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Free Promo Results

So far the free romance cross-promotion I’m involved in is doing well. The Time-Traveling Outlaw is currently ranked #1,234 overall in Free. It has also hit #1 in Women’s Historical Fiction Free and is in the top 10 of both Women’s Fiction>Action & Adventure and Romance>Time Travel. The title got a little over 1200 downloads yesterday, which is a lot more than I expected. It’s already got 125 today. So now way more people are exposed to the title than before. Whether that will translate into anything tangible remains to be seen.

My newsletter sign-ups are about the same. So are my page-reads and sales. It could be that readers are just downloaded a large number of the free books to store on their devices to read later. If so, maybe I’ll see some kind of gradual effect (if any) as time goes on. Or all those people will just forget they have it on their device and never read it. Let’s hope not.

A wider audience always seems like a good thing, so just getting the visibility and exposure is probably worth it. We’ll see.

I updated a post on another forum regarding the ratio of my sales to page reads for my romance novels. I’m afraid it’s far too low. Amazon doesn’t actually tell authors how many people are borrowing their books through Kindle Unlimited, just how many pages are read each day. So I have no idea how many people are just reading a few pages and giving up. That would be useful information. I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback on both my first novels, but the low page-read count has me worried that I’m either not meeting reader expectations and/or that I’m not writing compelling fiction that makes readers want to turn the next page. Or maybe everything’s fine and the number of borrows is just low for whatever reason. If anyone has any input, do let me know.

All right, back to work. 🙂

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150 Free Books

So starting today and for the next three days, my first novel, The Time-Traveling Outlaw, is completely free on Amazon. It’s part of a huge promotion, along with a bunch of other romance authors. You can see the full list here:

http://selfpublishingroundtable.com/promo/

There are 150 free books in a wide range of romance genres by a ton of authors. I’m definitely going to check out some books by people I haven’t had a chance to read yet. There’s also a raffle for a Kindle Fire and Amazon Gift Cards.

This is my first time participating in a cross-promotion like this. I’ve already seen a spike in the free downloads for Outlaw, so it’s pretty exciting. Seems like a great way for authors to cooperate and help each other while offering value to readers, so I’m really happy to be a part of it.

In writing news, I hit a little speed bump yesterday, not sure how to proceed with Dragon Red. But the answers came in the shower, like they often do. So I was able to push on, later than I usually finish my word count for the day. But I got there, and I’m happy with how the last quarter of the book is shaping up. I should have a workable first draft by early next week. I’m going to shoot for a release in mid-October.

All right, ya’ll…that’s pretty much it. Go check out those free books!

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Staying Power

Work continues apace on Dragon Red. I passed the halfway mark, so it’s all downhill from here, right? Actually, I think ending books is a lot harder than starting them, so I’m probably actually going uphill now. But we’ll get there. It’s going well.

Based on other things I’ve published, I expected Dragon Blue to fall off a cliff by now, but it’s still sticking reasonably well. Some of that is a function of ARC readers who are also bloggers posting the occasional review. So that’s nice. I’ve also got a cross-promotion with some other romance writers that’s going to kick off on Wednesday. I’ll post more about that then. The goal with that is really to boost my newsletter list. I’m really hoping that goes well, because it would be great to be able to launch Dragon Red with a reasonable splash.

A lot of advice I see and hear in forums and podcasts is that the email list is still the single most important thing for an indie author (marketing-wise…writing great books is #1 overall of course). I saw a post where someone did very well building their email list using Instafreebie. I’ve already got the free 17K-word novella Switch and Bait up as an exclusive giveaway, but I went ahead and integrated that title via Instafreebie with MailChimp this morning, so that readers who download the novella are added to my mailing list. I’m already seeing decent results, and that’s without any exposure at all. We’ll see how that goes.

Hope everyone had a great weekend!

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Another Nice Review

Ana over at Read Our Thoughts Book Blog posted a nice review of Dragon Blue. She also left the same review on Amazon, which puts us up to 47, which I’m very pleased about. I’m off to a very slow start, but I feel like I’m doing a lot of things right. Hopefully readership will build with each new release and I’ll begin to see some nice progress.

