Sunday, May 31, 2020

"Son of Grendel" Is Here! And It's Supporting a Food Bank!

My newest independent writing project, the steampunk-fantasy novella "Son of Grendel" is here at last. It is a prequel set approximately a year before the events of Battle for the Wastelands.


Here's the book copy.

A tyrant’s heir must go into the mountains to face a band of insurgents on its own ground. Not everybody will emerge from the confrontation unscathed, not least him.

Falki Grendelsson, eldest son of the first lord of the Northlands, serves as a company commander in his father’s elite Obsidian Guard. Though many lords would keep their sons close and out of harm’s way, Grendel is determined his son learn the business of war firsthand for the day he puts on his father’s cloak.

But when Robert Dalton leads displaced farmers armed with stolen Old World repeating rifles in a raid that kills a favored officer, Grendel sends Falki to make an example of them.

Falki has never fought this type of war before. Although the Obsidian Guard has the deadly weapons of the ancient world and dirigibles to rain fire from the skies, Dalton’s insurgents know the land and the mountains hold terrors beyond his increasingly-desperate men.

In order to cement his father’s new order, Falki has to triumph not only over a physical foe who would gladly kill him, but his own demons. And victory over one might mean falling to another…

"Son of Grendel" and the character of Falki Grendelsson more broadly allow me to explore the issue of race and ethnicity in the Wastelands world, something that dates back many years to a meeting of my now-defunct Cobb County writing group. Author G. Gerome Henson (you can find his work in the Thunder on the Battlefield: Sword anthology) asked me if Wastelands was a generic fantasy world where everybody is white except for a few fringe characters. I hadn't really put a lot of thought into it at the time, but Henson's comment got the wheels spinning...

The major ethnic groups of the Northlands, the realm bounded by the mountains, the Iron Desert, and the two seas are as follows:

Sejer-A sort of pan-Scandinavian culture. Very Viking. Grendel is a Sejer. The Obsidian Guard, Grendel's equivalent to Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard that is exclusively equipped with Old World (pre-apocalyptic) weaponry, recruits heavily from among them.

Jiao-The primary cultural base is Chinese, but there are elements of Japanese culture as well like taiko drumming. Grendel's late queen and only formal wife, Falki's mother, was Jiao. Alongside the Sejer, the Jiao comprise the bulk of the Obsidian Guard.

Flatlanders-Sort of generic Old West white people. Robert Dalton and the people of Jenner's Ford are flatlanders. In the main novel, Grendel's warlords Alexander Matthews, Travis "Mangle" Steuben, Stephen Quantrill, and Jasper Clark and the bulk of their troops are flatlanders, as are most of the people under Grendel's rule. However, the Obsidian Guard does not recruit from among them.

(More importantly from Falki's point of view, other than his de facto stepmother Signe Allansdottir, Grendel's concubines are flatlanders and so are their children. Although Falki is the eldest, the only one born of a legal marriage, and the most experienced soldier, he is alien to his father's flatlander subjects in a way that the majority of his siblings are not.)

Nahada-Arabs. Falki's lieutenant Thomas Nahed is a Nahada. I haven't delved too much into his back-story, but since he is an officer in the Obsidian Guard (exclusively recruited in Sejera, where Grendel was lord for years before conquering the rest of the Northlands), he was probably a member of Sejera's Nahada minority. Most Nahada live further south under the rule of Grendel's subordinate Alexander Matthews.

Menceir-Colloquially known as "the trading folk" and less flatteringly as "pikeys," they're sort of a hybrid between the Roma (Gypsies) and an Indian caste whose name escapes me at the moment who traveled around carrying good to trade on bulls. I think said group are the Banjara, but I'm not entirely sure.

Also, the Amazon links for "Son of Grendel" and Battle aren't Amazon affiliates as usual, but smile.amazon.com links supporting the charity Feeding America. With so many businesses shut down or operating at reduced capacity due to the coronavirus outbreak, food banks need help more than ever. If you use a smile.amazon link, make sure it's set to Feeding America to benefit that particular charity.

