Posts Categorized: Publishing/marketing

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.

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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.

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A new review of ‘The Fire Mages’

July 30, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Fire Mages 3

I don’t often post about the reviews my books receive. Reviews are really for readers, a way for someone who’s read a book to summarise what they liked and disliked about it, so that potential readers can judge whether a book is their cup of tea or not. So even a negative review can be helpful. Some reviews of my books say that they’re long or have slow patches or that the main character is hard to like. I wouldn’t argue with any of that. And it means that anyone looking for a fast, action-packed story with a likeable main character will know to move along. A review complaining about explicit sex or swearing will warn off readers who would find that disturbing. A review praising the gender equality in my worlds will alert readers to the possibility of something a little outside the norm.

So all reviews are useful. But occasionally a reviewer gets under the skin of one of my books in a way that is truly heart-warming. It means the reviewer really got what I was trying to say. For me, as a beginner at this writing business, this is just a wonderful moment.

Rachel Cotterill of Strange Charms, a blog which showcases female authors of speculative fiction, had this to say about my ‘unlikeable’ main character:

“Kyra herself is a great heroine. She sets out with a grim determination to train as a scribe, taking extra jobs to make ends meet. […] Almost every choice Kyra makes is goal-oriented, and in her head at least, she’s coolly logical in her decisions (though she’s a somewhat unreliable narrator when it comes to her own emotions).”

This is a perfect summary of her, and a real thrill for me to read. You can read the full review (and many other excellent reviews) here.

 

 

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The power of promotion

June 14, 2015 Publishing/marketing 6

It’s now a month since my third book, The Mages of Bennamore, was published, so this is a good time to look at the state of play.

The previous book, The Fire Mages, was released in January with a long (13 day) promotion campaign, and it’s been selling well for four months. I’m signed up for Amazon’s exclusive Select program, which means readers in the Kindle Unlimited subscription service can borrow the books for free, and that’s kept things ticking over. However, sales + borrows had dropped to around 4 per day, and just 1 per day of my first book, The Plains of Kallanash.

Promotion plan

So I planned a similar, although shorter, promotion for the new release – just 7 days this time, including sites that have done well for me in the past, like BargainBooksy, EreaderCafe, OHFB and ENT. I set the price to $0.99 worldwide for the duration of the campaign. I also set up a $0.99 discount promotion (an Amazon Countdown) for The Plains of Kallanash to start a week after the launch campaign finished, again using some of my most reliable sites from previous promotions. And on impulse I set The Fire Mages free for the final day of the launch campaign. With only two days’ notice, there was no time to set up any promotion for that, so I just blogged and tweeted and whatnot. But I had a piece of luck, and it was picked up by the semi-legendary Pixel of Ink. Result – an astonishing 4,000 downloads in one day, and a big bump in sales the next day. I booked two more free days, with some low-cost ads to coincide with the end of the countdown (and gave away another 1,000+ copies).

Results

Week 0: 5 sales/borrows per day over 2 books [pre-release of book 3]

Week 1: 52 sales/borrows per day, over all 3 books [launch promo week]

Week 2: 50 sales/borrows per day [but sales are down, borrows are up]

Week 3: 79 sales/borrows per day [countdown promo accounts for 34, so actually 45]

Week 4: 53 sales/borrows per day

Costs

Launch promo: $245

Free day: $0

Countdown: $139

2 more free days: $13

Total: $397

Conclusions

The results have far exceeded my expectations. I had my first ever day with more than 100 sales, which was truly exciting, and the ‘tail’ from the promotion (higher sales after it ends) is excellent. Even better, the sales were spread over all three books. This is partly because they’ve all had their time in the promotion spotlight this past month, but also because they are connected stand-alones, independent stories but all set in the same world. That makes it easy for a reader who enjoys one book to hop over to the others. I’ve had several reviews that said explicitly that they planned to do that.

The royalties received during the promotions themselves didn’t quite cover the cost of the advertising, since the books were discounted, but a few days of higher sales at full price ($3.99) has more than made up for that. I’m still in the red for the cost of publishing the books (I paid for professional cover design and proofreading, amongst other things), but this last month has gone a long way towards paying off those costs.

The free days have been interesting. It’s the first time The Fire Mages has been free, and giving away 5,000+ books in a short time results in an influx of new readers, new mailing list signups and new reviews. And not all those new readers are a good fit for my writing. So, a few of those reviewing plain didn’t like the book. And although that makes me sad, it’s absolutely fine. People look for different things in a book, and you can’t please everyone. Those reviews will be helpful for other readers trying to decide whether to buy or not.

One interesting factor is that borrows have taken a lurch upwards. Almost as soon as the launch promotion ended, as sales dropped, I saw a matching uptick in borrows. I have absolutely no explanation for this, but it’s been sustained for three weeks now. Borrows can outnumber sales by anything up to 9 to 1 (more typically 3-5 to 1). I guess it’s price-related: high sales when the books are discounted, high borrows when they’re at full price. Whatever, I’m very happy to be in KU.

