Posts Categorized: Publishing/marketing

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.


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:



A big 99c promotion (5/6 Dec only) and a writing update

December 5, 2015 Publishing/marketing, Ramblings, Regency romances, The Fire Mages' Daughter 2

Winter is upon us!

I love living in Scotland, but there are a few disadvantages. The first snowfall of the winter hit us about a week ago. There’s been snow on the mountains already, but this was the first time it was all the way down to sea level. It wasn’t a big fall here, but enough to give a good covering, and the cold weather meant it stayed for a few days. Happily, it’s all gone now, but I’m sure there’ll be more to come.

I love the snow, but only when I can sit inside a warm house and watch it through the window. I hate to be out driving in it! Lots of Scots escape to the sun in the winter, sometimes for three months, and I can see why: the long nights, gloomy mornings and days when it just never seems to get properly light can get you down. But that’s what whisky was invented for (and vitamin D tablets!). And you can’t have those wonderful endless summer evenings without also getting the winter gloom.

And for those of you lapping up the sun in the southern hemisphere – enjoy!

Lots of cheap fantasy and sci-fi!

Once again, author Patty Jansen is hosting a group 99c promotion at her website.


There are 84 authors taking part, and it’s a great opportunity to try out some new authors at very low cost. These prices are only for 5th and 6th December, so don’t delay. Quite a few of the books are in Kindle Unlimited, too, for those of you who have a subscription.

What do I recommend? I’ve enjoyed Patty’s own book, The Ambassador, a great all-action sci-fi. Angela Holder’s White Blood is an unusual stand-alone fantasy, featuring that unsung heroine of many great families, the wet-nurse. And Kyra Halland’s speculative romance Sarya’s Song is one that I really loved: great fantasy with a great romance, too.

And if you haven’t yet picked up a copy of my own most recent book, The Magic Mines of Asharim, it’s in the promo, too. Just 99c, or equivalent. Click here to see all the deals.

News of The Fire Mages’ Daughter and The Dragon’s Egg

This is on schedule for release on January 15th. The final edits are now complete, and the book is out with my wonderful proofreader, Lin, and several ARC readers. This is a sequel to The Fire Mages, but it can be read without any knowledge of the previous book. You can still pre-order for 99c. And there might well be a third book to complete the story – The Second God. However, that’s unlikely to be out before the end of 2016.

The Dragon’s Egg is progressing, although more slowly than I would like. This book has threads connecting it to several earlier books, so I have to stop now and again to make sure I’ve got all the references correct. And there are multiple points of view, which makes it very different from anything I’ve written before. The Plains of Kallanash had two point of view characters, but since then, every book has had just one main character. Jumping from one to another isn’t as easy as it sounds! But if the writing is challenging, the story is working out well.

Regency romance – oh my!

Work is underway on my latest project – a Regency romance series of 6 books. I say ‘work’, but it’s huge fun, so it doesn’t feel like work at all! It’s very different from my fantasy writing, though – not just in writing style (rather formal, sort-of Jane Austen), but also in the need for historical accuracy. In fantasy, I can just make stuff up. Meals, clothing, local religions and other customs – it can be whatever I want. Not so with the Regency. I was about to write a scene where the characters have afternoon tea when I thought to check – and nope, that didn’t start until 1840, and the Regency era is (very roughly) 1800-1820. Progress is being made, but I don’t expect to have anything ready for release until late in 2016.



‘The Magic Mines of Asharim’: launch report

November 13, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Magic Mines of Asharim 0

It’s now seven weeks since the launch of The Magic Mines of Asharim, the fourth Brightmoon story. Time for a report on how things went.

The two previous launches were very successful, so I followed much the same pattern: put the book on pre-order first, to allow me to book ads, run several days of promotion to boost the book in the rankings, then run some promotion on the other books. I chose to run a discount on The Fire Mages plus a free day for The Plains of Kallanash, towards the end of the 30-day high-visibility cycle for the new book, to try to keep things going.

So how did it work? Like the curate’s egg, it was good in parts.

The good points:

  • The new book had 236 pre-orders (compared with 12, 19 and 34 on the previous books). This was the first long (3 month) pre-order period, and it kept the book visible on the Hot New Releases list the whole time.
  • The new book had 201 sales during the initial launch promo period, with a peak of 78 on the day the ENT ad ran.
  • The new book averaged 4K page reads per day right from the start.
  • There was a small but noticeable bump in sales for the other three books during the promo period.
  • The secondary promotion period produced 136 sales of The Fire Mages, 636 downloads of The Plains of Kallanash and a bump of 19 paid sales afterwards.
  • An email about the new book from Amazon to anyone who’d signed up as a ‘Follower’ resulted in a burst of 80 sales over several days. Who’d have thought I had so many followers?

