Under the Ice Blades (Dragon Blood 5.5) — Excerpt and Links

| Posted in My Ebooks |


October is going to be a busy reading month for Dragon Blood fans. The sixth novel in the series, Raptor, will be out on the 27th, and I’ve just released a novella set between Books Five and Six, Under the Ice Blades. This one gives us new point-of-view characters in Captain Kaika and King Angulus, but Ridge and General Ort will be along for the action (some of the action) too. Jaxi and Sardelle also pop in at the end.

You can pick up Under the Ice Blades at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, and Smashwords.

Here’s the first chapter, if you want to check it out here first:

Chapter 1

eBook Under the Ice Blades-DB Novella B01Captain Kaika kept herself from running down the corridor of the Nightclaw Infantry Brigade’s headquarters, but only because numerous colonels and generals were wandering about, holding stacks of papers and carrying coffee mugs, their eyes still bleary with sleep. She tossed quick salutes as she weaved past them, feeling none of their enervation, even though she had been up most of the night celebrating life—and the impressive strength and flexibility of one of General Zirkander’s handsome flier mechanics.

Who could be tired when a new mission was on the horizon?

She came to a halt in front of General Braksonoth’s door, quivering with the anticipation of a hunting dog on point. Where would she be sent this time? Would she be assigned a new partner? The elite forces teams almost always worked in pairs, especially overseas. Who might she be assigned? More importantly, where would she be going? It had been nearly three weeks since she had helped Zirkander, Sardelle, and the others free the king and drive off the Cofah invasion. That was an eternity of time to loiter in the rear without a purpose.

Her knock had the enthusiasm and force of a small explosion.

“Come in, Captain,” the general’s voice came through the door, soft and dry.

Kaika tried to march in with stately decorum, but she couldn’t keep from bouncing on her toes as she came to attention on the rug in front of the desk. Getting a new mission was better than fifteen-year-aged takva, better than sex, and even better than blowing up enemy strongholds. Of course, a new mission often led to blowing up enemy strongholds, so that was part of the appeal. But the constant element of danger kept her more alert and alive than she ever was back at home.

“Reporting for duty, sir.” Kaika gave the general a much more professional salute than the ones she had tossed in the corridor. Unlike the rest of the officers in the building, Braksonoth, commander of the intelligence battalion, held her fate in his hands. Even though the elite forces teams were technically a part of the infantry brigade and often worked in conjunction with the combat soldiers, they received orders from this man. “Do you have a new mission, sir?” she couldn’t help but add.

Braksonoth folded his hands on his desk and gazed blandly up at her through his spectacles. The soft-spoken, gray-haired officer weighed less than a hundred and fifty pounds and looked up at six-foot-tall Kaika even when they were both standing, but she knew better than to underestimate him. She’d seen his record, the part that wasn’t classified. He had been on over a hundred spy missions, taken down critical enemy fortifications, and survived countless battles that others on his teams hadn’t walked away from. He knew everything about this job, and he could send her on the most amazing missions… or he could send her to the kitchens to mash turnips. She’d done both for him in her fifteen years in the unit.

“I have new orders for you.” Braksonoth licked his finger and slid the top sheet of paper off a stack.

“Orders, sir?”

Orders weren’t a mission. Orders were a… who knew what? A transfer to a new army fort or to a training school. But she’d been to all of the training schools. And why would her superiors send her to another fort? The elite forces had always been based out of the capital.

“Orders.” Braksonoth turned the paper and laid it on the desk so she could read the typed page. “You’re to report to General Zirkander. The air division is expanding, and he’s selected a number of new pilots to graduate early from the academy. You’ll be training them in combat and incursion and survival tactics.”

Kaika stared at the page, though those little black type marks were blurring before her eyes. “Training, sir? You want me to train a bunch of mouthy kids? Mouthy kid pilots at that? What do they know about incursion and combat? They just sit up there in their flying boxes.”

Complaining about orders wasn’t seemly, especially to one’s C.O., but what was he thinking? Teaching was for old or injured veterans that were close to retirement. You didn’t send a field officer in the prime of her life into a classroom. What a waste! She squinted at the orders, as if she might find another name typed across the top, as if this might all be a mistake. But no, her entire name, including the first name she loathed, was there: Captain Astuawilda Kaika.

“Apparently, those flying boxes get shot down on occasion,” Braksonoth said, “and they need to know what to do when that happens.”

“But, sir. Why me? I’m not any good at teaching. I don’t have the patience for it.”

“Perhaps this will allow you to cultivate a new skill.” His tone had grown a shade cooler. He might not be as hard assed as someone like Colonel Therrik, but he wouldn’t let her argue with him, either. “If not for a few impulsive decisions in your career, you might have achieved a higher rank than captain by now.”

But she didn’t want a higher rank. Or at least she didn’t care one way or another about it. She just wanted to go on missions.

Even though arguing wasn’t wise, she couldn’t bring herself to accept the assignment without a fight. “Is it possible there’s been a mistake, sir? Did—did General Zirkander request me?”

That thought brought a sliver of hope. Even though she couldn’t imagine why he would have done so, if the orders had originated with Zirkander, he might be convinced to reverse them. They had worked together, and he was a reasonable man. She could talk to him, make a request. Zirkander hadn’t wanted to accept his promotion because he had worried it would take him out of the sky and pin him to a desk. Surely, he could understand if she was afflicted by a similar dread. Seven gods, this teaching job might even come with paperwork. That would almost be worse than dealing with mouthy kids straight out of the academy. She might be able to defuse a daisy chain of bombs in less than five minutes, but she couldn’t type without getting her fingers tangled up in the keys.

“No,” Braksonoth said. “Your orders came directly from King Angulus.”

Kaika nearly fell over. “The king? Why would he have anything to do with… That’s not normal, is it?”

“No, it’s not. He generally trusts us to handle our own personnel assignments.”

“Is it because I winked at him at that dinner celebration at the castle? This isn’t a punishment, is it?” Kaika had doubted the king had even noticed that wink, but as soon as the word punishment came out of her mouth, a wrecking ball of realization crashed into her.

Not the wink. That was nothing. She winked at every man who was worthy. But how could she have forgotten the role she had played during that fiasco of an infiltration with Sardelle and Lieutenant Ahn? The explosion in the castle. The queen’s death. Even if the king and queen hadn’t been reputed to be close, and even if the queen had been the mastermind responsible for his kidnapping, that didn’t mean that he hadn’t had feelings for her after twenty years of marriage. Angulus might have been polite at the dinner celebration, but he was always polite, in his dry, eyes-piercing-your-soul kind of way. Who knew what had actually been going on in his mind? What if he resented her for blowing up his castle? And his wife. Just because she had been trying to find and rescue him at the time didn’t make anything about that nightmare of a night acceptable.

