Reading and Reviews

This has been an eventful week for me, and I wanted to share some of the good stuff.

First up, popping my cherry at the Chi Series Guelph. Public reading has been low on my list as an indy author. Hell, public anything rarely rates high on my priorities, unless it involves politics or written discussion.

Nonetheless, a friend invited me to read at a local event in Guelph, held at the Red Brick Cafe, just down the street from the apartment where I wrote my first two books.

I have to say that while I was nervous, the experience turned out to be very positive, with the added bonus of meeting some lovely people and talking with other authors, face to face. The experienced convinced me that I should stop acting like a hermit and attend a few more events.

And now for a common complaint you hear from authors: that most dreaded of subjects, the Amazon Review.

This week Amazon saw fit to take down my mother’s review of my first book (in which she identified herself as my mother and gave it a less that perfect 3/5). I have no problem with that — Amazon does say in the TOS that relatives should not be reviewing each other’s works, but it does annoy me that a small group of them took the time to mock her before taking down the review.

Mom, it was an honour to have your review.

That aside, the issue did get me to sit down and take a look at my amazon reviews. I have sold a fair number of books, but have very few reviews on Amazon — almost an order of magnitude less than the reviews that I have on Goodreads. This hinders sales a little, I think, but mostly it seems that the review system needs to be reworked and properly incentived. Amazon should do more to solicit reviews from readers or take a page from Steam and post the book’s Goodreads score as a secondary indicator, which Steam does with Metacritic. Amazon owns Goodreads, after all.

I also think that all of a book’s reviews should show up on its page, instead of being divided by region of purchase. More information is better, especially if it is well organized. Extra review scores would help authors and readers and an increased number of reviews helps weed out fakers and reviewers for hire.

Just some thoughts, cheer!

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Teaser Tuesday

Here is an excerpt from my newest book, Blade Breaker, which should be out next week, pending a little more editing, and a little cover work.

They call the place the Spearmarch because the tall pines loom like the pikes of an army alongside the old, well-travelled roads. It was peaceful, deep within the royal Domains and surrounded by the lands of the Great Clans on every side. No one expects an ambush in such a place.

We only had a handful of scouts and outriders. These were overwhelmed instantly. Thus, when the depths of the Spearmarch disgorged a horde of Skraelings fit to overrun an army ten times our size, it stunned me. How could such a thing happen, here in the bosom of our lands? Such was the sense of disbelief that men who would normally throw themselves into danger lost heart. When the enemy charged, shaking the ground under their innumerable boots all seemed lost.

Yet, Siggurd Stormbreaker, the High King of all the North, refused to run. He moved calmly to the front of the army, pushing his way through his protesting Kingsguard, myself the only member of the Shadow Wolf Clan honoured with a position among them in more than a hundred years. His gaze swept the enemy and then he spat dismissively and lifted his sword, Garmsbita, above his head. Invoking the Gods to witness the battle he rallied. His last line, the last words from my king are still clear in my mind.

“Stand with me now brothers and let us show Gods and Ancestors that we are brave and true; Come ruin! Come glory! Come courage and red joy!”

We met them head on, charging into the onrushing horde instead of taking up a defensive position. Thyra was beside me, bright and strong. At first we made great headway. We formed around Siggurd and clove into the screaming, frenzied Skraelings, seemingly unstoppable. Were we not the men and women of the North? Was Siggurd Stormbreaker not the very king who had routed The Devout in his youth?

Bright blades rose and fell, red with blood. The air was thick with the war-shouts of the North and muttered oaths to the Gods of my people. We killed and killed and killed, and although the enemy was all around us, we did not waver.

Then a Murder-Wight, fearsome and fell-handed came upon the High King at the forefront. Dread was the blade it wielded leaving a trail of shadow in the air. It cut down two of the best men among us in a heartbeat and then it was upon the King. They fought and it seemed to me that both armies paused and parted to watch the struggle. The Wight was swift and strong, but the king was hard as iron and battle-wise. A sudden stumble caused my heart to leap, but it was just a ruse. Cunning Old Siggurd caught that terrible sword on Garmsbita and then struck the Wight’s head from its shoulders in a single blow. It was glorious.

For that one moment we felt as if we could do anything. We howled and my voice mingled with that of Thyra screaming next to me. Our weapons were light as air, our armour was unbreakable. Each man that fell was a hero. We pushed on; full of life, all cares forgotten.