The bad points:

  • No tail. As soon as a promotion ended, sales dropped away within a day or two. This is very different from the previous two launches, where sales burbled along nicely afterwards, and tapered off gently.
  • No bump in pages read, either (something which was particularly noticeable for the previous book, after its launch promo ended).
  • As a result, the rank of the new book crashed early on, dropping into 5 figures in less than two weeks, and barely managing to stay within the top 30K in its first month. For comparison, The Fire Mages stayed better than 30K for 3 months, and better than 50K for 6 months. The Mages of Bennamore lasted at better than 30K for 2 months. Interestingly, both of them crashed into telephone number rankings at the same time – mid-July, so maybe something changed at that time.
  • The promotions were expensive – $615 for the various ads for three different books over the month. Although I made more than that from sales and pages read over the promotion period and afterwards, it’s hard to say how much I might have made without any promotion at all.

On balance, sales and pages read are better now than they were before the fourth book launched. The week before the launch, there were 8 sales and 22K pages read. Last week there were 33 sales and 30K pages. For just the three older books, there were 20 sales and 22K pages, so sales are more than double.

On the whole, I’m reasonably happy with the way things went. But I don’t have a good explanation for why this particular launch was less successful than the previous two, despite following almost exactly the same plan. Some possibilities (very speculative):

1) More promo sites springing up. That’s bound to dilute the pot just a little.

2) Readers now have ‘full Kindles’, so to speak. Those long tbr piles mean people don’t have to go bargain hunting quite as often. There are still more people switching to ebooks all the time, but the market is more mature than it was.

3) KU. If you’re paying a monthly subscription for your reading, it increases your resistance to paying for a book (I know it does for me). Even 99c is a lot when so many books are effectively free. And again, KU readers just won’t be looking for bargains quite as often.

4) The long pre-order time. This produced a bumper crop of pre-orders, but is bound to have reduced initial sales.

5) Promo saturation. I’ve promoted all my books quite extensively, and although I’m careful not to reuse any site for the same book too quickly, it’s possible that they’ve been over-exposed.

I have no idea which, if any, of these have any credibility. All I know is that for my next launch, in January, I’ll be trying something different.


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.


All the news: a new book, a new cover and some special prices

October 19, 2015 Current writings, Publishing/marketing, The Fire Mages' Daughter 0

Autumn colours

You lucky people down under are heading into spring, but here in the northern hemisphere our non-event of a summer has finally stopped tormenting us and we’re into autumn. Scotland is glorious at this time of year, with the heather in full bloom, the bracken a warm, golden brown, and the trees wearing their finest reds and yellows and oranges. I spent last weekend at Braemar, in the Cairngorm Mountains, enjoying a break before the winter weather sets in. Husband was looking up ancestors and where they might have lived. This one has a view to die for, but it would be bleak in winter. I prefer my cosy modern house!

Well, this one might be cosy too if it had a roof…

Book news 1: The Fire Mages’ Daughter has a release date! Pre-order at just $0.99.

I know many of you have been wanting to know more about Kyra and Cal, and now you can! The fifth book in the Brightmoon sequence focuses on Kyra’s daughter, Axandrina, but both Kyra and Cal have a big part to play in this new adventure. This book is a little different from the previous ones, in that it’s a sequel. However, for anyone who hasn’t read The Fire Mages, or read it a while back and has forgotten the details, there will be enough information dropped so that you won’t struggle to work out what’s going on.

The book is currently with my beta readers, and will be published on 15th January 2016. It will be available in Kindle format, and also as a paperback. As with all my books, anyone buying the paperback will be able to download the ebook free of charge, through Amazon’s Matchbook system.

You can pre-order The Fire Mages’ Daughter now from your local Amazon for $0.99 or equivalent.

Book news 2: next up: The Dragon’s Egg

For those of you who’ve read The Magic Mines of Asharim and wanted to know more about the mysterious eggs discovered by Allandra and Xando – you will get your wish! The story of one of those eggs will be told in The Dragon’s Egg, and you will also meet Allandra, Zak and Xando again, as well as one or two familiar faces from another book altogether. I’ve written 50,000 words so far, which is close to half way. The Dragon’s Egg will be published in mid-2016.