Enjoy!

Friday, May 29, 2020

Some Indiana Jones Humor For You Today...

In the first Indiana Jones film Raiders of the Lost Ark that takes place in 1936, adventurer-archaeologist Indiana Jones reconnects with his old girlfriend Marion Ravenwood, but by the time of the third film The Last Crusade in 1938 they're no longer a couple and he has a different love interest, Elsa Schneider (who it turns out is a Nazi). The controversial fourth film The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull reveals that he and Marion were engaged but he "broke it off a week before the wedding."

So now let's have an amusing counterfactual scenario. The marriage goes through, but when his father is kidnapped in 1938, Indiana sets off to rescue him (leaving Marion, who at this point might be pregnant with this timeline's version of Mutt Williams and not really in any condition to go adventuring) and the events of Last Crusade still happen. AKA Indiana Jones commits adultery, or Professor Henry Jones has another reason to slap him.



Indiana, a very pregnant Marion, and Elsa (who for the purposes of this scenario is still alive) end up on The Jerry Springer Show to discuss the matter. As often happened, Marion and Elsa get into a cat-fight live on television and we get the following exchange:

ELSA (gasping): "Indiana, there's another man"

INDIANA (angry): "What? Who, Hitler?"

MARION (angrier): "You're one to talk, Jones!"

INDIANA: "Your name is Jones too, you know!"

MARION: "We'll see how much longer that lasts!"

JERRY SPRINGER: (smiling evilly): "Another man? Well, let's introduce him!"

Camera cuts to the audience where we see Sean Connery standing there. Indiana turns bone-white pale.

INDIANA: "Dad?"

AUDIENCE: "JERRY! JERRY! JERRY!"



I posted this in the Concellation 2020 Facebook group where people who'd be going to all the sci-fi and fantasy conventions that got canceled can hang out. It was well-received. 30 reactions so far, mostly the laughing variety.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Jim Henson Buys Disney? So Crazy It COULD'VE HAPPENED

There's a new scenario on the alternate history forum called "A Hippie In The House of Mouse (Jim Henson at Disney, 1980)." The thread's creator Geekhis Khan made the argument that Disney in the early 1980s was in such bad shape that none other than Jim Henson, made wealthy by the success of the Muppets, could have potentially bought out the company if he wanted.

Preposterous you say? The mighty Disney bought up by a shaggy hippie and some singing puppets? Not really. The author posted a lengthy bibliography that includes a lot of history of Disney, biographies of Henson himself, etc. to show that it could've been done if it was handled carefully by Henson and in this case some more grounded Hollywood allies to handle the less-than-straightforward things (shell companies, company politics) Henson might not be comfortable with. This is also the period where Disney is at its weakest, with Walt dead and the company stagnating under his unimaginative, bean-counting successors.

(This is when Don Bluth left Disney to create The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, and The Land Before Time. Here's one interview I did with Bluth and Gary Goldman that goes deep into the history there and here's another.)

Disney's situation got so bad, especially after the failure of The Black Cauldron, that it was subject to a "corporate raid" that could have sold the company for parts. It was defeated and new management brought in that revived the company, but it shows how bad of shape they were in despite their appearance of great power and wealth.

Although the scenario is still in its early stages, there's a lot of potential for serious changes to some very well-known properties:

*The Black Cauldron might not have bombed so badly. As was discussed in the Myopia podcast episode about it, TBC throws together bits and bobs of several books in the Chronicles of Prydain fantasy series and it comes out a mess. Several people in the thread were convinced Henson could save the project, although something not involving puppets might be a bit out of his wheelhouse.

