Lindsay Buroker's Blog: Lindsay Buroker
May 26, 2016
The science fiction adventure series I’ve been talking about for the last few months is finally out! Book 1 (with 2 and 3 soon to follow) is available on Amazon. For the first couple of weeks, it will be 99 cents (you can also borrow it if you’re a part of Kindle Unlimited).
I’m trying KDP Select (which requires exclusivity) for the first 90 days, so it’s just available on Amazon, but I plan to go wide with the series later in the year unless the results over there are mind-blowing. I know you don’t all read on Amazon, so I thank you for your patience.
The Alliance has toppled the tyrannical empire. It should be a time for celebration, but not for fighter pilot Captain Alisa Marchenko. After barely surviving a crash in the final battle for freedom, she’s stranded on a dustball of a planet, billions of miles from her young daughter. She has no money or resources, and there are no transports heading to Perun, her former home and the last imperial stronghold.
But she has a plan.
Steal a dilapidated and malfunctioning freighter from a junkyard full of lawless savages. Slightly suicidal, but she believes she can do it. Her plan, however, does not account for the elite cyborg soldier squatting in the freighter, intending to use it for his own purposes. As an imperial soldier, he has no love for Alliance pilots. In fact, he’s quite fond of killing them.
Alisa has more problems than she can count, but she can’t let cyborgs, savages, or ancient malfunctioning ships stand in her way. If she does, she’ll never see her daughter again.
A dark shape scurried through the shadows ahead, disappearing under the belly of a rusted spaceship. Alisa Marchenko halted, tightening her grip on her old Etcher 50. Rustling sounds came from beneath the ship, along with a low growl. Alisa hoped it was just another of the big rodents she’d seen earlier. Those weren’t exactly friendly, but at least they didn’t endanger anything higher up than her calves—so long as she remained standing.
Mica, her fellow scavenger on this self-appointed mission, bumped into her back, jostling her. Alisa caught herself on the hull of the rusty derelict and grimaced when her palm smacked against something moist and sticky. She wiped it on her trousers, glad for the dim lighting in the cavern.
“Sorry,” Mica whispered, the shadows hiding her face, but not the fact that she carried a toolbox almost as big as she was. Alisa ought to have her leading the way—she could sling that box around with the authority of an assault rifle. “Can’t we risk a light?” Mica added. “We might trip over some unexploded ordnance down here and blow ourselves up.”
“I see your pessimism hasn’t faded in the years since we served together.”
“Pessimism is an admirable quality in an engineer. Pessimistic people check their work three times, because they’re sure something won’t be right. Optimistic people check once, trust in Solis-de to keep the ship safe, then blow everyone up.”
“I think you’re mistaking the word optimistic for inept.”
“They’ve got a similar ring to my ear.”
Alisa looked past Mica’s short, tousled hair and toward the mouth of the massive cavern. The skeletons of dozens of junked ships stood between them and the harsh red daylight of the desert outside. She was tempted to say yes to Mica’s suggestion of light, but the sounds of punches and grunts arose less than fifty meters away. A guttural male voice cursed in one of the Old Earth languages, and someone cried out in pain. A juicy and final thump followed, making Alisa think of a star melon splatting open after falling from a rooftop. Men laughed, their voices rough and cruel.
“No light,” Alisa whispered.
Mica shrugged, tools clinking faintly in her box. “You’re the captain.”
“Not unless this works, I’m not.”
“I thought you got promoted at the end of the war.”
“I did, but the war’s over,” Alisa said.
The war was over, and the Alliance had forgotten about her in the aftermath, leaving her in the hands of the dubious medical care available from the local facilities. Alisa had eventually recovered after spending a month in a dilapidated turn-of-the-century regeneration tank and two months learning to walk again, but she had little more than the clothes on her back. Worse, she was stranded on this dustball of a planet, billions of miles from her home—from her daughter.
Her fingers strayed toward a pocket with an envelope in it, one of her few possessions. It contained a letter from her sister-in-law Sylvia, a letter written by hand in a time when most communications were electronic, a letter that had taken weeks to find her in the hospital, a letter that explained that her husband had died in the final bombings of Perun Central. Only knowing that her eight-year-old daughter still lived and was staying with Sylvia on Perun had given Alisa the strength to endure the months of rehabilitation and the weeks of scrounging and planning to reach this place, to come up with a way to get back home.
Mica started to respond to her comment, but Alisa turned her back to end the conversation and continued picking her way through the junk piles. Talking was not wise, not down here.
More noises came from the wreckage all around them, including a chewing sound that Alisa found unnerving. A few more steps, and she heard something being dragged through the fine dust on the cavern floor, dust that drifted upward with her steps, teasing her nostrils, making her want to sneeze. She pinched her nose, having no delusions that the men hiding in here were anything but criminals, criminals who wouldn’t care that she had helped free them from the oppression and tyranny of the empire.
As they drew farther from the entrance, the smell of the junk cavern grew stronger, scents of rust and oil and burned wires, but also of butchered meat and carcasses left to the animal scavengers. Alisa was tempted to keep pinching her nostrils shut.
“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” Mica whispered.
“I know where I left the ship six years ago.”
“That’s a no, right?”
“The engine was smoking by the time I made it in here. I doubt anyone fixed it up to move her.” Another clunk came from the darkness, and Alisa added, “Talk later.”
Soft growls and snarls came from the path ahead. Alisa made herself continue onward. The creatures making the noises did not sound large.
She caught herself reaching toward the side of her head, to tap on the earstar that had hung there like jewelry for so much of her life. Assuming the satellites were still in orbit on Dustor, she could have used it to call up a map of their surroundings, but she had lost it in the crash. Mica did not wear one, either—she’d said she sold hers for food. Apparently, computer and communications tech was easier for her to give up than her tools.
Alisa’s toe bumped into something on the narrow path. It did not feel like a rock or piece of debris. She started to step over it, not wanting to know the details.
A beam of light flashed up ahead, someone heading down the path toward them. Alisa stepped back and grabbed Mica’s shoulder, pushing her toward wreckage to the side of them.
“Hide,” she breathed.
The light was definitely coming in their direction.
Mica found something to crawl under. On the opposite side of the path, Alisa patted around a pile of dusty reels of cable of all different sizes, the mound rising well above her head. She squeezed between it and something large, poky, and metal. There wasn’t room to get more than a couple of feet off the path. She hoped that whoever had the light did not look around.
The beam of light approached, angled down toward the ground from someone’s earstar. The footfalls of several people accompanied it.
Alisa squeezed more tightly into her spot, turning her head from the path, not wanting her eyes to reflect the light. A few male grumbles and curses reached her ears as the men navigated the route, bumping into things, kicking dented cans out of the way.
Before the group reached her, their light played across the thing she had bumped into on the path. A human body, that of a woman. The clothing was ripped, flesh torn away by some hungry animal, but the sightless eyes remained open, an expression of utter terror frozen in them.
Alisa closed her own eyes, not wanting to see, not wanting to wonder if she, too, had been driven down here by desperation, searching for a way off this world.
The men with the light continued down the path without slowing. A faint tink came from the other side, and Alisa winced. She didn’t think Mica had been foolish enough to make noise—there was probably another rat poking around behind her—but the sound might cause someone to look in that direction.
The men stepped over the body without slowing. Alisa watched them out of her peripheral vision, noting the scarred, bearded faces, the greasy hair, the tattoos, and the weapons they carried, a mishmash of daggers, shotguns, BlazTeck energy particle weapons, and rifles collected from who knew where. One carried an e-cannon that looked like it had been torn off one of the ships and modified for hand use. Alisa reminded herself that she, too, was armed, with the Etcher she had traded for, but it carried bullets rather than battery packs, and if she fired it, everyone in the cavern would hear.
The greasy men continued down the path, and she allowed herself to relax an iota. She waited until the light had disappeared and the sounds of footfalls had faded before easing out of hiding. Her long braid of dark brown hair got caught on a protruding piece of scrap, and she resolved to have it cut as soon as she had money. Whenever that would be.
“Blessing of the Suns Trinity,” she whispered for the fallen woman’s soul, then stepped past the corpse. “Mica?”
“I’m here.” Her voice sounded subdued, perhaps because she, too, had seen the body.
The path opened up as they continued down it, hurrying in the opposite direction from the men. An old conveyer belt stretched across a cleared area, with the skeletal shape of a crane rising up from the shadows. Alisa’s heart sped up with anticipation. She remembered walking past this spot on her way out of the cavern years ago.
A gasp came from behind her, followed by the sound of something clunking to the ground.
Alisa whirled around, raising her gun. The darkness lay thick along the path, towers of junk stacked high to either side, and she couldn’t see much.
“Mica?” Alisa risked whispering. That had sounded like her gasp.
A flash came from the side, followed by the scent of burning tar. A homemade fire starter had been thrown to the ground, and flames leaped up, bright enough to reveal Mica—and the big man holding her with his hand around her neck. A wiry man stood at his side, his hand blazer pointed at Alisa. Mica’s toolbox lay on its side in the dust at her feet. She struggled briefly, then grew still as her captor’s grip tightened. An utterly pissed expression contorted the angular features of her face.
Alisa admired her lack of fear, but felt a twinge of disappointment that her comrade had let herself be captured so easily. As a pilot, Alisa had fast reflexes in the sky, but she doubted she could shoot both men before the one with the blazer shot her.
“Thought I heard something,” the big man holding her crooned. He was one of the ones who had walked past them, with so many scars on his bare arms and face that they must have been self-inflicted. Despite his height, his features were gaunt, with no fat under the stringy flesh of those arms. “Got some pretties to add to our collection. This one feels good. Be fun to cut on her a little.” He leered and shifted his grip so he could grope Mica’s breast. “Spider, get that one’s gun. Can’t be having some girl shooting at us while we’re working our art.”
Mica radiated fury, and she tried to bash her head back and hit her captor in the face, but he was too tall. She stomped on his foot, but he wore hard boots and didn’t seem to feel it.
The wiry man grinned, displaying a mouth of missing teeth, and bounced up and down. He did not speak but took a step forward, holding out his free hand as he kept his blazer pointed at Alisa’s chest. She kept her Etcher pointed at his chest, too, assessing him in the dancing firelight. His chest looked stockier than his narrow frame would have suggested. Was he wearing body armor under his clothes? On the chance that it might deflect bullets, she shifted her aim to his eye. He halted, squinting at her, and twitched his free hand toward his big comrade.
“Why don’t you release my engineer and let us go about our business?” Alisa asked, trying to sound calm and reasonable. “We fought for the Alliance. We’re not your enemies.” Or your playthings, she added silently, horrified at the idea. She doubted talking would do any good, but maybe it would buy her a moment to think of something better to do.
“Alliance doesn’t mean worm suck down here,” the big man said. “Empire, Alliance, it doesn’t matter who’s in charge. None of them make it easier to find food around here. Spider, a girl’s not going to shoot you. Get her damned gun.”
Alisa didn’t want to shoot them, not when it would alert everyone in the cavern to their presence. She was also well aware that she wasn’t wearing body armor or anything else that would deflect attacks.
“Oh, she’ll shoot you,” Mica wheezed, not as daunted as one might expect by the hand around her throat. The big man had her arms pinned, but she eased her fingers toward her shirt pocket so she could reach it. “She likes shooting people. Mostly imperial asteroid kissers, but I bet she’ll make exceptions for greasy troglodytes whose only memories of bathtubs come from their ancestors who colonized this hole.”
Spider had started toward Alisa, but he paused at Mica’s words. More the part about Alisa’s willingness to shoot him, rather than that bathtub insult, she wagered.
“Enh, just blow her away, Spider,” the big man said. “Ain’t worth getting killed trying to steal a veruska’s stinger.”
