The first featured image is Andrew discussing handling weapons with Maria at White Box Studio.
I’ve completed my major edit pass and the text has gone to Lauren for the final checks on spelling and grammar. The book will be published on the 31st October, and I’ll put it up for pre-orders a week or so before. I’ll make sure you know it’s up on Amazon. 🙂
Relaunch of series
The pre-order of Inside Straight will be combined with a relaunch of the whole series with new covers. That means I have to reformat all the print books (previously printed by CreateSpace), change the audio covers, sharpen up the blurbs, and insert a brief (!) summary of previous books and cast list into books 2 – 6. I am so looking forward to that. Lol.
At the same time I’ll start releasing ‘bundles’. The first will be books 1-3 combined into one eBook, and sold at a discount. This is to capture those readers for whom one book at a time is not enough. Yes, this is a thing, and quite a large thing apparently. The second bundle of books 4-6 should go up sometime in December. These bundles will require their own eBook covers, which I will reveal here on the blog.
The relaunch will combine the new covers and bundles with an advertising campaign.
When I first published on Amazon, the only marketing tools under my control were covers, blurbs, newsletters, Bookbub (and similar), reviewers etc. With the possible exception of Bookbub, these tools have less and less direct, primary effect. Why? Because Amazon has changed. They used to have fairly neutral ranking and promotional algorithms. If you sold, and got good reviews, your ranking went up in a straightforward manner, and they promoted you in their newsletters. Now, to get the same effect, you have to reinvest part of your sales in the Amazon advertising machine. That’s what I’ll be doing, to the tune of approximately 20% of my target income. Gulp.
(This is not to say that reviews no longer work. I’m still very keen on reviews. Just a few words if you haven’t already. Please. 🙂 )
I may also try Bookbub and similar newsletters as well. And I’m considering building my own newsletter too. I have a current mailing list, but that is *strictly* for new book releases. The general newsletter will (among other things) explore the lore of the Athanate/Were/Adept world, especially those parts that don’t quite make it into the books. I may write some short stories which would go out in the newsletters.
I hear you. I’ll have some T shirts, coasters and stuff made from these covers and some photos that don’t make the covers. I have no schedule yet. 🙂
Angel Stakes cover
Books 1-4 have concentrated appropriately on Amber with weapons – the handgun, submachine gun and the shotgun. These demanded action poses to convey the best impact. However, although Amber uses weapons in Angel Stakes, there’s a different feel to the book. Amber rights old wrongs. Amber stalks her enemy almost as a personification of justice. The second werewolf ritual takes place in this book as well, and whereas Amber can almost convince herself that the first halfy ritual down in New Mexico (end of Cool Hand) was a fluke, the evidence that it’s an ability she has becomes overwhelming in Angel Stakes.
So I wanted something less to do with physical weapons, but more to do with a rather spooky, witchy Amber coming to get you.
I think Andrew and Maria hit this brief out of the park. What do you think?
Print book image
And the eBook cover
Yeah, the usual look at the sales and WiP and stuff.
But first! MILESTONES IN REVIEWS
The US Amazon site logged it’s 200th review! On 31st May, Hao-Ying Feng logged a 5 star review after a binge re-read of the series. Thank you! And thank you to each and every one of you who reviews on Amazon, Goodreads or by messaging me. All hugely welcome and important for me.
AND while I’m talking reviews, 95% of the SoH reviews are 4 or 5 star. That I wouldn’t have predicted when I started.
Almost at the same time, Angel Stakes hit 50 reviews in the 6 weeks since launch, and the percentage of 4 & 5 star has remained the same.
What are the next milestones? I guess 250 for SoH or 750 for the series on US Amazon (currently 604). On the series total, I will ‘cheat’ once Winter’s Kiss is written, because then it and The Biting Cold will be part of the series. 🙂
And then 1,000 for both US and UK Amazon added together (currently 711), or 350 on Goodreads (currently 303).
