Why readers are so important (5-star review for Shadowfall)

Writing is something that, for me, has grown from an activity I’d do a couple of evenings a week to something that happens every day. I’m working harder and harder at all aspects of the process‌—‌planning stories, writing first drafts, and running through different rounds of edits‌—‌as well as spending more time on marketing and other ‘business’ activities.

So why is writing important to me? There’s no single reason. A large part of it is pure enjoyment, from the excitement of developing a cool story idea through the fun of writing itself and onto the rewarding work in moulding those initial words into something I can feel proud of. Then there’s the possibility of earning money from these stories‌—‌we all need money to live, and there’s nothing wrong in seeking some kind of financial recompense for all the time, effort and money I’ve put into producing these books.

Then there’s the opportunity to entertain, to take readers on a journey, to help them escape from their daily lives for a few hours. This is more nebulous than the other reasons, but is no less important. Maybe it’s the most important reason for writing. After all, story-telling is communication, and each story only truly comes to life when it reaches across to another person.

It’s harder to quantify this reason, though. I can judge my own enjoyment in the process, and I can look at my bank balance to judge the financial rewards (or otherwise). But the effect my stories have on others‌—‌how do I judge that?

This comes down to communication. I’ve received a few e-mails and comments from readers, as well as a few reviews. I received one review for Shadowfall recently that I thought I’d share here.

Wow. That is all I can say about this book. It kept me on my toes waiting to find out what came next. I was left wanting more and I am very eager to read anything written by this writer. This book had everything I like in the fantasy genre. It was well-written with a lot of character and world building. I would definitely recommend this book.

Every time I read that review, I feel warm inside. It’s so positive, and it tells me that (for this reader, at least) I succeeded in many things I set out to achieve in Shadowfall. This review tells me it’s a page-turner, and that my work in creating a believable world, populated by relatable characters, succeeded.

Yes, the review came through BookSprout (a service that aims to match readers with books in order to provide reviews), but there was no pressure on the reader to leave a positive review. As I’ve said many times before, I’d far rather receive an honest critical review than an insincerely positive one.

2019-1719 TW Iain b01 animationShadowfall‘s slowly getting more reviews and ratings, and many of them are positive. I know the book isn’t for everyone, so I’ll receive negative comments at some point. And that’s fine‌—‌I know there will always be areas of development in my writing and story-telling. I know, too, that every reader is different, and one reader’s drudgery is another’s page-turner.

But I hope I never stop feeling so good when I receive a review like the one above. I never want to become complacent. I want to always remember that the stories I write are not only for myself (and hopefully for my bank balance). I need to remember that stories are never complete until they are consumed by a reader. Only then can they truly live.

I feel honoured and grateful that what I create can give others enjoyment. And I thank any reader who takes the time and effort to leave a review. Without readers, there is no need for writers. Without readers, stories never emerge from the depths.

Without readers, there are no books.

[As a quick post-script, what do you think of the animated cover above? Many thanks to Deranged Doctor Designs for this‌—‌one of the best cover design companies around.]

An offer for Kobo readers

I’ve got a lot of time for Kobo‌—‌not only are they a serious competitor to Amazon/Kindle in many places, but they are also incredibly focused on books and writers. They run a great deal of promotions, and their latest gives readers 40% off certain books.

I’m mentioning this because they’ve accepted two of my books for inclusion in this offer, Shadowfall and the Dominions Box Set. The offer runs until the 24th February, and to get the 40% discount simply use the promo code FEBSALE at checkout.

Shad1_lowShadowfall (Shadows Book One)

The company enhanced Brice. They promised him action and adventure. But he’s stuck on a malfunctioning craft, with a crew who treat him like a child. He’s miles from home, in the worst storm of the season, and night is falling.
And in the shadows the creatures wait, their hunger growing.
The company prepared Brice for many things, but nothing can prepare him for what he must face when the shadows fall.

2017-1326 TW Iain 3D Box Set on white on transparentDominions Box Set

When Rodin, professional assassin, is forced to take a contract in the perfect society of the Dome, he expects enemies. But he doesn’t expect to start questioning his own motivations, or the deadly threats from a past he no longer remembers.
Dive into the dark Dystopian world of Dominions with this collection of three novels and one novella, and begin to uncover the secrets buried beneath the glass.

Don’t forget, use the promo code FEBSALE on Kobo to get 40% off‌—‌that’s almost half price.

