The Fires of Tallen Hall

2017 hasn’t been friendly to writing.

I lost January and February to releasing A Path of Stones and the subsequent marketing campaign. March fell to a hard drive failure, and doing my best to keep the old computer running. April was consumed with learning the new computer, as well as a few bouts of depression.

It’s May.

Yesterday, I resumed work on The Fires of Tallen Hall, the second Aura Lockhaven novel. I am happy to report that it is 50% complete.

In honor of that mark, here is the first promotional image of the second novel.

TallenHallSM

The Painting

A friend of mine on Facebook found a copy of John William Waterhouse’s gorgeous painting “The Soul of the Rose” at a garage sale. She contacted me and asked, “What’s her story?” Well …

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The young woman didn’t know why she stopped at the garage sale. It offered nothing she needed, just clothes and toys and furniture of toddlers now outgrown them, and CDs for her father’s favorite bands. Ancient DVDs for people too silly to abandon that antique form of entertainment. Stuff called books. Oh, look. A blender. How quaint.

Then, she spotted the painting. It was a simple painting, really. Just a woman stopping at a wall and smelling a rose. She liked the woman’s face, caught in a moment of rapture, the same look she had when she closed a major account. The painting would look pretty against the teal semi-gloss walls of the entertainment room. So, she bought it for a measly $ 50. She made that much it one minute.

For a week, it hung over the Harmon Kardon stereo on the western wall. Most of her friends cast it a quick glance as they sipped their martinis, before turning their gaze to the latest movie she acquired on Amazon.

Then, seven days after the painting’s purchase, the young woman sat in the entertainment room. She pondered which of the Netflix offerings upon which to spend her leisurely afternoon. She heard an unmistakable feminine voice. It said, “Look within.”

The woman leapt up. She glanced around. She lived alone, and the alarms had not alerted her to anyone entering by door or window. If the two Persian cats talked, then she would check herself into the hospital immediately. Someone had said, clearly, “Look within.”

“Who’s there!” she snapped, trembling.

“You are,” the voice answered.

The woman turned her gaze from one side of the room to the other. In the direction the voice seemed to come from, she saw only the painting. She gulped, and whispered, “That’s impossible.”

“Is it?” the voice asked. “You brought me home. Did you not expect me to talk to you?”

This only happened in movies and to lunatics, she thought, slumping to the floor. “What … what do you want?”

“I already told you. Look within.”

“What does that even mean?”

“You live alone in a 3,500 square foot house. You make six digits a year, working only twenty hours per week. Yet, you have never once examined your life. You have never looked at your own mind and heart. Have you ever stopped to sniff a flower for its own sake?”

“That’s silly,” the woman said. “How does smelling a flower get me ahead?”

“It doesn’t. It just makes you more human. Try it. Look within. Find the flower inside yourself, and sniff it.”

“How?”

“Close your eyes. I will guide you.”

She did. All she saw was darkness. The voice said, “Now. Imagine yourself as me in the painting. Smell the rose. Can you?”

“No. I’ve never smelled a rose. It’s silly.”

“Try. What is the most wonderful aroma you’ve ever smelled? Your mother’s chocolate chip cookies? That first cup of coffee in the morning? The sweat on your lover’s chest?”

“The leather upholstery of my new Lexus,” the woman said, with the first hint of enthusiasm since this ordeal began.

“Oh, dear,” the voice said with a sigh. “Well. Just watch.”

The world erupted inside the woman’s closed eyelids. She saw the painting. A woman in a morning gown, her hair elegantly tied back, paused at the wall of her estate. She clutched one of the pink roses and drew it to her nose. The woman’s face changed from that of the figure in the painting to her own. The aroma of the rose intoxicated her. It smelled like life. It smelled like freedom. It smelled like a world beyond corner offices and titles and new imported automobiles and exorbitant houses and vacations to the Caribbean and lovers wearing Rolex watches and carrying stock portfolios. It smelled like the Earth and Creation and being pursued by Pan in the forest and deliberately not running fast enough. In the heat of her back against the floor of the forest and Pan’s body and hands and piercing eyes, she saw the entire world. For once, it was beautiful. She saw beyond the accounts and clients and meetings and cocktails and sometimes betrayals. In one single rose petal, she saw it all. In one single whiff of a perfumed flower, she inhaled it all.