“I wasn’t told why he chose to assign you there,” Braksonoth said, “merely given the orders. You report to General Zirkander at 0900 hours this morning. I suggest you don’t wink at him. We’ve spent a lot on your training. It would be unfortunate if his witch vaporized you.”

Kaika snorted. Sardelle was a healer; she wouldn’t vaporize anyone, even if she could. Kaika was more worried about the king and what he thought of her. He had the power to ensure she never went on another mission again. How in all the hells was she supposed to make sure that didn’t happen?

  • • • • •

“Go, go, go, you vulture kissers,” Kaika shouted to the cadets laboring to pull themselves up the fifteen-foot wooden wall on the obstacle course. “How did you graduate from the flight program without knowing how to climb anything higher than a warthog? Don’t you have to be able to get up and in to your fliers?”

Nothing but grunts and groans answered her, and those were muffled by the spring rain spattering into mud puddles all over the course.

“Maxton, you better go back and help your partner over that wall,” Kaika yelled. “You’re not going to stand a chance against the Cofah guardian waiting at the end if you don’t have help.” She prodded her chest with a thumb, to remind them that she was playing the role of guardian for this exercise. After standing around going hoarse and being rained on for the last hour, she welcomed the chance for some action, even if it was pretend action on a pretend battlefield.

The cadet she had yelled at—Maxton, or was it Madton?—glared bullets at her. He probably wouldn’t mind a chance to come at her with his fists swinging. He would have to wait his turn. Two other cadets were low crawling through the mud, logs, and netting that marked the end of the course. Kaika backed up, giving them room to get up before they tried to get past her. They would have to knock her down or shove her out of the way to pass through the wood tunnel that separated them from their final destination, a stump with a toy dragon on it—it symbolized one of their fliers. If they touched it within the three minutes they had to finish the course, they could pretend they had evaded capture and could escape. So far, nobody had even managed to reach her before the three minutes ran out. These two looked like they would make it.

The male cadet outpaced his female partner under the netting and clambered to his feet first. Instead of waiting for her, or reaching back to help her, he charged straight at Kaika.

Maybe he thought he could catch her by surprise. Whatever his plan was, it didn’t work. Compared to some of the soldiers she’d fought, he seemed to be moving at half speed, with his exaggerated movements easier to read than messages coming in on a telegraph machine.

She dodged to the side to avoid his lunging punch and batted aside his arm with a forearm block at the same time as she stepped in and slammed an upper cut into the soft flesh under his ribcage. She finished with a knee to the groin before he could recover. He crumpled forward, and she dropped her elbow onto his upper back to help him to the ground. He roared with pain and frustration as he splatted into the mud at her feet.

Kaika kept an eye on him as she regarded his female partner. The slender figure reminded her of Lieutenant Ahn, at least in her diminutive size, but her eyes were round with wariness and apprehension, not cool and calm with calculation. She came forward, more because the exercise demanded it and time was ticking down than because she wanted to; at least, that was what her expression said. Kaika blocked a few tentative punches, letting the cadet gain some experience before turning defense to offense. In the end, the young woman lay in the mud next to her partner.

“Had you attacked together,” Kaika said, “you might have had a chance. At the least, one could have distracted me or drawn me away from the tunnel, so the other could have gotten away to report back. Someone always has to make it out to report back.”

A memory flashed through her mind of a time not that long ago when someone had said the same thing to her. Back in the Cofah volcano base, Captain Nowon, her partner of more than five years, had ordered her to leave him behind after he’d been mortally wounded by a trap. He’d gone down fighting, so she had the time to slip away, to finish their mission and rejoin the others. To this day, she wondered why she’d been the one to make it when he hadn’t. He’d always been the smart one, the patient one, the better soldier. Maybe the king wasn’t the only one punishing Kaika with this new assignment. Maybe fate had decided she needed to learn a lesson. Patience? Was that it? Her mother had tried to teach her that as a child, but it had never stuck.

“We’re pilots, ma’am,” the male cadet said, glowering at her from the mud, not bothering to climb to his feet to address her. An infantry cadet wouldn’t have been so blasé when speaking to a superior officer. “When are we ever going to have to face a Cofah berserker?”

“Pilots get shot down and get captured,” said a male voice from behind Kaika. “It’s happened to me, and it’s happened very recently to Lieutenant Ahn.”

The cadet’s eyes widened, and he scrambled to his feet so quickly, he almost fell over again.

“Sir,” he blurted, looking mortified, as if he’d just been caught napping instead of getting knocked on his ass. He locked himself into a rigid attention stance, as the female cadet and everyone else on the course did the same. “I know, sir. I mean, I didn’t know, sir. I mean—uhm. Sorry, sir.”

Kaika turned and offered a salute of her own, though she doubted Zirkander would notice or care if she didn’t. He strolled up, mud spattering his boots, the fur collar of his leather flight jacket turned up against the rain. It hid his rank pins, but nobody in this group would fail to recognize him. For that matter, he was such a darling of the newspapers, there weren’t many people in the country who wouldn’t recognize him.

Zirkander returned the cadet’s salute, then made a shooing motion. “Go clean something, cadet. Yourself perhaps.”

A chagrined expression flashed across the young man’s face as he glanced down at his mud-drenched uniform, but he answered with a prompt, “Yes, sir,” and darted away. The female cadet hurried away, too, moving quietly, as if she didn’t want to be noticed. Her performance hadn’t been that poor; the young man had more to be chagrined about.

“Take two minutes,” Kaika called out to the rest of them.

“You’re only going to allot me two minutes of your time?” Zirkander asked with a smirk.

“Maybe three,” she said, smirking back before she caught herself.

The number of enemy aircraft he had shot down wasn’t the only reason the papers loved him. Zirkander was one of the most handsome men in the army, and Kaika knew without a doubt that thousands of photos from his numerous newspaper articles had been clipped out and stuck to the iceboxes of housewives all over Iskandia. The barest hint of a smile could set a girl’s libido to humming, and it was very hard not to return his smirks. Even if he hadn’t been devotedly canoodling with Sardelle, Kaika knew she wouldn’t have had a shot with him. She might have tried anyway if he and Sardelle hadn’t been so obviously smitten with each other. Instead, she kept her demeanor professional—mostly—and managed not to wink at him.

“How is Lieutenant Ahn doing?” Kaika asked quietly.

All trace of his humor evaporated. “She finally managed to find someone to accept her resignation papers.”

“Oh.” Kaika didn’t know what else to say. It hadn’t been being shot down and captured that had squashed Ahn’s spirits; no, she had been a part of that same castle infiltration that had left the queen dead. Under the influence of a semi-sentient magical sword, she’d killed one of her colleagues, and she couldn’t forgive herself for that. Kaika could understand, because she felt guilty over Nowon’s death, even if she hadn’t been responsible. She knew what it was like to survive when an equally capable—or more capable—comrade did not.

