We were so pleased with the new cover for the Alchemist's Box that we've decided to refresh the cover of the Dreaming Demon, and get one professionally designed. We used the same artist from Fiverr again, and in less than a week we have a new cover. So without further ado, here it is...
I think it looks more professional and eye-catching than the previous one, and still conveys the menace and atmosphere of the story, so we'll put it live on Amazon and Smashwords and see whether it gives sales a boost.
My last post in January mentioned Alex's new project and now in the middle of March, I can report that she has completed 65000 words of this novel. She's aiming for a full length of 80-90000 words, so she's well on the way to having the first draft of this novel complete in 3 months, which is an impressive feat. This book now has a title, "The Alchemist's Box," and will be the first book of the Merchant Blades series. I'll post a brief synopsis soon, but the main reason for this post is to showcase some book cover's that we've commissioned from artists on the Fiverr website. We requested designs from two artists, and below I can reveal the completed covers. We'd love you to vote on which cover you like best, and feel free to leave comments about which you like the best, as they are both very different styles, and we're quite happy with both designs and struggling to decide which one to go with when we launch the book.
It's been a while since the last blog post, and there's been plenty going on. The Tomb of Menkare, the first book of the Miss Silk series is a good 80% complete, with just the end game in each of the three timelines to be completed. However, Alex has been over in Athens visiting her family, and during this time she has been trying an experiment. Having read that many authors who go down the self-published route can write around 5000 words a day, allowing them to pump several books out a year, she wanted to investigate whether she could get close to this figure. Currently, on Miss Silk, Alex can write between 1000 and 2000 words a day. This is a respectable figure, but one of the reasons that it's not possible to do more is that the story is quite complex, following characters in three different timelines, each of which are relevant to the others. Constructing a coherent story therefore requires plenty of careful thought to ensure the narrative is internally consistent, and that the stories all weave together as they should. Alex has so far tended towards writing complex stories of this sort, and things that start out simple invariably end up with several layers. So, the new trial project while she's been in Greece was to try writing a simple, linear quest-type story, and to see whether keeping things simple allows her to progress her writing more quickly. Obviously, the thing we'll need to be careful about is that making a simpler story doesn't reduce the quality of the writing, as we don't want readers to feel they've been short-changed. Something else we'll be investigating with this project is that, up to now, Alex has always created a fairly well worked first draft that will need fewer revisions. With this new trial project, she has not been polishing the first draft, but writing an unrefined first draft that may require more work later to flesh out the details of the world and the characters. This allows for more rapid writing of the first draft, but whether this turns out to be a quicker overall process when it comes to reworking the second draft remains to be seen.
Unfortunately, there are many distractions in Athens, with family commitments constantly breaking into writing time, which have prevented her from ever having a full day to write to see how much she can achieve in this new writing model. However, she has discovered another secret weapon, a timer, which she sets for 30 minute sessions, and sees how many words she can get done in this time. This has been quite successful, and she has managed to complete the first 16000 words of the first novel in this new Merchant Blades series.
So, the plan on her return is to focus the Miss Silk novel towards the traditional publishing model i.e. when she gets back we'll prepare a synopsis and cover letter and start sending this off to agents and publishers who accept direct submissions. The next task will be to finish the first complete draft of Miss Silk, and when this is done, we'll switch to finishing the Merchant Blades novel, which we plan to self-publish as an e-book. Hopefully by the end of 2015 Alex will have two completed novels, and be well on the way to finishing the second Merchant Blades novel, as the self-publishing model that seems to be most successful is to have at least two books in a series ready for publishing, so that you can run a free promotion on the first book in the series, and hope that people like it enough to pay for the second novel in the series. We'll also need to do all of the other tasks associated with creating a high quality book for self-publishing, such as finding an editor, and commissioning some professional cover artwork, which are two areas which we will again be exploring for the first time. So, the bottom line is that 2015 will be an extremely busy, and also a crucially important year in Alex's quest to get her first full length novel(s) published.
