Posts By: PaulineMRoss

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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Mystery review: ‘The Mercer’s House’ by Antonia Frost

June 30, 2016 Review 0

I’m a huge fan of the Angela Marchmont series of 1920s murder mysteries, written by Clara Benson, so this new series, written under the pen name Antonia Frost, was a must-read for me. I wasn’t disappointed. This is a tautly-plotted, compelling mystery, beautifully written and absorbing from start to finish.

Here’s the premise: Zanna has been through some troubled times, but as she recovers from depression, she decides to fulfil a promise to her late father and try to track down her Aunt Helen. Her search takes her to the windswept and atmospheric Northumberland coast, and the supposedly haunted Mercer’s House, where she meets her aunt’s new family and finds an even bigger mystery: Helen and her son vanished without trace twenty-five years ago. Zanna sets about uncovering the secrets of the Mercer’s House, but finds herself swept up in a number of frightening experiences.

This is a nicely constructed modern Gothic mystery, with all the difficulties of knowing who to trust, and whether all the odd things that happen are the result of the haunted house, someone covering their tracks or perhaps Zanna losing her mind. Zanna is a very realistic main character, a very believable mixture of assertiveness and timidity from her recent personal dramas. If I have a quibble at all, it’s that I would have liked her to be a little more assertive towards the end, especially when she begins to realise what has been going on. A little bit of feistiness would have lifted the ending, I feel. But that’s a purely personal preference, and I have to admit that Zanna as written is incredibly true to life, and all her actions were perfectly consistent with her experiences and her nature. So possibly the author knows more about human nature than I do.

At the end, all the various threads of the story were neatly tied up. The romance was gentle and again, very realistic, given the circumstances, proceeding in fits and starts, but eventually reaching a satisfactory conclusion. It’s in the nature of a story like this that the heroine’s feelings for the love interest veer about from liking to mistrust to fear and back again, as events unfold, and I confess my own opinions of him switched about with every zig-zag of the plot. So kudos to the author for getting that absolutely right. This is a great start to the series. A very good four stars.

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Authors Answer 15: Has your writing been influenced by new media?

June 25, 2016 AuthorsAnswer 0

This is a long question, so here it is in full: All of us write prose fiction (unless I’m mistaken) in an era that has an astounding variety of storytelling media. Has your writing been significantly influenced by any works of newer media?

I think most authors writing today are heavily influenced by one particular form of media, and that is movies (and its baby brother, TV). Perhaps the advent of photography before that had some influence, in that ordinary people could record themselves, their surroundings and their lives, or send postcards to each other, so that authors no longer had to spend quite so much time describing the scenery. But movies and TV have  pushed authors into a more visual mode of writing, a snappier, scene-driven creation process. In even more recent times, role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons and video games with their set-piece battles and ever-more-challenging opponents have had an influence on many writers.

For myself, to be honest, I don’t think any modern media has really influenced my writing that much. I tend to visualise everything as I write, but I don’t particularly think in movie terms, I don’t do RPG and I don’t read manga. Nor do I write the sort of tightly-choreographed fight scenes that derive from modern media. If anything has influenced my writing, it’s the books I’ve read over the years. So I guess the short answer is — no.

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.

 

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Mary Kingswood Regency romance news

June 21, 2016 Regency romances 2

As you may know, I’ve recently begun a new writing venture, breaking away from fantasy for a while to write a series of Regency romances, of traditional style. Like Jane Austen’s works, they focus on the serious business of young ladies looking for husbands and the difficulties they encounter along the way. I can’t copy Austen’s elegant writing or her wit, but I have tried to impart a flavour of the Regency era and the mannered lives of its upper-class residents, while injecting some humour. And like the originals, the story ends with a proposal and acceptance, nothing more, although I have taken the liberty of sealing the happy ever after with a kiss.

The series is called The Daughters of Allamont Hall written under the pen name Mary Kingswood and there will be six books in all, each focusing on a different daughter and her search for the perfect husband. There will also be some amusing and (I hope) interesting characters running through the whole series.