The wiry man nodded firmly, his hand tightening on his trigger. Seeing the determination in his eyes, Alisa fired first, then flung herself to the side. She rolled under the conveyer belt as a crimson blazer bolt streaked through the air where her head had been. Spider shouted in pain, but Alisa knew she’d only struck a glancing blow, if that. She prayed the hulking man wouldn’t break Mica’s neck as she scrambled into the shadows, expecting Spider to fire again.
Instead, a boom erupted from nearby, the noise hammering at Alisa’s eardrums. One of the men yowled, the sound a mingle of frustration and agony.
Alisa couldn’t tell which one it had been. She rose to a crouch behind a support under the conveyer belt, using it for cover as she sought a target. Acrid blue smoke filled the air from whatever explosive had been detonated.
Spider rolled about on the ground, almost smothering the flames from the fire starter. He clutched his ear, blood streaming between his fingers, his mouth open as if he were screaming, but nothing came out. Alisa had landed a better shot than she’d thought.
Despite his pain, Spider hadn’t dropped his gun, and even as Alisa lined up her aim for another shot, he glimpsed her through smoky air. He fired wildly in her direction.
She ducked back and targeted him through the support legs. Though a blazer bolt slammed into the belt a few feet away, sending shards of the machinery flying, she forced herself to find the calm in the chaos, to take a careful second to ensure her aim was true. She fired once.
Her bullet slammed into Spider’s forehead, and his head flew back, striking the earth and sending a puff of dust into the air. His arm fell limp, landing in the flames. He didn’t move it, and the smell of burning clothing and flesh soon scented the air along with the acrid taint of the smoke. Alisa grimaced. The war had taught her to kill, but she would never find it anything but horrifying.
Mica and the big man had disappeared, only her toolbox remaining, along with a dark smudge in the dust next to it. Alisa hopped over the conveyer belt to investigate, aware of shouts coming from all parts of the cavern. Most were inarticulate, a few in languages she couldn’t understand, but an enthusiastic call of, “Fresh meat!” made her shudder.
She couldn’t stay around here, but she couldn’t leave Mica, either. She was cursing herself for not seeing which direction they had gone when she glimpsed the remains of a warped casing on the ground. She picked it up, sniffed it, and dropped it immediately, the pungent scent familiar. Her fingers tingled from the brief contact.
A shuffling came from piles of scrap, and Mica walked into view, rubbing her neck and grimacing. “Animal.”
“Was that a rust bang?” Alisa asked, remembering the explosives the ground troops had often led with when assaulting imperial ships and fortifications. The acidic smoke could corrode even state-of-the-art combat armor. It was not as deadly to skin, but she’d seen people horribly disfigured and even killed from close contact.
“Sort of a homemade version.”
“That you kept in your pocket?”
“I keep lots of useful things in my pockets.” Mica picked up her toolbox, and they moved away from the body and the still-burning fire starter. “Don’t you?”
“I have half a chocolate bar and three tindarks in mine.”
“How’d you get chocolate in this hole?”
“I traded the painkillers the hospital gave me before kicking me out.” The medicine was highly coveted out in the lawless streets of the backwater planet, and Alisa had gotten her Etcher and a multitool out of the deal too.
“You didn’t need the painkillers?” Mica asked.
“Not as much as I needed the chocolate.”
“You’re an odd woman.”
“Says the engineer who carries rust bangs in her pockets. How did you manage to use one of those on that big brute without being hurt yourself?” As they walked, Alisa waved at Mica’s rumpled overalls, as faded and stained as hers—it hadn’t been an easy five months for either of them. Those overalls weren’t any more damaged, however, than they had been when they’d headed into the cavern. “You appear remarkably un-corroded.”
“The rust bang was insulated.”
“It went off in his pants.”
“Ah. How did it get in there?”
“Must have fallen in.” Mica’s typically dour expression faded for a moment as she winked. “You rolling around in the dust and shooting people was a suitable distraction for it to do so.”
“Glad to hear it.”
Alisa managed a brief smile, amused that she had been worried her ally couldn’t take care of herself.
Lights flashed on the rocky ceiling far overhead, and the sounds of excited shouts grew closer. Shoes pounded in the dust nearby, reminding Alisa that they had made a lot of noise.
She turned her walk into a run, veering toward an aisle choked with piles of parts and some kind of vine that had no trouble growing in the dark. Though she worried that the half-starved brutes who called this place home would catch up with them, she felt more sure of her route now. The aisle had been a road the last time she’d been in here, with the place slightly more organized back then, and with fewer corpses along the way.
A gun fired behind them, and the sounds of a squabble broke out. Alisa hoped the scavengers would be satisfied that they could search—or eat—Spider’s corpse and wouldn’t look further, but she didn’t slow down. She couldn’t count on that, nor could she count on safety once she reached the Star Nomad. It had been inches from derelict status when she’d seen it last; the Suns Trinity only knew what condition it was in now. She was probably delusional to believe that Mica and her toolbox could fix it.
As they neared the back of the massive cavern, the shouts growing distant behind them, Alisa finally slowed down. Her lungs forced her to, even if her brain didn’t want to acknowledge the need. It was just as well. They ought to return to proceeding with caution.
“Is that it?” Mica whispered, pointing past Alisa’s shoulder.
They had reached another clearing, this one with a slender beam of daylight slashing down from a hole in the cavern ceiling. It provided just enough illumination to make out the hulls of four ships parked around the area. Grease and oil stains smeared the dusty ground in the open space, suggesting a fifth ship had rested there once. If one craft had flown out of here, Alisa hoped that meant another one could.
She stopped to stare at the familiar shape on the far side of the clearing, a tangle of emotions and memories washing over her. This ship had been responsible for her mother’s death, and six years hadn’t changed Alisa’s feeling of aversion toward it. Aversion and resentment. The clunky old freighter was even less impressive than she’d remembered.
The Nomad hadn’t been a beauty even in her heyday, and now dust dulled it further, coating every inch of the boxy hull while cobwebs draped the twin thrusters. Shadows hid the top and the front of the craft from her view, but she knew they would be equally neglected. She and Mica would have to assess the hull carefully, see if it was possible to make the craft spaceworthy again. Alisa ought to be able to advise her engineer on that. She certainly knew the Nomad well enough. Long before her mother’s death, Alisa had grown up on the ship, learning to fly and helping her mother run cargo from planet to moon to space station throughout the system. Under the empire’s rule, her mother had been forced to pay taxes and tolls at each port and had barely eked out enough of a profit to keep her ship in the sky and her daughter fed. But through sheer determination, she had kept Alisa fed. She had been a good mother—a good person—and emotion thickened Alisa’s throat as the years seemed to slip away, and she missed her anew. And she once again resented that the old ship had given out without warning, life support disappearing, her mother unable to—
“Captain?” Mica asked.
Alisa stirred, pushing aside the memories. “Yes. That’s it.”
She took a deep breath and walked through the dust toward the craft. She went slowly, looking left and right as she crossed near the light of the sunbeam. Just because they had left the other scavengers behind didn’t mean there couldn’t be more back here. The hatch was closed on the old freighter, the wide cargo-loading ramp folded away inside.
A bronze plaque had been bolted to the hull next to the hatch. It was too dusty to read, but she knew what it said: Property of Finnegan’s Scrap and Holding Company.
She had been there the day old Finnegan had affixed it, the day she sold the ship to him. Even if she had been grossly underpaid by the unscrupulous businessman, Alisa hadn’t been in the mood to argue back then, not with her mother’s death fresh in her mind. Still, she knew she couldn’t use that for justification of what she meant to do now. Steal it.
But Finnegan had died in the bombings of Dustor’s nearby capital—she’d researched that when formulating this plan—and nobody had come out to claim this junkyard in the year that had passed since then. People had likely been stealing from it for months, ever since the security guards had quit patrolling and the lowlifes had moved in.
As she neared the hatch, a growl came from under one of the other ships. As she turned to look, something furry with a spiky ridge along its back burst out of the shadows. A sand badger. Forty pounds of fangs, fur, and bad temperament. It sprinted straight at her, snarling.
Alisa whipped her Etcher toward it and was an instant from shooting when she remembered the need to be quiet. If she fired, the noise would only draw more scavengers, and she couldn’t simply run and hide now. They had to stay here long enough to fix the Nomad and get it flying.
Jerking the gun up, Alisa met the giant badger’s charge with a side kick instead of a bullet. She pivoted on her left foot, launching her right toward the thing’s bristly snout, glad the hospital had returned her sturdy boots to her upon release. The sole crunched into the badger’s face, halting its charge but not its ferocity. It twisted its neck, snapping at her leg as she retracted it. She launched a second kick without setting down her foot. This time, it saw the attack coming and scuttled to the side more quickly than something with such short legs should have been able to.
As she danced away from another charge, Alisa yanked her multitool off her belt, flicking it to extend the laser knife. Mica ran in behind the creature, an oversized wrench in hand. When Alisa kicked the badger in the snout again, Mica lunged in and clubbed it in the back. The blow probably didn’t do much harm, but it made the sand badger spin around, its spiked tail nearly whipping Alisa in the leg. The creature snarled and charged toward Mica, who scrambled back as she waved the wrench back and forth like a fencer’s foil.
Alisa sprang after the badger, slashing with the laser knife. It cut through the spiked tail, lopping it off and eliciting a squeal of pain from the animal.
She winced at the noise and darted in, hoping to finish it off, but the badger was done fighting. It scurried back into the shadows, leaving a trail of blood in the dust.
Alisa let it go, doubting she could have caught it anyway. As she stood, gun in one hand and multitool in the other, she tried to slow her breathing so she could listen and hear if anyone was coming. All that filled her ears was the sound of her own ragged breaths. She hadn’t recovered her stamina yet, and it annoyed her how long it took for her breathing to return to normal.
Mica returned her wrench to her toolbox and joined her. “Remember how skeptical I was when you told me that if I joined you, we’d find a ship that could take us back to civilization?”
“Yes.” Alisa flicked the multitool again, retracting the laser blade and sticking it back in her belt sheath.
“I wasn’t skeptical enough.” Mica curled a lip at the bloody stump of badger tail lying in the dust, then looked at the freighter and curled her lip even further. “A Nebula Rambler 880? They stopped making those fifty years ago.”
“That just means it’s a classic,” Alisa said, though she couldn’t help but remember how her mother had died and shudder. The ship had gone from feeling like home to a cemetery overnight for her.
But it was the only ship she was going to find that nobody else had a claim on and that might still be spaceworthy. Assuming they could fix it. And assuming it had enough juice left in the battery to open the hatch so they could get in. She wondered if it would still recognize her as an authorized entrant.
“Yeah?” Mica asked. “Does it have shag carpet?”
“Just in the rec room.”
Alisa reached for the sensor panel beside the hatch.
A shadow dropped from the sky.
She sprang back, jerking her gun toward the figure that landed beside her. A hand, an impossibly strong hand, clamped onto her wrist, squeezing until she gasped, her fingers loosening. Her gun was torn from her grip, and she was thrust backward before she could contemplate a kick or a punch.
The force of the thrust stole her balance, and she tumbled to the ground. Though she managed to turn the fall into a roll and come up in a crouch a few feet away, it didn’t matter. She’d lost her Etcher, and she was too far away to use the laser knife. Not that it would have mattered. Dread filled her as she recognized her opponent—and the fact that he was pointing her own gun at her.
Pick up the book now: Star Nomad: Fallen Empire, Book 1
May 23, 2016
If you’re an indie author, you’ve probably heard this advice: write in a series and publish often. If you genre hop, your readers won’t follow you. If you have too many series going at once, you’ll struggle to build momentum and hit critical mass. Just focus!