Book news 3: special prices on The Fire Mages and The Plains of Kallanash

If you don’t already have a copy of either of these, now’s the time. The Fire Mages is $0.99 (or equivalent) for the next few days; it will be back to full price on Saturday 24th October. And The Plains of Kallanash will be FREE on Friday 23rd October, again on Tuesday 3rd November, and once more on Friday 20th-Sun 22nd November. These offers are worldwide, and you can find them in your local Amazon.

Click for The Fire Mages and The Plains of Kallanash.

Enjoy! When you’ve finished, it would be wonderful if you could write a review on Amazon, Goodreads or your blog, to help other readers decide if they would like it. Thank you! And if you have any comments or questions, do feel free to email me. I’d love to hear from you!

And finally, here’s the gorgeous cover for The Fire Mages’ Daughter by Glendon Haddix of Streetlight Graphics (and yes, that is an eagle!).

You can see the cover in glorious hi-res here.

About The Fire Mages’ Daughter:

A girl fighting her destiny. A living god. A war with the Blood Clans.

Seventeen-year-old Drina just wants to hide away with her books, but as the daughter of two powerful mages and heir to the ruler of Bennamore, her wishes are rarely considered. Summoned to the capital, she is plunged into a maelstrom of politics and power struggles. The only compensation is Arran, the handsome bodyguard she grows to love.

In her new role as a diplomat, she visits Bennamore’s mysterious neighbours, the Blood Clans. There she discovers there are other, darker forms of magic in the world than the familiar spells of the mages. Driven onward by a living god, the Blood Clans’ magic drags both their countries to the brink of war. Surrounded by enemies, Drina must find a way to tame the power of a god before everything she loves is destroyed.



New release! ‘The Magic Mines of Asharim’

September 26, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Magic Mines of Asharim 0

Yes, The Magic Mines of Asharim is out, the fourth book in the Brightmoon Annals. Once again, it’s a stand-alone book, with a new set of characters and a new part of the world to explore, this time the northern end of the Plains of Kallanash, where the two great rivers from the Sky Mountains and the Crested Mountains make their way to the sea.

Thank you to everyone who pre-ordered! I hope the book arrived safely in your Kindle or device, and that you enjoy the read.

If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, it’s still at a special introductory price of just $0.99 (or equivalent) for the next week or so. For those who have Kindle Unlimited or Prime, you can download and read absolutely FREE. The paperback is already available, priced at $12.99 (or equivalent), and if you buy the paperback, you can download the ebook completely free (I don’t believe anyone should pay twice for the same product).

To buy or download: click here and you’ll be taken to your local Amazon.

When you’ve finished reading, please consider posting a review on Amazon, Goodreads or your blog, to help other readers decide if they would enjoy the book.

Here’s what one reviewer wrote about The Magic Mines of Asharim:

“This is a great book. it falls into postapocalyptic fantasy like all of the Brightmoon series which by itself is a fairly unique genre.
Things I love about this book:
The protagonist. She’s not always likeable, but I never hate her. She’s often selfish, but she’s called out on it. She’s very human to me, rather than perfect.
The supporting characters -varied and also very human.
I highly recommend all of these books!”

Here’s the description of the book:

A fallen empire. A woman with dark secrets. A strange magical weapon.

The glorious Akk’asharan Empire was torn apart by treachery two hundred years ago, its water supply cut off. Now its people are enslaved and humiliated, but they have never forgotten the past, and dream of one day restoring their former greatness.

Allandra’s dreams are more immediate: how to control the powerful magical abilities that are ruining her life. After a disastrous outbreak of power, she’s desperate to escape from justice and find a place to grieve and recover. Perhaps the hidden mines of Asharim can provide a safe haven.

The mines can provide much more than that: not only a way to control her dangerous magic, but a magical weapon that might even restore the fallen empire to its rightful place. But with enemies on her trail, and powerful factions who will do anything to stop her, she will only get one chance. If she fails, the empire’s last hope will be lost forever.

From the magic mines of Asharim, no one emerges unchanged.


A year of self-publishing

September 12, 2015 Publishing/marketing 0

Today it’s exactly one year since I published my very first book. There was cake, there was champagne, there were little sausages on sticks, there was jubilation throughout the land— erm, Ross household. And I was terrified. I’d like to laugh at myself, and say that those days are behind me now, I’m an accomplished self-pubber who can publish without fear, but nope. Still terrified with every book. That one went OK – phew! – but maybe this one will flop? It never gets less than nerve-shredding.

