Ambassador 5 teaser


The picture speaks for itself. It’s not tranquil or peaceful, and entirely not free of danger.

So far, Cory has been bitten and put in hospital by a sewerage munching machine. And at this point in the story, everyone is telling him that the life of the dude he’s looking for is not worth the trouble.

Ambassador 5 teaser was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Should I self-publish, the 2016 edition

I’ve made two posts with the title Should I self-publish? before, a few years ago. The focus of the first post was shooting yourself in the foot with the publishing industry which, once upon a time declared you persona-non-grata if you self-published a single thing. Remember that time? Ridiculous!

The second post was about concerns of quality of self-published books, when we were all having “oceans of crap” conniptions and we wanted to stop the great unwashed putting up crap. You know what? Crap got published, a lot of it. We didn’t all drown in a vast sea of word-vomit.

Yes, you should be concerned about the quality of your book if you self-publish. But be concerned about the quality of books that other people publish? Nup. You have better things to do.

OK, so since this post is not going to be about those things, then what is it going to be about?

It’s about career choices.

It is about: if you want to have a shot at achieving an aim, should you self-publish?

First: define the aim.

What do you want to do achieve with your writing?

Let’s walk through a few scenarios that will hopefully make the choices and opportunities clearer.

1. Do you want to win awards?

The literary and award circuit relies heavily on a peer review network, even if this is not immediately obvious. Voters for voted awards are predominantly other writers. Judges in judged awards are often writers, too. Behind the scenes, everyone knows one another. Nor in a bad way, but simply because the scene is small.
It is incredibly difficult (not impossible, but difficult) to get into this circuit if your works have not been peer reviewed (as in: selected by an editor, who is also part of the network).
If winning awards is your game, don’t self-publish.

2. Do you want to see your book in a bookshop?

Often I see questions from people who have self-published who dream of seeing their name on bookshelves for the world to purchase.
I have my book on some very pretty worldwide bookshelves. They’re called Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Google Play and Barnes & Noble. You can even buy a print book at some of these places, delivered directly to your door.
Oh, you mean real bookshops?

It’s not impossible. A number of years ago, before ebooks, I published a non-fiction book. It pitched it to publishers, but they all said no* and I thought screw it, I know where the market is, I’ll do it myself. So I did. I had the book printed in full colour in Hong Kong, and then manually wrote to 800 Australian bookshops. Sold a buttload of copies. My book is in something like 64 public libraries in Australia, and most university libraries.
Sounds like a lot of work? You bet it was! I was lucky because I wrote non-fiction in a niche subject where there were no other books. If you write fiction, bookshops have many other, similar books than they can stock and that are much easier and less risky for them to keep on their shelves. They have accounts with books distributors who give them at least 40% discount, and have this awful thing called a returns policy that allows the shop to return the book if it doesn’t sell within 30 days.

Schlepping physical books to bookshops is soooo 2001. Returns and accounts are an absolute pain in the butt. They might be interested if you’re an authority on a non-fiction subject, but they probably don’t want your self-published fiction unless you’re a friend or a local.
We have ebooks now. They cost nothing to send and nothing to print. Self-publishing means overwhelmingly selling ebooks.

Want print books on bookshelves? Find a publisher to handle all this crap for you. They have the inroads, they have the reps, they have the computer setup.

3. Do you see writing as a fun hobby?

One assumption embedded in this question is that you have sufficient income and have no necessity or great wish to make money from your writing.
You are totally free to submit to publishers to see if you can crack the door, or to self-publish and become part of the community.

Most likely, you will have a day job so not much time to devote to writing and publishing-related things. This will limit your sales, especially on the self-publishing side.
But, you know, you can publish a book and see what happens, or at least allow all your friends to get a copy.

4. Do you eventually want to pay some or all of your bills?

This article made some waves when it came out. Shock, horror! Authors don’t make a liveable wage! There was also this article for Australian authors, with even worse figures of only $12,000 per year. Both articles are about traditionally published authors only.

Author Earnings is attempting to fill in some of the strange omissions made by people who report on the publishing industry. About 30% of ebooks on Amazon don’t have ISBNs and get omitted from the publisher reports. The ISBN-less books are almost exclusively self-published. In one of the latest Author Earnings reports, they estimated the income of bestselling authors of all types on Amazon, without having to rely on self-reporting by those authors.

OK, this is about authors who already sell well. What about if you’re just starting?

