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Texting New Releases, Series Pricing, and Succeeding in YA Fantasy with Terah Edun

| Posted in Interviews / Success Stories |

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Even though I know you guys love hearing me ramble every week (you do, right?), it’s nice to hear from other authors. Terah Edun has been rocking it this year with her YA fantasy novels, so I cornered her in a dark alley and interrogated her. I was particularly intrigued when I noticed she was using a text messaging system for sending out new-release information to readers who signed up for the service. The newsletter 2.0? If you read on, you’ll see how her experience trying this went at the bottom here.

Interview with YA Fantasy Author Terah Edun

Thanks for stopping by the blog (er, dark alley), Terah. Let’s jump right into the questions! 

You’re making waves and selling well with your YA fantasy novels. Do you want to tell us a little about the stories and what made you choose to self publish?

Hi Lindsay,

First, thank you for having me on your blog! This is a really cool occasion for me and you’ll see why in a minute. I’m primarily a Young Adult fantasy writer, with two High Fantasy series and one Urban Fantasy series. They all have a heroine as their protagonist and focus on coming of age in a medieval world that’s more Game of Thrones than Tolkien. Except for the magic. I go overboard on magic.

Young Adult Fantasy stories have been my passion since childhood and when I began self-publishing at the start of 2013 I really wanted to write what I loved to read. As do most authors. However, my writing journey was a rocky road of understanding what worked for the market and what worked for myself.

At the start of my selfpub journey I’d never written a fictional account of anything aside from English 203 essays in high school. I wasn’t the writer who submitted short stories to magazines at age 12 or went to conventions to get her books signed and asked ‘How do I do what you do?’. I read half a dozen books a month but I never wrote.

Now let’s fast-forward a few years to when I was a full-time development specialist working overseas. In my free time, when I had no electricity (so no tv or internet) I started writing out of boredom. Something to keep my mind occupied. Once I put pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard as it were, nothing could stop me. I wrote my first novel in a little under a year, and it was representative of all the things that can go wrong in a first attempt. But still I loved it. So I queried three agents, got zero replies, and just about gave up.

Now, when I said it was a cool occasion for me to appear on your blog, I really meant it! And this is why. I wasn’t really pursuing traditional publishing all too enthusiastically (hello, 3 queries) but I didn’t think about self-publishing either. That is until I started to read the stories about Amanda Hocking. The expositions on Hocking’s brilliant run however didn’t quite explain how she went about it. And that’s where you (and KB) came in. A friend tipped me off to your blog and it was your posts that gave me the nuts-and-bolts on how to go about finagling an Indie career.

I figured out where to go and who to hire from your wonderful posts and then I self-published. I unpublished it a few months later, but once I figured out how to self-publish, the desire to continue stuck. So I tried again, this time with a related series and a new book.The next book stuck and that is the first book in my Courtlight series.

So thank you Lindsay! Without that start, I wouldn’t be where I am today with eight books and two manuscripts, over 50,000 sales, and a career that I couldn’t be happier with.

It looks like you’re a fan of writing in series. What are your thoughts on pricing when it comes to a series? Have you experimented much? Any strategies that work better than others?

Series is something I fell into. I can’t seem to write a first book without thinking of entanglements and back-stories and plot devices, which just expand the world and push me to question why? Why did this happen? What’s his story? What was this place like two hundred years ago? So I’ve been expanding my world further with each book I write.

My primary marketing concept for my first series was a pricing ladder. Again, something I learned from you. I currently have five books in Courtlight and the books scale up in price from Free to $0.99, $2.99, $3.99, and $3.99. This gives my readers a way to taste the series and even save on the second book before they dive in for the entire thing. For a long time, I’ve read series that are epic arcs of ten to twenty novels from the likes of Robert Jordan and Michelle Sagara I don’t intend to go that long but I do plan to push the envelope and I see no harm in giving my readers a break on price for the first couple of books.That pricing, however, only works when you have a good number of books to put on the different rungs. So by necessity, my second series is different. There are two books out and they’re currently both $2.99. That series found a broader market which seems comfortable at that price point, so I leave it. I do however do consistent promotions with Book One where I discount it to $0.99 and even Free to give more readers a chance to grab the first book.Overall the pricing ladder has worked for me and I’m contemplating trying new options as we go into the new year, primarily focusing on compiling more boxed sets, and testing those. Indies always have to be innovative after all!

You’re doing all the right things (awesome covers and blurbs) when it comes to selling books. Do you have any suggestions for other authors?

If you’re serious about trying to sell a series and want to make this work I would say: A) Have a consistent series look, B) Brand your books to your genre not what you think your genre should be, C) Stand out with quality, and D) Hire out if you can’t do it yourself.

I’ll be the first to say, that investing money into your books that you may not have or don’t want to part with can be tough. But it’s that investment which can pay dividends. At the same time, you don’t need the most expensive cover artist or the most expensive formatter to make your books shine.

My first two covers: Red Madrassa and Sworn To Raise, I paid between $120-$350 for the cover design. That was a fair price, but for someone who wanted to put out product at a fast pace as they built a fanbase, it quickly became prohibitive. So I learned to do my own cover design. Each time I design my cover I’m saving money. Not just in the initial eBook design but also for subsequent Audiobook and Print covers. In addition to the fact that I can make my own promotional graphics, social media graphics, and swag (buttons/bookmarks). As to how I became proficient, I put time and effort into studying Photoshop. I learned everything on my own with tips from lovely self-published authors like S.M. Reine and Dannika Dark who shared their knowledge and their love of Youtube tutorials. But you don’t always have to do everything yourself.For instance, formatting is another way to save money. But I personally find formatting tedious, so I hire that out to places like Polgarus Studios (really great prices!) and Streetlight Graphics (gorgeous design work).

