Death’s Angels Free

Just wanted to make a quick announcement that Death’s Angels, the first book in the Terrarch series will be available free for a limited time on Amazon.com, B&N and iTunes US and UK. For some reason, it refuses to go free on Amazon.co.uk but you can download it from Smashwords. Alternatively, if you get really desperate, you can email me with your reader type and I will send you a copy in a format suitable for your machine. 

The E-Book Experiment: 6 Month Report

When I started my e-book experiment I decided I would wait six months before passing any judgements. That would be a long enough period to collect some data and see how the whole thing worked for me. You hear all sorts of contradictory reports about e-publishing but I’ve always liked to collect empirical evidence for myself, rather than listen to who shouts loudest on the internet. I decided I was just going to release the backlist I had and work on projects that interested me in the gaps between my work for Black Library.

Well, six months have passed so now I am going to assess how it went with particular reference to my Terrarch series. I am going to discuss actual numbers and amounts of money earned so if you are the sort of person who is squeamish about such things I suggest you look away.

First up here are the monthly figures for the Terrarch books over the past 6 calendar months.

July

41

August

78

September

301

October

689

November

1085

December

1587

 

As you can see there has been fairly steady growth as I added new titles. The big jump in September came about when I reduced the price of Death’s Angels, the first book in the series, to 99 cents as a loss leader. As a strategy this fairly obviously worked. All in all I sold 3781 Terrarch books in the first 6 months. I am pleased with the results, particularly since the vast majority of the sales have occurred in the past couple of months and that the upward trend in sales appears to be holding steady into January.

Far and away the biggest selling title is Death’s Angels then sales occur as you would expect descending in order of release date.

Death’s Angels (July 8th )

1753

The Serpent Tower (August 16th )

811

The Queen’s Assassin (September 16th )

692

Shadowblood (November 3rd )

525

 

Such sales figures are very unlikely to cause the English language editors who rejected the novels any lack of sleep but look at this from my point of view. The books have so far earned roughly $4000/ £2500 after covering production costs. Death’s Angels is currently averaging around 25-28 sales a day, the rest of the Terrarch books are averaging around 10-12 per title. In very rough terms, because of the generous royalty rates on e-books, this works out to an income of just under $3000/£1900 a month. For a midlist author such as myself, that is pretty good money being earned by just four novels. Add to this the fact that Amazon reports sales in near real time and pays monthly by bank transfer and you have a compelling package. In traditional publishing, with things like reserves held against returns, it can take eighteen months to two years to get paid for some books.

Obviously there is no guarantee that sales will continue at these levels. They may very well go down, but they may also increase as the number of people with e-readers and smartphones increases. This is a new industry with a new distribution system. It is very early days yet to draw any conclusions about this but I am hopeful. I will report back in another six months and we’ll see how things hold up.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the effects of e-books on writers, publishers and bookstores. I am perfectly willing to believe that for some traditional publishers and most bookshops they have been a complete disaster. Speaking as a working writer I can only say that they have given me a soaring sense of excitement about the possibilities of my chosen career.

To take the Terrarch books as an example, they are about as niche as niche can get, gunpowder military fantasy with elements of Lovecraftian horror. The numbers are not fantastic by the standards of conventional publishing and yet the money they are earning is excellent compared to what most traditionally published writers would get unless they were very good sellers. 

These are books that won’t go out of print or be stripped and returned. Even if sales of the Terrarchs fall to a tiny fraction of what they currently are, they will still earn money, which books that go out of print singularly fail to do. It’s a gambler’s annuity which may well pay off for the rest of my life, and which, unlike an annuity, I can pass on to my wife and children.

I can write new books and be certain that they will be out there until they have a chance to find a readership if one exists.  I can write in lots of the small genres I love, like sword and sorcery, and know I can get paid for it, and it means I can experiment with things that interest me and know they will get out there eventually. All I have to do is to remember to release them.  There is no treadmill of sending books out and waiting for a response and, even if they are accepted, waiting for up to a couple of years for them to get into print. There is no need to think about whether a book  has a potential audience large enough to make it worthwhile for a publisher to consider (and yes, Virginia, professional writers do take such things into consideration, at least some of us need to if we intend to pay the rent and feed our families.)