Winter’s Kiss is more than half way done. As I mentioned in posts on Facebook, this sequel isn’t the same length as The Biting Cold (20k words). TBC was written to a specification on length for an anthology, and WK is just to link the story in with Bite Back, so I have more leeway.
I’ve given a couple of teasers on Facebook, linked by mentions of jazz (Amanda loves jazz). In case you didn’t see them there, here they are again:
“Morning found us just a few miles east of Marquette. The sun inched above the horizon, flooding the car’s rear window with hazy gold, etching the edges of the long, low buildings, and throwing our shadow out in front, where the road unwound like an old jazz song in a smoky club.”
“I switched switches on the music center. Little LEDs started to glow, and I pulled out LPs at random until the words jazz and soul songs caught my eye. A collection of instrumentals based on old songs. The list had some of my favorites, spanning the years.
I put the LP on the turntable. It was lucky it was one of those that loaded the arm automatically, because my hands were shaking.
I closed my eyes and waited; part of the drama and romance that I loved about LPs was that moment at the beginning.
A quiet hiss and crackle, full of anticipation, then the music started. A few falling notes were tossed out from a sax, as a ticking drum marked the beat. The piano picked up a couple of the notes, tossed them back. The saxophone held one note, almost too long, and then just let it drop and tumble and flow into the bittersweet melody of Ain’t No Sunshine.”
What else have I been doing?
The print books are a mess. Cool Hand and Angel Stakes not yet available, the sizes have changed, the covers don’t match. What I thought would be a simple overhaul turned into a nightmare. And to help out, CreateSpace (Amazon’s Print-on-Demand company) have changed their specifications. Everything is a PDF now. Not such a problem for the body of the book, but I have no graphics programs that save as PDF. I ended up loading the image into Word and using that to save. Which of course leads to warnings that my resolution is low. Grrr.
Adding to the frustrations, I use Word for writing, and Word’s print book formatting functions are flakey.
Anyway. I have submitted Cool Hand and Angel Stakes to CreateSpace and they now enable reviewing online, allowing me to skip the physical book review process. The print books *should* be available in the next week or so.
I apologize for the covers. What I’ve done is simply take the eBook cover, added black for the spine and back page and written on the black. All fine as long as the I’ve allocated *exactly* enough width for the spine.
I will do a rework of the covers and get everything to match in size and style, but it’s not on the critical path.
The print book fiasco means that I haven’t progressed with my other non-writing writing project, which is to create cast lists and summaries of story-so-far for each Bite Back sequel.
I did a big review last month, so I’m not going to repeat that since the figures haven’t changed dramatically. Instead, I’ll look at the overview and implications.
Averaged out at the moment, I guess I’m selling 600 books a month and that needs to be 1,200.
I’m still selling 70-80 Sleight of Hand a month, and a percentage of those go on to read the entire series. Amazon only knows the exact figures, but the sales stats suggest to me that about 80% of people who pick up SoH now go on to read all of the books in the series. This is as opposed to the figures of readers who picked up SoH back in 2012, which is about 25%. That low percentage is based on the total sales ever of Cool Hand as a percentage of total sales ever of Sleight of Hand, and it does creep up as some people just take their time going through the series.
What does this mean? Very approximately, I believe that if I had ten Bite Back books now, my monthly sales would be 1,200. The problem is that writing that next 5 will take me 5 years, and in the meantime SoH would slide.
What am I going to do about it? Write realted or unrelated shorter stories that I believe may bring in readers who wouldn’t otherwise have picked up Sleight of Hand, but who like the shorter stories enough to try the series.
I’d like to try out writing novels in two parts – a short story of around 10k words which tells a story but ends on a cliffhanger, and leads straight into a novella of around 50k words. This is close to the way The Biting Cold turned out. TBC was actually 20k words and Winter’s Kiss will be about 40k, and TBC didn’t end on a cliffhanger, but you get my drift.
I have a couple of ideas kicking around in my head – one in the Bite Back world but set in Canada and sharing none of the cast, another a SciFi novella and completely different. Oh, and one set in the 17th century Caribbean that popped up in a conversation with Debra Dunbar (that one might be related to Bite Back).