Above all, whatever you decide to do with your own self-published books, be sure to always be flexible and willing to experiment. If one look for your series or books isn’t working, change it up. If you have an editor who books five months out for an appointment and you need one who can fit you in consistently every two months, find a new one. Flexibility is key in the way you present yourself and the way you adapt to the market.

You released a Book 1 in a new series back in March, and it’s been selling well, appearing near the top of your category lists, the whole time. Any thoughts on how you’ve done so well with that one?

The book Lindsay is referring to BLADES OF MAGIC, Book One in the Crown Service series. Blades was a risk for me. It was a story I desperately wanted to tell and I even wove in references to it in my previous series, but it wasn’t one I was sure my readers would take to. I feared that the entire concept of the series was too different from my original series. From the personalities of both characters to the design of the covers, they were just worlds apart. What if my readers loved the first series so much, that they wouldn’t take to a second at all?

In addition to the normal fears of doing something different, I was stepping out of my comfort zone in another way. I was putting a diverse protagonist front-and-center on my cover, come hell or high water, and I was making her black in the books. Not ambiguous. Black. And for me, that was a risk. I had just began to grasp the brand of who I was, a young adult author who wrote high fantasy books. To expand that brand to be a young adult author who wrote diverse high fantasy books seemed a risk. There were very few successful self-published as well as traditionally-published speculative fiction authors that I know of who wrote books with diverse characters as their protagonist and had those characters represented on their covers. That last part is very important. (You can see a list of a few of those authors here.)

I can still count a list of them off on my hand for self-pub and trad pub. It wasn’t a very comforting thought.
But I wanted to be different and I wanted a darker-skinned young woman as the main protagonist of my second series. I say want, but she didn’t appear in my mind in any other way. I had no choice about who she was, but I did have a choice about how I would present her. So when I designed the Crown Service covers I made sure that she was true to her racial background on the cover as she was within the pages.

With trepidation I published. Thinking this book would flop as my first book did. I was wrong. In the first month, the Crown Service series outsold the first six months of the Courtlight series. Part of that was due to the fact that over time I’d built a larger fanbase but part of that was just the fact that a new host of readers were connecting strongly to a character I didn’t think they would. Seven months after the release of Blades Of Magic, I released BLADES OF ILLUSION on October 18th. The reception was phenomenal. I managed to get to #440 overall in the Amazon store and get some screenshots that had me positively screaming. I honestly believe that I’m rocking the charts with this series because I’ve created something different in a genre that is well known for staying the same.

You seem to be trying quite a few things when it comes to marketing. I was particularly curious about your option where readers can text a number for updates on new releases. Can you tell us how you got signed up for that, what it costs, and if anyone is using the service yet?

The service I use to TEXT readers on their mobile phones when I have a new release is by a company called Textmarks. I first noticed it when I came across the option on Cassia Leo’s page. I thought it was an innovative way to contact customers who may prefer an option to email and have a second way to reach my fanbase if an apocalypse happened and my mailing list dissipated. I’ve had the Textmark service for 3 1/2 months now. They make it very easy to sign up with one month free and live customer service reps to answer your questions. There are multiple plans, based on the consumer’s needs. For $49.00 a month, I can assign up 5 keyword groups and send out 1,250 messages (each recipient counting as a message).That is the smallest plan they have and for that reason I think it’s overkill for a normal author but I’ll get into that later. In principle, it’s very simple. I assign each group a separate keyword, for instance I can do AUDIOFANS and EBOOKFANS. I then pass out the keyword and the text code, and have readers text the number to sign up for messages from my account. The process itself is not something customers are unfamiliar even if they don’t always realize it. For instance, I’m signed up for text messages from AMC Movie Theaters and they send me coupon codes for discounts on popcorn.

I don’t know how well the service works for AMC but for an individual author I’m not so sure it’s worth it. I was waiting until I had concrete data from my latest release before making a decision. In the twelve weeks that I’ve had the service only 49 individuals signed up for the text plan. In comparison, my mailing list (which this was supposed to be a supplement plan to at best and a fallback plan at worst) has thousands. This also means I’m paying a $1 a month for every person that’s currently signed up for my plan. In addition to that, I don’t have data on who signed up or why. It might be a case of readers only liking one of my series over the other, but my release day open rate for the texts (I used a coded URL) is only 15 out of 49. When I’m paying for a service like this, I don’t like those odds. So I’ll be signing off from the plan before my next billing cycle.

~

Thanks for checking out the interview, everyone! You can visit Terah’s website for more information or check out her books on Amazon. She’s also on Twitter and Facebook. The first novel in her Courtlight series, Sworn to Raise, is currently free.

Analyzing a Mid-List Series (keys to success and room for improvement)

| Posted in Book Marketing |

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It’s been about six months since I published Republic, the last installment in my Emperor’s Edge series (technically, the series finished a year and a half ago with Forged in Blood II and Republic was dealing with a new story line). I’m not sure exactly how many books the series has sold (if anyone knows an easy way to calculate sales across years and platforms, I would love to hear about it), but somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000, I’m sure. (I counted up all of my Amazon book sales at some point back in 2012 and had risen over 100k).

Republic-300x200When you consider there are eight books in the series, that’s not exactly blockbuster status, but I’m certainly not complaining. Most of the ebooks sell for $4.95 (the first is free, the second fluctuates from 2.99 to 4.95, and the monster Republic is 5.95), and I’ve been making a full-time living from my ebook income since early in 2012 (I’ve also met some awesome fans and really cool people as a result of this series). Even though I’ve published other books since then, the EE books still account for a good chunk of that income.