Are there any conclusions I would draw from this that might help other writers in my position?

There is one very obvious one. Take a look at the upward curve of sales. It’s taken 6 months and 4 books to get to 1500+ sales per month starting from a very low base. It takes time for books to embed themselves in Amazon’s recommendation engines, to get reviews, to reach some sort of critical mass.

I have no doubt that writing series helps. The sales of the other Terrarch books have tracked those of Death’s Angels on about a 50% basis until recently. For every two Death’s Angels sold, one Serpent Tower would sell. There was a surge of sales on Death’s Angels during the holidays, and the follow on sales dropped slightly but seem to be picking up again. That being the case having a low cost, loss-leader first volume in a series would seem to make sense. That’s about all I can think of.

If anybody has any tips they can give me, I would be happy to hear them!

Addendum: At 8pm this evening (January 9) Death’s Angels sold its 2000th copy. Thanks to everyone who bought the book!

Author’s Notes Shadowblood

Shadowblood takes a break from the Elder Races who featured in the earlier books of the series. Instead, it features a different horror standard; zombies. This does not mean I have moved away from the series Lovecraftian roots, far from it. The walking dead also appear in HP Lovecraft’s work, such as Herbert West, Reanimator.

I did not start out to write a zombie novel, honestly. The world over-run by armies of the walking dead in Shadowblood is the logical outgrowth of the premise laid down in Book One of the series, that some of the Terrarchs are willing to do anything to hold on to power, up to and including unleashing a magically created plague that causes its victims to rise up from their graves as flesh-eating walking dead. All sorts of dark, semi-technological necromancy have been bubbling away in this series since The Serpent Tower. In this book it simply comes to a head.

And somewhere out there is a necromancer using a monstrous spell to bind all of the re-animated corpses to his will and create an army with which to conquer the world. He is going to crush those rebellious humans and put them in their place thus preserving Terrarch civilisation. The fact that this will also make him master of the world, is, of course, entirely coincidental.

I’ve always tried to work through the logical implications of magic in the fantasy worlds I am writing about. Given the sort of necromancy available and the intellectual sophistication of the Terrarchs, someone had to do this sooner or later. This is the background as the plot arc of the series reaches a climax. The Dark Brotherhood, centred in Sardea, is exerting itself to conquer the world. And it stands a very good chance of achieving this unless someone stops them.

During the course of this book Rik strikes out on a new path, completing his apprenticeship in the art of being a Shadowblood assassin under the ambiguous tutelage of his half-sister Tamara. He is already something very different, having learned sorcery from Asea and having dabbled in the very darks art of Thanatomancy, vampiric magic forbidden on pain of death. Half-human and half-Terrarch he is creating an entirely new form of dark wizardry that may eventually make him one of the most powerful beings on the planet. He is going to need to be as he moves towards confronting the mightiest agents of the Princes of Shadow on Gaeia.

I originally set out to write a book that had nothing to do with the typical hero’s journey of innocent young swineherd to secret prince of Destiny. I don’t really care for prophesies and princes just like I don’t really care for books about beautiful super-powered outsiders somehow persecuted by the herds of banal mortals who do not understand them. It has been my experience that it is the people with power who do the persecuting. History tends to agree with me on this.

Yet somehow during the course of the writing this amoral thief hero started to acquire something like a sense of responsibility and a desire to change the world. He also acquired something very close to super-powers and God-damn it, he was being persecuted albeit for very good reasons. Amazing how the tropes of the genre can assert themselves despite all our best efforts. Like most of the characters in the series we would regard as heroes, Rik is doing the right thing for very personal and often not very noble reasons but he is doing them.

