Quick update – busy, busy


  • italian94981232-176-k350955No time to write anything substantial on the blog lately. Busy writing the new book!
  • On that note – 80k words on the first draft of the “Proud Tyrant“. At this pace, the final count will be well over 120k. And I worried it wouldn’t be long enough!
  • Reminder: The Year of the Dragon, 5-8 is now available for sale at all online retailers… as are all the other books in the now-finished series.
  • The Italian translation of the “Shadow of Black Wings” – “L’Ombra del Drago Nero” is at long last available on Amazon and in other places, if you’ve been longing to read it in Italian 🙂
  • Over and out.
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“The Withering Flame ” launching everywhere!


If you bought the Amazon pre-order, you’ll be getting “The Withering Flame” sent to your Kindle right about now. But also, you can now buy the book on Nook, Kobo and get it from Smashwords. In a few days it should appear on iTunes, too. Get the download links below. Exciting times!

Book 6: The Withering Flame

For centuries, the world outside Yamato turned, while in the island nation, little changed. But the barbarians have finally broken through the gates, and the rebels have risen openly.

Bran reunites with his father on Dejima, just as the Bataavians and the local daimyo prepare to join the rebellion against the Taikun. Nagomi follows her visions across the Dan-no-Ura Straits, only to discover there is more to the Prophecy than she ever imagined. Sato and the Kiheitai, on secret orders from Lord Mori, rush to reach the Imperial Capital of Heian before the full might of Taikun’s army – and the Black Dragons he’s allied with.

The time for whispers and secrets is over. The dark clouds burst – and the bloody civil war is finally upon Yamato.

Kindle Edition:
Amazon US | Amazon UK | DE | IT | FR | ES | JP | CA | BR | AU
Also:
iTunesNook | Smashwords Kobo 

The Withering Flame Amazon Pre-Order is Go!


I promised and promised, and looks like I am finally about to deliver! I have finished the final draft of the Withering Flame, sent it off for proof-reading, and set up an exclusive pre-order on Amazon. That’s right – you can now pre-order Book Six of “The Year of the Dragon”, scheduled for release on June 4th!

For centuries, the world outside Yamato turned, while in the island nation, little changed. But the barbarians have finally broken through the gates, and the rebels have risen openly.

The Withering FlameBran reunites with his father on Dejima, just as the Bataavians and the local daimyo prepare to join the rebellion against the Taikun. Nagomi follows her visions across the Dan-no-Ura Straits, only to discover there is more to the Prophecy than she ever imagined. Sato and the Kiheitai, on secret orders from Lord Mori, rush to reach the Imperial Capital of Heian before the full might of Taikun’s army – and the Black Dragons he’s allied with.

The time for whispers and secrets is over. The dark clouds burst – and the bloody civil war is finally upon Yamato.

Click these links to pre-order “The Withering Flame” on Amazon NOW:

Amazon US | Amazon UK | DE | IT | FR | ES | JP | CA | BR | AU

New Release: Dragonsbane


DragonsbaneDragonsbane: a Mirror Worlds novella

OUT NOW!

Ennaki’s Master is a dragon slayer. But not just any dragon slayer: each beast he slays is greater and more powerful than the previous one, and each fight brings more woe and damage to the innocents around. As the knight proceeds with his murderous scheme, Ennaki begins to doubt and wonder. Is his Master’s secret plan really worth the slaughter? And is this really the best way to win the everlasting War against the Shadow that threatens to engulf all Mirror Worlds?

A new novella from the world of Dragonbone Chest brings new heroes and more detailed backstory of the war-torn universe.

 

Make sure you also try “Dragonbone Chest”, the first of Mirror Worlds novellas: dbc

How I sold 8000 books in my first year – and why it shouldn’t matter to you


bsA year ago today, I published on Amazon my first novel, “The Shadow of Black Wings” – book 1 of a planned long-running saga, “The Year of the Dragon“. Since then, I published a few more books – three more books of the series, a short story collection, a fantasy novella, and a bundle of the first four volumes of “The Year…” combined.

