Cover Reveal: Sword of Wrath

Here’s the cover for the next Kormak novel Sword of Wrath.

Clarissa Yeo over at Yocla Designs has really outdone herself with this one. I’m really pleased with it. The book itself is still a couple of weeks away. I’ll be writing more about it nearer the time.

K8 Sword of Wrath Cover

If you’re interested in finding out when my next book will be released as well as in getting discounts and free short stories, please sign up for my mailing list.

Starting A Mailing List

Every writer should have a mailing list. That’s one of those of those bits of advice that you will get sooner or later if you hang around writers’ boards on the internet long enough. It also happens to be true although it took me a long time to realise it.

I started my mailing list a few years back. To be honest, for the first year or so, I made no effort to attract folk to my mailing list whatsoever. And, oddly enough, it never seemed very useful.

Then I read Your First Thousand Copies which made a pretty convincing case not only for mailing lists but for using the much-hated browser pop-up to get people to sign up for them. Which is why many of you who visit this site get to see the aforementioned pop-up every couple of weeks. Since that time I have collected a couple of hundred names. That is still pretty small as mailing lists go but much better than it was.

So what are the benefits of mailing lists? Well, it depends on the kind of mailing list you want to run. Your First Thousand Copies recommends using your mailing list in the way most writers use their websites – to promote reader engagement by sending out articles, extracts from your books and other stuff, as well as sales links.

I’d love to do that but I am a bit too lazy, and by the time I had this information I had already spend a lot of time getting this blog rolling and, much as I enjoy writing it, I did not feel like setting out to create something that involved just as much work.

So, in the case of my list (which you can join here if you are interested), people who sign up get to hear about my new releases before anybody else and also get occasional freebies and special offers.

Often I release my new books at a low introductory price and then raise them after a few days and being on the mailing list gives you a head’s up about this.

Last month I gave away free copies of A Cold and Lonely Place to everybody on the mailing list. Amazingly enough a large number of people went off and bought it anyway. So thanks to everyone who did that. I’ll be doing similar giveaways in the future.

What benefits does the mailing list give me? Well, it gives me a bunch of initial sales, which is always gratifying and more to the point, that bunch of initial sales, even with a mailing list as small as mine, gives me a chance of getting onto some of the less important charts at Amazon. This visibility in turn leads to more sales. That’s the theory anyway.

Does it work?

As far as I can tell, yes. The past few times I’ve done a new release I’ve managed to hit the the charts for sea stories, short stories and a couple of others which I can’t be bothered to check my records of right now. My average sales per new release have been higher as well even after the initial introductory price has gone. As time goes on and my list gets larger, I might start to appear on the more important charts which in theory should lead to even more sales creating a virtuous loop.

Now you’re probably thinking that’s all very well for an indie writer but what about folk still with traditional publishers. Well, I reckon there is an even stronger case for them using a mailing list, particularly in the US where, if your book does not take off in the first couple of months it will be stripped and returned.

Having a mailing list means that you can notify your fans that your book is out and that they should go get it. You have a short window of opportunity to make your mark and you need to do everything you can to take advantage of it. It’s a bit like turning the voters out on election day.

Why use a mailing list? Why not just advertise it on your blog or website? Because there is no guarantee that people will be checking those out when you need them to be doing that. Your email will arrive in their inbox, and you can provide them with a handy-dandy sales link to click on which makes the task of buying your book easier. And hey there’s no law that says you can’t also use your website to make these announcements.

So how do you go about setting up your mailing list?

There’s all manner of laws concerning spamming and holding people’s personal data on your computer, so I recommend using a service like Mailchimp or Aweber who have already jumped through the legal hoops for you.

Mailchimp is free until your list reaches 2000 addresses (by which time you probably won’t be too worried about paying). Aweber costs money from the get-go but a lot of marketing professionals swear by it. There are a number of other services which I don’t know much about but which a swift Google search will turn up. I use Mailchimp myself and I’ve never had a problem with it.

Reputable services use what is called the double opt-in system. This means that once somebody signs up for your list they get sent an email and they need to click on a link within that email to opt-in. This gives them a chance to rethink signing up if that’s what they want. Of course, this also means there is a chance that the confirmation email might get caught in a spam filter so if you sign up for my list and haven’t got a response please check your junk mail filter.

Once you’ve uploaded your books to Amazon and whoever else you publish them with, you just need to wait a day or so until the books are live then you can cut and paste the links from the website into your mailing list newsletter and you’re good to go.

The nice thing about having a mailing list is that the list grows organically once its started. Just put a link to the sign up page at the back of your books and on your website and you are set.

Bonus Tip. If you decide to go with Mailchimp the web interface can be a little fiddly. It’s WYSIWYG but to create links you need to select text and cut and paste stuff into boxes. Making headers involves selecting text and clicking on buttons. It’s not difficult but it does take time and getting out your mailing list is one of those things you want to make as easy as possible.

I recommend using markdown and signing up for a free account with Draft. This has a nifty feature that allows you to send your markdown text to Mailchimp and have it transformed into fully functional HTML complete with links.

For those of you unfamiliar with markdown, it’s a simplified version of HTML meant to be easily usable and readable by ordinary folks. You can find out more here

You can learn enough markdown to create you mailing list in two minutes. In fact here is all you need.

To create a header in markdown you enclose your text in hashtags. The more hashtags you use the deeper the header level you get. One hashtag means a level one header, two hashtags means a level two header and so on.

Thus ####This is a level four header#### gives you

This is a level four header

You get italics by enclosing text in asterisks like so *asterisks*.

You get bold text by enclosing your text in **two asterisks**.