“Yeah.” Zirkander sighed. “But I haven’t given up hope. Earlier this week, I sent her the schematics for the new models of dragon fliers we’ve got in production. I even dragged a photographer out to the hangar to take pictures of the machine guns to include.”

“You really know how to charm a woman, sir.”

“Funny, my mother said the same thing. Only with even more sarcasm.”

“It’s probably a good thing that you’re pretty.”

He gave her a sidelong look. “I prefer ruggedly handsome.”

“I’m sure you do.” A wink slipped out. Damn it. She was not flirting with her happily paired C.O.

He didn’t seem to notice. She told herself that was good, not depressing.

Zirkander tilted his chin toward the course. “Any of the youngsters looking promising?”

“Compared to what?” Kaika asked before a more diplomatic answer could form on her tongue. Diplomacy wasn’t her forte.

“Well. You’ve seen Colonel Therrik manhandle me. Our ground combat standards aren’t that high.”

Kaika snorted. “Therrik manhandles everybody.”

One of his eyebrows twitched, and she caught her cheeks flushing slightly. She’d had a brief—extremely brief—dalliance with the grumpy colonel a few years earlier. He had extremely lickable abs and an ass that—well, that didn’t matter. Those body parts were attached to a man with the personality of a cannonball, and her only defense was that she had been horny, and alcohol had been involved.

Reminding herself that Zirkander hadn’t actually said anything—maybe his eyebrow was just itchy—she decided to move the conversation on from manhandling. “Have you gone to visit him yet? Now that you’re General Zirkander?”

“Therrik? No, he’s up commanding the two-mile-high Magroth Crystal Mines post.” Zirkander flashed an edged grin. “I have considered going out for an inspection, just so he’d have to show me around and yes-sir me.”

“Do the mines fall under your domain now?”

“Nah. This is my domain.” He waved toward the pilots who were toweling off under a tree, though he cast a longing look toward the cloudy sky over the harbor where a squadron of fliers buzzed about performing aerial maneuvers. “And yours, too, I suppose. Odd as that is.” He gave her a quizzical look. He didn’t think she had requested this assignment, did he?

“Yes, about that, sir. I was wondering if you knew—uhm, I was told the king was responsible for my orders. Do you know anything about it? I’d rather not be the one to pummel your flying puppies into the ground on a daily basis.”

“Are you this candid with all of your senior officers?”

“Aren’t you?”

“Well, yes, but I’m told my military manner shouldn’t be used as a model.”

He reputedly got away with a lot because he was the best pilot in the sky. Yet, he’d still made general at forty. Kaika was one of the best soldiers at what she did, but that never seemed to translate into promotions. It was a good thing she didn’t want more responsibility or to end up in charge of teams instead of on teams.

“Do you think you could talk to him, sir?” Maybe if she pummeled enough of his cadets into the ground, they would complain, and Zirkander would see the merits of requesting someone more serene for the teaching position.

“The king? We’re not really best buddies.”

“I thought you were best buddies with everyone, sir.”

“Only those who appreciate my irrepressible charm.”

Oh? From what Kaika had noticed, King Angulus had a dry manner that might turn to laughs if one could ever catch him relaxed and off duty. But did kings ever get to be off duty? She wasn’t sure she could imagine him sitting at a bar and swilling beers with Zirkander, but he seemed like he’d be more likely to appreciate Zirkander’s bluntness, however irrepressible, than the attitudes of men who chose diplomacy—and prevarication—with him. Still, what did she know? When Kaika had been recounting—confessing—the events of the queen’s death after Zirkander had recovered him from the kidnappers, she hadn’t received the impression that Angulus blamed her, hated her, or otherwise wanted to punish her. Yet here she was.

Zirkander’s gaze shifted past her shoulder, toward an elevated walkway and bleachers that overlooked the muddy training field. “You may get a chance to talk to the king yourself.”

Kaika followed his gaze and spotted King Angulus and four bodyguards standing on the walkway. He leaned against the railing, looking out over the obstacle course and the harbor beyond it. Perhaps due to the drizzle, he wore none of the trappings of office, being dressed only in practical boots, trousers, and an oilskin jacket and cap to repel water. Even without kingly accoutrements, there was no mistaking his tall and broad build or his face, which included a square jaw, deep brown eyes that noticed everything, and short, curly hair that was more gray than brown these days. He was in his mid-forties, and any woman would find him handsome, though perhaps not in the take-a-second-look-to-adequately-fuel-later-fantasies way that Zirkander was. Had he been a mechanic or soldier she’d met in a bar, she might have had a chance at luring him off for an evening of carnal pleasures, but whoever kings had carnal pleasures with, it wasn’t mud-spattered field officers.

After giving them a nod, Angulus headed for stairs that led down to the field.

“I’m sure he’s here to talk to you, sir,” Kaika said.

“Probably here to see if any of the cadets look promising. Most of them should still be in the academy, but with the elevated Cofah threat, we need to get more qualified pilots in the air.” Zirkander waved at her before heading toward the bottom of the stairs. “You better get them back to work. And try to make them look good for the king, will you?”

“Good? It’s my first day here, sir. Eventually, I might be able to convert them from so-embarrassing-they-trip-over-their-own-boots to awkward-but-with-potential. That day isn’t here yet, and good is an extremely distant goal.”

“Do your best.”

While Zirkander spoke with the king, Kaika rounded up the troops and started more teams through the obstacle course. She kept an eye on Angulus, planning to run up and ask for an audience before he left. It was presumptuous, but it wouldn’t be the first time she had been presumptuous with him. Early in her military career, she had earned her spot in the elite forces program, a program that had never been open to women, after blowing up an urn in the castle to demonstrate to the king that she would make a fine addition to the demolitions unit. She had never known if Angulus, fresh to the throne after his father’s death back then, had found her antics bold and admirable or appalling and inappropriate. Either way, he’d seen fit to give her special permission to apply for the program, and when she had passed all of the tests, both physical and in demolitions school, nobody had stopped her from joining the unit.

Out on the training field, she was distracted from her plans of addressing the king when a male cadet challenged her, wanting to know if she could make it through the course in the allotted time. Though she thought the brat lippy for questioning her abilities, she had seen enough of the youths to know she could beat them. With the male infantry officers, it might have been different, especially for those on track for the elite forces, but these people had been chosen based on their ability to calculate math equations in the air, not because they excelled in athletics. Kaika ran side by side with her challenger for the first half of the course, her long legs taking her over the log hurdles with ease, and thanks to regular training, she had enough upper body strength to sweep her through the ropes and over the wall more quickly than he. She was waiting for him at the end when he finished, and she wriggled her fingers in invitation, to make it clear that her running the course didn’t mean he got to avoid dealing with the “Cofah berserker.” Aware that Zirkander and the king might be watching, she taught him a few things as they sparred instead of pummeling him straight into the ground, then sent him to the end of the line.