*Something really interesting is what might happen with The Dark Crystal, which at one point got shelved due to some corporate mergers and skeptical money-types. To get it released Henson had to buy it from the new owners and release it with his own money. With Disney's resources behind it hopefully it'll be something more lively than our history's version--we did a Myopia podcast episode on that one too and although it was beautiful, it was very dull. And hopefully more successful too. The Netflix show Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is set in the same world and is very fun and entertaining. Disney was capable of producing darker fare in this period (see The Black Hole), so it's possible this could be the return of the old magic.

*Hopefully nothing bad will happen to Labyrinth, which was a pretty good film as-is. Maybe with Disney behind it, the film could be even better, but things could also be worse, or at least different. At least we could have Sarah (hopefully still played by Connelly) as a Disney Princess. And ye gods, Jareth as a Disney Prince.

(Also we did a Myopia podcast episode on that one too.)

*Henson apparently had a vision for making puppetry a lot more than something for little-little kids. And puppetry can be used to that effect--The Dark Crystal, especially once you factor in Age of Resistance and hopefully sequels, is something like the Lord of the Rings. And the original Pumpkinhead shows just how scary puppets can be.

I'm definitely looking forward to more. So to paraphrase Epic Rap Battles of History, let's hop on Walt's steamboat with a puppet-loving hippie at the helm and see where it takes us.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Buy My Books Direct!

Owing to the cancellation of numerous conventions and other in-person events, I'm taking a page from author Wesley Southard and offering my books direct for sale. Signed by me, of course, and prices include postage. :)

(U.S. only, owing to high cost of mailing internationally. Sending two copies of Little People, Big Guns to Great Britain cost $25.)


Battle for the Wastelands-I describe this book as "Dark Tower meets Game of Thrones," while steampunk/dieselpunk author (Jack Connor) called it "a rip-roaring post-apocalyptic adventure." In a world rebuilding after a long-ago apocalypse, a young man joins a rebellion against a steampunk Norse tyrant who has problems of his own. One reviewer called it a "steampunk Cormac McCarthy," while another reviewer compared it to Fallout New Vegas. I have plenty of copies, so this won't be a problem. $12.00, including postage.


The Thing in the Woods-This is Lovecraftian horror set in suburbanizing Georgia as opposed to rural New England. James Daly, a teenager from Atlanta, sees something he shouldn't in the small town his family moved to in order to afford a bigger house. Now he's being hunted by a cult that's been worshiping an alien horror since before the Civil War and only a renegade cult member and the local girl he doesn't like liking can help. I Never Meant To Start a Murder Cult author Darrell Grizzle said it's "highly recommended for fans of eldritch horror in a realistic, modern-day setting" and this gentleman who sounds like a military veteran liked it despite not ordinarily being a fan of horror. $12.00, including postage.


Little People, Big Guns-A quartet of Oklahoma little people (they generally don't like being called "midgets") face off against predatory badgers that killed one of their own, only to find a much greater evil at work. Inspired by a story from the British tabloid The Sunday Sport that actually went viral worldwide. Blurbed by horror writers Brian Keene and Wesley Southard. This reviewer on Amazon said it's hard to deliver on the promise of the blurb, but I did it. $10.00, including postage.


Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire-This is a collection of several of my published short stories and some that were never published individually. The book also includes some behind-the-scenes content, such as how the science fiction short story "Illegal Alien" was inspired by the 2006 "Si Se Puede" immigration protests and "Lord of the Dolorous Tower" was originally the prologue for a full novel. This reviewer on Amazon loved the world-building and attention to detail. $10.00, including postage.


The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2-The webzine Heroic Fantasy Quarterly bought my Viking-monster story "Nicor" back in 2013 and later bought the anthology rights for two years. The collection includes 22 stories, only one of which is mine. I've been selling this at conventions alongside Thing and later books for many years and still have a few copies left. $10.00, including postage.

