Monday, 23 July 2018

Lev Butts Lists the Best of Self-Publishing II

Last month, I began my list of notable self-published books. These books, though, are not in any particular order (well other than the order in which I read them). Before I talk about this month's selection, however, I want to talk a bit about my method of finding these books.

I know quite a few authors of self-published books, and they're all really good, a few may even make this list, but I wanted to focus more on writers I had not read before. The point of this list is, after all, to get more self-published authors as much exposure to new readers. 

It is surprisingly hard to find self-published books by new authors, though, since one of the biggest drawbacks to self- or small-press publishing is the lack of promotional funds.

However, thanks to social media promotions, which are not nearly as expensive as you might think, I found it fairly easy to discover new writers just by browsing my Facebook news feed. In fact, over half of the novels I'll be discussing in this list were found in this manner (including the one I'm featuring this month).

The only drawback to this method of discovery, though, is that once you click on an ad, Facebook's algorithms make sure you get more ads like that one in your news feed. What this means in practical terms is that most of the books I discovered for this list fall in some aspect of the fantasy genre. 

and dark romance novels for some reason

lots and lots of dark romance novels

and whatever the hell this is.
I mention this, only to explain that the overabundance of fantasy in my list should not be taken to imply that only self-published fantasy is worth your time, it's just the primary genre that appeared in my news feed.

2. Hero in a Halfling (Epik Fantasy Series) by William Tyler Davis


I have to admit that the cover of this one drew my attention first. As a kid, I always loved the Rankin-Bass adaptation of Tolkien's The Hobbit, so much so that when I found out there was a sequel to the story, Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings and that all of them were based on books, I had to read the whole series.


This began a lifelong love of fantasy fiction that informs my reading interests to this day. Tolkien led me to Robert E. Howard, Neil Gaiman, and Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. The cover of Davis' Hero in a Halfling evoked a blend of the Rankin-Bass and the Bakshi versions of Tolkien's fiction.

The plot itself seemed interesting enough for me to check it out:

Adventure. Excitement. This halfling craves those things. But when certain doom calls will he actually heed it?
Epik, a young halfling, is ill-content with his unambitious life. He dreams of magic - of wizards, knights, and a kingdom not so far away.
In search of a father he's never known and of magic he's sure he possesses, Epik moves to Dune All-En. He not only finds a wizard willing to train him but for the first time in Epik's life he makes friends, most notably a beautiful half-elf girl named Myra.
As a secret sect meet to plot the king's demise, a family of mountain trolls threatens the city. And Epik sees the opportunity to do something, well, epic.
He must learn magic.
He must save the girl.
And he must protect the kingdom . . . Before it falls into the wrong hands.
The Hobbit meets Robin Hood: Men in Tights in this light-hearted mysterious romp.
Hero in a Halfling is the first in the Epik Fantasy Series. Perfect for fans of both Discworld and Middle-earth. Snag your copy today on Kindle, audio, or print!


The book is marketed as a comedic fantasy, and it is humorous, but the strength of this book is not its comedy. This series is by no means going to be this generation's answer to Douglas Adams. Davis' book works best as a deconstruction of almost every single fantasy trope as well as several fantasy series. 

For example, the setting of the novel is the inverse of Tolkien's world: where Tolkien used the English countryside as his basis for Middle Earth, Davis sets his series in a thinly veiled version of New York City. Instead of Tolkien's Shire, a bucolic agrarian paradise, as the homeland of the halflings, Davis gives his halflings The Bog, in what would be south Jersey, just as bucolic and paradisaical as it sounds, for their home land.

The characters themselves also challenge the tropes of traditional fantasy. Our hero, Epik the Halfling, is not really the usual reluctant hero who doesn't want to leave behind his comfortable life and slowly discovers he is braver than he thought. Epik is raring to go. He can't wait to leave his boring backward hometown and search for his missing father while he learns magic. He doesn't slowly come to realize that he always had what it takes to be a hero. He's incompetent. By the end of the story, he's less so.

Epik's mentor, the wizard Gabby, is less Tolkien's Gandalf (despite the cover image) and more closely related to Ralph Bakshi's wizard Avatar, from his film Wizards.


less this
more this.
One of his love interests is Gerdy, who, rather than being the half-elven daughter of the king of the elves, is the half-dwarf daughter of a Epic's boss. Rather than being stunningly beautiful like a living Barbie doll, Gerdy is short, squat, and strong as an ox. She is also apparently the daughter of Snow White (yes, that Snow White). His other love interest is just a poor little rich girl who is vain and dumb as a sack of rocks.

