Monthly Archives:: February 2016

Launch report: book 5, ‘The Fire Mages’ Daughter’

February 23, 2016 Publishing/marketing, The Fire Mages' Daughter 0

The strategy:

After The Fire Mages and The Mages of Bennamore took off rather well, thanks to some paid promotion, The Magic Mines of Asharim, released in September 2015, was less successful. It sold during the promotion, but sales died away straight afterwards. But there were two bright spots: borrows through Kindle Unlimited were high, and emails sent out by Amazon to ‘followers’ produced a bump of around 80 extra sales. Both of these were independent of any promotion by me.

So for The Fire Mages’ Daughter I took the risky step of launching on 15th January 2016 without any paid promotion at all. Since it’s a sequel to The Fire Mages, I made that book 99c for the whole of January, and kept the new book at $2.99; that way readers could pick up both books for the usual list price of $3.99. Then I told my mailing list, blog and social media, and sat back and awaited the crash.

What actually happened:

 A splurge of sales over the first few days, which then died away. But borrows were good, as expected. And then Amazon jumped in and started sending out those emails to followers. The result was my best month ever in sales and in revenue. I estimate that those emails brought me an extra 450 sales, plus an unknown number of borrows from the increased visibility. The tail from that is still going on, in the form of sales still well higher than before the new release.

One interesting aspect, for me, was that both The Fire Mages and The Fire Mages’ Daughter sold well, so obviously a lot of people picked up both books. Since The Fire Mages has been my biggest seller by far, I’d expected that most people would already have it. But apparently not. And for some unfathomable reason my ugly duckling book, The Plains of Kallanash, which has never sold terribly well, also shifted far more copies than expected. Now, after five weeks, I’m seeing more sell-through to the other two books.

Conclusions:

The power of Amazon to shift books is awesome. Who would have thought that small-fry like me would have so many followers? And Kindle Unlimited has also done very well for me, partly because my books are so long. For my next release, I’m going to experiment further – not just no paid promotion, but no pre-order either. As my mailing list builds up, I’m hoping to make a bigger splash at launch, and hope for some uplift from Amazon’s algorithms.

All the numbers:

Before release:

A typical week before the new release would be 20 sales spread over all 4 books, and 40K pages read. There were 257 pre-orders (not included in sales numbers below).

Week 1:
Book 5: 99 sales, 30K pages read
Total for all books: 237 sales, 68K pages read.

Week 2:
Book 5: 88 sales, 39K pages read
Total for all books: 259 sales, 95K pages read.

Week 3:
Book 5: 51 sales, 28K pages read
Total for all books: 150 sales, 87K pages read.

Week 4:
Book 5: 37 sales, 20K pages read
Total for all books: 90 sales, 51K pages read.

Week 5:

Book 5: 31 sales, 15K pages read
Total for all books: 78 sales, 47K pages read

Grand totals for first 5 weeks:

Book 5: 306 sales, 132K pages read
Total for all books: 814 sales, 348K pages read
Total sales including pre-orders: 1071

Divider

Urban fantasy review: ‘Moonborn’ by Marina Finlayson

February 22, 2016 Review 0

Ah, Garth… my favourite werewolf. {Sigh} He was a side character in The Proving trilogy, although an important one, but here he gets to take centre stage. This is a terrific prequel to the series. A few familiar characters pop up from the later story, but it’s not necessary to have read the trilogy first. In fact, it would work very well to read this and then move straight into Twiceborn. Either way works.

This tells the story of how Garth became a werewolf and how he got on in his early years as a shifter (not very well, in case you were wondering). Poor Garth! You’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel sorry for the poor guy, with all his difficulties. Because the trouble is, Garth doesn’t take easily to pack life and for a werewolf, that’s a real problem. Watching Garth struggle to fit in with a pack, or to live alone, and yet fail at both, is heart-rending.

But it’s not all grief and misery. There are some awesome moments in here, too. Garth’s first full moon transformation, followed by his first hunt as a wolf, is riveting. In fact, all the wolf moments are brilliantly written. It’s not easy to convey the almost completely animal nature of a werewolf in wolf form, where even the names of the other pack members are lost, but Finlayson is terrific at getting the reader right under the wolf’s skin.

The story covers quite a lot of ground, fifteen years to be exact, taking Garth from pre-werewolf days right through to the time of the dragon queen wars, the Proving, so it’s episodic rather than a single story. It’s no less compelling for all that, and the dramatic finale is an emotional roller-coaster as each minor triumph is immediately followed by a lurch downhill towards disaster. This is a great read — highly recommended. Five stars.

Divider

Writing to market: or, can I make money self-publishing?

February 21, 2016 Publishing/marketing, Writing musings 0

There’s a lot of discussion amongst authors about whether it’s possible to make any money from writing books. Pundits suck their teeth and shake their heads and stroke their chins in gloom. Typical advances for a deal with a traditional publisher are only a few thousand, we hear, even if you’re lucky enough to get any offer at all. The average book sells only 500 copies, ever. Even modest successes sell only a few thousand in the book’s lifetime.

