Posts Categorized: The Plains of Kallanash

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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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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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.

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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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Writing update

June 6, 2015 Current writings, The Fire Mages, The Fire Mages' Daughter, The Mages of Bennamore, The Magic Mines of Asharim, The Plains of Kallanash 0

There seems to have been a lot going on lately, what with the launch of The Mages of Bennamore, various other promotions, and the ongoing projects of the next book, and the one after that. So here’s a quick rundown on the state of play.

Weekend promotions

This weekend (6th and 7th June) two of my three books are specially priced. The Plains of Kallanash is at $0.99 (US/UK Amazons only, sadly) and The Fire Mages is free in all Amazons worldwide. This is a great opportunity to complete your collection if you haven’t already got all three books. Click the links to take you to your local Amazon to buy.

The Mages of Bennamore

Release date was 15th May, with 34 pre-orders and a nice little surge of sales to get things underway. Then I had a week of promotion set up – paid advertising every day, with the price staying at $0.99 for the duration. This resulted in a grand total of 274 sales, and set the book up quite well for the rise back to its usual price of $3.99. There are still only 3 reviews on Amazon, and I would love some more, so if you’ve read it but haven’t yet reviewed it, a few lines would be very much appreciated.

The Fire Mages

This is my best seller by far, but it was a bit short on reviews, so I decided to use my free days (the bonus for being exclusive to Amazon) to try to gain a few more readers. The book was free on 24th May, with no paid promotion. I did some blogging and tweeting, mentioned it to the avid fantasy fans on Reddit and then had a piece of luck – the book was picked up for a free advert by Pixel of Ink, with the result that more than 4,000 copies were downloaded in the 24 hour free period! It also brought in several more reviews. As mentioned above, it’s free again this weekend (6-7 June) and will be free on 27-28 June as well, but I haven’t booked much advertising, so I don’t expect to give away more than a few hundred copies this time.

The Plains of Kallanash

Poor old Kallanash has always lagged behind its younger sisters in the sales department, but the release of The Mages of Bennamore put a bit of life into it, and this week I’ve been offering it for $0.99 in an Amazon countdown promotion (again, a benefit of being exclusive to Amazon). This has produced over 100 additional sales, with a couple of days still to go. Hopefully, a few new reviews will filter through, in time. It’s always lovely to have genuine reader feedback, so reviews are always welcome, whether the reader enjoyed the book or not.

The Magic Mines of Asharim

Ah, the next book in the Brightmoon world! This is scheduled for release sometime in the autumn. It’s finished but not yet edited, but before I set off for France last weekend, I popped it onto my Kindle so that I could read it through. It holds up quite well, I’m pleased to say, although naturally it needs a bit of tidying up before it goes off to beta readers. I’ll be starting the editing process very soon – not something I enjoy much (writing the first draft is always more fun), but very necessary to put a bit of polish onto the book.

The Fire Mages’ Daughter

The current work in progress takes a generational leap from the end of The Fire Mages, returning to Bennamore for another clash with the neighbours, this time the mysterious Blood Clans to the west. The clans have discovered a boy god in their midst, but will it lead to war with Bennamore? There will be some familiar characters returning to the story, but the main character is Axandrina, a potential ruler who only wants to return home to her family. I’ve written 60,000 words so far (perhaps half of it), so a way to go yet, but I’m enjoying the way the story is taking shape.

And after that…?

Who knows! But there’s plenty more of the Brightmoon world to discover yet. If you want to hear about all the new releases, don’t forget to sign up for the mailing list (click the Sign up! button up above).

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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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The great self-published blog-off

March 11, 2015 Publishing/marketing, The Plains of Kallanash 2

Following some discussion about the difficulties of promotion for self-published authors, Mark Lawrence, author of the Broken Empire series, came up with a great idea: get some established fantasy bloggers lined up, and throw self-published books at them, 25 apiece, with a six month window to work through their ‘slush pile’ and find just one book to promote. The chosen books would then be looked at by all the bloggers and rated, to produce an overall winner.

