The Indie Steampunk Lit Extravaganza Deals

As you can see from the post following this one, a group of wildly talented authors, including me (humble of me, right?), have banded together to give readers a week of spectacular deals on steampunk fiction.  We’re calling it The Indie Steampunk Lit Extravaganza.

For the week of April 21st to 26th, everyone’s books will be at least 50% off normal price.  I’ll be offering my book, Fires of Alexandria, for $0.99 during the deal.  The deals listed in the following post are only shown for Amazon, but my book will be reduced price across multiple sites.  If you’re interested in one of the other books and it’s not on the site of your choice, send the author a message and I’m sure they can get you to the right place.

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The greatest mystery of the ancient world remains the identity of who set fire to the Great Library in Alexandria. 

One hundred years later, Heron of Alexandria—the city’s most renown inventor and creator of Temple miracles—receives coin from a mysterious patron to investigate the crime. Desperate to be free of the debts incurred by her twin brother, she accepts and sets in motion a chain of events that will shake the Roman Empire and change the course of history forever. 

Get it while you can!

Fires of Alexandria for $0.99: AmazonKOBOBarnes & Noble, and Google Play .

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The Indie Steampunk Lit Extravaganza

Aberration

Discovering Aberration

S.C. Barrus

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An ancient map stolen. A lost civilization discovered. A terrible secret unleashed.

Set in an alternate Victorian era, Discovering Aberration follows Freddy Fitzgerald, a rebellious writer and ex-scuttler, and Thaddeus Lumpen, a desperate archaeologist with a slew of dangerous rivals. Together they will stop at nothing to make the discovery of a lifetime. But their island destination hides it’s own dark secrets which can push even the strongest minds into madness.

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james calbraith

The Year of the Dragon

James Calbraith

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Amazon UK

Best-Selling Oriental Fantasy – Dragons, Wizards and Samurai!

It is the Sixteenth Year of Queen Victoria. In the powerful empire of Dracaland, a young dragon rider joins his father on a military expedition to the mysterious lands of the Orient. In the reclusive Yamato, a tomboy samurai girl, strives to prove her right to inherit her father’s school of western magic, and a timid shrine apprentice, is haunted by the visions of dark future she must keep secret even from her best friend. They don’t know it yet, but their paths will cross… And when they do, nothing will ever be the same again. Described as “part Harry Potter, part Last Samurai”, James Calbraith’s “The Year of the Dragon” series is an epic tale of magic, intrigue and war in a world of dragon riding marines, wizard-controlled ironclads and vampire samurai.

This is a bundle edition of the first four books of the best-selling historical fantasy saga, containing the entire Crimson Robe arc: Book 1: The Shadow of Black Wings, Book 2: The Warrior’s Soul, Book 3: The Islands in the Mist, Book 4: The Rising Tide

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Pauline creeden

Armored Hearts

Pauline Creeden

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Amazon UK

When a crippled young lord rescues a girl falling from a tree, it reveals a secret about himself and his mother’s side of the family that could put him at the center of a war with beings he thought only existed in fairy tales.

Tristan Gareth Smyth lived his entire life stuck at home at Waverly Park, left behind while his Grandfather makes trips to London, all because of his blasted wheelchair. Then an American heiress falls in his lap, literally, and he must find a way to keep her at a distance to protect not only his secret, but everyone around him from an assassin sent to kill him.

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Fires of Alexandria

Thomas K. Carpenter

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Amazon UK

The greatest mystery of the ancient world remains the identity of who set fire to the Great Library in Alexandria.

One hundred years later, Heron of Alexandria—the city’s most renown inventor and creator of Temple miracles—receives coin from a mysterious patron to investigate the crime. Desperate to be free of the debts incurred by her twin brother, she accepts and sets in motion a chain of events that will shake the Roman Empire and change the course of history forever.

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deamon device

The Daemon Device

Wendy L. Callahan

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Amazon UK

Saving the world from power-obsessed madmen is all in a day’s work for half-daemon artifact hunter Demetra Ashdown. It’s her potential mother-in-law who proves most vexing.

Yet, Demetra is determined to charm her, even if that means a journey around the world for answers to the most perplexing questions, such as what is the difference between infernals, like herself, and celestials, like her fiancé, Francis? Can they marry, despite being from disparate bloodlines? And just how much lemon cake does it take to keep Demetra happy?

Whether by railway, steamer, or airship, Demetra and Francis will not rest until they can allay Lady Winterton’s concerns about their union.

Nor will they realize the unimaginable discovery or danger to which their inquiries will lead until a chance meeting leads to a long overdue reunion…

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jack conner

Nightmare City

Jack Conner

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Amazon UK

Zeppelins, mad scientists, zombies, oh my!

When beautiful young thief Katya goes on the run in the strange and mysterious city of Lavorgna, she gets mixed up in events that are rapidly spiraling out of control. A horror from another world is terrorizing the city, and only Katya can stop it, but only if she can first evade warring mobsters, the undead, homunculi and one very upset psychopath. No pressure, Kat.

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martin kee

A Latent Dark

Martin Kee

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Amazon UK

Skyla has lived secretly within the city walls of Bollingbrook for eleven years, playing among the airship factories and trainyards.

