunk it?

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‘The Plains of Kallanash’: the first month

October 16, 2014 Publishing/marketing, The Plains of Kallanash 2

A month ago, my first fantasy novel went live on Amazon. This is a status report of what’s happened to it since.

Marketing strategy

Erm… what marketing strategy? Experienced authors publishing their umpteenth book plan the launch with meticulous attention to detail, organising street teams to post reviews and spread the word, scheduling promotional campaigns with military precision and adjusting on a daily or even hourly basis if sales and rankings underperform. I didn’t do any of that. The received wisdom is that sales can’t be expected to take off until the third book at least, and even then only in popular, high-turnover genres like romance and YA, and when the books are arranged into a neat series. I write stand-alones, loosely linked but not in a series, in epic fantasy with added romance (sort of). So a big promotional push would almost certainly be a waste of money.

My sole plan was to announce the book’s existence to online friends via my blogs, Twitter, Google+ and the writerly forums where I hang out. The price was set nice and cheap ($0.99) initially to allow those who know me to pick up a copy without breaking the bank, and I opted into Amazon’s Select program to take advantage of the free days later. Since Amazon allowed pre-orders for everyone shortly before release day, it seemed good to give that a whirl. I sent out a few ARCs a couple of weeks beforehand.

Once I got some print copies ordered, I started a Goodreads Giveaway (which won’t allow ebooks). I’m only offering two books, so the total cost will be the cost of the books plus postage. I also found a nice little promotions list on Kboards geared to new and undiscovered books (low rankings and/or few reviews). It’s only $15, so it’s worth a shot.

Expectations

I’m a realist (read: pessimist). Or perhaps it comes from studying statistics in the past. I know the chances of a big take-up are vanishingly small, so my expectations were correspondingly low. I reckoned I could sell 15-20 copies to online friends, and thereafter perhaps 1-2 copies a week to random strangers. So somewhere between 50 and 100 copies in the first six months. With reviews, I thought maybe 3-4 initially from online friends and ARCs, and then odd ones here and there. I couldn’t estimate borrows at all. Some people seem to get loads, some none at all. The Kindle Unlimited program is too new for me to guess how it might affect me.

Results: Sales

I had 12 pre-orders, then two good days of 10 and 9 sales apiece. After that things slowed to a trickle, averaging roughly one sale per day for a while and then dwindling. There were 3 returns. Total sales 58, of which 42 were from the US, 12 from the UK, and 4 from the rest of the world. So expectations exceeded.

Results: Borrows

7 borrows. I noticed quite a few spikes in rankings unrelated to sales, so I’m guessing those were from borrow downloads which may (or may not) turn out to be actual reads later (a reader has to get to the 10% mark to trigger an entry on the report, and therefore a payment).

Results: Reviews

Here’s where everything fell flat on its face. I got one review on UK Amazon a couple of days after publication, and a deliciously complimentary 5* review on Amazon.com after a couple of weeks (thank you, random stranger!), but otherwise, nothing.

Results: Promotions

The Goodreads giveaway resulted in more than five hundred signups, about half of whom added the book to their to-read shelf. It also gave me a few ratings on Goodreads: 3 at 4*, 4 at 3*, with one 2*, with an average of 3.25. No reviews attached (apart from a repeat of an Amazon one), but I assume the ratings came from people who have bought and read the book. The objective of raising awareness of the book was achieved, as well as a few sales (and it still has a couple of weeks to run). The Kboards Discovery Day promotion, which cost me $15, resulted in zippo. However, a Twitter account called KU Spotlight (@KUSpotlight) has been tweeting about books in Kindle Unlimited, including mine, and that’s resulted in a couple of mini-spikes of sales/borrows (although nothing since: the law of diminishing returns).

Conclusions

This is pretty much in line with my expectations. Perhaps a little better, although things tailed off quicker than I’d hoped. It was fun to watch the early sales come in and see my Amazon rankings shoot up after a sale and then meander down again.

Why am I telling you all this? Most self-published authors don’t talk about sales figures or rankings (unless they have something special to boast about). I certainly don’t have any results worth boasting about, that’s for sure. But that’s exactly the point: this is a book by a debut author that’s not in a hot genre and hasn’t had any hype or promotional push; low sales are exactly what would be expected. Too many new authors publish their first book and expect the world to fall at their feet. For a very, very small number of people, that does happen. For most people, no.

Books don’t just sell themselves. The first book sells to the author’s friends and family, with only a sprinkling of random sales to strangers. It takes several books (typically three, but it could be many more) to gain some traction and sell in reasonable numbers. Even then, sales drop off without constant promotion. Bestselling author Hugh Howey said recently that his sales were a quarter of what they used to be, because he hasn’t put out a new full-length novel since January.