Then, just as the enemy seemed sure to break, I caught sight of a shadow behind the High King and then he was gone. There is something broken in my memory of that moment. My mind cannot make sense of the image, and it is as if the identity of the killer was ripped from me. This recollection was no different.

When Siggurd fell, the tip of our spear was blunted. Confusion reigned; and we faltered as word of the king’s death spread like wildfire in dry grass.

Teaser Tuesday

This week’s teaser is from Bloodlust: The Shield Maiden, third book in my Domains of the Chosen Series.

Bloodlust TSM cover

At its heart, The Shield Maiden is a tale of imperialism, strangers in a strange land, and people making the best decisions that they can when the shit really hits the fan.

Most of the book takes place on Ithal’Duin, a ‘lost’ continent that the people of the Domains have rediscovered. After an initial exploration, Chosen Brightloch, the newest of his kind besides Gavin and Sadira, forms an alliance with the people of Kirif and decides to make his Domain in Ithal’Duin. Vintia, fresh from retiring as a Gladiatrix becomes a Warbound with the Ninth Legion which joins his expedition.

The Domains are meant to be the reader identification culture in the series. The Cultures of the Domains are strange. The Kirifans frolic in the waves and live in strange towers of living coral. The Fologi are vicious man-eating Dolphins who live in Kirif. The Deoman are unknowable behind their masks, driven by strange impulses. The vast Empire of the Vvath is populated by slaves and ruled by Swords that bear the spirits of the Dwarves of Khazak Khrim.

But the strangest of all of the creations in the book is the sentient magical disease known as the Shugothoth. This creature is inspired in part by Lovecraft and in part by Everblight (from the Warmachine miniatures game, a Hordes faction). Once the Shugothoth infects a creature it can spy on the world through them and attempt to take over their body. It can then mutate the creature if it desires. The Vvath hate the Shugothoth and are engaged in the genocide of the Niyiki to stop it from spreading. We learn that Dwarves are immune to it, but only later find out why.

“ENOUGH!” snarled the First Shield. “Your demands do not matter. We have discovered this disease. We also know about your swords. We are the Ninth Legion of Krass. We have claimed this land and paid for it in blood. We will not surrender our arms to a foreign power. If you wish to make war on us, do so at your peril. Even if you kill the last of us others will come.”

“The Vvath do not fear your petty Empire,” said the Blade-Bearer. “As for your deaths, we could just leave you here. Shugothoth is no simple foe. It will starve you out until you are too weak to resist and then add your men to its ranks. You have no hope of survival but us. If you surrender, we will negotiate safe passage, under escort, for any uninfected men. Ithal’Duin belongs to us. Your skulls will decorate our walls before long.”

“Then come for us,” said the First Shield. “The Ninth Legion is ready for any foe. If any of our men wish to join you now, I will not stop them.”

None of the Legionnaires moved.

“Your leader is a fool,” said the Vvath loudly. “Your Kirifan allies have been ruined by our thralls, the Deomen. Surrender to us and you will live, if you are not infected. The alternative is to stay here and die. Our armies can fill the horizon.”

“Perhaps they can,” said Strategos Teven, stepping to the fore, “but unless I miss my mark, you won’t risk exposing most of them to this disease. Just how many Shugothoth-resistant soldiers can you afford to lose before you can no longer contain it?”

This happens to be true.

Alarmed, Shugothoth reacted to this new threat. The head of the great serpent and the beady eyes of all of the remaining Crocodilians snapped towards the Shield Maiden. A keening sound rose above the din of battle and, as one, they all charged toward Vintia.

While the Crocodilians were slowed by Vintia’s ice, the great serpent was far too massive, cleaving through the frozen water like an ironclad. Drovers and Legionnaires fired spiked guns into the beast, but these seemed as pinpricks to such a creature.

Vintia raised her shield as the serpent reared back. She could see something else, hateful and alien, staring out at her from behind the window of its eyes. She did not flinch, but returned that hateful glare with a look of defiance in her eyes. The head of the beast twitched and then dove toward her, maw gaping until it seemed about to swallow the sky.

I like the idea of looking into the eyes and seeing something else in there, something unexpected…

Teaser Tuesday

Another throwback Teaser this week, this time to Bloodlust: Will to Power, the second book in the Domains of the Chosen series. Gavin is trying to fight his way through the Death Leagues to confront Valaran diVolcanus. The Death Leagues of Dregs are some of the more extreme side arenas in the Great Games, a bloody mix of the desperate, the mad, and the great. Gavin’s presence here is offensive to the fans, who are eager to see him bleed out in their favoured fighting ground.