“Captain Kaika,” Zirkander called and waved her over. He still stood at the base of the stairs alongside Angulus, looking out over the field, with two bodyguards framing them and another two on the walkway above.

Kaika jogged over, nerves plucking at her stomach. They were calling her over. Had Zirkander said something to the king? Either way, this was her chance to ask for a reassignment. She wouldn’t even have to be presumptuous, not overly so, anyway.

Since she was in uniform, she saluted the king. That was a perk of military service. Civilian women traditionally genuflected, and she’d never had a stomach for bending a knee to anyone.

“Captain Kaika,” Angulus said, regarding her with his dark eyes. His face did not give any of his thoughts away. “I understand you wish to speak with me.”

“Yes, Sire.” She opened her mouth to ask her question, but he kept speaking.

“I have several inspections and must continue on to them now.” He nodded toward the walkway. “But if you report to the castle after your shift, I will see you then.”

“I. Oh. Thank you, Sire.”

She hadn’t intended to ask him anything that would take long, and she wouldn’t have minded having Zirkander nearby, if only because he might back her up, but he was already uttering a “Carry on” and heading up the stairs. He almost bumped into one of his bodyguards who didn’t scurry out of the way fast enough. He growled something at the man before striding out of view.

He seemed more tense than usual, at least from the times Kaika had seen him before, and she hoped that didn’t bode poorly for her meeting.

“After shift,” Zirkander said. “That sounds like a dinner date. Make sure you wipe the mud off your womanly bits before you go. Angulus would be a better prize than Therrik.”

Kaika almost choked on the idea of the king as a prize. She didn’t consider herself shy or easily intimidated, but she would definitely feel discombobulated if she tried to woo royalty, especially royalty whose wife had been dead for less than a month.

“I’m sure neither dinner, dates, nor womanly bits are on his mind, sir.”

“No? Hm.” Zirkander’s face had a speculative look that Kaika did not know how to interpret. “Well, I’ll wish you luck with your request, and I shall leave you to your fulfilling work.” He waved in parting, then headed back toward headquarters, but not before giving another long look toward the airborne fliers.

“Thank you, sir.”

Kaika walked back toward the cadets, telling the nerves in her stomach that they could calm down because she wasn’t going to see the king for hours. Her nerves failed to listen. They knew she would have all day to worry about what she would say to Angulus in a private audience, one that would take place in the very castle she had blown her way into three weeks earlier.


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Can Serials Still Be Profitable in Kindle Unlimited 2.0 (and elsewhere)?

| Posted in Amazon Kindle Sales, Pen Name Project |


I’ve interviewed authors about writing serials in the past, and it’s something I’ve been interested in trying for several years. The novel is my favorite medium, and I think novels are the easiest thing to sell in the long run, but there are some reasons you might want to consider trying a serial, if the notion intrigues you. I finally published my first one this summer, under my pen name. I’m going to talk a bit about what my plan was, what went right, what I could have done better, and whether I think serials are still worth trying.

Why try a serial?

As I said, part of it was just the muse. I’ve been wanting to try one, to see if I could pull it off and if people would enjoy it. The other reason was strategic.

Last year, when I launched my pen name, I enrolled her books in KDP Select (requiring Amazon exclusivity), even though I’ve never touched it with my regular stuff. It was easier to get started and build an audience quicker in the Kindle Unlimited world, where borrows counted as sales insofar as Amazon sales rankings were calculated, and quite frankly, it’s easier to just have to make mobi files and worry about uploading and making changes in one place. (I don’t recommend going exclusive for authors who want to make a career of writing and — you want to build a brand and a business and extend your reach everywhere — but for a side project you don’t want to devote as much time to, it can make sense to just focus on what’s likely to earn you the most money.)

When I started plotting out my serial, around May of this year (2015), Kindle Unlimited 1.0 was firmly in effect.

If you were willing to sign up for KDP Select and go exclusive with Amazon for a quarter, your book (or serialized story) would go into Kindle Unlimited, where you were paid for every borrow that was made, so long as the reader consumed 10% of the ebook. In KU 1.0, doing a serial actually made more sense than publishing a novel. In my case, I would have been paid six times for the six installments for my serial, versus one time for a novel. Since the KU borrow payment for an author was around $1.30, this would have been $7.80 for me for every person who read all of the installments. That’s a heck of a lot more than I or my pen name make on individual ebook sales (my pen name novels are priced at $3.99, so I make around $2.70 per sale).

With this kind of incentive, it’s no wonder that people were hitting KU hard with serialized work. But, as usually happens when I decide to jump on board with something like this, a change came around.

As you probably know, Amazon announced in June that, starting July 2015, Kindle Unlimited would change. Now it pays based on pages read rather than on books borrowed. So basically, assuming borrows and read-throughs are the same, a 100,000-word serial isn’t going to make any more than a 100,00o-word novel. I think the new system is more fair than the old, but it removes the one big, obvious incentive for creating a serial. 

Why I continued on with the serial plan, even though Kindle Unlimited changed

At the time of Amazon’s announcement, I had finished the rough of my serial and was editing it. I debated on throwing it all together and calling it a novel, but I had already ordered the cover art, and I had also designed it to be a serial, meaning it had more of an episodic/television feel. This was a science fiction romance, and I’d ended each section with a cliffhanger, and I’d also included action and naughty bits (I figured that was a requirement with a “romance” serial) in each section.

I was also curious as to how a serial might perform differently from a novel, specifically how I could market it differently. This was a stand-alone adventure only loosely related to my pen name’s Mandrake Company books, which are set in the same universe but which don’t share any common characters. It’s tough to market and sell a stand-alone anything–series are much easier since you can play with permafree or discounted Book 1s.

With a serial, I figured I could market it like a series, running frequent sales on Part 1 in order to get more people into it. Also, I planned to release an episode once a week (during August and into September, I published one every Friday), which meant I could conceivably end up with multiple ebooks in the Top 100 for my subcategory. Here are the covers, in case you’re wondering whether I made them all the same or not. (The answer is basically yes–I just changed the titles.)



The challenge?

I wasn’t sure how to buy advertising for a serial, since most places only want to plug discounted full-length novels. I was hoping that “Ruby” had enough of a following that there would be some initial sales and borrows, hopefully enough to get into the Top 100 of the Sci-Fi Romance category. (Ruby’s mailing list has a little over 500 people on it currently.) I was a little worried, though, because I knew that some people hated reading in installments and wouldn’t buy the story until it was complete. When I had episode one ready to go, I sent out the email and crossed my fingers.

