Posts Categorized: General

2016 review: Part 2: Reading

January 16, 2017 General, Ramblings 0

There was a time when I read 100+ books a year. In 2012, it was 108, and I also had time to review them all, write series reviews and compose long, detailed essays about my reading-related thoughts. In 2013, I read 91 books. In 2014, the year I published the first of my own books, it was 61, then 57 in 2015. In 2016 it was just 46, and that included a month in Australia with my Kindle, and a whole shedload of long-haul flights. This is the trouble with writing — it eats away at my reading time. And that also means that I have to be more selective with what I read, and I tend to be less experimental. Out come the tried-and-trusted authors, whose work I know I’ll enjoy. And the effect of that is that my average rating on Goodreads has risen from 3.3 stars to 3.8 stars.

So there will be no best-of list, and no self-published gems this year because they would look remarkably like last year’s. Instead a few statistics.

1) Genres:

  • Fantasy: 16 (35%)
  • Regency: 16 (35%)
  • Other: 14 (30%)

The ‘Other’ category includes murder mystery, literary and the stuff my book group makes me read. The Regency is a consequence of writing my own Regency romances. I’ve started a full reread of all Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances, and I’ve also started a list of more modern ‘best-of’ Regencies, compiled by Googling. Lots of the recommended ones were only available in paperback, which sounds as if the publishers are missing a trick, so I was restricted to those available for Kindle. And I picked up the three bestsellers on the day of my list-making, just for comparison.

2) Publishing type:

  • Self-published: 27 (58%)
  • Trade published: 19 (42%)

This is something that shifts a little more towards the self-pubbing end of the spectrum every year. I used to read solely trade pubbed, but now I find them either too expensive or too long or too flashy (by which I mean that they have a stunning one-line hook, but the actual story falls well short of being stunning). Sometimes they’re just unreadably ambitious. A self-pubbed book is more likely, in my experience, to be a good, old-fashioned well-told story.

3) Review rating:

  • 5*: 18 (39%)
  • 4*: 19 (41%)
  • 3*: 7 (15%)
  • 2*: 0
  • 1*: 2 (5%)

The result of my comfort-reading binge is that my average rating for the year is 4.1.

4) Gender balance:

  • Male author: 6 (13%)
  • Female author: 40 (87%)

Yikes! This is what happens when I start rereading Regency romances – all those female authors! I read 16 Regencies in 2016, 7 by Georgette Heyer and 9 others. Even excluding those, male authors were only 25% of the total. Which isn’t intentional by any means, but just part of the switch from longer, trade-pubbed (dominated by male authors) to shorter, self-pubbed.

I’ve never chosen my reading material by the gender of the author, so I don’t suppose this will change much until I move away from romances and back to more varied books. More fantasy! But the real issue is how to find more time to read in the first place. If anyone has an answer to that, please let me know.

Divider

Authors Answer 7: Christmas is coming! In your opinion, what would be the perfect gift for a writer?

January 15, 2016 AuthorsAnswer, General 0

{Yes, yes, I’m very out of sync here – but Christmas is always coming so…}

Oooh, I can answer this, because I recently found the perfect gift for me. I added it to my wishlist, and… nobody bought it for me. Oh. Here it is:

JaneAustenFigure

Isn’t that… erm, really, really naff? But cute and fun. If you don’t mind the idea of Jane Austen wearing a shocking pink spencer, that is. And look, she has her own quill pen and a copy of Pride and Prejudice. So, so cute.

Serious answers? Do I have to? Oh, all right then. Scrivener, because it’s positively the best writing environment ever in the history of writing environments. There are plenty of word-processor wrappers which guide an author through the necessary steps to writing nirvana (or a completed manuscript, at least). Scrivener doesn’t do that, but what it does do is to allow the author to work in the way that suits her/him best. You want to start at the beginning, go on till you come to the end and then stop? You can do that. Want to plan every single chapter and scene? You can do that too. Want to include all your research notes, web pages and images? Work full screen? Move chunks around? Keep old versions? Yep, no problem. Want to compile direct to epub or Kindle format or pdf or double-spaced printed submission format? Absolutely. It’s a wonderful tool.

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

2016 strategy part 2: launches and promotions

January 7, 2016 General, Publishing/marketing, Writing musings 0

I talked in part 1 about my writing and publishing career to date, and my writing plans for 2016. This time, I want to talk about the other half of the writing/publishing equation, which is launching and promotion, or telling the world your books exist.