What’s helped more than anything else is the willingness of other self-pubbers to help out with advice and support. When I say I couldn’t have done this without that support, I mean that literally. I’ve made friends on Scribophile, Mythic Scribes and the Kboards Writers’ Cafe who have been consistently generous with their time and advice, and there are innumerable others, authors and bloggers, whose words have informed, encouraged and inspired me. Thank you to all of you.

And now, the obligatory list of Stuff I Learned:

  • – Books don’t sell without promotion (dur, right?).
  • – Promos are fun! And addictive! And sometimes I even make money from them!
  • – Two books sell more than one, and three sell more than two.
  • – Two books make more work than one, and three makes more than two.
  • – Not to panic. This is a long game.

I’ve seen others post numbers from their first year’s sales, and I’d like to do something similar. First the lifetime stuff:

  • Sales: 2,630
  • Borrows: 2,022 (up to June 30th)
  • Pages read: 359K (from July 1st; equivalent to around 400 complete reads)

Monthly sales and revenues are very up and down, but here’s my way of looking at how things are improving. These are my average daily sales/borrows/royalties, split by number of books out:

  • 1 book out: 1 sale/day, <1 borrow/day, $2/day
  • 2 books out: 9 sales/day, 6 borrows/day, $20/day
  • 3 books out: 11 sales/day, 25 borrows/day, 5K pages/day, $46/day

I discovered the virtues of promotion shortly before the release of book 2, as you can probably tell. If anyone still needs convincing that writing more books (and promo!) is the best way to go, here it is. It would be lovely to think that this progression will continue indefinitely, but probably not. (10 books out: $10,000/day! Yay! Er, no…)

And now, on to the next year. And the year after that…

PS To celebrate my first anniversary, all my books are priced at just $0.99 (or equivalent) for the weekend (up to and including September 13th). That’s a worldwide offer from all Amazons. You can also pre-order the next book at the same price. Click the Buy! button up above to link to your local Amazon.



‘The Magic Mines of Asharim’: ARCs available

September 1, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Magic Mines of Asharim 0

I’m looking for volunteers to read and review  The Magic Mines of Asharim, due out Sep 25th. It features a young woman running away from her past mistakes, two very different men, and a dangerous and ambitious plan. With plenty of magic, as always!

One beta reader said: “LOVED IT. The plot was excellent, and I was hooked from the middle of chapter 1 all the way through. ”

It’s 410 pages long.  If you’re interested, email me with your preferred format: mobi, epub or pdf.

Here’s the blurb:

A fallen empire. A woman with dark secrets. A strange magical weapon.

The glorious Akk’asharan Empire was torn apart by treachery two hundred years ago, its water supply cut off. Now its people are enslaved and humiliated, but they have never forgotten the past, and dream of one day restoring their former greatness.

Allandra’s dreams are more immediate: how to control the powerful magical abilities that are ruining her life. After a disastrous outbreak of power, she’s desperate to escape from justice and find a place to grieve and recover. Perhaps the hidden mines of Asharim can provide a safe haven.

The mines can provide much more than that: not only a way to control her dangerous magic, but a magical weapon that might even restore the fallen empire to its rightful place. But with enemies on her trail, and powerful factions who will do anything to stop her, she will only get one chance. If she fails, the empire’s last hope will be lost forever.

From the magic mines of Asharim, no one emerges unchanged.


Update on the self-publishing fantasy blog-off (#SPFBO)

August 14, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Plains of Kallanash 0

You may remember me mentioning some months ago that Mark Lawrence (author of The Broken Empire series) had organised a competition for self-published authors. He rounded up ten well-known bloggers who review fantasy, and sent each of them a ‘slush pile’ of 25 self-published books submitted by their authors. All the bloggers had to do was to work through their pile, just as an agent would, reading as much or as little of each as they wished, and choose just one book to put forward as their champion for a second round. Each of those ten would then be read by all the bloggers, who would award points and thereby a winner would be chosen.