Then, the woman saw all of Denton, all of Dallas, all of Texas. She flew over the United States. She flew over the hemisphere. She saw the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Parthenon. She watched the first man walk on Mars, the battle of Gettysburg, the Great Pyramid being built, and the first strike of flint against stone bringing fire to people. She saw her father, her mother, her brother, herself, you, and me. She saw … a puddle on a road in Texas in August. The water shimmered in the sunlight for the briefest of moments. Brilliant, like a diamond held up to the light. Then, the water vanished, turned into steam by the relentless heat. It left behind a hole not even deep enough to bump the car that passed through it.

The next day, the woman held a garage sale. The tables held the usual items of someone of her status: last year’s purses, last season’s shoes, the previous model Cuisinart, a stack of CDs for a band that no longer played headlines. After all, she had to make room for the newest offerings at Macy’s. The tables also held a single painting, marked $ 5.

 

dawn

 

Philip K. Dick: Writer or Prophet?

Philip K. Dick was a prolific science-fiction writer. He usually depicted a bleak, dystopian future. His works have become more famously known as the motion pictures Blade Runner, Total Recall,  and Minority Report, as the current television series The Man in the High Castle. He died of a stroke in 1982 at age 53.

Below are some of the things he said during his life. Now, remember, he died in 1982.

Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups… So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.

The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use them.

There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’.

Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then.

It’s the basic condition of life to be required to violate our own identity.

There are no private lives. This a most important aspect of modern life. One of the biggest transformations we have seen in our society is the diminution of the sphere of the private. We must reasonably now all regard the fact that there are no secrets and nothing is private. Everything is public.

Look at the world around us today. I ask you, was Mr. Dick a mere writer of science fiction, or a prophet?

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing is often presented as the be-all and end-all of marketing efforts, especially to those of us who are independent writers and publishers.

No, it isn’t! The problem is that the presentation of it to us is painted in broad strokes using a massive brush. It’s over-generalized. It has to be broken down into components. Here is my social media campaign for A Path of Stones, the results, and my observations.

I have four social media outlets: Facebook, WordPress, DeviantArt, and Twitter. The first three exist because I like them, and I’ve been active on them for years. Twitter is simply an exercise in mercenaryism because I still don’t understand what a novelist is supposed to do with a mere 140 characters (besides kill them — a George R. R. Martin joke). Between the four sites, I have 600 friends, followers, readers, and fans.

I began marketing A Path of Stones on those four outlets on January 15. By book release day, February 15, everyone knew I had written and published a novel. The likes, shares, and retweets were phenomenal. The majority of my friends, fans, and followers were behind me. A month later, here are the sales results:

Hardback: 2

Paperback: 0

Kindle: 3

ePub: 53

All those ePub sales were through the Apple iBookstore, a marketplace that I have absolutely no control over. It was a last minute decision when Lulu offered it to me as part of an expanded distribution.

If likes, shares, and retweets translated into sales, I would have made enough by now to buy a car.

Those numbers look dismal! It looks like my social media campaign was a failure. Not necessarily. Let’s look beneath the numbers and at each of the four sites.

My Facebook presence is divided into two parts: a personal profile and an author’s page. My friends on my personal profile are old high school friends, college friends, fraternity brothers, friends I’ve made in Texas, and the core of an old LiveJournal forum that stuck together after the forum folded. The majority of the followers of my author’s page are the same people. Most are younger than I am and have children. They don’t have much discretionary income, and the ones who do are not necessarily fans of fantasy fiction.

My fans on DeviantArt are mostly other 3D artists, and those who like Frazetta-inspired images of buxom women playing with swords. They put the fanatic back in fan. But they like art, not necessarily words. If I had published an art book, I’d probably have sold 50 copies that first day.

WordPress and Twitter are made up of the same types of folks, writers and artists who band together to learn from each other and support each other. Not all of us like fantasy, and those of us who do may not take a chance on a freshman writer’s first novel. If I had written a book on self-publishing, it would have sold like crazy between WordPress and Twitter alone.

So, it would seem that my social media marketing fell flat solely because my market isn’t represented in my four sites. That is not something that is reflected in the generalized statement of using social media marketing for sales success.

