Genre survey – the results!

If you never ask, you’ll never know.
That’s where this started.
Sales of Rangers and the rest of the Sam & Sam collection have not been what I hoped they would be. I’ve been putting them in the right places, recently, though some of the higher-tier advertisers won’t accept my ads yet, and I have been selling, but it didn’t feel like I was meeting my benchmarks. I have a number of author groups I hang out in, and we spend a lot of time talking about the big three for packaging:

1) Cover
2) Blurb
3) Sample

Your cover brings in readers, your blurb entices them to try the story, and your sample proves that you can tell a story they want to read. The first, biggest, and potentially most important gate is that cover.
I’ve posted the Rangers cover a few places before and had people ask for the name of the designer. I love the cover, and how well it captures the feel of the series and the peculiar person that Samantha is. She’s not flashy and pretty with thick flowy hair and a warrior stance. She’s a chick in jeans with a chainsaw.
Booyah.
(No, she’s never handled a chainsaw in the books, *actually*, but I’m looking for my first, earliest opportunity to fix that.)
The problem is that, even if the cover fits the book, it needs to fit the genre, too.
If the cover doesn’t communicate genre, it’s not going to attract readers who are interested in it – it’s going to attract readers who are looking for something else entirely. The same problem goes with where a book is shelved – if I don’t tell my readers what it is, accurately, the right readers and I are going to miss each other.
And I was pretty sure Sam & Sam were Urban Fantasy.
So I asked.
I posted the covers for the first four books and a brief description in one of my favorite writers’ groups, and an interesting conversation ensued about whether or not a book with that cover belongs in urban fantasy. Whether or not I even was urban fantasy. What those books said they were.
And, sitting and watching these well-informed, intellectual conversations, I realized that they weren’t going to help me at all.
Authors know that Urban Fantasy is a book set in the real, modern world, usually an urban (city) setting, with a paranormal twist, usually involving magic.
But what do readers think it is? That’s what actually matters.
So I asked.
And I got answers.
Answers that have clarified a lot of things, and made me very confused about some other things. I promised to talk about the results for my newsletter, and I did, but I want to use graphs. And talk a lot more. So I also promised that they could check here for the real download on my survey results. And my immense gratitude that they took the time to answer my questions.
I’ll go through them by question, from here, and talk about what I think I learned. Feel free to straighten me out in the comments if you think I’ve missed something important.

Question 1: You’re reading a book with a scene where a demon’s still-beating heart is tacked to the door with a knife, a pair of eyes are duct-taped to the window, a swordfight is going on as the two people involved use copious amounts of magic and all of this takes place in an abandoned warehouse in a large city. Is this:
A) Urban Fantasy
B) Horror
C) Dark Fantasy
D) Fantasy
E) Ew.
F) Other

I allowed them the freedom to choose all that applied. This is the compiled response:

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First, for the person who said “ew”. I totally get that. I do. Please don’t read Sam & Sam. It kinda gets worse from there. Portal Jumpers is potentially still a really great fit for you.
So. I thought the answer here would be urban fantasy, shoo-in, with a perfectly reasonable case for dark fantasy, maybe fantasy, and perhaps ‘other’. I thought I would get a certain number of ‘horror’ responses, because it’s kind of graphic, but I’ve thought from the beginning with this series that it isn’t horror because it lacks dread anticipation – the style of suspense is just *wrong*. So, hooray, I actually agree with these results. Completely. The number of Urban Fantasy + Dark Fantasy responses was really encouraging. Others included Paranormal (totally agree) and this, which won the whole survey for me (I know I promised no wrong answers, but that doesn’t mean some can’t be more right than others): “That depends on what city. If it’s a city in this world, it’s Urban Fantasy. If it’s an imaginary world it’s fantasy.”
So, so far, so good. I agree that I’ve got my book on the right shelf calling it dark fantasy or urban fantasy. Yay!
Question 2: What genre is this cover?rangers-ebook-cover-kindle

A) Horror
B) Urban Fantasy
C) Dystopian
D) YA
E) Zombie Apocalypse
F) Is this a trick question?
G) Other

Again, pick as many as you like.