There’s a lot of talk about marketing strategies and building a platform and the value of blog tours or Facebook boosts or whatever. However, the only truly effective measure I’ve found has been paid promotion via mailing list sites. The most effective ones included Ereader News Today, One Hundred Free Books, Book Barbarian, Robin Reads, FreeBooksy/BargainBooksy, Booksends and Free Kindle Books and Tips. Both discounted books (setting the price to 99c) and free worked well.

Having a mailing list is reputed to be a good way to boost a new book launch, by setting the book to a special low price for a day or two, and telling your mailing list about the deal. Some people expand their mailing list by offering a free book as an inducement to sign up, but this results in lower engagement from the list. I’ve allowed my mailing list to grow organically, through links at the end of each book and on the website, so my list is still small, but one day I hope to have enough readers signed up to be able to launch a book with no promotion other than a single email to the mailing list.

Another long-term strategy is the obvious one: write more books! With only one book out, a reader who enjoys it has nowhere else to go, but if there are several, there’s a good chance of readers moving on to devour the whole set, one after the other. I’ve noticed a definite increase in baseline sales and borrows, now that I have four (soon to be five) books out. That increase is something that will likely continue into the future, so long as I can write and publish at a steady and not too infrequent rate.

There are other promotion strategies that might help, but at a much smaller scale. Blogging, social media engagement, soliciting reviews from bloggers – these get an author’s name out there, and may result in a few sales, but I don’t recommend spending a lot of time on any of these unless you happen to enjoy them. And don’t let them eat into the writing time.

Launch strategies

For my first published book, I had no clue about marketing or promotion, so I basically didn’t do any! Sales were low in consequence. For the second book, I splurged rather at the time of the launch, and that worked very well. It worked even better for the third book. It began to look as if I’d worked out a successful launch strategy. Nowhere near bestseller status, but enough to bring in steady sales.

But for the fourth book, the same technique was a flop. While the book was cheap and being promoted, it sold pretty well, but as soon as promotion ended and the price went up, sales dropped away. The long post-promotion tail from the previous books just wasn’t there.

Partly, this is the result of Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s subscription borrowing service, which changed the landscape fundamentally. If a reader is paying $9.99 a month to read as many books as they like, they’re bound to be less inclined to buy books. And the most voracious readers, those who once would have bought the most books, are now in KU. As soon as the fourth book was launched, pages read surged, and stayed high for the whole of the first month, while the book was featured on Amazon’s Hot New Releases lists. And that was unaffected by promotions.

The other significant factor is Amazon’s new policy of encouraging readers to ‘follow’ an author if they liked her/his books. When there’s a new release, Amazon will send out an email telling those followers about it. That can result in a surge of sales – at full price! – some time after release. My fourth book saw some 80 additional sales as a result, which absolutely astonished me. I would never have suspected I had so many followers. And again, this is unaffected by promotions.

The no-promo launch

So for the fifth release, on 15th January, I’ve decided to change tack experimentally. The book has been on pre-order for three months, and has 200+ pre-orders now, all at 99c. I’ll keep it cheap for a couple of days, so that my mailing list and blog followers have a chance to pick up a bargain if they didn’t pre-order, and after that it goes to full price. However, since this is my first sequel, it will be only $2.99 and the previous book in the sequence will be only 99c for the first month or so.

And there will be NO PROMO. This is the really edgy part, for me. Will it sink like a stone? Will it flap its wings for a couple of days and then crash land? Or will it actually stick a little better, because of the higher price point? Whatever it does, I expect to see two certain outcomes: 1) an increase in pages read as soon as the book is released; and 2) assuming Amazon sends out its oh-so-helpful email again, a bump in sales after a couple of weeks. I’m hoping that this will be enough to keep things afloat for a while. After the first month, I’ll re-evaluate, and perhaps organise some promo if needed.

The no pre-orders launch

For the following book, my sixth, which I hope to release in May, I’ll try a different strategy again – no pre-orders. I hope this will encourage readers who like the books to sign up for my mailing list. It seems to be an either/or thing: readers either pre-order the next book or they sign up to the mailing list. Either works as a way of finding out about the next book, but the mailing list brings in potential customers for every new book, not just one.