For the first three months I haven’t even sold a hundred copies; but eventually the trickle turned into a river. I have now sold 8000 copies of all my books put together; a vast majority on Amazon Kindle, about a hundred so far on Kobo and in paperback. That’s sold – not given away – and not for peanuts, either; my average royalty on these was about $2 per book, pre-tax. You can do the math yourselves.

Now, in terms of commercial results, this isn’t an indie success story people like to read about: not only I’m not the next Hugh Howey, or J.A. Konrath, I’m not even in the same league as the dozens of romance or thriller authors who consistently sell hundreds of their books every week. I am, however, quite satisfied with what I had achieved so far. This is, after all, my first year of publishing; these are my very first books written in English; the genre I write is not a bestseller genre – if you look at the Asian Fantasy lists on Amazon, my books consistently occupy the first places both in free and paid categories: there just doesn’t seem to be that many more readers interested in these kinds of stories. You could say I broke one of the main rules of making money off self-publishing: “choose a popular genre”.

8,000 copies sold is more than enough to pay the proverbial bills; it is an extra income that enabled me to embark on the summer journey around the UK coast that I’ve always wanted to make; it is an extra boost of confidence which enables me to continue writing more books (whenever I have the time :). It is, finally, a lot more than I had ever expected to sell when I started this journey, shortly after settling down in the UK.

If you are a starting self-published writer, you are probably constantly looking for advice on how to sell more books. I don’t know whether, in a world where some authors sell millions, a meagre 8,000 sales can interest anyone, but if it does, then sure, I can tell you how did it. But only if you promise me to read this post to the end, to find out why it doesn’t matter what I, or anyone else did to sell their books.

In the beginning, I tried many things; anything that anyone advised, I did it. I bought books, I read blogs, I studied business cases. Social media. Paid ads. Free ads. Blog posts. Blog tours. Guest posts. Short stories. Wattpad. Figment. Goodreads. Shelfari. You name it – I was there. The one thing I never tried was the physical part of book selling: I never did any signings, never pushed my paperbacks into bookstores. That was something I knew from the start I would not be any good at.

Almost none of it mattered, in the end. In hindsight, if I look back at what I’m certain I did right over the last year, it can be summed in the following 5 points:

  1. Write a series of good books.
  2. Prepare professional publishing package (formatting, cover, editing).
  3. Push the first book out with free and paid promos. Make sure you get what you paid for.
  4. Keep writing and releasing books, pushing each release forward with a set of promotions.
  5. Profit.



If I felt like creating some kind of rule out of it, I would call it “The V3 method“. The V3 was a Nazi super-cannon based on the principle of multiple charges: each missile was propelled along the way in the barrel with explosives in set intervals; the result was an artillery piece that could shoot at London from over the Channel.

I could do that; I could probably write a book about it, and try to hawk my “V3 method” as the “Only True Way” to sell books. But that wouldn’t feel right.

Because what I did worked only for me. And I have no way of knowing for certain whether it would work for anyone else, or indeed whether it will continue to work for me; this is, after all, a very quickly changing business. My books may stop selling at any moment, and I will remain just as clueless as I was a year ago.

Things work differently for different people. For some, using Facebook or Twitter will be a path to success. For a chosen few, it will be a place like Wattpad or Figment where they may find their audience. Many authors swear by Goodreads. Personally, neither of these did anything for me, and I count my time spent there as an author and publisher as very much wasted. I guess I just don’t have the right kind of personality. But that doesn’t mean I would go around dismissing any of these channels of publicity; obviously it works for some. And conversely, my way of doing things may not suit others. Perhaps not everyone feels comfortable with releasing a book every few months, or with scouring the internet for the best places to buy advertising from.

There is lately much talk of survivor’s bias in self-publishing, and I couldn’t agree with this assessment more. As with every new, emerging business, the tales of true success are still few and far between. The statistical sample is far too little to make any assumptions. Nobody knows for certain what works, and what doesn’t. I had offered you my opinion of what worked for my sales – but I could be wrong; it may have been something completely different that I did at some point, and now don’t even remember. Or – very likely – it may have been pure chance. In fact, pure chance may still account for all the success stories out there, including all the great ones; we may try to use hindsight to figure out what went right or wrong, but the truth is, we just don’t know.