As one of the Gutter District’s nameless destitute, it has gone undiscovered that she has a unique talent: when Skyla looks at a person’s shadow she sees through it and into another world. She can see people’s fears, desires–all as swimming, living creatures.But when her mother’s past catches up with her, Skyla finds she must flee from the city, into a world still recovering from a second Dark Age, a world of adults with secrets only she can see.

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Ava Morgan

The Lady Machinist

Ava Morgan

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Amazon UK

The Lady Machinist: A romantic steampunk tale of clockwork soldiers, persistent pirates, and political intrigue.

Book One of the Curiosity Chronicles1837: Lydia Dimosthenis detests pirates, especially those of British ilk. The lady machinist will do anything to protect her island home of Aspasia from the scurvy knaves, even if it means crafting seven-foot clockwork soldiers to drive intruders away. When her automatons catch the eye of a charming yet stubborn ambassador from New Britannia, she is given an offer that she truly cannot refuse. But that doesn’t stop her from trying.

Rhys Cartret, ambassador and agent for the Cabinet of Intellectual Curiosities, didn’t count on having a strong-willed, attractive inventor thwarting his every diplomatic move. It’s hard enough keeping his pirate past a secret from Lydia. Matching wits with her is the last thing he needs, especially since New Britannia’s rival France is racing to get the automatons before he does. Intrigue, romance, and striking bargains abound in this curious tale of clockwork soldiers, ruthless pirates, and steam-powered ships.

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Daniel Ottalini

Brass Legionnaire

Daniel Ottalini

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When Julius Caesar survived the assassination attempt on his life during the Ides of March, the history of the Roman Empire was changed forever.

Now, just over 1800 years later, an industrialized Rome sits at the forefront of technological innovations and exploration. But the facade is cracking, and espionage, corruption, and revolution are pulling the empire apart. Into this steps newly minted Tribune Constantine Appius, backed by a cohort armed with new, experimental tactics. Legions, airships, mechanical elephants, and yes, togas, play a part in Daniel Ottalini’s award winning steampunk adventure novel, Brass Legionnaire.

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AethericElements-frontcover-march-2014

Aetheric Elements: The Rise of a Steampunk Reality

Travis I. Sivart

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Automatons and airships, bustles and beasts, corsets and curses, dandies and dastardly deeds, all await you as you explore the cultures which evolved into a Steampunk industrial civilization.

Learn about the people who made history and created the events that molded a world into a near utopia, only to be torn asunder as the society was about to achieve the pinnacle of its existence. Enjoy a savory sampler of Steampunk society and sinister scenarios to whet your appetite for the author’s upcoming full length novel.This anthology of nineteen tales of terror, mystery, and adventure takes you into Travis Sivart’s weird and wonderful world.

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Ichabod Temperance

A Matter of Temperance

Ichabod Temperance

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After the near miss of a fateful comet, a young inventor and aristocratic débutante are among Earths strangely changed populace.

Thrust into mortal danger, these plucky protagonists fight inter-dimensional monsters to save a besieged world. This is a Steampunk, Paranormal, Happily Ever After Action/Romance told in a Humorous fashion. This novel contains NO graphic sex, violence nor strong language. However, there is some monster violence, but nothing ugly, and a light sprinkling of mild innuendo.

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Steve Turnbull

Murder out of the Blue

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&

Blood Sky at Night

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Amazon UK

Steve Turnbull

Murder out of the Blue

1908. A gruesome death on board the Sky Liner RMS Macedonia exposes the clash of class, secrets and sexuality in upper class Edwardian society.

On her journey home Maliha Anderson, Anglo-Indian daughter of a Scottish engineer and a Brahmin scholar, hopes to make peace with what she sees in the mirror every day until the nurse of wheelchair-bound General Makepeace-Flynn is murdered.The General declares his innocence and Maliha is the only one who believes him. With landfall only hours away Maliha must find the murderer before they can escape, even if it puts her own life at risk.

Blood Sky at Night

1908. Ceylon. The British Empire tightens its grip on the world. Attempting to deal with questions of race and identity Maliha Anderson is faced with a murder that brings her face to face with her past. And it’s a murder that’s interwoven with international politics, that even she may not be able to solve.

Both are the same price and both will be reduced for the duration.

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Jack Wallen

Klockwerk Kabaret

Jack Wallen

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Mainspring – a quaint town removed from time and era. Powered by steam and clockwork, Mainspring has enjoyed decades of peace and prosperity … until, from a far-away land known as The Keep of Keys, Hieronymus Ebauche unleashes Hell.

Born of a long-forgotten vendetta, Ebauche transports his clockwork demons through a trans-dimensional portal to exact his revenge. Mainspring’s only hope – Nathan Gage and Olivia Nightingale; the proprietors of the Klockwerk Kabaret, where desire is brought to life with flesh and clockwork. When the doors to the Kabaret close, Gage and Nightingale slip into the shadows as vigilante crime fighters. The fight leads them to The Keep of Keys where they discover a much darker truth.As the clock winds down, so too does the hope of Mainspring.

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Interview – Wendy Callahan

On April 21st, we’ll be unleashing the Indie Steampunk Lit Extravaganza on the world.  One of the authors, Wendy Callahan, has agreed to sit down and answer my questions about her writing and the event.
Q: Why steampunk?A: I love that the steampunk aesthetic leaves so much room to explore, and experiment. As a history buff, it’s fun to take one of my favorite eras – the Victorian Age/industrial revolution – and play with what might have been. Rules and I don’t get along very well with each other, but literary freedom is one of my best pals.

