Category Archives: eBooks

Christmas short story superswarm!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I’m thankful and grateful for many things this year, and to celebrate the holiday, I’m giving away six short stories for free on Kindle for the next two days – GHOST ARIA, GHOST THORNS, THE ASSASSIN’S TALE, GHOST SWORD, GHOST PRICE, and GHOST RELICS. Links are below!

GHOST ARIA: Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia

GHOST THORNS: Amazon.comAmazon UKAmazon CanadaAmazon Australia

THE ASSASSIN’S TALE: Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia

GHOST SWORD: Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia

GHOST RELICS: Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia

GHOST PRICE: Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia

Kindle Unlimited For Self-Publishers, Month #2

In October I started an experiment where I put 19 of my older short stories into the Kindle Unlimited subscription program. (My reasoning is explained in this post.) My goal was to have at least 34 Kindle Unlimited borrows, since that would match the sales I lost by removing the short stories from non-Amazon sales platforms, assuming the rate that Amazon pays for borrows stays above $1. (For October the rate Amazon paid per borrow was $1.33, and in November it was $1.39.)

In October, the first month of the experiment, I had 49 borrows.

In November, the second month of the experiment, I had 61 borrows, and I also gave away 1,003 copies of short stories using the free days that come with Kindle Select. GHOST RELICS had the most borrows, 10 total, with GHOST PRICE, THE THIEF’S TALE, and THE ASSSASSIN’S TALE coming in second with 6 borrows each. 43 of the borrows were in the US, 16 of them were in the UK, and 2 were in Germany.

So, what conclusions have I drawn after 1 2/3 months of Kindle Select?

-I definitely would not put any full-length novels in Kindle Unlimited. I am entirely certain the amount of borrows would not make up for sales on B&N, iTunes, Kobo, iBooks, and Google Play. Granted, I suspect there are writers for whom that would be true, but I imagine only a few of them. That said, KU still seems to be a primarily US-based program. In 2014 I sold lots of books through iTunes UK, iTunes Australia, Google Play Australia, and Kobo Canada. I couldn’t have done that if those books had been in Kindle Unlimited.

-I have actually made more money off 61 borrows in November ($84.79) as opposed to selling 61 copies of those short stories on non-Amazon platforms. (Roughly $42.48, give or takes a couple of dollars depending on currency conversion rates, and specific retailers’ policies.)

That said, the math only works because I usually sell short stories at $1.99, of which I personally receive $0.70 or so. The math is very different for novels. For example, FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT currently sells at $3.99, of which I personally receive about $2.79. So trading $2.79 of a non-Amazon sale for the $1.39 of a Kindle Unlimited borrow means I would have to have 2 Kindle Unlimited borrows for every 1 non-Amazon sale. That does not seem likely, and may become even less likely if the rate for borrows drops below $1.30 or so.

-There’s also a dark side to this. Lately I’ve been getting emails from people who are annoyed to discover that the short stories are no longer available on non-Amazon ebook platforms. Granted, there are not a lot of these emails. I suspect most readers prefer full-length novels over short stories, and I mostly write short stories to add value to my new-release newsletter. (I do also enjoy writing them.) Nonetheless, there are people who do read short stories. Essentially, I’m trading a slightly wider footprint on Amazon for a narrower footprint elsewhere. Since it takes a long time to build up a footprint on a retailer (reviews and ranking and so on), having a smaller footprint might be a bad strategy long-term.

-The ability to give away short stories for free is useful, but I’m not sure giving away short stories leads people to look at the rest of the books in the series. It’s much more useful to give away short stories to people who were already going to buy the book anyway (such as my new-release newsletter subscribers).

I don’t think there’s a right answer here. Going into Kindle Unlimited has one set of advantages and disadvantages, and not going into Kindle Unlimited has a different set of advantages and disadvantages. It’s a bit like choosing between a PC and a Mac,  I suppose.

Currently, I am planning to drop my short stories out of Kindle Unlimited and back onto the other platforms starting in January, once the three-month term of Kindle Select for the various stories starts expiring. I think that is the best decision for the long-term. Though the fact that I haven’t had any Kindle Unlimited borrows since Dec. 15th does make it an easier decision. :)

-JM

Thanksgiving short story superswarm!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I’m thankful and grateful for many things this year, and to celebrate the holiday, I’m giving away five short stories for the next two days – GHOST CLAWS, GHOST OMENS, THE THIEF’S TALE, THE MAGE’S TALE, and THE PALADIN’S TALE. Links are below!

GHOST CLAWS

Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia.

GHOST OMENS

Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia.

THE THIEF’S TALE

Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia.

THE MAGE’S TALE

Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, Amazon.com.au

THE PALADIN’S TALE

Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia.

-JM

2014 Writing Progress

Once MASK OF SWORDS is done, I will have written seven novels this year.