This is a balanced view of your choices

I quote from the Huffington Post article:

7. Believing that “traditional” is better, no matter what.

This mindset will limit your publishing opportunities. I’ve seen authors languish for years (literally) in the space of trying to find an agent or waiting for an agent to secure a publishing deal. Traditional publishing is also suffering in two distinct ways: the barriers to entry are so high that it’s alienating its base; and it’s so focused on author platform and “big books” that it’s losing relevance fast. Many more authors than ever before are opting out of traditional publishing for more control and better profit margins on their sales. It’s cool to aspire to traditionally publish, but if you’re not getting bites, don’t let your book die on the shelf just because you harbor some sort of judgment about alternative publishing paths.

If it is your goal to make money from your writing, do you have the years and years it takes for a publisher to come to the table… to then be given a $3-5000 advance (or no advance at all)… that may or may not earn out… that may or may not be paid on time. And if, after a period of a few months, the publisher didn’t like your sales and stops promoting your book, do you have the years it takes to get your rights back?

Even if you get 70% of a sale of a self-published ebook and 25% less agent costs from a publisher?

An advance of $5000 is rare these days (well, in SF/F at least). It’s more like $3000. When I sell a self-published ebook at $3.99, I get about $2.50. If, instead of sending it to agents, I hire an editor and self-publish, I can have it available within weeks. If the book earns $100 per month, I need to sell for 30 months to earn out. Oh, add $1000 for cover, editing and formatting, so 40 months. If you submit to the traditional industry, you wait 6 months to find representation, and your agent waits six months to get the go-ahead from the publisher, and they take a year to publish it, after which it doesn’t do much and you take 5 years to get your rights back. That’s more than 80 months.

There is also the publisher-saturation issue. Publishers have many authors, which means that for each individual author, they will only buy a limited number of books per year or even ever. If you can write four or six books per year (and saying you want a $5000 advance for each, this is what you’ll need to earn anywhere near a liveable income–and yes I’m assuming a worst-case scenario that this is all the books will earn, which may be true a lot more often than it isn’t), you’re going to run out of publishers who want to publish your books pretty darn fast, especially if you were daft enough to sign non-compete clauses and right-of-first-refusal clauses.

There are not enough publishers to sell 4-6 books a year (in SF/F at least) who will pay you a $5000 advance and will not ask you to sign stupid exclusivity clauses. Which means you’re banking on your books to earn out. As much as we’d all love to believe we sell awesome bestsellers, the reality is that it ain’t gonna happen for most books, and you really don’t know whether your books will or won’t until you’re a few years down the track. You can’t pay your bills with hope and crossed fingers.

Want to pay your bills? Self-publish, or a least start off self-publishing. If it is still your wish to find a publisher, you are in a much stronger position if you can offer them just one of your series, and you know that your work sells, and you have your own mailing list.

But. And there is a big but.

How do you get your book to sell at least $100 per month? (actually, once it starts selling, it will probably sell a lot more).

Point one: product. A single book rarely sells. A series has a much better chance, and then only if you promote book 1. But it’s even better if you have more series.

Self-publishing = high production schedule.

Point two: marketing.

If you self-publish, you’re the front and back end of the business.

You need to have the interest in learning marketing. There are a lot of places on the web where you can do this either as paid course or for free by just being a fly on the wall. There are sites and courses that are geared towards selling fiction.

You HAVE to devote time to this.

Most books don’t sell themselves, at least not initially, and I seriously pity people whose first book takes off like there’s no tomorrow and have no idea why, have no idea how to capture those readers and hold their interest after they finished the book. Because when, inevitably, the time comes that the book stop selling, and you don’t know how to run Facebook ads without blowing your budget, you have no idea where to advertise, you don’t have a mailing list, you haven’t capitalised on ANY of the attention you got while your book was out in the sun and receiving algorithm love from the big retailer websites, then when your book stops selling, you’re up the creek without a paddle and it’s a very long, muddy and humbling slog back down.

You HAVE to learn how to do this stuff, not to make your book a great bestseller, but to determine what works for you and where you can reach your audience so that you can keep steady sales going.

If you produce books at a decent rate in series, and if you are happy to learn the best marketing practices and implement them, then the world really is your oyster.

If not, you can still self-publish, have fun and wait for lightning to strike while you treat writing as a hobby. Or you can find a publisher.

* Ironically, one of those publishers wrote to me last month, asking if I wanted to write the book I originally pitched to them. I told them no, they were about ten years too late.

Should I self-publish, the 2016 edition was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Writing: Scrivener for pantsers

I got a Mac and one of the advantages is that you can try some of the dedicated software, like Scrivener. I will probably end up getting MS Office for it, but we like to move to the Office 365 program and buy a licence for multiple computers and tablets. But there are some issues with computers in our computer farm that already have a paid licence, or are too old, or are on their last legs, so it isn’t feasible to get the multi-user licence until those things have been sorted out.