It’s not bad advice. It comes from the business side of publishing, the side that’s focused on selling books and making money.
But writers are usually artists first and entrepreneurs later (if at all). As artists, we like to dabble. We’re always getting new ideas that we want to explore. For some of us, the urge to genre hop cannot be resisted!
But is it a career killer? Will all of your momentum grind to a halt as your mystery/thriller fans side-eye that fantasy romance you just published?
Let’s be honest: it won’t help things.
It’s rare to see someone who writes in fantasy this month, romance next month, and horror the month after that gaining a big audience and making a living as an author. Those who do manage to genre hop successfully are usually very prolific so they’re able to publish something new in each genre/series every few months, even as they explore other passions.
In general, though, genre hopping comes with challenges. Fans of one genre won’t necessarily be fans of another, so you essentially have to build up multiple fan bases. It’s easier to stick to one genre and become known for a certain type of book.
But if you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re thinking of genre hopping anyway. So, how do you do it and manage to succeed?
How to Successfully Genre Hop
I’ve failed with genre hopping, and I’ve also done it right (with my pen name). Even though that pen name is fairly neglected these days, you can go back to 2014 and read the posts I wrote at the time when I launched it, where I anonymously started a new name to write science fiction romance: and .
Admittedly, starting a pen name isn’t quite the same as jumping into a new genre under your existing name, but it’s the best example I’ve got right now, as least from my own previously published novels. I’m about to launch a new series under my name, a science fiction adventure series, so I’ve definitely been thinking about how to give myself a good chance of gathering momentum and garnering readers (and sales!) in the new genre. As you probably know, almost everything else written under my name is fantasy. There’s only one exception, a contemporary mystery/sweet romance/thing that’s a pretty good example of what not to do when jumping into a new genre.
I wrote that story a few years ago without thinking about whether it fit neatly into any established sub-genres out there (note: it doesn’t). I had no idea what to do for the cover (note: it shows). I believe that book earned out editing and cover art costs, but not much more. It’s sitting at a sales ranking of about 300,000 in the Amazon store these days. Only my die-hard readers check it out. I’m fairly certain that nobody who wasn’t already a fan ever found it and read it.
So based on my various learning experiences (failures and successes), here’s what I’m trying with the new series and what I suggest for others doing the same:
Commit to Writing Multiple Books in a Series to Launch in the New Genre
I probably would have more luck with the one-off mystery/romance if I’d turned it into a series, and at the time I was planning to write more of them. I set things up so there could be at least two more romances with the characters introduced in the first book. (And heck, I may still go back and write those stories one day.)
But I launched the book without having any sequels started or any solid commitment as to when I would publish them. I didn’t have a big launch strategy either. I basically emailed my list and said, “Hey, here’s a new book if you want to try it. There’s no magic in it. Or sword fights. Or dragons. Enjoy!”
Needless to say, it didn’t skyrocket to the top of any charts.
This time, I’m doing what I did with the pen name launch (by the way, if you’re thinking, “Hey, your pen name stuff is closer in genre to this new science fiction adventure, so maybe you should be launching it under your pen name,” you’re right, except that LB stuff is PG-13, and the pen name stuff is naughtier). My new series isn’t naughty (alas).
I wrote the first three books in the new SF series (Fallen Empire) before I even sent the first one to my editor. I’m launching Books 1, 2, and 3 back to back. The first one goes up this week, May 26th, and I’ll probably throw 2 and 3 out less than a week apart. They’re all just about ready to go now.
My reason for doing this is in part because I hope to gain some momentum with the rapid releases, and it’s also in part to help me commit to writing several books in the series. Sometimes, if you just write one and put it out there, and it doesn’t do that well, it’s easy to get discouraged and never get around to writing the follow-ups. (That’s what happened to me with Wounded.)
I’m 30,000 words into Book 4 now, before Book 1 ever launches. I told myself I’d write five books in this series before sitting back and seeing if it’s worth continuing or if I should then try to wrap it up. I’ll publish 4 a month after 3 and 5 a month after 4. (Sometime after that, I might need a vacation.)
This is all designed to give the new series a good start and to try to make some Top 100 lists over on Amazon where new readers (readers who prefer science fiction adventures to swords and dragons!) might find it. Because even though I have awesome readers already, and even though some of them will try out the new books, it’s a foregone conclusion that I’ll have to attract some new SF-loving readers if I want the books in the new genre to sell well.
It’s very hard to find those new readers and do well if you only have one book out in the new genre. There’s a lot of churn on Amazon especially, but on the other sites too. It’s hard to keep books ranking in a category over time. But continually publishing new books in a series can help with that, by constantly giving you something new for the Hot New Releases lists and by keeping your name and series out there where people can stumble across it. If they find Book 3 or Book 5 and think they look interesting, chances are they’ll go and look for Book 1.
Consider a Low (or even free) Launch Price for Book 1
Even if you’re an established author in your regular genre, readers in the new one may never have heard of you. By launching at 99 cents (or even considering free), people may take the leap of faith and give your stuff a try. Because you’ve committed to writing at least two more stories in the series (and may already have them written), you don’t need to cringe at the idea of only making 35 cents per sale. You have two more books out, or coming out soon, that the readers can go on to buy at full price.
When I launched the pen name books, I made Book 1 permafree everywhere as quickly as I could. I paid for a few inexpensive ads for it, and ended up getting about 20,000 downloads in that first 8 weeks or so. Not bad for a pretty niche little genre. (And I wasn’t even writing the popular tropes within that niche genre.) I made thousands of dollars in those first couple of months, thanks to strong sales of the 2nd and 3rd books.
Perhaps not surprisingly, when, several months later, I made that book 99 cents so I could put it into Kindle Unlimited, sales dropped off. Even though Amazon’s KDP Select lets you make a book free for 5 days a quarter, it’s not quite the same as always having it free and continually being able to advertise it. I’ll probably eventually make that series wide (I think KU can be helpful when you’re launching a series, which I’ll talk about next, but once your books drop out of the Top 100s, it becomes less useful.)
Consider Amazon’s KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited (exclusivity with Amazon) for the Launch
This is advice that could change in the future, since Amazon is always tinkering with KDP Select and the Kindle Unlimited subscription program, but for the last year, I’ve been seeing a lot of newer authors come out of nowhere and hit and stick in the various Top 100 category lists (in case you didn’t know, I’m one of the hosts on the Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast, and we interview a lot of different guests). Almost all of those authors were in KDP Select (in fact, I can actually name the one and only debut author selling well who wasn’t, because it’s that rare right now).
The reason KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited is such a help currently is because it’s easier to get a borrow of a book (from a KU subscriber) than it is to get a sale. That’s just common sense. And for the time being, all of those borrows count as strongly as sales in Amazon’s sales ranking calculations. That means that an author who isn’t exclusive with Amazon might being selling 50 books a day to maintain his sales ranking whereas a KDP Select author might only sell 20 books a day and get 30 borrows to maintain a similar ranking. In the Amazon store,it’s an advantage to be in KDP Select (and it’s a disadvantage if you’re not).
If you’re not already selling like hotcakes on the other platforms, then you may want to start off the new genre/series in KDP Select. I actually sell reasonably well on Barnes & Noble and Kobo, in particular, but after seeing so many people doing well with the help of Kindle Unlimited, I’ve finally decided to try a series there.
Since it doesn’t tie in with anything else I’ve written, and nobody’s yet dying to know about these characters, it seemed like the logical time. I’m expecting some pushback from readers anyway. We’ll see how it goes. My current plan is try the series there for the first 90-180 days and see if it’s worthwhile. I.e. am I making much more because I’m in Kindle Unlimited than I would be if those books were wide? Whether or not that’s the case, I expect the momentum for the series to have faded by the end of six months, so that’ll probably be the time to go wide. That’ll make it right in time for Christmas, so at least I can offer that to my readers on other platforms.
Give Away a Story (in the new genre) to Build your Mailing List
This isn’t new advice, but I’m talking specifically about giving away something related to the new series you’re launching. In my case, I even started a new mailing list. My regular one has such a mix of readers on it — some who like one series, some who like another, and some who’ve never read my books and just signed up because of my blog posts. I decided to start a fresh one for the science fiction. I also don’t want to annoy existing subscribers who read on other platforms by constantly mentioning new releases of books that are only on Amazon.
I’m not doing Facebook ads or anything fancy to get people onto the mailing list. I’m just putting a notice in the back of the new books that says if readers sign up, they’ll get a free short story that takes place between Books 1 and 2 in the series. They’ll also eventually get a prequel novella — I’d originally intended to make that the giveaway item from the start, but I didn’t get it written in time. So, they’ll get two goodies if they stick around!
Accept That Your Also-Boughts Might Be a Problem and Advertise to Get Around It
A lot of time when we switch genres, we worry that our current readers won’t follow us over. Believe it or not, you might have an easier time if they don’t, or at least if they don’t right away.
When you launch a new book, you want to sell enough copies that it starts appearing in the also-boughts of similar books in that genre. This is a big part of how discoverability works on Amazon. Ideally, I want my science fiction series to show up in the also-boughts of similar SF books.
But here’s what’s going to happen: it’s going to show up in the also-boughts for books for my other series. My other fantasy series. If Amazon emails readers about the new science fiction release, it’s going to end up going out to fantasy fans.
This is one of the reasons a pen name can actually make a lot of sense. You can always tell your current readers about the new books after the also-boughts have been established.
I’m not worrying too much about this (I think a lot of my existing readers will enjoy this series if they give it a try, so I’ve been telling them about it all along) because I honestly don’t have high expectations for this series, insofar as getting sales right out the door goes. I don’t think it’s written to market (hitting the popular tropes) enough that it has a chance of sticking in the SF rankings for months and months. As is often the case for me (when I say often I mean always), stories come to mind, and I get excited about writing them, and I don’t think much about marketing until after the books are done. All that said, I am trying to give it a good shot to do well.
If you’ve written something to market in your new genre, and think it has a shot at sticking on Amazon, you may want to try and snag some ads for that first week or two that it’s out. This could help you with getting onto the right kinds of also-boughts, those of other books in your new genre. I’m going to try a few ads myself.
Some of the sponsorship sites, which have predominantly run bargain books with lots of reviews in the past, are now accepting new releases. I have ads lined up with Ereader News Today, Fussy Librarian, and Free Kindle Books and Tips for the new Book 1. I may tinker a bit with Facebook ads, too, though I’m not a pro with them and usually just throw money away there.
Look for Promotional Opportunities with Other Authors Working in the Genre
People are still using mutli-author boxed sets and multi-author anthologies as a way for exposure. If you put a Book 1 into a boxed set, some of the readers may go on to buy your other books, and because numerous authors are promoting the set or anthology, it should get more exposure than it would if you were just promoting your own stuff.
This can be particularly powerful if you don’t already have a fan base in the new genre. Just as I a wrote a short story for my mailing list, I also wrote a short story for an anthology that’s coming out next month. It’s going to be a permafree anthology, so we should get lots of people trying it, and many of the other authors already have science fiction books out and lists of fans who enjoy the genre. I’m hoping that some of their readers will like my story and will want to go on and check out the series. (My story takes place between Books 2 and 3 in my series, but I designed it to work as a stand-alone.)
All right, as usual, I’ve rambled long enough here. You now know all of my plans! Like I said, I don’t think my series has enough of the popular tropes to really kill it (and I already gave away over 1500 copies of Book 1 to my regular readers), but I’m crossing my fingers that it will at least do well enough that I won’t regret having “genre hopped” instead of buckling down and writing more fantasy.
Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave a comment. Let us know if you’ve experimented with genre hopping and how your results were.