The Cover for Bloodlust: Will to Power

The Cover for Bloodlust: Will to Power

Baron Bones hopped up. His cultured voice carried over the din of the crowd as Gavin and Choker met in the centre of the arena and turned to face him.

“Welcome supplicants,” said Baron Bones. “Today is a good day for one of you to die.”

“BLEED FOR US SLAGFUCKERS!” shouted someone nearby.

“I WANNA SEE YOUR GUTS!” came another voice.

“They’re talking about you,” said Choker, his voice singsong and mocking. A Shadow-Elf, he carried a heavy whip made from metallic cords and a short, brutal-looking serrated sword. Gavin knew that his opponent was a skirmisher by training, versed in life magic and dirty fighting. It was Gavin’s guess that, unlike his beloved Sadira, Choker had developed his natural shadow manipulation abilities: such powers were just too useful to a Gladiator who relied on misdirection. He could not guess at what other training the man might have.

Gavin ignored the jibe.

“We have a special guest today,” said Baron Bones.

Baron Bones is an amusing character, the sort of archetypal ring master that seems appropriate to the Death Leagues. His mix of class and mummery is especially fun to write and I bring him back in Bloodlust: Red Glory (and I intend to make use of him again soon enough)

Baron Bones cadaverous disguise is a nod to Baron Samedi, but also to the religious origins of the Roman Gladiatorial games as the funeral games for a culture where ritual sacrifice still held significance. Baron is also a title that has little real significance in the Domains, a relic of the times before the Reckoning.

The Baron quickly becomes a foil for Gavin, trying to force him to accept the harsh realities of the Death Leagues. This clash of ideology is central to the tension of Gavin’s battles here, and leads to a fateful decision.

Choker’s eyes went wide. Lionfang had performed flawlessly, accounting for the impact of his blades and pain while delivering the fatal blow. It was a master-stroke, almost unbelievable in Choker’s eyes. Gavin let go. The heavily armoured Shadow-Elf dropped his weapons and toppled, hands tugging at Gavin’s sword. His mouth worked but only blood came out.

Gavin’s spear flew into his hands. He looked down at Choker.

“KILL HIM!” came a shout from the crowd.

“MAKE HIM SUFFER!” came another.

“BLEED HIM, BLEED HIM, YEAAAAHHH!” another shout.

Gavin’s eyes met Choker’s. He saw defiance and acceptance there, a strange mix. He supposed that very few Gladiator’s came to the Death Leagues expecting to lose. The thought of killing Choker filled Gavin with disgust. He thought of Omodo on the ground, hacked to pieces, a gleeful Valaran getting ready to foul the corpse. Gavin did not want to be like that; he was tired of pointless killing. He placed the tip of his spear at Choker’s throat.

“Yield, and I’ll let you live,” he said. “Do you yield? Nod if you can.”

Mercy in the Death Leagues demonstrates Gavin’s growth as person. He confidently rejects the demands of the crowd, placing principles above popularity. It is a simple twist, but one I am proud of.

The writing in book two is better than book one, but could still use a touch up. On the whole though, I think it is a strong work, and well worth delving into for anyone who loves action and magic.

Blowing Your Own Horn: The Self Promotion Thing

CASTLE UNDER SIEGE-ILLUSTRATION

Trebuchets or Towers today boys?

My new book, Bloodlust: Red Glory is out as of last Wednesday, so I am knee-deep in self-promotion. Today I started three seperate Facebook campaigns, one linking to the new book, one linking to Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s tale, and one linking to my author central page, which is looking rather snazzy, actually.

These follow a small series of ad I have placed with various sites that specialize in promoting eBooks, mostly lower budget stuff. I can’t quite justify the cost of Bookbub yet.

The basic goal is, as always, to get my books out into as many hands as possible, hopefully running up the lists in Amazon.