I honestly believe that very few people ever see themselves as villains. When I write from the point of view of a character I usually do my best to show them as the hero of the story at least in their own eyes. I tried to do the same with Sardeans. The people of the land don’t see themselves as the Dark Empire. They see themselves as the keepers of the faith, the guardians of the core values of Terrarch civilisation. And many of them are very dubious indeed about what the sorcerers of the Brotherhood are doing. They are not in favour of committing magical genocide. In some cases, this is because it is their property that is being destroyed. In other cases, they have genuine moral objections. Of course, they live in a world where they can be executed for voicing those objections. Nonetheless, some of them decide to do something anyway.

I needed someone to show the Sardean point of view and to this end we see a lot more things from the point of view of Rik’s half-sister, Tamara, Shadowblood assassin, sorceress, conspirator and noble of Sardea. She is, in some ways, a very wicked woman but like Rik she finds herself fighting against the Brotherhood for reasons of personal ambition, loyalty, rivalry and politics. In this book we see Sardea from her insider’s point of view, as well as that of Rik as he travels to the heart of the Dark Empire on his quest to put an end to the threat of the Princes of Shadow forever, or at least for his own blighted lifetime.

 

 

 

 

 

Shadowblood Released

I was hoping to have the Author’s Notes for Shadowblood ready today but I am in Scotland with some business to attend to (and some rain to look at) so that’s not going to happen until next week. I don’t even have the time to do my usual Friday post for this blog so I am just going to have to content myself with making this announcement.

Shadowblood is the fourth book in the Terrarch Chronicles. A magical plague is causing the dead to rise from their graves. An army of zombies is raging across the world under the control of the Dark Brotherhood. They are preparing to summon the Princes of Shadow and bring the whole world under their dreadful dominion. In order to forestall this Rik must master the powers granted by his heritage as a Shadowblood assassin and journey into the very heart of the Dark Empire.

And that’s it for today. More to follow…

Death’s Angels: the 99 Cent Experiment

Financial alert: this post talks about money. If you are one of those people who get offended when writers talk about finances, look away now!

Some of you may remember that a month ago I dropped the price of Death’s Angels to $2.99  to see if it had any effect on sales. The basic theory was that the more people who read the first book in the series, the more would be likely to read the second and the third and so on. The Terrarch books are an ongoing narrative; they have an epic storyline that progresses rather than just being a bunch of tales featuring the same characters therefor getting people in to the first book is important.

So how did it go?

So far I have to declare the results a success. Sales did indeed go up, not quite enough to cover the loss of royalty income but almost. The eventual earnings were within 2% of the amounts gained at $4.99. I figure I can eat a 2% loss of revenue for around 60% more readers. I can’t think of any sort of advertising available to the likes of me that would get such good results. As a writer more readers are pretty much always a good thing.

One interesting point is that the Serpent Tower, the second book in the series, sold faster at $4.99 than Death’s Angels had done at that price point. This is more or less what you would expect given the fact that there were a bunch of readers out there who had read the first book. On the other hand, you always expect to lose some readers between book one and book two– there are always those who don’t like the initial book– so keeping a pool of new readers coming in is important.

So will I be keeping the price of Death’s Angels at $2.99? Well, actually, no– thrilled by the success of my experiments I am pushing on a bit further. I have now dropped the price of Death’s Angels to 99 cents to see how this affects sales. This is a more interesting price decision in some ways. It moves the book into impulse buy territory. I know this works, at least on me, so I am keen to see if it works on other people. I have also dropped the price of the rest of the books in the series to $2.99 which is the lowest price at which Amazon pays it’s 70% royalty rate and thus allows me to earn a reasonable amount per book.

The question is not whether I can now sell six times as many Death’s Angels and thus earn the same as I would from selling one at $2.99.  I don’t honestly expect that to happen. The question is whether the increased sales of book one in the series translate into enough sales of the rest of the series to make it worthwhile. If they do, I will stick with the new price structure. If not, I will revert to the old one. I’ll keep you posted as to how it goes next month.

The Queen’s Assassin

When I was about nine years old a group of local lads threw me into the deepest part of the Marine Lake, a huge man-made pool made by damming off an area of the harbour with a massive concrete breakwater. I had not yet learned to swim.

