Category Archives: ebooks

Amazon Storyteller offers UK writers a £20,000 cash prize

Kindle Storyteller offers cash prize to UK writers

If you’re a UK writer and you’re about to release an ebook, great timing: Amazon’s Storyteller competition could see you win a cash prize of £20,000!

Naturally there are a few requirements:

  • you must publish between 20th February and 19th May 2017;
  • your story should be a minimum of 5,000, but there’s no upper limit (great news for writers of epic fantasy!);
  • your submission can’t have been previously published;
  • you must publish through the KDP Select programme.

This last is probably the entire reason the Storyteller competition exists; Amazon like to push KDP Select because it requires you to publish exclusively with Amazon. No Apple, no Kobo, Nook or anyone else. Your book can only be bought by Amazon customers.

But, on the flip side, there are a few benefits to the KDP Select programme, Kindle Unlimited being one of them. And you’re not tied in forever; once the entry period is over, you can opt out of KDP Select and publish on the other platforms.

And, hey, it’s a small price to pay for the potential of a £20,000 cash prize. So what are you going to submit to Amazon Storyteller?

The Unquiet Sword is Available on Amazon

Cover to The Unquiet Sword, book two of the Fair Folk seriesAmazon offer a much shorter preorder period than the other retailers, but with the release date for The Unquiet Sword getting closer and closer, the ebook is finally available for preorder.

Unfortunately, Amazon don’t allow preorders for paperbacks, so be sure to sign up to my email list to find out as soon as they’re available for purchase!

Preorder The Unquiet Sword for just 0.99 today: Amazon UK | Amazon US

Faerie is forgotten. The Western King must be brought to his knees.

Thomas Rymour and his friends are free from the stinking prisons of the Western Kingdom. Their quest is clear: stop the war and free the dragons of Tir. But they have no food, no horses, no maps, and a traitor in their midst. Their hopes of success are small.

But the Western Kingdom is not a kingdom united. The dwarfs strain against their contracted servitude to the elfs. And there are fanatics and terrorists that seek to bring about the end of the world. Scattered malcontents that might be persuaded to rise up and offer their aid.

And they have Caledyr, the ancient sword that can break the Western magics. A sword that whispers to Tom. The more he uses its power, the stronger its hold on him. And now Tom isn’t sure if his journey is one of liberation or vengeance.

Is it the sword that thirsts for violence and blood? Or is there something dark growing inside Tom himself?

The Unquiet Sword is just 0.99 for the peorder period only. Don’t miss out! Amazon UK | Amazon US | Kobo | Apple iBookstore | Barnes & Noble

Outcast Journeys is a box set of nine SF&F ebooks featuring The Fey Man

Outcast Journeys fantasy ebook box set

Everyone loves a deal. And an ebook box set is a great deal for everyone. The authors get more exposure, the readers get a bundle of ebooks for a bargain price. So it’s great to be able to tell you about Outcast Journeys, a box set of nine SF&F ebooks for 0.99 which features The Fey Man!

From dragons to space ships, experience the trials and battles of memorable characters as they navigate magical worlds.

The box set offers nine ebooks for just 0.99. That’s a pretty good deal! Get Outcast Journeys today.

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Apple iBookstore | Kobo | Smashwords | Nook

The books of Outcast Journeys

Leros of the Underworld: The Tournament by Nathan Anton

Introducing Leros and his sinister alter ego, Demiro. His adventures in Earth Alpha pit him against a tyrannical queen.

Forgotten Relics by Tiffany Cherney

Leader of a crew of thieves on the starship Kathya, Rei’s attempt to strike back against her foes could change her life forever.

The Unfinished Song: Book 1 Initiate by Tara Maya

In a world of pixies, roving cannibals, and hexers, exiled warrior Kavio searches for a new life, while Dindi faces an initiation that no one in her clan has ever survived.

Sky Stone by Scarlett Van Dijk

When a magical journey transfers Skyla to a magical medieval land at war, she steps into a destiny made for her by the gods.

Rys Rising by Tracy Falbe

The magical tabre created the rys, but then reviled them as unworthy failures. The fallout will drag two human civilizations into a war that tests the faith of all involved.

The Amber Isle by Ashley Capes

A rogue named Never is on a quest to learn his true name and lift a curse on his blood.

A Forest of Eyes by Ashley Capes (Special bonus sequel to the Amber Isle)

Poisoned and furious, Never must add a desperate quest for a cure to his existing search for truth.

Roc Isle: The Descent by Alex James

Lord Azure of the Azure-Cloud Clan struggles to raise an army against those who assassinated his parents.