The story itself is less than epic (in fact, the only truly epic thing about the novel is its protagonist's name), but that is in keeping with the overall theme of breaking down the traditional characteristics of fantasy literature. The court intrigue is paltry, the adventure is minimal: Epik leaves his dead-end job tending bar in a small town for a dead-end job tending bar in the Big City. The adventure, as in real life, happens to Epik when he quits looking for it, and the role he plays in the adventure is relatively minimal: he essentially tries to untie the captured rich girl.

None of these things are drawbacks. In fact, they're all kind of the point of the book. I found myself fascinated by each new way Davis undermines the expected patterns of fantasy: The love triangle that resolves itself in an unexpected way, the petty politics involved in one king claiming his birthright, a story line that would normally be the focal point of a high fantasy series. The typically heroic figures who turn out to be the most unsympathetic characters and arrogant jackasses (yet still the "good" guys). I also enjoyed the Easter egg references to other fantasy series presented by a narrator who is painfully aware that he is narrating a work of fantasy fiction.

In short, The Epik Fantasy series (or at least the first book) is in no way an epic fantasy; if anything it may be the first mundane fantasy. Rather than providing his readers escapist fiction, Davis shows us that actually living in a fantasy world is pretty much exactly as boring (and exciting) as living in the real world, and that makes it well worth the read.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Is a book trailer really necessary? Ali Bacon feels the fear and does it anyway

Do I need a book trailer? Reading posts from other authors, the jury is most definitely out on whether or not a video trailer for my historical novel will represent ROI (that's Return on Investment by the way).  

But sometimes things just happen. Like being in the golf club on a day when everyone else is out on the course, leaving both me and the barman at a bit of a loose end.  He lets slip (?) that in another life he is a video producer. And I feel obliged (as you do) to tell him about my other occupation and how there's a school of thought that says in this age of short attention spans and social media/multi-media, authors need video book trailers.
With which said barman not surprisingly agrees. 


So three days later I'm in the local cafe drinking very strong coffee quite early in the day with Gavin Allen soi-meme. He has never done a book trailer, I have never worked with video. 
To help us on our way, he has  a one-page 'scrawl' of my ideas. I have some tips culled from author friends:
  • the shorter the better
  • don't  tell the story, do convey the feeling/atmosphere/style
  • a visual thing, maybe, but sound is more important
So far Gavin agrees and before long I am watching him rough out how a 30 second video is put together - and explaining how this would translate into film (not to mention attendant matters of time and money!)


Example of a shot list. Ours is still in the blocks!

Gavin then takes a step back (but also forward) by asking more about me and my other writing as well as this particular book, something most of you will know I never have any trouble talking about! Before long we're both fired up and firing off ideas. From there we progress to the practicalities:  contacts, equipment, locations. 
After an hour we have a plan. It may or may not work, but it's a start.

So do I need a book trailer?
The 'ROI' probably won't be measurable in terms of sales, though Gavin claims through the magic of various analytical tools the visibility of the trailer (and hence the book) can be measured. Even so, I imagine that at this point in the book's publishing history, it's a fifty/fifty call on whether or not to go ahead


Location, location, location
But do you know what really fascinates me? It's the process - entirely new to me - of translating the book into a different medium:  the technical knowledge required and perhaps most of all the leap of creative imagination from using words to harnessing sound and vision to represent the idea. 

The nearest I have come to this is the cover design which took quite a while and a lot of working and reworking. But a book is physical and tactile. However sophisticated the design, it has at its disposal words and pictures:  things which are static. This will be a thing of moving parts. The planning and production processes are different. How different?  

To be honest, whatever the outcome, I think it might be fun. 

So here I am, on yet another writing journey. I could say watch this space but I'm not sure how long you will be there watching. In the meantime here's an excellent book trailer Gavin and I have taken as a touch-stone. It's for an an excellent book. Also from my publishers Linen Press. Also in The People's Book Prize. 




Ali Bacon's book In the Blink of an Eye (Linen Press 2018) has been long-listed for the People's Book Prize. You can read an extract on her website. The  Red Beach Hut by Lynn Michell is also listed for the prize.  





Saturday, 21 July 2018

Once a King or Queen of Narnia... - Katherine Roberts

It seems professional authors are an increasingly endangered species these days. The latest ALCS survey shows average incomes down by 42% in real terms since the first ALCS earnings survey in 2005. A writing income is never steady, which means these surveys can only provide a snapshot of authors' earnings, and for that reason I tend not to do them. It's like betting on the horses... you lose a bit, then you lose a bit more, and - goddammit - you lose again, and then you might win big-time, which makes it all worthwhile. Or I imagine it does. I don't squander my royalties on the horses these days (I stopped after my big win at Chepstow on a 40-1 long shot at £1 each way - no point tempting fate.)

