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
Month delay for Bite Back 6…
Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, there’s going to be a delay in the release of Inside Straight. I had intended to load the Amazon servers with the pre-order on the 16th (next Monday), for publication on the 30th, but that’s not going to be possible.
The text is still in editing and the covers (plural) aren’t ready.
My marketing plan was to boost the series with new, professionally-created covers and a bundle (several ebooks in one at a discount) and an advertising campaign while Inside Straight was in pre-order, so that book 6 got the maximum amount of publicity.
That’s still the plan, but I am now aiming for release on the 31st October, with the pre-order and advertising beginning on the 14th.
I am also scheduling a series of previews of the new covers on Facebook and here, which will serve as a countdown to the marketing.
My apologies for the delay!
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.
Very slight spoilers…
I generally feel with these quiet parts of the Bite Back books that I’m going overboard. Readers generally come back and tell me I’m not. Anyway, I’m going to try out a short section on this blog that hasn’t even been seen by the beta readers yet…
How in such a complex, structured society as the Athanate, could you win an argument? The issue under discussion is this: when the paranormal races reveal themselves to humans, should they agree to abide by human law, or should there be a separate law for them? A very intricate sort of problem and one on which a great deal hangs in the balance.
The Empire of Heaven (China and most of south-east Asia) stood aside from the first Athanate Assembly when it was invoked in the 1920s. The Empire of Heaven is the largest group after the two main creeds of the Assembly, Panethus and Basilikos. As the parameters of the new Assembly are being hammered out in book 5, the Empire arrives at the meeting, in the person of their Emperor’s own Diakon, Xun Huang. What side of the debate will he come down on?
This is a small part, a quiet interlude in the usual rush.
This is Huang’s speech to the Athanate. He may have been influenced by Maya Angelou (paraphrased here): “They may forget what you said but they will never forget what you made them feel.”
Huang walked to the center of the floor and stood still, waiting until the silence spread.
When he did speak, his voice was so quiet everyone had to lean forward to hear.
I didn’t know what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t what came.
“I am old, even as we Athanate count it,” he said.
His words were slow and formal, with a rhythm that seemed to carry me along.
“Many, many years ago, I buried my father in an unmarked grave, beneath a solitary Linden tree on a south facing hillside, near a quiet river. In the heat of summer, the Linden’s leaves are thick and dark and green. They take the shape of hearts, and beneath their shade, the ground is always cool; the air always holds the scent of limes. As winter nears, those leaves turn and fall like a harvest of the richest gold, and make a crown to rest upon my father’s head.
Between the wars that tore our land, I would return there, and lie on that hillside. It eased my soul, and restored my strength in a time of great turmoil.
Then, beside my father, I buried my sons and my daughters, their youthful faces as yet half-formed, unblemished by age.”
Huang paused and looked up and down the ranks of Athanate, and we were silent. The whole auditorium had unconsciously synced their heartbeats with their neighbors’, until we were a creature with a single pulse, waiting, listening.
“No man should bear that sorrow,” Huang continued. “No woman either, and my wife joined them before the leaves had fallen again. I planted the trees that were their only marker.
From that moment, I slept only when exhaustion took me, because on waking, for a moment it was as if I could turn and see my wife again, only for that dream to fade, and the nightmare of life to begin again.
When the Emperor found me, I sought death every day in the face of the enemy. What prize could he offer me, in my despair, that would make me want to become immortal? What reward to become Athanate, and know that sorrow for eternity?
He spoke to me; simple words, words he told me he first heard from the lips of the Kumemnon herself, her own words: This is the gift and the sorrow of the Athanate; to see your loves pass before you like the days of summer, while your heart still beats. To keep your vigil in the shadows, and rise again with every sun.
That part you all know. Many carve it above doors to their hidden sanctuaries, to remind them that as there is light, there must be darkness, and the world turns regardless.
But the Lamentation of Arunne goes on: To be bound upon the wheel of heaven; to toil and toil and never be done. To love without reserve forever, and rise again with every sun.”
He paused, and in the depths of the auditorium the Athanate shivered as the words touched us.
Huang went on.
“That is what he said to me, and I bared my neck to him.
On that hillside now, beside the quiet river, there grows a forest, such that I may not find my family’s trees among those that mark my kin. I return there sometimes for a night. To sleep, to dream, and rise again with the sun.
The war took away my family, and my Emperor replaced it with duty. He offered me no soft consolation, no comforting lies. As one who passes from childhood must put away the easy refuges of youth, to become Athanate is to shoulder a greater destiny. And to achieve that, one may not live as a man or woman may live, under the strictures of their society.
The Athanate people must retain their own laws and customs.”
The second section of Angel Stakes will be with the beta readers in the next couple of days.
How much of the book is this? Well, the first section I sent out took the book to one of the standard ‘structural’ points, called the ‘first turning point’. Theoretically, this is 25% of the book. That section happened to be 27k words long. The second section should be up to the second major structural point, called imaginatively the ‘mid-point’. What I’m sending out isn’t quite that far. It’s about 34k words, and there are two major twists to come before the mid-point. So if we say 10k words to get to the mid-point, then half the book will come to approximately 70k, and that means the final book may be as long as Wild Card.
