Friday, October 29, 2010

Another book, Another Review, Another In-depth Interview

The blogging community has been very good to me over the last two years. With the release of Wintertide, I was disappointed to see some of my favorite reviewers no longer active. On the positive side, new ones have appeared. In my previous post I mentioned Ruled By Books, where Jamie Chambers did a review of Wintertide. This week Mr. Chambers posted an interview he did with me, where he asked questions about my writing technique, my fans, and the use of the Internet to market the books. He even tried to pry information out of me concerning Percepliquis.

At the same time this week, Scott over at Iceberg Ink has been busy. He just discovered The Crown Conspiracy. After devouring it, he read Avempartha and wrote reviews on both. His review on Crown was particularly well done. I say this not only based on how much he praised it, which was flattering to say the least, but more importantly because—he gets it.

Over the last two years, some people have commented as to why they disliked my books, or why they disliked certain aspects of them. And while a few have very legitimate complaints, I feel the majority are often missing the point, or making inaccurate assumptions. Oddly enough, the same is frequently true for those who love the books, as they too assume the wrong idea—they just don't have a problem with it.

I have often wondered why non-fantasy readers appear to more readily appreciate my books, while veteran fantasy lovers are much harder to win over. Many are hesitant or skeptical when reading Crown, and they usually soften a bit as they finish Avempartha. I have to wonder if avid fantasy readers are to some degree conditioned to expect certain things in a fantasy story: length, detail, world-building, grittiness, archaic language, etc. When those items are missing, they scoff. Readers new to the genre, don't have to fight with these preconceived notions about what a fantasy book should be.

Extensive reading in the genre also makes some fantasy fans too quick to jump to the conclusion that: they have seen this before. Granted they have good reason to be jaded. Fantasy books all too often reuse the same characters to tell the same stories in the same manner. Those who are well-read are quick to judge and categorize any story within the first few pages, or even by the back cover blurb. Given that my stories unabashedly use many of the most traditional elements and archetypes, it is understandable that they may jump to the conclusion that this is the same old thing.

I purposefully write my books to be fast-paced, develop characters slowly over several volumes, and refuse to allow world-building to interfere with the story. I think, to some genre-hardened fantasy fanatics, I am easily dismissed as they think the missing length and detail wasn’t a matter of choice, but rather a lack of skill.

As I've mentioned, even some who immediately like the books either don't know exactly why, or like them initially merely because they are different and they make for a nice break from their more serious reading. For this reason it is always nice to see a review like Scott's at Iceberg Ink, who as I said—gets it, or at least as much as he can having only read the first book. He appears to understand and appreciate the intentional decisions about style that I made when writing the books, which is often a sticking point for many, (why is the dialog so contemporary sounding? Why are the characters so shallow? Why isn't there more description?) What is more fascinating is that he grasps these ideas after only reading Crown. Usually readers require at least Avempartha to begin understanding what I am really doing—and for those true hardcore fantasy fans, it can often take to Emerald Storm to quell their ingrained paranoia that insist the rug will be pulled out from under them the moment they dare to believe.

So if you are interested you might take a click over to Jamie's and Scott's sites...and no, I have never met, nor am I paying, either of them. Although given their comments, perhaps I should.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Wintertide Response

Three weeks since the release of Wintertide and reviews are starting to trickle in.

Looking good so far—actually, looking better than I ever expected.

Everyone's opinions are different. This is abundantly clear when you publish a book. One person likes it, another doesn't. One person loves a character, another hates them—often for the very reason that the other loves them. What draws this person, repels another. One reader understands what you are doing, another doesn't have a clue.

A number of people have declared their dislike for Crown Conspiracy because the writing style is too simplistic and lacks character depth. Others loved it because of the wonderful depth of the characters and the beautiful writing. Some felt it was too rushed, others love the fast pace.

Avempartha pleased many of those who felt Crown was lacking in world building, those who liked Crown felt Avempartha was too dull—too much politics and world building.

Most of my readers appeared to not care as much for Nyphron Rising, citing that it was too slow, sort of depressing, and the new thread concerning Modina and Amilia, was not as interesting. They wanted Royce and Hadrian. Others, mostly those prone to reading literary fiction, (who did not care so much for Avempartha) loved it. They enjoyed the increased character depth.

Emerald Storm appeared to please most of my readers who felt it was a return to The Crown Conspiracy tone of action and adventure. Still there were some who hated the ship setting and were disappointed that the series plot did not advance much.

In working on Wintertide, I felt that it might not be well received as it was not as action oriented as some of the others. The scenery doesn't change much, and Royce and Hadrian spend a lot of time separated. Not the best formula for pleasing my readers, who universally enjoy their banter. Also Wintertide has to stand up to expectations. Each book has to be better than the one before it, just to avoid being a letdown. I don't know who invented that little law, but it's true. And being the 5th book in a series, the bar is getting a bit high to jump cleanly. Fans are starting to guess at my tricks. Emerald Storm took a number of you for a ride in more ways than one, and now you are wary. You don't want the same story retold, you want something new, something unexpected, something different.

