I recently made the decision to terminate my contract with my indie publisher and re-self-publish my first novel, Moonburner. This post is to explain why!
As many of you know, I published Moonburner last June with Soul Fire Press, a division of Christopher Matthews Publishing. Overall, I’ve had a really positive experience with Soul Fire and CMP. I was pleased with my cover design and the quality of the book that was produced–I felt like it was a product I could be proud of. So certainly, I don’t regret my initial decision to publish with Soul Fire. At that point in my indie author career I knew next to nothing about launching a book, I had 200 people on my mailing list (most of whom were my friends and family), and I didn’t know a lot of other authors. My reach was pretty small. I tried to educate myself about how to do all the right things for my launch, but ultimately I was not happy with how the book sold. Everyone who read the book (when I could get someone to read it!) has really loved it, (even strangers, not just friends/family who got review copies), so I felt that I had a good product, but there was something going on that was keeping people from buying the book.
Flexibility and Control
Over the past year, I’ve been educating myself a lot about the publishing industry as well as connecting and networking with a lot of other indie authors, especially through the Alliance of Young Adult Authors, started by Derek Murphy (I am hugely grateful to be a part of that group because I have learned so much). Through my research and networking, I’ve learned out that if your book isn’t selling it’s going to be a result of one or more of a few things: Your cover, your blurb (book description), your pricing, or keywords/categories on Amazon. As an author through a publishing company, I didn’t really have a lot of control over any of those things. I could change the blurb and I could ask my publisher to change some of my keywords/categories, but I wouldn’t have real-time feedback on these changes (because I only get royalties twice per year), so it would be really tough for me to know if those types of changes were having an impact. Also, I didn’t have control over pricing, which I felt was an issue for my book. The eBook is $5.99, while comparable eBooks are $2.99 or even $.99. The print book is $16.95, which I feel is too high for a paperback. So there were a number of things I wanted to change.
The other option I would have as a self-published authors that I didn’t have when published through a smell press was to enroll in KDP Select. KDP Select is a program in which your eBook is only available on Amazon. This was not something I initially wanted to do, because I like the idea of having my book available “wide” (on all platforms-B&N, Kobo, iTunes). I have a Nook, I don’t have a Kindle, so I figured if I couldn’t even get my own book, it probably wasn’t the best solution for me. But the more I learned about KDP Select, the more appealing it was. Being in KDP Select means your book is in Kindle Unlimited–where there are thousands of Amazon readers who can borrow your book for free. Even though they don’t pay to borrow it, Amazon does pay you for borrows and page reads. That is a low-cost entry point for readers who may not normally take a chance on buying a book from a new or unknown author. Also, publishing through Amazon, you can take advantage of Amazon advertising. A lot of authors I know are having a lot of success with Amazon advertising, and I wanted to explore that. The other benefit of KDP Select is that you get to have 5 free days every 90 days, which is another low-cost entry point for new readers. For me, at this point, it’s not about making money, it’s about getting my book into the hands of more readers, and beginning to build a following. So I really liked the idea of exploring all of those things, and I could not do that without being a self-published author.
Pricing Promotions and Data
The other promotional tactic that a lot of indie authors are having success with is price-drop promotions. Traditional publishers are getting clued into this, and I could do this through my indie publisher. I did two $.99 promotions on the Kindle eBook, and it worked all right. I had to email my publisher, and he had to contact Amazon, so it just required additional coordination to make sure it was getting done. We weren’t able to do the price drop promotion on the other platforms like B&N, for some reason which is still unclear to me. But again, it was really hard to see in real time the success of these promotions, or the promotional sites I was paying to promote my “deal” on, because I didn’t have access to real time sales data. As a self-published author, I could time my promotions over several days, and then see exactly how many books sold on what days, and identify which promo sites were successful for my book. It was just one more thing that I thought–if I was doing this myself, I could do this more effectively.