The Fey Man by James T Kelly

Thomas Rymour, a prophet who cannot lie, joins the battle to free the dragons, but can he ignore the lure of Faerie?

Nine SF&F ebooks for just 0.99. Get Outcast Journeys today.

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Apple iBookstore | Kobo | Smashwords | Nook

A Kindle ereader leant against paperbacks

Amazon’s latest Kindle Paperwhite Promotion is a Little Odd

Amazon are running a promotion: buy a Kindle Paperwhite and get a free book. Sounds good, I thought. Perhaps they’ll offer a credit, or that the Kindle might even arrive with the book preloaded. But no. Bizarrely, the book that Amazon are offering to go alongside your shiny new ereader is a hardback.

Isn’t that a bit like giving you a free CD when you buy an iPod?

Waterstones logo

Mourning the Waterstones that Never Was

Four years ago I predicted that Waterstones were working on an ereader, and since then I’ve looked forward to an integrated nirvana of a bookshop that sold books irrespective of format. But now Waterstones are shutting down their ebook store and handing their customers over to a Kobo. And I’m mourning the lost opportunity.

The ebook market has three major players in my country: Amazon, Apple and Kobo. Apple doesn’t offer ereaders. Kobo is in bed with WHSmith, a high street chain that hasn’t been known for books for at least ten years. That left Amazon with the edge. Unless Waterstones entered the market.

Waterstones is the UK’s biggest high street bookseller. If you’re buying a book in the real world, chances are you’re buying it from Waterstones. I believe they could have had a real edge in the UK ebook market. Humanity is a fan of the one-stop shop. That’s a part of why Amazon is such a success. And Waterstones could have out-done Amazon at its own game.

Here’s where my dream comes in. You wander into a Waterstones. You’re looking for a gift, so you browse the aisles. Ooh, the new Robin Hobb is out. The shelf has a QR code on it, which you can scan with your Waterstones app. Want to buy the ebook? A few taps and it’s in your library. Right, back to this gift. You browse a bit until, aha, this one’s perfect. It looks so good you want a copy for yourself. Get to the till and the staff assistant tells you this is part of a deal; you can get the ebook at half price. Sounds like a great deal. She offers you another code to scan with your phone. Moments later you walk out with a gift and two new ebooks.

This is a scenario off the top of my head; I’m sure there’s plenty more that could be done. But it serves to show that Waterstones could have helped tackle show-rooming (where people browse the shelves and then order from Amazon) as well as offering great deals and convenience to readers.

Now I’m not saying Waterstones could have toppled Amazon; I’m not daft. But Waterstones had the perfect chance to compete and innovate. Instead they paid lip service to an ebook store, sold an incompatible ereader, and wondered why they didn’t see a success.

And it’s the reader who loses out. Less competition equals stagnation. The ebook vs paperback war is nearing an end, and I think it’s safe to say co-existence will be the outcome. The winner of this “war” will be the person who sells that co-existence along with convenience.

Because readers just want to read books.

Each sale of The Fey Man in paperback earns about 40p in royalties

Are Paperbacks Worth It for Indie Authors?

Let’s talk numbers. I know, it’s terribly gauche to talk about money and how much we all earn, but if we don’t talk about it then we’re all ignorant. Besides, this isn’t an attempt at gloating. I’d like to make a serious point here: are paperbacks worth it for an indie author?

Let me show you what I mean. The Fey Man is 374 pages long and priced at $9.99 / £7.99. Amazon take 40% of the list price. They then apply a Fixed Charge which depends on the page count, which is $0.85/£0.70 for The Fey Man. On top of that they apply a Per-Page Charge, which is $4.49/£3.74 for The Fey Man. So whenever I sell a copy, I earn $0.66 ($9.99 – 40% – $0.85 – $4.49), which converts to £0.45. Or, in the UK, from £7.99 I earn £0.35.

Now take a look at ebooks. Amazon have two rates for ebooks dependent on price. Below $2.99 or above $9.99 and it’s 65% (don’t price your ebook at $9.99). But, at $2.99 or more it’s 30%. $2.99 it is! Amazon also take a delivery fee based on the file size, which is $0.11 for The Fey Man. So for each ebook I make $2.02, which converts to roughly £1.30.

(The UK government charge 20% VAT on ebooks so from a £1.99 ebook sale I see £1.04.)

These figures alone suggest the paperback is a waste of time, but don’t forget to factor in the cost of commissioning a spine and back cover from your artist, as well as the cost of ordering prints and the sheer amount of time it takes to format a paperback. And for a measly £0.35? Why bother right?