I didn’t announce the serial to my regular LB fans, since this was quite frankly smuttier than any of my other stuff (even most of the Ruby stories). I’m usually an adventure first and romance when it makes sense type, even with the pen name books, but since, as I mentioned, this was a serial, I felt I had to have some sexy stuff happening in each section.

In short, I was relying a little on the mailing list somewhat but almost entirely on the cover/blurb/story to appeal and catch on, something I hoped would happen more easily with numerous installments as opposed to one book.

I figured the serial would have more time to catch on and would possibly appear in the rankings for longer than a single novel might. I was also counting on Kindle Unlimited to make it easier for people to jump in–not everyone wants to pay 99 cents every week to get stories in dribs and drabs, but KU subscribers can borrow as much as they want at no extra cost. I fully expected more people to borrow these than to buy them (I honestly wanted buyers to wait until the complete serial was available in one ebook, as that would be a better deal for them and for me, too, since I could get the 70% split on that).

So, did it work?

I think things went fairly well, especially considering I was deep in the writing of Dragon Blood 6 at the time and also road-tripping across the U.S. and going on family vacations. It was a busy month and I did next to nothing to promote the series except sending out the original announcement to my mailing list. I believe I bought an ad from Bknights on Fiverr when I released the first installment, but not much came of that.

As the installments came out, they did indeed climb into the Top 40 of my category and eventually Part 1 made it into the Top 20. I should point out that the science fiction romance category on Amazon isn’t as competitive as the other romance categories (it usually takes about a 10,000 sales ranking to break into the Top 100), but it’s also a little tough if you write far-future space-based stories. If you scan through the Top 100, you’ll see it’s largely weighted toward human-women-kidnapped-from-earth-by-sexy-alien-men kind of romances. I think sci-fi that starts out on or takes place on modern-day Earth is probably more accessible to readers that didn’t necessarily grow up adoring Star Trek and Star Wars. But I digress. My main point is that I’ve found it tough to stick at the very top of the category rankings with the pen name, even with books that are well reviewed and receive encouraging fan mail. I consider hanging out in the Top 20 for a while to be a pretty good showing.

  • As far as sales numbers go, the first five installments had just shy of a combined 400,000 pages reads in August in KU in the U.S. (I started publishing on August 7th, one a week, so the 5th installment didn’t show up until the end of the month) and about 1600 sales at 99 cents in the U.S.
  • In September, as of the 22nd (I’m writing this on the 23rd), with all episodes out and the Complete Series ebook released at 4.95 on the 6th, I had about 1,100,000 page reads, 1200 sales at 99 cents, and 850 sales at 4.95.


I won’t know how much I earn from those September page reads until the rate comes out in October, but in August, I earned enough to pay for the editing and cover art and then some, so I’m considering this a success. The sales of the full-priced boxed set in September are nothing to sneeze at either.

As I write this, the boxed set is dropping in the sales ranking at Amazon, but it’s just under 1,000 after being out for 2.5 weeks. It hit as high as 500, which is actually lower (better) than any of my other Ruby books have done. I did make the first episode free for 4 days at the same time as the complete serial came out (those 740 downloads are from that), but I actually think that was a mistake, that I should have waited longer, especially since I was super busy that week and didn’t have any ads lined up.

I might as well go into some of my mistakes, in case you’re thinking of trying a serial (or in case I try another one!):

Mistakes (or things I could have done better)

  • I released the six installments at 99 cents, one week apart, and I think that was a good thing (I’ve seen people make their installments further apart, releasing at two week intervals, but I think there’s more of a chance that people will forget about you or forget what happened in prior installments that way). However, I released the complete serial in one ebook only two days after the final episode came out. My reasoning in doing this was that I didn’t want the people who were opting to skip the installments in favor of getting the whole thing to have to wait long. I had the complete serial finished before I started releasing things, and it was hard not to just put it all out there for people. The problem is that I think I cannibalized my own sales by doing this. Almost as soon as the complete serial turned up, the individual episodes dropped out of the rankings. At one point, I believe I had all six installments in the Top 100 of my category, and they were selling fairly well. I probably should have waited at least a couple of weeks, until the installments had started to drop down in ranking and the first one, in particular, was out of the Top 20.
  • I should have waited until the rankings slipped to run a free promo on the first installment. Because I was busy that month, and you set things up in advance for KDP Select free runs, I set the dates ahead of time, figuring I’d give things a boost at the same time as I released the boxed set. I do think making 1 free for a while helped with sales of the complete serial, since it debuted fairly high, getting that 500 sales ranking, but 740 downloads is nothing, really. That’s a result of not having any ads linked to it. And also, as I said, Part 1 was still in the Top 20 at 99 cents, so it was really too early to use that boost.
  • More of a marketing plan and some advertising could have helped. I had two things working against me. First, as I said, I was more focused on other projects and family stuff during the time this was going out, so it was almost a set-it-and-forget-it thing (I used pre-orders to schedule the latter releases ahead of time). Second, because I haven’t invested time into building a social media following for my pen name, she couldn’t do promoted posts or tweet freebies every week to pimp the new episodes — I definitely would have done this with an LB title. I do think the serial format itself helped with the marketing, though, since I had “new releases” every week, and they were sprinkled throughout the SFR Top 100 as well as in some other sci-fi categories. Also, being in KU definitely helped, since those borrows increased my sales ranking. (Some people will tell you that borrows cannibalize sales, but you have to remember that not everyone who borrows would buy.)

Things I did correctly (and would repeat)