Assuming you're all back by now from that rather depressing earnings survey, let's forget about money for a few paragraphs, shall we? Let's pretend we are all living in Elfland, or whatever fantasy world takes your fancy, where all authors - no matter how humble or how old - are paid a generous stipend by the elves, which enables them (the authors) to pay their bills, keep a roof over their heads, and feed themselves. Or they can eat elf-food, if they fancy staying forever.

Ok, so now we are in Elfland where we have no financial worries at all, and it's actually a wonderful time to be a writer. Let me tell you why.

Back in 2005, authors had very few options other than to write a book or a play or whatever, send it off to a publisher or agent, and cross their fingers for a publishing deal. Hopefully a good deal, but - let's face it - any deal was better than no deal. After that, the publisher worked their magic, and bookshops (remember those?) stocked the books and sold them, and a few months after that the royalties poured in... okay, more likely trickled in... but by then the author had been given an advance, maybe even a generous one, that enabled them to survive while writing the next book in their contract. I enjoyed those days, even if at times I felt rather like a kid being given treats in return for good work.

The 2005 method obviously still works for some, even with a 42% decline in income (sorry, not supposed to mention money in Elfland!). Sadly, that's not me at the moment. Yet, creatively, I feel liberated. Gaps in contracts mean the freedom to experiment, and I have experimented quite a bit over the past seven years - mostly with my backlist titles.

First they became ebooks (Kindle and then epub), next print-on-demand paperbacks, which look much like normal paperbacks these days, if not quite as cheap as the high-discount books out there. I've experimented with repackaging my projects, using various cover designs. Canva is a great tool for this if you're new to design, and several of us have written posts about cover design on this blog.

I've experimented with freebies to give readers who might not have come across my books a chance to sample my work... this was at its most effective in the early days, when there were fewer freebies around. Now it seems everyone is doing them, so you need to 'sell' your freebie. I wrote a free short story for my publisher Templar to help sell my Pendragon Legacy series about King Arthur's daughter. Templar sadly no longer publishes fiction, but my series is still in print, and so the free ebook is still available:

free for Kindle (age 8-11).

For older readers, I've republished one of my earliest short stories about Queen Boudicca's daughters as a freebie for epub readers (Amazon still has it at 99p for Kindle, but they might price match one day if you ask nicely.)

free for epub (Age 13+).

Most recently, I've repackaged the first three Hoofprints (chapters) of my epic novel I AM THE GREAT HORSE about Alexander the Great as a free ebook to give readers a taste of the full book.

free epub (age 10+)

Why not do an entire book indie? In 2016, I finally wrote the long-awaited sequel to my second book SPELLFALL, and self-published it as both ebook and print on demand paperback (this one's not free). It's out there if you want it, though I had no budget for publicity so not many people know about it yet. I'm also thinking of changing the rather girly cover, since the Earthaven books are enjoyed by both boys and girls.

sequel to Spellfall (age 10+)

Despite having limited video technology, I've even dabbled with book trailers. I made this one for the Pendragon Legacy using some video I shot walking along the local beach one day. My budget would not stretch to fairy horses and actors, so I used some photos I took at Caerleon while on a publicity tour for the books, together with parts of a collage I created in a session run by my friend Jenny Alexander. (If you live in Cornwall and can get along to one of her collage workshops, they are highly recommended!)

There are many other things attached to our creative content, for which publishers like to contract rights in the hope of selling these alongside the actual books. Audiobooks, for instance, have become quite hot recently. My books were published a bit too early to catch the audio wave, and I do not currently have an agent to sell my audio rights, but there are options out there for authors willing, and in a position to, take matters into their own hands (check your contracts). Amazon's ACX, for one... where you can make a royalty deal with a narrator, rather than pay upfront for the recording. Or Findaway Voices, which Draft2Digital have a deal with at the moment. I am dying to know what an audiobook of I AM THE GREAT HORSE might sound like! I'll need a strong male voice to be Bucephalas... any deep-voiced narrator out there fancy being an alpha stallion, the warhorse of Alexander the Great???

Moving on, there are many other exciting avenues to explore. Those elusive TV and movie deals, for example... so far, no such options have been taken up in any of my books, which means I still hold these rights. There was a small amount of interest in SONG QUEST (my award-winning debut) from Disney in the early years of its publication, but that was a flight of fancy too far even for Elfland. Since then, I have written other books and series that might work better for the screen. After attending one of Kelly McCain's inspiring workshops, I have started to turn my King Arthur's daughter books into a screenplay... think Game of Thrones for a younger audience, and you're halfway there. I'm not nearly halfway there yet, being a total novice, but it's a fascinating process - if nothing else, viewing my work as a screenplay might feed back into my writing, so that my next project might hook a movie deal at the outset, and then my next publisher will be pleased and maybe I won't have to do all the work myself.