There is a way around that. I could join several forums and Facebook groups specifically designed for fantasy fiction. Then, I could plug my book. I can’t do that. Not only is advertising against the rules of most forums and groups, it’s also poor manners. I’m mercenary enough with Twitter. If I am going to aim my social media marketing deliberately at a specific target, I’d join it, become part of the group, get to be known, and stay silent about my book for at least six months. Then, I’d mention it in an off-handed way, such as “You know, I wrote a book on just that very thing. Maybe you’d like it.” That is a possibility; I just haven’t explored it yet.

Going back to the likes, shares, and retweets for a moment. I received more of those for my “I’m published!” posts than any other at any time. The attaboys sure felt good. Encouragement is worth its weight in gold.

In no way am I discouraging you from using social media marketing. I’m simply saying don’t be disappointed if it appears to generate little to no sales.

Now, all that said, I can see where social media marketing works in an outstanding manner for certain groups. Niche writers for one. Say this blog were about the life of a childfree middle-aged pagan man writing in a college town (it actually is, but imagine if that were the focal point). Over the years, my readers here would reflect similar lifestyle tastes. If I wrote a book on that subject, based on my blog posts, and offering twelve new chapters never seen on the web, it would sell and sell well. In fact, that’s exactly how some best-sellers are written.

The same goes for the Millennial generation. I know a few 20 year olds, and they have more than 3,000 friends on Facebook. They are a collective group of young people. If one posted “My new novella comes out today,” 1,000 of their friends would buy it immediately. That’s just how that generation operates. Mine is different. We Baby Busters are loners. We believe if we can’t make it on our own, we don’t deserve to make it (which is why my Kickstarter campaign was so stressful). Two totally different mindsets. I may pick on Millennials, but I admire their optimistic communalism and I hope it never disappoints them.

The campaign for The Fires of Tallen Hall will no doubt be more successful. I’ve noticed a trickling increase in traffic here, on Facebook, and on DeviantArt. In fact, twice now, someone found this blog by searching for my name, and once someone searched for The Fires of Tallen Hall, which appears only at the end of A Path of Stones as a “to be continued in …” line. That tells me the readers of the ePub edition got curious. They will come back. They will tell their friends. Their friends will visit. They will bookmark this page, and my website. That is called the “soft marketing” approach — word of mouth. To my way of thinking, it’s the slowest, but the best.

 

 

The Importance of Book Descriptions

We publishing Browncoats (Firefly reference; allusion to Independents there) are responsible for all our own marketing. Nowhere is this more crucial than in the book description we write for the various e-marketplaces.

I’m assuming you’re writing fiction. For us, the best option is to use our elevator spiel. If you don’t know what that is, ask yourself how you can summarize your book to a perfect stranger in the two minutes required to travel by elevator in such a way that he wants to buy your book. They’re short, to the point, and juicy.

This works, you crazy hep cats! I just released my book A Path of Stones today. That means, I activated the links on my website. The books have been available on Amazon, Lulu, and the Apple ibookstore for a week now. I already sold eleven ebooks in that week! It can only be because I wrote a humdinger of a description.

Here is the one for A Path of Stones:

Newly initiated wizardess Aura Lockhaven has a strange power within her that enables her to perform miracles. The path of the enchantress offers her hope to harness that power before it kills her. To discover more, she visits the Valley of the Mystic Moon, the home of the Order of Enchanters. The Order is not so enchanting, however. A monster wants Aura’s soul. A vengeful ghost wants her head. A renegade lawman wants both. A mad noblewoman believes Aura is the fulfillment of a prophecy. Finally, there is something about her mother’s maiden name that attracts the wrong kind of attention. Aura may not survive walking A Path of Stones.

My main goals in writing it that way was to convey what the story was about, in suspenseful terms, and to let the reader know this is not another story about a group of mismatched characters walking 1,000 miles to save the world from an evil villain. I must have achieved my goals.

Writing for Bowker’s Self Published Writer newsletter, Penny C. Sansevieri goes into much more detail than I can. I’ll simply link you to her article and tell you to read away: How Great Book Descriptions Can Help Sell More Books.

 

 

 

SFWA Now Accepts Self-Published Writers

You read that right! Science-Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America now accepts writers who self-publish novels. I just found this out. Apparently, SFWA made the decision in 2013.