GHOST IN THE COWL, GHOST IN THE MAZE, GHOST IN THE HUNT, FROSTBORN: THE MASTER THIEF, FROSTBORN: THE IRON TOWER, FROSTBORN: THE DARK WARDEN, and MASK OF SWORDS.

Also, I wrote the last half of FROSTBORN: THE UNDYING WIZARD in January, and I’m really hoping to get most of the rough draft of GHOST IN THE RAZOR written in December yet.

-JM

Stop Yer Whining! – three rules for self-pitying characters in fiction

Recently, I read a thriller novel about a middle-aged female detective we’ll call Cheryl. Having spent all her twenties and thirties working hundred-hour weeks to make detective, Cheryl wound up driving away her husband, and by the time she was forty-six, lived alone with no major relationships in her life. Cheryl admitted that her woes were entirely of her own making, but spent a lot of time feeling sorry for herself.

Which got me to thinking – how much self-pity is too much in a fictional character? Or, more specifically, how much self-pity is acceptable in a protagonist or a main character? If the villain feels sorry for himself while committing crimes, that can be part of his malevolence. (Think of the ungrateful debtor from the Bible, who was forgiven a debt of millions yet threw a man into prison over a trivial debt.) Yet self-pity is generally an annoying quality in the main character.

For some readers, no amount of self-pitying is acceptable, and they will immediately reject a book with a whiny protagonist. Yet one aspect of the human condition is that people feel sorry for themselves and sometimes complain about it. In Real Life, this can last for years – I once met a man who inevitably brought every conversation back to the social difficulties he suffered in high school twenty years ago. However, in fiction, this can become tedious. No one wants to read a 300 page novel about a protagonist who spends all his time whining and feeling sorry for himself.

I think there are three rules for a protagonist to feel self-pity without alienating the readers.

First, the character needs to have something worth self-pity, something significant enough that the reader will not feel contempt for the character. A character who feels pity because, say, his family died, will be far more sympathetic to the reader than a character who feels bad because all the treadmills are full at the gym or because McDonald’s ran out of chicken nuggets at lunch. In other words, the nature of the self-pity cannot inspire contempt for the protagonist in the reader.

For severe problems (death, injury, illness, financial ruin, mortal peril, and so on) this is easy. It becomes harder with a less threatening problem. For instance, consider the the classic love triangle – a woman trying to sort out her feelings for two different men. If the writer is not careful, the woman can quickly become unlikeable if she spends too much time dithering or bemoaning the necessity of the choice. The trick for self-pity is to make it understandable, even in problems that are not life-threatening. In THE KING’S SPEECH, the protagonist is in no physical danger, but after seeing all the suffering his speech impediment has caused him, it is entirely understandable that he feels sorry for himself and doesn’t want to try and overcome his impediment at first.

Second, if the character feels sorry for himself because of something he did, he needs to own up to it at some point. In Cheryl’s case, her self-pity was not annoying because she freely admitted that all her problems were her own fault – her obsessive focus on her job (in the fine tradition of dogged detectives everywhere) had driven away her husband, alienated all her friends, and left her alone. Now, if she had blamed everyone else for her problems while denying her own culpability in them, that would quickly have become annoying and made her a less compelling character. Cersei Lannister from A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE is an excellent example of such an unsympathetic character. Her misfortunes in the fourth and fifth books are almost entirely her fault, yet at no point does she realize that the blame lies with herself.

Thirdthe self-pity can be made part of the plot, allowing it to be overcome as part of the protagonist’s character arc. The essential nature of storytelling, boiled down, is about a character who faces a conflict as a result of a problem and resolves the conflict. This can be as kinetically violent as Conan of Cimmeria killing the evil sorcerer Tsotha-lanti, or (to cite another example from the Bible) as quiet as the prodigal son reuniting with his father after squandering his inheritance. Self-pity can be part of the conflict to be overcome. Properly handled, the self-pity can become part of the protagonist’s character arc.

The parable of the prodigal son is an excellent example of this. After moving to a foreign land and squandering his inheritance, the prodigal son spent time bemoaning his fate and feeding pigs to support himself. Like the detective Cheryl or Cersei Lannister, his problems were entirely of his own making. (Though to be fair, Cheryl had been hunting down murderers while the prodigal son had been partying with prostitutes.) However, unlike Cersei Lannister, the prodigal son realized that his problems were his own fault, and traveled home to beg forgiveness of his father.

To sum up, I think the best use of self-pity in fiction is as part of a character’s arc, as something that is eventually resolved one way or another. Like any other storytelling tool, it can be overused, but when employed well, it can contribute to a powerful story.

-JM

Kindle Unlimited For Self-Publishers, Month #1

Last month (October) I started an experiment where I put 19 of my older short stories into Kindle Unlimited. (My reasoning is explained in this post.) My goal was to have at least 34 borrows, since that would match the sales I lost by removing the short stories from non-Amazon sales platforms, assuming the rate that Amazon pays for borrows stays above $1.