Book 1: Amy will be released on 15th July 2016, with Book 2: Belle on 12th August, Book 3: Connie on 9th September. The remaining stories, Book 4: Dulcie, Book 5: Grace and Book 6: Hope will follow not far behind. The first three are available for pre-order from Amazon now — click the covers below to go to your local Amazon to order.  If you’d like more information, or to sign up for the Mary Kingswood newsletter, hop over to the Mary Kingswood website.

Belle ecover

Here’s the blurb for Book 1: Amy:

Mr William Allamont rules the lives of his six unmarried daughters with strict regularity. Every hour has its appointed task, every day its routine, lest the girls fall into idleness and frivolity. When he dies unexpectedly, his will includes generous dowries for the sisters, but only on condition that they marry in the proper order, the eldest first.

Amy must now find herself a husband, and soon, so that her younger sisters may also have their chance of marriage. There are several possible suitors, but will any of them come up to scratch? And how can Amy choose for herself, when she has always been guided by her father’s strict rules? Will she be able to manage without him to direct her?

Mr Ambleside has been waiting for Amy for years, his suit rejected by her father. Now he has his opportunity, and he’s determined to win her. But first he has to see off his rivals, and if he manages that, he has to overcome her reluctance to defy her father’s wishes. But he’s a very tenacious man…

And now back to fantasy, and the editing for the final part of the Fire Mages Trilogy – The Second God, which will (hopefully) be released on 23rd September 2016. If you enjoyed The Fire Mages and The Fire Mages’ Daughter, you won’t want to miss this dramatic conclusion to the story of Drina, Arran and Ly.

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Authors Answer 14: When coming up with a new story, what comes first, the character or the plot?

June 9, 2016 AuthorsAnswer, The Fire Mages' Daughter, The Plains of Kallanash 0

The character, always. Most of my books have started in a very simple way, with a character in a situation. Then I start looking around for more details of the setting, more characters, the background to the situation. Then, and only then, do I let the characters loose and see what sort of plot develops.

I always think it must be tidier to start with the plot, to know that event A is succeeded by event B and so on, right down to the grand finale of event Z, and then construct characters that will show that plot off to best advantage. Such a system leads to properly rounded character arcs, and neat resolutions, and pivotal moments that occur at precisely 37.5% of the way through. Properly structured stories must be built this way, I assume. It’s just not the way I work.

For example, The Plains of Kallanash was an accident. I was in the middle of writing something else, but then I had an idea: what would life be like if a marriage consisted of four people, and not just two? Perhaps it would just be two couples, but what if there was one active couple, the senior husband and wife, who slept together and had children, while the junior couple were just there as moral support, and to step into the breach if one of the seniors dies.

All of a sudden, Mia was there, fully formed – quiet, timid Mia, content to do whatever is needed, but secretly yearning to attract the attention of the senior husband. Jonnor appeared next, the handsome one, who treated Mia like a child, when he wasn’t ignoring her. And by contrast, Hurst, in love with Mia, and beautiful, lively Tella, the catalyst for everything that followed. So there were my characters and their situation, but what was the plot? I sat down to write, but I had absolutely no idea where the story was taking me. And yet somehow it developed and grew and took me to the most unexpected places, and, in its rambling way, came to an end. Does it work? I’m still not sure. But I liked the way it got written, and it’s a way that’s worked for several books now.

There’s only been one exception so far. My second book, The Fire Mages, came to an end with the birth of a baby, a daughter whose whole gestation period was bathed in very powerful magic. That was a situation that intrigued me. How would that affect an unborn baby? How would she be different from other children, and would that be a good or bad thing? So in that case, I had a character with a very specific situation, but there was no obvious plot. I needed a story that would put those differences under the spotlight and challenge her. So I turned to Libbie Hawker’s book Take Your Pants Off!, which demonstrates a very gentle character-based form of plotting for pantsers, and that got me out of trouble and started the story rolling. The result was The Fire Mages’ Daughter.

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.

