Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Kickstarting my Kickstarter project

With just 11 days to go, my crowdfunding project on Kickstarter for the professional editing and cover art of my fall release, The Rule of Love, needs a swift kick in the you-know-what. Fiction project have a notoriously hard time generating funding on Kickstarter, but I'm trying to break the trend. Can you help? If you can't, please consider forwarding this link to a friend or someone who you think might be interested. You'll have my eternal gratitude. If that's not enough, how about one of the lovely prizes I'm giving away to backers? Thanks for checking out the project.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

FREE isn't what it used to be

Found this out as I'm offering Sultana for free in January, through Smashwords' distributors, and two days ago on Amazon US only (not through KDP Select, but the old-fashioned way). Hard to believe but next month marks one year that the book has been available. The feedback from readers has been positive and heart-warming, especially when I consider my earlier struggles to find representation and then get a publisher to take on the story. In case you're wondering why I would cannibalize sales of the one book among my four that's a consistent money-maker, there's the sequel Sultana's Legacy, which could use a boost in sales and ranking. If you want to find out what makes thirteenth-century Spain so fascinating, pick up your free copy of the book here, here and here by January 31.

What makes offering an e-book for free different this time around? Did I mention KDP Select? Everyone's book is free every other day now, or at least it seems that way. For authors trying to build any momentum, there's a crowded room effect - harder to get your free book noticed when everyone else's own is competing by the same terms. By comparison, the freebie of On Falcon's Wings generated over 10,000 downloads last June on the first day, whereas the latest one managed 4,000 downloads in the same time period. The glut of free has definitely changed things, which tells me marketing had better become more innovative to attract interest. Secondly, this time around I have a sequel to offer, which picks up fifteen years after the events in the freebie end. I'm hoping readers will like the first book enough to buy the second one. So far? Five sales of the sequel the day after the freebie appeared. So, as for whether the free offering will have an impact on sales of the sequel,  it's too early to tell  after two days. I've done all I can to generate interest with complex characters and a layered plot. The rest is up to readers.      

Monday, January 16, 2012

ABNA starts January 23: is your pitch ready?

The 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award will open to entries next Monday (January 23). I spent part of my day preparing the submission of Sultana's Legacy, after weighing whether or not I should participate. Last year, the prequel Sultana made it to the quarterfinals and remains my best-selling title. Since the contest remains open to entries that have already been self-published (provided the author owns all the rights) I'm hoping to give this latest novel some much need exposure. Up to 5,000 entries each in the General Fiction or YA categories will be accepted.

Contest information is here, but I'll sum up. Between January 23 and February 5, all entrants must submit:
  • A completed manuscript in either of the categories, between 50,000 and 150,000 words.
  • Three to five thousand words in an excerpt.
  • A pitch that must not exceed 300 words.   
All submissions must be submitted as a Word .doc, .docx, .rtf or .txt file. Only original works of fiction authored by one person in the English language will be considered. No clues to the author's identity can be included, such as a real or pen name. Be sure to remove your name from the headers, the copyright page, author's note, references to additional or related works, etc.

Based on the strength of the pitch, entrants will move on to the second round. Here's my first draft of the pitch for Sultana's Legacy - thoughts?

SULTANA’S LEGACY, a completed novel at 118630 words, is an epic historical set in thirteenth century Moorish Spain. The novel’s themes of loyalty and faith, and empowerment and sacrifice explore the fragile ties that bind and fray between families. The protagonists Fatima, the daughter of a Sultan, and her beloved husband Faraj offer differing perspectives on fast-changing events. The novel provides an adventurous escape into the past, with rich details about the period’s most unpredictable and dangerous historical figures.   

The matriarch of her family, Fatima’s love for her husband and children rivals an overwhelming devotion to her cherished father. When his death occurs unexpectedly, the kingdom faces a bleak future. Fatima’s brother, a corrupt maniac, seizes the throne. Cruelty abounds, as former rivals and trusted retainers alike fall victim to his machinations, including almost everyone whom Fatima once held dear. A choice awaits her: acceptance or defiance.

In the ensuing rivalry for the throne, Fatima risks her personal safety and even her marriage. The years of love and trust she has enjoyed with Faraj erode, as treachery and intrigues divide the couple. A thin line between justice and revenge blurs. As Fatima’s noble quest devolves into bitter violence, the cost of victory may prove higher than she anticipated. Even in her triumph, the root of a final heartbreaking betrayal takes hold, one that may destroy the legacy of the Sultans of Granada forever.   

Historical fiction audiences will find the Moorish period in SULTANA’S LEGACY fascinating and unusual. Complex characters run the gamut of genuine good to uncompromising evil. In particular, the heroine Fatima is multifaceted. Her greatest strength, her devotion to family, is also her fatal flaw. Her struggle against overwhelming odds and cunning adversaries will appeal to those who admire strong female personalities. 

I'm wishing everyone who decides to enter the best of luck, especially my #ABNA tweeps on Twitter!

Friday, January 13, 2012

How much of you is reflected in your characters?

