15 Nov 2019

A Commentary on Book Reviewers and Target Markets

Hello readers!

I am pleased to announce that I have received my first proof copy of the Fallen Love paperback! Now, I won’t be sharing any photos yet, as some things did go wrong—the colour management software messed up the colours on the cover. I have corrected the problems, and ordered another proof, which will arrive next week. I promise to show you photos then ;)

At the moment, I am planning on releasing the paperback version at approximately the same time as the ebook—on December 15th—though it may be available a few days after that date (Amazon has to check everything and ensure quality). I am working through any kinks before I hit the publish button.

I am also devising a launch-strategy in co-operation with my marketing consultant. At the moment, I think I will be relying heavily on Amazon advertising, which, in 2019, seems to be the best bet for getting book sales. I have excluded BookBub promotions as I will be releasing Fallen Love exclusively to Amazon (and the Vampire Eirik, being a short story, is also unlikely to be selected). Facebook advertising is a possibility, but its extreme complexity—and personal doubts about whether Facebook users will actually buy my books, as opposed to just following my personal “brand”—leaves it second choice.

On Reviews...

In any case, the subject of this blog post is actually something else: book reviews. Some of you may know that, a few weeks ago, I submitted my book to a site called BookSirens. The jury is still out at the moment, but I have a feeling I will withdraw Fallen Love from their platform.

Why? To put it one way, they’ve got the wrong bloody readers. Let’s start with some statistics: the company claims they can show my book to about 1250 readers. As of today, they’ve shown it about 1400 times. I managed 216 clicks out of that (a remarkable CTR) but only 10 readers have actually chosen to review the book. This suggests that I have an excellent cover, but that readers aren’t converting after the initial click.

And this is probably because of genre. To put it bluntly, their reviewers read some weird crap; I’m talking really niche, genre fiction—alien romance, the omega/alpha shifter stuff, etc. It’s the kind of fiction that has a hardcore following of readers, who will gobble up anything in the genre, but don’t much like anything else.

Then there are the reviewers who read the wrong genres, but are mistakenly lumped together with a totally different bunch of readers. No other category better exemplifies this than romance. One of these reviewers enjoys regency romance a lot—a sub-genre that might has the words “romance” in it, but has bugger all to do with Fallen Love. For those of you who don’t know: regency romance is full of tropes about manly earls and plump maids, and they’re usually set in Victorian (or perhaps Georgian) England.

I have nothing against people who read regency romance, of course (whatever floats your boat and all that). But I definitely will criticise regency romance as a social force: these books embody the worst kinds of social values—the words heteronormative and patriarchal only scratch the surface. They’re retrograde and rose-tinted as well; they portray Victorian England as a pleasantly romantic place, but the truth is, the Victorians were dirty, sick, poor—and bigoted.

I didn’t write a futuristic fantasy novel about two gay characters just so I could have it reviewed by people who think the effing Victorians were cool.

What About Targeting?

You may be wondering what this has to do with ads, and the aforementioned strategy. Actually, the relationship is very fundamental. The trick with reviews is the same trick as with ads—you have to identify your target audience, and hone in on it.

For example: the people who have liked my books so far have loved Cassandra Clare’s books as well. This is exactly what I expected. Cassie’s books are similar to my own, not in a superficial way—aside from the genre, they don’t really share all that many archetypes or worldbuilding features—but in more in the kind of stories we write. I’m so confident of this similarity that I’m willing to spend a fair amount of ad money targeting Cassandra Clare’s fans.

Another one of my reviewers read Eragon, which is, again, one of my favourite books. Other authors that I think would make excellent targets are:

  1. Lauren Kate, author of the Fallen & Rapture series.
  2. Becca Fitzpatrick, author of Hush, Hush.
  3. Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse books.
  4. Patricia Briggs, author of the Mercy Thompson books.
  5. Karen Marie Moning, author of Darkfever.
  6. Jeaniene Frost, author of the Night Huntress books.
  7. Alexandra Adornetto, author of the Halo books.

