Friday, 26 August 2016

So you’ve brought out a book – now what…? [Guest post, by Jo Zebedee]

There are millions of books on Amazon and all their authors are sure they’re the best thing ever produced. They’re all chasing sales and reviews. How on Earth does yours get found?

I’ve been published just over a year now, and I have three books out, two traditionally published, one self published. For the purposes of this blog I’ll focus on the self published book with the big caveat that none of this is a whole lot different for any indie book (or, indeed, I’m told, for any author.)

This then is how to promote – what I did right, what I did wrong, what I’ve learned for the future.

So, let’s blow my own trumpet. What did I get right?

  1. Promotion sites. These are a catch-22 in some ways. You need reviews to get accepted – but you can’t get reviews until you get readers (see later, in what I didn’t do so well.) Once you get the reviews, however, assuming you do, this is where Kindle Unlimited comes into its own. You can discount to 99p for a week and retain your 70% margin. If you can combine that with a good promotional campaign, you can get a lot of sales.

The king of promo sites is Bookbub. It’s expensive – because it works. I’ve had two campaigns in the UK and each has paid for itself and resulted in additional reviews. But don’t discount some of the others – I like Book Barbarian a lot, and always get good results, and there are many others. Google and ask around – see what works well for your genre and how much it costs for your genre.

If you do this sort of promo, work out your break-even and make sure it’s realistic in terms of sales.

  1. Word of mouth. This, I am good at, apparently. Building some SM presence, and some support. A couple of tips come to mind:

Don’t spread yourself too thinly. There’s a temptation to be on every SM site and every forum, and you’ll end up exhausted. Pick a couple and do them well. My main platforms are Facebook, Twitter and two specialist science fiction and fantasy sites (as well as a few Facebook groups).

Be yourself. There will always be people who don’t like you, of course. But, mostly, if you engage, you’ll find some that do. But a fake persona stands out a mile after a time.

Promote others. Good will is important. Call out for others, share their events and news. Nothing is more boring than a timeline with one subject, and only one book, on it.

  1. Blogging. I started my blog ( in 2014, having blogged previously on a specialist forum. I reckon in the first year I had about 20 hits per week. Sometimes less. Now I’ve passed 20,000 hits.

Blog regularly. Blog only if you like it, and it’s not a chore. Try to stay around some sort of theme. Try to keep some sort of voice – mine is relaxed and chatty. Try not to use it for promo – no one wants a bore.

So, great, I did okay with those. What didn’t I do so well at:

  1. Using my website. I have one and have done for a long time, and the nice domain name of But I used it mostly as a placeholder and not as a live site.

Not anymore. I now update much more regularly and intend to keep doing so. I’ve started a mailing list in the newsletter section (see in a moment), that’s slowly building. I plan to release exclusive content onto it and hope to build it more.

Why, since I already have a good Facebook platform? Well, Facebook pages are very ineffective at delivering content with a very low spread unless you’re prepared to pay for them (Facebook ads are another place I want to explore.) Plus, you don’t own them. That content could be taken down at any point. My website is mine….

  1. Reviews. This is where I wasn’t cheeky enough, or aggressive enough at the start. Reviews are important. The number of reviews is very important. Ask people, nicely, if they’d consider doing one. Offer free copies in exchange for reviews. Politely ask bloggers etc it they’d consider one. You want to be hitting 50 or so for both the Amazons – I’m crawling up there at the moment.

  1. Mailing list. I’ve been slow on this one (but, really, no one can cover all this, write, have a job – as most writers have to – and any sort of life. Do the best you can, bit by bit.)

Basically, if you’re an author, you want one of these. I use a mailchimp extension to Wordpress and it’s reasonably straightforward. What it means is that if people sign up I can launch one email (which takes about 10 minutes) and send it out to everyone.

Don’t spam. Only release one if you have something relevant. For me that’ll be free content, launches and events. Anything else goes in my blog.

And, really, that last point is the most salient – know what goes where. Each platform is different, each brings something else – and if they don’t, they’re not worth the additional effort.

Good luck with it!

Friday, 19 August 2016

Everyday Medieval Terrors

Lots of fantasy books have an approximately medieval world, and many of them (including my forthcoming trilogy) focus on war. That’s understandable, as warfare has much tension, violence, betrayal and mercy/ruthlessness. It’s a smorgasbord of emotion and drama.

However, there were other threats to ordinary folk, which may seem mundane, but probably killed rather more people.

Fire has always been a love-hate thing for mankind. For warmth, light and cooking (sidenote: even lions prefer cooked meat to raw stuff, when offered a choice), it’s vital. Raging infernos, however, are a significant downside. Medieval houses might be fairly spread out in a village, but in a city they’re crammed together (and highly flammable). When open fires and candles are the order of the day for illumination, the prospect of a fire is never far away. There’s no fire brigade, and no house insurance.

The NHS is often in the news, sometimes with ‘funding crisis’ attached to it. However, imagine a world where there’s not only no NHS, there are no antibiotics at all. Most diseases are treated poorly or are totally incurable, and your main options are ‘get better by yourself’ or ‘die’. Lack of knowledge means diseases spread more rapidly, and because people are understandably frightened, most people would be looked after by their family, so if you infect anyone, it’s likely to be someone you dearly love.

In the 14th century the Black Death wiped out huge numbers of people. In fact, the death toll was so massive it had dramatic economic implications. The price of swords plunged (because a significant minority of their owners dropped dead and suddenly the supply of them increased relative to demand), and the cost of food soared (because many peasant workers were dead, which meant the survivors could charge more for their labour, increasing food prices).