Do you ever find your personal struggles mirroring those of your characters? This is a first for me as I prepare my next title, The Burning Candle, for a spring debut. I'm one chapter / long weekend away from finishing the story of Isabel de Vermandois, who was the wife of two powerful Anglo-Norman earls in the twelfth century, Robert de Beaumont and William de Warenne.  As I've written her, Isabel is a young woman struggling to find her voice and a sense of her true self against society’s expectations, against the backdrop of King Henry I's scandal-ridden court in EnglandShe's also lucky enough in her journey of self-discovery to find love on her own terms. Writing this book has become cathartic for me in an unexpected way, where many of the frustrations the character experiences seemed very familiar. Still, Isabel and I couldn't be any more different, beyond the almost nine centuries that separate us

Adultery and bastards in
medieval times? Shocking!
First off, her lineage included generations of French kings. She married as her parents dictated to a hero of the Norman Conquest, a man several decades older that her. Robert de Beaumont might have been 16 or 18 when he fought at Hastings in 1066. He and Isabel married by 1096, when she was between the ages of 11 and 15. She later gave birth to least three sons and five daughters. At some point, she might have had her fill of all that dutifulness to her "old man", because she had an affair with a younger William de Warenne that might have produced a daughter named Ada or Gundred. A year after Robert died, Isabel sealed the deal for real with William and had more children. The sons of Robert and William became good friends, except for the Anarchy period when Henry's daughter Matilda and nephew Stephen fought for the crown. Isabel had died by then, but I'm sure she would have proud to know both sets of her kids put aside their fathers' individual resentment and jealousy, the affair and bastard children issues, and focused on what was really important - carving up as much of England for themselves as they could. 

Just as an aside, I wouldn't really mind the living in a castle bit. While I do adore kids, there is nothing on God's green earth that could make me push out THIRTEEN of them like Isabel did. So, all the other stuff in her life, I could do without.

Why does Isabel's perceived struggle appeal so much? In medieval times, there were great consequences for flouting conventions or disobedience, things like disinheritance and excommunication. Even if Isabel did as her parents and society dictated when she married Robert, she obviously chose a life beyond those expectations when she embarked on an affair with William. It's the only example I have of a moment in her life where she did as she pleased, without caring about the consequences. Where did she find the strength or was it always inside her? Read The Burning Candle for my take. 

I can understand some of the sentiment behind Isabel's choice, having known moments where I want to abandon concerns about family and my job and just do only what I want to do, whether that's writing or absolutely nothing at all. Interestingly, the more I've written about Isabel finding her voice, discovering love instead of duty and defining herself as a woman, the more I'm focused on my priorities. In writing about this one person's possible struggles, seems like I'm finding ways of dealing with my own. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Truths about publishing

Happy New Year! The arrival of 2012 has me thinking about the writer's journey and what I've learned. Several years back, writing was little more than a hobby for me. It is amazing how a critique group and the feedback of other authors changed my perspective. I have gained from the experience of turning a mild interest into a goal for publication, but knowing the following truths beforehand would have aided my journey:

Nothing guarantees traditional publication. As much as your agent may champion the writing, there are other reasons the manuscript has not sold, factors beyond his or her control. There is always the possibility that the work, while good enough to attract an agent’s attention, is not up to a publisher standard. An editor may be interested in a manuscript, but is the chosen genre already overly saturated genre or focused on an old, tired topic? The publishing house might have already chosen the six vampire-related books for release in a particular year. Perhaps the market is too small and the book is not commercially viable – as much as the editor may like the project, a publisher will not invest in a manuscript that does not scream limitless potential.  The only factor within the author’s control is to write the best book possible.

There are many paths to publication. A Chinese proverb states, “There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.” Whether starting out with a submission to an agent or editor in the hopes of landing a traditional contract, or taking the steps in self-publishing, the aim is to find others who see value in the final manuscript. Along each path, there are the proverbial forks in the road, each requiring a choice. Those decisions often hinge on the idea of control – how much must be maintained or surrendered in the accomplishment of the aim. Whatever the path toward publication, the goal remains the same: to gain readers.     

“Build it and they will come” does not apply to readers and reviews. Even if a book is well written and promoted by various marketing efforts, it may not capture a large audience. Readers do not have limitless money or time.  While the author’s objective is to convince readers that the book is entertaining, inspirational or perhaps even life changing, the intended audience may still be asking, “What’s in it for me?” For those books that do well, getting the word out is critical. Reviews are an integral part of promotion, but writers often wonder why it is so difficult to obtain them. The reader needs a reason to review – perhaps the writing touched an emotional cord, or gave instructions that are not otherwise obtainable. Gaining an audience and getting their vital opinions all starts with the book.

Trends fade, but readers’ desires remain the same. Why do we read? Of all the things we could each be doing with our valuable time, what satisfaction does reading a good book provide? Whether it involves getting lost in an alien or unfathomable world or finding spiritual strength through another’s journey, reading fills some void inside each of us, by expanding our knowledge and awareness, or entertaining us. To increase our visibility, it may seem that authors have to focus on certain markets. Yet, all writing should start with passion and interest. If we do feel any enthusiasm for the topic in the first place, how can we convince readers to invest their time? When we write, we invite readers into our experiences and imaginations. Let them know the time spent was worthwhile.

Time flies when you're having fun, or writing novels.

It's been a tremendous twelve months. A new job and health issues have impacted my writing time, but I'm still at it, trying to wrap...