The good news is that the playing field is friendlier. Those who didn't understand, or didn't appreciate Crown, aren't likely to keep reading the series, (although oddly a few do) and certainly aren't going to get all the way to book 5. The readers of Wintertide are nicely vetted, if not so easy to trick anymore.

So it was with no small surprise that I began learning of the public's reaction to the this latest installment. The first comments came from the editors and proof readers, who loved it. Friends I discovered had similar opinions. While this was great, I knew these groups were tainted. What the real world thought in the quiet sanctity of their homes could be very different.

The earliest reviews always come from the bloggers. Some are just folks who tend to read a lot and post their impressions online, seemingly to entertain their family and friends. These people rarely expect that the author of the books they published opinions on will find them. Others take a more professional attitude, and while I doubt they are paid, they act like it, and take great care to safeguard their reputations.

Fantasy Book Critic is one of the more respected review sites and one who has followed my series since it started. Liviu Suciu and Cindy Hannikman recently posted their joint review of Wintertide.

Jamie over at Ruled By Books, also posted his review.

The response to the fifth book is not exactly what I expected. As you can see from these two early posts, Wintertide has thus far been well received. Moreover, sales have continued to be stunning. Wintertide sold twice as many copies in its first three weeks than any single one of my previous books has in a full month. This has been followed by a sudden upsurge in Crown sales, which suggests that newbies to the series are reading Wintertide first and going back to start at the beginning.

If this keeps up, I might actually consider working on Percepliquis.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Royce And Hadrian Go to Frankfurt

The world's largest book fair is in Frankfurt, Germany. Why Frankfurt? It is just down the road from where, in the 15th century, Johannes Gutenberg once played with the idea of movable type. It should not come as any surprise then to learn that the local booksellers started holding the first annual book fairs nearby—in Frankfurt.

Nowadays it is the world's largest based on the number of publishing companies represented, with more than 7,300 exhibitors from 100 countries, 299,000 visitors and over 10,000 journalists. The Frankfurt Book Fair is a meeting place for the industry’s experts. Be they publishers, booksellers, agents, film producers or authors. It is held every October and during the week, the Frankfurt Book Fair is only open to accredited trade-visitors; the general public is welcome only on the last weekend of the book fair.

And for the first time ever, Riyria is going to attend.

This last Spring, when three separate Czech Republic publishers asked for the rights to publish the Riyria Revelations, I thought it was time to get an agent. Contrary to popular belief, an agent's primary function is not to sell an author's book to a publisher, but rather to negotiate the deal for you. They are sort of like the lawyers who handle a merger. You don't need them to make the deal, but they can help to make the deal better.

Realizing that I know nothing about foreign trade agreements, international tax codes, banking systems or currency exchange, I knew it was time to find a hired gun. Through some friendly contacts I found Teri Tobias a wonderful, and experienced, New York-based foreign rights agent who not only handled the Czech deal, much to my satisfaction, she also requested the opportunity to continue to sell the books abroad.

Phase one of that strategy is the Frankfurt Book Fair. She set off for Germany with several copies of my books and some glossy sheets of slick, series marketing material. The Fair ends today and whether Royce and Hadrian have what it takes to impress the Frankfurt elite is yet to be seen, but at least they are in the game.

I wonder if Teri would mind if I started calling her Viscount Winslow.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Company You Keep

Wintertide has been out for three days, and the early reports are good. That is to say, early reviews have so far been positive, but also sales are doing remarkably well. I reached a personal best when Wintertide hit number one on the Hot New Releases for Kindle Fantasy Historical.

It's not as nice as hitting number one for fiction in general or even fantasy in general, but I never expected that. I never expected this. Given my lack of marketing power, and distribution ability, my books should go unnoticed and fade quickly to obscurity. I know several other authors in similar situations and this is generally the case. Getting published is hard, getting the general reading public to buy you, is harder.

The interesting thing is that I don't always know how well I'm doing. I usually don't. The process feels very blind. Echoes sometimes bounce back, but usually there is only silence. Particularly after a book release. The quiet feels very loud.

Yet every once in a while something unexpected happens.

My wife, Robin, spends far more time looking at the “business side” of my writing, and came across something not long ago. Amazon started a new feature where they look at cross-sales between various books/authors. This is kind of an expanded “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” feature whereas the first one looks at individual books the second looks at all books by an author. Looking at these cross-sales links you see some things that are not overly surprising. There are a lot of cross-sales between people like Brent Weeks, Peter V. Brent, and Robert V.S. Redick. Flipping between authors you see lots of pretty well known names all from large presses and most with multiple books.

To my surprise my name was listed among them. And not just a few…Robin found me listed on dozens of pages such as: Brent Weeks, Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie, Guy Gavriel Kay and on some of them I was one in the #1 spot or #2 spot, which means I’m cross-outselling more on some of these lists than the big names.

The feature no longer shows up on the book page and has now moved to the author page but here is an example of what it looks like (taken from Patrick Rothfuss’s Page):

As I mentioned I know and keep track of a number of other small press, newly published authors, but none of their names came up on such pages – they just are not selling enough. So how the heck did I get in with all these established names? When did that happen? And what does that mean?