This does NOT mean that I’m less committed to Bite Back, but I think I can do these things and still get one Bite Back novel out every year. We’ll see.
Other projects – German
German translations have stopped at the moment. I need to get another translator, but I have to say that I need to re-examine the income to see if the cost is justified. I think I’d prefer to hand over to a German publishing company who do this as a business. I need to talk to people.
Other projects – Audio
Julia Motyka is unavailable until September, but assures me she’ll be back in the studio with Angel Stakes then. Audio sales are reasonable (as far as I know) – SoH 1,578, HT 668, WC 504, CH 273. Are there any writers out there with audiobooks who would be okay to share their sales with me?
I asked people on the Facebook site what music Amber listens to. What a wonderful response, and a huge playlist to sort through! Great fun. Thank you all.
I’m planning a trip to America this year. My bio says I’m frequently in the Rockies and I haven’t been. At the end of August & beginning of September, I’ll be with my daughter in New York. After that, I hope to work my way down the Rockies from somewhere around Bozeman, Montana to Albuquerque, New Mexico, taking in Denver, Cheyenne and the loneliest road in the States. I hope to end up returning to UK via Boston and maybe catching some fall colors. This is a research and writing trip, not a book signing journey, but I’ll be happy to sign books, meet readers and attend conventions. If there’s interest, I’ll publish an itinerary closer to the time.
Well, things go right and things go not-so-well.
Angel Stakes has pulled in 45 reviews (just on the US Amazon website) in just 5 weeks after launch. That’s more than any other book of mine in that time. Those reviews are almost all positive. That means we’re both doing something right. I’m writing what you enjoy reading, and I’ve communicated well enough with my readers that a lot of you have bought Angel Stakes in that short period (and reviewed it). There are also 19 reviews on Goodreads and 10 on the UK Amazon website, as well as some great book reviewer websites.
Sorry this image is a bit blurry. Other point to note: Sleight of Hand is at 197 reviews on the US Amazon site. 200 reviews is one of my milestones. Soon. Soon. 🙂
What’s not going so well?
Angel Stakes started off in the first week outselling everything, but has now slid right down the chart.
It’s not massively behind the other sequels, apart from Hidden Trump. I’m still getting “I didn’t realize it was out” messages, so I’m going to have to work on publicity for the next one!
There’s not a great deal more to say at the moment. I’ll do a full sales & marketing at the end of the month, along with progress reports etc., but 5 weeks from launch happens to be the comparative data set that I still maintain.
Lots to talk about as I’ve been quiet recently.
I released the Angel Stakes ebook and the Cool Hand audio. Yay!
Angel Stakes had the biggest first week of all my books so far, both in sales and reviews. Angel Stakes (890) beat Cool Hand for sales by about 40, and generated a massive 40 reviews in that first week alone.
Thank you for the reviews. Just on Amazon.com today, there are already 35 reviews, with only 1 negative. On Amazon.co.uk there are 8, and on Goodreads there are 17.
Thank you also for the feedback on the Facebook page and by email. All good, all welcome.
In the second week, however, Angel Stakes (1,442) has fallen behind both Hidden Trump, which sold 2,078 in the same period, and Cool Hand, which sold 1,498.
Sales is the usual number, cumulative since I started in 2012. I’ve included a column for ‘Pages Read’ – this is the measurement you get when a book is included in the Kindle Unlimited program, but I’ve only tracked this for the last 6 months. Amazon pay on a basis of fractions of a cent for each page read, so the actual effect on my income has been small. For example, those 14,000 pages of The Biting Cold have been worth about $70 to me over the last 6 months.
… Sales Pages Read
Raw Deal 20,637 9k
Sleight of Hand
English 22,682 128k
German ebook 1,571 106k
English 16,412 91k
German ebook 873 118k
English 7,784 113k
German ebook 529
Angel Stakes 1,532
The Biting Cold 785 14k
(Sorry about the table. Having trouble getting tables into WordPress)
In summary? I have wonderful, wonderful readers – just look at the reviews. But I don’t have enough of them.