I can be reached via e-mail at mquinn1984@gmail.com to work out mailing arrangements. Payment via PayPal or Facebook.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

THE ATLANTA INCURSION Cover Art Phase #1 and Phase #2

Although my first novel The Thing in the Woods stands on its own, most of my ideas for standalone stories tend to sprout sequels. Thing is no different. I've been working on its sequel, The Atlanta Incursion, for several years now and I intend to independently publish it in the next few weeks. The complicating factors are that I'm independently republishing Thing due to changes at the publisher and waiting for the cover art to be done so I can have a full cover designed. Only after that can the print and e-book be created.

In the meantime, here's the first phase of the cover by Matthew Cowdery:


And here's the second:


I sent him some clarifications about what the Grays' eyes, guns, stargate, and other technologies should look like and he's working on them now. If you want an idea of what the finished cover will look like, here's some previous work he's done for me:



"Son of Grendel" (forthcoming)


Second full novel (tentative title "Serpent Sword")


Monday, April 6, 2020

Fan Novelizations of STAR CONTROL II Online

Back when I was a wee lad, my parents bought a personal computer that ran Windows 3.1 and one of the early games I had was Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters. The game had a more explicitly "fun" starship-combat simulator I remember playing with my cousins and a prolonged story-based game that I never actually finished--I just kind of wandered around in the spaceship harvesting minerals from planets to buy ships and occasionally fighting the bad aliens. Eventually, as what often happens with childhood toys, I lost interest and the original disks, if they're even still around, are buried in my parents' house somewhere.



(I eventually learned how the game ended sometime in college or post-college. I won't bore you with the details, but there is an actual storyline and sequence of events.)

Well over the last couple days I got curious about good old Star Control and did some digging online. There's actually a dedicated Wiki for Star Control and quite a bit on the almighty TVTropes. It turns out that there's actually a novelization of the game's storyline written by uber-fan Tommi Salminen. Two 400-page novels, one covering the beginning of the game where you arrive at Earth and find it under an Ur-Quan slave shield and the other covering the later part of the story, once alliances with different alien races have been made and the truth about the Ur-Quan's motivations is revealed.

Here's the first one, Groombridge Log. The second one is Eternal Doctrine. Although I'd have preferred more description of the technology, characters, etc.--that's a problem with fan-fiction, the writer assumes everybody knows what everything looks like--they're still pretty entertaining.

Enjoy!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

After-Action Report: Facebook Advertising for BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS

Once upon a time, I used Facebook to advertise this very blog and all was well, getting me 3,000 hits in a month. When the time came for me to promote my independent fantasy novel Battle for the Wastelands, I decided to go back to Facebook advertising. I created a new Facebook Page in order to use it, but owing to a clumsy and bizarre ad interface (the one I used years ago was much simpler), I ended up making two ad campaigns by accident. One was targeted too broadly (at pretty much everybody in the United States if I remember right) and although I did manage one sale, I shut it down pretty quickly to keep it profitable. The second campaign was more narrowly targeted, focusing on adventure fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic, fantasy, steampunk, and e-books and didn't turn out very well. I spent $8.96 and made, as far as I know, no sales whatsoever before I shut it down.


After the failure of my initial Amazon ad campaigns, I decided to give Facebook another try. I went to my Facebook fan page and boosted a post pushing Battle that said it was free for the Kindle March 15 and March 16, although the ad campaign was slated to run for five days.

(By the way, using "boost post" on your Facebook page allows for much easier targeting than the ad interface. Furthermore, getting into Facebook ads through the Facebook page rather than going into the ads directly also allows access to a much easier interface. Perhaps Facebook has tweaked its operations again, or the easier ad campaigns I remember from years ago were done through my now-defunct "Matthew W. Quinn: Speculative Fiction Writer" page rather than directly in the ad system.)

For my free-book campaign, I targeted people in the United States interested in "steampunk" and "Western." I budgeted $50 for that ad campaign in hopes of moving a lot of freebies and thus getting a lot of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads in addition to helpfully providing people in coronavirus lock-down something entertaining to read.