There are, of course, other benefits to paperbacks. Living in the UK, we still have a huge segment of the population who haven’t adopted ebooks. That pesky VAT keeps ebook prices higher than they ought to be, for a start. So if I stopped producing paperbacks, I’d leave a lot of readers behind. A paperback also makes the ebook a better value proposition: £1.99 looks like a better next to £7.99 than in a vacuum.

I also suspect that paperbacks are seen as a validation. That you’re not a “real” author if you don’t have a paperback. But I wonder if this attitude will last. Will we see a day when paperbacks are relegated to items of luxury? Given the sheer cost of paper, ink and postage, will a day come when authors forgo the paperback and release their books in digital formats only?

It’s happening in the music, film and video game industries. I can see it happening in the book industry too.

But what do you think? Is there a death knell sounding for paperbacks? Or will they be around for many years to come?

Overdrive logo

Overdrive, Libraries, and Ebooks

I’ll admit it: I was behind the curve on this one. I’d heard that some libraries lent ebooks but that it was awkward, difficult and poorly executed. So I didn’t investigate further. Turns out I should have done. Library ebook lending has come a long way thanks to a service called Overdrive.

Overdrive is an ereading app that links into your local library’s ebook catalogue. The app is available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. It’s possible to load borrowed ebooks onto ereaders too, but you have to use Adobe Editions which is, apparently, still awkward, difficult and poorly executed. So I would say Overdrive is really targeting phones and tablets.

So far I’ve enjoyed the Overdrive experience. I can browse my library’s ebook catalogue, borrow items and return them all within the app. The reading and listening experience is decent; it lacks a few flairs such as page turn animations and annotations, but it gets the job done.

My one gripe so far is renewals. It took me far too long to figure that out and involved rummaging around a menu on the library website. Even after I’d successfully renewed, I still had to download the book again. If I can return a book with a simple tap within the Overdrive app, why not renewals too? And why not leave the content on the device?

However one thing I did love was the little counter over every borrowed item showing how long you had left. This little countdown seems to act like a great motivator to read before you lose the book; I steamed through The Girl on the Train in a matter of days! This also means there are no late returns and no fines; the content is simply deleted once your time is up.

Overall, if you want to borrow ebooks from your local library, using a phone or a tablet, Overdrive seems like a pretty good solution. It’s a shame it’s painful to get them onto an ereader, but since I’m not paying for the ebook it seems wrong to complain too much. So I’m pretty sold on Overdrive! But what do you think? Leave a comment about your experiences with Overdrive (or any other way you’ve borrowed ebooks from libraries). I’d love to hear your opinion.

P.S. The Fey Man is now available from Norfolk Libraries ebook catalogue, so why not borrow it for free! Not in Norfolk? Just ask your local library to order it from Overdrive. I’ve set the price for libraries to free, so it shouldn’t cost them a penny!

Cover to the UK edition Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb: Review

Sequels are tricky things. They suffer from anticipations and expectations. They promise more of what you loved, but there’s always a secret fear that the writer will have lost “it”, “it” being that magical touch that made the prior installments so good. Everyone has been crushed by a sequel at some point. Once you’ve experienced your own personal Phantom Menace, the prospect of a sequel is never the same. So it’s fair to say that I approached epic fantasy Fool’s Assassin with a mixture of hope and dread.

Worst still was the fact that this was the second time Robin Hobb had done this to me. The story of royal bastard FitzChivalry (or Fitz) began in the Farseer Trilogy and had a downbeat but definite end. That ending was opened up in the Tawny Man trilogy but, while it was something of a retread of the first, Hobb pulled it off and gave Fitz a happier ending. Now Fool’s Assassin would be the beginning of a third trilogy, a third attempt to open up a closed book. Would the law of diminishing returns strike? Could Fool’s Assassin be the book where she lost “it”?

We live in our bodies. An assault on that outside fortress of the mind leaves scars that may not show, but never heal.

To enjoy the Fitz books, you have to love Fitz. Stubborn, headstrong, sometimes maudlin, not always wise, with a strong sense of morality and rarely a sense of how to employ it. You feel less that Hobb has create the hero of an epic fantasy and more a real, flawed man to hang her story on. Fitz is not the same character he was in the first trilogy, though. His experiences have battered him, strengthened him in some senses, weakened him in others. He’s older, more mature, but in some ways he’s the same old Fitz. He’s not a bad analogy for the novel as a whole.

