Monthly Archives:: July 2016

Fantasy review: ‘The Cauldron’s Gift’ by Marina Finlayson

July 22, 2016 Review 0

This is one of those series that’s everything I don’t normally read: it’s YA with a teenage girl as the main character, there’s a shedload of school drama and boyfriend angst, it’s written in first person, and, would you believe it, the protagonist turns out to have unusually strong magical powers. As a rule, I’d be running a mile. But this is by Marina Finlayson, the author who seduced me into enjoying werewolves and other shifters, so it not only works, it works brilliantly.

In The Fairytale Curse, Vi and twin sister CJ found themselves spitting frogs and diamonds respectively, while others around them were turned into the sleeping beauty, an ogre and a polar bear. It turned out the Sidhe were escaping from their magical captivity, but Vi and friends managed to lock them up again, at the price of losing one of the four artifacts that kept them there, the magic cauldron that grants wishes (and wouldn’t we all like one of those!). And Vi’s dad is still a polar bear. So in this book, the race is on to find a cure for dad before he becomes so deeply immersed in beardom that nothing can make him human again. And it seems like the only way is to bring that cauldron back from fairyland. Yikes!

This one took a while to get going, but it was never the slightest bit dull and (a huge bonus for me) the events of the last book were skilfully woven in, so that I never wondered what was going on or why. All the characters are believable and behave rationally, not something that can be said for all fantasy. And they’re sympathetic too — my heart bled for Zak, and for the poor neglected ogre that nobody ever seems to think about. There’s a mystery to be solved, as well — who is the traitor helping the Sidhe to escape? Once the pace picks up around the mid-point, it’s relentless and the book becomes unputdownable. As always with Finlayson, nothing is quite as straightforward as it seems, and just when you think everything’s settled, she swipes you upside the head with another brain-rattling twist of sheer brilliance.

A terrific sequel, full of action, believable characters and the author’s Australian humour. Oh, and a starring role for some of Sydney’s great landmarks. Highly recommended. Five stars. Can’t wait to see where this goes next.

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New release round up: books I’m looking forward to reading

July 6, 2016 Books that caught my eye 0

Confession time – I don’t read as much as I used to. In prehistoric times (2011-2013), I routinely read two books a week, more than a hundred over the course of a year. Sometimes I read an entire series of books one after the other, and not short, light reads, either – my preferred genre was (and is) epic fantasy. Fast forward a few years and there just isn’t the time any more for that kind of consumption. My writing has gradually eaten away at my free time, and I’ve got to the point where I only get sustained reading done when I’m travelling. I’d like to pretend that I’m pressured by fans to write more, and publish faster, but actually I just love writing! So no one to blame but myself.

What this means is that there are lots of books coming out that I plan to read and review when I get the opportunity, but I really want you to know about them right now, so I’m going to be doing these mini-roundups quite regularly. Even though I haven’t read these books yet, I’m happy to recommend them, either because I’ve read the previous books in the series or because I’ve read other books by the author. These are all authors whose work I love!

So, here we go.

Bloodbonded: Amy Rose Davis

I absolutely loved Ravenmarked, the first in the Taurin Chronicles, saying that “…it just wraps itself around you like a warm duvet. There’s a strong warrior with a secret, an innocent long-lost heiress to the throne, a prophecy, a rebellious princess, a usurper with a conscience and lots of magic, and although this sounds terribly clichéd, Davis gives it all a fresh feel and a bit of romantic fairy dust.” This is the long-awaited second installment of this sweeping epic fantasy.

The Cauldron’s Gift: Marina Finlayson

I’ve loved everything Finlayson has written, and her trilogy, The Proving, which opened with Twiceborn, was the book that got me to love werewolves, not to mention a whole raft of other shifters – including dragons! The unique Australian setting and fast pace made the whole series unputdownable. Her next venture was into a fairy tale retelling, The Fairytale Curse, and although it’s more YA (young adult) that The Proving, it was just as action-packed, featuring the author’s trademark Aussie humour. This new book is the second and final part of the Magic’s Return series (ETA: my mistake – it’s a trilogy).

Awash: Dawn Lee McKenna

This is part 6 of the Forgotten Coast Florida Suspense series, which is far more about the characters and their intertwined lives than the actual murders. Great dialog, great humour and a brilliantly evoked and atmospheric setting, which is almost as good as being there. If you want to start at the beginning, look for Low Tide, and if you want more of McKenna’s writing, her stand-alone love story, See You, is one of the finest books I’ve ever read.

Deadly Web: Mike Omer

I’m not usually a fan of serial killer books, because body parts – ew! But Omer’s eccentric cast of characters and laugh-out-loud humour makes the Glenmore Park series unmissable for me. Watch out for the unforgettable Rabbi Friedman! This is part 2, and the first in series is Spider’s Web.

Enjoy!

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Starting all over again: new book, new genre, new pen-name

July 6, 2016 Publishing/marketing, Regency romances, The Dragon's Egg, The Fire Mages, The Plains of Kallanash 0

When I first became a self-published author, I was right at the very bottom of the pecking order, in author terms. I had no previous published history with a major or independent publisher. I’d never had a short story published in a magazine. I had no fanbase, no mailing list, and my blog had maybe three people following along. I’d hung around the forum at Kboards (the Writers’ Cafe), for a while, so I knew a little bit about starting out. I knew enough to get a professional quality cover, for instance, although not enough to know what sort of cover was needed (luckily, my cover designer did, and came up with a great set of well-branded and striking covers). I knew to have other eyes look at my work before tossing it up on Amazon. I paid a proofreader to tidy up my wayward punctuation.