And in that respect, my campaign succeeded massively. Although I also shared the link around to certain Facebook groups (skewing the numbers and also-boughts--for example, sharing in the Facebook group dedicated to author S.M. Stirling meant a lot of Shadows of Annihilation also-boughts), my ad reached 6,609 people and got 402 clicks. I moved 233 free e-books and at least five people on Goodreads marked it as "currently reading" or "to read," with one person giving it a rating (3/5 stars) on Goodreads 3/19/ If only five percent of the people who got the free e-book decide to review, that's 11 new reviews, something I very much need. During this period, I also got 470 Kindle Unlimited page-views, which comes out to be $2.68, even though since it was free on Amazon they didn't need to spend any money at all. And in the remaining days of the campaign, I also sold seven e-books ($19.18 royalties) and got 508 Kindle Unlimited page-views ($2.44). Although this combined $24.30 covered slightly less than half of the advertising cost, I'm hoping the additional reviews generated from the freebies  will set Battle up for long-term success.

Then I decided to see what Facebook advertising alone could do, avoiding the confounding variable of posting the freebie link in different Facebook groups, on Twitter, etc. After giving it a couple days for the sales to cool off (I still made one e-book sale, one paperback sale, and got twenty KU page-reads), I created two new Facebook ads. One was a retread of the original ad focusing on Western and steampunk, while the other was more ambitious, targeting people interested in fantasy books, dark fantasy (although Battle is not supernatural dark fantasy in the vein of Hellraiser, it's bleak and morally gray like A Game of Thrones), and Stephen King's Dark Tower series and The Gunslinger. After all, my sales pitch for Battle (which got me some print sales at Days of the Dead this past year) is "Dark Tower meets Game of Thrones." I led my ad copy with "Free on Kindle Unlimited" so people wouldn't think they were clicking on an ad for a video game or film, something I learned from one of my podcasts. I budgeted $150 for the first campaign, given its predecessor's success, and $60 for the second, not wishing to spend too much money overall and wanting to keep my ads fairly focused.

In terms of sales made, the campaign was a massive success. Although there are still some confounding variables (like a purchase that might have been from a member of my writing group reading my twice-a-month newsletter rather than through the Amazon campaign), I sold fifteen e-books ($41.10 royalties) and two print books ($5.81 royalties) between the ad's premiere on March 22 and its conclusion on March 28. In that same time period, there were 2,790 Kindle Unlimited pages read for a total of approximately $13.39. I also saw an uptick on sales rank for my first novel The Thing in the Woods and The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2, a collection I have a story in, on March 23 and March 24. The first ad campaign reached nearly 21,000 people and got 655 link clicks, while the broader second one reached a little over 9,000 people and got 247 link clicks.

However, the gross revenues came out to be roughly $60.39 against the $215 I ended up spending. That actually represents a much larger net loss than my Amazon campaigns, although I brought in around four times more gross revenue. Although paperback sales don't post until they actually ship (and the coronavirus situation means shipping books is less of a priority), I doubt I sold enough paperbacks to make a significant difference. Hopefully this campaign will generate some reviews once people have time to finish reading--after all, four people on Goodreads marked it as "currently reading" in the 3/22-28 range and I got one rating (4/5 stars) on 3/25.

In conclusion, although Facebook advertising is still a money-loser overall (at least if I've got just one book in the series), I was able to move a lot more copies than using Amazon's advertising platform. This knowledge will come in handy when I post my own edition of Thing and its forthcoming sequel The Atlanta Incursion, since those who buy Thing might in turn buy TAI. Once I get "Son of Grendel" posted and especially once the second Wastelands novel goes up, then Facebook advertising Battle again might be a good idea.