Mark threw the idea out into the blogosphere, chose 10 bloggers from the many who volunteered, accepted submissions from self-published authors, randomly assigned each to a blogger and sat back to watch the fun.

Now, I’m not big on competitions, and writing competitions, in particular, seem to be more subjective than most. However, the opportunity to have my book at least looked at by a blogger who wouldn’t normally even consider a self-published work is too good to miss. I’ve submitted The Plains of Kallanash, and I’ve been assigned to Sarah Chorn of Bookworm Blues, which warms the cockles of my fangirl heart. It will be an honour to be rejected by Sarah.

Erm, rejected? Why so negative? Because statistics, that’s why. There’s only a 1 in 25 chance of being chosen for promotion to the next round, the competition is stiff and however brilliant a book is, it also has to capture the interest of the person reading it. I can’t even guess whether Sarah will enjoy Kallanash or not. No idea at all. Plus – brilliant? I wrote the thing, I’m only too aware of its weaknesses. Sarah, like all these bloggers, is used to reading the very best of trad published work, against which I would never, ever presume to compare my own scribblings. So, I’m realistic about the chances of being talent-spotted.

What really excites me about this has nothing to do with my own chances. It’s this: for possibly the first time ever, these ten bloggers will be looking seriously at self-published work. Some of them may never have cracked open such a book before, with the possible exception of a few authors who’ve switched from indie to a trad or hybrid deal, like Hugh Howey, Michael J Sullivan or Anthony Ryan. Now they get to look at 25 indie books, and evaluate them in exactly the same way they review any other book.

One aspect that will be really interesting to me is that most of these books are unknown quantities. There are a few who have sold by the shed-load, but most are like Kallanash: low to medium sales, relatively few reviews and no hype, no history, no buzz to go on. The bloggers can’t say: oh, I liked X’s last book, so this should be good. They can’t say: Y wrote a glowing review of this, so it must be good. They can’t even say: the publisher’s pushing the boat out for this one, so they think it’s good. Each book will be reviewed in a vacuum.

That might not sound difficult, but I’ve been reading and reviewing self-published books for several years now, and I find it really hard to judge a book in isolation. If I love it, that doesn’t mean anyone else will. If I hate it, maybe that’s just me. It’s a different judgement call from evaluating a book that’s already a known quantity. When I read Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns, for instance, I already knew it was controversial, and that a lot of people hated the young protagonist. I knew what I was looking for, what questions needed answering.

Knowing something about a book or author creates expectations. Now, those expectations may or may not be met, but there’s something as a base line. But if there’s no starting point, no expectations, it’s like jumping off a cliff blindfolded. There’s just no knowing where you might end up. It’s a peculiar feeling opening a book without having the slightest idea what you will find inside.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how this goes. I’ve read and reviewed several of the books on the list, although not always with glowing results. One, at least, I rejected because I found the plotline too trite (but it went on to do extremely well, which shows how much I know). Several on the list are authors who write way better than I do, and some have featured on my list of self-published gems; it would be no disgrace to lose to any one of them.

Whichever author ‘wins’ the competition, the real winner here is the world of self-publishing.

Here’s the complete list of bloggers participating, and books submitted.

 

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Magic in the Brightmoon world

January 30, 2015 Brightmoon world, The Fire Mages, The Plains of Kallanash 3

With ‘The Fire Mages’ now out, I thought it might be interesting to look at the way magic is used in the book, and compare it with magic in ‘The Plains of Kallanash’. WARNING: slight spoiler for ‘The Fire Mages’ at the end.

‘The Fire Mages’ is set in the realm of Bennamore. Magic is invoked by the use of spellpages: a trained scribe writes out the words of a spell using magically imbued paper, pen and ink. A special script is used, with many flourishes and symbolic additions to each letter, which can subtly modify the spell, for instance to change the strength, to add constraints or expand it. The spellpage is then burnt in a crucible, with an invocation to the gods: “By the sun, bring light and fire and colour; by the moon, enable the darkness.” The Bennamorians believe that the gods are the final arbiters of whether a spell will work as intended or not.