 

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The results here were… troubling. Horror. YA. Zombies. Dystopian.
I’m really not anywhere near any of these.
The rate of people picking UF was low enough that I have concluded that I’m going to have to put re-covering the series on my list of things to do, because I’m not selling to the right people. I’m just not.
Loud and clear, I think, and I’ll try to learn from it.
I think that the woman on the cover is probably too young, the color scheme is wrong, and… I might have to give up the chainsaw.
Le sigh.
I can work with that.
Once more, thank you.

Question 3: Which of the following TV shows would you consider ‘Urban Fantasy’?

A) Charmed
B) Grimm
C) Supernatural
D) Buffy the Vampire Slayer
E) True Blood
F) Arrow
G) Medium
Here, I knew there would be some gaps, because not everyone has watched every show, or even heard of them, but I used TV instead of books because it gives me a better shot at finding stuff people know well enough to have an opinion.
First, let me walk through why I picked these.
The ringer is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It has literally every core element of popular Urban Fantasy, including featured but not central romance plotlines, a kick-butt heroine, the elder mentor, the grimoires, magic, vampires, angst, and a dark cityscape setting. And almost everyone has heard of it. I can’t come up with any reason to argue against Buffy being UF.
The next one on the list is Supernatural. There’s a case to be made that Supernatural is horror. I don’t agree with it, but I could see why you would ‘shelve’ it there, rather than UF. It’s also often quite rural. Other than that, this is my second-strongest case for UF. Magic, paranormal, adventuring, hero’s quests… On and on. Also very popular and well-recognized.
Grimm. I don’t watch Grimm. I started and it never hooked me. I consider it a little-brother to Supernatural, with a lot of the same mythological elements, the hero’s quest discovering the mythology of the world… Again, rural, and this time the world is a bit further away from ‘real’. Just a little, but it’s there. If you wanted to call it ‘mythological fiction’ rather than ‘urban’, I could see my way to agreeing that you have a valid perspective.
Charmed. The big sister of grimoire witches. Just about every mythology ever showed up at some point, the same kick-butt feminine leads. I figured that the only big miss on this one was that it’s been off the air for… kind of a long time, now. And the cityscape wasn’t quite so ‘urban’ as consistently as Buffy.
True Blood. This is the first one on the list that I might not have picked, because I think the romantic plotlines dominate the story more than a classic UF. I will admit, though, that I’ve never watched an episode – I’m going off of press and raves. I don’t know who the hero is – human or vampire. I just know that if you asked me, cold, what type of story it is, I’d call it paranormal romance.
Arrow. Another very-close-to-the-line pick. I was hoping to find that my core group of shows popped up everywhere, and that True Blood, Arrow, and Medium would show up in smaller subsets. I would say, ‘aha!’ and explain that they do have UF elements, but they’re missing core pieces. True Blood would be the central plotline outside of a romance, and Arrow is magic. I only made it about a season, but Arrow is, at its roots, a superhero plot. Can Superhero be UF? Fascinating question. Absolutely fascinating. My results didn’t help answer that question at all, I’m afraid.
Medium. This was my biggest stretch. Partially because Medium doesn’t look like an Urban Fantasy. The cinematography is well-lit, open and airy, even if it is urban. (Going solely on ads, here. Mea culpa.) It’s also a procedural, rather than an adventure. That matters. It’s also the weakest match to my core audience. I figured, of all of the shows I referenced, this would be the one that was least-often recognized, and you can’t categorize a show you don’t know. Here, at least, I think I was right. For what reason? Dunno.

Results:

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The part of the results that were most mind-boggling to me weren’t the final distribution. It actually looks about right. The core 4 are best represented with Buffy winning, and the other three tail off in exactly the distribution I’d have expected. What was unexpected was how they came in.
I had three people pick six of seven. A bunch at five. I had a few pick three or four. Almost everyone else picked two or one, and the twos didn’t come in patterns. They were random. (Except Medium.)
Grimm, Supernatural, and True Blood.
Grimm and Buffy.
Supernatural, Buffy, and Arrow.
Just Arrow.
Just Charmed.
Just Grimm.
Just Supernatural
Supernatural, Buffy, and Medium.
And it goes on.
Going through it all once more, I think that I do find the trend I expected – that the young lead discovering and adventuring through a mysterious magical world full of supernatural conflict is the core of what readers see is UF – but there were a lot of combinations I didn’t understand.
Was it because I watch more TV than is good for me? That could be. It’s hard to know, given that I didn’t ask which ones they’d *seen* before I asked which ones they’d categorize, but I thought that that was overly-complex. Still think I was right, there.
So.
That’s what I got.
Really sitting with the data in front of me and pulling it apart to write this, I think I’m reassured more than I’m troubled.
Rangers needs a new cover. Darn.
But the genre is what I thought it was. The tropes of adventuring and discovery of the paranormal resonate. And readers care enough to show up and tell me about it, when I ask.
Thank you.
So much.