And if I decide to go with another Facebook ad campaign for Battle, I think I'll use the first ad but narrow it further. In addition to "steampunk" and "Western," I'll add "Kindle Unlimited" and "Kindle" to the keywords keep the focus on e-books. Also a lower budget so it's easier to cover the costs--the first campaign covered half its costs (when two of the five days it was making KU peanuts), while the second campaign only covered a little over a quarter.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Adventures in Amazon Advertising: BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS

One of the reasons that I independently published Battle for the Wastelands rather than continuing to submit to traditional publishers is that I wanted to use it as a test-bed for various book-marketing plans I've learned via writing podcasts like The Sell More Books Show and The Six-Figure Author (successor to The Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast). Although the coronavirus outbreak has scuppered my usual strategy of "sell books at lots of events and get lots of e-mails for the newsletter" (seriously, that's how I've made most of my money from 2017 when The Thing in the Woods came out until today), on the bright side that's given me some very strong incentive to try other methods.


However, even before the outbreak I ran a series of Amazon advertising campaigns using relevant keyword sets for searching like "post-apocalyptic," "western," and "steampunk." I also attached Battle as a sponsored product to similar books like William R. Forstchen's the Lost Regiment series, books like the Atomic Sea series by Jack Conner (who blurbed it), etc.

Results were mostly negative, although they did help me learn a bit about keywords that might be more successful. Here's a breakdown:

*One Amazon campaign using various derivatives of "western" like "western books for Kindle" and "western weird" got me three Battle sales for a total of $11.97 at a cost of $17.88. Battle is in the Kindle Unlimited program and I do remember upticks on Kindle Unlimited page-reads during this period, but I don't think it's enough to cover the difference. Plus $11.97 divided by the three copies is $3.99, the e-book list price and not my net profit, so the profitability gap is even larger. The "western weird" keyword set got me two sales totaling $7.98 for a spend of $0.51, which to quote the great Borat is "very nice," but "western books for Kindle" got me one sale for $8.60 spend, a substantial loss. And two variants of "Western Kindle" spent $8.77 between them for no sales at all.

*Another advertising campaign ate $28.73 for no sales whatsoever. That one was focused on post-apocalyptic fiction with military fiction as the follow-up. A keyword related to steampunk that was almost an afterthought spent $2.55 for no sales and that was the best performer in that campaign. 😭 This was the first ad campaign I straight up shut down to stop the bleeding money-wise.

I think the reason that happened is that post-apocalyptic readers prefer stories that take place immediately after the apocalypse or within a relatively short time (think The Walking Dead, Zombie Road, or various EMP-type books), while the apocalyptic event in the Wastelands world was centuries in the past. This is more secondary-world fantasy with an apocalyptic background--Lord of the Rings had the Fall of Numenor and the decline of its colonies/successor states like Arnor and Gondor in Middle-Earth as the background and my short story "Lord of the Dolorous Tower" has a comet impact the medieval-ish society remember as "the Hammer of the Heavens." Meanwhile, Wastelands has...well, I can't get into that for spoiler reasons. :)

*Another ad, with a focus on steampunk, netted one sale at a cost of $18.94. The keywords that got that sale are "steampunk fiction" (broad), while "steampunk fiction" (phrase) lost money and "steampunk books" lost lots of money.

*An ad campaign focused on steampunk books, in particular higher-selling ones, only got clicks on three of the six books and made no sales on those and straight up lost nearly $7 on "steampunk fiction" as a category.

I think there's at least one more ad campaign there, but I'm pretty sure you get the point. As a result of all this, I shut down all my Amazon ad campaigns, period. Although Kindle Unlimited pay-reads--and those did go up--does provide a bit of "fudge factor," the profitability gap was so large that there is no way hundreds of pages at half a cent each was covering them.

In some discussions online about Amazon and Facebook advertising, someone I've talked with said that AMS ads make a lot more sense if you've got a series rather than just one book. That way, even if only 10% of people who click buy your book, if a bunch of those go on to buy later books, that ad is a lot more likely to pay for itself. This bodes well for my planned related novella "Son of Grendel," which will probably be out sometime in the spring once I make some revisions and get it formatted.

And if I do give Amazon ads another spin before I have another Wastelands story out, "Western weird" might be the way to go. 😎