  • Overall, I think I put together a pretty entertaining story, for a serial newbie. It’s not great literature that’s going to win a Hugo (that can be said for any of my stuff), but a lot of people who picked up Part 1 went on to buy the other installments (it’s hard to judge that, just looking at page reads, since the installments were all different lengths, but when I look at the purchases over the entire time, I can see that people who went on to Part 2 tended to end up buying all of the parts). There’s action (and, ahem, action) in each segment, and I tried to set up the end of each segment to be cliffhangery without seeming forced or gimmicky.
  • Solid cover art without spending a fortune. I don’t know if I would have gotten more mileage out of doing different covers for each episode, but that would have been more work and a bigger expense. The folks over at Deranged Doctor Design put this together for me quickly and inexpensively. It’s obviously just using stock art, but that’s typical for the genre — if you surf through the Top 100, you won’t find much custom artwork, and you will find some fairly dreadful photoshopped stuff. As I’ve also found with steampunk, it’s tough to find stock photos that work in this genre, so kudos to the people who can make decent sci-fi romance covers!
  • Fair length for the price. I hardly ever write anything less than 40,000 words these days, because I want to be able to make the price at least 2.99, so I can get the 70% split from the retailers. With a serial, there was no way I was going to charge 2.99 an episode, and I didn’t feel I needed to, since I’d be focusing on getting those KU readers. The installments ranged from about 15k to 28K words, with the first one being the longest. The entire serial came in around 120K words. Since authors often charge 99 cents for short stories under 10K words, I thought my serial was fair, even for people who bought the parts individually. They would end up paying a little under $6 for the complete story. Those buying the complete set at $4.95 got a deal. Most of the Ruby books range from 70-90K and are $3.99, so this was in line with the pricing structure I had set up. I’ve seen people do 2.99 installments for serials or charge 99 cents for episodes that are only 5k long (or their serial runs 10+ episodes so people are paying a lot for the complete story), and I think that can breed resentment. Six parts at 99 cents seemed to work well.
  • Enrolling the serial in KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited. I’m positive that this serial wouldn’t have done nearly as well if I’d gone wide with it, especially given how little promo I did for it. The ability for readers to borrow it without risk on Amazon brought in a lot of new readers and it helped me stay higher in the sales rankings for longer. Also, going wide would have meant a lot more work, since I’d be uploading seven books (the six installments, plus the boxed set), including artwork and description, on every platform. If you’re someone who updates the back matter for each retailer, that would be even more work. If, at some point in the future, I decide to go wide with Ruby, I’ll probably just put the complete serial out there and not bother with the individual episodes (I may eventually take the individual episodes down from Amazon, too, especially if I write a sequel and then don’t need Part 1 for loss-leader/marketing purposes).

What about running serials on other platforms?

I guess I already answered this in my last bullet point there, but unless you already have a following on the other platforms, I’m not sure it would be worth the extra work. I don’t think it would have been as easy for me to do well with this without the KU/borrow thing working in my favor. That said, if you’re already wide with your other books, and you do have a following, it could be worth trying the serial at the other retailers for the reasons I already mentioned:

  • You basically have a little “series” in your hands with a serial, so you can make the first installment free or inexpensive to spur sales of the rest.
  • More frequent releases means the opportunity to potentially take up more spots in the charts. My serial is clearly science fiction romance, but it could also be plugged into the space opera, genetic engineering, and exploration subcategories under science fiction. One of the installments went under “pirates” too. The serial can let you stick different episodes into different categories, if they fit, thus possibly helping you be discovered in more places.
  • Having the installments out at 99 cents can make the complete story version look like more of a deal. In my case, 4.95 is actually higher than my average pen name novel, but because it was $6 to buy the individual episodes, the $5 boxed set looked like a deal.

If you’re reading this and you’ve tried serials on other platforms (and also if you’ve tried them recently on Amazon), I would love for you to leave a comment and share your experiences.

Would I do another serial again?

I don’t have plans to write another one right now, but I may indeed try it again, especially in cases where I want to do a stand-alone story that isn’t related to my other works and thus isn’t an “auto buy” for fans of my other series. If I did one with my regular name, I would be tempted to use KDP Select/KU for the first 90 days, even though I usually shun the program because of the exclusivity requirement. With the serial, the benefits of being in KU were that noticeable.

Comments? Thoughts? Questions? Please share below. Thanks!

Diplomats & Fugitives Available Everywhere and Dragon Blood 6 on Pre-Order

| Posted in Ebook News |


For fans of my Emperor’s Edge series, a new installment, Diplomats & Fugitives, is out now. It takes place a few months after the events in Republic and brings Basilard in as a main character, though of course Maldynado and his hats are there. Amaranthe and Sicarius come in for the second half, too, and we get some updates on most of the rest of the crew.

You can check out the blurb and grab a sample at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, and Smashwords.

Raptor-Cover-WebIn other news, the break I was planning to take after the last Dragon Blood book did not happen. I had more ideas bouncing around in my head, and I’ve already written a novella with Captain Kaika as the star (along with someone else… care to guess?) and sent it off to my beta readers. Look for that at the end of September.

I’m also about halfway through the rough draft of a sixth novel in the series, this one picking up with Cas as the lead, but also bringing in all of the other characters again. We’ll have Cas, Tolemek, Ridge, and Sardelle all as point-of-view characters. And for those who have been wanting to see more of Tylie and her dragon, they’ll both be along for the adventure.

I have the cover art for Book 6 already, so I’ve put it up as a pre-order. If you want to get the book the minute it’s released, you can order your copy at Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

Lastly, the pen name has a new space adventure romance serial going right now on Amazon (free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers). Check it out if you’re looking for a story with some extra naught bits. 😉

KDP Select Titles Being Pirated and Distributed to Other Stores

| Posted in News |


Do you have any titles in KDP Select? Titles that are supposed to be exclusive to Amazon? If so, you may want to check periodically to make sure they’re not on sale anywhere else.

I only have a couple of titles in KDP Select, or rather my pen name does, and one of them has had a rough year. Earlier this spring, I got an email from Amazon informing me that Stars Across Time (yes, the pen name writes science fiction romance), which was enrolled in KDP Select, was available at Kobo (it turns out it was up at Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc. too). Amazon said I had five business days to remove the title from the other stores, or I’d be kicked out of their program. Imagine my surprise, since this was a relatively new book, and I had never published it anywhere except for Amazon. Imagine my alarm, too, since I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to get it removed in five days.

I emailed Kobo, since, at the time, I didn’t know it was in other stores, as well. They said it had arrived via a distributor, so they couldn’t take it down. <insert panicking and flailing of arms>.

I was lucky enough to have Mark Lefebvre‘s email address (he’s the director of self-publishing and author relations at Kobo), so I sent him a note and got some more information. He told me it had come to them via Draft 2 Digital and that he would check into it.

I was still panicking a little, since I didn’t have a D2D account or any way to contact them other than the form on their site. I was also worried because this was a book published under a pen name. I was afraid it might be harder than usual to prove that I was the rightful author, if it came to that (the pirate was publishing it under my pen name, letter for letter). I figured this would get resolved eventually, but worried that it wouldn’t be in time to save me from getting booted out of KDP Select. At the time, the book was selling well and getting a lot of borrows, so that would have sucked.

I emailed D2D’s customer support. Fortunately, they got back to me later that same day, said the person publishing the title was a known pirate who’d made accounts and caused trouble there before. I didn’t have to prove anything (phew). They took the book down, and it disappeared from the other stores within 24 hours.

Ultimately, that was a speedbump in my week, but not a big deal. I was relieved and pleased that the D2D folks handled it so quickly. (Though it is pretty lame that people bought the book — yes, I checked, and it had sales rankings everywhere and even a couple of reviews — and I didn’t see any of the money from those sales.)