Robert Zemeckis once said that people like a sequel because they want to revisit characters and places they loved the first time around. Hobb understands this, and so Fool’s Assassin respects, recalls and revisits the previous installments. Thus there are visits to Buckkeep, and characters like Chade and Kettricken and Dutiful make appearances. Even absent characters are present through recollection or, in a sense, resurrection. Fans of a particular relationship they might think ended will not, I feel, be disappointed. In some sense, Fool’s Assassin is the same old Fitz story.

But just as Fitz’s new maturity and responsibilities are the most interesting things about him, Fool’s Assassin works best where it leaves behind all the old intrigue and politics of prior stories. Instead of trying to preserve a royal family and its kingdom, the focus of this novel is closer, more immediate: Fitz’s family. This by necessity creates a smaller story; so small the first map is of Fitz’s house. But though it is smaller in scope it is deeper in feeling, which is where Hobb’s novels always do best. And it’s a perfect way to open up Fitz’s world to new narratives. Yes he’s had a happy ending, but happy endings very rarely lack their own complications.

Hobb also takes this opportunity to open up the story to new narrative techniques. Fans of these books might think it heresy, but trust me: you will love reading the chapters written from a viewpoint other than Fitz’s.

You might be surprised to find that facing life can be much harder than facing death.

But, just as Fitz can’t let go of some of his old, poorer habits, so Hobb couldn’t quite let go of old story elements. So Chade inserts new intrigues into Fitz’s life (without any explanation for Fitz or reader) and, perhaps worse, too many old characters remain. Consider how much time has passed since the beginning of the first trilogy; some characters just shouldn’t be breathing anymore. I’m not usually so bloodthirsty, but Hobb only highlighted this by teasing a number of character deaths only to snatch them back from the jaws of death mere pages later.

Time is an unkind teacher, delivering lessons that we learn far too late for them to be useful.

Fool’s Assassin also made me realise something about Hobb’s books I’d never noticed before. Have you ever described a story in a single sentence? “Unassuming hobbit must destory a magic ring to defeat a dark lord”? “Young rebel must learn the powers of the mystical Jedi to topple an evil Galactic Empire”? “Royal bastard trains as an assassin to help save his kingdom”? Most stories make sure you can offer such a description early on. “Here’s the type of story you can expect”, they say, and either fulfill that expectation, subvert it, or disappoint it.

Fool’s Assassin doesn’t do that. And not just that, but all the Fitz books. Hobb writes a story that ambles its way through the plot. It’s certainly a pleasant amble, even an entrancing amble. But it leaves the reader in a sort of limbo. The reader doesn’t know what to anticipate, what to dread, what to attend to and what to be intrigued by. This is what makes Chade’s new intrigues frustrating. They seem so disconnected from the new world Fitz lives in and there is no explanation to them. So they stand out like a sore thumb and even seem like filler. Most readers of Fool’s Assassin won’t mind this, because they’ll have read prior trilogies and thus be happy to go where Hobb leads. But I suspect newer readers might not be willing to offer Hobb the trust she deserves.

Do not agonize about yesterday. Do not borrow tomorrow’s trouble. Let your heart hunt. Rest in the now.

But here is why I love Fool’s Assassin, and all Hobb’s work, despite those grievances: you don’t worry about them whilst you’re reading. Hobb’s prose is beautiful in its description, searing in its truth, compelling in its narrative, and it forces you to forgive all sins. It puts character before lore and it lets character drive plot. Her worldbuilding is not overbearing; it intrudes on the page only rarely, when it needs to. There is still the magic, the grand locations and action scenes that epic fantasy demands. But it’s all focused on character. And those characters are so well-drawn, so deeply developed, that you’ll love them by the end. It isn’t the plot that keeps you turning the page; it’s wanting to see your beloved characters delivered through that plot, safe and sound.

If you’ve read the previous Fitz books but you’re worried about Phantom Menace syndrome, set aside your fears. Fool’s Assassin is a worthy sequel to the series. If you haven’t read any Fitz books, don’t start here. Yes, you might enjoy it and, no, you don’t need to have read the others. But you’ll miss out on the history, the nuances, and the clever callbacks, and I like you too much to let you do that to yourself. So go read Assassin’s Apprentice and worth your way up to Fool’s Assassin.

You’ll thank me for it.

Get Fool’s Assassin from: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Apple iBookstore

What makes a great opening line?

What Makes a Great Opening Line

I don’t think you’ll find anyone, reader or writer, who will disagree that opening lines are important. It’s third in a series of first impressions (more below) and a reader is looking for any excuse to put your book down and pick up another. So I spent a lot of time pondering my opening line. I read a lot of them (and wrote about what I thought to be the 15 greatest opening lines in fiction), and I decided on one thing:

All my favourites were teasers.