So in looking back, what did I do right with that series? And what could have been done better? It’s natural to wonder. Even if fantasy isn’t exactly romance, as far as popularity goes, I’ve seen other indie authors hanging out in the fantasy Top 100 categories on Amazon for months and even years. I’ll tend to appear there when I have a new release, but then drop down and maybe sell 200 or 300 books a month of titles in the series (again, definitely not complaining — just thinking about room for improvement in the future!).

After taking a break this last year and trying some other genres/sub-genres, I’m heading back to high fantasy for NaNoWriMo, and I’m wondering if I can do better for what I hope will be the start of my next big series. Thus this analysis of The Emperor’s Edge. Whether or not it helps me reach a new level with my next series, only time will tell. Either way, I hope some of it may be useful to other authors out there.

Keys to Success (AKA what I did right)

I’ll jump into the mistakes soon, but I want to mention some of the things I did right, the things that have helped the series get to where it is (I’ll pretend these were all premeditated rather than random chance):

  • Starting out with a clear vision of a six book series (that turned into seven books) with a story arc that spanned the entire series and wasn’t resolved until the very end — When I wrote EE1, I had Amaranthe (main PoV) and the band of five guys she gathered together (Sicarius, Akstyr, Maldynado, Books, and Basilard), and it occurred to me that if I focused each novel on a different side character, while continuing to work toward the final showdown with the baddies in the end, I’d have a fairly solid path ahead of me for filling out a six-book series. Amaranthe would always be the hero, but each book would explore a side character as a secondary hero and PoV. (Frankly, the series I’ve started since EE haven’t been laid out nearly as well.)
  • Having a romance that took 7 books to resolve – There’s not any romance in the first EE book, but if you look closely, there’s a hint that it could possibly develop at some future date. As much as I’d like to believe my world-building and the overreaching story were compelling, I think a lot of what got people to read on was the relationship between the two main characters, seeing them go from enemies, to friends, to maybe something more. It’s tougher to keep things interesting between two characters that hook up in the first book.
  • Regular releases about 5-6 months apart — My daily word count has increased quite a bit over the years, and I wrote a rough draft in two weeks earlier this year, but I was still working the day job when I started on my self-publishing journey. I managed to get a new installment (each over 100,000 words) out about every five months, and I think that helped me gain momentum and keep the fans engaged (once I had some).
  • Playing with permafree and eventually having Book 1 available everywhere – I started with EE1 at 2.99, then dropped it to .99 after Book 2 came out, then finally made it free after 3 came out. I also put it out there on Wattpad and had a free “podiobooks” version made. I was never willing to go exclusive with Amazon to try the various perks of KDP Select (and, like many other authors, I’ve seen the hit since Kindle Unlimited came out), but I tried just about everything else. I still plug the first book with an ad every now and then, though right now I’m waiting until the new year, because I’m going to revamp the covers and try to relaunch the series (more on that below).
  • Fun stories — Not everyone will love my books, but many readers how told me how much they enjoy the humor and the characters. I’ve had a lot of of people tell me they’ve recommended them to friends, and that’s the best kind of marketing there is.

Okay, now for the fun part of the analysis (or the gut-clenching part… whatever).

What I wish I’d done better:

  • The covers aren’t representative of the genre — I don’t have a good eye for design and I struggled to find a cover designer early on that I liked and that I could afford. I always envisioned custom illustrations (these are common for secondary world fantasy, though you’ll also see symbol-based designs with a sword or map or staff or some such too), but I had a limited budget early on and the photo manipulation stuff was less expensive. And of course, I had to stick with the theme as the series continued on (I will say that the covers are very distinctly branded and that you could probably recognize one on a shelf from across the store :D). I broke away from the photo manipulation with Republic and have gotten a lot of compliments on that cover. It’s going to cost a small fortune to redo the whole series with custom illustrations, but I’ve decided to give it a try this winter.
  • Completely lame series title – I don’t know how much difference this makes in the grand scheme of things, but naming your series after the first book in the series… Let’s just say it’s one of those things publishers tell you not to do. I was never even that crazy about the name of the first book to start with!
  • Series not anchored firmly in any one genre — When you’re a creative, you have to write the story you want to tell, and sometimes that isn’t one that follows a formula or that fits tidily into a certain category on Amazon. Unfortunately, that can hinder you when it comes to marketing. The EE books most often get tagged as steampunk, because there happen to be trains and steam-powered machines in them, but I think of them as more sword & sorcery in style (they’re magic-light, but they are fast-paced and character-driven with lots of action). The last couple of books in the series could more arguably be placed in epic fantasy, since we’re dealing with armies and ransacking the entire capital city. I think when I rebrand the covers, I’m going to see if I can go for more of an epic fantasy/sword & sorcery feel because, quite frankly, those are far more popular categories than steampunk on Amazon. Also, Akstyr is my only punky EE character (and he has the hair to prove it).
  • Not a super compelling “hook” to take people from Book 1 to 2 — EE1 works as the start of a series and hints of more trouble to come, but it’s very much a complete novel. There are a couple of cliffhangers later in the series, but you could read the first book and walk away without a zillion questions left unanswered. As much as readers hate cliffhangers (and often leave one-star reviews to prove it!), I’ve talked to author after author who’s had a ton of success by having the first book end with a giant compelling hook (you have to read the next book to see if the hero, his mentor, or his faithful ferret lives!). Especially with a permafree Book 1, this can be what turns a serial-downloader-of-freebies into a buyer.

So based on all of this, what will I try with the new series?

I’m going to poll my existing readers (even if this is just casually asking on Facebook) to see which series title they like best. Right now, I’ve fairly certain “Redemption” will be in there somewhere (Redemption by Fire? The Redemption Saga?), since the journey is about the hero trying to redeem his family’s honor and place in society (shortly after he was born, his mother ran off to become a pirate… oops). But I want to see ahead of time what sounds cool to my target audience.

I’ve got the NaNoWriMo novel plotted out, but I want to sit down before November and sketch out the larger story arc. Right now, I have a vague notion of what happens in the end, but I’m not sure whether that’ll take three books or eight for the hero to get to that place. I want to have more of a handle on that before I get started.

Even though this series is set in the same world as the EE books, it’s on a continent where magic is more the norm than technology, so I think it’ll naturally fit more easily into the epic fantasy/swords & sorcery genre.

I don’t have a romance planned at this point (and I’m worried about this honestly, since it seems to be a big part of what my regular readers enjoyed about the first series), but there is (I hope) an interesting relationship (a bromance or father-son type of thing) that has all kinds of potential for fun and conflict. Why yes, I’d like you to be my mentor and help me on my quest, but wait, you’re a spy for the other nation? When did that happen?

The main character is an 18-year-old boy. This is a first for me. I didn’t mention this up above, because I don’t think a female heroine is any kind of flaw, but I do think the young-man-coming-of-age story has a huge traditional in high fantasy, and I’ll be curious if having a guy flinging magic on the cover will do a better job of attracting the male audience. (I’d say that right now my readership tends to be 80% female.) I wish I had the link to the study, because it’s stuck in my mind for years and years, but there was one done that found that female readers were far more willing to put themselves into the shoes of male leads than the other way around, so basically you had a better chance of appealing to both audiences with a male protagonist. (Ultimately, I write the heroes and heroines that I want to write about, age and sex regardless, but like I said, it’ll be interesting to see if this makes a difference this time around.)

Lastly, I’ve been watching the Top 100 epic fantasy for a while, and I’ve been taking note of the types of titles and blurbs that do well (dragons, magic, knights, mages, and wizards, yes, please). I haven’t written the blurb yet, but the title for Book 1 will be the rather blunt Warrior Mage. (Alas, dragons haven’t made an appearance in this world — the closest I could get would be a giant lizard…)

Anyway, as you can see I’m putting more thought into this than I have for the other books I’ve written in the last year (many of those have basically been pilots to try out new subgenres), and I’m hoping it’ll be the start of a series that will do as well as the EE books (if not a touch better).

If you would like to share your own experiences (or comment on mine), I’d love to hear from you below. Please leave a comment!

Using Pubslush to Fund Your Next Book

| Posted in Guest Posts |

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There are quite a few crowd-funding sites out there now, if you’re looking for help financing your first book (editing, cover art, etc. can easily run you a thousand dollars or more). I did Kickstarter early on in my self-publishing career to help pay for the production of the first Emperor’s Edge audiobooks. It’s not for everyone (and it’s hard to get enough backers if you don’t already have at least a small fan base), but it can be a viable solution in some situations.

I haven’t used Pubslush, a crowd-funding site specifically for authors, so I invited fellow author Ilana Waters to talk about it today.

Using Pubslush to Fund Your Book

Hello there! First, let me just thank you Lindsay—so much—for having me on your blog. I eagerly follow your adventures in self-publishing, and think you are an all-around very cool person. No lie—it really is an honor to be here.

Anyway, for those who don’t know me, my name is Ilana Waters, and I’m also an indie writer. If you’re into fantasy books for kids and teens, you can check out a few of mine at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and I-tunes (and two of the short stories are FREE!). Since I’m looking to branch out into books that are more for the teen/adult market, I thought I’d try Pubslush, which is what I’m here to talk to you about.

What is Pubslush?

If you’ve never heard of Pubslush, you’re not alone. I hadn’t heard of it either until I started looking into crowdfunding options for my book. Basically, it’s like Kickstarter, but for literary projects. Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform where people ask for help financing various endeavors. If enough awesome people donate, the project moves forward. All the donators have to do is select their rewards along with their pledge amount. Folks may remember the incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign Lindsay did for the Emperor’s Edge audiobooks.

How does Pubslush work?

Pubslush isn’t all that difficult to set up. You log onto the site, make an account, and it walks you through the process of entering information about your book, your campaign goals, etc. The campaign itself is where the hard work comes in. You have to get people excited about it, the same way you would with any fundraising effort. On the plus side, it’s a great way to gauge potential interest (i.e., readership) in your project, say, before you write Book XXI of your Games of Thrones fanfic anthology. ;-)

Tips for a successful campaign

–Set a reasonable goal. Donations to pay for editing, formatting, print-runs, etc. are reasonable. Funds to pay a personal masseuse to rub your shoulders while you write . . . not so much.

–Create (and promote) cool rewards. I’ve seen authors come up with out-of-the-box ideas, like letting readers give input on future books (Lindsay did this with her Kickstarter).

–Keep supporters updated and thank everyone. A lot. :-)

–Have a book trailer to go with the campaign (I went ahead and had a mock cover done too). Studies show your campaign is more likely to be successful with some type of video. Ditto for having your manuscript complete, so if you’ve been looking for extra motivation to go with the upcoming NaNoWriMo, now you have it!

My personal Pubslush

My own Pubslush campaign has just gotten underway, but I hope to post a quick update in the future about how it went. Until then, go here to support The Age of Mages, my urban fantasy, and earn cool rewards!

In addition to getting a copy of The Age of Mages if the campaign is successful, my reward levels contain goodies like a mention in the dedication, social media promotion for your book or business, and newsletter sign up. But best of all are the heavily-discounted manuscript critiques. If you have a writing project, and would like a professional set of eyes to look over things like plot, characterization, structure, etc., I’m your gal.

I’m even running a special deal—the next three people who donate at the $25 level will get the $50 reward, and the next three who donate at the $50 level will get the $100 reward.

If you have any questions or comments, shoot me an e-mail me at ilanabethwaters[at]yahoo[dot]com. Here’s where I am around the web if you feel like trailing after me:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Wattpad

Thanks to everyone for reading. Double thanks if you check out the campaign and donate. TRIPLE thanks to Lindsay for having me on her blog, and for continuing to be awesome.

Blurb:

I know a mage should be able to handle anything, but really, the circumstances are getting quite ridiculous.

What do you get when you cross a vampire with a witch? The vulgar might call it a half-breed or misfit. But the result is actually a magical creature with untold powers and numerous enemies.

In other words, a mage.

Joshua’s witch mother has been missing and presumed dead since he was a teen. Years later, when he learns she might still be alive, the only thing he can think of is finding her. His antagonistic vampire father agrees to help, but Joshua fears he may have ulterior motives. The situation becomes even more complicated when they discover the reason for her disappearance: she possesses a mysterious crystal whose powers remain a secret.

Unfortunately, Joshua and his father aren’t the only ones interested in the crystal. As their search leads them from New York to Las Vegas to Rome, they’re pursued by the Paranormal Investigation Agency, the High Council of Witches, and yet more vampires. In the process, they uncover a plot to wake the deadliest vampire who ever lived.

If Joshua can find the crystal, he might find his mother — and stop a massacring blood-seeker from rising. But that involves not fighting with his father long enough to hold off adversaries both human and supernatural.

It might just be more than one mage can handle.

Rust & Relics Continues with Thorn Fall

| Posted in My Ebooks |

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Last year, I published Torrent, the first novel in my Rust & Relics contemporary fantasy series, and now the second book is ready to go. Thorn Fall is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords (Apple coming soon).

Thorn-Fall Cover Rust and Relics Book 2Blurb: 

Delia never thought her love of adventure and artifact hunting would lead her to discover such oddities as man-slaying monsters, magical swords, and elves on motorcycles. Oh, and there’s also the Ancient Spartan warrior who’s been stranded in the present—he’s offering to work as her bodyguard in exchange for English lessons. 

She’s barely wrapped her mind around these strange new developments when another monster arrives, this time in Sedona, Arizona. The tourist town is known for its majestic rock formations, “healing vortexes,” and ruins left by the Sinagua, a native people who mysteriously disappeared hundreds of years ago. Monsters are a more recent development. This one is leaving death and destruction in its wake, and Delia and her friends are the only ones who know what’s going on. They’re also the only ones with a weapon that can harm the creature—if they can find it. 

To add to their problems, a centuries-old evil has been reawakened, one that threatens to deliver the people of Sedona to the same fate as the Sinagua. And Delia and her friends along with them.

First Chapter Preview:

Apparently, the insurance commercials were wrong. I had parked under a streetlight and hadn’t left any valuables out in plain sight, but there were still six suspicious guys leaning on the car when I walked out of the grocery store. True, Temi’s sleek silver Jaguar did invite one to touch it, but there was a little too much admiration in the group’s eyes as they chatted, pointed, and fondled the car.

I shouldn’t have left the top down, but I had only been running in for five minutes. One guy leaned in, eyeing the steering column, while a second one kept stroking the door. He looked like he wanted to hop in and make love to the car.

I paused at the edge of the sidewalk in front of the store entrance, canvas grocery bags dangling from my wrists. It was after nine on a Sunday night, so of course, there was nobody else around in the parking lot. Should I risk going over there or head back inside to see if someone would walk out with me? Not that the pimply-faced checkout kid with glasses would scare these guys away…

I checked the key fob for an alarm button. Yes, it had one. I slipped my phone into the pocket of my jeans, too, in case I needed to call someone in a hurry. They looked like college kids rather than hardened car thieves, and this was the tourist town of Prescott, not South Phoenix. Besides, I had helped kill a man-slaying monster less than two weeks ago. I could handle some punks in a parking lot, right?

“This never happens when I drive Zelda,” I muttered, naming Simon’s decades old VW Vanagon as I headed for the car. I wished I had my bullwhip, but I reserved that for off-road adventures to dig sites and old mining tunnels, where it was feasible that I might need to wrap a stalactite and swing myself across a chasm. Granted that didn’t happen often, but it happened even less in the Safeway. I did have a collapsible multitool in a sheath on my belt. Maybe they would be alarmed by the way it clacked as I flicked my wrist and extended the pliers.

One of the kids noticed me. He elbowed his buddies, and they quieted down. Unfortunately, they didn’t leave. They lounged against the side of the car as if it were theirs. One sat on the trunk. I wondered if that happened often and if Temi had to polish off butt prints.

“What’s up, guys?” I asked, staying casual. No need to be sarcastic and get their hackles up. Cool and friendly, that was me. I moved around the one making the butt prints and tossed the groceries into the back seat, in part so my hands would be free, and in part so they would know it was my car, or at least the car I was taking care of while Temi was off learning sword fighting techniques from elves—yes, my life had grown strange of late.

“This your ride?” one asked as he scratched his balls. Three inches of his tightie whities were on display. He gave me a long look over while he was adjusting himself.

I didn’t know if he was getting excited or trying to decide if I looked like someone who could afford a Jag. Given the ripped knee in my jeans, the frayed hem of my hoodie, and the toe hole in my sneakers, it was probably the latter. Most of these kids were dressed better than I was. They probably had parents paying for their tuition and board.

“I’m taking care of it for a friend.” I veered toward the driver seat, the key fob in hand, my thumb on the red alarm button.

One of the kids slipped around the front of the car and got there first, leaning his hip against the door. “How about you take us for a ride?”