2017: a sneak peak!

I got so much done in 2016.  Despite a lot of other things going on that I had to work around, the backlog of work that I have ready to publish is huge, and I’m so excited to get some of it out in 2017.

I do a calendar every so often, just to try to keep a grip on what I’ve got going on, and I put in a special effort this December to work through what I’ve got coming up in 2017, and I wanted to give you a peek at everything I am going to try to do in 2017.  So here goes.

If you are on my mailing list, you’ve been getting notices that I’ve got work available on Instafreebie that is only available to newsletter subscribers (new or existing).  There is my Isobel sample, a unique short story in Isobel’s world that will continue to be available, and there was the Christmas short story that is still available but that is going to come down around the middle of next week, but the rest of the stories that have been cycling through Instafreebie have been novellas from The Book of Carter.

I’m really, really excited about these, because there’s so much of Samantha’s story with Carter that I only got to tell by reference, in the Sam & Sam main series, and these were really important stories for Samantha.  And, well, Carter is a character I was terrified to write, because he’s got his own agenda all day, every day, but they’ve been a whirlwind of fun, sort of getting dragged along behind as Carter does his thing.  I’m actually planning at least one more Book of Carter novella, in early 2017, that right now I expect will stay up on Instafreebie as an exclusive bonus for mailing list subscribers, but the rest of them are going to come down one by one and get published to Amazon.  I’m still working through the final (non-Instafreebie) covers, which is what’s delaying this today, but I’ll get them sorted out, and they’ll start showing up on Amazon through January, February, and March, culminating in a Book of Carter release sometime before the end of April.  Stay tuned for cover reveals as they get finalized.

Working my way through to the end of the year, I’m planning a Portal Jumpers release, a Sam & Sam release, a His Dark Mistress release, and a Sam & Sam companion release.  Like Isobel, there are a lot of other characters in the Sam & Sam universe that I think deserve to have their own stories told, and this one is one I didn’t really see coming.  Becca is special to me because she has created a set of images for the year that are really just showing up everywhere for me.  It’s like when someone you know gets a new car, and then all of a sudden you start noticing just how many of that car there are out there.  Becca’s world has started showing up in unexpected places for me, and I’ve bought art, toys, and clothes because they remind me of her.  I’ll release more information about her as we get closer to her actual release in the middle of next year, and I’ll have a cover reveal for that probably in April, if my guiding winds stay true.

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This is a clue.  He’s also gorgeous.  That is all.

On the writing side, I’ve got eyes bigger than my stomach, I suspect, but I’ve got a lot of things that I want to do, so I’ve basically just planned… all of them.  A standalone novel, a Portal Jumpers Adventure (a Portal Jumpers novel with the same main characters, but not connected to the main arcs going on in the Portal Jumpers series – so long as you’ve read the first two, I think you should be able to read a Portal Jumpers Adventure any time, and it should make sense), a Sam & Sam novel, a Sam & Sam companion novel…  More if I can do it.  This was a very productive year, as I mentioned, and I’m setting my sights on even more in 2017, trying to simply improve my work output for every month, compared to the previous year.  It’s a strategy that I have to use carefully, to make sure that I don’t let my goals become such rock-face mountains that I just don’t even try to climb them, but the path I see for 2017 feels very do-able right now.

The trick, for me, to accomplishing huge things is flexibility.  Set big goals, revisit them often, and adjust as my priorities, interests, and availability change, and then try (try, oh, try) to see the shortcomings as successes, because the goals were so high in the first place.  In a positive mindset, it works.  There are definitely days that it doesn’t.  That said, the magic of flexibility is being able to take new information into account, as I get it.