Obviously, this list will be whittled down—I’ll run various ads, and choose the ones which perform best. Nevertheless, you can see the connections here: these are all urban fantasy books. Some of these have gay characters—Charlaine Harris is famous for this, and I think Jeaniene wrote some gay characters too. And I should also add that quite a few of these books are multi-million copy bestsellers.

What don’t you see on this list?

  1. Bodice-rippers, regency romance, M/M shifter books, contemporary gay novels. Nope, none of that has anything to do with my book.
  2. Dystopian scifi like the Hunger Games. I like dystopian well enough, but my book is not actually a dystopian novel! I will be explaining this in a later blogpost.

The trick, then, is to target in such a way that’s not too broad, but also not too niche. The problem with niche readers, as I’ve argued, is that they only want to read the same, familiar stories. The problem with broad targeting is that you will be selling to readers who don’t have a huge amount in common with what you write.

Okay, that’s enough from me, folks! Till next time.

8 Nov 2019

A Brief Essay Regarding Epic Fantasy

Hello readers!

Today I am sharing a brief essay (or perhaps “musing” is a more accurate description) regarding some trends I’ve observed in the epic fantasy genre over the past couple of years. Although Fallen Love is an urban fantasy novel, my first novel, the Necromancer, was definitely in this genre. It’s still my all-time favourite genre, as both reader and writer, and one I care very deeply about.

Thinking Big and Small

One of the trends I’ve observed in many epic fantasy books over the years is a tendency to go bigger and bigger: the world has to be bigger, the plot lines must be increasingly far-fetched, and the characters have to be bigger to accomodate the increase in bigness. Likewise, the word count of many epic fantasy books is becoming increasingly ridiculous—well-established authors are the big culprits, but even less well-known authors write manuscripts in excess of 150,000 words.

Guys, it’s time to dial it down a bit. Writing a 6-book series at 150,000 words a pop isn’t going to produce a better story. The great Scottish poet Robert Burns was praised for his ability to capture everything from the magnificence of a landscape, to the relationship between husbands and wives, all the way down to the life of a mouse. This is something that, as fantasy authors, we should try to emulate.

I’m not saying epic fantasy shouldn’t contain great battles, mighty dragons, or terrifying dark wizards. It wouldn’t be epic fantasy if it didn’t have the magic ingredients. But I also want to read about the little things in life—the wonder of a young boy as he discovers magic; a sweet romance; or the snappy comeback of an annoyed teenager. Heck, I even enjoy seeing the occasional joke in a fantasy book.

Speaking of Jokes...

Seriously, why is fantasy so dark these days? I enjoy a well-written grimdark novel as much as the next dude, but I also want to read fantasy that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Not in the sense that it can’t be serious literature—I do want to read about death, loss, politics, love and hope—but in the sense that it doesn’t have to show us gore, profanity, and bad sex to do it. (I enjoy a book with good, passionate sex in it, which is rare in an epic fantasy novel.)

Heroes and anti-heroes

This is another area where epic fantasy needs to wake up and do something different. The first fantasy books—ye olde fantasy by the likes of Tolkien, Le Guin, later Eragon and the Belgariad—popularised the trope of the hero. This hero is male (nearly always), young-ish, and a do-gooder.

Then a new wave of fantasy came along. The old heroes were deemed “cliché”, and they invented the anti-hero in his stead. The anti-hero is usually male, but sometimes female. The men are rough, violent, and not afraid of a little dirty work; the women are usually dagger- or magic-wielding super-assassins (yes, I’m looking at you, Mark Lawrence). The anti-hero can be found in most of today’s grimdark books by the likes of Joe Abercrombie, Richard K Morgan, and GRR Martin.

The anti-hero has become even more of a cliché than the hero was, I would argue. Or at least, the anti-heroes are not always as interesting as they are supposed to be. They suffer from the same problem as the heroes: lack of variety. The anti-heroes nearly always seem to be manly warriors or femme-fatales, and to my mind there are a lot of unexplored possibilities. What about dark magicians trying to do the right thing? Strong kings who gained their power through violence, but have to try and unite the nation against a much greater outside evil? What about arrogant elves who end up trying to save humans? Rebellious angels?