Q: What makes your work unique? How does it stand out from other works in the genre??

A: In the Aetheric Artifacts series, I have created a new race – Aetherals. Their powers are classified as infernal or celestial. No one seems to understand what this means in book 1 (“The Chronos Clock”), nor do they necessarily care until they are faced with a forbidden romance. So the characters undertake a journey in book 2 (“The Daemon Device”) to find out if their racial differences truly mean they cannot be together.

This is a lighthearted, comedic adventure series, with a touch of romance. There’s a very proper main character, whose logical nature stands in the way of her relationship with the man she loves. Then there’s her impulsive, gun-slinging significant other, as well as the apothecary/artificer who helps them by providing specialized gadgets. Oh, and then there are the puns; many puns.

 
Q: What have you published most recently?
A: On March 24, a colleague and I just released “Steampunk for Simpletons”, which is an “Idiots” or “Dummies” style guide to steampunk.
Q: What’s next on your publishing schedule?

A: The third and final book in the Aetheric Artifacts series, “The Enigma Engine”, releases in June. For those waiting to see if Demetra and Francis will finally marry, the answer is there.

Q: You’re going to be appearing in The Indie Steampunk Lit Extravaganza at the end of April. What can you tell us about that?

A: May I say this in a snazzy movie trailer-style voice? *ahem* Thirteen authors, thirteen books, and a plethora of steamy goodness at 50% off. This is a great opportunity to discover a cross-section of steampunk works, from high adventure to high fantasy, from intrigue and mystery to romance and comedy.

Q: How can people find out more about you? Where can they find your books?

A: I’m everywhere, much like Ceiling Cat. But the easiest way to find me is to pop over to www.WendyLCallahan.com, and go from there. My books are listed there, and they are available at all the usual retailers – Amazon, B&N, OmniLit/All Romance, Sony, Apple, and so forth.

You can also find me at www.soundsofsteam.com, which is the live weekly radio show I co-host.

Q: Before you have to go, anything else you’d like to tell us?

A: Thank you very much for having me here today. It’s been a pleasure.

And thank you, Wendy, for stopping by!  I’m sure we’ll be seeing you around these parts real soon.
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Fires of Alexandria Promotion – $0.99 Sale

In honor of Heron of Alexandria’s birthday, born around this time, a hair over two-thousand years ago, I’m reducing the price of the first book of the Alexandria Saga, Fires of Alexandria, down to $0.99 for one week.  So from Monday, March 24th, to Friday, March  28th, Fires of Alexandria will be available for a reduced price.

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The greatest mystery of the ancient world remains the identity of who set fire to the Great Library in Alexandria. 

One hundred years later, Heron of Alexandria—the city’s most renown inventor and creator of Temple miracles—receives coin from a mysterious patron to investigate the crime. Desperate to be free of the debts incurred by her twin brother, she accepts and sets in motion a chain of events that will shake the Roman Empire and change the course of history forever. 

Get it while you can!

Fires of Alexandria for $0.99: AmazonSmashwordsKOBOBarnes & NobleGoogle Play .

I’m also doing a Goodreads Book Giveaway (the new cover shown above!)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Fires of Alexandria by Thomas K. Carpenter

Fires of Alexandria

by Thomas K. Carpenter

Giveaway ends April 23, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win


And sign up for my newsletter to know when my next book is released.

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The Greatest Inventor Nobody Knows – Heron of Alexandria

Timing is everything.

Thomas Edison was born in the middle of the Industrial Revolution and was a tireless promoter.  Henry Ford utilized the technologies of the day, combined with new concepts to create mass production, to put his name on millions of cars.  George Washington Carver gained fame during the post-Reconstruction era, revolutionizing biological engineering and agriculture, was frequently called on by Presidents and Kings.  Leonardo Da Vinci, one of the greatest of all time, epitomized the Renaissance ideal, but would anyone have heard of him if he’d been born in the middle of the Dark Ages?

While Heron of Alexandria certainly wouldn’t have been as successful without the Great Library and the laboratory of thought that the city of Alexandria provided, it was also probably the Library’s downfall that helped bury Heron in obscurity.

Because only in recent times, two thousand years after Heron lived, are we beginning to appreciate what he created.  Can any other inventor of that time – even the great Archimedes – lay claim to the steam engine, force pump, syringe, primitive robots, vending machines, wind-powered devices, not to mention his many artifacts of war?

Heron’s biggest challenge, besides the burning of the Library, was that he was born before more modern communications like the printing press and the telegraph wire, that might have spread his inventions far and wide.

I firmly believe, that had things been slightly different during Heron’s time, that he could have set off an Industrial Revolution two thousand years ago.  Check out this short video on his early version of the steam engine, the aelopile:

Since reading extensively about Heron’s life in research for the Alexandria Saga, I’ve come to appreciate the cognitive scale of the city of Alexandria at that time.  It would be fascinating to go back and watch people’s reactions to Heron’s automatas, that were proudly displayed on street corners as hallmarks of the City of Wonders.

It would also be a wonder to bring Heron into the future and let him see how much his inventions had predicted it.  I’m sure he’d spend most of his time lamenting the things he’d gotten wrong, but his real genius was how much he’d gotten right.