Publishing the sequel
The other big factor is that I’m publishing the sequel, Sunburner, this summer. My publishing contract for Moonburner is for 3 years, and I knew at the end of the 3 years, I would want to get my rights back and try self-publishing for all of these reasons. So, even if I wasn’t going to terminate early, I was going to get my rights back eventually. At that point, my publisher would retain the cover and interior design, and I would need to re-do Moonburner. I realized that if I self-published Sunburner this summer, designing it to match Moonburner as it is now, I’d have to redo both books when I got my Moonburnber rights in 18 months. That’s not inexpensive, and a lot of work for me as well, so I realized it was preferable to pull the trigger and re-self-publish Moonburner now, so I only have to redo one book.
So, those were the factors that played into my decision to leave Soul Fire and self-publish. There are some downsides to being self-published–like you get a little additional street cred from being with an indie publisher versus being self-published. It’s potentially easier to get into libraries and bookstores, and some review sites or bloggers will not accept self-published books. But really, I found (and this is another thing I couldn’t have known before I indie published) that I’m not getting into bookstores and libraries anyway, and I’m not getting any traction with bloggers or review sites where I don’t have a pre-established relationship, so I don’t see a downside for me personally. I don’t feel that I’m losing anything.
Everyone’s path is different, of course, and there was a lot of value for me in having my book published for me the first time. It would have been pretty overwhelming to learn how to produce a book and learn to market all at the same time. But now that I do have additional knowledge and education, I think it’s time for me to strike it out on my own!
Hopefully you will all check out the newly refurbished and relaunched Moonburner in August, and Sunburner in September! Stay tuned for the amazing new covers, plus lots of fun extras I have up my sleeve, like a book trailer, map of Kita and Miina, and character sketches of Kai and Hiro!
Strange the Dreamer is the first book in a new duology by one of my favorite authors, Laini Taylor! This book was everything I loved about Taylor’s writing and former trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The book follows Lazlo Strange, who is a librarian, who has been obsessed since childhood with a mythical city called Weep. He believes that Weep is real and is fascinated by its history and downfall. Those around him are convinced it’s just a legend. His adventure starts when mythical warriors from Weep come to the Great Library seeking scholars to help them solve a problem. Lazlo jumps at the chance to go along, and when he gets to the magical city of Weep, he discovers the true nature of the problem. For hundreds of years, Weep was enslaved by cruel gods with blue skin who lived in a giant palace in the sky. Ten years ago, there was a battle between the gods and the people of Weep and the people overthrew their overlords, killing them. But, it left the palace in the sky blocking all the sunlight.
Unbeknownst to the people of Weep, five young god-children survived the massacre, and have been growing into teenagers in the floating palace. One is our other main character, Sarai, who has the magical ability to enter people’s dreams; she has been terrorizing the city of Weep with nightmares for the last ten years. But, over the years, she has gotten to know Weep’s fears, and seen her parent’s cruelty, and her sympathies for the people of Weep have grown. When Lazlo arrives, she realizes that not only does he have the most vivid dreams, but he can see her in his dreams, something no one has ever been able to do before.
At its core, this is a romance. Lazlo and Sarai fall in love, all within Lazlo’s dreams, and their courtship is as magical and fantastical as you can imagine! This book is also about the deep-seated hatred between two people who have hated and hurt each other for generations, and what it will take to overcome that. There are no real villains in the book, everyone has been damaged by this war and so the story is very deftly created, as you are sympathetic to all the characters and see where they are all coming from. You are rooting for them to overcome their differences and find a way to live together when you know that this will likely be impossible, and a return to war is inevitable.
As with Daughter of Smoke and Bone, one of the most remarkable parts of this book is the fantastical world she creates. Taylor’s worlds are so lush and unique–you know she has such a vivid imagination! It’s also the writing, Taylor has such a beautiful way with words (and metaphor and imagery), and this book was truly a joy to read. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who loves fantasy.
Full disclosure, this book does end with a serious cliffhanger. It’s one of two, and pretty much just cuts off in the middle. So if you really hate cliffhangers, you might want to wait until closer to when the second book comes out to read this. But definitely read it at some point!
Just a quick post today to share a book I read recently that has changed my approach a bit. It’s called Deep Work, by Cal Newport.