March 22, 2016
Anthologies have been around for a long time, and it’s no surprise that indie authors are editing and publishing them, along with all other types of fiction.
We’ve talked before about how it’s tough to do well with short stories, in part because readers often prefer longer fiction, and in part because the minimum price you can list your ebooks for on Amazon and the other stores (without doing free) is 99 cents. When you sell entire novels for 3.99 or thereabouts, it can be tough to ask a dollar for a story that might only be 5,000 words and take 20 minutes for someone to read.
I thought I’d present another option, something that I’ve done in the past with my pen name and that I’ll be participating in again this summer (this time with my usual name).
Right now, I’m working on a new science fiction series (for regular readers, think The Emperor’s Edge in space). Since it’s a new genre for me, and I’m not sure how many of my fantasy-loving fans will jump over to it with me, I’m looking for promo ideas. I was pleased when fellow SF&F author C Gockel approached me about putting a short story into an anthology with about ten other authors. Right away, I got excited about writing a short story that could work to lead people into my new series, much as Ice Cracker II did several years ago for my Emperor’s Edge series (long before I made EE1 free, I made that short story free).
With the Ice Cracker II ebook, I made a single short story free. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are a few reasons why I’m more excited about multi-author anthologies now (and why you may want to consider organizing one for short fiction too).
1. Multiple authors involved means multiple people promoting it
If you publish a short story on your own, chances are you’re going to be the only one promoting it.
Much as with boxed sets, if you do an anthology with 8 or 10 authors, you have 8 or 10 people promoting it. You’ll send word of it out to your mailing list, and they’ll send the word out to theirs. If you get a couple of established authors in the mix, with thousands of people on their mailing lists, that can be quite a bit of exposure that you wouldn’t usually have.
Instead of a few hundred people checking out your short story, you may get thousands, or even tens of thousands, especially if the book ends up sticking on Amazon, something that’s more likely to happen with all of those people helping promote.
2. You’ll probably make more money overall
In the case of our scifi anthology, I believe we’re going to make it permafree, since our goal is to get as much exposure as we can (I want to get people to try my series more than I want to make money from the short story). But you don’t have to do that.
With an anthology, you’ll likely end up with an ebook that has as many words in it as a novel, so there’s no reason you can’t charge 2.99 and get the 70% royalty.
You can also charge 99 cents if you want more sales overall. Believe it or not, with lots of people promoting these multi-author collections, you can make some money even at 99 cents and even divided eight ways.
3. It’s possible to get ads for an anthology
There are precious few promo sites out there that will let you plug a short story, even if you try to throw money at them. Their readers want full-length novels, and for the most part, that’s what they take. This can make it super tough to sell many copies of your short stories unless you already have a big mailing list of fans and unless you’re writing something that ties into one of your regular series.
But an anthology is a different beast, and numerous sponsorship sites will accept them. Even Bookbub will run anthologies now and then. If you want a BB ad, you’ll probably have to start at a higher price and be prepared to discount to a lower price if you’re accepted (i.e. going from 2.99 to 0.99 or from 0.99 to free). Some people will launch their collection at a low price, such as 99 cents, and promo it to their lists, and then raise the price to 2.99 for a few months before applying — Bookbub likes to give their readers discounted books.
If you’re able to snag a Bookbub and can combine that with all the promo that everyone is doing to their lists, then you can definitely get a lot of eyes on your short story. Compare this to just launching a short story on your own, and I think you’ll see a big difference in the results.
I’ll let you know how my own results are this summer when I have the new series out and when we publish the anthology (as I mentioned, I’ve already had good luck doing this with the pen name — I joined several other authors last summer in writing original novellas for a boxed set, and we hit the USA Today list on our release week.)
February 26, 2016
For those of you following along with my Chains of Honor series (a spin-off set in the same world as my Emperor’s Edge series), the second book, Snake Heart, is now available. If you haven’t checked out the first book, you can read the first few chapters on my site: Warrior Mage preview.
Here’s the blurb and the store links for Snake Heart:
Tasked with an impossible mission, hunted by the very people he wants to protect, Yanko White Fox is the only one who can save his nation from famine and anarchy. Armed only with his fledgling skills as a wizard and accompanied by allies he’s not sure he can trust, he must track down an ancient relic before his enemies find it first. But countless obstacles stand in the way, including his mother. The deadly and infamous pirate Snake Heart cares nothing for the family—or the son—she abandoned, and wants the artifact for herself.
February 23, 2016
Last year, I did a blog post on Amazon’s then-new advertising program and whether it’s working for me. It wasn’t, and it still isn’t (I tried again recently with a couple of my pen name books, since they’re in KDP Select), but I had a recent comment from another author who is using Amazon ads to good advantage.
Since it was a useful comment, I decided to post it here where more people would see it, and I also asked the author, Yancy Caruthers, some follow-up questions (if you’re not already familiar with Amazon’s advertising opportunities for authors, check out my earlier post for more on the basics of what the program is and how it works).
As I read through the comments, the consensus seems to be that this is a waste of time, but I have had a very different experience.
First, connecting your book to specific titles doesn’t work. People go to that title because they care about that book, not yours. You can be creative with your genres – my book is a military memoir, and I advertise in action/adventure as well as military and medical biographies. Cast the net wide! If I was writing Sci-fi romance, I’d advertise in both sci-fi AND romance, and make sure my cover and title reflected my genre accurately. People who weren’t interested simply wouldn’t click. But some would be, and would want to read more.
I started out bidding at 5c, but wasn’t getting more than a few thousand impressions (in a month) and a handful of clicks. After a couple of months, I increased my bid to 8c and started getting more. Impressions don’t sell books, but they do give you data. Out of several thousand impressions, I was getting 0.8%CTR, and my conversion rate was about 5%. I calculated that at that rate, I could pay up to 12c for clicks and still break even, so I increased my bid to 10c. Realize that you won’t get any impressions at all until the Amazon computer connects your ad to a page or keyword.
I went from selling a handful of books per MONTH to selling a handful every day. I’m averaging between 100-200/month. I’m not getting rich, but for every dollar I spend on the ad, I’m making back about $1.50 (about 30c of that is from KU pages read). Those numbers bring reviews now and then for an added bonus.
The ads are flaky, and I think that’s Amazon’s formula – I’ll get sales every day for a week, then I’ll go a few days without any. It averages out – I even had two days when sales were so good, I hit #848 in the entire catalog. Then I didn’t sell any for almost two weeks and was back down into the high five digits with the one-book-a-day-ers.
A couple of things people should understand – The number of impressions you get is a result of your bid and in what market you are bidding into. Your CTR depends on having a great cover, title, and a catch phrase for the ad – and 1% is considered very good. Your conversion rate depends on having a good landing page with a catchy blurb that makes people who land there want to buy. They are already interested or they wouldn’t have clicked. Just reel them in.
So before you pass judgment on Amazon’s PPC, realize that it’s a lot more complicated than “Does it work or not?” The PPC thing now drives 75% of my online sales. Everything else I do drives the other 25% as well as my physical copy sales (about 10% of the total) but that means I’m spending 98% of my time on 28% of my revenue. I’m currently looking at eliminating my time-wasters (like Twitter – ugh – I’m obviously not doing that right) and focusing on things that I have figured out how to make work for me.
After commenting here, Yancy agreed to answer a few more questions:
You mentioned going really wide with your targeting (i.e. all of science fiction and all of romance if you’re writing science fiction romance, even though that’s a pretty small niche). When I used to do Google ads, I’d find that you would be punished (your ad would be shown less) if you had a low click-through-ratio. It seems that when you go really wide like that, there would be a very small percentage of people who would click and that your CTR would suffer. Thoughts?
Amazon doesn’t want ads that don’t sell anything, but those tend to weed themselves out. It’s possible that somewhere buried in their magic formula is a mention of CTR and Conversions, but that hasn’t slowed me down as far as I know.
Targeting a wider audience makes sense, within reason. I made the assumption that readers of fiction action/adventure would be potential readers, even though I wrote a piece of narrative military non-fiction. Even people who read a narrow genre like sci-fi romance also read other genres. Which other genres are the most common?
Since CTR is simply a function of the quality of an ad and where it is placed, one could certainly run identical ads in two different genres and measure the CTR. If one is getting impressions but no clicks, you’re in the wrong market. If neither is getting clicks, maybe the problem is the ad itself. If it’s getting clicks but no sales, take a look at your landing page, cover, and blurb.
Do you have any advice for authors on how to measure what their earnings per click end up being? Since you can’t use your affiliates links, the way some do with Facebook ads, there’s no way to tell which sales came from the Amazon advertising campaign. If you weren’t selling any books, and suddenly you’re selling some at the same time as you’re getting clicks, I guess it’s pretty doable, but what if you already sell books, and the amount varies quite a bit per day?
Amazon tracks this data for you, independently of your other sales! They list impressions, clicks, total spent, total sales, and cost per sale. You can calculate your CTR by dividing the clicks by the impressions. The number of sales can be calculated by dividing the total sales by the cost of the title ($2.99 in my case). Cost of sale is also an important number, even though it’s misleading. Since Amazon already takes 30% of my $2.99 sale, then 70% is the break-even point.
[Lindsay: Hah, I didn’t remember this feature from when I was tinkering last year, but maybe it’s just because I never got clicks! That’s excellent then.]
I assume you’ve played with ad copy quite a bit. Are there any tips or tricks specific to Amazon that you could share?
I have, but I know very little about it. I think of it like a Tweet – there are a limited number of characters to tell the viewer why the book is interesting. Play with it, but be patient and give it time. No ad generates meaningful data until it’s been seen a few thousand times. The quality of the ad is important, so check out what others have done. Equally if not more important is the landing page. Back in September when I started my first campaign, I looked at the landing page and thought, “This is boring. I wouldn’t buy this.”
It sounds like you also haven’t had much luck targeting specific books. Have you tried doing bestsellers or something that’s just gotten a Bookbub ad in your genre? (With sci-fi romance, I think there just wasn’t that much inventory to pick from.)
After I read your blog, I gave the title-linked ads a try. I chose the top 20 sellers in my specific category and added several more. In the past 3 weeks I have gotten less than 100 impressions. My theory is that the more popular titles require a higher bid-per-click. If I could get impressions on those pages, I would probably sell books, but if I bid that high, then I lose money and I won’t pay people to read my title.
I have scaled it for demonstration purposes, but the CTR and Conversion Rates are actual:
Impressions x CTR = Clicks. Clicks x Conversion Rate = Sales.
100,000 x 0.8% = 800. 800 x 6.2% = 49 sales…
Assuming a $2.99 title on which I make $2.05 in royalty, those 49 sales made me $100.45. As long as I didn’t pay more than that for those 800 clicks, then I’m making a profit. I currently bid a maximum of 10c/click, so my 800 clicks would cost $80 at the maximum and I still make $20.45. Since my title is also enrolled in KU, then I also get paid for KU pages read. This has varied, but covers the cost of almost 40% of my clicks.
You may also observe that a very slight variation in CTR or Conversion Rate will make a huge difference in sales. If I could get my CTR to 1%, for instance, I would average 13 more sales per 100k impressions.
Yancy’s plan going forward:
I am going to stop my title-linked campaign at the end of this month. It doesn’t seem to get me impressions since I am only bidding 10c/click.
I am going to split my current campaign into two parts. I want to separate the fiction action/adventure from the non-fiction genres, to see what actually produces the most impressions. I’ll use exactly the same ad, but I want to see if there is any significant difference in CTR and conversions. It is possible that I am losing money on half of my campaign and making it back on the other half.
I’m also going up to 12c/click for a month. If nothing else changes, I’ll be giving away a good chuck of my remaining royalty, but I want to see if I can get a substantial increase in impressions by bidding just slightly higher.