You would think this would be the end of the story…

Part 2

Last Friday, I was poking around in the Apple store, making affiliate links for the audiobook version of the same title, which recently came out and is available everywhere (did you know that being exclusive with Amazon for an ebook doesn’t preclude publishing an audiobook everywhere?)

And guess what I found? It’s happened again. Stars Across Time was up on all of those same stores again. I emailed D2D to ask them about it, but it was Friday night, so didn’t expect to hear back from them over the weekend. It’s late Monday as I write this, and I’m hoping to hear back from them soon.

Mark at Kobo answered my email right away this afternoon and quarantined the book in their store, so I’m hoping that means it can’t happen again until I’m ready to take the title out of Select and publish it there myself. I don’t know people at Apple and Barnes & Noble, so I’ll have to wait for D2D to handle the rest.

Update: about 20 minutes after I published this post, I got a note from D2D that they’re disabling the account and taking it down again. Thanks, guys!

Asking for a change

This blog post is in part cautionary — my KDP Select friends, you may want to regularly check your titles to make sure someone else isn’t publishing them behind your back — but I also feel that something needs to be done to make it so this doesn’t happen in the future. A quick check on Twitter revealed some other authors who have dealt with similar experiences.

Right now, it seems to be way too easy to make an account at a store or a distributor and publish ebooks without anyone checking if you have the rights to do so. It’s not just D2D. Amazon didn’t bat an eye when I started publishing Ruby Lionsdrake books from my Lindsay Buroker KDP account. Smashwords didn’t care, either, that the author name didn’t match the name on the tax forms.

I don’t know what the solution would be, because it would a pain to make everyone with a pen name jump through 99 hoops just because a few people are uploading pirated ebooks. At the least, I think distributors and stores need to ask some questions when the author listed on the book doesn’t match the name on the account. This would mean publishers having to provide documentation (but they should have contracts with authors on file, anyway), and might mean that those of us who write under pen names would have to get a DBA or some other kind of documentation. It would be an inconvenience, yes, but should it really be this easy to publish someone else’s books?

I would love to hear from you guys. Any thoughts on solutions to make it harder for pirates to do this? Should stores and distributors ask more questions?


Pre-Orders, Sticking on Amazon, and Hitting Best Seller Lists

| Posted in Amazon Kindle Sales, Tips and Tricks |


For a while now, you’ve been able to upload your ebook early on Amazon, Kobo, Apple, and some of the other sites, listing it for pre-order 90 days (Amazon) to a year (iBooks) ahead of time, as many of the traditional publishers do with their titles.

In most cases, you need to have a dummy file as part of the process, but some of the distributors are able to get you into stores now with “asset-less” pre-orders, meaning all you need is the title and book description. You don’t even need a cover.

As I write this, you still need a complete .mobi file for Amazon. Lots of people use temporary files (I put a rough draft up there when I did the pre-order for my last Dragon Blood book). You just need to make sure you upload the final draft at least ten days before the publication date on Amazon, because everything gets locked up in that last ten days.

But the real question is…

Should you list your ebooks for pre-order?

I’m going to make part of this equation easy: for all other sites besides Amazon, the answer seems to be yes, if you can swing it and deliver it on time (even if you don’t deliver it on time, there’s not a huge punishment for a delay at those stores).

It probably won’t make a difference if you don’t have a following yet, but if you have a series that’s selling well (or selling at all) on Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and/or Kobo, then having a pre-order can help you get sales while you’re fresh in the readers’ minds (i.e. If they finish Book 3, and see Book 4 available as a pre-order, even though the publication date is two months away, they can commit to it right then, instead of possibly forgetting about it by the time it’s released.)

On Amazon, there’s a little more to consider.

Pre-Orders on Amazon, Extra Considerations

On some of the other sites, your sales supposedly don’t count until release day, meaning you can get a big rankings boost on release day, perhaps enough to propel you to the top of the charts in your category, thus resulting in more visibility.

I say “supposedly,” because when I had Blade’s Memory up for pre-order on Kobo and Barnes & Noble, I peeked into those stores, and the book did have a sales ranking and was already showing up in the steampunk categories. I didn’t notice a huge surge on release day in either of those stores. (I never bothered looking in the iBooks store, because the Dragon Blood books have never sold as well there as they did on Barnes & Noble and Amazon.)

So I can’t say from personal experience that you’ll get a big boost if you sell hundreds or thousands of early copies in these stories (but I’ve never sold thousands anywhere except for Amazon, so maybe that’s part of the deal). I would love to hear from others on this matter, so please leave a comment with your results, if you’re doing well with pre-orders in the non-Amazon stores.

But to get back to Amazon…

When you list your ebook for pre-order there, it gets a sales ranking, as soon as you start selling copies. Even though you don’t get paid for those sales until the book goes live, it’s moving up and down in the charts, based on how it’s doing from day to day. You will not get a big surge in ranking when all of your pre-orders turn into sales on release day. You’ll just get credit for whatever sales you make that day.

This means that if you have a following and usually sell a lot of books on release day, it might be better not to do a pre-order on Amazon.

This is because if you can sell a lot of books over 2+ days there, you have a better chance of sticking, thanks to higher visibility in the charts, a surge of also-boughts (possibly with other new books launching at the same time), and the way their algorithms work in general. Nobody knows everything about those algorithms, but we have a lot of data to suggest that they’re designed to help books that already sell well. In addition to appearing in also-boughts and in charts, those high sellers can expect emails to go out recommending them to readers who have bought similar books.

However, if you’ve been running a pre-order, and all of those guaranteed sales from loyal readers have been spread out over a month or more, you may be less likely to stick in the rankings. You can sell a lot of books on release day (more later about when this can be super useful) and get a really nice paycheck, but you may lose out on visibility in the long run.

This is a big part of why I didn’t, until Book 5 in the Dragon Blood series, give pre-orders a try, except in the other stores and only to make sure the book released everywhere on the same day.

Why I Chose to Do a Pre-Order on Amazon for Book 5 in My Series

There are a couple of reasons why I decided to try it with Blade’s Memory (released on June 12th of this year).

First of, thanks to a BookBub ad back in January, the Book 1-3 bundle was still selling well this spring. I had a fourth book out in the series, and that was selling well too. I took some screenshots of my books hogging up the top slots in the steampunk category on Amazon there for a while. (Granted, steampunk isn’t a very competitive category, but slot hogging makes you feel good no matter what genre it’s in.)

In other words, I had a lot of people reading 1-4, but I didn’t have 5 ready yet. Since I figured it was only a matter of time before the earlier books dropped and stopped selling as well, I decided to get the cover done for Book 5, so I could take advantage of the other books’ popularity. Let people grab Book 5 while they’re still thinking of Books 1-4. So I put it up in early May and had it on pre-order for about 5 weeks. I ended up selling over 4000 early copies on Amazon (more than a thousand of those being in international stores — it was fun watching the sales drop onto my dashboard first when New Zealand hit midnight and then so on around the world).