I haven't a clue.

In the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, Tommy Lee Jones, who plays Doo, Loretta Lynn's husband, is trying to get people to listen to his wife's (played by Sissy Spacek) first record. They drive around the country together traveling to radio stations dropping off copies and then one day they hear that her song is on the top ten Country Western chart. Being busy driving every day, they had no idea until one of the deejays mention it. Up until that point they figured they were failures.

Often times it feels just like that. We keep sending notes in bottles, wondering if anyone out there is finding them. So for now Robin and I are sitting on the beach watching our latest bottle drifting off, but by the looks of things, it's caught a good current.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Wintertide is Now Available

The Kindle and Print versions of Wintertide went live early this morning. Once more due to a minor glitch, the Kindle accidently went live a tad early. I discovered this when a fan wrote me an email late last night to say he thought Wintertide was "outstanding." While I was very pleased to hear he liked the book, I was a bit surprised since the book wasn’t yet released. A quick look revealed the Kindle version was indeed available for purchase.

Discovering this I gave the greenlight to push the print version live as well. I had been holding off until I received the first shipment, but since it was already out on Kindle, it wasn’t fair to leave the print readers waiting. So as of about midnight Sunday the 3rd, Wintertide went live on all platforms. And at that time, with no announcement or even knowledge on my part, over fifty Kindle copies had already been sold.

So those of you who preordered from Amazon, your orders should be shipping now. For those of you who want to order directly from me. You can do so now and receive the books at a special discount by going to this link.

I will also sign and dedicate the books if you like. All you need do is choose from the dropdown list: Sign & Dedication, Sign Only, or Unsigned. If you wanted it dedicated, please type in a name to the Dedication field. Keep in mind that those ordering from me will have their orders slightly delayed as I am waiting for my shipment of books which will not be in until next week. Once I receive them I will sign and then ship them back out to you. As a result you can expect over a week delay in getting your hands on the book. You can also order ebooks from the same link. I can’t sign those, but you can buy them at a discount. These include Kindle and Sony Reader.

Over all I am pleased with how the book came out. I just finished reading through the second printer’s proof last night, and felt the book was in very good shape. It even looked nice sitting on my nightstand. I actually thought that the other day, with this detached sort of observation, as if for that brief moment it wasn’t my book at all. I glanced at it and mused, “That looks interesting. I wonder if it’s any good.”

You will have to let me know.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Wintertide Report and Preview

Looking at the countdown timer on my blog site, you will see that you still have around nine days left to wait. But if you’ve been listening to me I’ve been saying the release date would be October 1. I padded in some extra days just in case anything went awry. It did. Deadlines were not met, the release date slipped, but still it looked like we would meet the October 1 deadline. Unfortunately the printer’s proof was not perfect. Adjustments were made and a new one ordered, so there will be a minor delay. I can’t say exactly when the book will be released, but I expect it will be in the next few days.

Unlike previous years, when those with Kindles got their eyes on the books first, we will attempt to release all forms of the book at the same time. That is to say, you will be able to order the books from Amazon, in Kindle or print format, and if you preordered they will start shipping then. You will also be able to begin ordering Wintertide direct from my site at the same time. Electronic versions will be the last to go live, but don’t worry, due to the instant download; you will still be the first to see the new book. Those of you insisting on purchasing the books from a brick and mortar store will, as usual, need to wait as the distribution process for that venue is slow and could take up to a month to complete.

So what is Wintertide about? What should you expect?

When last we left off our intrepid duo were miserable, but happy to be alive as they headed north from Delgos on a pair of borrowed horses provided to them by the southern branch of the Black Diamond. The weather had turned decidedly cold and the war between the Nationalists and the Empire was over leaving Melengar alone in its struggle. The criminal mastermind, Merrick Marius, was settling into his spoils where the likes of Arista Essendon, and Modina were not so happy.

As you might expect, this being the 5th book, there isn’t much that I can really say without giving out spoilers. Melissa, at “My World In Words And Pages” has managed to put out one of the very first reviews of Wintertide, without giving anything away. A bit less satisfying than a full-scale review, but a lot safer for those following the saga.

I can tell you a few things. For those reading the series, you may already know how each book is different from the others. The same is true of Wintertide. There will be far less action and adventure than seen in the Emerald Storm. This isn’t that kind of book. I suppose it might be seen as more like Nyphron Rising, but with about the same amount of scenery changes as Avempartha. There are some “dark” moments in this book, perhaps the darkest of the series, and I hope a fair share of moments that will cause my readers to forget themselves and shout out, “YES!”

Most of your friends and enemies will return in this episode, as well as an old favorite who has too long been left out of the series. And there will be deaths. Quite a few. At least six major characters will not survive to see the final book.

If you’ve been paying attention you will realize that a great number of portents and signs have pointed to the significance of the date of the Wintertide solstice. It is a day so significant that it, or the subsequent fallout, will affect everyone living in Elan. After Wintertide, nothing will ever be the same again.