And to check out more books in the sale, click on the following links for specific Kobo stores: UK, US, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Germany

2019 round-up

With the end of the year approaching, its time to take stock of 2019. Looking back, I had six goals for this year

  • To release the new edition of Dark Glass and seriously market the Dominions series
  • To release two more Dominions novels
  • To go wide with the Shadows series
  • To release paperback books
  • To dive into dictation
  • To start a new project

So, how have I done?

Dom1CoverSmallDark Glass

The new edition went live back in February, and judging from feedback the re-write definitely resulted in a better book. I also released a box-set of the first three novels a couple of months after this.

I did some marketing on the series, and had some success‌—‌but marketing is still something I need to work on.

Dom5_small(Hi_res)More Dominions books

This didn’t go well.

Rogue Wolf (Dominions V) was the hardest book for me to write so far. I’m used to books changing as I edit them, but with this one the process involved at least three total re-writes, just to get the story working. Even though I started planning it back in 2018, I only managed to release the finished version at the start of November.

I did manage to publish another Dominions novella, Errant, but the sixth novel has yet to appear. I’m working on it at the moment, though, and I don’t think I’m going to take as long over this one (at least, I hope not).

Go wide with Shadows and release paperback books

From September onward, I got new covers for all three novels (and the novella) in the Shadows series. I’d started pulling the novels from Kindle Unlimited, and these books are now available through Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Tolino, and as many other vendors as I could get them into (as well as Amazon).

Shadows series - paperbacks

I think the new covers look great‌—‌very eye-catching, and they give a far better idea of what to expect from the books than the old covers did. I also got paperback covers, and these books are now available in physical form.

I’ve yet to release any of the Dominions series as paperbacks, though. I’ve formatted the internal files, but I’m still considering how to get covers done.

Dictation

I’ve tried, but this hasn’t gone well. I’m not naturally talkative, so maybe it’s not too surprising that I find it easier to ‘write’ through my fingers than through my mouth.

I’ve tried dictating directly into my laptop, and editing mistakes as I go slows me down. I’ve also tried recording and transcribing, but at the moment this process (including time taken correcting the transcription) isn’t any faster than typing. The only advantage has been the ability to ‘write’ while doing other things.

But I’m persevering. I got a great tip from a recent Creative Penn podcast, where Kevin Anderson talked about using dictation in his planning, simply talking through ideas as they came to him. I’ve been giving this a go for a week or so, and it seems to be working. Talking while thinking is slowly getting easier, and I’ve now got loads of ideas down for a new project (more on that in a moment).

I’m going to continue with this strategy for a while. Then I might try dictating some of my blog posts (because a lot of them are me working through ideas anyway), and hopefully I’ll end up feeling more comfortable dictating fiction.

A new project

Due to the time spent on Rogue Wolf, I haven’t made any major headway on this. But I have ideas.

Okay‌—‌I always have ideas. In the spring I wrote the first draft of a novel that was an attempt at continuing the Shadows series, but it didn’t work too well (didn’t have the same horror feel, being more action/adventure), so I’ve shelved that for the moment. I’ve also thought about writing a series following on from Ghost Stream, the novella I had included in The Power Of Words anthology, and while I have a few ideas I haven’t developed any of them yet.

But I also have a brand new idea for a series, and that’s what I’m working on in my dictation practice. The more I think about it, the more excited I get‌—‌and that has to be a good sign.


So, some successes and some disappointments, and lots of lessons learnt. I need to work smarter when writing, and I still need to improve in finding potential readers (which is what marketing really boils down to). As far as sales go, 2019 was an improvement on 2018, but not where I want to be.

But I’m moving forward. And in a couple of weeks, I’ll lay out what I aim to achieve over 2020.

KU or not KU? (Why I’m going wide)

One of the biggest decisions for an independently-published author, when releasing a book, is choosing between going into KU and going wide.

If you’re unfamiliar with these terms, I’ll explain.

KU, or Kindle Unlimited, is Amazon’s subscription service for ebooks. Subscribers pay a monthly fee, and can then borrow as many books from the KU library as they want. It’s great for readers who devour books, and for a newer writer it can be an excellent way to gain more visibility‌—‌when readers don’t have to pay for each book they download, they’re more willing to take a chance on an unknown writer.

To compensate writers for these ‘free’ downloads, Amazon pay for each page a subscriber reads. While the individual page-read amount is very small (a fraction of a cent), the total can soon add up, often overtaking revenue from book sales.