“I don’t think you’d fit.” Technically, the Jag had a back seat, but I had ridden in it and would be the first to point out that anyone over four feet tall would find it a tight ride.

“Oh, we can fit.” The guy held out a hand. He had a scruffy goatee with beads tied into it. Not the scariest look, but the number of kids was making me nervous. “Why don’t you give me the keys, and I’ll show you?”

“Sorry, my friend specifically said no picking up boys and going joyriding.” Actually Temi had been too worried about going off with Jakatra and Eleriss to say much about the car, but I figured she would agree with the sentiment.

Two of the guys climbed over the side and into the back, and a third went for the passenger seat. I sighed. I should have called the police from the door to the store. I backed away, figuring I’d have to do that.

“Going somewhere?” Bead Beard pushed away from the door, his eyes on the keys in my hand.

“Yeah, I forgot the avocados for my guac. I’ll be back in a minute.” With the police…

He lunged for my hand. I jumped to the side, grabbing his wrist. With one hand, I twisted his arm into a chicken wing behind his back at the same time as I clamped onto his opposite shoulder from behind, so he couldn’t reach me to try anything else. With his fingers almost scratching the back of his neck, he gasped in pain, giving no sign of fighting back. I jammed my heel into the back of his knee to drop him to the ground and keep his shaggy head from blocking my view of the others. Not surprisingly, they were rising out of their seats and getting ready to help their buddy.

“What the hell is that?” one asked, pausing with his foot on the top of the car door. He pointed, not at me, but at something behind me.

I almost looked back, but figured they were trying to distract me so they could jump me more easily. Not that they needed to resort to tricks when they outnumbered me six to one.

A shadow moved at the corner of my vision. I jumped back, letting the first guy go, afraid I had a new problem to worry about. But the man who stepped up beside me was familiar. Well, actually he was quite strange, but I had seen him before. Alektryon. The Spartan I had met and exchanged words with back in that cave. The dark eyes, shoulder-length wavy brown hair, and handsome face weren’t all that strange, but the crimson cloak and tunic weren’t what the tourists here usually wore, especially since that tunic was just shy of revealing his utter lack of tightie whities. But maybe his bare, muscular arms and legs would convince the would-be car thieves to take a hike. Or, if not the muscles, then the short sword belted at his waist. He’d also had a spear and a shield the last time I had seen him, but he must have left them wherever he was camping. I couldn’t imagine someone stolen from 480 BCE navigating a hotel check-in, so assumed he was staying out in the woods somewhere.

“Hello, Alektryon,” I said. Too bad he couldn’t understand a word of English; at least he hadn’t two weeks ago when last I had seen him.

He tilted his chin at the guys around the car, guys who hadn’t stopped gaping at him yet, and said a single word. Too bad I didn’t know what it was. Our earlier communication had all been done via a drawing app on Simon’s tablet, where I’d done my best to remember how to read and write Ancient Greek. If I spent some time with him, I was sure my brain would put the dots together and I’d learn to understand the spoken language, too, but I wasn’t there yet.

“If you’re offering to remove these thugs from my car, I accept,” I said, speaking in modern Greek. Maybe his brain would connect the dots more quickly than mine. I also didn’t particularly want said thugs to understand what I was saying.

“Hey, man,” the guy with his foot on the door said, “Halloween was last week.”

The others sniggered, apparently over their surprise. Unfortunately, they didn’t appear inclined to scamper away. The one I had chicken-winged was standing back and shaking his arm, but the others had hopped out of the car to face us.

Alektryon strode toward them, his face cold and hard.

He touched his sword, and a surge of panic went through me. Outside of war, people hadn’t killed each other willy nilly in Ancient Greece, but for all I knew, he would regard these guys as conquering Persians, intent on pillaging the countryside and raping the helots.

“Don’t kill anyone,” I blurted.

One of the bigger guys strode out to meet Alektryon, grinning and throwing a fist. The boys on either side of him rushed in to help. I debated between jumping in to distract some of them and jumping back and calling the cops. I had already spent time in the Prescott police station and, thanks to Simon’s notorious blog coverage of the monster attacks, wasn’t sure how fondly the local authorities would regard me. I also had no idea how to explain a Spartan warrior in the Safeway parking lot.

Alektryon blocked the first guy’s punch, lunged in, and caught him by the shirt. He hurled the big kid over his shoulder with enough momentum to send him rolling across the pavement to land in front of my feet. The second man fell to an elbow to the solar plexus, curling up in a wheezing, gasping ball in front of the car. The third managed to grab that waving crimson cloak, but he should have been grabbing for a more vital target. Alektryon lowered his head and smashed into him, gripping his shirt and leg and hoisting him into the air, the muscles bunching in his powerful thighs. He flung this opponent away, too, and whirled, fingers curled, clearly ready for more attackers.

By this time, the car thieves were done. Those who hadn’t jumped into the fight ran for the street, and those who had attacked scrambled to their feet as soon as they were able. The one who had taken the blow to the solar plexus was clutching his chest and looking like he needed an inhaler. He stumbled toward the store entrance instead of after the others. I had a feeling the cops might show up even though I hadn’t called them, and someone running around with a sword might be hard to explain, even if he hadn’t drawn it. He must have known good old-fashioned wrestling moves would be sufficient for these non-Persians.

“Thanks for the help,” I said after the brutes had all disappeared, still speaking in Greek. I jerked a thumb at the car. “Need a ride somewhere?”

Alektryon gazed at me. There wasn’t a speck of pride or triumph in his eyes over the fight. He wore the same forlorn, almost haunted expression that he’d had in the cave. He said something succinct, and I probably would have guessed the gist even if I hadn’t recognized the verb for talk.