Show us imagination

This is my conclusion, and my advice to fellow fantasy writers: fantasy is about imagination. Let’s see more of it!

5 Nov 2019

The Vampire Eirik is Available for Pre-Order

Hello readers!

I am happy to announce that my upcoming short story, the Vampire Eirik, is now available for pre-order on Amazon and Smashwords (with more retailers coming soon). You can buy the book for 99 cents, or you can head over to the “Free Stuff” page, sign up to the mailing list with the link, and get it for FREE!

Fallen Love, meanwhile, will be available on the 15th December, and will also go on pre-order within the next week or so. I’ve been fighting with Smashwords to get my epub accepted into the premium catalogue, as epubcheck (a stupid automated check) kept flagging up errors—and before you ask, the epub file was working perfectly. I had to rebuild the table of contents (toc.ncx) and change the epub version in Calibre. Amazon accepted my original epub without issue, naturally.

There are formatting differences between the ebook on the different stores, but the content is the same. If you decide to buy it on Smashwords, please buy either the epub or mobi copy and not the other formats, which are automatically generated from a word doc (and produces exactly the kind of results you would expect!)

4 Nov 2019

The Vampire Eirik Cover Reveal

Hail readers!

I am excited to share with you today the cover for the Vampire Eirik, a short story which I am releasing this month, on November 23rd. Take a look! I also include the blurb to wet your appetite.

Readers say they’re “riveted” by “drama” and “exquisite sexual tension”. And the best part? The Vampire Eirik is yours for just 99 cents.

For Peter, a young, carefree engineering student, Norway means a chance for a better financial future — and the opportunity to see a beautiful landscape of fjords, primeval forests, and windswept peaks. A friendly vampire on the other hand — that’s just an unexpected perk.

Yet the landscape conceals a darkness, a hidden ferocity: nature is older than man, and it does not always welcome him. To survive, Peter will have to rely on Eirik. But Eirik is still a vampire, and nature always wins in the end…

A tale of friendship, intimacy and magic, the Vampire Eirik is a short story that’s perfect for bedtime reading.

What readers have said...

★★★★★ “I enjoyed the sexual tension between the characters, it was exquisite.”—Margaux, Goodreads Reviewer.

★★★★★ “I was riveted to the drama; it is my hope that their story has just begun.” —Teresa, Goodreads Reviewer.

The Vampire Eirik will be available not just on Amazon, but also on Smashwords and other major retailers, for (you guessed it) 99 cents. But, if you sign up with your email on the right hand side form, you can get it for free with the newsletter!

About the Story

I wrote this story years ago—I believe it might have been 2015 or more likely 2016. It was a side-project; a release for pent-up creative energy. At the time, I was having trouble trying to get a trade publishing deal for the Necromancer. The deal never came, but this story remained.

I postponed publishing it on account of the fact that I did not want to spend too much money getting a cover designed for it. I reasoned that if I hired a designer to do two covers—one for the story and other for my next full-length title—I would get a better deal. I was correct. Unfortunately, it took years for me to get to that point. It was partly my fault (I made a massive false start with the Ark) but I also wasted a year trying to—you guessed it—get a publishing deal.

Anyway, with Fallen Love complete, I got to work improving and revising the story. Based on feedback I received from another author, I removed a chapter and wrote a new epilogue.

How did the cover come about?

I worked with the same designer I did for Fallen Love: Hampton Lamoureux. (Didn’t you read the “package deal” part?) Right at the start, I told him I didn’t want any character design like I had with Fallen Love or the Sandman. Partly, because it would be more expensive. But also because I had a strong vision for what the cover should incorporate.

The story is set in Trondheim, Norway; it is late winter. Snow and ice is a very prominent theme in the book. Likewise, blood is very important—this is a vampire story don’t ya know? I realised that the contrast between the two would look brilliant.

I think my designer did a great job with the artwork, although the typography is 99% rather than 100%. Nevertheless, it is a better cover than I could have had otherwise, and I am proud to put it on my work.

Anything else?

I will post the buy links as soon as the book is on sale!