‘Going wide’ means releasing an ebook through other retailers (although most writers still have their work available through the Kindle Store). While Amazon/Kindle is predominant in some places (particularly the US and UK), other ebook retailers have a larger share of the readership in other territories (such as Kobo in Canada). It’s also worth remembering that there are areas where Amazon does not have an e-book presence, and in these countries readers need to use some of the smaller services.

For a writer/publisher, the ideal situation would be to release books through every platform as well as enrolling these same books in KU‌—‌but Amazon don’t allow this. They have an exclusivity clause (for all but a few big-name authors), which means that a book in KU cannot be available anywhere else. So there’s a choice‌—‌either go into KU, or go wide.

ShadowsSeries(fromAmazon)I’m not a fan of exclusivity, so I released the books in my first series, Dominions, wide. But when I came to write my Shadows series, I decided to try KU, at least for a while. But after ordering new covers some months ago, I took the opportunity to rethink.

Some writers make a significant chunk of their income through KU page-reads, so looked back over my own sales and page-reads. I discovered that, since releasing the first Shadows book in August 2017, I’ve earned twice as much through page-reads as through sales‌—‌for each $10 of sales, I’ve received $20 through KU. If I were to go wide with this series, in purely financial terms I’d need to earn twice as much through other vendors combined as I do through Amazon.

Is this likely? To answer this, I checked the figures for my Dominions books (all of them are wide). Here, I discovered that Amazon brought in slightly more than other sites combined, but only just. The figures were roughly equal, so $10 of sales through Amazon equates to roughly $10 through everywhere else. This is about half of what I’d earn through KU page-reads.

From this, it appears that staying in KU is a better move, and also seems to suggest that putting the Dominions books in KU would be a sensible move.

But this doesn’t give the whole picture. There are other factors I need to take into consideration.

KU is owned by Amazon, and they can do with it whatever they want. Amazon continually tweak, aiming for better customer satisfaction in order to increase profits. There have been instances over the past few years where certain changes have cut some author earnings by 50% or more. It’s a reminder that it’s not usually a sensible move to put all your eggs in one basket. There’s more financial security in earning from multiple sources, so that changes resulting in a loss from one source can be offset by earnings from another. Yes, being in KU might be a good short-term move at the moment, but I’d prefer a steady income over many years rather than a quick spike in earnings.

But what of the readers who use different services and retail sites? In my own experience, and at the risk of making sweeping generalisations, it looks like there are.

One tactic often used by writers is ‘first book free’. The idea behind this is to have the first book in a series as a free download, a way for potential readers to try a new writer without spending any money. Then, if they enjoy that free book, they’ll be more likely to buy subsequent books in the series.

There’s a term for readers moving through books in a series‌—‌read-through. Often, there’s a middling to low read-through from book one to book two (especially with a free book one), but a significantly higher read-through from book two to book three. My own sales and downloads fit this pattern‌—‌but it’s worth noting that the read-through from book one to book two differs on different platforms. I have a far higher read-through on Kobo than I do on Amazon. I’ve also found that Kobo readers are more willing to post a rating, although this might be connected to the fact that Kobo allow ratings without reviews, but Amazon insist on a review.

Why this should be, I’m not sure. Maybe readers who specifically favour non-Amazon sites are less likely to be seeking bargains, or maybe they are more serious or dedicated readers. Again, this is a generalisation, and there might be other possible reasons that escape me at the moment.

But what it does mean is that, proportionally, I get more engaged readers on Kobo than on Amazon. I’ve had positive comments from Amazon readers, as well as from readers who use iBooks and Barnes & Noble.

Then there are those who download my Dominions books in places where Amazon don’t reach. So far, I’ve had downloads through all 13 Amazon stores (.com, .de, .com.br, and so on), but have had downloads through Kobo from 80 different countries. As the e-book markets change, and as mobile technology expands into new places (it’s growing particularly strongly in Africa and Asia), being with e-book retailers who reach these areas puts me in a stronger position for the future.

With all this in mind, I’ve now pulled my Shadows series from KU, and am now in the process of publishing the trilogy wide. The first book, Shadowfall, is in most stores now, and Shadowsiege and Shadowstrike are due to have their wide release over the next couple of weeks. At the end of the month I’ve got a few promotions lined up (in the run-up to Halloween, which seemed appropriate for a sci-fi/horror series), and I intend to explore other advertising options too.

Will this move pay off? Only time will tell, and if things go wrong I can always return to KU. But I’m confident this is the right decision‌—‌not for short-term financial gain, but for reaching new readers who will enjoy these books, and who are more likely to buy more books in the future.