My big failure thus far is not getting Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale perma-free on amazon. This is apparently quite effective according to several of the authors that I talk to who have transitioned to writing full time in the last year or two. The loss lead on the first book in a series is made up for by a very large boost to sales in subsequent books. Apparently there are quite a few websites catering to eBook enthusiasts that automatically search out and link perma-free books, which act as an advertising catalyst of sorts. In my case, getting Amazon to drop the price down has been met with silence, thus far. Sadly KDP only gives me 5 free days out of 90, which does not seem to do it. Mind you I miss out on even those five days, by being off KDP to try to get Amazon to price match. Charybdis and Scylla 😛

Of my other efforts the Facebook adds already look promising.

  • Pricing is reasonable. You can set the price for your ad to as little as 1$/day and still get a decent theoretical reach.
  • You target the adds based on what people like. For Bloodlust I am trying the conjunction of people who “like” Fantasy Literature, Gladiators, and a few other key terms. I could have targeted base on similar authors, or even activities that people engage in. With each modification I add it shows me an estimate of the reach, making it easy to estimate the crossover appeal of various “likes”. If it isn’t just smoke and mirrors, then it is a lovely system.
  • The metrics tracking is very good. It shows the number of licks, and breaks down how much you are paying per engagement.  Previously people have complained about fake engagements, with artificial clicks, but in my case I can easily compare the clicks to sales on my page to gauge the effectiveness of the add.
  • Facebook saves each campaign, the terms, and the audience you were targeting, making it very easy to iterate on effective campaigns. If these ads pay off for me, It will be very easy for me to recreate that success and ramp it up. It is a flexible, intuitive system, and if it actually works I will gladly put more money into it.

Of course, this is the first time I have released a book at this time of year. Do people buy books on Valentine’s day weekend? I have no way of measuring that against previous successes and failures until the data is in.

Self-promotion is the bogeyman of self-published authors. Some are brilliant at it. Most of us would rather just be writing though. Traditional publishers could easily make the case that they offer a much better promotional machine that can free up an author’s time, but all of the Fantasy authors that I follow who are traditionally published engage in a heck of a lot of of self-promotion. Patrick Rothfuss, Brian McLellan, Mark Lawrence, and Micheal J Sullivan seem to put a lot of effort into getting the word out there. The cynical side of me wonders if their publishers are riding their efforts ( and those of their fans), while the rational side of me puts forth that they would not stay with the publishers if they did not feel they were getting their money’s worth.

I don’t like blowing my own horn. But the reality of self-publishing is that I have to, at least until I have a legion of fans to help out with that. In that regard perhaps the best advertisements that I tried this time round were free books to a few new beta readers, and to a fan who asked me for a copy since Red Glory was hard to get at a reasonable price in his country. Only time will tell I suppose.

 

Tuesday Teaser

Tis Tuesday and time for a little bit from my soon to be released novel, Bloodlust: Red Glory

The names of the Gladiators who made it past the qualifying round were posted outside the Grand Arena on the last day of the qualifying round, along with their assigned opponents. Those names carved into an enormous stone tablet with elemental magic, were hidden by a gold curtain that would drop at midnight.

The Grand Parade square outside the arena hosted a large number of fanatical fans waiting to see if their favourite made it through the rounds, as well as those who wanted to secure tickets for interesting match-ups. They were served by food stands, roving jugglers and joke-tellers, and other attractions. Blue Hornet was waiting with these, just one more face among thousands, save for Honey on his arm, and the Grey-Robe at his side. Without the mask, few fans would recognize him; he valued that cloak of anonymity.

By contrast, fighters like Gloria Bella Maxima and Fiona the Executioner each stood amidst their seas of supporters. Gloria Bella Maxima revelled in the attention, acting like a Queen of old, while Fiona had the walked among her fans chatting. Blue Hornet disapproved of both, he preferred to keep a distance from large groups of fans, but did not like the image of royalty that Gloria Bella Maxima and many other Blues cultivated.

At least Gloria Bella Maxima deigned to show up; Lord Peerless was nowhere to be seen.

The arena officials, including a tired looking Quintus diKrass, began the countdown. The chatter ceased.

“Five,”

“FOUR,” the crowd joined in.

“THREE,”

“TWO,”

“ONE,”

As the curtain fell, Blue Hornet found his name, third on the list. His opponent would be Tamli the Bladebreaker. He knew that the veteran of the master’s circuit was an extremely under-rated opponent. He would have to be at his best to beat her, although it was likely he would win any show of thumbs. The fans preferred aggressive fighters, and his name was still fresh in the circuit.

Blue Hornet nearly laughed out loud when he saw who Lord Peerless was going to be facing.