Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off 2

Everyone loves a good competition, what with the collective consciousness of the world currently fixated on the Olympics, and everyone loves a winner.  A while back, I entered Daughter of Shadow into the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off 2, the largest indie fantasy contest in existence (probably).  300 entries were divvied between 10 of the top fantasy blogs, who would be the judges.  I pulled Fantasy-Faction for a judge, biggest dog in the junkyard.  I was thrilled—a real test.  If I could make it with Fantasy-Faction I’d get some real street cred as an author.

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Several rounds of eliminations have gone by.  My hopes kept elevating each time my name wasn’t listed.

Winning is awesome.  The joy, relief, and adrenaline fuelled vindication of besting a worthy opponent is a feeling anyone could get used to.  This post is not about winning.  Losing sucks.  Frustration, self-doubt, and dashed hopes are not fun.  Daughter of Shadow has been eliminated from contention.

Here is the review/justification.

“Like Nightfall GardensDaughter of Shadow is another book that fell not so much because the team found any issues with it, but because it simply didn’t grab us as much as some of the other books did. These are always the hardest books to say goodbye to, because we’ve moved beyond the more tangible reasons for letting a book go and into the purely subjective.

Perhaps it’s not much consolation, but another team of reviewers might well have preferred this book to some of our final seven. It has a decent prologue (which we found to be a rarity!) and introduces an interesting protagonist in Melea – the team enjoyed the fact that unlike many other fantasy protagonists, she is already powerful when the story begins. We also found the initial battle scene to be well written. In the end, we had to go by our subjective opinion that the writing wasn’t quite as smooth and didn’t have quite as much ‘voice’ as some of the other books – but Daughter of Shadow is certainly worth checking out for anyone who likes the sound of the blurb.”

My first reaction was denial (the initial stage in grieving).  It couldn’t be my book, but that cover did look familiar, maybe the title was Daughter in Shadow.  But nope.  Then came an expletive filled outburst—anger, the next stage.  Bargaining soon followed as I mentally schemed some way to get back into the contest.  Depression hit in next, a dour moment of “what’s the point in writing?”  I needed to get away from the computer.

I took the dog around the block for a walk.  The combination of cool night air with the stars peaking through departing rainclouds, and the joy elicited in my dog from a random stick she found on the ground helped to put things back into perspective.  I was firmly in the final stage—acceptance.  I’d lost.  But, the review had actually been mostly positive.  The reviewer had even admitted that a different reader may have put DoS into the next round.  So close.  Thwarted by subjectivity.  But everything is subjective!

So how to get more subjective individuals to choose my novel?  How to sway the people on the fence, decisions that could go either way, onto the side of recommending DoS?  This, my friends, was a new cache of motivation.

I’d temporarily fallen into a trap of unreasonable expectations and the only way to get untangled was to keep moving.  Yes, I’d entered the contest to win (why else?), participation is nice and all but the SPFBLO2 is a competition.  The reality of beating 299 entries seemed to become more possible as I eagerly watched the cuts happen over these past few months.  My expectations ballooned from hopefully sensible to borderline entitled.  This phenomena is visible in the actions of parents with children in minor league sports throughout the world.  Winning becomes an obsession.  Perspective narrows into tunnel-vision.

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I’ve witnessed incensed fans/parents attempt to fight the referee in the middle of a hockey game being played by children!  I’ve had teammates break equipment and damage property after a loss.  I’ve known feuds between friends and family to begin because of a seemingly innocuous sports rivalry.  All instances of negative emotions being transitioned into blame directed at others.  No acceptance of one’s own actions.  Maybe the other team actually was better.  Maybe you should practice more.  Maybe, just maybe, punching that guy from the other team won’t change the score of the game.  Just sayin’.

Maybe the novels chosen to advance by Fantasy-Faction are superior to my own.  That’s a tough pill to swallow.  But it’s not the end of the story.  I’m a self-published author and that means I can alter DoS whenever I want.  The sequel to DoS is ready for a date with the editor, but first, I will go back improve.  I will make the story better.

To use a baseball analogy: I stepped up to the plate and swung, trying to smack a home run.  Well, I didn’t quite knock it out of the park but I got a hit.  I’m on base.  The game isn’t over and I can still score.

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The review and competition has provided motivation to improve the story even more.  I’m hopeful that a copy edit will help to smooth out any remaining rough patches.  No shortcuts.  No excuses.  No blame.  Just be better.

 

 

Readability

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In the world of novels readability is king (or queen if you prefer matrilineal monarchy).

How to make a story smooth as 30 year old scotch? In my experience the secret ingredient is editing. Going back to the same words time and time again until they and the story are of the same shape.  Make the readability undeniable. So. Damn. Readable.

I’ve come to enjoy the editing process, finding satisfaction in improving my writing skills while smoothing out the story. A long way since my student days when I detested editing. Who wants to re-read something they didn’t want to write in the first place? Formatting a manuscript for e-book and print is now my most despised writing task. But part of being a self-published author requires that one (initially) become a one man band. Self-motivation is an elusive but powerful tool.