You create a link by enclosing the word you are intend to be clicked in square brackets and then placing the target of the link in normal brackets immediately thereafter. The format is [linkword](www.targetlink)

And there you have it. You now know enough markdown to create your own Mailchimp newsletter using Draft.

If you’re interested in finding out when my next book will be released as well as in getting discounts and free short stories, please sign up for my mailing list.

The Joys of Kickstarter

Yesterday the nice man from DHL brought me a package. It contained a copy of Monte Cook’s new book Numenera, a role-playing game that I have been looking forward to for quite some time. I’ve had the PDF for awhile but there’s nothing quite like holding a physical book to make something real, as I know from my own experiments with producing a print version of Stealer of Flesh. 

I don’t want to do a review of Numenera right here, right now. Free time has been in short supply this year and I’ve just skimmed through it. It’s a good looking book laid out in a style that should be familiar to anyone who has read Arcana Evolved or Ptolus or any other Malhavoc products, which is to say its a clean, clear layout with lots of interesting art. At first glance the rules look simple and interesting.  I’ll give it a more thorough read now that I have the hardback and I may get round to reviewing it at some point. Today I want to talk about something else. 

The thing about Numenara is that I had a direct part in its creation. I don’t mean I wrote anything for it, or did any art or even playtested it. I didn’t do any of those things. All I did was help fund it and I did this by way of Kickstarter. And I have to say it gives me a little kick when I look at page 410 and see my name listed among the backers. 

This was a project I really wanted to see. It is a far future fantasy, influenced by Gene Wolfe’s Shadow of the Torturer books and the SF comics of the French artist Jean Giraud (Moebius). Although Mr Cook does not mention it in his notes I would guess there is some influence from Jack Vance’s Dying Earth as well either directly or smuggled in via Wolfe. In any case, it’s in a genre I love and for which there are very few roleplaying games available. I really wanted to see what Monte was going to do with it so I ponied up my sixty dollars and, lo and behold, a year and a bit later I am holding the hardback in my hands and I am very well pleased with it. 

I am hardly what you would call a wild Kickstarter funder. So far I have backed two and a half Kickstarters. This was one of them, Matt Forbeck’s madly ambitious Twelve for Twelve project was another and Sasquatch Game Studio’s Primeval Thule. I say I backed half of one because I missed the deadline for Primeval Thule’s efforts on Kickstarter and got in through the backdoor on their Slacker Backer Pledge drive. 

I backed Matt’s Kickstarter because I wanted to see the books and I knew he could deliver them. I also thought that anyone demented enough to attempt to write 12 novels in a year deserved my backing. I backed Numenera for the reasons I gave above and I backed Primeval Thule because, well, it’s sword and sorcery, another genre I don’t think get’s enough love from the gaming industry.

People wanted to do cool things that I liked. All they required from me was a relatively small sum of money and they would give me them. It seemed like a fair trade to me so I coughed up. And therein lies the magic of Kickstarter and, in some ways, the era in which we live.

Making games and getting them in front of people is not an easy thing. It used to be that most game companies failed and running one, for most people, was a very expensive hobby. It cost them not just in terms of time and effort. It cost what for most people would be a huge life-savings size sum of money. Many people can write a game and produce the rules in their own spare time, but even then getting art and editing and layout and printing all cost money. Back in the day, you could throw in money for warehousing as well although that’s less problematical in these days of ebooks and PDFs.

All of this money, often tens of thousands of dollars, had to come from somewhere, and believe it or not, banks are not all that keen on lending money to small game companies. This means that producing a game was often a labour of love, funded by the people who were putting it out. For most people the sort of sums involved, while not gigantic in terms of what most businesses cost to startup, were still an enormous personal commitment, a second mortgage on the house sort of commitment. Now, rational sensible business people can say that its exactly the sort of thing that should keep people from going into the game business, but there are always people who will think with their hearts rather than their heads. 

Kickstarter not only provides a way of raising cash, it provides an interesting test market for the idea of a game, or any other product. You can see whether your idea has legs. If you’ve done your calculations correctly and you set your pledge levels right, you can see if there’s a market there for what you want to sell. If you can raise the money, it’s all systems go. If you can’t, you can take the warning and quit while you’re ahead. Nothing has been risked except the time and money you put into your proposal. I am sure that can still amount to a fair amount but I doubt that it compares to setting up a company and have it crash and burn. You are sending your idea out into the real world and letting your potential customers kick the tires. And if you can get the cash raised you’ve gone a long way towards creating a committed audience. 

Of course, it helps if your customers believe you can deliver, for sending money to a Kickstarter product is not like walking into your friendly local game store and slapping your cash on the counter. It’s possible that you might contribute your cash and never see any more of it. It hasn’t happened to me but I’ve heard of people pledging cash to Kickstarters that never delivered. It’s a risk.

In the case of the projects I backed, it’s a risk I was prepared to take. I believed the people asking for my cash could deliver and they have a track record of being able to do so. I have seen examples of their previous work and loved it. It also has to be said that in the case of one of the people asking for my dollars (hello, Matt!) they were a personal friend. All of this helps. 

We’ve moved into a new era for the gaming industry (and I would guess for small publishing in general.) You can raise capital without going to conventional sources. You can test market your ideas through websites that already exist at very low costs. You can mobilise fans and backers via social media. And you can distribute over the Interwebs themselves, moving to print on-demand, if you want hardcopies. 

I am sure none of this comes as a surprise to many of you who have been backing Kickstarters for a while but there was something about holding that hardback copy of Numenera in my hand that made it all so much more real for me.

A special mention here to Paul Bryant of  Gameslore for tracking me down and resending my copy of Numenera from the UK when it was returned undelivered from my previous address. Thank you, Paul!