So, for the month of October, the 19 short stories had 49 borrows between them, exceeding my goal of 34 – 44 in the US, and 5 in the UK. GHOST PRICE was the most borrowed short story. I should also point out that most of the stories were not listed in Kindle Unlimited until October 12th, which means November will be the first full month of my Kindle Unlimited experiment. So the experiment looks promising so far.

That said, I think short stories are more valuable to the self-publisher as a promotional tool, and a book in Kindle Unlimited is also in Kindle Select, and a book in Kindle Select can be given away for 5 days out of the 90 day enrollment period. In October, I set THE SOULBLADE’S TALE, THE MAGE’S TALE, THE TOURNAMENT KNIGHT, and GHOST CLAWS for free, and between the four short stories I gave away 647 copies. I usually saw a small uptick in the related novel series for a few days after the giveaway (like, 1-5 copies more than usual). A small bonus, but certainly a welcome one.

For now, I think I will keep to my plan for short stories – giving them away for free with my new-release newsletter via Smashwords coupon code, and then phasing them into Kindle Unlimited after a month or two. My novels and technical books will continue to remain available on all ebook platforms.

Tune in next month to see my results for November!

-JM

 

 

Smashwords and DRM

Reader Miguel Guhlin has some nice things to say about my books here, along with some entirely accurate criticisms of DRM.

I should mention that, whenever possible, I upload my books without DRM. So if you buy one of my books off Amazon, you can always download it, convert it through the free Calibre program into an EPUB file, and then load it onto a Nook or Kobo reader or whatever your device of choice.

But if that sounds like too much work, you could always get it off Smashwords in all formats at once. :)

-JM

THE RAVEN, THE ELF, AND RACHEL by L. Jagi Lamplighter

THE RAVEN, THE ELF, AND RACHEL, sequel to 2014’s THE UNEXPECTED ENLIGHTENMENT OF RACHEL GRIFFIN, follows the adventures of Rachel Griffin, a thirteen-year-old girl at the Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts. (Roanoke, of course, having disappeared when the Parliament of the Wise, the governing body of wizards, hid the school to keep it from the Unwary, or non-magical mortals.) As is traditional for wizard schools, there is trouble afoot, with a sinister secret society of wizards plotting to bring about the end of the world. Much to her vast frustration, none of the adults in Rachel’s world seem to take the danger seriously, so if someone’s going to save the world, it’s up to her.

Rachel makes for a compelling protagonist, largely because she is a genius who nonetheless has the personality flaws and weaknesses of a 13-year-old girl without those flaws becoming annoying to the reader. She hasn’t quite grasped the fact that her emotional state is not necessarily reflective of the actual state of the universe, and her intellect and eidetic memory causes her to hoard secrets, refusing to give information unless she receives some in turn, which quite naturally causes trouble for her.

THE RAVEN, THE ELF, AND RACHEL is a entertaining fantasy YA novel with compelling protagonists and an intriguing setting, though I suspect the book will be more enjoyable to teenage girls due to the amount of space devoted to Rachel’s examination of her feelings.

-JM

Special FROSTBORN and THE GHOSTS sale for Kobo readers!

Kobo is running a special promotion this weekend (October 17th through 20th). You can get THE GHOSTS OMNIBUS ONE for 50% off, GHOST IN THE COWL for 35% off, and FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT for 25% off.

So if you’re a Kobo user and you want to give the FROSTBORN  or THE GHOSTS series a try, now is an excellent chance!

Links and coupon codes below.

50% off THE GHOSTS OMNIBUS ONE, with coupon code SAVE50.

35% off GHOST IN THE COWL, with coupon code SAVE35.

25% off FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT, with coupon code SAVE25. (Since FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT is on sale for $0.99 until the end of the week, this is literally the cheapest the book has ever been!)

-JM

one more thought on Kindle Unlimited for self-publishers

Apropos of my last post about short stories and Kindle Unlimited, I got an email from another writer saying that it seemed like a good idea, but he really hates writing short stories.

Well, yes. This strategy would only work if you actually like writing short stories.

Myself, I quite like writing short stories. In fact, for years short stories were all that I wrote, since in the Bad Old Days before ebooks, it was way easier to sell short stories than novels. So I got really good at paring down a story to 4,000 words or 6,000 words or whatever the word count limit of the particular market was. Of course, now that we’re in the age of ebooks, those limitations are artificial, and my short stories tend to want to land at 9,000 to 12,000 words or so. (I think that’s technically a novelette or a novella, but whatever.) That said, short stories are generally not very profitable, but I like doing them, and I enjoy using them as free giveaways for my longer books.

But if you don’t like writing short stories, I don’t think you should force yourself to write them just because it seems like a good promotional strategy. Book promotion should not make you want to tear your hair out.

-JM