So self-publishing is the way to go, right? That lovely 70% royalty that Amazon offers – there must be money to made there, surely. More chin-stroking and tut-tutting ensues. Self-publishers, they’ll tell you, fight for visibility in the vast, shark-infested ocean of Amazon and what about average sales of a self-published book? Just 100. Ever. The classic advice is: think of it as a hobby.

Well, rubbish. Can you make money self-publishing? Yes. You can. Unequivocally.

But…

Ah, you knew there’d be a but, didn’t you? There’s always a catch. Well, it’s not really a catch, so much as a couple of rules. Or maybe guidelines. Here they are:

1) Write something that people want to read

Well, duh! Talk about stating the obvious. Of course you have to write something that people want to read. If you craft poetry in iambic pentameter, your audience is necessarily going to be limited. If you put forth your highly original genre-mashup, you may well find the world isn’t quite ready for you yet. But how many readers are looking for another Harry Potter? Or Twilight? Or {insert bestseller here}? Must be millions, and that’s exactly what the big publishers are looking for, too – something that will sell a lot.

However, you’d be surprised how often an author’s first novel isn’t aimed at any particular reader. It’s the story that’s been burning inside the author’s brain for months or years, the one that has to be told, that won’t let up until it’s transcribed to paper for all eternity. It’s the one the author most wants to read herself, probably because she can’t find anything quite like it in bookstores. And that’s absolutely fine. However unusual it is, there are bound to be a few readers out there waiting for something just like it to happen along.

Just not very many. Sometimes an author just happens to hit a home run at the first attempt even without aiming at Harry Potter fans, but it’s extremely rare. As a rule of thumb, assume your magnum opus isn’t in this category.

So if you want to make money, whether it’s a comfortable income so you can give up the day job, a little extra to pay for a new car, or just enough to cover your publishing costs, your readership has to be more focused, and you have to give them what they want to read. What a lot of them want to read.

2) Publish often

This is where traditional publishing veers away from the indie brigade. With a trad deal, one book a year is the norm, and each book takes a year or two, maybe more, to reach the point of publication, even after the manuscript has been handed over. But that’s fine, because a committed publisher will drum up loads of publicity for each new release, so an author doesn’t have to worry about readers forgetting all about him.

But for indies, visibility is key, and one of the best ways to increase visibility is to release another book. And then another. If you could publish a book every month, you’d always have one in that honeymoon new-release phase. Even for notoriously slow-release genres like epic fantasy, two or even three books a year is a good idea to keep the pot boiling.

But… but… but… I hear you saying. But I can’t possibly do that! I have to polish every word until it’s perfect. I have to give it a thorough editing. I have to plan and plot and outline and develop my characters and then there’s all that world-building… If I write fast, it can’t possibly be any good, can it?

Ah, the quality issue. Here’s the thing. If you want to write exquisite prose, feel free to do that, even if it takes you ten years to produce something that satisfies you. But if you only aspire to prose that’s good enough to carry the story without being breathtaking, you can do that in a lot less than ten years. And experience counts for a great deal; each book will be finished a little bit quicker than the previous one, as you hone your craft and perfect your methods.

The solution: writing to market, and writing fast

For anyone who’s serious about making significant money from self-publishing, there are techniques that will make that outcome more likely. There are no guarantees, of course, but if you write to market, and write fast, you greatly increase the odds of a good income from your books. Writing to market means analysing the bestseller lists in your genre and identifying the key tropes (or storytelling conventions) in them. Then you write a book that sticks very closely to those tropes, package it in a similar way to the bestsellers and send it on its way. And then repeat, since a series is more effective than stand-alones. Writing fast means exactly that: increase your productivity. The fastest authors can write 10,000 words a day or more, which means producing a novel a week. But even 1,000 words a day will result in a 60,000 word novel in two months – that’s six books a year.

If you want all the detail of how to do this, author Chris Fox has published some books to help. 5,000 Words Per Hour will help increase writing speed, and Write To Market explains how to analyse the bestseller lists and target your book at a specific (but large!) audience. And Chris isn’t just talking about it: he’s currently committed to writing a novel in just 21 days, and documenting every step of it on video, starting today (Sunday 21st February 2016). You can follow along from Chris’s website here.

 

And there’s still the slow but steady approach

For those who don’t want to go the full-on writing-to-market way, it’s still possible to build a profitable self-publishing career. It may take longer, but it can be done. I don’t have the ability to analyse tropes, or to write to them even if I could, so I’m stuck with writing what I like and hoping it will fly, but I can still make sure I have genre-appropriate covers and blurbs, for example. And categories. When I released my first book, I mistakenly labelled it as romance. Now, it has a romantic element, it’s true, but it’s not something that a romance reader would expect, at all. And when I had a promotion that got it up into some sub-genre bestseller lists, it felt very uncomfortable to see it lurking amongst all the werewolves and half-naked men. So I took it out of the romance categories.