“You want to talk? I do too. Just not here.” I jangled the keys, realized that probably wouldn’t mean anything to him, and pointed to the car again.

He considered the vehicle for a moment, then climbed over the door and onto the passenger seat. His first time getting in a car, apparently. I was glad he didn’t have the spear with him; I’d hate to explain punctured leather to Temi when she got back. Whenever that would be. It had been a week since she had disappeared with our strange elves.

I slid in and started the car. Alektryon watched me, his face so bleak that it tugged at my heart. Now that I had more time to look him over, I noticed the smudges of dirt and pitch on his cloak, the weary look in his eyes, and the beard stubble on his jaw. He had been clean-shaven before. Yes, he must have been living in the woods, probably hunting for his meals too. And trying to figure out what to make of the bizarre new world he found himself in.

“Simon has the tablet—the thing we were using to talk last time,” I said as I drove through the touristy downtown area. “I need to pick him up, but then we can go back to our campsite and figure out how to communicate again.”

Back in that cave, Alektryon hadn’t been surprised when he had seen Jakatra’s pointed ears, and I wanted to know why. He had also warned me not to trust the elves, something that had been in my mind often, especially since Temi had gone off with them and hadn’t been heard from since.

There was zero traffic in town, so it was only a couple of minutes before I was pulling into the community college driveway. I steered to the back, to the parking lot in front of the machine shop, where I had dropped off Simon earlier. While I had been picking out the necessities—hamburger meat, hot dogs, and peanut butter—I had been trying not to worry too much about how much trouble Simon might be getting himself into. He had promised me that he had made friends with a teacher and that the chemicals and who knew what else he was picking up were being lawfully given to him by someone who was a fan of his website and wanted to help him fight monsters. For some odd reason, I had struggled to believe him.

“Wait here, please.” I held up a hand to Alektryon and hopped out, hoping there weren’t more would-be Jag thieves hiding behind the metal sculptures in the grass beside the lot. The machine shop lacked windows, so I couldn’t tell if anyone was still inside; at least a light was on over the door. A nearby sign proclaimed the college had the best gun-smithing program in the nation. Too bad guns didn’t work on the monsters, at least not the one we had dealt with.

I knocked, then pulled out my phone to text Simon.

The door opened first, and a cloud of sweet smoke wafted out, wreathing the light. I gawked into the hazy, poorly lit gloom inside, surprised at the scent, in part because I had never known Simon to consume anything more toxic than Mountain Dew, and in part because a giant shop filled with machinery that could cut off digits—or limbs—seemed a particularly stupid place to get high. At least I didn’t hear any saws or see any welding torches.

Simon walked out, carrying a pressurized oxygen tank under one arm and a crate full of metal scraps in his hands. A couple of sealed tubs and tubes balanced on top of the crate. He didn’t look stoned—his brown eyes were bright, and he smiled cogently at me when he said, “Hi, Delia.” But I wasn’t sure that meant much.

“Exactly what kind of teacher is this who’s supplying you with…” I waved at his booty. It looked more like junk than anything that could be turned into monster-fighting gear.

Someone inside coughed, then came to the door, carrying a gallon jug drowning in Mr. Yuk stickers. “You forgot your benzene, bro,” the guy said, elongating the last word to epic proportions.

Benzene? I hadn’t looked at the college catalogue, but they had to be offering more than gun-smithing in there.

“Thanks, Simon,” Simon said.

I squinted suspiciously—maybe he was stoned—until Simon caught my look and said, “We have the same name. He’s a T.A. Can you get that jug? Oh, and the iron bar leaning against the wall there. I’ll put all this stuff in the front and sit in the back.”

“You can put it in the trunk.” If I had known our grocery-shopping trip would include picking up poisonous and possibly caustic liquids, I would have made him bring the van. I gingerly grasped the jug from the T.A., a twenty-year-old kid with dreads Bob Marley would have approved of, gave him a nod, and wondered when I had started thinking of college-age people as kids. It had been less than a year since I graduated. “The front seat is taken.”

Simon stopped and stared at Alektryon, who was gazing at the scene blandly. He couldn’t possibly know what was going on, but I felt sheepish, and a little guilty, anyway. I didn’t know why; it wasn’t as if I had done something wrong. Maybe it was just that he was a few years older than I was, and he had an authoritative military aura about him, like he might have been someone used to giving orders once. And enforcing the rules. Not that marijuana had been illegal in Ancient Greece—I was pretty sure it had been used to dress wounds or something like that.

“I thought you were just picking up burgers and hot dogs,” Simon said.

“Burgers, hot dogs, ancient Spartan warriors, you know how hard it is to stick to the list.” I glanced at the T.A., realizing Alektryon would be hard to explain in that outfit, but the door was already thudding shut. Doubtlessly, the kid had papers, or maybe metal-smithing projects, to get back to grading.

Simon headed for the trunk while keeping a wary eye on Alektryon. “Is he coming back with us?”

“I think so. He wants to talk. I thought you’d have your tablet handy.”

“It’s back at camp. You can talk while I start working on my projects.” Simon rubbed his hands together like an evil overlord contemplating world domination.

“Am I going to approve of any of these projects?” I wedged the jug between the crate and a bag of tire chains, hoping there was no way it could slip free and roll around in the trunk.

“You might like the upgraded version of a Maglite laser I’m going to make. And the thermic lance is going to rock. Oh, did you get the polystyrene cups I asked for?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure they’re polystyrene?”

“Yes, and you can thank the dollar store for that. It’s hard to find that stuff anymore.” I eyed the benzene, and a few memories from chemistry class came together in my mind. “Simon… you’re not planning to make napalm, are you?”

He grinned at me, his shaggy black hair flopping into his eyes.