I’m passing the 30K mark on Dragon Red today. I’ve been aiming for 50K for my books. I see a good percentage of books in the top shifter category in that word count range, with about half going quite a bit longer. For page reads, longer is definitely better. But writing longer lengthens my publication schedule. At this point I’m not sure which is better. I’m going to stick with my current plan of each book in the Xandakar series clocking in around 50K, though I plan to experiment a little with book 4 and possibly release a double-novel (Dragon Black/Dragon White) together. I also plan to release the series as a bundle and see how that goes.

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Chugging Along

I haven’t written much here the last week because I wasn’t sure anybody was reading it. But just in case anybody is…

I’m a little under halfway through the first draft of Dragon Red. It’s coming along all right. As I mentioned before, I don’t have nearly as clear a picture of what’s going on as I did with Dragon Blue. I do have a very broad idea of how the series as a whole will play out, and that’s my overarching guide. So Dragon Red will probably be reading for release either the 2nd or 3rd week in October. It’s kind of a difficult balancing act keeping the primary antagonist on hold while there is a minor antagonist in each book. But I’ll manage.

I’m also trying to look ahead and introduce characters that will show up in later installments. The book after this one will be Dragon Green, so some of the action in Dragon Red takes place on the Emerald Isle, introducing some of the green dragons and their look and powers. Minor spoiler: most green dragons (at least that I’ve seen in D&D settings) breath poison or acid of some sort, but I wanted to do something a little different. My green dragons exhale a sort of vitalizing energy that makes living things grow. That might sound nice, but they can easily kill you with it in a number of ways, either causing surrounding vegetation to engulf and strangle you, or simply by multiplying the bacteria in your own body, causing you to explode with an overabundance of microorganisms. Maybe that’s too gross. But I thought it was kind of cool, so I’m keeping it that way for now.

I’m also leaning strongly toward doing a double volume for the fourth installment, a bigger book that combines the stories of both the black and white clans. That would cover all the colors leading into the last book. Hm, or would it…?

Anyway, I hope everyone had a nice weekend. The time ramping up to a launch is filled with a lot of communication and interaction, but once that happens, it feels like it’s right back to writing in a void. I did get a lead on a cross-promotional opportunity with a bunch of other romance writers. I almost offered up Dragon Blue, but decided to go with The Time-Traveling Outlaw. So that title is going to be free next week from Sept. 28th-30th. I’ll be posting more about it then, as well as introducing the other authors in the promo. Hopefully that will lead to some nice activity in the ramp-up to publishing Dragon Red.

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All Good Stats…But One

Dragon Blue has picked up a few more reviews this week as some more ARC readers (and hopefully one or two non-ARC readers) left comments and ratings. So as of this writing it’s up to 43  reviews on Amazon with a 4.6/5 rating. That seems great, right? The rating is not nearly as good on Goodreads, as a couple of 1-stars have dragged it down to 4.15, but that’s still respectable. The problem is, the most important stat isn’t ratings or rankings, it’s revenue. At least in the long run. And maybe this is going to be a very long run.

I’m not going to go through real numbers, but I’m going to walk through some hypothetical ones. The common wisdom is to price an initial launch of a romance novel at $0.99 to get as high in the rankings as possible and get as much exposure as you can. At a 30% royalty, that’s $0.30/sale. You get money for reads/borrows as well, and that depends on the amount allocated by Amazon each month. But I’m looking at an estimate of about $0.85 if someone borrows one of my 50K-word romances and reads it all the way through.

Now, let’s say your goal is to make $300 for a given month from your writing, which seems realistic and relatively modest as a first step. You’d either need: 350 read-throughs or 1000 sales or some combination of both. That doesn’t sound that hard, does it? Well, based on my experience, it seems to take somewhere between 50-100 sales per day to break into the top 5,000 ranking overall in the Amazon Kindle store, which will also give you exposure in one or more subcategories, depending on how competitive your niche is and how many subcategories your book is in. You’d need to maintain that level of performance for 10-20 days.

How do you do that? Well, if you have a huge mailing list and/or social media presence, you can leverage those. If you don’t have a built-in audience, you’d have to advertise. Advertising costs money, and unless you know which promos or ad campaigns are particularly effective, you can burn through money pretty quickly trying to figure it out. You could easily spend half of that $300 you were trying to make on promos, and now you’ve netted $150. That’s if you were doing things right. Otherwise, you could just see your title slide out of the top 10K and lose all exposure that comes from being top-ranked.