While it’s true that timing is everything and for Heron of Alexandria, the circumstances just weren’t ripe for his technologies to change the world.  However, it gives me great pleasure to know that progress is inevitable.  That advancement isn’t just a lucky break or a creative accident.

And besides, in an alternate timeline – one documented in my books, the Alexandria Saga – Heron’s inventions did change the world.  So it’s nice to know that it could have happened, even if it didn’t.  *wink*

If you’d like to read more about a fictional (and female) version Heron of Alexandria, you can find the first ebook in the series for $3.99:

The greatest mystery of the ancient world remains the identity of who set fire to the Great Library in Alexandria. 

One hundred years later, Heron of Alexandria—the city’s most renown inventor and creator of Temple miracles—receives coin from a mysterious patron to investigate the crime. Desperate to be free of the debts incurred by her twin brother, she accepts and sets in motion a chain of events that will shake the Roman Empire and change the course of history forever. 

Fires of Alexandria: AmazonSmashwordsKOBOBarnes & Noble, Google Play and paperback .

And sign up for my newsletter to know when my next book is released.

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New Release — Empire of Alexandria

As history often proves, holding an empire together is much harder than taking one.  Corruption and bureaucratic bloat sets in, while everyone’s looking out for themselves.  And taking an empire that’s deep into its aristocratic ways is a whole ‘nother story as Heron and the Alexandrians soon find out.

And I swear none of this is a commentary on current political happenings.  I swear.

Just don’t make me put my hand on a bible or anything.

Empire of Alexandria (Alexandrian Saga #5)

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One hundred years after the murder of Julius Caesar, the circumstances of his death could change the course of the fledgling Alexandrian Empire. 

Left in charge of the treacherous Roman Senate while Agog heads north to deal with the traitor Marcus, Heron finds the game of politics maddening. Her constant missteps encourage a growing list of enemies while a mysterious benefactor proves too dangerous to trust. As the city races towards a political showdown, Heron must discover the truth about the murder of Julius Caesar—a death witnessed by hundreds and understood by few—before a perilous vote hands power back to the Romans. 

The novel can be purchased at AmazonB&N, KOBO, Smashwords or other online retailers in ebook format for $5.99 or at Amazon in paperback for $18.99.

If you haven’t read the first four, they are available in ebook form for $3.99, $4.99 and $5.99 respectively.

Fires of Alexandria: AmazonSmashwordsKOBOBarnes & Noble, and paperback ($17.99).

Heirs of Alexandria: AmazonB&NKOBOSmashwords, and paperback ($19.99).

Legacy of Alexandria: AmazonB&NKOBOSmashwords and paperback ($18.99).

Warmachines of Alexandria: AmazonB&NKOBOSmashwords and paperback ($18.99).

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New Release — Trilogy Bundles

In honor of the holidays…really?  Nah.  How about just: it seemed like another cool way for readers to find me.

The nice thing about bundles is you get the whole package, all-in-one.  No searching for the next book, or wondering if the series is done.  For the Gamers and Digital Sea trilogies, that’s it.  All the books are complete and ready to be read.

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GMRStrilogysmashwords

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other advantage is price.  The three books of each trilogy normally total around $14, but in a bundle, they’re a hair under $10.

So enjoy!

The Digital Complete Box Set can be purchased at AmazonB&N, KOBO, Smashwords or other online retailers in ebook format for $9.99.

The Gamers Complete Box Set can be purchased at AmazonB&N, KOBO, Smashwords or other online retailers in ebook format for $9.99.

 

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One Crazy Week

Writing is a slow, sedentary process that has more in common with watching grass grow, or paint dry.  There might be a lot going on in my head, but the physical act stays the same and sometimes it can feel like Groundhog Day.  The publishing process has similar traits.  While people buy my books on an increasingly regular basis, sales from one hour to the next are rarely different, and the acquiring of new fans takes time.

So I can say with complete and unabashed honesty, that I’ve hardly known what to think this week.

Now, going back to a few months ago, I targeted purchasing an ad on Bookbub for the first book in my Alexandrian Saga – Fires of Alexandria.  Bookbub is a service that emails book deals to a massive opt-in customer list.  In other words, these are book people who’ve signed up to find out about deals on books.  It’s not spam by any definition.  And it’s a great way to get the word out on your book.

But getting an ad on Bookbub is not easy.  They get thousands of requests from authors and publishers on a daily basis and they sort through those to pick the best ones.  It was my considerable delight that they accepted my book, after the third try, for a deal on November 20th.

Keep in mind that success is not guaranteed.  They give you a range of past sales, but each book is different and you never know what readers might pick.  A lot of it depends on the cover, and the blurb, and an overall feel the book gives.  And lately, Bookbub sales have been going down (judging by the average sales listed for each category on their website), so I was approaching the day with modest expectations.  Hitting the previous average would have been enough for me, and I was expecting something more in line with the recent average they listed.

My sales experience has been anything but average.