So, we've had our first review up on the independent book review blog site Beauty in Ruins. Fortunately, the reviewer liked the book, so we're very happy. We've been very busy with domestic and family commitments recently, so we haven't had much opportunity to do much more promotion for the Dreaming Demon, but hopefully things are settling down a little now, and we can get back into full swing. In the meantime, Alex has been doing a grand job with progressing her first full novel, with the working title of "Miss Silk and the Tomb of Menkare." We're targeting around 80,000 words for the first book in the series, and she's now written 85,000 words, with around two or three chapters to go. Some of the scenes that she's written already will be going in the second book of the series, but I think we're on track to have a first draft of the first novel completed in the next 6 to 8 weeks, if not before.
It's always useful to get feedback on your work from folk who aren't related to you, and the first chapter of the novel has now completed its first run through the Critters website. We got eight really useful critiques, and encouragingly, some people loved every word, although most gave some really interesting suggestions and comments which will be taken into account in the second draft and can only make it stronger. As we speak Alex is implementing some changes to chapter 1, and we'll then be submitting the whole novel chapter by chapter for critiquing. Any other volunteers to be beta readers and provide honest, constructive feedback would also be welcome, so please let us know if you;d be interested in helping out in this way.
We've been a bit quiet on here since the Dreaming Demon published, so I thought I'd give a quick update on what's been going on since that momentous day. We've had some encouraging results, and sold some copies! We've also had some nice positive reviews on Amazon.co.uk and a couple on Amazon.com. We've noticeably had much more success on Amazon than on Smashwords, and several times the Dreaming Demon has entered the top 100 of the Amazon.co.uk Dark Fantasy best sellers list, peaking at around number 60. Not bad for a first release. After an initial flurry of sales, things have settled down to a steady level.
We've then been looking into publicity options. We've had a guest post on the Dark Phantom blog, and posted links on as many blogs, forums and websites who are happy to take authors posting publicity material - many places don't like this as they fear their forums will become overloaded with people trying to plug their own work, which I guess is fair enough. This means you've got to tread carefully, and not just post things willy-nilly, as the last thing you want to do is annoy your potential customers.
Many of the free publicity options available seem to only allow you to publicise a book when it's in a free offer period. We've been wrestling with whether this is a good plan or not. The main argument for running a free promotional period seems to be that if people like your free work, they might go and buy some of your other work. This is especially valuable if you have a series, where it makes sense that if you can grab reader's attention with the first book, they're likely to look for the next instalment and be prepared to pay. However, if you only have one book out, is this a worthwhile plan? Having read blogs of people who have gone down this road, it does seem to translate into several hundred downloads, which does get you visibility, and may pull in some more Amazon reviews. Whether that will translate into sales after the end of the promotional period remains to be determined. So, the question is, do we go for a free promotion now, or wait for the full novel to be completed (hopefully sometime early in 2015) to have something to feed off the promotion. We've also been trying to support other Indie authors who are in similar positions, by downloading or buying their novellas and doing what we can to help publicise their work if we like it. This is also a good way to connect with other authors and try to learn what has worked for them publicity-wise, and hopefully we'll start to integrate into the Indie author network that's out there.
The other thing we've been up to is working on getting our ratio up on www.critters.org. This is a great place to get feedback on your work from fellow authors, and we've put the first chapter up for review on there, which should be going live next week. Part of the deal with Critters is that you don't get your work sent out until you've critiqued a certain number of other folk's stories yourself. So my bus commute has been invaluable in allowing me reading time for the critters stories. I've found that the reading is the easy bit, but putting together a useful critique of a story takes quite some time, especially as you need to be diplomatic with your wording. Writes tend to be quite insecure about their work, and you want to help people make their work better, but not to make them despair and give up! Now we're looking forward to seeing what other authors think of the first chapter of the new novel, with the working title "Miss Silk and the Tomb of Menkare".