“Are you serious? Arizona is in the middle of a twenty-year drought, you know. The rangers don’t even like people building fires at the campsites.”

“I’m not going to burn the trees, just any monsters that show up.”

“When you fling fire around, other things tend to burn. How do you know fire will even work? Bullets and arrows didn’t, and our buddies said human weapons wouldn’t hurt the monsters.” The jibtab, that was what the elves had called the creature, and they had promised more were on the way. “Hence the whole adventure to find the glowing sword.” I glanced at the door again, making sure nobody had opened it again. Even a stoned guy might remember this kind of craziness.

“Yeah, but you can’t trust them. We don’t know anything about them or what their agenda is. I refuse to believe that Temi’s the only one who will be able to fight them until I personally see one walk away after a nuke lands on its head.”

I stared at the trunk, his words birthing a new horror within me. “You’re not making plans to build nuclear weapons are you?”

“Don’t be silly; you can’t get uranium from the community college. Or the dollar store. I’m just planning to try some non-projectile methods of fighting.”

I glanced at Alektryon. He was gazing toward the woods behind the metal sculptures this time. That made me twitchier than if he had been frowning at us. There hadn’t been anything in the news about monster-related deaths in the last two weeks—we were actually following the Internet feeds this time around—but that didn’t mean a new creature couldn’t have appeared.

My phone blasted Pour Some Sugar on Me, and I jumped. Temi’s name flashed on the screen.

“Temi,” I blurted into the phone. “You’re alive!” Either that, or someone had found her phone lying in the forest and was randomly calling her contacts. My gut clenched at the thought, especially when nobody answered right away.

“Yeah,” her voice finally came over the phone. “My battery’s almost dead, and I’m up on Senator Highway past Goldwater Lake. Can you pick me up?” She sounded wearier than an ER doctor after a twenty-four-hour shift.

“Yes, of course.” I eyed the small car, again wishing we had opted for the van. “I hope you have lots of stories to share.”

“Some, yeah. But all I want now is something to drink and a bed.”

The line died before I could answer. I didn’t know if it was a reflection of how she felt about the conversation or if her battery had died.

“Is she all right?” Simon asked, genuine concern in his eyes. I wondered if he would be that concerned if I had been missing for a week. I kept telling him Temi was out of his league, but he refused to believe it.

“I think so. But she wants a ride. And a bed. Maybe we should upgrade to a hotel for the night.” I grimaced at the expense—November’s student loan payment had been sucked out of my account at the beginning of the month, leaving me barely treading water, as usual.

“A hotel?” Simon whipped out his own phone. “If my lady wants a hotel, I shall arrange fine accommodations for her.”

I watched in some bemusement as he arranged “fine accommodations” at the Motel 6. Thanks to his frugal streak, he didn’t have my pile of debt, but getting him to spring for something extravagant was next to impossible. “You don’t think your lady—” I made air quotes around the words, “—would like something classier than the Motel 6?”

He frowned at me. “Like what? The Econo Lodge?”

“Never mind. I—”

My phone bleeped, and a text message from Temi popped up. The reception is too spotty for calls. But needed to let you know. They said there’s another jibtab here.

“What is it?” Simon asked.

“You better start on your napalm right away.”

~

Grab the rest of the story at AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo, and Smashwords (Apple coming soon).

Should You Price Your Ebooks Differently in Different Countries?

| Posted in Book Marketing |

21

I was listening to Mark Lefebvre (Director of Self Publishing/Author Relations at Kobo) chat with the gang on the Self Publishing Roundtable the other day (link: Horror Writing And Selling More Books On Kobo), and one of the things that Mark mentioned is that you can choose different prices for your ebooks for the different countries where they’ll sell.

You’ve doubtlessly noticed this in your dashboard before (not just at Kobo, but at Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well), but have you ever done anything besides let the computer choose the price based on the exchange rate? I usually pick my own price, just so it will end in a 5 or a 9, a typical number, but I’ve rarely thought about pricing a book significantly higher in another country. (I’ve gone lower in countries such as India where the average book price is much less than it is in the U.S, but not higher.) Mark pointed out that in some countries, readers are used to paying more than in the U.S., so a Canadian or Australian reader might not bat an eye if your USD $4.99 ebook is $5.99 or $6.99 there.

I haven’t gone in and bumped up the prices of any of my ebooks in those countries, as I tend to be a fan of fairness whenever possible, but it’s interesting to think that my policy may be causing me to leave money on the table. It’s interesting to think, too, that a reader might be less likely to trust that a cheaper ebook will be a high quality ebook, because they’re used to paying $10 and up to read books in their country. (Lower prices and reader perceptions get debated a lot when it comes to 99-cent ebooks on Amazon, so I won’t get into that further here.)

The $9.99/70% Ceiling

One other thing that Mark mentioned on the show is that Kobo doesn’t have the $9.99 limit that Amazon imposes for authors who want to earn the 70% cut on ebook sales. Even if your ebook would sell wonderfully at $12.99 in Australia, for example, there’s little point in pricing it that high, since you’ll receive a lower sales percentage than you would selling it at $9.99. But on Kobo, you can go ahead and list your ebook at that higher price point, if you wish.

This would mostly apply to authors publishing non-fiction, since readers are accustomed to paying more for that, but it could also apply to those of you putting together boxed sets. I have one for my first three Emperor’s Edge books, but I’ve never seriously considered putting together a set for the whole series, because I wouldn’t want to sell over $20 worth of books for a mere $9.99. I may have to rethink that and put together that boxed set for Kobo users (and perhaps sell it on my own website as well).

But that’s a bit of a diversion. As far as pricing ebooks differently in different countries, what do you think? Is it something you’re doing? Something you’d consider? Something you don’t want to do? Let us know in the comments!