The bottom line is that promotion pays. It probably isn’t necessary to do quite as much as I did, and I got a bit dizzy keeping up with it all at times, but it’s been fun as well as surprisingly successful. Well, it surprised me, anyway. There are signs that things are beginning to tail off now, and the books are beginning to drop in the rankings, but it was nice while it lasted.

ETA: One point I should mention is that with each successive book, sales have ramped up quite dramatically. With just one book out, selling 50 in a week was cause for celebration. With 3 books, I’m selling 50 a day in the post-promotion flurry. So it really does help to have several books out.

For anyone interested in the blow-by-blow results of the promotions, and sales numbers produced by each site, it’s all in the first post of this thread at the Kboards Writers’ Cafe (no registration needed).

 

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‘The Fire Mages’ FREE today only!

May 24, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Fire Mages 0

Yes, you can get The Fire Mages completely free, from all Amazons worldwide. This offer is only for today, Sunday 24th June.

Click here to buy from your local Amazon.

You can still get The Mages of Bennamore for just $0.99 (or equivalent) but only for a couple more days. After that, it will be at its normal price of $3.99 (or equivalent).

Readers in the US and UK will also be able to pick up The Plains of Kallanash for just $0.99 or £0.99 from 1st – 7th June.

So many special offers! And if you already have the books – thank you, but please tell your friends about these deals.

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And it’s launched!

May 16, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Mages of Bennamore 3

The-Mages-of-Bennamore-800 Cover reveal and PromotionalYes, The Mages of Bennamore is on its way, down the slipway and into the vast ocean that is Amazon. The analogy isn’t so far wrong, since this book, the third of the Brightmoon Annals, is set on the southern coast and ships play a big part in the story.

Things got off to a great start, with 34 pre-orders, almost double the number for The Fire Mages in January. 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 will be available soon, 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 people are saying about The Mages of Bennamore:

“Fast paced and psychologically tantalizing. Intriguing twists and turns throughout the book causing the characters to continually to reveal more of their intriguing and often colorful histories.” [Wanda, 5* Goodreads review]

“I really, really liked the premise of this book.” [Kayla Bashe, 4* Goodreads review]

“The first person narrative is well done and pulls you slowly further into the mind of the main character as she admits more and more of her own reasons to herself. The action was perfectly paced and gripping. The side characters are well written, and the romance threads itself throughout the book as the backbone of the story. I would recommend this to anyone looking for an intelligent main character and complex plot. Highly recommended!” [J.R. 5* Goodreads review]

I celebrated the release with cake and champagne and turkey dinosaurs (not pictured):

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It seems like no time since I was announcing the release of The Plains of Kallanash back in September 2014, and now it has two younger siblings joining it at Amazon. And the fourth book, The Magic Mines of Asharim, will, all being well, hit the virtual shelves later this year. Thank you for your support and good wishes.

Happy reading!

 

 

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Coming soon! More magic, adventure and a little romance

May 10, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Mages of Bennamore 3

It’s almost time! The Mages of Bennamore, the third book set in the Brightmoon world, will be published on Friday, May 15th. The price will be just $0.99 for a short time; the normal price will be $3.99.

You can pre-order at your local Amazon right now and have the book delivered direct to your Kindle or device of choice at midnight. Kindle Unlimited subscribers will be able to download and read for free from Friday onwards.

As always, a review after you’ve read the book would be very much appreciated, to help other readers decide whether they would like it. Reviews can be posted to Amazon, Goodreads or your own blog.

The story starts just a few months after the events of The Fire Mages, but it’s a stand-alone book, with a completely different location and a new set of characters; you don’t need to have read either The Plains of Kallanash or The Fire Mages first. However, if you have read one or both of the other books, you can have fun spotting some familiar references in the story!

I’m really excited about this tale, because the two main characters are quite unusual. Fen is a forty-year-old woman with an interesting past and some strange habits. And yes, that glowing ball she’s holding on the cover is a bit special. What’s that all about? Mal is the relentlessly flirting mage guard who fixes his sights on her. And there’s a strange tower, and a disappearing mage, and plenty of trouble afoot for our heroes, with magic at the heart of things. I hope you like it!

You can read the first four chapters here.

 A fragile peace. A clash of magic. A woman with secrets.

The war between Bennamore and the coastal region was over almost before it began. But the uniquely powerful mage who forged the alliance is dead, and the coastal folk are restless. Now the victors are bringing their spellcraft to the Port Holdings, unaware that the locals have their own less conspicuous magical ability.

Fen’s new job with the mages of Bennamore seems pleasant enough, but their powers threaten to expose her shady little habits. And then she can’t shake off the attentions of the flirtatious and uneducated guard, Mal. Nothing, it seems, will deter him.