As I’ve said before, my real concern is the drop off between Hidden Trump and Wild Card, and the further drop between Wild Card and Cool Hand. Both are around 50%, which is extremely disappointing, especially given the reviews and ratings, which show no hint of a problem of that magnitude.
What I expected, when I published Sleight of Hand and Hidden Trump back in 2013, was that I’d lose the highest percentage of readers between SoH and HT. The series isn’t for everyone, and SoH gives a reasonable idea of what’s to come. That’s not what has happened.
One positive for the series from the launch of Angel Stakes is the boost it caused in sales of previous books in the series. And, although it’s difficult to make generalizations on the data, it looks as if people who come in with SoH because they saw the reviews for Angel Stakes don’t drop out after SoH or HT – the boost goes through the whole series.
I guess the question the numbers pose is this: am I losing readers because they (1) don’t like the story, (2) don’t like it enough to check for the next release, (3) never see information about the next release and just forget over time, (4) don’t want to invest in a story till it’s complete.
I’m not sure I can do much about (1) or (2). The story is relatively dark for Urban Fantasy, and it’s more complex than most. It deals with real trauma. It’s in a definite minority with the viewpoint on sexual issues. The ‘magic’ is constrained at the moment. All in all, I understand it may not be what people are looking for when they pick an UF title (but would still expect them to leave after SoH, not 2 or 3 books in).
I’m not sure I can do much about (4) either, except grind my teeth. I’m a reader too, I know it’s hard waiting a year for the next episode, but I can’t write this kind of story quickly. I don’t think anyone can. I’m not going to stop writing till the end, but if this was a traditionally published series, the publisher would pull the plug.
Maybe I can do something about (3).
And that leads to Marketing…
What have I done?
I moved the prices down on SoH, and tried the same thing on HT. I’ve moved them back up again, and it really doesn’t seem to make much difference. I know other indies have stuck at the $2.99 as the ‘sweet point’, and that Amazon suggests $4.99 is the sweet point.
Susan Illene has stuck with me on $3.99. Debra Dunbar varies her prices up to $4.99. Skye Knizley sticks at $2.99. Connie Suttle varies up to $4.99.
And some of the indies who are acknowledged big hitters… J. R. Rain varies, but tends to $4.99. Lindsay Buroker’s prices all seem to be over $5.
Readers have posted on the website suggesting that a long, complex book is worth a higher price. I don’t know. In the end, a book is worth what enough people will pay for it.
I may put the series up to $4.99.
On other marketing attempts, I put the first three of the series in Kindle Unlimited, where readers enrolled in the Amazon program can read for free, and I get paid on the ‘number of pages read’. That’s in quotes because it has emerged that Amazon is just making it up. Anyway, SoH in English is earning about $100 a month on the KU program. Again, all good, but not setting the world on fire.
I also changed the covers again. It’s difficult to tell whether this had any effect, because I did it at the same time as Angel Stakes was launched. I’m still not happy, but maybe I never will be!
The latest marketing fine-tuning is ‘Tags’. This has a couple of effects.
(1) Tags are used as searchable text in Amazon. So, if I tagged SoH as being about ‘ex-military private investigator’ and someone typed that into the Amazon search field, they’d be offered SoH (among any others tagged the same way).
(2) Tags sometimes link books into best seller lists.
(Here’s a blog talking about the subject: https://ebooksuccess4free.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/7-tips-for-amazon-keywords-and-best-selling-books/)
It’s a subtle business, picking the right tags. I got an easy win by labelling SoH as being about a ‘superhero’. It’s not a widely used tag and that resulted in SoH appearing on the Superhero best selling lists. Visibility on these lists do generate sales. Higher ranking=greater visibility.