The-Plains-of-Kallanash-160But there was so much more that I didn’t know — about promotion and launch strategies and hitting the tropes of your genre right on the nose. The result was that my first book, The Plains of Kallanash, pretty much fell flat on its face. A few kind online friends from my critique group and forums bought copies, and after that — crickets. I sold 50+ the first month. The second month? 4 copies. The third month, 4 again. But by the fourth month, I’d discovered promotion, and I sold 68 books. In the fifth month I released The Fire Mages with a ten day promotion campaign and sold 428 books. Borrows were beginning to show up, too, through Amazon’s subscription service, Kindle Unlimited. After that, each new book increased the overall level of sales. DragonsEgg160My sixth book, The Dragon’s Egg, was published at the beginning of May and that month saw combined sales and (estimated) borrows of around 1,000 copies overall. These are far from being order-the-yacht numbers, but the books have earned more than they’ve cost, and continue to earn month after month.

New girl at school

So then, on 28th June, I released a new book. Not just a new title, but new genre, new pen name, new everything. It feels a little like starting at a new school, where everything is different, I don’t know my way around and nobody knows me. I have no fanbase, no mailing list and a brand new website that no one ever visits. No one is out there saying, “Oh look, a new Mary Kingswood book.”

But I do have one huge advantage — the experience gained from publishing the fantasies. I know a lot more about covers and branding and genre expectations, and I had more input on the design this time. I’m more comfortable with my own editing skills, so I’ve skipped the  proofreader (although I’m really nervous about this!). I know that having other eyes look at the book before release is essential, though, so I haven’t skipped this stage. I know that, without a mailing list or fanbase, I need heavy promotion to make the book visible.

Keeping costs down

One aspect that was important to me this time was keeping expenses under control. With the fantasies, I was quite happy to pay whatever it took to ensure that the book was presented to the world as professionally as possible. I hired a top-quality cover designer. For some of the books, I paid for professional beta readers. I bought my own ISBNs and published paperbacks — which turned out to be a huge financial drain, given the number of copies I gave away to friends and family, copies sent to six national libraries (a UK legal requirement) and the shipping costs from the US. The biggest expense was my proofreader, since my fantasies are stupidly long, although she was worth every single penny.

But it took me almost eighteen months to earn enough to cover all those costs and, frankly, I got very twitchy about it. I know a lot more now about writing, editing and publishing, I know what I can and can’t do for myself, so I made the decision to keep the costs for the new series as low as possible. I still needed good covers (I am artistically incompetent, so doing them myself wasn’t an option), but I opted for a less famous cover designer, who did a great job at half the price. I crossed my fingers and did my own proofreading. And there will be no paperbacks for these books, at least until they’ve earned enough to cover the cost.

Release strategy

I don’t need this book to do spectacularly. It’s the first in a series, and I don’t expect to sell many until books 2 and 3 are out. So the launch was deliberately planned to be low-key, full-price, with only a couple of days of modest promotion just after launch to get things off the ground. Then a bigger push for book 2, and all out for book 3. So I put the first three books up on pre-order at $2.99 for release in July, August and September.

At that point, I discovered that romance fans don’t really do pre-order. Oops. The first book dropped to a rank of 650K, and the second was beyond a million! The third book didn’t get a single pre-order, so it had no rank at all. But one of the advantages of self-publishing is flexibility – I brought the release of book 1 forward, to 28th June.

What happened?

It had 11 pre-orders, and after five days had a dozen more sales and 5,000 pages read (equivalent to more than 16 full read-throughs). The rank bobbed around between 15K and 25K, it had just one review, and a good array of also vieweds from the start, but no also boughts. That’s not bad, but it’s not enough to bring in more reviews, mailing list signups or pre-orders for the later books, and the rank was already dropping. The planned promotion was still three weeks away, and the pre-order for book 2 was now six weeks away. I don’t need the book to trouble the bestseller lists, but I do need to keep it from disappearing into oblivion.

So I made the decision to reduce the price to 99c for a few days. Sales increased six-fold and pages read more or less doubled. The increased sales triggered the all-important also-boughts. I’ve already made the decision to keep the 99c price for a few more days.

So what have I learnt?

1) Don’t bother with pre-orders unless you already have a fanbase waiting. Especially, don’t bother with long pre-orders. What I should have done is a short pre-order on book 1, with book 2 set to drop a month later. Book 3 would only go on pre-order when book 2 goes live. I do think the multiple pre-orders help to encourage sales – at least readers know that the rest of the series is on the way.

2) 99c is a powerful incentive. I know a lot of people swear by a 99c launch, and for a big splash that’s a great idea. I wasn’t aiming for that, so I’m happy with the full-price launch, using 99c and free as short-term promotion-only prices.

3) Having no fanbase, and therefore no ARC readers, has really hurt reviews. So far, a week in, I have one review on Amazon.com and one on Amazon.co.uk. I’d got used to a mini-flurry of reviews just after release, so the suspense is killing me!

4) Romance is different. Borrows on the fantasy books run at about 2-to-1 over sales (as best I can tell), but for the romance, borrows are more like 3-to-1. And when the price drops, both sales and borrows go UP (unlike the fantasies, where a lower price increases sales but reduces borrows).

All of this has been a salutary lesson – branching out into a new genre means starting again from the bottom. I shall experiment with 99c and free promotions, and I’ll probably bring forward the release dates of books 2 and 3 to avoid a lengthy spell in the telephone number rankings, but I can’t cancel the pre-orders now without a penalty from Amazon. And next time, maybe I’ll get it right!

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