So while it may sound depressing and underwhelming for somebody who’s looking for a quick way to win in life’s lottery, there is a positive lesson to learn here: do whatever you feel like doing. Stick to what you do best; if something just doesn’t seem to be working out for you, don’t push it. It may never work out, and you’ll only be wasting time. But, if your book is out, and you’re prepared to spend some time and effort to present it to the world in a professional manner – I’m pretty confident it will start selling in the end.

And when it does, I’m pretty sure deep down you’ll be as clueless as to how it happened as we all are.

 

The Secret Anatomy of KDP Select


KDP-Select_smallI’ve mentioned before the all-powerful shadow of Amazon algorithms, looming nigh incomprehensibly over any publishing endeavour. That this was not just a great hyperbole, I hope to show in this post, using the experience of four consecutive KDP Select promos in as many months.

1. What’s the Deal?

First, a bit of a background. If you’ve never tried to self-publish with Amazon’s KDP, you may not be aware of the Select program. It’s a program of exclusivity with Amazon’s platform; for 90 days you may not distribute your e-book in any other way. In exchange, your book can be borrowed for free by users of Amazon Prime (which grants a sometime hefty additional income, if you’re lucky) but more importantly, you get 5 days to give your book away for free.

Why would you want to give the work of your life for free? Well, because that’s the best possible way to game Amazon’s algorithms. “Game” is a harsh word here – “utilize” is better, since Amazon seems to have deliberately built their system around Select.

In fact, if you believe hearsay (and there is no other data than hearsay here. No company would ever divulge anything about their search algorithm) Amazon realized Select has too great a power over its market and worked to stem its influence a little. If you read self-publishing blogs from two, three, four quarters 😉 ago, a common theme is the reducing effectiveness of Select promos year after year. Perhaps we will see the last throes of the system this year – or perhaps not. Either way, contrary to what many authors report, the promo still works. It just doesn’t work miracles.

Select Chart 1
Sales by day since September 2012. Stars indicate promo days.
2. The Books Have to Move

I used to work in a brick&mortar bookstore many years ago. One of the first rules I’ve learned is that books have to move around. Even the greatest best-seller must one day be removed from the prime slot, to make way for a newcomer. There are many reasons for it, but the rule is sound, and all good stores use it. Somebody recently explained it in a perfect way – I can’t remember the source of the quote, please comment if you know:

“If you have a book like the Lord of the Rings, which will always sell 20 copies a day no matter what, and a new book which might sell 15 copies a day, there’s no point in keeping the Lord of the Rings on the best-seller display. You move it to the back, and let the readers discover the new book, instead.”

This is what Amazon’s algorithms do: they change the discoverability of the books around. They are the equivalent of the bookstore clerk. And just like the bookstore clerk needs to be told what books to put on which shelf, so do the algorithms need to learn about your book. This is where KDP Select comes in. A successful promo tells the algorithm: “this book has potential. Put it on display instead of that other one. Let the people see it.”

Select Chart 2
Cumulative Sales by Day. Stars indicate promo days.
3. What is a “Successful” KDP Promo?

Let me tell you first what a not successful one looks like. You will notice in the charts that my third promo – third star – had almost no impact on the sales. This was my benchmark: a giveaway lasting only one day, one that I almost didn’t mention anywhere on the social networks, and didn’t buy any ads for, just let it run its course. It was an abject failure, by any measure.

A successful giveaway must count in thousands. Three thousand is a good start. Ten thousand is better. Breaking into the best seller charts for free books is a must; breaking into Top 10 in your genre is great; breaking into Top 100 total is a guarantee of a long-lasting success.

As you can see from the charts, each giveaway resulted in bigger spike in sales than the previous one. But also, each time I gave away more books than the last time. But there is something else you can read from the charts, something that’s very interesting and tells you a lot about the power of the algorithm:

Regardless of how big the initial spike was, each bump eventually drops down to pre-spike levels. And fast.

selectchart_3
Sales by Week since September 2012
4. We Know Major Tom’s a Junkie

The drops in sales are automatic, regular, unstoppable and easy to predict after a while. Once the algorithm asserts that your time in the spotlight is up, that’s it. The sales can halve overnight, without any apparent reason. And because your success was too quick to build any loyal following (see below) it eventually fizzles out without a trace.