In addition to striking while the iron was hot, I realized I didn’t really give a #*(@ about the sales ranking of a Book 5 in a series. I’ve heard other authors talk about how releasing new books in their series gives them a big boost in sales series-wide, but I’ve never noticed much of an increase in sales from that alone. I get boosts when I run advertising campaigns on the first books. Maybe a few people here and there notice a Book 5 and go back and check out Book 1, but I doubt anybody is going to jump into a new fantasy series there.

So basically, I had nothing to lose by doing the pre-order on Amazon and possibly had some sales to gain.

Here are some of the things that came out of the pre-order (in addition to sales) that I hadn’t considered ahead of time:

The book spent much longer than 30 days in the “Hot New Releases” window

Usually, a book gets 30 days to appear in the “hot new releases” window over in the sidebar of its category lists (assuming it’s first, second, or third in sales among the other new releases in that category). But my 30 days didn’t start ticking down until the official release day. My ebook was selling well enough (remember, this isn’t that competitive of a category) to hang out there from the time that I put up the pre-order in early May until mid-July when it hit 30 days after the release.

I have no way of knowing how many bonus sales you can get for appearing in that slot (and I’m sure it varies by category and book), but I always figure that any extra visibility, especially on Amazon, is a good thing and will probably result in some sales.

The also-boughts populated earlier than they would for an out-of-nowhere new release

If you publish a book through the KDP dashboard, even if you announce it to your mailing list and sell piles right off the bat, it usually takes 1-2 days for the also-boughts to populate, meaning that books appear in your book’s “also bought” window and (more importantly) your book appears in other books’ also-bought window.

In addition to wanting to appear in the Top 100 lists for your categories, you want to be in as many other authors’ also-boughts as possible, since it helps readers find you, even if they don’t browse those lists.

Lots of purchases before any reviews showed up

I’m fortunate that the reviews for the DB series have been fairly solid so far, but you never know when a reader who doesn’t like the direction you’re taking a series is going to jump in and leave a one-star review (and be the first one to do so) on a new release. That could make potential buyers hesitate. With a pre-order, you get people buying the book without being able to pre-judge it based on existing reviews. If you’re doing something drastic with the new title (cliffhanger! major character death!) and anticipate some grumpy readers, it might not be a bad idea to collect those sales before the reviews start showing up.

Now, you may be asking, were there any cons for me with the pre-order? Not really, but as expected, the fifth book never did get a big jump into the top slots on Amazon. I don’t think it did better than 600 or so in the overall sales rankings (I’ve had other things debut at sub-200), and it soon fell to 1200-2500, about the level that the fourth book had been selling at.

As I said, that was fine for me in this case, because I wasn’t expecting much of a benefit from appearing up high with a Book 5.

Would I do an Amazon pre-order for a brand new Book 1 that I was hoping would stick and sell well with the help of the algorithms? No, I would not.

Pre-Orders and Hitting Best Seller Lists

My nice little steampunk books aren’t in much danger of hitting the New York Times Bestseller list, but I can talk a bit about USA Today. Thanks to that Bookbub ad, my 99-cent boxed set hit the USA Today Top 150 list back in January. Also, I recently participated in a multi-author boxed set that allowed my lowly pen name to hit the USA Today list (the pen name only has about 500 people on her newsletter, and has been largely ignored of late, so hasn’t been selling in spades).

Pre-orders were key in making that list with the pen name boxed set.

Since all of the pre-order sales are reported on release day, this is your best bet to make a list outside of a BookBub run. Sales for consideration for a list have to be made during their less-than-one-week reporting period. It’s a very small window for USA Today and NYT, so you’ll also want to release on a Tuesday and try to get all of the sales in those first few days.

How many sales it takes to make a certain list varies depending on the competition, but to be safe, from what I’ve read, you probably need to plan for ~7K for the USA Today list and 15K+ for the NYT bestseller list. IIRC, I had about 6k in the week that the DB set made the USA Today list, but that was in the middle of January, so a time when book sales weren’t super high in general.

For the romance boxed set, even though we were doing all-new novellas, we didn’t have a lot of huge sellers in the set, so getting 7K sales during launch week seemed pretty daunting. But we put the set out at 99 cents more than two months before the release date (using a dummy file), and it gradually accumulated sales in the various stores.

I should point out that the sales ranking during the pre-order time wasn’t anything amazing (2-3K overall in the store), considering it was a 99-cent title with 12 authors. My fifth Dragon Blood was in pre-order status for part of the same time, and I remember that it was doing better in the rankings. But my book had a shorter pre-order period. A longer pre-order period can only help if you’re trying to accumulate sales before release.

The romance set ended up selling around 5200 copies before going live (about 4000 of those being in the U.S. and numbers that would count for a U.S. list).

For the release day (and a couple of days after), we had a lot of ads booked, and all of the authors plugged the set to their mailing lists. We ended up selling around 10,000 copies by the end of the week and hit the USA Today list at 88.

Is it possible we would have made it without pre-orders? It’s possible, but when you send out newsletters to your list, you never know if people will buy right away. They might wait for paydays or set the letter aside for later. With the pre-orders, you know those sales are going to drop right on release day. You also miss out on people who might have randomly come across the book during the pre-order period.

Note: You have to go wide if you want to make a list in the U.S. as Amazon sales alone aren’t enough to get you accepted. Your book sales also have to be reported by at least one other store (basically Apple or Barnes & Noble). I don’t know for sure, but I’ve heard you need to sell at least 500 copies in a week for the stores to bother to report.

Making Lists vs Sticking on Amazon

Before I sign off, I should point out that our boxed set hit as high as 94 in the overall store, but started to drop fairly quickly. I think this is in part because it was a pretty eclectic boxed set (we gave it an action-adventure-romance theme and had everything from modern day treasure hunters to my far-future space opera romance) and didn’t really hit on the popular tropes in the genre, but I’m sure part of it was also that thousands of those sales were spread out. Had we gotten all 10,000 sales in a couple of days, we might very well have stuck up higher for longer.

Let me wrap up this long post by summarizing:

  • Pre-orders are probably a good idea, no questions asked, on the non-Amazon stores.
  • Pre-orders can be a good idea on Amazon if you’re trying to get people to buy while earlier books in a series are hot or if you think you have a chance of making a list (for most of us mere mortals, they’re probably close to required to make a list).
  • As of the time of this writing, pre-orders can hurt you on Amazon if your goal is to stick and get algorithm loving — that’s where you want to sell piles of copies over just a few days.

If you have thoughts on pre-orders or any experience with hitting the lists, please leave a comment with your thoughts!