Of course, with no contracts, I don't actually have to do any of these extra things. But strangely they don't feel like work. Not really. After all, work brings in an income, and all this extra stuff brings... well, just small amounts at present, maybe £6,000 or so spread over the seven years I've been experimenting, although I have hopes of scaling things up one day, in the same way I used to write short stories for small amounts in the hope of netting a book deal one day. Back then, you see, writing a novel did not feel like work...which brings me back to why this is a wonderful time to be a writer.

There are a lot of tools out there which, if we are prepared to put in a bit of time and energy, might help us get our creations out to our fans - possibly in a different format than we originally imagined. And even if this fantasy playtime in Elfland earns us nothing at all, some of these skills might one day be transferable to some other career that will not suffer from a 42% decline in income before we retire.

For now, though, I am still calling myself an author. As a wise author-friend reminded me at our summer retreat this year:


"Once a King or Queen of Narnia, always a King or Queen of Narnia."

*

Katherine Roberts writes fantasy and historical fiction for young (and older) readers.

Find out more at www.katherineroberts.co.uk




Friday, 20 July 2018

Words and Music by Sandra Horn


There’s a slight state of panic here. I think I’m being repetitive. When I sent my last blog in, I was immediately haunted by the idea that I’d written a very similar one before – but short of trawling through them all to check, I couldn’t be sure. I need time to put them all in a file and read through them. Not a happy prospect! It must be done, though, or I’m in danger of plagiarising myself over and over again as I run out of new ideas. I’m still stuck in writers’ block, which doesn’t help at all.
Anyway, here goes: I know I’ve written about words, lovely words before, but this time I’m going for some new thoughts. I hope. I was once at a party and one of the other guests told me that she and her husband read poetry to each other in the evenings. ‘What a great idea!’I said, ‘I love poetry! It’s like music.’

She fixed me with a glassy stare, a mixture of extreme disapproval and alarm at my insane utterance, and said, firmly, ‘No.’ Then she went away to find a sensible person to talk to. I still find it odd that someone who purports to enjoy poetry can’t grasp its musical quality. There are millions of examples, here’s just one: ‘Lars Porsena of Clusium, by the nine gods he swore,’ is a spoken song -  isn’t it?  Or a march, perhaps? The rhythm of it cries out to be beaten on a drum.  

Sometimes, of course, poets write consciously to a musical form, as in Belloc’s ‘Tarantella’ – 'Do you remember an inn, Miranda, do you remember an inn?’  And Edith Sitwell’s brilliant poems set by Walton  for Facade. She used the words for their inherent music rather than the sense they made  – they are in the rhythms of a fox trot, hornpipe, mazurka, waltz, etc.  – and polka: ‘Tra la la la – “See me dance the polka,”  Said Mr.Wagg like a bear, “With my top hat and my whiskers that – (Trala la la la) trap the fair.”’ It does make sense, but the fun of it is in the music.

And then there are words set to music . Sometimes the match is perfect: sweet Suffolk Owl; The Silver Swan, for example. On the other hand, it must be said that sometimes there’s a mismatch – Britten’s ‘The splendour falls on castle walls,’ makes me cringe (sorry, devotees) as it’s just too much for the gentle sentiment Tennyson was trying to convey. ‘Come into the garden, Maud,’ also loses its sexy, seductive power somehow when sung as a parlour ballad – and there are several settings of Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, too, where the subtle sense is lost to overblown music. 

Sometimes it’s the borrowed words that set off a musical/poetic association. My poem ‘On the Ferry’ was inspired by a row of white boats by the shingle bank at Hengistbury Head: Sea Eagle, Sylph (from Paracelsus), Skugga (Faroese for cloud) and Seren Wen (Welsh for Evening Star). Playing with the order of them gave variations on a theme. Sometimes it's an image: 'the dandelion clocks are all blown,' 'the last moon of winter sank low.' (both from prose poems).

But what I really wanted to write about is the inherent music in words, whether they are consciously made into poetry or come just as they are. When I’m in, say, Newcastle or Glasgow, I have to tune my ears in before I can understand what people are saying. They ‘sing’ a different tune from the southern one I hear every day. 