Having said all that, my structural points occur at different places to the ‘average’ book, partly because I’m writing a series and partly because I have multiple threads and each thread has its own structure, which might displace the main book structure slightly.
We’ll see. I know what happens of course, but how many words it takes me to say it, and how long it takes me to write it, are estimations that I’m not good at making.
Hidden Trump audio
What a labyrinth!
It has taken Julia Motyka and I over three weeks to get the Audible / ACX payment details provided to us. When I hired Kimberly to read Sleight of Hand, I paid her directly, which was easy. Because Julia is also an actor and director and needs to channel all payments through her guild, I have to pay her through the ACX approved ‘paymaster’. Easy – “send us a cheque/check” they said. Can’t do that, I’m a UK citizen and don’t have a bank account in the US (and it’s near impossible to acquire one). Surely, we said, surely, there is someone who understands that US narrators might get paid by UK authors? Eventually, there was, and he provided me with bank details for an international bank transfer. To a dead account.
The funds were returned to my bank. My bank called me (and warned me that both their charges for the transfer and the charges from the US bank were taken against my account). I emailed the ACX paymaster, requesting the correct account number and their opinion as to what I should do about the bank charges. They provided the correct number and ignored the comment about charges. I’d probably have accepted a simple apology, but what I actually got back after re-querying it was “I never heard of banks doing this”!
Anyway, the payment has been made, Audible / ACX are doing their checking, whatever that is, and the audiobook should be up soon. I hope.
Creeping along. Summer sales are pretty skewed anyway, and I’m not sure the Bite Back books are the type you take to the beach.
Anyway, overall, the books are within touching distance of 70,000 total sales, which is great, but as this is the third anniversary of the release of Sleight of Hand, I did have a look at the annual total sales numbers.
Aug 2012-2013 40,000
Aug 2013-2014 60,000
Aug 2014-2015 70,000
Which represents a disheartening slow-down. I know some of the problem is that, especially in this genre, output as measured by books is what keeps you in the rankings, and staying in the rankings is what drives sales. I write longer books, I release them slowly, and inevitably, I slip a little in the rankings.
I had that in mind when I started plotting Bian’s companion series – they seemed, at the plotting stage, to be shorter, so I could write and release them more quickly and the two series would feed each other. Ha! I can’t write short books it seems, and trying to keep the first book of Bian’s Tale short may have been what caused the writing to stutter. I will return to Bian’s Tale, but inevitably that will slow the release of Bite Back books.
There appears to be an opportunity to improve sales when I can devote more time to marketing. To take one example, slightly less than 50% of the people who bought Wild Card have bought Cool Hand. The reviews and ratings for both are good, so I think I can assume that it’s not that the readers don’t like the series or wouldn’t buy Cool Hand. I can only theorize that, due to the delay getting Cool Hand out, other books/series with higher rankings on Amazon have caught their attention.
Back to writing.
Cool Hand is continuing to generate wonderful reviews and feedback.
There are 33 reviews just on US Amazon, along with 15 on Goodreads (mysteriously split between two ‘versions’ of the book). 7 reviews on the UK Amazon site, 4 in the rest of the world, and a couple on Kobo. Thanks to all of you again.
Raw Deal 20,187
Sleight of Hand 22,046
Hidden Trump 15,483
Wild Card 6,601
Cool Hand 2,101
Hidden in the raw numbers is a boost for the sales of all the books – they’re selling ten times better than they were last month. And Wild Card retention has jumped a couple of percentage points.
Hidden Trump is still my leading launch. In the same period that Cool Hand has just sold 2,101, Hidden Trump sold 3,596. Launching HT for the Christmas/New Year book-buying season while there was still a big buzz from the launch of Sleight of Hand had a dramatic effect.
Bite Back 5 progress
I have a few scenes already written. This always happens at the start of a book – there are scenes that are yelling at me and I have to write them. ‘Progress’ appears very quick at the start.
The first chapter is finished, because it’s really just a prologue, linking Cool Hand with BB5. From chapter 2 to about 6 covers the resolution of the cliffhanger, and I can see myself rewriting that a few times as it’s such a key to Amber’s life story.
Overall, I’ve spent more time plotting than writing. As mentioned before, the structure of the story will be a non-paranormal PI case, but the paranormal world goes on, with very important events happening (Basilikos, Were halfies, Empire of Heaven to name three), and I need to tie the two together neatly.
My son, his partner, and my daughter (Gideon, Sophie and Jessica) are doing these. They should appear in May, I estimate. I’ll reveal them here first.
Bian’s Tale – The Reach of Lies
I will be working on this as well, re-plotting and re-writing from section 2 onwards, but I’ve not spent any substantial time on it yet.
The Biting Cold II
This will be needed as part of the process of binding Manda and Scott into Amber’s story during BB5.
So Many Doors
Actually, not my book. My late mother wrote this book in 1964. It was never published. It’s a murder mystery set in the British colony of Northern Rhodesia (where I was born). I’ve long promised to tidy it up and publish it, and I guess now is as good a time as any! That won’t use the same part of the brain as writing, so it won’t interfere with BB5.