Things get worse if you set your goals higher. You’d need 10,000 sales to make $3,000 for a given title, and that’s not counting any other expenses. A book has to probably make it to sub-1K ranking in Amazon overall, make the top 20 of one or more popular subcategories, and stick for a pretty long time (weeks). And that’s to make a solid, but not glamorous monthly wage.

Those numbers seem almost insurmountable if you’re a new author. I’m hoping that growth is non-linear, that each new title has a multiplier effect. We’ll just have to see.

I’ve got two more promos running today and another one tomorrow. I wouldn’t even have run any more, but I found people beta testing a couple of services and thought I’d give them a try. So I’m not expecting much. If something happens, great.

Meanwhile, Dragon Red is chugging along. I’m already around the 10K word count. I’m working with 4 POV characters instead of 2 for Dragon Blue. I’m also a little hazier about the direction the story is going, so the first draft of this one is going to need more revision than the first. But I certainly like some of the scenes I’ve written, and I think the characters are solid. I’ve been somewhat tempted to work on other smaller projects, but I think that would be a bad idea. For the foreseeable future I need to forge ahead with this series and see where it takes me.

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Romance: Clean or Steam?

I’d been getting several more 1 and 2 star ratings on Dragon Blue in Goodreads, which was frustrating because they didn’t come along with any comments. How do I know what readers don’t like if they don’t tell me? But I finally got some comments on a 1 star review. It was basically saying they didn’t finish the book because there was casual sex in the first chapter.

Okay, so my first novel, The Time-Traveling Outlaw, had sex scenes, but the cover didn’t indicate that it would be very steamy. But Dragon Blue has man-chest on the cover, which to me seems like a clear signal that the steam level is going to be up there. So what I was trying to do with the opening chapter of DB was introduce my heroine, Miranda, as restless and unsatisfied, trying to overcome her boredom with casual sex with the customers from the diner she works at. Only the sex is never that great because there’s no real emotional attachment. This sets up her relationship with Corban, a real, loving relationship built on mutual respect and attraction. So that when they finally have sex later in the book, it should have more impact.

I have received other feedback that the central romance happened too quickly and easily. So there’s this central problem in a romance novel: how to deliver steamy scenes early in the book to set the tone without having the two central characters hop in bed together early on or showing them having casual sex with other people. Maybe it’s not a problem. Maybe even readers who want steam in their romances don’t care if they don’t get any up front. I guess one way of handling it is having the characters initially in love at the beginning, show some steam between them, then have them separated some way or fall out of love before falling back into love. That seems like a pretty narrow set of situations, though.

So now I’m a little worried. I just wrote the first chapter of Dragon Red yesterday, and it starts with a sex scene, between the hero and a sexy witch. He wants information and she wants his powerful…um, you know. I’d be interested to hear from readers how you gauge your expectations for the amount and explicitness of sex in the romances you want to read. I want to write sexy books, but I also want to make my readers happy. I try to warn in the blurb that there are going to be steamy sex scenes. Do readers only want sex between two characters only after they’ve fallen in love?

I know you can’t please everybody, but I don’t want to ignore feedback either. The overwhelming feedback on Dragon Blue is positive, and most people don’t seem to have a problem with the steam level. But if anyone out there thinks maybe future installments would be better if the scenes weren’t so explicit, be sure to chime in!

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Breaking Ground

If launching is like cutting the ribbon for a grand opening, or smashing a bottle of champagne against the prow of a new ship, then getting started on a new book is like breaking ground. You look at that blank plot of land. Maybe you see the skeletal structure of what’s finally going to stand there in your mind, but you really don’t know what the final product is going to look like. It feels exciting, but it also feels like a whole lot of work.

So you get out the shovel and you break ground. You jam the head into the earth and scoop out that first lump of soil. Sometimes, as Stephen King says in On Writing, it feels like  “all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.” I’m still mad at King for his last short story collection, even though I’m a lifelong fan, but that’s another story. Ask me sometime. His memoir/writing advice book is still one of the best, though.