Rather than bore you with sales details, I’ll just show you where I ended up on the various Amazon lists (saying nothing of the breakaway sales on Barnes and Noble):

#2 Historical Fiction #1 Fantasy #1 Alternative History Overall rank #43 #2 Sci-Fi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I might have hit some other lists, but these were the ones I found (or were sent to me by friends and family – thanks Anthea!)  The #43 overall on Amazon really blows my mind.  I think it got even lower than that, but I didn’t get a screenshot.  Add to that, I hit #16 on B&N and I’m still in the top 100 today.

Whew.  It still blows my mind to see my name along side Stephen King and George RR Martin to name a few.

But more importantly, readers have my books in their hands and judging by the sales of book two and three of the Saga, they’re enjoying the tale.

And adding to the crazy week, I was interviewed on Conversations LIVE!, the audiobook for Heirs of Alexandria went live, and about a half-dozen other little things were going on that on a regular week might have been a bigger deal.

Whew.

So if you see me in the next few days, forgive me if I stare bewildered into empty space, I’m still trying to process this whole week.

And thanks again for the advice Anthea!  And thank you Rachel for the wonderful cover, I think it and the rest of the series have turned out pretty well.  And thank you kind readers for purchasing Fires, or any of my books.  It really means a lot to me!

 

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The Math of Quality (Or Why the Gatekeeper System is Failing)

The Overview

Quality is a nebulous word.  When it can be defined by a concrete measurement it serves as a gatekeeper for the customer, keeping what would otherwise be a unfulfilling experience from their unknowing hands.  When its meaning flails about, providing muted grays and hazy shadows, its purpose becomes counter to its core mission.

Using an example from outside the publishing industry, a good gatekeeper could be a caliper that measures the thickness of a piece of steel that forms the structural body of a car.  Too thick and it interferes with the moving components.  Too thin and it could fail in the field.  The experience, either good or bad, is defined by a number that can be tested and verified by others.  The gatekeeper doesn’t care how many good pieces of steel pass its gate, only that it meets the criteria for quality.

A bad gatekeeper, and I’ll go straight to my point here, is the publishing acquisition system.  Not all publishers have a problem.  Many of the genre specific publishers with a less corporate structure have a better grasp on their customer, so meet their needs better.  But a bad gatekeeper cares about how many books pass their system, because they can only take so many.  Never mind that quality for a book is a difficult attribute to judge.  Let’s assume that the gatekeeper is perfect and only allows good books to pass its gate.  Does that mean that the books that don’t pass its gate are crap?  No.  Does it mean there’s a chance that the book might be crap.  Sure.  But gatekeepers aren’t perfect and there’s no perfect definition of book quality, only what a reader enjoys.  So given this flaky view of quality related to books, a gatekeeper cannot be an accurate judge of quality in the negative.  They can be, depending on the skill of the gatekeeper, an acknowledgement of quality in the positive.  This is the inherent flaw of the gatekeeper system when it comes to quality in a non-defined system.  Really, quality in this situation is defined more on the number of spots available at the publisher and the perceived economic value of the book rather than the true quality of the book (and yes, I acknowledge the for-the-love presses and literary journals, and in their case, the number of awards defines quality rather than economic considerations.) More on this in a moment.

Let me hit my thesis here, so you understand this isn’t just a diatribe against the publishing industry.  I think if we can acknowledge the real problems, and make clear the underlining systems that drive these changes, we can better make the publishing industry a healthier stronger place for all parties.  Because, you know: BOOKS!

The Math (or the Maths if you’re English)

So let me show you the math of what I’m talking about.  For a defined gatekeeper on an open system, the calipers and the piece of steel above, the calipers do not care how many good pieces pass.  Let’s say there are 100 pieces of steel in the system, and by the measurement, 90 are good and 10 are bad.

Total System = 100

Good = 90

Bad = 10

No problems here.

If you double the system, making 200, 180, and 20; the quality of the parts doesn’t change only the quantity.

Total System = 200

Good = 180

Bad = 20

Now, if you can only use 100 good parts, does that mean the other 80 good that you don’t use are bad?  No, it just means you only had room to take 100.

This works for books, too.  If you only have 100 buyers in a 200 book system defined by gatekeepers, 80 books are going to be left out.  Those books are not bad, maybe even the other books are slightly better (depending on your definition,) but they’re still never going to make it past the gatekeepers.

Now take those 100 slots and reduce them in half.

Total System = 200 books

Good = 180

Bad = 20

The quality of the system hasn’t changed, but now we can only take 50 good books and we’re leaving out 130, and now 130 authors are confused on why they can’t get past the gatekeepers.  The gatekeepers aren’t wrong (assuming they’re listening to their excellent editors for acquisition advice rather than the bean counters).  They picked good books.

This is what happened when publishers consolidated and closed.  They reduced the number of books that passed the gatekeepers.   It didn’t change the quality of books being considered.  The number of gatekeepers or the number that they allow past does NOT affect the quality of the books in the system.  The number of quality books in the system and the number of quality books passing the gatekeepers are not correlated.

Or what if the number of slots for books doesn’t change and stays at 100.  Then take the number of books entering the system and triple it.  Let’s say we have 600 books, and let’s even say that the percentage of good books has gone down to 70%.  Now we have:

Total System = 600 books

Good = 420 books

Bad = 180 books

If the gatekeepers are only accepting 100 books, then it means 320 books are going without a home.  So let me repeat again, the number of quality books in the system has nothing to do with the number of gatekeepers (unless you consider that frustration turns writers away when they get rejected.)