 

 

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Romance review: ‘Outlander’ by Diana Gabaldon

June 7, 2016 Review 0

Where to start? This is one of those books that half the world has read (or seen on TV) and everyone has heard of and has an opinion on. The basic premise is the traditional one for any portal story – a modern-era character who steps into the past and has to survive/adjust/get home. Nothing original there. The twist here is that the story starts in 1945, with Claire Randall on a second honeymoon with her husband in Scotland, the idea being to get reacquainted after wartime separation. As with any portal story, this part is way, way too long (actually, the whole book would be improved by being cut in half, but no matter). I didn’t develop any connection with husband Frank, so I didn’t much care when Claire left him behind, and her desire to get back to him never quite rang true.

The Scotland of 1743, where Claire ends up, is far more interesting, and much of the historic detail seemed quite authentic to me. The characters – not so much. All these braw Scots warriors, honed in clan wars and battles with the English, treated Claire with astonishing gentleness, as if she were an honoured guest instead of a woman found (apparently) screwing an English soldier. In the real world, I suspect she’d have been raped and/or killed pretty smartly. But no, they take her back to their castle where, even though they believe she’s a spy, they put her in charge of doctoring the residents. Now that’s just asking for a mass poisoning. And she sets about being all perky modern woman, instead of keeping her stupid head down.

And then there’s the hot young Scotsman, Jamie. Again, he’s terribly gentlemanly and, even though all the maidens have the hots for him, he’s still a virgin. Hahahaha! Yeah, right. But lucky Claire is forced to marry him, because reasons. And then the sex breaks out and the book goes to hell in a handcart. Now, I have no problem with sex in books, even quite large quantities of it, as here – frankly, they go at it like rabbits, and never mind about poor old left-behind-in-the-future Frank. That’s OK. A bit less rutting and a bit more plot wouldn’t have gone amiss, but it’s not really a problem. Well, OK, a lot less rutting. It did get repetitive after a while.

No, what I really disliked was the amount of violence and gory stuff in the book. Every chapter, it seemed, had another skirmish, and another graphically-described wound for Claire to stitch up with her twentieth century skills (how lucky that she was a nurse!). And by the time I got to the halfway point, and the sex and violence were getting a bit mixed up together, things got too murky for my taste. I know from reviews and a bit of skimming that all of that gets worse, so I gave up on it at that point. Nicely written, and the history seems accurate, as far as I can tell, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. One star for a DNF.

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Mystery review: ‘Spider’s Web’ by Mike Omer

May 26, 2016 Review 0

I don’t read many police procedurals, being more of an amateur sleuth type of gal, but I’ve loved the author’s previous books so this new series was a must-read for me. The plot is the usual – there’s a seemingly random killing of a jogger in a park, and it gradually becomes clear that this is just one of a sequence of similar cases. The murderer’s MO is intriguing – the victim receives a text with a picture of something (a gun, a car…) and shortly thereafter is killed with that item as the murder weapon. And there’s a messed-up cop, and an interfering journalist, and a perky forensic psychologist (a profiler) and all the familiar elements.

What makes this book different from a thousand others? Firstly, the characters. You’ve never lived until you’ve encountered Rabbi Friedman. I swear he’s not like any Rabbi you’ve ever heard of before. Frankly, Rabbi Friedman is awesome, and I hope he’s going to turn up in later books in the series, because he’s just too wonderful to be a one-shot deal. Atticus Hoffman is great fun, too. Then there are the cops, who all have their quirks but are still totally believable, rounded characters, ordinary characters that are so real you feel you’ve known them for years.

The main cop, Mitchell, gradually disintegrates over the course of the book, but it all makes perfect sense and the reader feels all his bewildered pain and suppressed anger, and totally sympathises. I loved his awkward conversations with Zoe, the profiler, someone he completely doesn’t get but has to try to come to terms with anyway. His relationship with his sister, Tanessa, is a lovely mixture of pride and older brother protectiveness.