It was sunny. The sky was blue. My mouth was filling up with salty water. I was trying to shout for help while flailing around in water too deep to stand in. It washed over my eyes and blurred my vision. The concrete ledge was covered with broken barnacles that ripped my hands bloody as I tried to pull myself up. The kids who had thrown me in watched me scrabbling away and laughed. They did not realise I was drowning in front of their eyes. Eventually, after what seemed like ages to me, but which could only have been moments in reality an older boy saw what was happening and dived into the water and pulled me out. Nobody thought it was funny then.

While swimming in the sea a few years later I was stung by a Portuguese Man O’ War. My leg turned blue and I was taken to hospital and given an injection with a very large needle, which was not an experience I enjoyed particularly. I have loathed these creatures with their poisoned web of stingers that can stretch a hundred feet through murky water ever since.

Our house was on top of a hill and I could see the sea from the upstairs window and it used to trouble me when I thought of what could be lurking beneath the waters of the bay. I had a book with a picture of a battleship seen from the air. Beneath it in the water a vague outline was visible. It belonged to an enormous tentacled monster rising from below. It was much bigger than the ship. As a kid I used to look out the window and think of that.

I’ve never had any difficulty imagining dead Cthulhu dreaming in his sunken lair at R’Lyeh. I’ve never, ever had any difficulty imagining horrible things beneath the waves. All of which is just a long-winded way of saying that I have a very ambivalent relationship with the sea. It scares and excites me in about equal measures. The Queen’s Assassin is a book that was inspired as much by my fear of salty water as it was inspired by the horror stories of HP Lovecraft’s Deep Ones and old, dark oceanic gods.

In many ways all of the Terrarch books are about the things that terrify me. In Death’s Angels our heroes met the minions of the sinister Spider God, Uran Ultar. I have always hated and feared arachnids. You’ll need to read The Serpent Tower to see which of my phobias it deals with, saying any more would be a huge spoiler. (It’s not snakes—I have had a full-grown python wrapped around my neck and it did not bother me in the slightest.)

In this book, we encounter the squid-like Quan. They are a very Lovecraftian race indeed with their enormous living mother-ships that spew shoals of their feral seed into the waters and their slave Kraken that can pull galleons below the waves with ease. The Quan are vampiric soul-eaters who feast on the life force of living things even as they pull them beneath the water. They are intelligent and they have made a deal with the rulers of the great seaport of Harven. They protect the city and its giant fleets and in return are rewarded with human sacrifice. To alter the course of the war that erupted in the previous books in the series, half-breed Rik and Lady Asea, the scheming Terrarch sorceress he serves, must seek an alliance with the Quan. Unfortunately, they have opposition in the shape of Rik’s long-lost father who is just as vampiric as the Quan and already in league with them.

The Queen’s Assassin is a book about things long hidden below the surface coming into the light with terrible effect. The Quan are emerging from below the waves and an army of the dead is starting to emerge from the graveyards of the world and all of it is part of a monstrous master plan conceived by beings ancient and terrible.

This is a very dark book, the darkest in the series so far and those preceding it were by no means all sweetness and light. It is full of wicked sorcery, backstabbing and assassination, a goodly number of these dark deeds being perpetrated by the ostensible heroes in their desperate effort to save their world.

Rik continues his rise. He is learning sorcery from Asea and is now an unofficial agent of the government, an assassin for the Queen. He is still not at home in the world though and he is about to become less so as he encounters the remaining members of his sinister family, the last remnants of a clan of genetically-engineered super-killers who don’t have any reason to let him live and a lot of reasons for wanting him dead.  As well as being reflections of my fears, these books are love letters to the pulp fiction of my youth. In the Shadowblood we see a twisted reflection of Roger Zelazny’s wonderful Jack of Shadows. The forebears of all these Elder Races can be found in the works of HP Lovecraft and Karl Edward Wagner. The Quan have a good deal in common with the Scylrendi, the demonic alien race of Wagner’s classic Darkness Weaves. There are echoes of Richard Lester’s Three Musketeers films as well in the duels and swashbuckling action.

Despite all the darkness and horror, The Queen’s Assassin was a lot of fun to write and I hope it is fun to read as well.