At some stage, I would like to do an organized promotion using BookBub, BookGorilla and other newsletters, Goodreads and Amazon. There’s a surprising amount of work involved in these promotions, and they do take away from writing time.
There is a writing task that does promote books – launching new books raises visibility and boosts the back list. But in order to use that I have to write something shorter…
Which leads me to my current project file…
Writing & editing:
I have promised for ages to edit my mother’s unpublished murder mystery set in colonial Africa and called So Many Doors. It’s good, really good, but needs editing and a cover. I have gone out and commissioned lovely cover art, and I’m slogging through taking out ellipses and exclamation marks. And a few other bits & pieces. My sister and I should be putting this on Amazon by the end of the month.
I’m drafting up a short story sequel to The Biting Cold, which I’ve tentatively named Winter’s Kiss, and which will weave the story into the Bite Back series. This shouldn’t be long (famous last words), and should be simple (ditto). The only real problem is TBC was really an experiment to write a romance and include a sex scene which was essential and fundamental to the story. (I still got someone commenting that it was gratuitous). The draft I have for Winter’s Kiss at the moment is more like an Amber story with chases and explosions. Amanda does, of course, need another love interest. Or two. It’s just how I introduce that person.
Bian’s Tale 1. Okay. Enough sitting on this. I nearly wrote it a couple of years ago, but it wasn’t quite working. I have some much better ideas now, worthy of the opening chapters. It’s strange I found it much easier to write nine-year-old Bian than fourteen-year-old Bian. For those who haven’t seen them, I’m happy to provide the chapters of nine-year-old Bian as a mobi, ePub or PDF. Email me at the usual contact address.
Bite Back 6. No name yet. Based back in Denver. Full of House Farrell and Adepts and the aftermath of the closing chapters of Angel Stakes. However I promise you to make it simple and short and quick, it will end up complex and long and slow.
I need to resubmit all the books to CreateSpace to provide new print books. This is because I’m late with Cool Hand and I need to do Angel Stakes, and all the covers have changed and the first two books are different sizes and the internal format is different for different books. It’s all a mess and needs putting in order.
My narrator, Julia Motyka will start recording the Angel Stakes audio in September. I need to mark up the text to make sure what I hear comes through.
German translation. I’m undecided. The translations aren’t really paying for themselves.
And I’m looking at some writing-as-marketing projects. These are basically short stories which are also the first chapter(s) of novels, so the short story serves as a teaser for the main novel. I haven’t been able to see how to do this for the main Bite Back story. I have some ideas which may be in the same world, but set elsewhere – one is about a young girl fleeing along the infamous Highway of Tears in Canada, pursued by a terrifying monster.
There’s more. There’s always more, but this post has gone on FAR too long.
Amanda Taggart spotted it before I did!
That was quick!
The re-draft of Angel Stakes has fixed almost all the problems. There are a couple of scenes that need tweaking, some general grammar, pronunciation, British-ism removal etc. I’m reasonably sure that means no more than a couple of weeks before publication.
The offer of a teaser comprising the first 3 chapters is still open, just post a comment here or email the usual contact address.
So what’s up at the moment
I’m on Goodreads answering questions about Sleight of Hand specifically and the Bite Back series in general. Any questions you have? Bring them to Goodreads, please. I’d love to see you there. I’ll be offering a new free short story to anyone who posts on these discussions.
You’ll need to be a member of Goodreads, which is free of course, join at https://www.goodreads.com/ and you’ll also need to join the Urban Fantasy discussion group at https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/55293-girls-guns-and-grimoires.
The two discussion threads are https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/18061756-sleight-of-hand-a-chat-with-the-author and https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/18061752-sleight-of-hand-general-discussion
I’ve already fielded questions about how Athanate bite humans without infusing them, what hobbies I have in order to come up with all the crazy stuff, and how I can write a woman’s PoV book, but I’m sure there’s lots more to come.
If you haven’t already, do please post book reviews on Goodreads or Amazon. If you have, thank you, much appreciated!