And then there’s the humour. Some authors skip the humour altogether with this kind of story, and some will throw in the odd snippet of black humour, but this book runs the full gamut from dry, that makes you smile wryly, to genuine tears-in-the-eyes belly-laughs. It was the stand-out feature of Omer’s previous books for me, and here he does it again. The guy just has the most amazing sense of humour.

As the case builds to its climax, the pace gets faster and faster, and even though there’s nothing terribly revolutionary in the last few chapters, certainly nothing that an aficionado of the genre won’t have seen many times before, it’s done so well that it had me turning the pages in breathless anticipation. And there’s a moment at the end that just had me punching the air with delight. This is a great start to the series, and I’m looking forward to the next. A good four stars.

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Fantasy review: ‘The Fairytale Curse’ by Marina Finlayson

May 22, 2016 Review 0

I’ve loved everything the author has written to date, so this was right at the top of my reading list. It’s not my usual fare (YA? High school? Proms? Really not my thing) but Finlayson achieved the seemingly impossible and taught me to love werewolves, so I was pretty confident she could work the same magic again.

Here’s the premise: 17-year-old twin sisters CJ (the pretty one) and Violet (the other one) wake up after a party to find they’ve been cursed. Whenever they speak, they spit diamonds (CJ) or frogs (Violet) from their mouths. And they’re not the only ones to find themselves on the wrong end of a fairytale curse. But strangely, Mum and Dad aren’t quite as surprised as might be expected. Turns out they’re part of a whole organisation devoted to keeping the unpleasant fairies (Sidhe) harmlessly locked away. And wouldn’t you just know it, those evil fairies are breaking out and looking for revenge.

Cue all sorts of mayhem and dramatic goings on, and (since this is YA) there’s a hefty dollop of romance in the background too. This was a lot of fun, and I loved that the schoolkids were, in the end, instrumental in restoring some semblance of normality, with only a little help from the grown-ups. There are a bunch of unanswered questions left dangling for the next book in the series, but the immediate threat was resolved very neatly. This felt just a tad too YA for my personal taste, but that’s the only thing keeping this to four stars.

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Book release: ‘The Dragon’s Egg’ is now available!

May 10, 2016 The Dragon's Egg 0

Well, blow me down, I forgot to post an announcement about this! Why did I forget? Because I’m an idiot! But also because this is the first book that didn’t have a pre-order set up, so when it was ready, I just – pushed the button. And, of course, forgot to do a lot of the usual things.

My sixth book set in the Brightmoon world is now available at your local Amazon. You can buy it for $3.99 (or equivalent) or borrow it for free, if you have a subscription to Prime or Kindle Unlimited. If you’d like to buy it in paperback, you’ll need to wait just a little longer but anyone buying the paperback will be able to download the Kindle version free of charge.

Click here to go to your local Amazon to buy or borrow.

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Authors answer #13: Can you recommend an author who is not well known?

May 7, 2016 AuthorsAnswer 0

Good grief, how much time have you got? Unknown authors are my specialist subject. Not for me the residents of bestseller lists or airport bookshops or the type of book that’s stacked high on tables near the door at Waterstones. In fact, most of my favourite authors don’t make it onto the shelves of bookstores at all. I could go on all day, but here are just a few that I love.

H Anthe Davis: an American who writes epic fantasy with a hint of horror, compelling characters and industrial-strength world-building. The first of the War of Memory series is The Light of Kerrindryr. She’s a slow-brew kind of writer, so the series is as yet incomplete, with three books out so far.

Marina Finlayson: an Australian who writes fast-paced urban fantasy of the werewolf variety, with added dragons and just a touch of romance, and loads of Aussie humour. Her The Proving trilogy is now complete; start with Twiceborn.

Claire Frank: an American author of wonderful epic fantasy with a great magic system, some intriguing characters with an unusual history, and a shed-load of all-action magely battles. The Echoes of Imara series will be complete soon; start with To Whatever End.

S E Robertson: a single-book author, but what a book! The Healers’ Road can only be described as literary fantasy; two healers, one using magic and one not, have to spend a year travelling about with a caravan of merchants, coming to terms with each other’s very different personalities and methods.

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.

 

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