So, for all aspiring and published authors out there, here are my numbers for your edification or amusement. Sometimes it seems as if all you hear about is the outliers, the hugely successful breakout hits. This is a reminder of what’s normal for self-publishers.

Future plans

For the future, I have some promotion to take advantage of because of KDP Select. I’ve chosen to go for the five free days. The Countdown option runs for longer, brings in actual money and impacts on sales rankings, whereas the free days only affect ranking in the free charts. However, free days are likely to shift more copies, and at the moment I feel it’s more important to get the book out there and (possibly) read than to make any money from it.

If you want to mark your calendars: Kallanash will be free on 25/26 Oct (to coincide with the end of the Goodreads giveaway), and again on 3/4/5 Dec (for no particular reason). I’ve booked a cheap promotion for the 25 Oct, so I hope to shift a few copies then. If you’ve already got a copy (thank you!), please tell your friends about the free days so that as many people as possible can take advantage.

Looking further ahead, the next book, ‘The Fire Mages’, will be published probably in early January, and the third, ‘The Mages of Bennamore’, around May or so. That will be the point at which I will start thinking seriously about promotion.

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A new review of ‘The Plains of Kallanash’

October 15, 2014 Publishing/marketing 0

There haven’t been many reviews yet – one on Amazon, one on the UK Amazon also posted to Goodreads – so every extra one is much appreciated. Today marks the first review by a book blogger, although, to be fair, Anachronist is an online friend of some years’ standing, and also my fellow contributor over at book review site Fantasy Review Barn. She also beta read Kallanash for me, so not quite a random stranger.

Here’s a snippet from the review:

However you know what I liked the best? Like in real life there were no baddies rotten to the core, no really. Or rather I should say the baddies were so three-dimensional and complicated that, after a while, you didn’t perceive them as completely negative characters.

You can read the full review (and many other great book reviews) at Anachronist’s blog here. And watch out for her interview with me, too. [ETA: You can read it here. Some interesting and unusual questions in there.]

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Fantasy Romance Review: ‘The Lost Book of Anggird’ by Kyra Halland

October 10, 2014 Review 0

This is exactly the sort of book I love: a well-conceived fantasy world with an intriguing magic system; some great characters who behave in a believable way; a plot that’s driven more by the background and characters than the need for relentless action; and a strong, satisfying romance. Why can’t all fantasy be like this?

Let’s start with the characters. Perarre (no, I don’t know how it’s pronounced) is a woman determined to make a success of her career in a male-dominated world. After a wild phase, she’s settled down to an academic life as a translator of old books, aided by her ability to magically ‘read’ the intent of the author (and haven’t we all read books where we could have used a talent like that?). Roric is the buttoned-up and demanding professor she ends up working for, a man hiding a surprising past. He’s given the task of finding out why the ‘magica’, the tricky to manage magic system, is no longer easy to balance. Something has gone wrong, but finding out what has happened and whether it can be fixed means taking big risks.

As the two investigate, they naturally start to see each other as more than working colleagues. This part of the book is exceptionally well-written, as they circle round each other and gradually set aside their prejudices and inch towards an understanding. The romance builds slowly, right up until the point where they hurtle headlong into a passionate affair. The change felt a little bit abrupt, but given their personalities (Perarre’s wild-child past and Roric’s obsessively constrained behaviour), it was believable and I can go along with it.

From this point onwards, the pace accelerates to become a breathless ride from one end of the country to the other, and back again, multiple times. I was quite relieved that later journeys were condensed to ‘After a month of travel…’. Nevertheless, the various locations where the pair end up, whether the sophisticated and political big city, the village or small farming community, the isolated woodsman’s hut or the very different society of the nomadic steppe clans, are beautifully described. I never had any trouble visualising the settings and understanding the prevailing customs.

Both Perarre and Roric have to leave their old ways behind and open their minds to other cultures (quite literally, in fact). I found it fascinating to watch Roric in particular shed the thick shell he’d built to protect himself from hurt, and face up to both his own heritage and a future very different from anything he’d ever envisaged. This is where the rock-solid love between the two is absolutely critical. And yet he never changes his inner self, and never loses his scientific spirit of seeking the truth, regardless of the cost.

There were moments in the second half of the book where I began to feel that the pace was sagging a little, and wondered whether I was being fed a certain amount of filler. But then things would veer sharply off in a completely unexpected direction. I do love it when a book surprises me, and this one has several such moments, much to my delight. The ending is less unexpected, and (to my mind) falls slightly flat, and I wasn’t totally convinced by the oh-so-convenient way the population of the capital city falls into line, but it isn’t a major stumbling block. A very enjoyable read. Highly recommended. Four stars.

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