As for writing speed, this is something that generally improves with time and experience, but I’ve also been making a concerted effort to increase my productivity. I used to think 1,000 words in a day was a good effort; now I aim for 1,500-2,000. How do I manage it? One of the tips in Chris’s 5,000 Words Per Hour book is to write in short bursts, or sprints. You plan ahead what you’re going to write, and then you sit down and write it, fast, without thinking too much about it. I’m not much of a planner, and I can’t switch off the editing side of my brain as I write, but the idea of short sprints appeals to me. So I’ll set a kitchen timer and write for 15 minutes or half an hour between chores. To facilitate that, I bought a hybrid laptop/tablet to cart around the house with me, so I can stop and write wherever I am. There’s never a point now where I think: I haven’t time to write a few lines. I can always find time.

The other trick I’m trying is to write shorter books. My first book was 220K words, or enough for a complete trilogy (which is probably what I should have done with it). Then 151K, 157K, 164K and 137K. The next book, The Dragon’s Egg, weighs in at only 100K words, much leaner. And the Regencies I’m working on will be around 50-60K words apiece.

With an approach like this, it’s possible to write and publish at least three books a year. That’s enough to build a solid backlist that, even if nothing makes bestseller status, will still bring in a comfortable income.

Divider

Georgette Heyer Regency Romance #5: ‘Friday’s Child’

February 20, 2016 Georgette Heyer, Regency romances, Review 0

It’s an odd thing, but whereas The Corinthian was every bit as frivolous as this, and ten times as implausible, it was still very enjoyable to read. This one, however, written in 1944, often felt tediously silly. The reason, at a guess, is in the characters. In The Corinthian, both the main characters are sharply intelligent, although muted by innocence (in the case of the heroine) and a degree of cynicism (in the hero). I can forgive characters a great deal if their actions make some kind of sense.

But Friday’s Child is based on stupidity. Both hero and heroine behave in ridiculous ways, without an ounce of common sense, and that’s really annoying. Viscount Sheringham needs to get married to release his inheritance money, and, rejected by the woman he’s been pursuing all season, he is so annoyed he swears to marry the first woman he sees. This turns out to be Hero Wantage, the ultra-naive girl-next-door. And so they marry, and she gets into scrape after scrape through ignorance (or sheer stupidity) and he carries on behaving exactly as if he were still a batchelor. Cue all sorts of tangles.

There’s a certain charm to the characters, and the collection of male friends who rally round the naive bride and make her an honorary member of their set is very amusing. But, as with The Corinthian, the bride is terribly young, only seventeen, and I disapproved violently of her behaviour in Bath, where she pretends to be single.

This was entertaining, in a frothy and fairly silly way, although I’m not a big fan of all the Regency cant, and the sheer weight of silliness keeps this one at four stars.

Divider

Authors Answer 9: What are your favourite genres to read?

February 17, 2016 AuthorsAnswer 0

Since my published books are all epic fantasy, it’s a safe bet that fantasy is my favourite genre. I love the wide open possibilities of it – when I open a new-to-me book, I love that tingle of anticipation that comes from knowing that almost anything could happen. Magic! Wizards hurling thunderbolts! Peculiar beasties! Non-human races! A whole world to explore from the safety of my armchair! And dragons – dragons make everything better.

And yet, everything still has to conform to its own internal logic. Having magic around isn’t a free pass to getting out of any sort of mess. I’m particularly sceptical of healing magic – it’s just too easy if everyone’s injuries and illnesses can be cured with an airy wave of a wizard’s hand. I like a bit of uncertainty. In my own books, healing is something that mages can attempt, but it doesn’t always work. In The Fuller’s Apprentice, by Angela Holder, healing magic is an intricate and difficult process, akin to surgery, and there are certain diseases that can’t be fixed, no matter what.

A lot of fantasy these days is quite dark, and happy endings can’t be guaranteed (as in George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones), but traditional fantasy is often based on the battle between good and evil, and there’s a satisfying resonance for the reader when, in the end, after many tribulations, good triumphs and the darkness is vanquished, thus restoring the natural order of the world.

Outside fantasy, I also read Regency romances, murder mysteries and the occasional suspense story. Again, these all tend to have satisfying endings: the hero and heroine find true love, the murderer is caught, the bad guys are defeated. All is well in the world. It’s pure escapism, of course, but we all need an escape from the real world occasionally, don’t we?

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

Divider

Georgette Heyer Regency Romance #4: ‘The Spanish Bride’

February 7, 2016 Georgette Heyer, Regency romances, Review 0

Another one I’m going to pass on. Written in 1940, although this is classified as a Regency romance, and it probably is, it’s also based on real historical characters, and, like An Infamous Army, it’s very focused on the historical setting.

Divider