In fact, the number of quality books in the system is quite independent of the gatekeepers.  Really it has more to do with the number of people attempting to write, and the quality of their skills and experiences.  Given the ability for writers to collaborate over the internet, network, and generally learn at a faster pace, I would propose that the quality of writing overall has increased for the average writer that continues to produce books (the novice that spits out one book and disappears into the background never gets better, obviously.)

And this is what’s happened in the last five years as self-publishing has opened up the market.  More people are encouraged to write because of the perceived opportunity.  Therefore, the number of quality books has increased (but probably the overall percentage of quality has decreased, for now, eventually it should stabilize at an equilibrium as the number of writers become fixed, as well as the numbers entering and leaving the system – I’d math up this point but it’s a really dry exercise and doesn’t add much more to the argument.)

Another way to look at it is if the number of gatekeepers increases.  What if there are 90 good books out of a 100, and the number of books the gatekeepers can take increases from 50 to 80?  Are those 30 books suddenly quality now that there’s room?  I think not.  They were quality whether or not they were “picked” to use a Seth Godin term.  I would point out that this is what’s happened in the short fiction arena as new markets and anthologies have been popping up at a torrid pace.

So there, a basic point: quality is independent of the gatekeepers.

Does this mean that the gatekeepers don’t ensure quality?  No.  The industry is filled with talented editors who acquire excellent books.  Does this mean that you won’t find a bad book in either system?  No.  Bad books exist in both systems.  I’ll even give you that on average the percentage of quality books in the gatekeeper system is higher than the percentage in the overall system AND the non-gatekeeper system.

But averages are useless when you’re talking about a single book.

I’ll put it another way: place one foot in a bucket of ice water and the other in a bucket of boiling water and tell me that the average of the two temperatures gives an accurate picture of how you’re feeling about the water temperature.  The same goes for books (and for people for that matter.)

Got it.  Quality is independent of the system at large.  Quality is dependent on the experience and skill of the person writing the book and the expectations of the reader (and this is a pretty large definition given the diversity of humankind!)   Nothing else.

Quality (Mine or Yours?)

Now, I’ll take a go at this from a different angle.  On the word quality itself.  You know, the definition of quality for books is similar to the definition of pornography with the legal system.  You know it when you see it, but my definition might be different than yours.

Let me give you one definition of quality in relation to books.  Quality is whatever the hell a reader says it is.  They have certain expectations and if we meet or exceed it, then we’ve met the needs of quality.  No more, no less.  This idea is as old as marketing.  The customer is always right.

Does the reader (customer) care how many books are on the market?  Not really, as long as they’ve always got more quality books to read.  Does the gatekeeper system ensure that readers have good books to read.  Sure.  But the gatekeeper system tends to pick books that they think will likely meet those customer expectations.  The gatekeeper has an economic consideration to take when deciding quality.  This isn’t a bad thing.  We do live in a capitalist society, after all.  The gatekeeper tends to pick “same-as” books because they can define a potential profit model.  If an independent writer’s book fails, they only have to answer to themselves.  When too many gatekeeper books fail, it puts the corporation at risk and stockholders won’t be happy.  Corporations tend to abhor risk.  The worst thing you can do is put the company’s viability in question.  But this risk-adverse behavior also creates a situation that impacts the company negatively because a certain amount of risk-taking is what multi-national corporations needs to do to survive.

Amazon is a good example of a company that’s learned to take risks, but all of those risks are focused on meeting the customer’s needs, even if the customer doesn’t realize that’s what they want.  Apple is another good example of a company that makes design decisions based on predicting the customer’s desires, even before they have them.

This is where independent publishers come in: they can take risks that the traditional publishers cannot.  A writer will fill the page with their art.  Now that art might have some considerations of marketability, or it might just be a for-the-heart book.  But a writer without marketability constraints can take chances (see the New Adult category as exhibit A, it just plain didn’t exist a few years ago until indie writers created it.)  The book might succeed, or it might not, and that’s okay.  It probably pushed the boundaries of genre, and the writer learned something.  If it does succeed, it does so because it met some unknown need for the reader.  Something no sales projection, no market data, no polling data could have predicted.  In the system at large, millions of books will be written and the best, those that speak to the customer’s needs, will rise to the top.

What does this mean for traditional publishing?  It means that they cannot accurately predict what quality means.

How Profit Affects the System

When gatekeepers controlled the number of books entering the market, they could in a rough way, control the profit model of the system.  By keeping only a particular number of books on the market, and knowing how many total books would be sold each year, they could predict on average how much profit they would have (and how much of an advance they could pay an author.)

Opening up the flood of books (quality or not) has changed the profit model, pushing the profitability of individual books down so far that its impacted the overall strategy and forced publishers to reduce advances and now they’re considering eliminating print runs for most new authors.  I can only assume that this is being considered because the overhead for a single book from an author without a sales history has decreased so much that they can’t even pay an advance, so rather than eliminate the advance (which is one of the benefits of the gatekeeper system) they’ve eliminated expensive overhead, which is in this case, is a print run (and by extension – the awful returns system.)

