Friday, 29 January 2016

Pre-order: yea or nay?

For some time now, Amazon has offered self-publishing authors the possibility to have their books available for pre-ordering before publishing. The advantage is, for example, the potential higher ranking on the publishing day, as all the pre-sales are counted on that day. Smashwords offers the same option, too, for the books distributed through its channels. I have now tried the option twice, so it’s time to sum up my thoughts.

The first book I had available for pre-order was A Warrior for a Wolf that came out in November. It’s the fifth book in the Two-Natured London series, so I figured my readers might be interested in pre-ordering the book. Especially, since I had recently uploaded the series on Smashwords and other vendors, and the books were selling fairly well there.

You can set the publishing date as far as a year on Amazon, but as I had everything ready, the cover, and the edited and formatted manuscript, I was a tad impatient and set the date only a week from uploading. (If you upload the final file, you can skip the mandatory ten-day delay.) To make it more desirable to pre-order the book, I set the price for only $0.99.

I didn’t have any trouble with setting up the pre-order page; the system is exactly the same as regular publishing. However, I was surprised that the pre-order page doesn’t have the ability to read a sample of the book. Personally, I find it a crucial feature when I make my purchasing choices. I would like the pre-order to have that option too.

In seven days, the book was pre-ordered six times, five times on and once on amazon UK. It doesn’t sound like much, but that ensured that the book debuted within top five hundred in vampire books, and in a very high spot overall. It kept selling well for a few days too – at least until I changed the price to $2.99 to conform with the rest of the series. I’ve never been an amazon bestseller, so I was very happy with the result.

Debut rank for A Warrior for a Wolf

The second book I had available for pre-order was Magic under the Witching Moon this January, also part of the Two-Natured London series. I was a little wiser this time round and uploaded the book well in advance, almost a month prior to the publication day. The price was again $0.99, although, as it’s a shorter book, that is likely to remain its price. I had the final cover, but not the final manuscript, so I uploaded a draft version and delivered the final file ten days before the publishing day. On Smashwords, you don’t have to upload a draft file, but you have to deliver the final ten days before the publication too.

I made sure to inform people that the book was available for pre-order and it sold slightly better. Not, however, three times better. I sold nine copies over all, eight in and one in the UK. Since it sold almost twice as much on than the first book, I assumed the rank would be better on the publication day. Oddly, that wasn’t the case. The overall rank was just about on the better side of 100,000 and it didn’t get much higher from that by the next day. However, it has sold fairly nicely since – for my book – so people have probably found it by browsing the genre lists.

Debut rank for Magic under the Witching Moon

Both books were also available for pre-order through Smashwords, but the impact was minimal there. Both were purchased twice, but on different vendor sites, so it didn’t have any impact on their rank.

What have I learned from all this?

  1. It pays to have a low price as an incentive for people to pre-order your book, especially if you make it known that the price will go up later. However, don’t hike up the price too soon after the publication.
  2. Allow sufficient time for pre-ordering. Month may be too little, but a year would probably be too much.
  3. Advertise well that your book is available for pre-order.
  4. Pre-order is definitely a good way to boost ranking on the publication day, but the results aren’t consistent and the impact wears off soon.
  5. I will have all my future books available for pre-order too. A little boost is better than no boost at all.

Pre-order is a nice way to get visibility for your book and I recommend it. But unless you’re a bestseller, it probably won’t have an earth-shattering impact. Try it yourself and tell me how it goes.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Letting a lesser character take over

Everyone who has read or written – or both – a long series knows that alongside the main characters there are lesser characters that appear every now and then, but who don’t really push the story forward. They are necessary, but they don’t require or merit much attention. They appear often enough to have names and descriptions, but they get less page time than the trusted best friends who help the main characters achieve their goals.

But occasionally these lesser characters grow larger than their original role. Maybe something interesting happens to them in the side-lines, or they show up so often that they become proper side characters. And sometimes, they grow into main characters.

That happened with a character in my Two-Natured London series. DS Adrian Moore appeared in the second book, Warrior’s Heart, and has shown up in pretty much every book since. I intended him to remain in the background. He is human in the world of vampires and wolf-shifters and his role was to reflect the differences between the one- and two-natured. He wasn’t supposed to be anything more.

But I grew to like him. He was perfect romantic hero material, handsome, strong and protective. Was I about to let that go to waste simply because he’s human and so wasn’t a proper paranormal hero? Still, I hesitated. How to write his story without turning him into a vampire or a shifter? I had used that storyline twice already in the course of the series and I wanted another approach. He needed to remain human.

As a human, he needed a human love interest too. The two-natured are near eternal in my two-natured world, and the idea of him falling in love with a woman who would greatly outlive him didn’t sit well with me. But how to write the love story of two humans so that the story would fit the spirit of a paranormal romance series?

My solution was to make her a witch. White witches haven’t appeared in the series yet, but black witches play a vital role in Warrior’s Heart and the existence of white witches is hinted at. Raven Fontaine is a special kind of witch too: she can turn into a cat, which makes her fit in the world of shape shifters. And she is completely human, and so only has the lifespan of one.

The end result is a beautiful little romance. Magic under the Witching Moon is a little shorter than other Two-Natured London books, but no less intense for it. It’s exactly the perfect size for a lesser character taking over and becoming the hero. Here’s a little sample of the book. I hope you enjoy it. The book will come out in January 28th and you can pre-order it here.

Susanna Shore: Magic under the Witching Moon

Adrian Moore stared at the two large bags that contained most of what he owned. Who knew his life would fit in such a small space? On one hand, it made things easier when he broke up with his girlfriend of four years. On the other hand, he probably should have more to show for those four years than this.

Then again, he had brought only some photos and clothes with him when he followed Nora to England, and he hadn’t really settled into their life in London during the past seven months. The apartmentor flat as they called it here — was owned by Nora’s employer, and it had come fully furnished. He hadn’t needed to buy anything.

He was a cop. What did he understand of furniture and décor anyway?

Nora had always found his lack of sophistication a bit of an embarrassment, especially when they were with their
hercultured friends. But nobody really learned to talk about Shakespeare or whatever growing up in the rougher end of Queens. Or how to dress up properly. The one brown suit he wore to work was at least five years old but he liked it. The suit that Nora had made him buy — so that he would look more the thing among the bankers and lawyers of her firm — was fine and fit him well, but he couldn’t wear it to work; he would’ve got the living crap beaten out of him for showing off. So he never did.

Nora took that as a deliberate insult. It probably was — what did he know? Yet he hadn’t taken the suit with him when he left.

In hindsight, he should have called it quits when Nora told him she was transferred to London, should have stayed in New York. But his partner of two years in the NYPD had died in a drug raid and he had needed a change. Moving to England with her had seemed like an honourable choice. It wasn’t running away, it was relocating and getting to know the British way of policing.

And there was a lot to learn, from the basics up. Firearms were only carried by a special branch here, which had been a bit of a shock to him. But he had adjusted. As he had adjusted to cases that had supernatural elements in them, like domestic disturbances with tiger-shifters, or murders by black magic. Domestic cases weren’t usually handled by Major Investigation Teams
homicide in US parlancebut his partner was special, so they got their share of those too.

His decision to join the Metropolitan Police Service was, ironically, the main reason for their breakup. Nora was ashamed of having a DS as a partner when all her colleagues dated lawyers and bankers. She had hoped he would seek more respected employment when in England. “Couldn’t they at least have made you a DI? You were a lieutenant there,” was one of her favourite gripes.

Couldn’t they at least have given you a human partner? was another.

The past few months he had spent longer hours at the station than necessary, ‘polishing up his paperwork’, and ‘familiarising himself with British law and policing customs’. More often than not, Nora hadn’t been home when he finally came there, having gone out with her more ‘posh’ friends.

The breakup had been a long time coming. They had been drifting apart even before they moved to London. These last seven months had simply been the inevitable swansong. Though it still surprised him how little it troubled him. He felt light-hearted even. Content.

Hefting the not-so-heavy bags on his shoulder, he wondered where he should head next. Despite all the signs, the final decision to move out had been a spontaneous act after a stupid, pointless fight, and he didn’t have a place to stay. With no better plan, he headed to the closest subway
tubestation. He would go to work. There was an extra bed in the back room at the station. He could stay there for a couple of nights while he figured out what to do next.

“You’re looking rumpled.”

DI Philippa Audley was studying him with a critical eye. She was a tiny, attractive woman with blond pixie-cut hair and a no-nonsense attitude. Her tailor-made suit was always perfectly pressed, and her shirt clean.

When he was first assigned to work with her, he had been sure that a woman that young and small couldn’t possibly survive long in the Serious Crime Command. He had wanted to ask for another partner; he had lost the previous one to bullets and wasn’t looking forward to losing another.

He was glad he hadn’t spoken up. Turned out she was almost a two-hundred-year-old vampire and had survived as a cop for almost a century of that, and all that without firearms. She didn’t need any. She had magic. Literally.

Not that she needed to resort to that all that often either. She might be small, but she had more than her share of gravitas. People responded to her with respect.

Coming from the States, he’d had no experience with vampires
or shifters for that matter. Of the three two-natured species, they only had sentients over there, and they were almost ordinary humans. He’d had no idea what to expect, but the learning curve had been steep and fast. Their first night together had included enraged shifters, overbearing vampires, and a murder through black magic.

By the end of their first month together, she had survived the death of her previous partner and being used as a sacrifice in a black magic ritual. He couldn’t have done that. In short order he had learned to respect her, and he was happy to work with her.

Pippa was another issue that had come between him and Nora. Nora hated her and what she represented. “Vampires … they should all be killed,” had been her most PC-rated opinion. He had his own past as a bigot and a bully, but he had grown up and over such behaviour. He had little sympathy for her opinions.

Standing before his boss now, Adrian checked his clothes. The brown suit was clean enough, but perhaps he could have changed his shirt. He brushed his chin in a self-conscious gesture and felt the stubble there. Perhaps he should have shaved better too.

“Yeah, well…”

“What’s going on? You’re usually neat like a pin, the Navy shining off you.”

“Marines, actually. And nothing important.” But Pippa gave him her well-honed death-glare he was unable to withstand. He sighed. “Nora and I broke up. I don’t have a place to stay so I’ve been crashing in the backroom for a couple of … eight … days now.” Had it really been so long already? No wonder he looked rumpled.

Pippa’s glare softened to almost sympathetic. She wasn’t one for expressing finer emotions. “I’m sorry to hear that. Are you holding up?”

“Yeah. I’m not heartbroken or any such shit. I’m more inconvenienced. The apartment belongs to her employer, so naturally I was the one who moved out. But I’ve been too busy to look for a new place.” One that he could afford. He couldn’t exactly live in Chelsea anymore on a cop’s salary, but the rest of London wasn’t cheap either.

“I have a place you can stay.”

He felt uneasy. “I don’t want any charity.”

Mary Moore’s son stood on his own two feet. Or tried to anyway, but Pippa’s death-glare returned, nearly making him quake in his pants — trousers. You got funny looks from people if you called them pants here.

He had survived the Marines and a stint in Iraq with some really nasty commanding officers, but none of them had managed to draw quite the same reaction from him as Pippa when she glared.

“It’s not charity. It’s a practical solution for a genuine problem. You need a place and I have one.”

“As long as you let me pay the rent.”

She sneered. “Of course you’ll pay. Vampires haven’t become insanely wealthy by letting their chums live at their expense.”

He wasn’t entirely convinced she meant it, but that evening he followed her to the apartment she owned. “Bring your bags,” she ordered him when they were leaving. “One way or another, you won’t be sleeping here anymore.”

He grumbled but obeyed. It was difficult not to obey her, and she didn’t even need to use vampire charm that made humans do whatever vampires demanded of them. She had assured him she never would use it on him and he believed her.

Estelle Road was two miles to north from the Kentish Town police station where they worked, and not far from Hampstead Heath, a huge green area right at the edge of the city. It was an affluent-looking neighbourhood with three-storey brown-brick row-houses – terraces as they were called here – with bay windows and white trimmings, tiny front yards, and slightly larger backyards. He wasn’t familiar with the age-layers of London, but what he had learned was that most houses were old.

“Isn’t this a bit expensive for me?” he asked when Pippa led him into a foyer with just enough room for narrow stairs leading up. She opened the door to the ground floor apartment – flat. He should really adopt the lingo if he was going to stay.

He startled, a funny feeling in his stomach. He hadn’t realised he was thinking of staying in London. Of course he wouldn’t stay, now that he didn’t have Nora keeping him here. New York was home. His family was there, as were those friends who wouldn’t have forgotten him by the time his year-long contract here ended.

But until then he needed a place to live, and this was as good as any. It wasn’t a large flat, a front room towards the street and a kitchen and a bedroom at the back, with a narrow corridor connecting them, along which there was a bathroom and some closets. But everything was clean and looked fairly new – including the furniture. He wouldn’t have to get that.

“I got this place for myself back when I believed Mother would let me move on my own. I’ve occasionally come here just to get some peace and quiet.”

He winced in sympathy. Two hundred years was no picnic when one had to live with one’s mother. He loved his dearly, but if he hadn’t left to the Marines at the first chance he got, he would have lost his mind.

“Don’t you want it for you and Jas?”

She snorted, amused. “He wouldn’t fit in here.”

He acknowledged this with an understanding nod. Her spouse-to-be
mate, as she called him vampire-style — was a huge scary-looking SOB vampire warrior. He needed much more space.

But Adrian was finding the place just to his liking, if a bit too British
— and feminine — with flower-patterned upholstery, throw pillows, and rose-coloured wallpaper. Who knew his boss had that streak in her. He made a couple of token protests, but in the end he carried his bags in and settled down. Just like Pippa had said he would. She managed not to look smug about it — almost.

He didn’t waste time unpacking, and felt instantly more comfortable with his few possessions around. He had a TV, and a brief trip to the nearest grocery store on the street corner filled his fridge. Even the rain that had started while he was in the store didn’t mar his mood. He had a roof over his head where he could stay the rest of his time in London, and no one to nag about his selection of food.

His shopping unpacked, he was about to move to the living room to spend the evening in front of TV when he heard a noise from the backyard. He flipped on the lights, but the yard was empty. He made to leave, but a small sound of distress made him glance down. There, on the back steps, sat a cat, drenched and miserable, demanding to be let in. 

If you liked the first chapter, you can read the second chapter here. And you can pre-order the book here.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Another point of view

I’m partial to the subjective, ‘close’ third person point of view in my novels: the reader sees what the character sees and feels, and not much else. Since I write romances, I usually show the action through the eyes of two main characters – the star-crossed lovers – although the style would allow me to use a wider range of characters too. I especially like to show the action through the eyes of the antagonist, a device I’m yet to use in my Two-Natured London series where it would fit well.

As a reader, I’m not as particular. The third person objective point of view, the omniscient narrative where the narrator knows more than the characters, is interesting to read, even if it’s seldom used in modern literature anymore, though particularly well done in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel by Susanna Clarke. And first person narrative can be fun or intense, depending on the genre. There’s something very intimate about not knowing more than the character does, which is probably why it works so well in detective stories. But it can be very limiting too.

I find the first person narrative especially limiting in romances, which necessarily tells the story of two people. As a reader, I’m often dying to know what the other party thinks of the protagonist as the romance unfolds. It feels like I’m missing half of the story, if I’m only shown the romance from one point of view. I’m not alone in this, and sometimes the author feels it’s necessary to give us the other side of the story too.

One popular way is to write short stories from a point of view of a major or minor character, which are additions to the original. My favourites are the – free – short stories Karen Chance offers to her readers that range from the adventures of a minor character, like Kit Marlowe, to important events in the life of a major character, like the stories about Pritkin. They don’t all add to our understanding about the main character Cassie, but they contribute to the world as a whole.

Some authors take it farther. A couple of extremely popular books have recently been completely rewritten from the hero’s point of view – the exact same story told twice. I haven’t read those popular retellings – I haven’t read the originals even – but I doubt I’d enjoy them much. I wouldn’t be learning anything new even though the point of view is different.

The temptation to tell an important scene twice in the same book from different points of view is familiar to the writers of the close third too – I luckily mostly grew over it before I published my first book. It’s both redundant and annoying, and doesn’t, paradoxically, add anything to the story. There are better ways to add value to your series with the changing of the point of view.

I’ve recently read two books that are additions to popular series and told from a perspective of a major character in the originals. Four by Veronica Roth is an addition to her hugely popular Divergent series, and Brighter than the Sun by Darynda Jones is an addition to Charley Davidson series.  They are not retellings of the story we already know from a different point of view; they tell the story of a different character so that the original story gets a new meaning.

Brighter than the Sun tells the life-story of Reyes, the love of Charley’s life, from childhood on; a difficult story to read, as he had a difficult childhood. Compared with the main series, which is at times laugh-out-loud funny like the character telling it, the style is very different. But that’s the way it needs to be, when the narrator, the main character himself, is so different. It’s a short book and it ends rather abruptly just as he finally meets Charley for the first time, but it achieves its objective: deepening the readers’ understanding of a major character and thus adding value to the entire series.

Four, as its name reveals, is about the character Four, who along the narrator Tris is the main character in the Divergent series. The book contains four fairly long short stories and a couple of short scenes written from the Four’s first person point of view. The first three stories are set in the time before Tris, and even after Tris appears in the fourth, the emphasis is on other matters than Four’s relationship with her. He emerges as a fully formed, interesting character with a story of his own, his hopes, dreams and fears – all four of them. The end result is that I now very much want to read a whole new series with him as the protagonist.

If you have chosen a first person narrative for your book or series, and are now feeling its limitations, the way to change the point of view is by creating new instead of warming up the old. Pick a protagonist, be it the love interest or the villain, and write a story that belongs to that character. You will add much more value to the series that way. It doesn’t have to be a full length book. Your readers will love even a shorter story – as long as it’s original. Try it. Even if you don’t publish it, it will deepen your understanding of your characters, and improve your writing. And that can only be good.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Not so good publishing year

Last year was my fourth as an independent author. I enjoyed it as much as before, but the results of my toiling weren’t as good as they have been in previous years. In short, in 2015, for the first time, I didn’t earn enough with the book sales to cover the expenses of publishing them.

The reason for the poorer year-end result is a combination of dwindling sales and slightly bigger expenses. Book sales have been dropping steadily since I started publishing, and even though I have many more books out, the combined sales aren’t even close to the numbers they were when I published my first book in 2012.

In June, my sales cut to half for no reason that I can see. At the same time, Amazon changed the system whereby it paid for books in its Select system – per pages read instead of per books read. While the new system is fairer than the earlier, for my books it meant that my earnings per book halved. So I was earning less as well as selling fewer books.

Susanna Shore: The Croaking Raven
Susanna Shore: The Croaking Raven

I compensated for that by taking the Two-Natured London series off the exclusive Select system and uploading the books to Smashwords that delivers them to marketplaces like B&N and iBooks. They’re selling well, but since I only got them uploaded in November, it didn’t salvage the year end result.

I had new expenses too; slightly more expensive stock-photos for book covers among them. I dabbled with advertising – with lousy results. While I didn’t use much money for it – and maybe the results would have been better if I had – combined with dwindled sales, it was enough to push the bottom line to red.