Undoubtedly the highlights of the week are the reviews and feedback that I’ve been getting for Cool Hand.
There are 33 reviews on Amazon now: 29×5-star, 3×4-star and 1×3-star. There are 13 reviews on Goodreads: 7×5-star, 5×4-star and 1×3-star (and a bunch of good ratings as well). It’s not so much the ratings as the words that have given me such a buzz, whether delivered on reviews, here on the blog, the Facebook pages or email. Thank you all. I love ya.
Cool Hand was in and out of the top 100 Urban Fantasy books, and averaged about 2,500 in all books over the last week (where 1 is the highest rating).
Cool Hand sales now stand at over 1,600, of which 550 were added in the last week. In that time, Sleight of Hand added 150, Hidden Trump 100 and Wild Card 130.
Audio book sales of Sleight of Hand topped 500 in total, but the last week was slow with only 28 sales.
Hidden Trump is still my leading launch. Both HT and CH took 9 days to reach 1,000 sales, but HT was launched into the January book sales and continued to sell very strongly. In the comparable week that CH has just sold 550, HT sold 1,300.
Some thoughts about Cool Hand
No book is ever just right, or exactly what the author wanted to say. Any author who tells you that is lying. Cool Hand was especially difficult for me because of the number of times I wrote and re-wrote the penultimate section (essentially what ended up as being chapters 47-55 – Santa Fe to the start of the Carson National Forest scenes).
When you rewrite that much, you lose a feel for the quality of readability of the work. I mean, each word is better selected, each sentence is better put, each plot strand better presented (otherwise what are you doing), but you lose a sense of how it feels as a reader.
The enthusiasm of the reviews vindicates Lauren’s insistence I could do better, and I hope justifies the delay in release.
And some thoughts about the next book
If you’ve caught your breath after the ending of Cool Hand…well, it could have been more complex and longer. Or shorter and simpler. And of course, there is that cliffhanger. Longer? Well, I could have resolved the cliffhanger, but the end of the book would have then become unwieldy and either the existing ending(s) or the resolution of the cliffhanger would have felt anti-climactic. Shorter? Well, one of the things that happened at the end, you’ve been waiting very patiently for, but I could have let it slide into the start of the next.
The point I’m trying to make is that there is some leeway in the scheduling of the resolution of ongoing threads. And I’m interested what you, the readers, absolutely have to have resolved sooner rather than later.
The core structure of Bite Back 5 is going to be provided by an ostensibly non-paranormal PI case, with threads for paranormal and relationship arcs woven in. What do you have to see progressed and/or resolved? Or, just who/what you have to see more of. Or less of! 🙂
I’m not promising to implement these!
(Progress on writing at the end of the month)
A final point
I never expected everyone to like my books, and frankly, scathing reviews of Sleight of Hand did little more than make me grin.
However…I do feel a responsibility to those of you who have come along for the ride and are unhappy about some direction developing in the books, or the balance of the story, or didn’t like Cool Hand, or parts of Cool Hand, or whatever.
I’d just like to say I’m happy to receive constructive negative feedback. By that I mean ‘I didn’t like this because…’ rather than ‘I didn’t like it.’ As with positive feedback, any route is fine – reviews, postings or emails to me at the contact address.
As with the last section, I can’t promise to change anything!
A week is a long time in publishing.
But not as long as the time since I last gave you the sales numbers.
- Raw Deal 20,000 (between 5,000 and 7,000 free downloads)
- Sleight of Hand 21,000 (+1,250 German translations and 460 audio books)
- Hidden Trump 15,000 (+500 German translations)
- Wild Card 6,250
- Cool Hand 850
Each book’s first week of sales
- SoH 20
- HT 700
- WC 660
So Cool Hand is way out in front. Thank you all for your continuing support.
The USA leads the way with 49,000 total sales to UK’s 9,000 and Germany’s 6,000.
With the USA leading the sales, all the rankings below are based on the USA Amazon site.
SoH went all the way up to about 1500th most popular book over the last week, but is back down at around 8,000-9,000 now. The others moved in a similar fashion, but are lower in the rankings. Cool Hand was ranked at 1,300 overall this morning, and at 65 in the Paranormal & Urban fantasy list.
I have 15 reviews for Cool Hand already on Amazon and GoodReads, and many very positive comments in posts and by email. Thank you all! This writer runs on that kinda fuel.
I am still delighted to be selling well, and remain puzzled at the cause of the drop after Hidden Trump.
Bite Back 5, as yet unnamed, is under way. The core of the book is a bit more like SoH – there is a non-paranormal investigation which determines the overall structure. I may link in Manda and Scott from The Biting Cold, which would mean a short story to bridge from where they are now to being part of the Bite Back series arc.
I’m also looking at re-starting Bian’s Tale.
As per my comments on earlier posts, I’m unhappy with predicting release dates after getting it wrong, but I’ll get back to end-of-month updates on writing progress.
Thank you all again.