How about musical place names? Muckle Flugga, St Just in Roseland, Spennymoor, Bumpo. Then there are the names of craftspeople: cutler, Little Mester, wheelwright, saggar-maker’s bottom-knocker. Geographic features: atoll, saltmarsh, hanging valley, scree, shale, sea-stack..Oh, and any old random words plucked out of the air: salamander, cuckoo-spit, haywain, nimbo-stratus, glottlestop, moon, peg-tile, concrete-mixer, pantaloons, bellringer, pixel, memorial, halogen, mysterious – lists and lists of sheer musical delight, all around u.

I have no relevant images for this blog, so here are some random lilies - the ones the slugs and lily beetles didn't get.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

"What Now?" -- Jan Edwards


When I have finished writing a book, be that a novel, short story collection or something factual, there is always a period of becalming.

The headlong bustle of writing In Her Defence, the next in the Bunch Courtney series, followed by the agony of editing, falls inevitably into a ‘what now?’ phase.

I have plenty to write. Book three is already in planning but will remain at the ‘thinking’ stage for a while longer. There is the crime short promised for an anthology, and at least 3 stand-alone novels that need an extra polish before they are let loose on the unsuspecting public.

So again I ask myself ‘what now?’
Well, one way to regroup is to skive off down to the allotments!  I recently took half shares in a plot and won a silver medal!  So now is the time to reap the harvest and take a few weeks to enjoy some rest!  Some September I shall be back at the keyboard raring to go.

What do you do to get back on track?



Jan Edwards can be found on:
Blog: https://janedwardsblog.wordpress.com/
Facebook: jan.coleborn.edwards
Twitter: @jancoledwards
 
Titles in print – all available in print and dig formats
As author: Winter DownsFables and Fabrications;  Sussex Tales;  Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties

The award winning Winter Downs is first in the Bunch Courtney Investigates series. Book two,  In Her Defence, is coming soon!

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Reflection and Rest by J.D. Peterson

My tank is on empty. I am absolutely out of ideas, although I know the world around me is swirling with inspiration. Ideas flit by like clouds through the summer sky, morphing and dissolving into new
shapes. I jot some ideas down on an cluttered notepad, hoping for cohesion to arrive and knit said concepts together into a tapestry of words.

Social media posts are returning very little results in the way of sales. In these modern days of the world wide web, it is repeatedly pounded into me the importance of keeping a ‘presence’. So I post, take photos and design new posts, and post again. My posts are scattered among political comments and sensational headlines competing for a view. Yet, ‘likes’ and ‘hearts’ are not determining any
improvement in sales, and it feels like a waste of energy. I see many of you have been very successful with your social media platforms. So I persist.

My email inbox is full of online classes, lectures and promotions for the indie writer. “Free online class – How to increase sales…” Of course, the ‘free’ class is a promotion for a paid class promising the juiciest bits of information on a dangled thread – along with a price tag of varying amounts of money, touted as an ‘investment’ in my career. I’ve opted in on a few, along with other ‘twitter’ type promotions, studied the instructions and followed through. The only one getting sales is the seller of said workshops. They seem to have created a thriving business out of our hopes and dreams for gaining a wider audience.                

The quest for reviews continues, especially with Amazon.com, the goal: a better ranking among millions of novels. Although the reviews remain very good, the ratio of readers to those who take a moment to post a review is sadly, small. Goodreads, Net Galley and other outlets result in more positive reviews. Kindle Fire contests and free book giveaways also bear limited results, but maintain the ever important online existence.

The bottom line in the quest for exposure and sales has certainly delivered one end result. I’m exhausted. The focus on marketing, while delivering the required online clout, has distracted me from the creative spark that led me down this path in the first place. Perhaps ‘distracted’ is too gentle a word. The continued focus on marketing has extinguished my creativity. For someone as creative as I am, that’s saying a lot.


Inspiration seems to come from my readers and their excitement over my novels. When sales are low, I begin to wonder why I’m working so hard. No one wants to work for months – or years, in my case, on a story that fails to gain a substantial audience. Local bookstore owners roll their eyes when they hear you are ‘self-published’ and local book clubs are cliquish and dismissive. Well-meaning friends advise a movie, or television series. Their faith and support is much appreciated, but they are clearly na├»ve in the enormity of getting such focus or attention out of the film industry.

Clearly, I am not alone in this situation. I’ve read many posts from fellow writers asking these same questions. In a world where people insist on having their $4 latte every morning, but aren’t willing to
invest in a book for more than $0.99, it becomes disheartening. It is only the soul begging to express itself that persists on to writing the next page.

Today, I will rest and regroup. Let the dust settle around me into quiet reflection. Tomorrow I will continue on, as I have for many years, living my life as an ultra creative person living in a materialistic world. The story changes, and yet the tale remains the same.
“Once upon a time, there was a writer trying to pay the rent…”