This is not unexpected.  Chris Anderson’s book The Long Tail accurately predicts the shape of the market.  With more books on the market, the average sold for the majority decreases, while a small group at the top – due to discoverability and too-many choices for readers (which can lead to picking a sure thing) – takes the lion’s share of the sales (i.e. – the big bestsellers.)  There are lots of complaints about this trend, but frankly, there’s nothing anyone can do about it—these are the all-powerful market forces at work.  Suck it up and learn to ride the changing tides.

Suggestions for the Publishing Industry

Having your long held and cherished notions swept out to sea from beneath your feet is never easy.  Industries change, and smart companies change with it.  In this given environment, what can publishing companies do?

1)      Abandon the long tail – The writer in me feels a little guilty for even saying this, but the cold-hearted businessman sees a losing battle.  Overall sales would go down, but profit would go up.  I should point out that this is the ethically correct direction.  The “author services” model is another way to shore up profitability, but I find it abhorrent, and akin to predatory loans.

Abandoning the long tail seems like a pretty drastic measure, but if the profitability of these long shots (i.e. – new authors) have reduced to below overhead costs, it’s really the only choice.  Plus, huge publishing companies should be doing what they do best: bestsellers.  The biggest advantage a publisher has from a profitability point of view is the economy of scale.

2)      Develop better talent scouting – What future best seller can you find at a discount before they’ve made it big and the price becomes unprofitable.  Big Data is alive and well in the publishing industry, they just have to learn to take advantage of it.  Amazon has its own data which includes click-throughs and other metrics, but there’s still plenty of information to be had on the cheap by aggregating available sales data (hello?  Amazon rankings anyone?)

Besides book sales information, publishing companies should collect data on the writers themselves.  As it’s been said before,  “it took twenty years to become an overnight sensation.”   That a writer breaks out big should be no surprise to anyone including the writer themselves.

3)      Change the metrics – Best seller lists, which measure sales velocity, warp outlook.  An axiom in business is: be careful what you measure, because it will improve, sometimes to the detriment of other statistics that are just as or more important.

This goes back to the point about quality.  Publishers can’t predict quality.  So they pile money into creating sales velocity so a book will hit the bestseller lists.  Doing so inflates the “sales” of a book and the true quality of a book is lost amid the market pumping.  This only enriches the marketers and ad companies, just like during gold rush times when miners made little or no money (or lost it on speculation) while the shovel sellers took home all the profits.

This happens in indie publishing as well.  Some indies look to successful authors and ask “what was the secret to your success?”  Indies are famously open and honest about their experiences, giving a list of what social media they used, mailing lists, pricing strategies, etc.  When other indies try to replicate the success of others, it invariably doesn’t work.  Why?  Because it wasn’t about the marketing strategy, it was the quality of the book.  That author’s marketing strategy worked because the book was good and people wanted to join their mailing lists and Facebook pages and would tweet about the book.  Hugh Howey (the author of Wool) states that (paraphrased): “social media is for your fans to spread the word about your book.”  He’s 100% correct.

If you want proof, think about your own experiences when you loved a book.  Once you finished did you want to run out and gobble up every book that author has written?  Hell yes.  Did you go to their blog and maybe signed up to go to a convention just because they were going to be there?  Possibly.  Would you go see an author you’ve never heard of or one that you read their book and thought it was so-so?  Hell no.

Back to traditional publishing, learn from the indie writers who’ve had success.  It was the book, baby, it was the book.  Nothing else.  Yes, once a book is a best seller, then give it some gas, because then your marketing will work, because surprise, the book is quality.  And once an author’s done it enough times, they’ve earned the readers respect and they’ll buy a book on name alone.

So find some new metrics that don’t encourage you to dump your money into market pumping.  Best seller lists are terrible  predictors because they can be manipulated (this works for the Amazon sales lists too and results are fleeting there as well).  If it were me, I’d start with the history of data you already own and analyze it for trends (careful that you don’t introduce survivor bias).  Benchmark other industries, artist bound and tangible goods for ideas on the correct metrics.  If I had to start somewhere, I’d go with yearly sales, total sales, and sell-throughs (for series.)  Which brings up a great point: publishers don’t even know where all their sales happen!  In this great article by Kris Rusch: We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know, she explains how publishers misuse their data to come to the wrong conclusions (mostly that we don’t know yet.)  Yearly sales would look at the long-term trend and total sales would give a long-term feel like Gold and Platinum records do for the recording industry (and more on sell-throughs in the writer suggestions.)  I’d look at author sales too, but don’t get too hung up on one book, look at the overall history of a writer.  Everyone writes a stinker, even Stephen King.

Suggestions for Writers

1)      Keep improving, keep practicing – if quality is independent of the gatekeeper, and can only really be decided on by the reader, then the only way to get better is to write a better book and get it into the readers hands, any way you can.  How it gets to the reader is a business decision (traditional, indie, or hybrid.)  Whether or not it’s quality is up to the reader.  If you did your job well, keep going and do it again.  If you didn’t, then reassess and write another book, keeping in mind what you learned from the previous book.  See how this works?  Quality is between you and the reader, no one else.