Start out at 5c/click in your own and substantially similar genres. Be patient, give it a month. See if you get exposures (some genres are more expensive than others). Once you have some data (and hopefully some sales) then you’ll know more and can make adjustments. Understand that none of this happens quickly and real data comes with time. Steering an ad campaign is a lot like piloting a battleship in a crowded harbor. I’ve been doing this for almost 6 months and am still making adjustments, trying to find that sweet spot for sales.
February 8, 2016
My January release, Shattered Past, has been getting a little extra advertising on Amazon. By that, I mean it appeared in the first slot of the also-bought section for several other fantasy books that were selling well because they were new releases or because the author was running a Bookbub promo. I’ll pretend it was planned and that I’m smart, but in truth, I noticed the effect later and realized what had happened. (Though I have theorized that this could work before on my podcast!)
I’ll tell you what I did, but before I jump in, let me fully admit that I can’t prove that being in the also-boughts actually led to more book sales. I figure it can’t hurt if people are seeing your book all over Amazon, but I have no way to track sales that might have come that way. Also, in order for you to do this yourself, you’ll need to have at least a small mailing list and/or social media following already built up, so it will probably be tough to do if you’re launching your first novel.
Okay, enough of that. The nitty gritty:
The TL;DR version:
If you plug other books in your genre at the same time as you plug your new release, and if people buy both, it’s likely that you’ll appear on the first page of those other books’ also-boughts.
The longer version with more explaining:
I’m in a new permafree boxed set with 14 other authors (if you like swords & sorcery, make sure to grab it!), and it happened to launch about the same time as my novel Shattered Past. We all plugged the set, Legends, to our lists, but I also plugged Shattered Past in the same newsletter announcement.
Even though we all presumably had readers who picked up the boxed set, my book is the one that’s been in that first also-bought spot since release (I’m sure that will change eventually, as my book isn’t a sequel to the one I have in the boxed set; it’s likely that those also-boughts will eventually populate with direct sequels to the various books in the collection). I suspect this is not only because a lot of people picked up both but because they were picked up at the same time, thus making a very close link in the eyes of whatever algorithm-bot figures these things out for Amazon.
The result is that Shattered Past was in that first slot during the main push of the boxed set. The collection reached as high as 16 in the free store, so a lot of people saw my book, if only out of the corner of their eye as they were clicking the download button for the freebie.
I don’t know how many people looking to download a freebie would randomly go on to buy a $2.99 book they’d never seen before, but that’s not the only book I plugged that week. One of my writer buddies, C. Gockel, dropped her urban fantasy boxed set to 99 cents because she had a Bookbub ad coming. She mentioned on Kboards that she was hoping to hit the USA Today bestseller list (and she did!), so I shared her Facebook post on my author page. Judging by the comments, several of my readers picked up her boxed set.
Don’t bother looking for me in the also-boughts on her book page now, because I just checked, and SP has been bumped all the way to the 22nd page, but that’s because her Bookbub ad ran last week, and thousands of people bought her book after that. You’ve probably noticed that anyone who runs a Bookbub ad will share the also-boughts with a lot of other Bookbub books from the previous days’ mailings — in essence, Bookbub does exactly what we’re talking about here.
But on the day of Gockel’s Bookbub ad, and I believe even the day after, those also-boughts hadn’t been reset with Bookbub books yet. Shattered Past, even though I’d only plugged it on Facebook and not to my mailing list, occupied the #1 slot for her boxed set, so I got some more free advertising. I’m not sure how high her book made it in the Amazon store, but I know that I was #1 in her also-boughts on that day that she got thousands of extra eyes on her book page. Essentially, I’ve gotten a lot of extra views of my book cover this last couple of weeks, even though I haven’t spent a dime advertising that book yet.
Here’s another book that I finished reading last week and plugged to my people yesterday, when I was again mentioning SP (just in case my readers had missed the last newsletter!):
As you can see, SP is already in the first also-bought spot again.
So, what’s the message here?
Like I said, it’s unlikely that appearing on the first page of also-boughts for a book results in piles of piles of sales, even if it’s a popular book, but I do believe it’s likely that it will result in at least some sales over time. I know that I’ve grabbed samples of a lot of books I’ve seen in the also-boughts of other books I’ve purchased, especially if they have cool covers that really draw my eye.
So, not only does it pay to plug other authors in your genre, but it might pay to scheme a bit in the way you go about it. In the very newsletter where you’re mentioning your latest release, you might mention another new release by an author, one that you maybe read and enjoyed yourself. (I think you’ll get more mileage from plugging a newer release, because the also-boughts won’t have filled in with all of the author’s other titles yet, something that usually happens with a series writer.)
I haven’t tried this method yet with a real big name in fantasy (for good or ill, I tend to prefer the quiet little books that aren’t best sellers to the heavy hitters, and I’ll usually only recommend what I’ve liked, especially to my newsletter subscribers), but if I see the opportunity someday, I certainly will.
Can you do this with a small list?
If, as I mentioned above, you’re thinking that this won’t work for you because you don’t have many mailing list subscribers yet, I wouldn’t necessarily assume that. All I did with the Gockel book was share her post on my Facebook page, so I’d guess that a maximum of 10 people (10 people who also had purchased SP) bought her boxed set. That was all it took to get me into the first slot on a book that had been out for a while — who knows how long I might have hung out there if she hadn’t wiped the slate clean with a Bookbub ad?
I think you’ll find that unless people are actually doing what I described here, most of the typical also-boughts may only be linked by a couple of shared buyers. It shouldn’t be that hard to appear on the page of the book of your choosing, assuming some of your readers pay attention to and buy your recommendations!
February 1, 2016
As you may already know, Podium Publishing is producing my Dragon Blood series. If you haven’t grabbed it yet, the first three books are available in one collection (a crazy good deal if you buy with Audible credits or if you already own the ebook, since you can add the audio for only $2.99 through Amazon).
Now, the fourth book in the series, Patterns in the Dark, is also available.
Thanks for listening!
January 26, 2016
I mentioned on Twitter last night that I’d snagged another Bookbub ad for one of my boxed sets, and someone asked what the trick was, since they had been trying for years to get accepted. I thought I’d do a write-up with some tips, since I’ve had 20-odd ads with them over the years, between my pen name and my regular name (there’s one tip: you can technically have two Bookbubs in a month if you have two names). I don’t apply every month, but I do it as often as it makes sense. Maybe one day I’ll have enough series out there that I can keep cycling through my Book 1s and have a different one to promo each month of the year.
For those who haven’t heard of Bookbub, it’s the one sponsorship site out there that pays off for most authors who use it, meaning you’ll often make your money back and more on Day 1 or 2 of the ad if you’re doing a 99-cent title. If you’re advertising a free book that’s the first in the series, you’ll often make the money back and more in the sales of the subsequent books, though that usually takes a little longer, as people have to work through the series. Bookbub is also the most expensive site out there, with ads in some categories costing over a thousand dollars. But right now, the size of their subscriber base is far, far larger than that of any of the other sponsorship sites.
As you can imagine, they’re popular with authors wanting to purchase ads, too, and they hand at more rejections than acceptances. So, what’s the trick to getting an ad? I’m sure most, if not all, of this is already out there, so I’ll attempt to keep my list short. I’ve also included a video of an interview with a Bookbub employee at the end, and she answers a lot of questions about what they’re looking for and why some books are chosen over others.
1. Have a professional cover
They get tons and tons of submissions and can afford to be picky. I’m a subscriber to the sci-fi and fantasy lists, and it’s super rare to see a cover that looks homemade (usually when it happens, it’s an old trad published book!). Plenty of indie books get accepted, but they all have covers that look like a pro made them.
If you have a truly awesome cover (and sometimes it’s hard to self-judge on this), your odds can only get better.
2. Make sure you’re offering a big discount
I’ve had $2.99 books that I wanted to drop to 99 cents get accepted, but they’ve stated straight out in interviews that they want to give their subscribers the best deal possible. I believe this is why the boxed sets get accepted so often–a lot of these are 6.99 and more, and the authors are discounting them to 99 cents. If you’re selling your ebook at 99 cents or 2.99 right now and planning to apply eventually, you may want to bump the price up to 3.99 or 4.99 for the three months prior.
3. Make sure you’re promoting Book 1
Unless you have the kind of open-ended series where someone can jump in at any point, make sure you’re applying with the first book in your series. (If it is an open-ended series, I would mention that in the comments box.) Bookbub has specifically stated that they prefer Book 1s.
4. Have a LOT of reviews
I’ve had books accepted where there are less than 100 reviews on Amazon, but it just seems to be much more likely that you’ll get a spot if it’s clear that your book is already popular and that lots of readers have liked it. The more competitive the category, the more true this appears to be.
Yes, it’s a chicken and an egg thing — how do you get that many reviews before you’ve used something like Bookbub and gotten massive exposure? If you’re struggling to get reviews, consider doing a free run and using some of the smaller and less picky sponsorship sites to get some exposure to your book at the same time. Also, in the back of the book, politely ask your readers to leave a review. Believe it or not, that does make people more inclined to do so.
I’ve heard that Bookbub looks at reviews on Goodreads as well as Amazon and some other sites in determining whether to accept a title, so if you don’t have much going on over at GR, you might consider doing some giveaways there of physical books or just asking your regular readers to leave reviews there.
5. Make sure you’re a good match for one of their categories
With the stuff I write under my regular name, it’s easy. It’s all fantasy. I request the fantasy category.
With my pen name, things get trickier. It’s science fiction (space opera) romance, and they often balk at the idea of putting those kinds of books into their sci-fi category (I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s dominated by male subscribers).
The first two times the pen name got Bookbub ads, they insisted on putting the books into paranormal romance. That’s usually vampires and werewolves and the like, and the stories are set on Earth and have magic in them (in short, they’re fantasy). I didn’t think my space adventures would be a good fit. I paid for the ads anyway, because even a bad Bookbub experience tends to pay for itself or at least get you a lot of exposure, but they definitely underperformed compared to what I was used to. I knew that even with the romance element, the pen name stuff would do better in straight up SF.
So… when it came time to submit a boxed set, I redid the cover and gave it a pure space opera look (stars, a planet, a space ship!) with no sexy shirtless guys or couples in the clinch. I also composed a blurb that mentioned that romance was included (along with adults scenes), but which played up the adventure sci-fi aspect. The boxed set got in, and it did extremely well.
Tip: it’s tougher to get a Bookbub ad with a KU title, but if you can, you’ll probably do really well running it as a Countdown Deal, since you earn 70% on that 99-cent book instead of 35%, and you’ll also get a lot of extra borrows.
Note: you may be asking if it’s worth redoing your blurb and maybe even your cover just to have a better shot at fitting into a Bookbub category. It probably is, not just because of Bookbub, but because the book might very well perform better in general if it seems more inline with a specific category’s tropes. Sadly, originality isn’t usually what sells books. An original story on the inside is fine, but in general, people seem to be more likely to buy more of what they already know they love!
If you have any other Bookbub acceptance tips, please leave them in the comments. Now, here’s that interview and a couple of links to helpful articles on the Bookbub blog too:
How Bookbub’s Selection Process Works
Tips on Optimizing Your Submission for a BookBub Featured Deal
Free vs. Discounted: How BookBub’s Selection Rates Vary
January 22, 2016
While I was debating whether to write any more novels with Ridge, Sardelle, Cas, Tolemek, etc., I decided (a beta reader may have convinced me) to write another side story, this time with Therrik getting a chance to be the hero (or maybe anti-hero?). And he’s not alone. I’ve brought in a new heroine to add to the cast.