This is a brilliant strategy – for Amazon. The Select quickly becomes addictive. The spike in sales is like a heroin rush, and the drop is like a withdrawal downer – with the promise of another rush as soon as you succumb to another exclusivity period. And of course, the strategy would not work if the program wasn’t so damn effective.

It’s all in the scale. The algorithm shows your book to millions of readers; there is no ad that reaches more people, no social network campaign. And yes, most of them will not be interested in it; others will just download it for the heck of it, and never read it. But a tiny percentage here equals a whole lot of people.  And as this last chart shows, this tiny percentage of readers will likely move on to your next book, and then the next; and the algorithms will pick up your other books and present them to other readers, and so on – the wheel will keep turning, slower and slower, until it grinds to a halt eventually, unless you go for another promo. But before it does, you will have sold more books than you could have imagined.

selectchart_4
Sales of “The Year of the Dragon” saga, by volume. Volume 1 is the only one that’s ever been in KDP Select.
5. So What’s the Bad News?

So I suppose the only question that remains is: what are the negatives of using KDP Select?

There is one distinct disadvantage of this system. It misses the target. If your book’s demographics is broad enough, this may not be a problem; then again, if it’s broad enough, you may not need to use Select at all: your book is likely to sell on its own merit. 

But if you had a specific target in mind, then using Select is the equivalent of trying to shoot at ants with a double-barreled shotgun. Sure, you will hit a few people you wanted to read your book, but in the process you will reach hundreds who couldn’t care less about what you wrote.

If you want to build a loyal following, if you want to reach fans, Select is not the way. You have to do it slowly, in the old-fashioned style.

PS: There are at least two other ways to do what Select does, without exclusivity: use your friends and fans to “bum-rush” the charts, or pay for an expensive ad on one of the few remaining sites that reach thousands of eager readers. I haven’t tried any of these methods yet, but I’ve seen both of them work well.

All the above caveats remain, however: a flash-in-the-pan success is never a good way to build a stable following. It may only serve as a foundation for the real hard work.

You can trace the success of my last Select promo yourself, as between February 4th and 6th “The Shadow of Black Wings” is once again FREE on Amazon.

Yaldā Advent Calendar 2012 – Day 12 – excerpt from “The Rising Tide”


roman-letters_6II

For Day 12 I have something for those of you who wait for Volume 4. Yes, it’s being written! I have just finished draft one, actually, and am now working on draft two. Here’s an excerpt from the current version. Keep in mind that as this is an early draft, the scene may change or even be removed from the finished manuscript. I tried to find something least spoilery 🙂 This will be somewhere at the beginning of the book.

(in other news: I just got all three paperbacks in post. They look really nice together! 🙂
paperbacks


