“The Fires of Tallen Hall” Update

For weeks, I was stuck on the first chapter of The Fires of Tallen Hall, with only nine written. That first chapter was just too choppy. Not poetic enough.

My wife had a brilliant idea. She suggested I write the entire book. Just write it, as a skeleton. Then go back and flesh it out. That way, I progressed and would end up with at least an outlined complete story. Capital!

A skeleton for me is dialogue, action, and description. Then, I add the muscle (the expository that holds it together), and the skin (the lyrical language). I planned to focus on the skeleton, and ignore the muscle and skin.

I am happy to report that as of last Friday, I have completed nineteen chapters. They’re anemic and emaciated, but they have flesh and skin over the bones.

This is an interesting point in the story. I began Aura’s initial tale in 2010. It morphed through six different incarnations: the first graphic novel, and five novel versions. At no time did I ever complete it. From Chapter Twenty forward, I am in new territory.

It would be easy to say that I have the story outlined in my head. In fact, it’s outlined on a dry erase board to my left. However, it has changed. In Chapter Eleven, I wrote a few paragraphs to reintroduce a character from A Path of Stones so the reader wouldn’t forget he exists. Those few paragraphs radically altered what I planned to be a confrontation with the villain’s henchman. Based on those paragraphs, someone else will have to deal with him.

So, there is no telling what Chapter Thirty, or Twenty for that matter, will do to the ending.

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

Aura Lockhaven in Iray and Comics

Yes, you read that right. Aura Lockhaven comics!

I’ve been experimenting with the Iray rendering engine, and the results are beyond what was expected. So, I had to see what Aura looked like.

Usually, I render her in Reality-Luxrender. That texturing system and render engine gives me more control over the look, and has far greater textural fidelity than Iray. It is, however, slow. Luxrender is the Treebeard of the rendering world. It never does anything hasty. A six hour render is just too time consuming for a comic, or even an illustrated short story. A page of a comic per week is reasonable. One panel per week is not.

Iray, however, is lightning in pixels. I can expect a render to complete between 20 minutes and 90. Extremely complicated sets and lighting require more time, but that is usually limited to fine art pieces, not the panels of a comic.

So. Here is the first image of Aura, rendered in Iray.

AuraIraySM

Aura looks great! Her skin is fantastic, and comparable to Reality. The clothes, however! They’re too orange. I can control the colors better in Reality. She’s the “red enchantress,” not the Orange Bowl Queen. Well, they are three years old, and date from her incarnation as a Victoria 6 figure (she’s a Victoria 7 now). Time to give the lady a new wardrobe.

This scene was … interesting. Iray should have rendered her in 20 minutes or less. It’s just one figure, a few clothes, a simple set, and two lights. She took an hour to reach 15% completion! That is not acceptable. This required some drastic measures. I could only surmise that the issue lay in the fact that Aura is a custom made, slider-by-slider, character. All those morphs had to slow her down. So, I made a single character morph and applied to to a stock G3F. If you don’t know what that means, I essentially turned her into a character I can sell. Instead of ten different morphs for her mouth alone, I have just one that says Aura Lockhaven, and it controls both face and body. That cut load time in half, but did not significantly increase render time.

Oddly enough, I experimented by rendering her in the Beta edition of DAZ Studio 4.9, instead of the public release of 4.9.3. She rendered much faster. At eleven minutes, she had only reached 10% completion. Not great. Not good enough for a comic. Better than 15% after an hour. At that point, I stopped the render to check her pose. Satisfied, I resumed the render. Within four minutes, she shot from 10% to 55%.

What the heck! There is no difference between 4.9 Beta and 4.9.3. They are identical. Why would stopping and resuming the render cause that much of a speed increase? My wife speculates that stopping it freed tied up resources in either the cache or VRAM.

It does matter. I’d like to know the answers so I can correct them. However, this opens the door for Aura Lockhaven illustrated short stories and comics.

I plan a few short comics, as in ten to twelve pages. They will fill in the gaps between novels, and provide a bit of backstory to some of the characters and situations. They will be free, on my website. Why not? Give them away as promotional items, and as fun things to fans.

This also opens the door for the Sarethian Seven to be that series of illustrated short stories I’ve envisioned for three years.

I will leave you with a scene I call “Night of the Wraiths.” Aura seems to be in a wee bit of a predicament.