Mid-year round-up, and the benefits of struggling with writing

It’s July. That means half of 2019 is gone, and I thought I’d take a look at how the year’s going for my writing.

My first thoughts on this aren’t good. I’ve found writing increasingly difficult, and don’t feel I’ve been very productive. But to be more objective about this, I’ll recap the 2019 goals I set back in January (for more details, that original post can be found here). These were:

  • To release a new edition of Dark Glass, the first book in my Dominions series
  • To release another two Dominions books
  • To take my Shadows series out of Kindle Unlimited and go wide
  • To release paperbacks of at least some of my books
  • To start a new project or series

So, how am I doing?

Dom1CoverSmallI published the rewritten version of Dark Glass in January, and followed it with a box-set of the first three novels. I’m far happier with this new version of the series starter, and a couple of recent (negative) reviews on the following books bring this back to me‌—‌Dark Glass is now a far stronger book, and so more likely to encourage readers to download other books in the series.

I’ll be getting new covers for the Shadows books from next month (the designers I’m using, Deranged Doctor Design, are usually booked up about six months in advance, which is why I didn’t use them for the original Shadows covers‌—‌a mistake on my part, I admit), so I’m waiting for these before re-releasing the series and putting it wide (Kobo, iBook and so on). I’m also getting paperback covers done, and I’ve already formatted the interiors, so this should be another goal ticked off by the end of the year.

So, one goal achieved, two on target. Now we come onto the ones that aren’t going so well.

I started Dominions V back in January, working from a rough outline I’ve been kicking around for some time (well over a year). But I wasn’t pleased with the first draft, and did some intensive planning before starting another draft. This one ended up far too long, and again I wasn’t happy with the story. There were moments I thought worked well, but overall it felt strained, and there were too many sections that plodded. The whole resolution felt forced, and it wasn’t a satisfying read.

It was now the middle of May, and I knew I needed a break. So I put this novel to one side and started something else.

Shadows was always intended as a trilogy, but I left some loops open (I’ve never been a fan of stories that close everything off too neatly). I’d been intrigued by a possible follow-on series, and so I planned and wrote a novel that could be start of this series, and managed to complete the first draft by the middle of June.

This was an improvement on the Dominions V drafts, in that the story worked. But it didn’t sit well with the rest of the Shadows books. The original trilogy was sci-fi infused with horror, whereas this new one was more action/adventure. It felt like a story being crammed into an already-existing universe.

So, six months and drafts of two novels that didn’t work. I started to wonder if I’d wasted half the year, as well as trying to figure out why writing had suddenly become so much harder. And as I thought on this, I realised two things:

Progress means aiming higher

In retrospect, writing isn’t getting any harder. What has got trickier is writing scenes and stories that satisfy my inner critic. As I’ve learnt more about the craft of writing and storytelling, I’m constantly resetting the bar for myself higher and higher.

If I wanted proof of this, I only had to look at Dark Glass. When I released the original version, I was really pleased with it. I believed the story worked, and that the writing was good‌—‌not exceptional, but better than I expected. But a few years later I was able to see so many issues with that book that I decided to re-write it.

No writing is ever wasted

There’s a famous quote from Thomas Edison, when he was asked about his failure to produce (I believe) a working lightbulb‌—‌‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’ This can apply to anything, including writing.

To get better at something requires two things‌—‌knowing what to do, and practising. With writing, I can read books on craft, listen to podcasts, learn in so many different ways‌—‌but this will have no effect if I don’t put this learning into practice by actually writing.

So I can look back on these ‘failed’ drafts as practice. I can see passages that work, and I can also learn from what didn’t. Through writing, I’ve improved, and that means my next draft should be better, maybe even something I can use.

But there’s another way of using this writing. Stories are made of scenes, and each scene should work on its own. From these drafts, I’ve managed to extract scenes and mould them into short stories (you can read one of these, There’s Always A Choice, here). Additionally, the draft of the post-Shadows book might be usable. I could re-mould it into the start of a brand new series, unconnected to Shadows.


Where does this leave me for the remainder of 2019? I’ve started another draft of the next Dominions novel, after a more in-depth planning process, and I feel it works far better than the previous ones. I’m confident I’ll have this book out by the end of the year, but I doubt the one after will be ready‌—‌especially as I want to spend some time concentrating on the re-release of the Shadows series.

So I won’t achieve all of my goals for this year. But that doesn’t matter‌—‌I’ve kept on working towards them, and I’ve learnt along the way.

As long as I keep on writing, I’m doing well.