The scribes who write the spells have no special magical talent themselves. Anyone can be trained to write spellpages, if they have a steady hand and can write accurately. Training takes place at a scribery, and there are five years of study, leading to five levels of scribe:

  • common scribe (reading and writing for the common people, not allowed to scribe spellpages)
  • transaction scribe (working for shopkeepers, inn managers and the like recording their transactions, simple spellpages)
  • contract scribe (working for businesses recording larger deals, more complicated spellpages)
  • personal scribe (working for and advising nobles)
  • law scribe (advising on the law of the whole country)

 

In theory, anyone can become a scribe to any level. There is no barrier to entry, apart from a simple test of reading and writing ability. However, the tuition has to be paid for, and each year costs twice as much as the year before. This means that the fifth year costs sixteen times as much as the first year.

There is one stage beyond that of law scribe – mage! What’s the difference between a scribe, performing magic by writing spellpages, and a mage? A mage performs exactly the same spells, but without needing to scribe them on magically enhanced paper. He or she (yes, it could be either) uses a vessel filled with magical power to enable their magic, so they just need to speak the words of the spell. The most adept can simply think the words.

They can also use the vessel in other ways, for instance, to touch a sick or injured person, and see where healing is needed, instead of guessing from symptoms. They can imbue paper, ink and quills with magic for scribes to use. They can create shortcuts for spells, for instance, a single word which enables a whole spell, but these have to be prepared in advance. There used to be more powerful mages who could create new spells, but there have been none for a long time, and the power of spellpages generally is waning; many spells which used to be effective are now less reliable.

In Bennamore, this is the only kind of magic that is recognised, and any other form of magic is illegal.

In ‘The Plains of Kallanash’, set in a different part of the same world, there are no spellpages. In fact, over most of the plains, there is no magic at all. The Catastrophe which reshaped the world so devastated that area, that magic of any sort is suppressed. Only at the Ring, surrounding the Tower of Reception, is there any magical ability, but very few people are aware of it. Most don’t even believe in magic.

But there is magic, and it’s innate – everyone has a kind of magic, a ‘connection’ to something which gives them a special affinity with that something. For most people this works at such a low level that they’re not even aware of it. They might just think they happen to be rather good at growing apples or raising pigs or working wood. Some people are aware of their connection, but it isn’t strong enough for them to do anything with it. But a few people have a very strong connection, powerful enough for them to use it. If you have read ‘The Plains of Kallanash’, you will know who has a strong connection, and how they use it!

But anyone who’s read ‘The Fire Mages’ as well may be saying, “Wait a minute, this is the same world, but it has two different kinds of magic in it. How does that work?”

That’s a good question. The answer, as so often in the Brightmoon world, lies in the Catastrophe. When the powerful pre-Catastrophe mages started playing about with forces they couldn’t ultimately control, and realised that the only way to save the world was to destroy magic, naturally they immediately started looking for ways to allow magic to continue anyway. ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ shows the results of one attempt to do that. ‘The Fire Mages’ shows another.

The system of spellpages was created by mages before the Catastrophe. They ‘seeded’ the whole region where Bennamore now stands with a kind of magical power which could be easily transferred to objects – the vessels used by modern mages, and the paper, ink and quills used to create the spellpages. They invented the spells themselves, and the form of writing used to invoke them. And they made the whole system self-perpetuating, so that it doesn’t need anyone with native magical ability. Bennamorian scribes need have no innate talent for magic (although mages generally have some latent capability).

But what about Kyra? Here’s someone who clearly does have a strong innate magical ability, so how does that work?

Another good question, and here comes the slight spoiler. Even in Bennamore, everyone has a connection. That kind of magic is just a part of the human condition in the Brightmoon world, everyone has it, to a greater or lesser degree. But the only forms of magic allowed in Bennamore are the spellpages and the vessel-empowered mages. Any other kind is illegal, and the penalties severe, so those with connections keep very quiet about them.