If you’re looking for a new action-adventure fantasy novel to read, one with a little romance, then here’s the blurb and the first chapter of Shattered Past:
Professor Lilah Zirkander (yes, she’s related to the famous pilot, and no, she can’t get him to autograph your undergarments) is looking forward to a summer in the paleontology lab, researching and cataloging new fossils. But that summer takes an unexpected turn when the king sends her into the Ice Blades to a secret mine where ancient dragon bones have been discovered. Rumor has it that they’re cursed and dangerous, but Lilah is more concerned about dealing with the outpost commander, a fierce officer with the temperament of a crabby badger.
As punishment for irking the king, Colonel Vann Therrik is overseeing the hardened criminals working in the remote Magroth Crystal Mines. He would like a chance to redeem himself—and escape the loathsome duty station—but nothing is going his way. Cursed fossils have delayed production, miners are trying to escape, and now a scientist has shown up, making demands on his time. Worse, she’s the cousin of his nemesis General Zirkander. As if one Zirkander in his world wasn’t bad enough.
Investigating the fossils leads Lilah and Vann into the depths of Magroth Mountain where centuries-old secrets lurk, and a long-forgotten threat stalks the passages. To have any chance at survival, they’ll have to work together and perhaps learn that neither is what the other expected.
Professor Lilah Zirkander walked down the aisles between the desks, setting exams facedown in front of students who alternated between looking warily at her and gazing longingly at the clock. She stood between them and their summer vacation. Well, they stood between her and an exciting summer project too.
“For those of you who need to pad your academic résumés—or need extra coursework to complete your degree—Professor Haytar has informed me that we’ll need a couple of assistants for our summer project,” Lilah said.
“Are you going out to the field again, Professor?” Natashi, a third-year student, asked. She was one of the few students who had seemed to enjoy the class, taking it because of an interest in the subject matter, rather than because it satisfied a math requirement, without actually requiring much math. As if math was something to shy away from. Hmmph.
“No, the project will take place in the science lab.”
Lilah handed out the last exam to the sandal-wearing boy in swimming trunks who had drawn his answer to the last essay question. Had it been an anatomically correct drawing, she might have awarded a small amount of credit, but his dragon skeleton looked more like a lizard skeleton, and it included genitalia completely inappropriate to either.
“Most of our government funding was siphoned off for military use this year,” Lilah added when Natashi’s face fell with disappointment, “so we can’t afford any projects that involve travel.”
Lilah also found the news disappointing, since she enjoyed her annual escapes from the campus, but a quiet summer without any students to teach would be appealing too. She secretly hoped that nobody took her up on the offer for extra credit. It wasn’t that she didn’t like the kids, but teaching left her feeling fraught. Research was so much more appealing than dealing with people, especially young people. They were so… recent. And mouthy. Who could fathom them and enjoy their company? She much preferred fossils.
“We will be undertaking an intensive cataloging project in the lab. All those fossils that were unearthed in the Sundaran Ice Field last summer are waiting to be studied and labeled for a museum exhibit this fall.”
“Dragon fossils?” the student with the propensity for drawing asked, his gaze jerking from the window to Lilah’s face for a rare moment of eye contact.
“It’s an amazingly complete collection of Glophopteris rugoniana specimens.”
The student behind him slapped him on the back. “Plants, you idiot. It was on the test.”
“Ferns, to be exact,” Lilah said. “Giant ferns from more than three million years ago. Iskandoth used to be quite the tropical haven.”
Several sets of shoulders slumped. Lilah admitted that fern fossils didn’t pack the museum the way that dragon bones did, but there was so much to learn from studying them. And dragons were frustrating. She had given ten years of her life to trying to identify their ancestors so someone could complete their phylogenetic tree in a manner that made sense. Alas, she had never found the missing link. Plants had proven less of a mystery, thanks to the fact that their fossils were so much more easily found.
Shouts and cheers and the stamping of feet came from the hallway, some lenient professor letting his or her class out early. Typically, Lilah would not be disposed to do the same thing, but when two-dozen hopeful sets of eyes turned in her direction, she sighed and relented—it wasn’t as if those distracted brains would process anything else she said today.
“You can come see me after class if you’re interested in the summer work or in my paleobotany class in the fall,” Lilah said and waved toward the door. “Go. Enjoy your—”
The rest of her words were buried in the slamming of books, rustling of clothing, and overall noise of a mass exodus. Lilah dropped her arm and headed to her desk. Let them enjoy their youth. She planned to enjoy the solitude of a campus largely free of noisy students.
“Professor Zirkander?” Natashi asked. She was the lone student left in the room, and she looked oddly nervous as she clutched her books to her chest and smiled tentatively.
“Yes? Are you interested in the cataloging project?” Lilah liked Natashi more than her other students. She studied hard, earned good marks on her papers, and showed a genuine interest in the field. She also dressed appropriately for a place of learning, eschewing the swimming trunks and sandals fashion that had cropped up of late.
“Maybe, ma’am, but I was also wondering… uhm, you’re related to General Zirkander, the pilot, aren’t you?”
“He’s my cousin,” Lilah said warily, having a hunch as to where the conversation was going. She endured such inquiries at least once a month. Multiple times a week after a newspaper article highlighted the actions of Wolf Squadron in driving off some Cofah attack farther up the coast. “I don’t know him well,” she added, waving vaguely toward the north. The capital where the flier pilots were based was more than two hundred miles up the coast.
“You don’t visit him?”
“Why would I do that? I don’t need anything from the capital. I don’t even have a horse for traveling that far.”
“But he’s General Zirkander!” Natashi said with the dreamy look that suggested she probably kept a few newspaper clippings of him in her notebook, ones that highlighted his face with hearts drawn around it.
“I can’t imagine what we would talk about.”
Lilah distinctly remembered Ridge—Ridgewalker, thanks to his parents’ fondness for quirky names—teasing her for reading books instead of playing with the other kids at one of those dreaded family get-togethers they had endured as children. He was an only child and had been delighted to run around with age mates, hurling balls like a fool. Lilah, with three older brothers, hadn’t been nearly as enamored with the idea of siblings and playmates.
“Oh.” Natashi bit her lip. “Well, uhm, just in case, would you be able to get his autograph for me if you happen to see him?”
Lilah forced herself not to roll her eyes. She was thirty-seven now. Entirely too mature for eye rolling. “If you haven’t graduated by the time I see him next, I’ll keep it in mind.” Along with the fifty-odd similar requests she’d had in the last year. At least Natashi didn’t pull out a bra and brazenly suggest that Ridge might like to sign it.
A throat cleared in the doorway. A short-haired, clean-shaven man in an army uniform leaned in, looking at the student and then at Lilah.
“Professor Zirkander?” he asked.
“Yes?” Lilah waved the man in, though she couldn’t imagine what would have brought him to the science and history college. Classes? There was a small navy outpost a couple of miles outside of town, where soldiers visited to practice sea-based exercises, but they did not usually have the time or interest to enroll. “You’re not looking for General Zirkander’s signature, too, are you?”
“Uh, no, ma’am. I already have that.” He lifted a beige folder as he walked down an aisle toward her desk. He stopped a few paces away, clasped his hands and his folder behind his back, and looked at Natashi. “I can wait, but I need to speak with you in private when you’re done, ma’am.”
He nodded at Natashi, giving her a slight smile. He wasn’t much older than she was, and he was handsome in his tidy, pressed uniform and his polished boots. Natashi would do much better to stare dreamily at him, rather than at pictures of someone who had crossed forty already.
“I’ll send you a message about the summer project, Natashi.”
Lilah dismissed her student with a nod, curious as to what was in this soldier’s folder. She was inclined to think uncharitably of the military, especially since they had been getting so much of what should have been the college’s funding of late, but she was sure this youngster hadn’t had anything to do with it. Besides, he had a sweet face and reminded her of Lieutenant Bakstonis from the Time Trek series. She wondered if her visitor had read the popular books and would understand the reference.
As soon as Natashi disappeared, shutting the door on her way out, the soldier opened the folder. “My name is Lieutenant Sleepy, ma’am. I’m from Tiger Squadron, and I’m here to fly you to the capital.”
“Sorry, it’s a nickname. You can call me Lieutenant Derkonith, if you like. Or Jhav.” He smiled and glanced at her neck, where she still wore the promise necklace her late husband had given her. At least, she thought that was where he was looking. Breasts weren’t far from necks, after all, and a lot of male gazes got hung up on her chest, no matter how demurely she dressed. At least the young men—students, as well as soldiers—weren’t usually impertinent enough to grab, bump, or make assumptions that her chest was available for handling. She’d had to snap at a couple of the distinguished professors over the years and had earned a reputation for being… difficult. As long as they let her keep researching and publishing papers, they could call her whatever they wished.
“My confusion wasn’t derived from your name, Lieutenant, but rather from your belief that you’re flying me somewhere.”
“Oh. Well, that’s in the orders, ma’am. I’m to allow you time to pack clothing and to collect whatever tools and equipment you need.”
“How generous of you. What happens if I refuse to go with you?” Lilah accepted the paper, so she could see for herself what this was about.
“He said you wouldn’t, ma’am, especially on account of your classes being finished today.”
“He? General Zirkander?” She bristled at the idea of a cousin she hadn’t spoken to in nearly five years making assumptions about her.
“Uhm, King Angulus, ma’am.”
She blinked and stared down at the paper, glancing at the signature on the bottom. General Zirkander’s messy scrawl was on there, yes, but King Angulus Masonwood III had also signed the page. Nerves twisted in her belly. What could the king want with her? She’d never met the man or even been in the capital for one of his public speeches.
Reading the entire document might help. She started at the top, mumbling to herself as she skimmed it. “…your presence humbly requested… possible dragon fossils unearthed… top-secret facility… determine if the bones are legitimate, and if so, if they should be removed for study or if demolitions can continue.” She gaped up at the pilot. “Demolitions?”
“I don’t know anything about the facility or the demolitions, ma’am. I’m just here to give you a ride to the capital.”
“Is that where the bones were discovered?”
“No, ma’am. But we’ll pick up General Zirkander there. Oh, I was told to tell you to pack warmly.”
Lilah looked toward the courtyard, which was lined by lavender bushes that had been blooming for weeks already. “Somewhere in the mountains?” she guessed.
The pilot shrugged. “I’m just a lieutenant, ma’am. They don’t tell us much. I assume the general will give you more details. But I do know enough to recommend that if you have any weapons, you may want to pack them too.”
“Weapons?” That was almost as alarming as the idea of demolitions in an area of scientific importance. Were they going somewhere that wild animals would be a problem? She did have a collection of hunting rifles, though she hadn’t been out on safari since Taryn had passed away, so she hadn’t practiced with them in years. It was rare for rhinos and wildebeests to rampage through the streets of Port Yenrem.
“Do you have any, ma’am? The general said he’d send a bodyguard along, but it might not be a bad idea if you take a pistol or at least a dagger. In case, uhm. Well, I’m not supposed to know this, but I heard the general growl something about Colonel Therrik being in charge of where you’re going.”
The way the pilot said the name made Lilah think she should be familiar with it. She knew of a few historically significant Therriks, but hadn’t run into a modern person with the name. Was it some other soldier who was mentioned often in the newspapers? If so, she wouldn’t know about it, since she much preferred historical texts to current events.
“I’m sure you’ll be fine, ma’am. I shouldn’t have said anything to alarm you. Besides, the king said he’ll give you some orders to take with you, orders that will ensure Therrik is polite to you.”
The man had to be forced to be polite to a woman? That didn’t sound promising.
“Is this Colonel Therrik not someone known to cooperate with visitors from academia?”
The lieutenant rubbed his jaw, as if in memory of a painful punch. “I think he’s more likely to eat visitors from academia.”
January 19, 2016
The final bonus scene in the series is here! Also, for those who were wondering if Soulblade would be the last Dragon Blood, I’m almost positive that I’m going to write one more with all of the main characters before letting them retire. Also, look for Shattered Past, a side novel with Therrik and a new heroine, which will be out after January 22nd.
Bonus Scene #1: Fowl Advice
Bonus Scene #2: Fowl Friends
Bonus Scene #3: Fowl Revelations
Dragon Blood Bonus Scene #4: A Fowl Proposal
General Ridgewalker Zirkander did not usually pilot his flier over the capital and land in the street in front of his house, but this was a special occasion. He made sure his picnic basket was still secure, then hopped out of the craft, pleased that a couple hours of daylight remained. Once on the ground, he touched his breast pocket–again. The bulge nestled inside reassured him. He had left work early to visit Azerta’s Fine Jewelry and pick up the custom-made promise necklace for Sardelle.
A tiny diamond and sapphire sword meant to represent her soulblade, Jaxi, dangled from the gold chain. The jeweler had suggested all manner of decorative pendants from flowers to newly trendy dragons to ancient runes that translated to “love” or “forever,” but since Jaxi was closer to Sardelle than any sister ever could be, Ridge had thought the sword appropriate. Besides, it wasn’t as if he could have a relationship–a marriage–with Sardelle without including Jaxi.
Ridge wiped his damp palms on his uniform trousers as he approached the walkway. He had the jewelry. Now, all he had to do was ask her to marry him.
Should he change into something less formal before asking her to join him? Or would his uniform make him seem more dashing and appealing? He wasn’t sure he wanted to deal with all of the buttons if things progressed in the direction he hoped. Nor did he want to lose his jacket over the side of an arch, since it would tumble hundreds of feet into the river that flowed through Crazy Canyon. Despite all the advice he had received on the topic of sedate proposals, he couldn’t bring himself to take Sardelle out to dinner and bend a knee next to a candlelit table. His proposal should be epic. Exciting. Breathtaking.
I believe you’re too late, Jaxi spoke into his mind as he reached for the doorknob.
Ridge froze. His heart might have frozen too.
Too late? he responded, trying to keep the panic out of his mental voice. He had been trying not to think about his proposal plans around Sardelle, since Jaxi was usually at her side and poked into his thoughts more frequently than she did, but that didn’t mean he had succeeded in keeping it secret.
You won’t need your flier tonight, Jaxi said. You might as well have come on a horse.
Ridge tightened his grip on the doorknob. Are you saying that… Sardelle wouldn’t like to go for a ride tonight?
Not in your flier. She has other plans.
Other plans? She said she would be home this afternoon. Ridge had specifically asked her if she could take a break from teaching Tylie and the two new students she had taken on so that they might have time together. Of course, he hadn’t told her why he wanted that time together, just that he planned to come home early to be with her. She had agreed. She’d seemed excited at the idea. Why would she have other plans now?
She got tired of waiting for you, genius.
Tired of waiting? Ridge knew he should turn the doorknob and stop standing there in stupefied silence, but he couldn’t quite parse what Jaxi was saying. She couldn’t mean that Sardelle had gone looking for… someone else. Could she? Yes, they had both been busy lately, but they had been doing the work they loved, each of them, and when they had found time to come together, it had been passionate and exciting. He’d done his best to make it so. The absences had only made them value their time together more, or so he had believed.
Yes, yes, she’s still enjoying your randy bits and your passion, Jaxi said. That’s why she’s waiting for you in the duck blind.
Oh? Ridge let go of the doorknob and looked toward the pond next to the house. He imagined the comfortable plush chairs inside his duck blind, then pictured Sardelle lounging naked in one, her bare leg draped over one side as she perused one of his model flier magazines…
The model flier magazines are what get you in the mood, not her. And yes, that is odd.
Sardelle called it charming.
She’s more tactful than I am.
Well, she can peruse anything she likes to get in the mood. Is she, ah, in the mood now? Ridge left the walkway and headed for the path leading to the duck blind, notions of proposals being stampeded out of his mind by more libidinous thoughts.
Not exactly. Better go see her.
Worried about those dubious words, Ridge hurried down the path. Squawks came from the reeds, and he glimpsed ducks paddling toward the muddy bank. Maybe if he tossed the entire tin of crackers out the window, they would be quiet, so he could sweep Sardelle off her feet and into the duck blind, where they could… discuss their magazine preferences.
You’re not editing your thoughts for my sake, are you? Jaxi asked.
I thought I would keep them tame since you’re swimming through my mind faster than those ducks can paddle around the pond.
I’m fully aware that men have lurid fantasies about Sardelle. I’ve even encountered men who have lurid fantasies about me.
Er, you as a sword? Or you before you became a sword?
Trust me, you don’t want to know.
You’re right. He was far more interested in being lurid with Sardelle. With that image planted firmly in mind, he rounded the bend and strode toward the duck blind door. At least, that was his intention. He froze when he spotted the very large golden-scaled dragon perched atop the stone structure. No wonder the ducks were squawking.
“Are there enemies about?” Ridge asked, slowing to a stop. Bhrava Saruth was always in his human form, or sometimes his ferret incarnation, when around the house. Ridge glanced around, hoping none of the neighbors across the pond could see this.
The dragon lowered his massive golden head, his familiar green eyes gazing intently into Ridge’s soul. Neither Cofah invaders nor pirates are nearby, Bhrava Saruth informed him. The ducks, however, are having unpleasant thoughts about me.
“Perhaps if you threw them some crackers.” Ridge glanced at the dragon’s wingtips and also at his short arms and long claws. Could dragons throw?
Do you think they will worship me if I feed them?
Perhaps in their own fowl way. Ridge smirked at his pun.
Bhrava Saruth merely scratched the back of his neck with a wingtip and looked thoughtfully toward the ducks.
The door opened, and Sardelle walked out, an inviting smile on her face. That looked promising, dragons looming on the rooftop of the duck blind or not. Ridge smiled back.
“I wasn’t expecting to find you here,” he said, spreading his arms for a hug.
Sardelle wasn’t naked, as in the image his mind had conjured, but she wore a lovely white dress with a broad belt that accented her waist and snugged the fabric up nicely to her bosom. Instead of the sandals she had been wearing around the house since summer had fully blossomed, leather riding boots adorned her feet. Probably wise for the muddy path leading to the duck blind.
And for riding dragons, Jaxi said.
Riding dragons? Ridge’s gaze lifted toward Bhrava Saruth. One of the large golden eyelids shivered in an approximation of a wink.
Before Ridge could contemplate that further, Sardelle slid into his arms, accepting his hug and returning it with pleasing enthusiasm. The ducks that had been maneuvering through the reeds floated closer, but they did not waddle out of the water, as they sometimes did in their eagerness to receive crackers. Perhaps the presence of the dragon kept them at bay.
Sardelle leaned back enough to look at his face, her blue eyes as warm and appealing as ever. They crinkled around the corners, and she said, “Your bulge is poking me.”
“Sorry, I got excited imagining you in there, reading my magazines.”
Her brows rose, and she tapped the square lump in his breast pocket, the jewelry box.
“Oh. That bulge.” Ridge bit his lip. He couldn’t give it to her now. He had to propose first, and he didn’t want to do that on a muddy path with ducks quacking from the reeds. “That one is for later.”
She leaned against his chest. “Should I look forward to seeing it?”
“I certainly hope so.” Ridge looked up at Bhrava Saruth. “Are you… uhm, I was going to ask you to fly somewhere with me.”
“Odd. I planned to ask you to fly somewhere with me.”
Jaxi’s comments about riding dragons returned to his mind. He waffled, disappointed that she’d made other plans for their evening when he had hoped to finally enact his grand plan. He thought of the picnic basket in his flier and dinner packed inside, delicious fried chicken, bacon-wrapped and honey-glazed corn on the cob, and chocolate-dipped dragon horn cookies, all specialties of the pretentious but fabulous Brownstone Plaza Delicatessen. Well, perhaps they could share the contents for breakfast.
“I’ll go anywhere with you,” Ridge said.
I can arrange for that dinner to float along after you, Jaxi said.
Ridge imagined riding a dragon across the countryside with a picnic basket flying after them. He wasn’t sure which would alarm the local farmers more.
“Excellent.” Sardelle stepped back, sliding her hands down his arms, then holding up a finger as she leaned into the duck blind to grab her sword belt off the closest chair. Jaxi lay nestled inside of the scabbard. Ridge wondered where Sardelle meant to take him that they might need a soulblade.
I am always needed, Jaxi informed him. I am a necessity. Surely, you must know this by now.
Of course. Foolish me.
Sardelle looked toward the dragon. “Bhrava Saruth, are you ready?”
One moment, high priestess.
Something was floating out the door. The cracker tin that Ridge kept in the duck blind. The lid popped open, seemingly of its own accord, and several crackers drifted out. They floated over to the water, snapped into small pieces in the air, then descended to the surface. The ducks forgot their alarm over the dragon and zipped out of the reeds to snap at the crackers, devouring the pieces whole.
“We could take my flier instead of your dragon,” Ridge murmured, “and not have to worry about him getting distracted.”
Then he could pilot. He always preferred piloting to being a passenger.
I am not distracted, Bhrava Saruth announced. As the now-empty cracker tin floated back into the duck blind, he lowered his long neck and head. Climb on.
The ducks hurried away, wings flapping with alarm, as that head came close to the ground–and the water. Squawks sounded as they disappeared into the reeds.
Foolish creatures. Did they not realize that I, their god Bhrava Saruth, was responsible for their meal?
“Do you truly want ducks as worshippers?” Sardelle asked as she pulled herself onto the back of the dragon’s neck, then scooted down it until she reached his shoulders and could sit astride him. “They wouldn’t be able to rub your belly.”
That is true. Also, their brains are tiny and incapable of acknowledging my godliness.
Ridge kept a snarky response to himself. After all, he was climbing onto the dragon and putting his fate in Bhrava Saruth’s hands–claws.
One wonders what he thinks of our brains, Sardelle said telepathically, giving Ridge a wink.
Since he made you his high priestess, he must think yours is special, Ridge replied, settling in behind her. He slipped his arms around Sardelle’s waist. Even though he had ridden the dragon a couple of times before, and knew that Bhrava Saruth’s magic would keep them from falling off, a man should never neglect an opportunity to wrap his arms around his lady.
I’m not going to bring your picnic basket if you make me gag, Jaxi said.
We need to find you your own romance so you’ll be too busy to comment on ours. I believe Wreltad is the right… species.
Taddy is pompous, smug, and he used to work for the enemy. Also, he hasn’t asked me on a date.
Ridge couldn’t imagine how two swords could go on a date, but all he said was, I can speak to him about that, if you wish.
You can make him less pompous and less Cofah?
I could suggest that he be charming enough that you forget about his flaws.
Has that been your strategy with Sardelle?
That and keeping her delighted in the bedroom.
Can you hear that? The sound of a sword gagging?
Then again, Ridge said, I may look for a nicer soulblade lady for Wreltad. He’s from another time. Probably not used to ladies with such noisy throats.
The next thing he experienced in his mind was the vision of a sword scowling. Fiercely.
Ridge rested his chin on Sardelle’s shoulder. “Where are we going?”
“It’s a surprise. Hang on tight.”
Bhrava Saruth sprang into the air, the reeds and nearby leaves swaying as his powerful wingbeats created wind. Ridge was tempted to wheedle their destination out of Jaxi, but he kept his mind silent as they soared above the trees at the end of the pond and banked to fly over the city. A few startled shouts sounded from the streets below, but Bhrava Saruth soon took them high enough that they would appear to be nothing more than a bird far overhead.