Information like reader feedback.

There are a few kinds of reader feedback.  The most obvious is dollars, and with all the love in my heart for my most avid readers, if they aren’t loving the stuff that is selling well, I’m going to prioritize the things that sell well, and try to find spare moments to advance the work that they are clamoring for.  This does happen.  That said, having readers who are really excited about new work and upcoming releases is more motivating than anything else I know of, so if you don’t see your favorite characters represented on either my release or my writing schedule, speak up!  I’d love to hear it.  I’ve packed out both the release and production schedules for 2017, but I didn’t mention everything I’m planning in the list above, because they’re things I’m a lot more flexible on.  It’s easy to swap out one book for another, at this stage, if I find that the one I’ve chosen isn’t the one my readers are most excited about.

You can use the contact me button up above any time you like, for anything that you want to tell me about.  Sincerely, I love hearing from readers (and other people in the industry – hello, other writers!), and I answer most of the e-mails I get.

Hope your year-end planning has been as encouraging as mine, and I’ll see you in 2017!

Isobel – the book!

So this post is way late.  I was going to put this up Nov1, but Isobel wasn’t quite ready and then NaNo got the best of me and I ended up waiting for my Dec1 post.  And now it’s the third and I’ve been so involved in writing that I’m just getting to it.

So my apologies to her.

isobel-ebook-cover

Isobel went live in the middle of November.  This is a book in the Sam & Sam universe, but Isobel is not in on that, quite yet.  She’ll show up in Sam & Sam #7, but her history was one I wanted to get figured out before she turned up.

Because Isobel is complicated. Continue reading “Isobel – the book!”

#ProjectNovember

My writing calendar revolves around November.

Four years ago, I promised myself I was going to try to make a career out of writing, and that journey began at NaNo (National Novel Writing Month, in November).  While a lot of people quite legitimately feel like NaNo falls in the middle of what is already the most stressful season of the year for meeting obligations and finding time to get things done, I find it reinvigorating to repurpose a dark, cold season into the peak of the writing year.  The first few years, I intentionally took off the entire month of October, in order to be sitting on a pile of creative energy, come midnight, October 31st (not to mention a pile of leftover candy with its own kind of energy).  That hasn’t worked out for scheduling reasons, lately, but it’s still day 1 of my writing calendar, with a sense of new, with all of the shortcomings and the lots-of-work from the previous year wiped away.

November.

This is also when I take a close look at what I got done last year and what I plan on getting done next year, because anything that I don’t have on a glide path to finished by November isn’t going to get done in 2016 – it’s going to have to be next year’s project, anyway.  And this has been… an interesting year.

For reasons that aren’t worth listing out, here, I had a large break in publishing called ‘2015’.  I didn’t publish anything between Warrior, which came out Dec 30, 2014, and HDM: Miami, which was May, 2016.  (It’s worth noting that I didn’t stop writing, through this period.  I had two successful NaNos, and a few other really strong writing-challenge months, so the work is written.  I just have to get it *done*.)  They say that a gap in publishing that big is a momentum killer, but I didn’t have any momentum to speak of, anyway, so I figure it didn’t make all that big a difference to me.  Regardless, when I looked at this year, back at NaNo2015, I wanted to get books out, again, but that particular muscle had atrophied quite a lot, and it took five months to get the HDM novel organized and put out.  From there, things have rolled a bit more smoothly, but without really seeing the results I was hoping for.

So I made a deal with myself.  Writing year 2016-2017 is *the one*.  Everything I have been promising myself I was going to get around to, everything I’ve been meaning to try, all of the identified causes I have for not being as successful as I want to be – I’m going after them.  And that starts with a blitz of content all targeting – November 2016.

The things that are already done for #ProjectNovember:

-New cover for the original His Dark Mistress novel.  (The old one was a formative attempt at proving to myself that I’ve got no idea what I’m doing, designing a novel.  I’d love to say that that lesson is officially learned, but…  Quite frankly, I’m probably going to continue trying.)

-Publish and release Dragonsword.  My favorite book of the ones I’ve written to date, I’ve been sad to see it languish as much as it has, so far, and I hope that as I get further into #ProjectNovember, some of the readers who really enjoyed Sam & Sam will find that they enjoy it as much as I do.