But not all connections are to mushrooms or root vegetables or sparrows. Kyra’s connection is to magic itself. And that makes her very, very special. It’s a situation that can only arise when a child is born close to magic – in Bennamore, or near one of the many magical places pre-dating the Catastrophe – and even then, it happens very rarely. But when it does, it gives the recipient enormous power, which can be used for great good or great evil. And therein lies the story behind ‘The Fire Mages’.

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‘The Plains of Kallanash’: another promotion

December 16, 2014 Publishing/marketing, The Plains of Kallanash 0

With ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ nearing the end of its first 90-day run in Amazon’s KDP Select, I had three more free days to use up. I chose Wed to Fri 3rd/4th/5th December for no good reason, other than I’d picked a weekend last time, and it seemed a good idea to try something different.

The first 2 free days, back in October, were a modest success, with almost 800 downloads with only one paid promotion site (Bknights, $20), although resulting in no additional sales or reviews. This time, I thought I would experiment by paying a little more to promotion sites, and see if the combined effect helps. Each promotion site features the book on a combination of bulk emails to subscribers, websites and Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and so on. My expectations weren’t high; I hoped for 2,000 downloads overall.

Here’s what I booked:

Day 1: BKnights ($20), BookButterfly ($35)

Day 2: Genre Pulse ($30), PixelScroll ($15)

Day 3: PixelScroll (free extra day), Ereader News Today (ENT) ($15)

Total cost: $115

Results:

Day 1: 1,041

Day 2: 731

Day 3: 2,650

Total: 4,422

Wow, that worked well! All the promotions produced noticeable bumps in downloads when the email went out or the website ad went live, but Bknights and ENT were particularly impressive and long-lasting. Day 3 was also helped by the fact that the book was picked up for promotion on FreeBooksy, something I’d have had to pay $100 for otherwise. Lots of sites and email lists will do this: mention a free or discounted book that they think will interest their subscribers, but some of these unsolicited mentions produce more dramatic effects than others.

All those downloads got me to #65 in the free bestseller list on Amazon.com, to #2 in free epic fantasy, #3 in free swords and sorcery and (most amusingly) #5 in the fantasy sub-genre of romance, so for a while ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ mingled self-consciously amongst a swathe of cover images of werewolves and shirtless men.

So what is the value of giving away books for free? The main objective is to get the book into the hands of readers, of course. For new authors, this is vitally important. Hopefully, some of them will read it and perhaps leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads, or tell their friends about it.

What I didn’t expect was that the day after the free promotion, there would be a whole heap of sales of the full-price book. Presumably, lots of people read their emails a day late and clicked to buy without realising that the book was no longer free. A few returned it later, but not as many as I’d expected. The following day produced a few more sales (and borrows). The book ended up ranked at around 6,000 overall in the paid Kindle store for a while, and in the top 100 of a couple of sub-genres, having been ranked at 660,000 before the promotion.

Other side effects: some new reviews, Goodreads readers and ratings, and my very first ever fan email: “Thank you for the wonderful read”. Awww. And the rush of sales blasted me past my second milestone: 100 sales. The increased rate of sales and borrows, while slower now almost two weeks later, is still above pre-promotion levels.

So the take-home message is: promotion pays, even when you’re giving the book away, but only when you get into the thousands of downloads. And the unexpected rush of paid sales actually covered the cost of the promotion. For anyone with multiple books to sell, a modest promotion, whether free or discounted, should more than pay for itself.

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‘The Plains of Kallanash’: FREE for 3 days

December 3, 2014 Publishing/marketing, The Plains of Kallanash 2

Yes, folks, epic fantasy adventure ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ is now free at all Amazons from Wednesday 3rd December 2014 until Friday 5th December 2014. Pick up a copy from your local Amazon by clicking the link on the right – it takes you to your own Amazon.

If you’ve already bought Kallanash – thanks! Why not tell your friends about it, too? Enjoy!

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