Susanna Shore: A Warrior for a Wolf

Despite the bottom line, I had a good writing and publishing year. I got three books out, The Croaking Raven, To Catch a Billionaire Dragon, and A Warrior for a Wolf. I conquered Smashwords’ publishing system; it requires a bit of work to get the books to convert correctly, and I had been reluctant to make the effort to learn it. And I’m happy with my result there, even if they’re mostly thanks to two free books, The Wolf's Call and part one of To Catch a Billionaire Dragon. I’ve sold a book for every six books downloaded for free. If only I could get Amazon to price match the books, that might help the sales there as well, but despite my efforts, that hasn’t happened.

I redesigned the covers of all my books, and learned to make 3D covers for my box sets. And I started to offer book formatting services and sell premade bookcovers. I have a year-start sale coming up there, so stay tuned.

Hannah Kane: To Catch a Billionaire Dragon
Hannah Kane: To Catch a Billionaire Dragon

2016 is starting with a bang. Magic under the Witching Moon, a shorter Two-Natured London romance, comes out on January 28th. It’s available for pre-ordering, and if you want to read the first two chapters, they’re up on my webpage. So I’m not letting one less than stellar year to divert me. Writing and publishing will continue strong this year too. I’ll keep you posted.

Susanna Shore: Magic under the Witching Moon
Susanna Shore: Magic Under the Witching Moon

Monday, 11 January 2016

A good reading year

Retrospectives are more traditional at the end of the year than at the beginning, but here’s one anyway. I had a very good reading year last yearboth numbers and contents wise. After publishing my first book in 2012, my reading dwindled, as I felt vaguely guilty if I wasn’t constantly writing. Reading twenty books a year was an achievement. But in 2015, I managed to read 58 books, a return to normal.

Goodreads Reading Challenge helpfully keeps track of everything I read, provided that I remember to add each book in the list when I start and finish them. I pledged to read fifty books last year, which I surpassed by eight books. According to their statistics, I read 22,954 pages, 396 on average. The shortest book I read was Brighter than the Sun by Darynda Jones in 115 pages, and the longest was Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb in 768 pages. Of the books I read, the most popular among the Goodreads’ readers was Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier, which was read by over 70,000 readers, and the least popular was The Warlock’s Shadow by Stephen Deas, read only by 522 readers, which I find somewhat surprising, as it was a good book.

Not surprising, I read mostly fantasy. Only four books were something else, and those were mainly historical romances. I read books by my favourite authors like Nalini Singh, Trudy Canavan, J.R. Ward, and Janet Evanovitch, but I found many new names too. I finally had time for Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series. I read it all back to back and enjoyed it immensely. I can’t wait for the next book, The Hanging Tree, which will be published this summer. Another new name for me was Karina Sumner-Smith. I read the first book in her Towers trilogy, Radiant, and will read the rest this year. And I really liked Sally Green’s Half Bad, and Half Wild. The last book in the series is published this year too, so there’s that to look forward to.

The book I liked most was probably Fool’s Quest, although Rivers of London comes close too. The most disappointing read was Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher. I’ve loved everything he writes so far, but this one was clichéd and dull. The writer I’ll miss most is of course Terry Pratchett, whose last book The Shepherd’s Crown crowned my Christmas. The series that ended I’ll miss most is Finishing School by Gail Carriger.

Despite all this reading, I had a good writing year too. I published three books, The Croaking Raven, To Catch a Billionaire Dragon, and A Warrior for a Wolf. I also wrote a fourth book, Magic under the Witching Moon, that comes out this January. You can preorder it now.

Magic under the Witching Moon by Susanna Shore

Encouraged by my success last year, I pledged to read 55 books in 2016. I’ve had a good start already; two books read, although one of them is technically a no-finishafter two thirds I skipped to the end to see how it ends and decided it wasn’t worth bothering to read the rest. There are quite a few books coming up from my favourite authors, three already in January, so there’s a lot to look forward to. If you want to follow how I do and what I read, you can do it here.

The reading did cut into my blogging, so I didn’t post very often here. I’ll try to mend my ways, so keep an eye on this space. In the meanwhile, Happy New Year to you all!