Anyway, all this to say I broke ground on Dragon Red today. And it didn’t feel like I was shoveling shit. It felt okay. I wish I had it planned out a little more, but I trust in the process, so I think I’m going to be fine. I hope, anyway. The full working title is Dragon Red: A Fire Unfed. Not entirely sure how much I like that, but it feels good for now. My original subtitle was Sins of the Dead, but while I thought that sounded cool, it didn’t sound very romancy. I also think I want to subtitles to not be super-heavy, and I want to continue with the theme of paradoxes/contradictions throughout the series, so I think the current one fits best. Though I reserve the right to change it at any time. Writers get to do that, you know.

The main character is Kal Wildfire, eldest son of Karth, next in line to the throne of the Wildfire clan. However, as the newest book opens, he’s lost in the desert, unable to remember his name or how he got there. He eventually comes across a witch, who is willing to help him, sort of, for a price. As the witch tells him, he’ll have to go forward before he goes back and descend before he can rise. Witches always like to speak in riddles, and this one is no exception.

My heroine is Talia, a rabbit shifter who lives with her family and friends in the great forest in Eastern Xandakar. Alas, a nomadic army of snake shifters is sweeping across the land, sowing destruction and chaos in their wake, and Talia’s home is in their path. She and Kal will find each other, but only after she has lost everything. He will be the key to rebuilding her new life, and she will be instrumental in helping him fulfill his destiny, though neither of them know it.

Meanwhile, Marko and Nevra are still secretly plotting to overthrow all five dragonlords and unit the realm under their own rule. They have a secret weapon: a demon they’ve awoken from its prison deep in the Scorched Mountains. But are they using it, or is it using them?

I think it’s going to be a good one. I’ll try to blog about my progress on a regular basis in case anyone out there is interested. And relatively soon I’ll probably reveal the new cover.

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To Map, or Not to Map?

I’m about to dive hot and heavy into Dragon Red, part two in my dragon shifter romance series. I don’t have it outlined as much as I would have liked, but I do have a reasonable sketch of the main characters and where the plot is going. I’m mulling over some choices, though. One is the number of POV characters. Dragon Blue had two. Keeps it simple: hero and heroine, the two main love interests, alternating back and forth each chapter. The Epilogue was the only break from this pattern. For Dragon Red, I’m thinking of having four POV characters, two female, two male, and not necessarily alternating. There are parts of the story I want to tell that are going to be hard to get at from only two POV characters. But I don’t want things to get too complicated. I’ll probably write some chapters from the other two perspectives just to see how it goes. I can cut them out later (or make them into another supplemental story). I’ll just have to see how it goes.

Another choice is whether or not to include a map. I gave a rough outline of the geography and dragon clans at the end of Dragon Blue. But it is a fantasy, and maps are sometimes useful to keep track of the characters and events, especially if they’re traveling a lot. And in Dragon Red, my main character will be traveling around quite a bit. Here’s what I’ve got so far for a working map:

map5

Still needs some work, but it’s a decent start, I think. If anyone has any thoughts on the map, including whether or not to include it, let me know!

 

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Free Newsletter Novella is Done!

So I finished up “Switch and Bait”, the novella I’m offering as a free bonus for signing up for my newsletter. You can see the cover in the sidebar on my blog in the sign-up form. I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out. I really like the characters, though the plot felt a little rushed. I have to admit I was feeling antsy to get started on Dragon Red. I may make some additional changes to the novella if I get any feedback.

In particular I’m curious if people would want to see more of these characters in longer works. The novella centers around a team of shifters who are hired for various jobs by other magical folks who live in our world. It’s an urban setting, present-day, with loose ties to the Xandakar series. The team consists of three men and two women:

Cole (wolf)
Sidney (hare)
Fara (fox)
Boz (bear)
Radley (otter)

The story focuses on Sidney, who has a secret crush on Cole, but feels like he’s out of her league. She also feels marginalized and under-appreciated by the team, so she’s actually thinking of leaving. Along comes a mysterious doppleganger named Ona who makes Sidney an offer: let’s swap places for a few days. Sidney jumps at the chance, but soon regrets the decision as everyone she runs into as Ona is trying to kill her. Meanwhile, Ona (now pretending to be Sidney) is busy seducing Cole. Sidney has to try to stay alive long enough to expose Ona and regain the trust and help of her team before it’s too late.

I’m offering the story exclusively through my newsletter, but if I write more with these characters, this particular work will not be necessary to understand what’s going on.

Anyway, this weekend I’ll do some more outlining on Dragon Red and hit the ground running on Monday. Have a good weekend everybody!