The mysterious disappearance of a mage uncovers a dragon’s nest of deceit. Mal needs Fen’s help to figure it out, but she has divided loyalties and her past drags everyone into the middle of a violent conspiracy. Yet she may be the only one who can stand between the two countries, and stop them plunging back into a war which, this time, would destroy all of them.

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ARCs for ‘The Mages of Bennamore’

April 13, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Mages of Bennamore 0

Hi everyone! I’m looking for people to read and review my latest epic fantasy, ‘The Mages of Bennamore’, due out May 15th. It features a woman with secrets, two very different men and a fragile political alliance that rapidly unravels. And plenty of magic, naturally!

One beta reader said: “There was a good balance of action, adventure, drama, and comedy, and of course romance. Fen is a refreshing character. Her sass and her no-nonsense attitude make her appealing and funny.”

It’s 443 pages long. If you’re interested, email me with your preferred format: mobi, epub or pdf.

Here’s the blurb:

A fragile peace. A clash of magic. A woman with secrets.

The war between Bennamore and the coastal region was over almost before it began. But the uniquely powerful mage who forged the alliance is dead, and the coastal folk are restless. Now the victors are bringing their spellcraft to the Port Holdings, unaware that the locals have their own less conspicuous magical ability.

Fen’s new job with the mages of Bennamore seems pleasant enough, but their powers threaten to expose her shady little habits. And then she can’t shake off the attentions of the flirtatious and uneducated guard, Mal. Nothing, it seems, will deter him.     

The mysterious disappearance of a mage uncovers a dragon’s nest of deceit. Mal needs Fen’s help to figure it out, but she has divided loyalties and her past drags everyone into the middle of a violent conspiracy. Yet she may be the only one who can stand between the two countries, and stop them plunging back into a war which, this time, would destroy all of them.

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Some Blog-Off News

March 24, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Plains of Kallanash 2

In a recent blog post, I talked about Mark Lawrence’s brilliant idea to throw a slush-pile of self-published work at ten intrepid bloggers, and leave them to find just one from their twenty five to recommend. All ten bloggers would then read and review all the ten finalists.

The bloggers have been sifting through their slush-piles, and deciding how to tackle their task. Some have picked at random, some have chosen by cover/blurb/title (the time-honoured method), one has divided her pile into more manageable piles of five. The first reviews are trickling in. All the details are on Mark’s blog.

But there was an unexpected development. Another blogger, J R Karlsson of Fictiongarden.com, decided to join the fun, by looking at the entire pile of 250+ books. Quite a challenge! He eliminated some that he’d read already, or were on the site’s ‘recommended’ list. He eliminated some more on the (slightly arbitrary) grounds that he didn’t like the cover or felt he wasn’t the target audience.

The rest, he checked out the ‘look inside’ sample on Amazon, to see whether he could get through the first chapter. He found just 13 that met his personal requirements.

And – yes! – The Plains of Kallanash was on the list!

I was – hmm, how shall I put this? – quite pleased {SQUEEEEE!}. Of course, a lot of truly excellent books will have been eliminated by Karlsson’s process, so it doesn’t mean a huge amount. Still, being one of just 13 selected from a starting point of 250+ is quite something.

He’s now promised to buy, read and review each of the 13 over the course of the next year. I can’t wait to find out what he thinks about Kallanash.

Here’s the link to Fictiongarden (the website is flaky with NoScript, so you may need to deactivate stuff).

 

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For US/UK readers: ‘The Fire Mages’ at a special price this week!

March 22, 2015 Publishing/marketing 2

If you haven’t already picked up a copy of The Fire Mages or you know anyone who’d enjoy it, this is a great time to buy – at the US Amazon, it’s just $0.99 and in the UK it’s £0.99. These prices are only available for a few days, and I’m sorry, but they only apply to the US and UK. If you already own a copy – thank you very much! When you finish reading it, a review on Amazon or Goodreads would be very much appreciated.

To buy from your local Amazon, click here.

In other news… The Mages of Bennamore has finished its final editing, and is now with my wonderful proofreader, Lin, who fixes my typos and corrects all my wayward punctuation. Once that’s done, the book will go up for pre-order at Amazon, ready for publication on May 15th.

The next book in the Brightmoon Annals, The Magic Mines of Asharim, is almost finished. I hope to get that critiqued, edited and shipshape in time for an autumn release. There are some really interesting magical creatures in this story, with very unusual powers and a peculiar lifestyle. One of the pleasures of writing fantasy is discovering a whole world of strange beasties, and these are stranger than most!

After that… well, I always plan to take a break after writing ‘The End’ on a book, but somehow the break never lasts more than a few hours. So it will probably be straight on to the next book.

If there’s anything you’d like to know more about, or you just want to say hi, feel free to email me: I’d love to hear from you and I always write back.

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