I used Pages for The Necromancer’s Daughter. I don’t really care about whizzbangery in text editors. I’d write in Notepad if it didn’t do that horrible sideways-scroll thing. I was using OpenOffice 3.2 on the Samsung before. I really don’t care. I use zilch formatting in my drafts. I even enter italics _like this_, so that it doesn’t get lost if I enter the text in a web page. Pages was OK. It’s nice and clean. But it isn’t particularly compatible with pretty much anything.

So. People on the Kindleboards were raving about Scrivener. You can do outlines and character sheets and yadda yadda, but I was thinking: what the hell is the use in that for someone who pantses their novels?

Anyway, someone on the Kindleboards offered a 50% off voucher (thanks, Amy!). The program is only $40, there is a Mac and PC version but the Mac version is said to be better and have more features. So I thought what the hey.

It turns out I’m a really visual writer. Being a pantser, there are features I will never use. But I do enjoy seeing a really rough map of the story with the click of a button. For a new manuscript, I enter two “chapters”: Beginning and End, and then write in each what’s in my head about how the story begins and ends.

Then I divide the story in 3-5 sections, depending on the structure. Each will have a couple of words of what happens, like “Characters go here” or “Character goes into town to talk to xyz people”. They are lines of stuff that will put words on the page, not so much about why things happen. It’s like a stage play: this is where the next act starts and we need to change the set.

I allocate each of those chunks a word count according to how many parts there are in the total target word count of the book, usually 80k.

Then I start writing.

As I go, I subdivide the sections into 3000-word chunks, each with a word or two about what happens. Then I fill them with story.

The progress bars that change colour are awesome!

Anyway, if you want to read about it, the official website is here. It looks like it’s Mac only, but it isn’t, I swear.

Here is a screenshot of my current WIP:

Screenshot 2016-01-14 09.07.10

Writing: Scrivener for pantsers was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

The Necromancer’s Daughter Official Cover Reveal


The Necromancer’s Daughter

The final volume in the For Queen And Country series is almost here!

The Necromancer’s Daughter concludes a six-part saga that is set in a fictional world based on 16th century Amsterdam. Except there is magic, and the Chinese turn up… in a steam ship.

As powerful kings, barons and dukes of all the little countries of the hinterland bicker over who gets control over these “iron ships”, they unleash their magicians to cut down their rivals, most importantly the port city of Saardam, which is falling into the hands of a religious sect, and whose royal family is weakened because the crown princess has died and her older brother was never considered suitable for the throne, because he’s not right in his mind.

Merchant’s daughter Johanna Brouwer had never considered marrying a prince, let alone a mad one, but it might just be the only way to save the royal family. Never mind that none of the surrounding rival royal families want them to survive.

The Necromancer’s Daughter becomes available on 23 February 2016. You can pre-order it at these sites:


The Necromancer’s Daughter Official Cover Reveal was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

But what is this book about?

Often, when I consider a novel before I start writing, and especially if it’s meant to be a reasonably complete story within the novel even if it’s in a series, I think I know what the book is about. You know,

This book is about these character and they go there and do this thing which is going to be REALLY AWESOME and EXCITING!

And yes, that’s often what happens in the book. The characters do these things and exciting things happen. But often, and this usually happens not too long after I start writing, I discover what the book is really ABOUT.

For example for The Sahara Conspiracy, I thought it was going to be about desert bashing and the future Earth, and in a way it is, but it’s actually about the barbaric situation on Indrahui, a world many lightyears away. The book is about that in preference all the Earth stuff (it’s set 100% on Earth), because this is what drives the characters.

Similarly, I have now started writing Blue Diamond Sky. There will be a fair bit of jungle-tromping and shoot-outs and stuff. I thought it was going to revolve around the beauty of the wilderness around Barresh, and about the tribal Pengali. Yes, those are in it, but it’s actually about humans in Barresh, and why they live there. It’s about pioneers and why they left for a place that is not terribly accessible.

But what is this book about? was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Plans to dominate the world. Coming to a screen near you in 2016

Let’s make an obligatory end-of-year post.

Some good stuff happened in 2015. I published a couple of books, and improved my sales. I also managed to get the husband’s “Oh, you really CAN make a living out of this if you continue” stare, and that’s a good thing.

In 2016…

I will publish The Necromancer’s Daughter and Blue Diamond Sky. The Necromancer’s Daughter will complete the For Queen And Country series. It was fun, but hasn’t, overall, sold as well as my other work, so unless you buy a crap-tonne of it, I won’t be doing any more.