Take a look at the post and you’ll see what I mean. Each opening line raises questions and encourages you to read the next one and the next one until you get some answers. So I began to think that this was the sole purpose of the opening line: get them reading. I saw it as the third act in the drama of book selling:

1) The cover makes you pick up the book.

2) The blurb makes you open the book.

3) The opening line makes you read the rest of the book.

Those are your first impressions and those are your opportunities to hook the reader. So I thought I had it sussed and sorted. That’s why The Fey Man opens with: “The Easterners were arriving that night but Thomas Rymour didn’t care.” Who are the Easterners? Why doesn’t this Thomas Rymour care about their arrival?

Then other people began to tell me about their opening lines.

It’s about setting too.

Check out Jaye Nolan’s opening lines and you’ll see that plenty of them are about setting the scene. They create an instant image in the mind. I would say these are less about intrigue and more about welcoming a reader into the book’s world.

And never forget the power of humour.

Which is something I did forget. This isn’t the preserve of humorous titles such as Pratchett or Holt; while it’s easier for them to start with a joke, there’s room for humour in even the bleakest of stories. And if you make someone laugh, they’re more likely to like you and your book and keep on reading.

These are definitely viable goals for an opening line (and I’d love to see one that managed all three!) But what do you think? What is the purpose of the opening line? What should it be telling (or not telling) the reader? Leave a comment and let me know.

Ready Player One is an ode to geek culture

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: Review

Here’s the most important thing you need to know about Ready Player One: it’s a celebration of a geek culture. So if you know about video games and Star Trek and, yes, the Japanese live-action Spider-man show with the giant robot, this novel is for you.

It was the dawn of new era, one where most of the human race now spent all of their free time inside a videogame.

Welcome to the OASIS which is, in effect, what would happen if the Internet, World of Warcraft, and virtual reality all had a bizarre three-way love child. It’s a virtual video game where you can be whoever you want and do whatever you want. You buy virtual currency to travel, buy items, and you can even level up. The protagonist, Wade in the real world, Parzival in the OASIS, even goes to school there. And here’s the conceit: the creator of the OASIS has died and left control of his creation to whoever can solve his Easter egg hunt, resulting in a hunt that’s entrenched in 80s geek culture.

I was watching a collection of vintage ’80s cereal commercials when I paused to wonder why cereal manufacturers no longer included toy prizes inside every box. It was a tragedy, in my opinion. Another sign that civilization was going straight down the tubes.

The conceit means that Ready Player One would make an excellent drinking game, if such a game could be played whilst reading a novel. The number of games, books, films, TV shows and people named in this book is staggering, and they’re all written about with real love. Even things that get slated (Ladyhawke springs to mind) are done so with real love. Cline has squeezed in everything he loves and it’s nice to read a novel that loves the same things you do.

Being human totally sucks most of the time. Videogames are the only thing that make life bearable.

Unfortunately there’s a reason I used the word ‘conceit’. The truth is, the plot really is a conceit Cline uses to write about the things he loves and to vicariously do the things he’d love to do. And the story suffers. In fact, Ready Player One was, at times, downright disappointing. There’s no character development. No surprises. No twists, no turns. Just a straightforward normal-guy-becomes-a-hero-and-gets-everything-he-ever-wanted tale. Worse, because he overcomes his first obstacle so easily, it undermines every obstacle thereafter. I didn’t believe he wouldn’t clear any and all hurdles with ease. And I was right. Plans go without a hitch. Everything he hopes for comes true. It is, to be brutally honest, a boring story.

For a bunch of hairless apes, we’ve actually managed to invent some pretty incredible things.

But here’s the incredible truth. Despite the fact the story is boring (and it is), Ready Player One is compelling. Once I was finished I couldn’t put my finger on why, until I realised that the novel is as much an Easter egg hunt as it is about one. I loved picking up on the references big and small, the in-jokes, the little exaltations. For instance, I really enjoyed seeing Supaidaman get a reference. As Wade/Parzival goes hunting through geek culture, I found myself hunting along with him, looking for games and films and books I recognised.

But over the past few months, I’d come to see my rig for what it was: an elaborate contraption for deceiving my senses, to allow me to live in a world that didn’t exist. Each component of my rig was a bar in a cell where I had willingly imprisoned myself.

So can I recommend Ready Player One as a novel? No. But would I recommend it anyway? Yes. It suffers from the same problem as Austin Grossman’s You in that the headlong dive into its geeky world leaves behind things like solid plots and character development. But the dive is such an enjoyable experience, you’re willing to forgive.

Because sometimes we all need to sing a little ode to geek culture.