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Daughter of Shadow underwent another (and final) edit in preparation for the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off orchestrated by Mark Lawrence. I knew the story could use another edit to take it to the next level and the potential publicity afforded by the contest necessitated that I submit a quality entry. No excuses. On the readability scale of “What Language is This?” to “Can’t Put it Down” I’m hopeful that Daughter of Shadow is now closer to “Smooth as Fuck.”

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After the December 2015 release of Daughter of Shadow I entered the book in an open submission headed by Gollancz, just to see what they said. Several months later a rejection letter arrived stating, “The ideas seem solid but the prose needs work.”  This my friends, is motivation.

I’m a basketball player—I want to make every shot I put up—the Gollancz submission was a missed shot. But a shot worth taking. I wasn’t about to hold back the next shot because to stop shooting means the game is lost, or soon will be. So I went to the gym/manuscript, spending time and effort to make my shooting form/prose as efficient as possible so that the shot/story has a chance next time I let it fly.  It’s airborne.

Daughter of Shadow on Amazon

Goodreads Giveaway Winners

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The month-long contest has ended! A total of 2014 people entered and 850 added Daughter of Shadow to their reading lists.

Word of mouth is a crucial influencer of book sales so I enrolled in the process to spread the word and now it’s up to the mouths to do the rest. Goodreads is a top-notch site/community and I may have to spend more time there. The contest was open to the world and the random generator took that detail to heart, with the five winners hailing from Canada, India, Germany, Great Britain, and Romania.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Giveaway! Time for me to go mail some books.

Marketing: So You’ve Written a Novel

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Marketing: the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.

How does one use marketing to sell books? Theories and tools abound but none can legitimately lay claim to a surefire technique. The rapid ascension of self-publishing has thrown a kink into time tested models and everyone in the publishing industry is scrambling to adapt.

When listening to speakers at a writing/editing/publishing conference I attended there seemed to be a unanimous approach to modern marketing from independent, small, medium, and large publishers—the shotgun method. Splatter the wall and see what hits. Not the most efficient or eloquent of approaches but no one seems to be able to say for certain what will, and won’t, work.

The phrase, “Write the best story possible and the cream will rise to the top,” kept appearing at the conference as well. How then to explain massive successes like 50 Shades of Grey? Clever marketing obviously had a hand in making that poor-to-mediocre story a success. I think it all comes down to word of mouth. The more people talking about a product, or at least are aware of it, then the higher chances of potential sales.

The shotgun method is an attempt to connect with various streams in the hopes that one, or multiple, will raise awareness of the book and author. Sounds easy enough but when everyone is doing it then the “cream” has a lot more crap to rise through to get to the top.

The amount of available funds at a publishers disposal also plays a major role in marketing. Rarely can a self-published author match the concerted and widespread marketing effort of a Big 5 publisher. Not all shotgun blasts are created equal. Not everyone gets to reload.

But what about social media? It’s free and ubiquitous! There are many success stories of self-published authors using social media to raise awareness and even the big time authors with big time contracts have to be involved on social media. Yet I can’t help but get philosophical about the apparent advantages of social media—if a self-published author blogs does anyone hear it? Do all tweets come from songbirds or is it just a bunch of honking geese?

Whatever the case, I’m trying my own shotgun method with my novel, Daughter of Shadow. I have to admit that aspects of marketing are fun—it’s like jumping into a game that’s already in process and nobody fully understands the rules. The most frustrating part is the not knowing. What works? What doesn’t? Why?

It’s incredibly easy easy to drop a piece of yourself into the internet but most of the time that piece sinks away never to be seen or heard from again. Maybe message in a bottle method is more appropriate than shotgun, although the reference to a weapon conveys a sense of control and applied direction rather than casting out wishes and hoping for the best.

To close on a point of optimism—we’re all in this together. The big time authors and first time self-pubs are all caught up in the same game. I can read Rothfuss, King, Gladwell, and Le Guin all at the same time and everyone wins, because the beauty of writing is that it’s meant to be shared. Books are a very different product then say a blender; you can never have too many.

Daughter of Shadow Launch Party

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The book launch party for Daughter of Shadow was this past weekend and the support was amazing. The ebook has been available for a few weeks now but it was distinctly more satisfying (as a writer) to hold the book in my own hands. After countless hours staring into a computer screen while writing, dozens of edits, and a few bouts with formatting I finally had a finished product. A very surreal moment.

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The cover art turned out great; I’ve been quite impressed with Createspace. The entire order for the party sold out, which is a good problem to have. Signing copies was fun, a novelty that I doubt will get old anytime soon.

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I created a story but a story isn’t much without someone to share it with. Many thanks to everyone who attended the event and to all those who were unable to attend but still made the effort to contact me.

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