Well, things went a bit more smoothly than I expected, and this has caused everything to move forward. So The Dreaming Demon is now published and available to buy on Amazon and on Smashwords. I put it in for upload to Amazon, expecting there to be some formatting issues, but it sailed through and before I knew it, it was up and available in the Amazon store. What's even better is that it got its first independent download too, which is quite an exciting moment. Amazingly it also got accepted into Smashwords Premium Status in under 24 h, rather than the seven days expected, so is now available to download in all formats (epub, pdf, rtf etc) from its Smashwords page. If you don't have access to a Kindle you can get hold of it from here. Of course, if you want to purchase from Amazon but you don't have a Kindle, you can download the Kindle app from Amazon or an app store onto any tablet, phone, or PC, allowing you to view the Amazon mobi file. As its achieved Smashwords Premium Status, it should soon be available from Apple, Barnes and Noble (Nook), Kobo and Sony stores, and hopefully from most others that you might want to get it from. So, now we need to work on publicising its availability and getting people interested in committing their 75 pence to buy it, and hopefully leave some nice reviews! Of course, that's where you can help! And please share with your friends!
OK, so I hope you had a chance to take a look at the trailer for the Dreaming Demon. As usual, I'll concentrate my posts on the ins and outs of the publishing process and the planning. So, we've decided to self-publish this one, partly because it's a great story, but at an awkward length to get published in a magazine. It's also a slightly unusual genre for the mainstream fantasy magazines, which seem to concentrate on alternative world "high" fantasy stories primarily. Getting them to take a chance on a long story from a previously unpublished author in a genre that is a departure from their usual material would be a big ask. Our strategy is to publish on Amazon, and also use Smashwords, which is one of the biggest distributors of independently published e.books. Amazon goes without saying, as the largest publisher of e.books in the world. Smashwords allows you to upload a single file for conversion into multiple e.book formats, and distributes them to all of the other major e publishers (Barnes and Noble/Nook, Kobo, Apple, Sony etc.) This seems to be the easiest and most efficient option for the first dip of the toe in the e-publishing waters. The first task was to get the manuscript formatted in the correct way for the Smashwords "meatgrinder" program to accept it. Smashwords publish an extensive free guide on how to do this, which takes a while to wade through, but having followed all the instructions as closely as possible, the upload to Smashwords has gone smoothly so far. No dreaded "Autovetter" error messages, which seem to be the bane of many an author's life. Having passed the autovetter first time it should now be in the expedited queue for manual review, which should take around seven days - fingers crossed. The story now has its own Smashwords page (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/450369), with the first 25% is now available as a free sample on the Smashwords website, but I have already noticed one or two issues with the "Read online" and pdf versions which we'll need to try and iron out. We've pencilled in a release date of Weds 2nd July, but this may depend on how smoothly the manual vetting process goes. Next steps are to try the Amazon upload process, and to publicise the release on as many different platforms as possible. Of course you can help by placing a pre-order, encouraging anyone else you know to place a pre-order, putting links to the website, trailer, or Smashwords page on any websites, blogs you may have. If you have any other marketing advice, we'd love to hear it - either by comments to this blog, or by direct mail to email@example.com.
After a hiatus of several weeks through an amazing trip to Peru, followed by a week of intense back pain, I'm now starting to be able to walk again, and to start planning our exciting next step - publishing Alex's 14000 word novella, the Dreaming Demon. This is an excellent story harking back to the classic adventure tales of H.Rider Haggard (KIng Solomon's Mines, Alan Quartermain adventures), Robert E. Howard (Conan stories), and H.P.Lovecraft (Cthulu Mythos). To whet your appetite, I've put together a short trailer using www.animoto.com. Please take a look on the Dreaming Demon page, or here on Youtube. More details about the release of this novella will follow shortly.
I've always been a keen reader, but since I've become actively involved in this project, I've noticed I'm starting to analyse what I'm reading a bit more. I used to just say "I liked that book, but I didn't like that one" without really knowing what it was that made me decide. Obviously, the first thing is whether the subject matter and plot of the book appeal, but I've realised how important the writing style is. The good books, and often the ones at the top of the best-seller charts, are usually the ones where you don't really notice the writing style (OK, I'm not including the literary ones, where people are "playing" with the form of a narrative - I notice the style there, but often it gets in the way of the plot and they generally don't appeal to me!)