-Release the Sam & Sam box set.  The first four books are really one story.  It has three natural breaks in it, which are where the four books come from, but this is how they were always meant to be.  I don’t know if I’ll do another Sam & Sam box set with any of the other books I have planned; perhaps a box set of Sam & Sam companions, as they come into existence, but probably not with the linear (numbered) Sam & Sam novels.  They just don’t go together the way the first four did.

-Various behind-the-scenes advertising and promotional work.  I find this a bit tawdry to discuss here, so I won’t.  Suffice to say, I haven’t done it before, and they say that in order for readers to know that your work exists, you have to tell them.  I find it difficult to argue with the inescapability of this logic.

Things that are yet to come before November:

-Sam & Sam paperbacks.  Yes.  This is happening.  The covers are done, it’s just a question of getting the layout finished, which takes time, and JJ is already underwater with the amount of stuff I’m asking him to do.  Like, you know, publish two books and a box set in two months, and a bunch of other things.  The first four books plus Dragonsword will all be ready in paperback by the end of October, though, or I promise to beat him.

-Isobel.  Oh, Isobel.  Isobel has been digging a hole in JJ’s brain for years, and he asked me to pry her out and pin her to a story, so that’s what I did.  She lives in the Anadidd’na universe – not that she knows it.  She’s the first of the Sam & Sam companion stories, and is an odd format, compared to the others.  I’ll be posting a short story (or at least, part of one, depending on how things go) to my blog here to help get a feel for how Isobel goes.  The cover is done, the editing is mostly done.  Isobel should be up by the very end of the month.

-More advertising and promotion.  I should note, here, that if you want to find out about all of the big groups of discounted books I join up with, be sure to sign up for my mailing list.  There are going to be more of these, going forward.  They’re a great way to find other authors who are writing the same kind of stuff I write, at great prices.

-Potentially the first Book of Carter novella.  In all, there will be four novellas, and my plan is to release them quickly across the end of this year and the beginning of next year, and then combine them all into a single book.  The first one is called Rage.

November.  The writing year starts in November.  And I’m going to do everything I can to make it a big one.

Wish me luck.

Dragonsword: Live today!

It’s here!

I want to open with this, because it’s important to me: Dragonsword is my favorite book, of the ones I’ve written so far, including 17 novels and a basket full of shorter work.  The world of Sam & Sam continues to pick up new characters, and this is the cast that I’ve really been looking forward to.  There are also a number of continual character transformations that are really important, over the course of this book.  Makes this book, among all of my Sam & Sam books, their offshoots, and my other books, feel like home.

After the tumultuous formation in the first four books, Sam, Samantha, and Jason have hit their identities.  The problem is that there’s a reason Samantha ran away from all of this in the first place: New York and its political intrigue is messy, dirty, and violent, and the more powerful you are, the more involved you are, whether you like it or not.  And while Samantha may not like it, she’s not going to back down.

You can get Dragonsword on Amazon here.  Don’t want to dive in in the middle?  Start with Rangers, for only $0.99.  Prefer to read paper?  Watch this space: Sam & Sam in paperback is coming soon!

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Sam & Sam: Need to Know

In December, 2014, I published 4 books.  They were Rangers, Shaman, Psychic, and Warrior, the first four books of the Sam & Sam series, a plot, a set of characters, and a universe that I am persistently preoccupied with.  After that, life happened for a while and I didn’t publish anything again until King of Miami (A His Dark Mistress novel) in May of this year.  Near as matters, a year and a half without publishing.

I did not stop writing.

I’ve been promising Dragonsword, book 5 of Sam & Sam, for a long time, and we finally have a concrete plan to get it published sometime in the middle of next month.  The tentative date on the calendar is September 15.  I have a cover.  (I even have a print cover.  Zounds.)  I’ve written the blurb.  The final word-level edits are in process, and then I’ll hand it over to JJ for the obligatory button-pushing.

He’s very good at that.

And so it is time for my introductory piece on Sam & Sam, since I have not ever written anything *about* this series, other than what exists in its cover copy. Continue reading “Sam & Sam: Need to Know”