2)      Don’t stress about marketing – back to the point I made above: if a book is quality then your social media strategy will work, if the book isn’t, then it’ll fall flat.  The quality of the book dictates the success of your marketing strategy.  Does this mean not to do ANY marketing?  Not at all.  But don’t throw all your efforts into building an email list or creating a twitter presence when the readers aren’t enthralled by your book.  And I mean enthralled when I say enthralled.  Most authors with a fair amount of words under their belt can write a quality book that a reader will enjoy, but to get someone to prioritize evangelizing your book over playing Candy Crush on their smartphone?  Your book better give them religion to do that.  The religion of you, that is.  I bet over the years, I was responsible for at least a hundred purchases of the first book of the Game of Thrones series because whenever the topic of books came up, I was pushing GoT on them like a dealer pushes drugs.  George’s first book will get you hooked!

3)      Play the odds – the long tail can be your friend.  Don’t worry about convention or trends, write the best damn book you can write that you love.  If you can’t please yourself, you’re certainly not going to please your readers.  And the truth is that as writers we have no idea what will take off and what won’t, so why not have a good time along the way?  The long tail is forever and sometimes the zeitgeist matches the tone of your book and magic happens.  This also means you should be in as many markets as possible (I’m looking at you KDP select.)

4)      Use Sell-Through on Series as a Quality Guidepost – if there is a promotion statistic that’s meaningful, it’s sell-through for a series.  Just like click-throughs are important for websites, sell-throughs are important for a series.  Used in conjunction with promotions (either free or reduced price), an author can gauge the “quality” of the first book in the series if it leads to sales of the second book (and beyond.)

As an example, let’s say an author does a $0.99 promotion on the first book of their four book series (from $4.99 regular) through a number of promotion sites, spending $250.  During the promotion, the author sells 1000 copies of their first book (to give an expected ROI of 1.)   In the 4-6 weeks after the promotion, with most of the sales coming in the first two weeks, the author sells 50 copies of the second book and 40 copies of the third and 35 copies of the fourth.  What does this mean?  This rate of 5% is probably, from my years of watching the Kindle Boards, an average result for sell-through from first book to second book.  I’ve seen successful authors sell up to 25% from book one to book two (which is why they’re regular bestsellers) while other authors barely get a squeak in sales on book two (which is why they’re still struggling.)  In the case of the struggling author, I would really look at the book and why it isn’t convincing readers to move on to the next book.  For better or for worse, the author now has real good idea of the quality of the book.  If the sell-through sucks, try to learn something from your writing and apply it to the next series, or if it’s good, feel free to spend more time and money promoting it, because the promotion will likely pay for itself.

5)      Use “Likes” and “Followers” as a Quality Guide – just like item #4, your quality can be determined, but not if you waste your time trying to game the system.  I’m here to say, stop following and liking fellow others to pump your numbers.  Sure, at the beginning when the needle’s on zero, I get it, you don’t want people to think you’re a complete noob, so you ask some friends and fellow writers to “Like” you.  I’ve been there and I’ll happily “Like” a good friend if they ask (plus I want to see what’s going on in their world.)  But massive “you like me, I’ll like you” campaigns are worthless, and they’re not helping you understand where you stand with your readers.

My suggestion is to set up your FB, twitter, mailing lists, or whatever, get those initial friends and family signed up and then do nothing except put a note in your books and bio that points people to your social media of choice.  Remember what Hugh Howey said about social media, it’s for your fans, not you.  Now, if you suddenly see a major uptick in your stats (along with sales,) then you know you’re doing something right with your books.  Readers won’t sign up to be spammed unless they really want to hear from you (but mostly they want to hear when the next book is out, so don’t abuse your privilege.)

Conclusion

Quality, as defined by what a reader wants, cannot be predicted, therefore all business decisions should be made with that in mind.  So if you’re going to take anything away from this article, take these two axioms:

Readers decide what is quality

Quality makes promotion successful (not the other way around!)

There, have you got it?  Keep those two little phrases in mind and you can pretty easily make the right business decisions from here on out and this counts for both publishers and writers.  If your strategy violates either of those rules, you are WRONG, do not move forward, do not pass GO! and do not collect two hundred dollars.

 

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Promotion Week – Fires of Alexandria

This week is lining up to be a pretty crazy week. This afternoon I had a fantastic time doing a live interview on Cyrus Webb’s Conversations LIVE show.  I’ll admit, I was really nervous going into it, but Cyrus was a pro and his questions were interesting and thought provoking and I had a good time answering them.  Go here if you want to listen to the podcast, I think it’s around twenty minutes long.

Starting tomorrow morning, I have a $0.99 deal on Fires of Alexandria going through the week.  Why does this matter?  Because I was able to land a coveted spot on the Bookbub list for a promotion on Wednesday.  Last March when my novel The Digital Sea hit the Bookbub list, it went all the way to #1 on cyberpunk and stayed there for a week.  That was a thrill and I have high hopes for this promotion as well.  The historical fiction category is much larger than science fiction and if all goes right, I might break top 50 on the main Amazon list.  *crosses fingers*

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And just because things are extra crazy, ACX sent me fifty free audiobooks to giveaway for the stories The Adventures of Heron and The Curse of the Gorgon.  Adventures is five mystery stories based in the Alexandria time and Curse is one of those five stories, though it’s the longest and my favorite of the bunch (but don’t tell the others!)  If you’d like one of those free audiobooks, contact me in anyway you’d like (email, the Contact Me button on the left, a comment, etc) with your email and I’ll send you one, no strings attached.

See, I told you things are crazy this week.  I have a few other things planned, but those are the major items.  I’m not sure I could fit anything else in if I tried!

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