When I say you don't notice the writing style, what do I mean. The narrative flows, with no unnecessary words, and the reader is given just enough information to be able to pull the story, atmosphere, and undercurrents of the plot together in their imagination. Too much information, and it just slows the pace, and you feel like you're being spoon fed and treated like an idiot. But too little information, and the reader is just confused and lost. Those of us who commonly read books by big name authors often take this for granted, but its actually a subtle art to get it right.
As part of my research into the self-publishing market I've down-loaded some free e-books from authors who are getting towards the top of the charts in their genres. Most of these have been professionally edited. In my first foray into reading one of these its noticeable that the flow of narrative, and particularly the subtlety of the narrative, is often a little off. So often I find myself screaming (in my head - it'd be a little embarrassing on the bus!) "I got it already! I don't need you to beat me round the head with a mallet for me to get it." (or a mullet, as Alex likes to say). "There's also regular 'clunky' dialogue, with characters saying things which, if you read them out loud, just don't sound natural.
Now, don't get me wrong. The author has done a great job in pulling together a story into a full length, coherent novel, which has an interesting, well-paced plot. There's no spelling mistakes, and the grammar's good. But unfortunately that's not quite enough to make it a great book, and to make me want to come back and read more from this author.
Its highlighted to me what a tough job it is to create a great book, and how I take for granted the skill and art of my favourite authors. It also helps me to understand the level that we need to aspire to, and hopefully starting to understand that will help me when I'm giving my feedback to Alex on the first drafts of her novel.
For less than the price of a cup of coffee we take you to the furthest shores. We knock on your door and take you on an amazing journey. Are you the burglar we’re looking for to help with a troublesome dragon that has stolen our treasure? We will take you on epic journeys in enchanted forests. You will meet elves, fairies, the wild hunt. We will take you to mountains and run from mountain trolls and storm giants. We will fight against tyrants and evil kings. We will be the companions of peasant boys and girls with big dreams and even greater destinies. We will fight for justice and seek blades magical and named.
We will take you with us while we walk the night with velvet paws. We shall meet pale strangers who dance with beautiful ladies until sunrise, and handsome dark men who dislike the full moon. They roam New Orleans and their pasts are mysterious and dark, studded with tragedies and lost loves. Their cousins are much more unsavoury. They hide under our bed and steal our breaths as we sleep. They creep at night and consort with ghouls and witches. Some are good and some are bad. Some dance to the beat of exotic drums, worshiping dark gods which show themselves only when the stars are right.
We take you to the furthest corners of the galaxy. To dystopian futures here on earth where humans fight for the last scrap food or fight in huge arenas for the gratification of a placid population, or the edges of the universe where colonists have forgotten about earth. Where wars are waged in places so far away the troops take decades to get there, to wars with evil arachnoids and to desert planets where water is rare and precious and exotic spices are mined.
We take you to the deepest darkest jungles to rediscover lost cities filled with secrets that would shake mankind, ocean floors with shipwrecks carrying mysterious cargoes, and locked vaults that shady organizations want to keep hidden.
We take you to peaceful villages where grisly crimes of vengeance have taken place, and unlikely detectives uncover the suspect’s motives like the layers of a cake. Where serial killers place their unfortunate victims and clever agents never rest until they catch them.
We take you with us in our worlds and we leave you there to be lost for days or even weeks. To meet the heroes and heroines and perhaps fall a little bit in love with them. To meet the dastardly villains and cheer at their demise. To be sad at the hero’s losses and nervously await to find out their fate. Will our heroes triumph? Will they perish? Turn the pages and find out. And if we do it right you will be thinking about the characters and places you have been for days after you have finished the book. Sometimes the heroes become your friend and never quite leave you.
And all this we do for less than the price of a cup of coffee. Next time you are wondering if you want to download a book for 2.99 ask yourself: Isn’t worth it?
Alex Avrio is an author of Fantasy Adventure stories.