The premise of the book is thus: our modern culture is inundating us with constant stimulation, shortening our attention spans, making it difficult for us to focus on complex and difficult tasks. Our brains start to crave distraction, which is why, when I sit down with the best of intentions to bang out a chapter, the lure of the internet or Facebook sometimes proves too strong. Even through time is finite, I find myself wasting it…ALL. THE. TIME. Newport explains why this is happening, and why really, if we want to succeed as a modern day “thought worker” (as he puts it,) we need to be able to sit down, focus, and perform deep and difficult thinking. I mean, yeah, it seems pretty obvious, but why is it SO damn hard to do?
The book gives specific advice on how to create fixed distraction-free periods of time to perform deep work, by eliminating what he calls shallow work (I’m looking at you, email), and then batching the remaining shallow work into chunks. He also gives advice on how to decide if you need certain tools in your life, like social media, or whether a particular task or commitment is a good use of your time. Instead of asking if you get any conceivable benefit from it, ask yourself whether it is actively furthering your core goals and values. If not, say goodbye.
I found this book at THE right time. I was growing increasingly frustrated with how busy I always felt, but how, even when I was overwhelmed with tasks, I would find myself wasting time, or killing time on the easy stuff rather than diving into the meaty bits that actually required serious brainpower. I felt like this cycle was getting worse and it was driving me nuts. As a lawyer and an author who is basically working two jobs, productivity=sanity. Newport explained how your focus is a muscle that you have to exercise, and just like starting an exercise program, you can’t just jump into the gym and start to bench 350 pounds without really regretting it the next day. The way to increase your ability to focus and fight your brain’s desire for distraction is to constantly work at the skill on a daily basis, slowly upping the amount of time you spend doing “deep work.”
This is all to say two things. One, if you’re feeling like your brain spins in a million different directions yet you can’t get anything done (like I did), this book might be for you too. Second, I am going to be reducing the amount of shallow work I’m doing (i.e., spending time on social media and blogging), to increase the time and energy I invest in writing and editing my books, which is really the bit I love the most. So, I’ll still be around, but maybe not as much. But, on the flip side, this will hopefully mean yours truly will be churning out better books at a faster pace. And that feels like a win to me!
I thought the following article was a helpful primer on the concept of world building, which is key in fantasy writing!
This article is reprinted by permission of the author, Randy Ingermanson.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 16,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.
Going Deep or Going Wide
World-building is a large topic with many aspects. We’ll focus on people groups this month, but keep in mind that it’s not the only aspect.
Generally, novelists choose to go either deep or wide in constructing people groups.
“Going deep” means focusing on one single people group that’s different from the one the target audience belongs to. (For example: Amish fiction, targeted to non-Amish readers. Alternatively, World War II fiction set in Nazi Germany, targeted to American readers.)
“Going wide” means having many different people groups that interact with each other. (For example, The Lord of the Rings has humans, hobbits, elves, dwarves, orcs, trolls, wizards, balrogs, ents, and more. The humans have several different people groups—the villages around Bree, the Rohirrim, and the men of Minas Tirith. The elves are likewise split geographically into people groups that live in Mirkwood, Lothlorien, and Rivendell.)
So how do you construct a people group? You have a lot of options, but they boil down to asking two very important questions:
- What do all members of this people group have in common?
- How does this people group split up along party lines?
As an example, in the Harry Potter series, the main people group is composed of the witches and wizards. There is a second people group composed of muggles—non-magical people. But the Potter series goes deep—the witches and wizards get the great majority of the air-time in the series.
- What do the witches and wizards have in common? They all have the genetic ability to do magic.
- How are they split along party lines? They differ in their attitudes towards muggles. Lord Voldemort’s party believes that muggles should be ill-treated. They can be killed, tortured, or harassed at will. Witches and wizards who have muggle ancestors are considered “mud-bloods” and should be repressed. Albus Dumbledore’s party believes that muggles should be treated with decency and respect.