There was fresh blood on Dylan’s boots.
It came from a puddle he had stepped into a street earlier. Or maybe from another, a block away. There was no way to know for certain; all the streets of Shanglin were bathed in blood.
He stepped over a dead body and stumbled over another, lying just beside it. He didn’t look down; not anymore. They all looked the same, anyway: stripped naked, mangled, slashed with swords and burned with gunshots. Only the sizes and genders differed. The conquerors of Shanglin did not discriminate. Old men, children, women… all were piled along the walls and blood-filled gutters. The dead, black window holes of the burnt-out houses stared down at the carnage in silent accusation.
Dylan didn’t bother to count the slain. How many people had lived in Shanglin before the war? Ten thousand? Twenty thousand? How many more gathered here fleeing from the besieging Imperial Army? Only a few hundred women survived, spared for the soldiers’ entertainment. Another hundred may have fled into the marshes. That was all.
There’s always war in Qin, he thought. Not like this.
He climbed the arch of a wide bridge spanning one of the city’s many canals, and passed Qin soldiers guarding the passage. They let him through without a word, or even a bow. Dylan was too numb to take offence, although he did make a mental note of the guards’ behaviour.
Beyond the canal lay the Tianyi Gardens, where the conquering army made their headquarters. Even here there were traces of destruction and fire, though all the dead had been removed from the paths, and blood scoured from the gravel. Rose and camellia bushes were cut down to make place for tents. Soldiers sat on moss-covered boulders and stone benches around ponds, playing ma jiang for bits of Cursed Weed and money. Gold and silver coins, looted from the city’s treasure houses, were strewn all over the grass.
No discipline at all, thought Dylan bitterly. This rabble would never have taken the city without our help.
The Bohan set his staff up in the main lecture hall of the great Library Pavilion, a long, two-storey building with eaves like sickle blades pointing to the skies. Dylan found him studying a large map; several other maps lay scattered around the floor and tables.
“Ah, Commodore Dí Lán!” the Bohan welcomed him with a grin and open arms. “Come, join us. We are planning our next stratagem. What do you think of moving on Chansu?”
“Another siege?” Dylan asked. He dismissed a servant who offered him a cup of tea.
“I know you Dracalish like moving swiftly, but this is how this war will have to be fought for now, until we push those vermin beyond the walls of our cities.”
Vermin.
“Perhaps it would be easier to capture the cities if the defenders were given a chance to survive.”
“You don’t approve of our methods, Commodore.”
“No, I can’t say I do. I will write a report of all that’s happened here to Fan Yu.”
Bohan stood straight, letting go of the map; it rolled up with a rustle.
“These… rats dared to stand against the Mandate of Heaven. They got what they deserved. Besides, they had plenty of time to surrender without bloodshed.”
“Plenty of time? The siege lasted less than a week – thanks to our guns and our dragons.”
And you will want them again for the next battle.
“That was a week too long.”
“Her Majesty will not take kindly to having her troops associated with this massacre.”
The Bohan smirked.
“Do not presume to deceive me, Commodore. I know your orders as well as you do. You are to provide us with any assistance we require, in defence of your country’s trade interests – and provide us you shall. Speaking of which, I will need half a dozen of your dragons to…”
“Enough!” Dylan slapped his hands on the table. The outburst surprised even him. The Bohan raised a sharp eyebrow. “My men are not butchers! You can capture your cities yourself. Huating is safe, and that’s all that matters for our trade interests.”
The Bohan blinked, and then laughed.
“You want to teach me about butchery? You, a Westerner? I know you. You’ve conquered, enslaved, destroyed entire nations all over the world. You’d destroy Qin if you thought this was in your… interests. Oh, but you’re too shrewd for that. You prefer to kill slowly.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Certainly, the Dracaland army never did anything like you did here.”
“No. I don’t suppose so. Not yet, at least. But your Weed trade killed more of my people than any war. And how many died of famine in Bangla because you took their fields to plant the Weed? So don’t you lecture me about butchery, Commodore Dí Lán, unless you want me to get better at it. Play war like the nice soldier you are, and we’ll all be free to go home in no time. Isn’t that what you want?”
Dylan said nothing. He turned on his heels and stomped outside, clenching his teeth and knuckles.
“I will send my requests to your tent, Commodore!” the Bohan cried after him. “I expect a prompt reply!”

How to use Wikipedia – like a boss


In writing my historical fantasy series, I put a lot of attention to detail and accuracy. In my research, I use Wikipedia a lot.

These two statements may seem contradictory. Using wikipedia is something that’s often shunned by many who don’t know how useful and effective this tool really is, both for quasi-academic and everyday purposes.

Like every tool, Wikipedia can be used in a wrong way. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be using it at all! Here is how I use it whenever I want to make sure what I’m writing about is accurate.

1. Sources. This is what the whole idea of wikipedia is about – you can’t write anything without backing it up with a citation. If there is no citation, chances are, it’s inaccurate or made-up.

2. Google is your friend. Sometimes something is written in wikipedia in good faith, but the editor simply forgot or couldn’t find an accurate enough source. This doesn’t mean the information is necessarily false; a little googling (news archives, academic papers, etc.) is always an obligatory step for verifying the veracity of information.

3. Not all sources are equal. This is a common problem on wikipedia: citation leads to an unreliable source. Just because something is reported outside wikipedia, doesn’t yet make it real. The source could be a biased blogger, a fraud research, or a misinformed news reporter. Again, googling is always helpful. Just make sure you’re not going round and round between one copy of the same reference and another!