Pre-orders have worked very well for me, especially the long-running ones, which have kept the book constantly in the Hot New Releases lists, even with only 2-3 pre-orders per day. It does dilute the impact of the launch, though, since many guaranteed customers have already bought the book. But I’ve found an unexpected bonus to pre-orders: because they keep the book visible for several weeks or months before launch, and the price is low, I get pre-orders from people who haven’t read the other books. When the new book is released, there’s a little spike of follow-on sales of all the earlier books. So, swings and roundabouts.

But this business is all about experimenting, so I’m going to try launching a book without pre-orders for the first time ever, just to see what happens.

The bang-bang-bang launch

For my Regency romances, I intend to try something very different, but a technique that’s well-tested by others, and is known to work well. This will be a series, probably of six books, but I could stop after four or take it further than six if I want to. They’re shorter than my epic fantasy – I’m aiming for 50,000 words apiece, whereas the fantasy is typically 140,000 words or more. Because they’re shorter and, individually at least, less complicated, I should be able to complete each one in 2-3 months. However, rather than publish as I go, I plan to stack them up until I have at least four ready to go, then release them a month apart.

Why? The idea is to take advantage of Amazon’s 30-day grace period wherein new books reside on the Hot New Releases list and get a ton of exposure. So, release one, then 30 days later, release another before the first has quite shot its bolt. That way, the series stays in the limelight for as long as possible. Of course, this also allows me to weave a number of long-running sub-plots into the mix, which will meander through the whole series. It’s not so easy to do that if the early books are already out.

On building a career

There’s a school of thought that says a book has to hit the stratosphere just after launch or else it’s sunk. I don’t entirely agree with that. I’ve seen authors whose careers gradually built over two or three years or more, and I’ve seen individual books revived by a timely promotion, which went on to sell very well. So I’m not overly concerned about a launch that’s less than stellar, or (for the Regencies) a series that doesn’t take off immediately.

To me, the important factor is to produce books that I enjoy writing, and to minimise the stress and pressure of self-publishing. It’s very easy to get swept up into the gotta-get-another-book-out fever. Well, blow that. I’m having fun here, and I’m happy to take things at my own pace, which is faster than some but slower than many.

Expectations for 2016? No expectations. Hopes, maybe. I hope to publish three fantasy books this year, and the first of the Regency romances. I hope sales and borrows continue to rise, month on month, and year on year. I hope readers continue to find the books and that some of them at least, find my style of storytelling to their liking.

And I hope that the writing and publishing continues to be so much fun. I’m having an absolute blast.

Have a good 2016, everyone.

Divider

It’s awards nomination time!

January 2, 2016 General, Publishing/marketing, The Fire Mages 8

It’s the time of year when blogs and forums all over the internet compile their best-of lists, and some of the bigger ones have proper awards, with nominations and voting and so on. This wouldn’t normally affect me much. I usually haven’t read most of the books nominated, haven’t even heard of a lot of them, so I vote for the one or two I’ve read and off I go.

But sometimes an amazing thing happens – you scan the list of nominations, and find YOUR OWN BOOK! Yes, folks, The Fire Mages has received a nomination in Reddit’s r/Fantasy Stabby Awards, in the self-published and independent category. Which leaves me almost speechless with joy, even though I have zero chance of winning (there are some fantastic books in that category). So thank you, thank you, thank you, whoever nominated the book – you made a small-time author very happy.

Here’s what a Stabby looks like:

Stabby

Divider

One day only! 60 science fiction and fantasy books FREE!

November 3, 2015 General, Publishing/marketing, The Plains of Kallanash 0

UPDATE: The promotion is officially over, but many of these books are still free, so it’s worth checking out. Just be sure that the book you want is still free before downloading.

Yes, folks, for today only (Tuesday 3rd November) you can download up to 60 scifi and fantasy novels completely FREE, all either the first in a series or standalone.


One of my favourite authors, Australian Glenda Larke, has made The Aware free for the occasion, book 1 of the Isles of Glory. I loved her Stormlords Trilogy and the standalone Havenstar, so I’m looking forward to reading this one, which was shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards. Here’s the blurb:
“A halfbreed’s search for a mysterious slave woman leads her to a lawless land of dark dunmagic and an evil that poses a threat to all the Isles of Glory.”

There are lots of other great reads available, from bestsellers to undiscovered gems (including one of mine: The Plains of Kallanash). The promotion has been organised by scifi and fantasy author Patty Jansen, and you can find all the free books listed on her website. You can also sign up to be notified of future promos of this type, either free or $0.99.