I submitted The Plains of Kallanash, and the blogger it was assigned to was Sarah Chorn of Bookworm Blues. With the end of the first phase in sight, she’s now read all her 25 books, and reviewed Kallanash on 6th August. The good news is that she finished it! She rated it 3 out of 5 stars, and the winner of its mini-batch of 5 books. She described it as: ‘…certainly unique, and quite bold. The plot is intricate, the world building is superb, and the two mixed together creates a rather engrossing mixture that is hard to pull away from.’ She had trouble liking protagonist Mia (but everyone has that problem!) and also found that the ending left her: ‘…a little underwhelmed, as the big climax that I wanted to read about never really happened.’ All in all, a very fair review, and a big thrill for me in that one of my favourite bloggers read and reviewed my efforts. You can read the full review here, and see the champion Sarah chose here. For the full list of 250 entrants and links to many more reviews and the list of 10 champions, check out Mark Lawrence’s website here. The page to keep tabs on progress in the second phase of the competition is here.

Elsewhere in the SPFBO world, Marc Aplin of Fantasy-Faction, having chosen his champion already, has been explaining why he advises beginning authors NOT to self-publish, but to wait it out for acceptance by an agent and then a publisher. His main reasons seem to be, firstly, that being rejected multiple times and then working with an editor is the ideal way to hone your craft, and secondly, that self-published books are (mostly) rubbish and you (probably) won’t make any money anyway. You can read Marc’s article and the comments it spawned here.

I’m not going to get into the pros and cons of self-publishing here, it’s an old argument that everyone has to work out for themselves. There are valid reasons for pursuing a trade deal, valid reasons to self-publish, and there are also valid reasons to pay someone to publish for you (so-called vanity publishing). I’ve never submitted to an agent or publisher, so I’m not one of those who chose to self-publish because I was rejected. I just preferred to publish exactly the book I wanted to write, warts and all, and not wait years for some kind of validation. As for money, I’ve said before that it’s perfectly possible to make money from self-publishing. There are techniques that work, and luck doesn’t (usually) have much to do with it.

I do have some sympathy with Marc’s main points, though. There are innumerable authors who finish their very first book and bang it up on Amazon without any thought at all. Almost all of them would have done better to take a bit more time over it, polish it up, get proper feedback or even set it aside and write something else. I’ve read many, many self-published books where the writing became noticeably better as the book (or trilogy) went on. Even when an author has talent, it can take years to hone that talent, and self-publishers do tend to show the world every stage in their development.

Are most self-published books poor quality? Yes, in my experience, they are. I read more self-pubbed books than trade pubbed these days, but I’ve become adept at weeding out the ones that will be unreadable (to me). That is, books riddled with typos, grammatical and punctuation errors, books with trite plots and cardboard characters, books that meander all over the place without getting to the action.

There is no quality control on self-published books, whereas trade-pubbed books have at least been through some basic checking. That means that trade-pubbed books vary from brilliant to middling, while self-pubbed books vary from brilliant to execrable. That is inevitable, given the nature of self-publishing. It takes time to search out the gems, and I don’t blame anyone for choosing not to do that.

Having said all that, not all self-published books are dross. The very best are easily on a par with the very best trade-published works. I’ve posted lists of a few of these hidden gems over at Fantasy Review Barn for 2013 and 2014. Then there’s a tranche of self-published works that are comparable with many trade-pubbed books: professionally produced, competently written, which would qualify as excellent reads without setting the literary world alight. But below that level are many that fall into one of two categories.

Firstly, they have extremely original ideas but the execution may lack polish. They may have some typos, some structural or characterisation issues, the formatting may be poor, or the writing may be amateurish. I’ll happily try these, because originality is more important to me than perfect presentation.

The second type has solid writing skills, but the plot may be trite, the characters fall into tropes, the world-building is lazy and the ending predictable. I’m likely to give these a miss; I do like to be surprised in my reading, and I get bored reading something familiar. It has to be said, though, that works like this can do very well. There seem to be vast numbers of readers who do actually want familiar tropes and themes.

But below this level there are many, many self-published books that, for me, anyway, are just not readable. They are simply not professional enough to be worth my time. Some of them, with good marketing, can produce a good income for their authors. Most, however, won’t set the bestseller lists on fire (but that’s true of almost all books).

So when the SPFBO shines a spotlight on self-published work, it’s not surprising that the bloggers trawling through their slush piles found a mixture of books, some good, some OK, some that definitely needed more work. There was also the inevitable result of randomness: that they encountered books that, while they may be fine in themselves, just didn’t appeal to that particular blogger.

But – and here’s the key point, for me – they are actually reading self-published books, in some cases for the first time. They are bringing exactly the same critical skills and broad fantasy-reading experience that they apply to trade-published books. And that’s a wonderful thing.