I’m working on a short story sequel to The Biting Cold, which will probably be called Winter’s Kiss. I’m restarting work on the first book of Bian’s Tale. I’m gathering threads and events that Bite Back book 6 has to deal with.
I’ve been asked to put a teaser up. This is the first chapter, which is a real teaser 🙂
It follows directly on from Cool Hand. I originally planned to write Cool Hand and Angel Stakes as one book, with the flight to LA being the mid-point, but only authors like GRR Martin can get away with huge books at such long intervals.
If you want more of a teaser, ask and I’ll email you the first 3 chapters. Be warned, Amber’s situation is not resolved in those chapters, so it would be just another cliffhanger.
ANGEL STAKES CHAPTER 1
Floating down the river of night toward the city of dreams…
Our Lady, Queen of Angels. Where the long dragon spine of San Gabriel sprawls over the trembling San Andreas Fault and four million people cluster in its shadow. Bad Feng Shui, the Chinese mutter, and spit to clear their luck.
Los Angeles. Where glittering streets of plenty cut like knives through the desperate barrios. Where gangs and cults, earthquakes and hill fires, riots and despair and madness, all simmer just beneath the surface, waiting, like the abiding desert, to erupt out through the drains and engulf the city.
LA. The laconic arrogance in the initials of the city that lives, full of myth, pulsing with tales. The city that feeds on dreams, leaving nothing but dust and nightmares. And we are such stuff as dreams are made. Or nightmares.
I knew I was on a plane, flying to Los Angeles, because Skylur had called us, and my oath bound me to him, as tightly as Diana or Bian were bound to him, or my House was bound to me. And I knew that I was teetering on the brink of insanity. That I’d been over the edge. That I’d gone rogue—become an unthinking, instinctive killer, consumed by rage and blood lust. And that I’d been brought back by my kin. Brought back as Were by Alex’s dominance. Brought back as Athanate by Jen’s Blood. And whatever part of me was Adept had been torn and stunned by grounding all the energy that the whole Taos community of Adepts had poured into a lock to hold Diana prisoner on that cold hillside up in Carson National Park. The energy that Kaothos, Tullah’s dragon spirit guide, had reversed somehow.
They’d told me the Athanate would drive my Were rogue, or the Were would drive the Athanate. That the Adept would drive them both rogue. It hadn’t happened like that.
You are none of the things they will think you are.
My great-grandmother, Speaks-to-Wolves, had said that to me in a vision, and she’d been right. My paranormal sides balanced each other. I’d escaped that nightmare, only to emerge into the same one—with a different face. The tide of darkness in my mind wasn’t caused by my competing paranormal instincts, but by the meddling of Colonel Petersen’s psychologists, as I’d lain defenseless in Obs after being bitten by rogue Athanate in the jungles of South America. I saw it as a storm in my head, sweeping in across the cold, high plains, threatening to obliterate me under towering clouds and cracking lightning. My body twitched and jerked with every electric strike.
My kin had saved me, but they hadn’t cured me. The darkness was returning.
And yet, it was as if there were two halves of me. A half that lay shaking and muttering feverishly on the floor between my worried kin, and a half that floated through the cool cabin, granted a clarity of vision that was painful. I’d bound my eukori tightly into my head so that the stain of my madness could not spread, but I was listening to Diana and Bian.
There was a crisis ahead. An opportunity and a danger twisted around each other like mating snakes.
We were going to LA, a place where you could toss away your old life like a bad hand and get a new deal. But also the place where the hollow-bellied god of fame lured dreamers to the great light, only to let it flicker and fade, leaving them blind and starless in the stone jungles, unable to tell truth from artifice. And still believing, still believing, as they offered the last things they had left. Their passion. Their health, heart, soul and youth. Finally, even their children. And the place where Basilikos and Panethus might end their shadowy battle, consuming each other utterly, that a new hope might rise from the ashes.
Floating down the river of night toward the city of dreams…
As they touched the cool, gray asphalt of Van Nuys airfield, the plane’s tires began screaming, and I went into convulsions.