4. Pro tools: Talk, Controversy and Other Languages. These are secret tools in every wikipedia-user’s arsenal. The Controversy section in an article does not always mean the information is invalid – but often points to where the conflicting data can be found. Always check what other editors have to say on the matter on Talk, especially if something looks particularly dodgy; if, however, the Talk section looks like a window into an insane asylum, feel free to ignore it completely. Subjects on wikipedia are almost never as controversial as the editors think. For example, the debate about the use of “the” in “The Beatles” has been raging for years, with multiple casualties. It’s safe to say you can write “the Beatles” or “The Beatles” any which way you like.
And lastly, if possible, check wikipedia entries in other relevant languages. Even using Google Translate, you can often spot discrepancies between one version or another – or simply additional data that helps verify what you already know.

5. Common sense and other sanity checks. Sometimes the information in a wikipedia article is so outlandish and far-fetched, it shows immediately on your bullshit radar. Even if everything else points to it being true, if your common sense tells you it’s not, better leave it out. Your readers will not bother with checking the facts, and might call you a fraud simply because it seems you made something up.

Also, always check popular “myth-busting” websites, like Snopes.com, before committing something to e-paper.

Remember – these are just tips for writers and hobbyists, not for scientists! Real scientists should use proper academic tools instead 🙂

The Islands in the Mist – The Year of the Dragon Volume 3 Global Launch


The Islands in the Mist That’s right! The third volume of the Year of the Dragon saga is now available on Amazon and Kobo – see links on the sidebar.

The story continues at a brisk pace. New characters appear, and the old acquaintances are met again… sometimes in surprising circumstances.

Saved by the mysterious samurai, Bran, Nagomi and Sato head towards the Kirishima Shrine, where the dragon is held captive under the careful watch of Satsuma’s Arch Wizard. But they are not the only ones who are keen to get their hands on the prize.

The Black Wings have landed, and the Taikun’s court at Edo is in turmoil. So is Kiyo, after the recent disturbing events. Doshin Koyata receives a strange blood-red signal in his dreams and departs in search of its source.

In Qin, Dylan trains a troop local volunteers to stop the Heavenly Army’s relentless march – assisted by the Qin commander, and an old Admiral who seems to know many curious secrets…

Read on, friend!

The fourth volume, “The Rising Tide” is expected early next year. Also, don’t forget to check out my epic fantasy novella, “Dragonbone Chest“!

New Release – Dragonbone Chest


Hot on the heels of a successful KDP Select campaign (although how successful, I may never know – more on that next week), I bring you a new release: DRAGONBONE CHEST

We do not know where the Forgetting had come from, what causes it and how exactly does it work… all we know is that nobody is safe from its dark touch, nobody knows where and when it will strike. A prince, a pauper, a wizard, a child… it can happen to anybody and there is no way to prevent it.

Duke Ayaris is a dragon slayer. He’s the only one left in the world, and he is hunting after the last of the dragons. He is about to fulfil his life’s destiny.
A dying old man asks him to take care of his beautiful young daughter. But the girl has a secret – one that will cause him to set sail where no man has willingly sailed before: to the Dragon North, in search of the fabled city of Eden.

DRAGONBONE CHEST is an epic fantasy novella of love, destiny and dragons. It’s a standalone work  unrelated to “The Year of the Dragon“. The theme is much darker and more adult than most of the things I’v been writing recently. Ironically, I wrote it when I was much younger.

It was originally written in Polish, and takes place in a setting I started developing years ago – a complex fantasy multiverse, similar to that present in Roger Zelazny’s Amber, and populated with equally twisted characters. The “Chest” is just a small glimpse into this world, where a tiny shrapnel of a great inter-planetary war had caused untold damage. I have a few more pieces and half of a novel written in this setting, and I might revisit it at some point when I’m finished with “The Year…”

“Dragonbone Chest” was my longest completed work before I started writing “The Shadow of Black Wings”, and one that was probably most mature piece from that period. It needed some polishing and rewriting, of course, to be eligible for this release.

Keen readers might notice some tropes I had developed and used in my later work. One thing I have to note: despite some geographical similarities, the novella was written long before I started playing World of Warcraft. I suppose great minds think alike 😉

Please enjoy responsibly!