Divider

I’m away for a few days…

August 5, 2015 General, Publishing/marketing 0

…so there may not be any posts for the next week or so. Happily, my trips always allow me plenty of reading time, so there will be some reviews coming soon. Watch out for my 5* review of The Living Throne, part 3 of H Anthe Davis’s stunning epic fantasy series. I’ll also be reviewing another of Dawn Lee McKenna’s atmospheric suspense tales set in the Florida panhandle, What Washes Up.

And in current reading, I’m deep into Clara Benson’s country house cozy, The Mystery At Underwood House, and just starting a popular traditional epic fantasy, Arcane, by Sever Bronny. After that, one of my favourite series returns: To The Gap is the fourth part of Kyra Halland’s enjoyable fantasy western series.

The Mages of Bennamore is just 99 cents in the US (99p in UK)  from 7th August!

If you haven’t yet picked up a copy of the newest addition to the Brightmoon Annals, this is a chance to buy it for just 99c (or 99p). Prices are good from Friday 7th to Wednesday 12th, inclusive. Sorry, this offer is only for US and UK purchasers. If you live elsewhere in the world, watch out for my anniversary sale in September, when all three books will be discounted worldwide.

Have a good weekend, and I’ll be back soon.

Divider

Hi folks – I’m back!

June 5, 2015 General 0

Yep, I’ve been away on holiday for a while, driving the campervan the length of Britain and through the channel tunnel (on the train!) to France for a weekend motorcycle event at Dijon. Then driving back again. Three solid days of driving in each direction, then parking in a field. But everything went well, the weather was not too horrible, French campsites and motorways turned out to be very civilised and we made it back home safely.

So the blog will be getting back to business soon, with a review of Patty Jansen’s sci-fi Ambassador 1: Seeing Red, and an update on my own books.

Divider

Out visiting

April 17, 2015 General 0

I’m out visiting today: guest posting over at Anela’s blog, Amid The Imaginary, on the subject of what makes for a compelling read. It’s an interesting question, which will have a different answer for everyone. You can read my answer here.

Have a wander round the blog while you’re there. Anela is a great reviewer, and she focuses solely on self-published fantasy and sci-fi.

Divider

For fans of libraries…

January 10, 2015 General 0

wouldn’t this be an astonishing place to read in?

This is the National Library of Prague. Lots more amazing libraries at BoredPanda.

Divider

Happy New Year!

January 2, 2015 General, Writing musings 0

The turn of the year is a time for looking both back and forwards. This is probably the forty seventh you’ve read, so to keep it brief, here’s a quick summary of my year:

Memorable events of 2014 (good and bad):

  • I published a book! ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ went live on 12th September 2014. [Kind of a roller-coaster, but mostly good]
  • I learned that when you spend time writing, you get less reading done. [Bad]
  • I taught myself the 400 steps necessary to obtain an EIN from Uncle Sam to avoid withholding tax on my book royalties (ha! If only…), which involves dancing naked with unicorn feathers and the sacrifice of one’s first-born (sorry, James, but needs must), not to mention visiting the American Embassy in London, which is almost as far from here as it’s possible to get without falling into the ocean. And then the system was changed so I didn’t need to do any of that. [Which is good, I think; well, very good for my first-born, obviously]
  • I learned that I have a lot of kind online friends who went out and bought my book, and posted nice reviews. You lovely people. [Good]
  • I learned that I will never get rich by writing books (but I kind of knew that anyway). [OK]
  • I discovered that Australia in November is a very pleasant place to be. And the wine is awesome… [V. Good]

Coming in 2015 (maybe):

  • Another book! ‘The Fire Mages’ will be published on 9th January 2015. You can now pre-order it at your local Amazon.
  • And another! ‘The Mages of Bennamore’ will be published late spring 2015.
  • And yet another! ‘The Mines of Asharim’ might possibly round off my first year as a published author by appearing in September 2015. If all this sounds too prolific for words, bear in mind that in the year and a half I spent editing and polishing Kallanash and inching towards publication in a three steps forward, two back manner, I wrote another two and a bit books. So I kind of had them lined up, waiting.
  • On the reading/reviewing front, I’d like to reduce my backlog of books somewhat, and not just by shuffling them from the to-read shelf to the to-read-sometime shelf on Goodreads. You know, by actually reading them. But I just keep getting distracted by all the shiny new books…

I hope you all have the 2015 you want.

Divider