Wraiths

Reader Reviews of A Path of Stones

What readers are saying about A Path of Stones:

A Path of Stones is a marvelous testament to the human spirit and the ability to overcome one’s past. Filled with heart racing adventure, wondrous magic, and danger around every corner, it truly reflects the creativity and boundless imagination of the author. This book has led me down my own path of stones.” — L.J.

“This is not your basic genre book, a rehashing of the same story with different characters as so many of even my favorite series have become. This is uniquely well written. I like that it moves well, and especially that the main character is one I can relate to. It tells the story of a young girl who loses everything and is then betrayed by the only family she has left on top of that. It follows her self-discovery and how she learns to go from powerless to powerful, and then on to learn to control that power. There are a lot of layers beneath the surface of the story. If you like stories of the “supernatural” or “otherworldly” written for readers who like a story to teach as well as entertain, this might just be for you.”  — K.L.K.

Check it out at www.njbmedia.com.

 

 

Book Covers: More Important Than I Realized

Never judge a book by its cover? Baloney! Tommyrot! Poppycock! Book covers are important — more important than I realized.

Book buyers buy books for four reasons: they know the author (Stephen King sells on his name alone), they are following a series (Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files), they read a glowing review and are interested, and finally, the cover grabs their attention.* The latter is especially true for freshmen authors like me. Our names aren’t known, our series are just beginning, and no one has reviewed our books yet.

A Path of Stones is selling quite well on the Apple iBookstore. So far, I’ve sold more than 50 copies, and average at least one sale per day. I’ve finally been able to access the Apple iBookstore, via iTunes, to see what the listing looks like.

Because the title begins with the letter A, my book is smack in the middle of the second row of Popular Fantasy. Nice placement. But the cover struck me. It stood out among the other three rows. For openers, it’s the only cover that features two characters, not just one. Secondly, it’s one of only two in which the characters are actually doing something, not just standing there. All the other covers feature portraits or objects. They aren’t boring, but my one scene of action shines in a sea of portraiture.

This is the cover:

pathcovera

I followed Frank Frazetta’s concept that the cover depicts action and drama, even if it does not convey the actual plot of the story. If you look at his marvelous paintings, all of them depict action. Even the classic painting of Conan standing on a pile of corpses conveys action. The action has just passed, and we have a good idea of the skull-cleaving that transpired. We want to read the story to see it for ourselves.

Remember, the the book cover is marketing. Given that the average online book shopper spends about three seconds scanning rows of potential purchases, it is important to grab the buyer’s attention fast. I’d say the cover to A Path of Stones is doing just that. I’ve made enough from the Apple store to buy two tanks of gas and a cheeseburger.

Apparently, Frazetta’s concept isn’t followed much these days. Also, apparently, it still works.

*  Non-fiction book buyers have reason to buy a book that outweighs the four I listed. They’re researching a subject. That’s rarely the case for the reader of fantasy fiction.

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.

 

 

St. Patrick’s Sale

St Patricks Day 2

St. Patrick’s Day is the day that all Americans think they’re Irish, and my Irish wife avoids restaurants and bars like the plague. In honor of the day, I’m holding a sale on all eBook editions of A Path of Stones. They will be 25% off, for March 17, 18, and 19. So, tell all your friends that they can get in on the fun of A Path of Stones for only $ 2.99, both Kindle and ePub editions.

Visit www.njbmedia.com for details.

Have a happy St. Patrick’s Day, and don’t drink any watered down Guinness.

After One Week

A Path of Stones released last Wednesday. After one week, this is how the book has performed:

1 hardback sale

1 Kindle sale

23 ebooks on the Apple ibookstore

Not great, but not bad, either. I didn’t expect it to be a phenomenon in the first week, much less on the first day. My marketing approach is known as “soft,” meaning I release the book, do some preliminary announcements on social media, and then let word of mouth take it from there. “Hard” marketing involves phone calls, press releases, and free copies to reviewers. No need in that for the first novel.

What’s surprising are those Apple sales. I signed up for the Apple store simply because Lulu offered it as an expanded marketplace option. All I can figure is the book description appeals to people with iPhones and iPads.

Even more surprising is a hit on this very blog today. Someone found it by searching “The Fires of Tallen Hall.” That is the title of the second book, which I’m currently writing. The title appears at the end of A Path of Stones, on a “to be continued” page. So, someone finished A Path of Stones and wanted to see if The Fires of Tallen Hall was available.

I’ll chalk this week up as a success.

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.