Notice a key point. The storyline of the Harry Potter series is driven by the party differences among the witches and wizards, not by their commonality. Yes, it’s interesting to see how magic plays a role in their ordinary lives, and this provides a lot of local color to the story. But the great arc of the storyline is driven by Lord Voldemort’s attempt to take over the magical world, and Albus Dumbledore’s efforts to defeat him.
The Potter series goes deep, and the story is driven by internal factions within one people group.
That’s not the only option, however. You can go deep but have the story be driven by the battle of your main people group with some other people group. As an example, the movie Independence Day told the story of an invasion of planet earth by aliens who are mostly not seen.
Another option is to go deep and have the main conflict be driven by differences between individuals in the main people group. As an example, an Amish romance novel would feature a single people group and could have no factions at all but could simply focus on the classic romance storyline—will the hero and the heroine get together? In this case, your main work in constructing your people group is understanding the things that your people have in common, especially those things that are different from the ordinary world of the target readers.
When you have multiple people groups that play a central role in your story, you now have a third question:
- What are the central conflicts between your people groups?
In The Lord of the Rings, we have many of these:
- The orcs hate pretty much all the other people groups, and are slaves of Lord Sauron, who is not an orc but created them for his own purposes.
- Elves hate the orcs and will never cooperate with them, but they might choose to insulate themselves from the orcs, giving them free rein. The elves have the right to leave Middle Earth if they choose. Elves are impervious to disease and aging, but they can be killed. So doing battle with orcs has an enormous cost—the elves risk dying in battle.
- Dwarves also hate orcs, but they don’t like elves either, and it’s very difficult to get the elves and dwarves to cooperate to defeat their common enemy. Dwarves have fewer options when it comes to insulating themselves from the orcs. They can’t flee Middle Earth, as the elves can. Dwarves have a love for gold that makes it possible, in principle, to buy their allegiance to the dark side. But they much prefer to keep to themselves.
- Humans mostly hate orcs, but some of them have gone over to the dark side and collaborate with them. Humans look with suspicion on the elves and dwarves and believe that they have to rely on themselves to get anything done. The humans are ready to fight, but they live shorter lives than the other people groups, and they sometimes feel like they are doing most of the work in battling evil, while getting little reward for their trouble.
- Hobbits are barely aware of the wider world. They know that the elves and dwarves and humans and orcs exist, but they don’t think that the wars of these outsiders make a difference to them. Hobbits are happy to keep to themselves and live their own lives.
- Ents are a frozen race. They’re essentially immortal, but they’ve lost the ent-wives, so they aren’t reproducing. They’ve secluded themselves even more than the hobbits in their own little enclave. They’re also very slow to make decisions. But once they choose to fight, they are extraordinarily powerful.
- Wizards are sent into Middle Earth in the guise of men. It’s not clear what wizards are, but their role is to guide the free peoples of Middle Earth to maintain their freedom, but without subjugating them. Wizards can go over to the dark side, and one of them does.
So The Lord of the Rings has one central conflict—Lord Sauron and his orc minions are trying to subjugate the elves, humans, dwarves, and hobbits. The wizards, led by Gandalf, are trying to resist Lord Sauron and ultimately defeat him.
Sauron’s strategy is to divide and conquer. He’s helped by the natural animosities between the elves, dwarves, and humans, and he does his best to boost these animosities.
Gandalf’s strategy is to unify and resist. He must get the elves, dwarves, men, hobbits, and ents to set aside their differences and fight Sauron. No easy task, but if it were easy, there wouldn’t be much of a story.
When Sauron and Gandalf learn that the One Ring of Power still exists, the race is on to find it and use it to tip the balance of power. But the Ring is so corrosive that it can only be trusted in the hands of the hobbits, who are least susceptible to its power.
1) Are people groups an important aspect of your story world? (If your target audience is essentially similar to all the characters in your story, then the answer is probably no.)
2) How many important people groups do you have in your story? (The important ones are usually the ones that contribute at least one primary character.)
3) For each people group, what does this group have in common? What binds it together? (This could be religion, philosophy, geography, customs, or anything else that tends to make different people think that “we are all in this together.”)
4) For each people group, what are the internal factions that tend to destroy the group unity? Why do these factions exist? What drives the conflict between them?