According to their membership requirements, a candidate is eligible if:

A published work of fiction of a minimum of 40,000 words either sold to a small press or self-published for which the author can demonstrate net income of at least $3,000 over the course of a year since January 1, 2013. Income can be in the form of advance, royalties, or some combination thereof …

This is exciting! I thought self-published writers were barred from membership in the various guilds.

We’re legitimate now.

 

Color and Brightness in Designing Your Own Book Covers

When designing your own book cover, or hiring a professional cover artist from Fiverr, it is critical to remember how Amazon and Lulu print. Otherwise, your cover will be too dark.

Yep. That happened to me. This is another excellent reason to order at least one proof of your book before clicking that Publish button.

The images we work with are digital. That’s true whether we design our own in a 3D art program, hire a professional to make one using photomanipulation, or take our own photographs. Even if we use a film camera, the final photograph will be scanned. Covers for Lulu are either jpeg or png format files, while Amazon wants a PDF of a jpeg or png. In other words, digital.

Color in digital is read as RGB, or Red-Green-Blue. So is your computer. It’s what we computer users are familiar with. Print, however, is CMYK, or Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black. It’s called the Four Color Process. Amazon throws a monkey wrench into the system by printing in RGB.

Transferring from digital to print darkens it by up to 40%. It can also throw off the colors. If you notice, one system uses green, while the other uses yellow. Cyan and magenta are also not as saturated as blue and red. It doesn’t seem to matter if a RGB image is printed in RGB format. Printing to paper is what throws off the colors and brightness, because paper wants CMYK. To understand what I mean, print a photograph from your computer on an ink jet printer. The colors won’t match, and the image will be darker.

Here is what happened with mine.

This is the original cover, as it appears in digital format.

path-cover

Now, here is the cover to the paperback proof.

pathproof2

It’s much darker in life than in this photo, too.

That is simply the nature of the beast.

Unfortunately, there is no one method for correcting this problem. The rule of thumb is to make the cover image much lighter and brighter than you think looks good. It will translate into the final cover. For some, merely increasing brightness and contrast is sufficient. Professionals on Fiverr probably know this, and take it into account from the start. For me, I’m rerunning the render, at garish light levels. I also lightened the skins, clothes, and set. It looks horrid for an art piece, but ought to suffice as a cover, given how dark it prints.

But, hey. It’s my cover, on my book, with my story. It says what I want it to say. That much freedom is worth that much extra work.

Why Are So Many Fantasy Characters Orphans?

That question pops up routinely in fantasy discussions. From Frodo Baggins to Richard Cypher to Daenerys Targaryen, few of them have parents. Even the best adjusted family in fantasy, the Starks, get themselves killed off, and the survivors qualify as orphans now. Well, to me, the answer is obvious.

You had a mother, didn’t you? Would she let you traipse across the country with a crazy old man hellbent on saving the world? I didn’t think so.

Get Mom and Dad out of the way, and the story can proceed.

 

I Started a Newsletter

According to my self-published friend, Dana Kaye, and S.K. Quinn, I should have a newsletter. That’s three voices for a newsletter. So, now, I do.

From a marketing point of view, it extends my contact with current and future readers. Through a routine newsletter, I can keep readers engaged with contests and special offers not available on my website. That just builds sales and revenue. If potential readers know they get goodies no one else gets by subscribing, then they will subscribe. Everyone likes free stuff they do not have to pay for.

From a personal point of view, it allows me to maintain gratitude with my readers. These people are paying (or will pay) my bills, and I owe them. Until I reach too many subscribers, I can even send birthday cards.

I’m using Mailchimp. Until I reach 2,000 subscribers, it’s free. If I have 2,000 subscribers, I should be able to afford to pay for the service!

It is an interesting experience. On one hand, it’s easy to set up by following the wizards. They have more templates than I have letters in my name. On the other hand, all the coding is built into the site, and my ability to fully customize it is limited. Posting an HTML popup window on the front page of my new website is proving to be a challenge. Mailchimp and Coffeecup don’t like each other. For some reason, Firefox refuses to display my images, but Chrome will.

That is tonight. I’m sure I’ll figure this out.

In the meantime, if you have a courageous soul, I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter by clicking here. Yeah, it’s a primitive page. I’m working on it. The first newsletter goes out on New Years Day. It will no doubt be primitive as well, but I’m making this up as I go.