The Return of Thraxas

“One whole venison pie feeds a family of four,” comments Makri, passing with a tray.
“Not if I get there first,” I say, moving on to the pork and apple pastries.Thraxas

There are many re-releases I have been waiting for with baited breath this year. Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane books are due from Centipede Press. Michael Moorcock’s entire back catalogue of fantasy and SF is slowly (come on Gollancz, get the finger out!) making its way into ebook format. The re-release of Martin Scott’s Thraxas books though came as a completely unexpected and very pleasant surprise. I stumbled across them by accident when looking for something else on Amazon.co.uk.

The first book in the series won the World Fantasy Award against very strong competition back in 1999 (I seem to remember) and the series so far has extended to nine books. Distribution always seemed a bit patchy, at least in the parts of the world I have lived in, and now the author has taken it upon himself to indie publish the books. I, for one, am very glad he has done so. Suffering from DVD box set effect I read the entire series in quick succession on my recent holiday.

For those of you unfamiliar with him, Thraxas is a great swordsman when sober, a very minor mage who dropped out of magician’s school as a youth, a former world-wandering mercenary. These days he is an overweight, alcoholic, middle-aged investigator who stalks the mean streets of Turai, a decadent and depraved minor city state in an un-named fantasy world. He dwells in two rooms above The Avenging Axe, a tavern owned by his former mercenary colleague, the barbarian Gurd.

So far, so cliched, you are thinking. I mean we’ve all seen this before— the embittered loner detective with authority issues, a problem with local law enforcement and a serious, ongoing battle with the bottle. But no, I can assure you, you’ve not seen anything quite like Thraxas before. For one thing Thraxas has a joi de vivre unusual among embittered loner heroes— he’s a man who knows how to grab a beer with each hand, stack up the venison pies and recover from his latest encounter on the mean streets of Twelve Seas.

For another thing, the books are extraordinarily funny. They play with the cliches of hard-boiled detective stories, Dungeons and Dragons, sword and sorcery and kung fu movies (among other things) in a way that makes me laugh out loud.

There’s real verbal dexterity to Thraxas’s wit, but the humour arises naturally too from the characters. The most powerful wizard in Turai, Lisistratis, Mistress of the Sky, war-hero and dragonslayer, is now a total stoner who spends a great deal of her time and power finding ways to accelerate the growth and potency of her favourite drug. The government of Turai’s corrupt attempts to get her elected head of the international wizard’s guild in Thraxas and the Sorcerers is a masterpiece of very dark comedy.

Makri, haf-orc, half-elf, half-human (wait a minute!) barbarian is a former gladiator whose escape from the orcish slave pits resulted in such legendary carnage that the orcs still speak of it with awe. She is also an idealistic young woman in pursuit of higher education in a corrupt and sexist city which enthusiastically despises education (or any other form of right) for women. She earns her living as a waitress at the Avenging Axe clad in a chainmail bikini for the encouragement of tips, surely the most sensible use of that particular cliche in the whole of sword and sorcery.

Gurd, mighty barbarian warrior, has spent the past decade trying to find a way to confess his unrequited love for Tanrose, cook at the Avenging Axe and maker of the best venison pie in the city. The books bubble over with a horde of minor characters just as memorable and engaging and a web of relationships joins all the characters that is often unexpectedly touching.

Turai is as much a character as anyone else in the books, a very decadent place, a mixture of Lankhmar, Rome and every D&D city you ever played a game in. It’s a place under constant threat of Orcish invasion, where schools of warrior monks fight secret wars, the chariot races are fixed using magic and there’s no end of crime, drug and magic-related and otherwise. It’s a fine place to visit as a reader but you would not want to live there.

The comedy does not get in the way of a good story either. The adventures of Thraxas and Makri as they attempt to clear their clients, in the face of determined opposition from monsters, assassins, politicians, orcish spies, mages, one or both of the two local thieves guilds make riveting reads.

All nine of the Thraxas books are available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk and I urge you to take a look at them. You wont regret it if you have any interest at all in comedy, fantasy or sword and sorcery.


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Ebook News

On Saturday, I sold the one thousandth ebook of Death’s Angels. It was a nice milestone to pass. It comes in the first month in which I have sold over a thousand ebooks too. All in all I have sold a couple of thousand books in the Terrarch series and roughly 2400 ebooks in total including short stories and collections. I have also had roughly five thousand downloads of the Guardian of the Dawn since it went free.

I started selling ebooks in July and have released one of the Terrarch books roughly every six weeks since then. The last book, Shadowblood only went on sale this month. December will be the first month that the whole series will be available and I am curious to see how it goes.

Creating your own ebooks is pretty simple. It’s not quite as simple as saving a document on your word-processor but pretty close. If you know how to save a document you can learn how to create your own ebooks in about fifteen minutes. I am not kidding. You can do it all with free software as well. I’ll cover this in a future post.

It is amazing what the ebook revolution has made possible. The Terrarch sales numbers would be very good for a small press. I doubt any major publisher would be interested in selling in these numbers but if you consider the fact that the royalty rates are much higher (35% or 70% depending on price) it still looks perfectly possible to make a living doing this. It is certainly the most profitable hobby I have ever had.

When I started out, I mentioned the fact that I would be delighted to sell two books a day. For the past few months Death’s Angels has been averaging 13-15 books a day and the rest of the books in the series roughly 6-7 per day. There is usually a surge of sales during the initial release but these seem to be the way long term numbers fall.

Is there anything I learned that might prove useful to anyone else contemplating doing this? A few things. In my experience novels sell a lot better than short stories (not really a surprise there!) and a series is a very good idea. Releasing the latest book always seems to give a boost to the earlier ones.

What about marketing? My marketing has consisted of posting on this blog and on a couple of boards dedicated to the Kindle. There has been no advertising and very little tweeting. I strongly suspect most of the heavy lifting has been done by Amazon’s algorithms.

Is there anything you can do to increase sales? Well, my sales really took off when I reduced the price of Death’s Angels to 99 cents. This meant a huge fall in revenue for this book, not just from the drop in price but from the reduction of the royalty rate to 35% from 70%. On the other hand, sales of Death’s Angels increased by a factor of about 6. Sales on the later books increased by a factor of three.

There does not seem to be any difference in sales between prices of $2.99 or $3.99. The books sold equally well at either price. There was a definite fall-off in sales at $4.99, more than the increased royalty rate would make up for. For me this seems to fix the price for future releases. I would open a series with a 99 cent book and follow on with prices set at $3.99 for books of 75K or longer, less for shorter books.

If you do go in for this, I would also advise you to be patient. In my first month (really my first 3 weeks since I released on July 8th) I sold 38 books. This month I have sold more than a thousand. It takes sales time to build. The more books you have the more you will sell too (that seems only common sense, doesn’t it?)

For me, the biggest benefit is that epub had renewed my enthusiasm for writing. It’s not that I was not enjoying my work previously either, I enjoy writing Warhammer novels. But it was disheartening (to say the least) to go 6 years with out finding an English language publisher for the Terrarch series. Now at least a thousand people have bought a copy and maybe more will find it. It has a chance to reach its audience. When you consider it’s in a genre that is not exactly fashionable (Lovecraftian gunpowder military fantasy), that is all that can reasonably be asked.

There is something tremendously invigorating about the idea that you can write what makes you really enthusiastic even if it does not fit into the lengths or genres that publishers demand. You can write short stories or novellas or short novels or very, very long novels and you can find an audience. It might not be a huge one but it will be an audience. It makes me truly, truly grateful to be working in this field at this time and I would like to thank every single person who has bought one of these books.