If you are curious about a world without antibiotics, give it another few decades. Excessive prescription (and use in farming) means we’re running out of effective drugs to combat bacteria, and may soon be back to a world where they don’t work.

Bad harvests still happen. And they still push up prices. But because of globalised trade, all that really happens is we import more. If there’s a bad harvest in the medieval world, you get to play a tense game of ‘Will I starve to death this winter?’. If you’ve got kids, there’s a terrible dilemma. Feed them, and you grow weak. Too weak, you’ll be unable to work, your kids will be orphaned, and who knows what will happen to them. If you feed yourself, you may have to watch one or more of your children starve. It’s a horrendous choice, and was a danger every single year.

Now, I did mention war separately above. But beyond the obvious downside of potentially getting your house burnt down, subjected to starvation by being besieged or being raped/killed, there was another, almost incidental problem, but which could also have a substantial impact on an ordinary chap’s life.


That does sound harmless. Except, most farmers, or farm workers, worked on a subsistence basis. After paying taxes (often in food rather than money), there’d be enough left to feed you and your family until next harvest, and a bumper crop meant a bit extra to sell at market for a little bit of cash.

A marauding army does not give a damn about that. They’ve got soldiers to feed. And when you go out foraging, you don’t want your friends to go hungry because you’re soft. So, maybe you kill a few chickens. Not so bad, and a bit of tasty meat. Except those chickens are hugely valuable to a farmer. Chicken is by far the cheapest animal to keep (certainly in medieval times). Not only that, regular eggs provide not only eggs to eat directly, but eggs that can be used in cakes and in stuff like chutney, so food lasts longer (important in an age where fridges aren’t even dreamt of).

But for the sake of a little meat, the nearby army (even being relatively kind) will butcher your chicken, and you’ll lose hundreds of eggs (over that chicken’s now theoretical lifetime).

So, whilst war was commonplace in the medieval era, in terms of casualties, you’re more likely to be done in by something as mundane as poor hygiene, or bad weather.

Incidentally, Explorations, the sci-fi anthology in which I have the short story Dead Weight, should be out in about a fortnight. I’ll put up a post when it’s out.


Friday, 12 August 2016

Art: Nagoya Castle and Dog

When I’m not writing, most of my other activities also involve sitting down, staring at a screen [or possibly a page]. In an exciting divergence, I decided to, just casually, try sitting down and drawing some stuff.

This is my effort of the exterior of Nagoya Castle (the original drawing is in the Unofficial Samurai Manual, which I reviewed here).

Fairly pleased with how it turned out. The distinctive curving slope of the stone base is tricky (and I should stress the more slanted tiles on the second highest roof is deliberate rather than cock-up). It’s a pretty simple drawing, using single point perspective.

I should stress I wasn't intending to draw anything beyond the wall, the green is just there to avoid a big blank gap.

As well as the curving stone base (which helps to make it earthquake-resistant) a difference between this and the English/Welsh castles I saw as a child is that the upper parts (here whitewashed) are largely wooden. That’s partly a function of time, earlier British castles being entirely wooden, but I’m not sure if castles in the Far East ever became almost totally stone.

Never going to try doing my own cover art or illustrating my own books, but if I can improve I might try drawing bits and pieces for readers to enjoy, or for promotional nonsense. Speaking of which, here’s a picture, with Egyptian style and Greek colouring, of the heroic Dog battling a monster in The Adventures of Sir Edric.

And, as it was today announced there’ll be a Witcher 3 Game of the Year (GOTY) edition out on 30 August with all DLC on-disc, here’s Triss Merigold looking thrilled at the prospect of once again being passed over in favour of Yen.


Friday, 5 August 2016

Ancient Olympics

With the Olympics just about under way in Rio, the time is ripe for a look at the original Olympics Games. Some things are broadly similar, others rather different.

The Games were taken very seriously, as they are today, but there was a crucial difference. The competitors, as well as all being male, were also all naked. The sole exception to the hanging loose rule was a specific armoured spring race, for which the chaps would be not merely clothed but wearing the panoply of a hoplite.

Many events had application in war (javelin being the most obvious). Running and jumping were also useful, as was boxing. Speaking of boxing, as well being the only sport that was safer in the 14th century than it is in the 21st, this may have been done with cestus, which are a variety of ancient knuckle-duster. They may (also) have been used in pankration, an extreme form of wrestling.

Another Ancient Greek link is the goddess Nike, who personified victory (as well as having other sporting aspects in the modern world).

Artists would display their creations at the Games and, originally, this was carried through to the modern Olympics which (initially) included such events as poetry.

Whether airy-fairy marketing tosh or genuine desire to ‘bring the world together’, the modern Olympics does have that global harmonious aim. It was similar (on a naturally smaller scale) way back when, as the Games were held amid a truce to enable competitors to turn up without being slain along the way.

There were other Games in Ancient Greece (the Nemean Games, for example) but the Olympics were the most prestigious and were, just as people only remember the Delphic Oracle, the ones that people remembered for centuries down the line before they were revived.

As an aside, Olympic was the sister ship of the Titanic (the Olympians and Titans, of course, going to war in Ancient Greek myth).

Incidentally, Explorations: Through The Wormhole (in which I have a short story entitled Dead Weight), is due to be released in about four weeks, so keep your eyes peeled for that.