The air grew chillier as they gained altitude, flying north along the coast, and Sardelle leaned back in Ridge’s arms. He thought about looking over his shoulder to see if a picnic basket was soaring along behind them, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to see his corn and chicken being treated to such an experience.
As they flew, the sun lowered toward the horizon, turning the waves a burnished orange. Miles passed below, and the beach disappeared, replaced by rocks until the shoreline grew steeper, and cliffs rose above the churning water. Up ahead, the mouth of Crazy Canyon came into view, the river pouring out into the sea.
Sardelle looked over her shoulder, a sly smile curving her lips upward.
Ridge narrowed his eyes. “Did someone blab about my plans?”
Plans for what? she asked innocently into his mind. Also, hang on tight again.
Bhrava Saruth swooped down like an osprey angling for a fish, and Ridge’s breath caught as the vast blue ocean spread below them and the wind riffled his hair. He did, indeed, hold Sardelle tightly, whether to keep her safe or to keep from falling off himself, he didn’t know.
The dragon pulled up at the last moment, his talons clipping the waves, and then they were off in a new direction, arrowing into the mouth of the canyon. As Ridge had done many times with his flier, they swept along the river, up between trees growing alongside it, past looming boulders, and around ancient rock formations. The first arch came into view, the pillars thrusting out of the tops of the cliff walls and rising up until they joined together, forming a curving bridge over the canyon. Bhrava Saruth flew loops around one of the pillars, turning them upside down as he streaked around and around. Gravity should have hurled Ridge and Sardelle into the water below, but magic kept them astride the dragon.
Even though he preferred piloting to riding, Ridge found himself grinning as Bhrava Saruth flew on to the next arch up the canyon, whipping through a maze of rock pillars along the way. Not being the one in control added an unpredictable element, and not being entirely positive that magic would keep him from falling kept his heart pounding in his chest. He wasn’t sure if Sardelle was enjoying the experience quite as much, judging by the tense set of her shoulders and the way her nails occasionally dug into his jacket sleeve, but she must not have said anything to Bhrava Saruth, because the dragon raced through the entire canyon twice before flying toward the top of one of the wider arches.
He alighted on it, talons wrapping over the edge. Interestingly, a blanket weighted down by rocks and two picnic baskets stretched across the mostly flat top of the six-foot-wide arch. Two more blankets were folded neatly at one corner. Was that his picnic basket next to the red and yellow one he hadn’t seen before?
Naturally, Jaxi spoke into his mind. Even though you teased me, I’m mature and magnanimous enough not to want to ruin your moment with Sardelle.
I teased you? Didn’t you gag at me?
Yes, but you deserved it.
“This is our stop.” Sardelle’s braid had come apart, and she tucked strands of hair behind her ears as she peeked back at him. Her face was a tad pale, but she smiled for him.
“That was amazing.” Ridge grinned–he had never stopped grinning. “Almost as exhilarating as when I fly.”
Bhrava Saruth, who had been perched patiently, waiting for them to get off, swiveled his head around to regard Ridge with his luminous green eyes.
“All right,” Ridge amended, “it was as exhilarating as when I fly.”
Sardelle squeezed his thigh, and they slid off the dragon’s back. He landed first, catching her about the waist and eyeing the drop. The arch rose a good two hundred feet above the canyon floor. If that blanket was up here for the reasons he hoped, they could have an exhilarating time, much as he had imagined.
Jaxi, have you been poking through my thoughts and telling Sardelle about what I planned?
Not me. You probably shouldn’t let that dragon spend so much time lounging in your duck blind.
“Ridge?” Sardelle had stepped onto the blanket, and she looked back at him, holding out a hand. “Join me?”
Bhrava Saruth leaped into the air, flew down into the canyon, coasted along the river, then disappeared into trees to one side.
“It appears I have no choice.” Ridge wiggled his eyebrows at her. “You seem to have kidnapped me.”
“Only because I was afraid you’d never get around to kidnapping me.”
He stepped onto the blanket and took her hand, nerves starting to cavort in his stomach. Whether Jaxi or Bhrava Saruth had told her of his thoughts regarding proposals, she clearly knew what he had been planning.
“I just wanted to make everything perfect.”
“Perfect or memorable?” Sardelle glanced in either direction, the miles of the canyon cutting below them to either side, the setting sun painting the cliff walls red.
He nibbled on his lip, trying to remember the words he had rehearsed that morning, while he had supposedly been paying attention to a report from the Tiger and Wolf Squadron commanders.
Sardelle unbuckled her sword belt, laying Jaxi’s scabbard next to one of the picnic baskets.
“Oh,” he said, eyeing her waist and wondering if she meant to remove other things as well. “Are we going to forget words and skip right to, uhm.”
“I have a few words first.” She bent and lifted the lid of the red and yellow basket.
Because he was a gentleman, he didn’t use the moment to ogle her backside. Much. “Will Jaxi be watching? Er, listening?”
“She’s only here in case we fall asleep, forget where we are, and roll off the rock.” Sardelle waved to the drop-off.
“I wasn’t imagining that sleeping would be the reason might lose track of our surroundings and tumble over the edge.” Ridge wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or disturbed that Jaxi would be watching over them.
I promise to close my eyes, Jaxi said.
And withhold comments?
Don’t I always when you’re having tender moments?
During them, I do. Commentary afterward is fair game. Sardelle and I have agreed upon this in the past.
“You’re going to be that engrossing tonight?” Sardelle turned toward him, something clasped in her hands.
“I’ll strive to be. It’s also possible that our lovemaking will be so vigorous that the rock will crack and break.” He tapped the blanket with the toe of his boot.
I can make commentary beforehand, too, Jaxi said.
Such as gagging?
When it’s appropriate.
“Then it’s a good thing Jaxi is here.” Sardelle stepped forward, but she looked down at her hands instead of up at him. “I know it’s not traditional in today’s Iskandia for men to wear signs that they’re married, but among the Referatu, there is–was–a tradition.”
“A tradition?” he asked, watching her hands.
“Yes. This is nothing fancy, or pretty, really,” Sardelle said. “I made it myself, and I lack your mother’s talent, but it does have a little magic to it, a protection. I’m a healer, and I have the assistance of a dragon, for good or ill–” She smiled briefly, even if she still wasn’t meeting his eyes. Was she nervous? She never seemed nervous. “It will basically help protect you from viruses and it will promote good health. And this is my ziasta–I’m not sure if there’s a word for it in Iskandian, but it’s like a mix between an old clan mark and a sigil.” She finally revealed what she had been fiddling with, a leather cuff with a cluster of runes etched on the top. She lifted her gaze and met his eyes. “I would be honored if you wore it.”
Ridge stood still, staring at Sardelle as the realization slowly came over him that she was proposing to him.
He had once told her that it could go either way these days, with the man or woman taking charge, but for some reason, he had assumed she would wait for him to do it. All this–the ride out here, the arch, and the picnic–had been the very plan he had envisioned, albeit with him piloting his flier instead of Bhrava Saruth flying them. But he’d hesitated to enact it, since everyone had told him that women preferred sedate dinners for proposals. Someone had shared his fantasies with her, and she had done all this to give him the proposal he’d dreamed about.
“I…” Touched by her thoughtfulness–and her willingness to endure that crazy ride to get here–he groped for something articulate to say.
“I should warn you that it’s more than just a gift. It’s kind of like… I’m claiming you. Marking you with my sigil. It lets others know that we’re bonded and that they’ll have to deal with me if they try to hurt you or harass you in any way.” She shrugged. “At least that’s what it once meant. There aren’t many people left alive who would recognize the significance.” That familiar wistful sadness flashed through her eyes, as it often did when she spoke of the people she had lost. “It’s the tradition, that’s all. A way to protect the one you love.”
Love. Ridge swallowed. They had both shared the word with each other before, but neither of them flung it around frequently, and he still felt a charge of warmth when she confessed that she loved him.
As Sardelle gazed up at him, her freckled face as serene as always–though the way she fiddled with the cuff hinted at that nervousness–he realized she must be waiting for an answer. And that he might be making her uncomfortable by not giving her a prompt one.
“I’m dumbfounded, not hesitant,” he rushed to say.
“Before we left, Jaxi told me to use my mental powers to invade your privacy and investigate your bulge.”
“The one in my shirt, right?”
The corners of her mouth quirked upward. “Yes.”
“So you know that I’d very much like to marry you, even if it means letting you mark me like the alpha wolf in the pack.”
“Wolves scent mark, don’t they? I assure you, I only used leather-working tools on that.”
“That’s a relief.” He grinned and reached for it. “May I see it?”
“You may wear it, if you wish. Though you’re mine after that.”
“Then put it on me promptly, please.” Ridge offered his wrist.
She pushed up his sleeve and slid the cuff over his hand. He tried to decide if he could feel a tingle of magic, then teased her by giving it a sniff. She shoved him.
“Careful,” he said, “you might knock me over the side, and Jaxi would have to get to work early.”
“We wouldn’t want that.” She stepped closer, leaning her chest against his, her curves delightfully appealing, even through their clothes. “Do you have something for me now?” She looked down at his shirt pocket. Bless her, she seemed eager to see what it was–even if she had already seen it, in a manner of speaking.
Realizing she hadn’t precisely said the words he meant to say yet, he delved into the pocket, a flutter of nerves teasing his stomach anew. It was silly. She had already marked him. What did he have to be nervous about now?
“Sardelle?” His voice came out a touch squeaky, and he cleared his throat while he opened the box. He pulled back the lid and tilted the gold chain and the diamond and sapphire sword pendant toward her so she could see it. “Will you marry me?”
“I thought you’d never ask,” she said, sliding her hands up to his shoulders. “Truly. I thought you’d never ask.”
“Oh, sorry. I wanted it to be…” Ridge looked toward the fiery red sun, only the top quarter of it remaining above the horizon, painting the entire sea crimson. A hawk cried in the distance, probably wondering what humans were doing on its perch. He grinned, both at the amazing view of the canyon and the ocean and at the woman standing in his arms. “Perfect,” he finished softly.
“I appreciate that, but I just want to be with you.”
He tried to swallow a lump that refused to be swallowed. Since he couldn’t find his voice right away, he used the moment to remove the necklace, return the box to his pocket, and secure it around her neck. “You’re a rare and amazing woman, Sardelle,” he said softly.
I’m gagging again, Jaxi announced.
“Does she say those things to you too?” Ridge asked.
“About the gagging? Many times a day. If she were human, she would have developed a throat condition by now.”
Fortunately, I am a sublime and magical being. And I have no throat. You’re supposed to kiss her now, genius.
“I guess that last comment was for me,” Ridge said, lifting a hand to Sardelle’s cheek.
“Unless you’ve changed sexes recently, that seems likely.”
“My, ah, bulge should affirm that’s not the case.”
“We’re talking about the necklace box, right?”
“Anything else would be crude.” He waggled his eyebrows at her.
She snorted and leaned in, lips parting in invitation. Ridge bent his head, and, as they melted together, remembered the first time they had kissed. The warm sea breeze and the last rays of the summer sun were so different from the frigid conditions in that cave high in the Ice Blades. How long ago had that been? Eight months? Nine? Not so long in the grand scheme of things, but they had been through so much that it seemed that he had known Sardelle forever. He couldn’t imagine not spending the rest of his life with her now.
“Ridge?” Sardelle murmured, pulling back.
“Hm?” He blinked, disappointed that the kissing had stopped.
“I didn’t bring this blanket out here so we could stand on it.”
“Oh, I see. Yes, I’m sure we can find a better use for it.”
He grinned, and they soon returned to kissing, and other things. Jaxi, fortunately, did not comment until much later.