I’ll do a cover reveal for the Necromancer’s Daughter on 14 January. If you want some easy content for your blog, I’m looking for a few more spots to release the cover. The book will go on pre-order on that date as well (aside from Apple where it is already on pre-order, sans cover). Release date: 23 February.

The rest of the year, I will concentrate on…

Ambassador: at least one book this year. I have ideas for more. We’ll see how it pans out.

I really should be starting something new. I’ve played around with a lot of stuff and I may start a completely new Space Opera. I’ve learned a lot about marketing and launches. I want to play with the big boys, so I’ll probably sit on them until I can release three books in quick succession. I’ll get the covers done right from the start, and make some other investments like getting a professional copy-editor to write the blurbs. Then I’ll do pre-orders and use a pen name. Want to know what it is? It will be revealed to my mailing list.

Why a pen name? Because it’s fun clearing the slate. Because the top 100 Space Opera is a sausage fest, and I’ve always wondered if being female *really* hinders. Or not and it’s a myth. I’ve had some nibbles at the pen name thing, but I need to set a good slab of time aside for a new project, and I’ve been unable to do that so far.

The awesome thing about epublishing is that you can re-join the fiction from both names at the push of a button. You can even change your name on the cover. Easy. I emphatically do NOT want to do that with my existing series.

Ambitious project of the year… Last year it was to list direct at Apple. This year, I’ll look into audio. Problem is that this is extremely expensive. There is not much point going into audio without a good narrator, and they charge up to $300 per finished hour of narrating. Most books are 10-15 hours. Yikes. Maybe I can raise some of it through a kickstarter? I don’t know. Something to look into.

Plans to dominate the world. Coming to a screen near you in 2016 was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

By pattyjansen Posted in news

The Most Awesome SF/F Book Covers 2015

Often these types of posts are written by design people and the covers are very design-y and full of the latest design fads. They might win design awards, but do they sell books?

To me, and most genre readers, the function of a cover is as follows:

1. Indicates genre.
2. It’s pretty or otherwise clickable.

So without much further ado, here are some covers of books published and selling well in 2015 that have caught my eye.

Because there is no list complete without a Tom Edwards cover.

I’ve seen this cover around, and it intrigues me. Excellent design and genre-appropriate.

Because Ravven is an awesome designer. I wish she still took commissions.

Rebecca Frank is another awesome designer. Her covers stand out because of the bright neon colours.

Awesome use of space and typography.

So very fairy-tale. Wonderful.

Because no list is complete without a Damonza cover.

I wish I knew who designed this.

Because, steampunk.

Another Rebecca Frank creation. How to turn both a font and a stock image that have been used to death into something awesome.

Really eye-catching cover. I have no idea who did this. I would like to know.

These types of dramatic covers are highly effective for epic fantasy. They usually have a high light-dark contrast and soft/misty tones in the light area. This says “fantasy” in one hit.

On the flip side of all this awesomeness, here are some trends that I wished would go away:

1. Cinzel Decorative. Seriously, this is the Papyrus of 2015. Awesome font, but so terribly, terribly overused.
2. That horrible allcaps handwritten-looking font. Urgh. Just urgh.
3. Headless dude, and man-titty in general. Not on fantasy covers, not on SF covers. Go and play in the genres where you belong.
4. Upside-down images. Because WTF?

The Most Awesome SF/F Book Covers 2015 was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Why it has become so damn f*cking hard to get reviews on Amazon lately

For authors, getting reviews has never been easy. As a rule of thumb, it takes about 100 to 500 sales to get one review. Or about 1000 if the book is free.

Many book promotion sites require a certain number of reviews, and then many don’t care about the reviews you have on Google Play or Kobo. They want the reviews on Amazon. Scratch that. They want the reviews on Amazon US.

This is why some authors will schlepp the books to review sites like Netgalley or LibraryThing, or will even pay for the procuring of reviews.

And getting reviews on Amazon has become even harder than before.


1. Because of the window that pops up on the Kindle or Kindle app when you finish a book. It tells you to rate it. Many people think they’ve done the right thing and reviewed that book, except those ratings don’t show up on the book’s sales page!

2. Amazon has been dicking with reviews. It has removed large swathes of them because “relationships between the author and reviewer”. Like, they were friends on Facebook. Not kidding. A lot of reviewers become disillusioned and just don’t post reviews on Amazon anymore.

But we authors still need those reviews badly.

Why it has become so damn f*cking hard to get reviews on Amazon lately was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants