Cancer Updates and Blog

1 Year Later: Less Cancer, More Books, Same Level of A**hole

Where were we? In my last big personal post a few months after my 11/1/18 diagnosis, I wrote that I suspected I might need a few more rounds of easy outpatient chemo and then I’d be done with treatment. Fuck I was cute back then.

I ended up being transferred to a doctor who heads the entire oncology bone marrow transplant program in San Diego, and damn lucky for me, because this guy tackles the disease way harder than the teams I dealt with previously. The week-long treatment he started me on back in April required me to stay in the hospital, and when I got out I couldn’t stop puking through the debut of Game of Thrones’ final season (still not sure the chemo was to blame though, hohomaan).

Anyway … after a couple rounds of that, they told me the cancer was reduced enough that they could start the process that really obliterates all the malignant leftovers. To do this, they’d have to hook me up to a machine that extracts millions of stem cells from my blood, enough for two transplants that would occur during two separate months in the hospital, to rebuild my bone marrow after high-dose chemo destroys it.

In the weeks of preparation that stretched from late July to early August, I started to feel like I was finally beating this bastard, training my bloodclot-filled leg to push through a couple miles a day, then five, then seven. Then, for the four days leading up to my date with the extraction machine, they gave me shots that boost your bone marrow’s production of white cells so they’d be sure to collect the amount they needed for my future transplants. They told me these shots might cause bone discomfort, so I just wrote off the tingly throbbing throughout my upper body that hit me a few hours after each injection.

Finally, I went on the machine for a planned four-hour session, and the first three hours were uneventful while this medical marvel rapidly circulated all the blood in my body, taking only what it needed and giving the rest back to me. During the home stretch, though, a light tickle in the right side of my forehead quickly became what felt like an electric current pulsing through the entire right half of my body, which throbbed uncontrollably with that same tingly sensation the shots had given me, only with 100x intensity. After the nurse slowed down the machine, the throbbing eventually stopped, and I shrugged it off while the process resumed. A half-hour later, the same problem hit me again, and this time it felt like I was going to lose my ability to breathe, until they turned off the machine and I came to feel mostly normal again. They gave me an MRI and kept me in the hospital that night, and the doctor told me the following day that I had two cancerous tumors in the left side of my brain, which impacts the right side of the body.

A few days later, I finally finished writing Chapter 16 (out of 18) of Book 2, the biggest and most climactic of the book. It was the chapter I’d started nine months earlier when I’d been coughing up blood and having fevers for three weeks, just before my initial cancer diagnosis. A few hours after putting the final touches on this chapter that I’d made so dauntingly spectacular in my mind for years, I met with a neurosurgeon who told me that what I’d experienced on the machine were seizures, and that our best course of action was to hit both the tumors with radiation. This was put on hold a day later, though, when I had another seizure at home, followed by two more at the ER. I came out of the hospital two days later up to my eyeballs in seizure meds and steroids for brain swelling, and found out those latest seizures were due to one of the brain tumors hemorrhaging to twice its original size.

After waiting a few tense days for the neurosurgeon to draw up a new radiation plan that could contain the ticking time bomb in my head, I finished Chapter 17. The next day, I started the final chapter and got my radiation, which surprisingly felt like nothing (seems to have seared a permanent bald strip onto me though). One more seizure hit me the next day (8/22), and after upping my seizure meds, I’m happy to say almost three months later that it was my last one. The day after that, just about three years from the date I’d started it, I finished Book 2.

Giving the book to my trusted beta readers and getting their constructive feedback really helped me pass the time from that point on, especially when my doctor had me on so many steroids I could only sleep from around 6pm-10pm. There’s something really magical about watching the movie Rounders in the middle of the night for like a solid two weeks, but I digress. During the month I spent in the hospital recently, I kept my mind occupied mainly by outlining Books 3 and 4 of my series, and have the first six (and last four) chapters of Book 3 pretty solidly developed. The high-dose chemo, which somewhat melted the plastic tubing that transferred it into my body, knocked out my energy for a few weeks, but I’m close to my normal self again and ready to face my next (hopefully final) chemo around Xmas, which happens to be when Book 2 comes out 🙂 I may end up needing physical brain surgery to permanently eliminate those bitchy tumors and the seizure risks they pose, but that’s down the road quite a bit, and I have a lot of happy stops along the way.

One of my biggest fears in all of this came from following the progress of a few other authors who cranked out their whole series way faster than I ever could, and so many reviews for their second books read something like: “I loved the first book and couldn’t wait for the sequel, and I was so disappointed …” I’m happy to say that my beta readers and a few lovely fans are unanimous that people who liked Book 1 will enjoy the hell out of Book 2, and I’m very optimistic that I can deliver Book 3 much more quickly now that my obstacles are starting to fall away.

I want to thank all the readers out there who picked up my first book, even the handful who told me to go eff myself afterward. No hard feelings. Plenty more where that came from. Btw, if anyone needs to get a hold of me in the next few weeks, I’ll be watching and re-watching the new season of Rick and Morty. Like you weren’t gonna do the same…

Say hi on my Facebook pg

Beating Cancer, Finishing My Epic Fantasy Sequel, and Selling More Books Than Ever

I started coughing up blood every day last October. It began as just an annoying dry cough right after I’d slightly choked on a wasabi-slathered dumpling. I was sure my little culinary mishap had caused some kind of inflammation that led to bronchitis, and, having no insurance, I tried to just tough it out even as regular fevers accompanied the problem. The knifing pains that grew worse in my lower abdomen and back were just a result of the strain the cough was putting on my muscles, I kept telling myself.

Finally, after three weeks of wishing this would clear up on its own, I went to Urgent Care on Nov 1 and was swiftly diagnosed with testicular cancer that had spread to my liver and lungs. The doctor was quick to reassure me that this type of cancer is very treatable with an extremely high survival rate, and I drove home accepting the completed puzzle whose little pieces I’d been ignoring since long before that bitch of a cough set in.

I spent the next few days discovering my luck was so much better than I’d realized, getting insurance through Covered California (Thanks Obama!) and persuading the fine people who work for San Diego County to expedite my coverage so I wouldn’t have to wait till the New Year to start treatment. Turns out their timing was excellent as my left leg started feeling like it had a 30-pound weight strapped to it when I walked, then quickly became sore, swollen, purplish, and barely able to get me around the house.

One week after my diagnosis, I was finally able to see the oncologist I’d been referred to, who breezed through our consultation and sent me for an ultrasound that revealed the cancer had caused a major blood clot extending through my leg into my abdomen. The oncologist didn’t feel like talking about it afterward, but he left some cute pills at the front desk.

Anyway, while seeing few alternatives to weeks of waiting for this or that scan before treatment could begin thanks to this fuckduster fellow, I was again super fortunate to be seen by a urologist who took all of two minutes to assess my situation and tell me, “You need to be in the hospital right now, Asshole.” To which I replied, “All right, Clammy Hands.”

He called his connections at the adjacent ER, where I was promptly admitted and hospitalized for six days. The staff at Scripps Memorial Encinitas were wonderful, and during a week when I would have otherwise been twiddling my thumbs waiting for one minor step toward treatment, they wasted no time knocking out every barrier between me and the lifesaving care I needed. An MRI showed that my brain was clear of tumors, and other procedures found that the blood clot had traveled through my heart and set up shop in my lungs with the cancer. I ditched that first oncologist and went with the team at cCare whose expertise AND compassion are abundantly clear. The hospital administered my first week of chemo, and it was way easier to tolerate than I’d anticipated.

It’s been three months now since I got out of the hospital, and I’ve been giving myself two shots in the stomach a day ever since to keep my blood from turning to cottage cheese. The leg is much easier to walk on but still balloons up with little provocation, and I won’t be reliving my glory days of running miles on the beach anytime soon. Chemo Cycle 4 is near the end (I think somewhere around the start of Cycle 2 is when I woke up with my hair falling out and decided to Walter White that shit). Just about every time I go for treatment I’m reminded that my situation is a damn walk in the park compared to other patients’ hellish illnesses and side effects that I’ve managed to avoid. My mom, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends have all provided unique antidotes to the poison, and I hope to give back many times over.

A CT Scan in mid December showed that the cancer and clots in my lungs and abdomen are significantly reduced, and another on March 1 will determine whether I still need chemo. I suspect a few more cycles will be in order, which will be a breeze like the last couple. I’m looking at another two or three slightly inconvenient months, and then I’ll turn 30 at the beginning of my new normal–when I publish my second book and see life-improving profits from my successful advertising strategy born from several failed ones.

This next part will probably be more relevant to those in the publishing game trying to improve their sales, but might still be a fun read for everyone. Don’t be a dick.

I published my first novel, an epic fantasy, three years ago, and became obsessed with the idea of selling enough copies of it to pay my bills every month. Holy shit did that not work out, but it led me to find that it actually could with just two books in a series. I started by paying some “social media guru” to blast my book’s link to thousands of Twitter followers several times a day, which is a really obnoxious and ineffective way to market. A sizable portion of these people are likely not even interested in the genre you’ve written, and most of those who are might look at the post a second longer than others, while the select few who click it probably won’t buy it.

Then, over the ensuing couple years, I focused more time and money than I care to admit on Amazon Ads, Facebook Ads, and BookBub Ads. You need to be careful with these, because they can easily draw you into a state that’s essentially gambling addiction. They each provide this magic machine at your fingertips into which you can put x dollars and sometimes get back more than x, which brings on an intoxicating endorphin buzz that makes you disregard the more frequent cases where you lose your fucking shirt because you really don’t know what you’re doing.

That was the negative overall experience I had with pay-per-click advertising on Amazon and Facebook. Despite a few rare days or even weeks where my return on investment came near enough to my ad spend that sequel sales could theoretically overtake that margin, there was no combination of sales price, pitch, and audience that produced a scaleable, reliable business model built on just two books. I did however collect enough positive results to do well on those platforms when my series is at least three books strong. BookBub, in my experience, is the gold mine that can bring in consequential monthly profits with just two books.

BookBub is the biggest book advertising platform in the world, with millions of subscribers who have signed up to receive a daily e-mail about discounted ebooks in their preferred genres. One significant thing that sets it apart from Amazon and Facebook is that 100% of the people on that platform already want to be sold books. That’s the only reason they’re there, so they’re not nearly as “cold” as the customers you’ve tried to entice on other sites. Most authors and publishers know about the coveted BookBub Featured Deal, for which hundreds apply every day and only a handful get selected. If you’re fortunate enough to have your book selected for this promotion, which I was once, you’ll see a few months’ worth of sales over the span of just a couple glorious days.

Authors who’ve written a series will often promote their first book this way at a price of 99c-$2.99, and then make serious bank from hundreds of full-priced sequel sales. BUT, you can only do this for a particular book once every six months, and there’s no guarantee it’ll be selected a second time. As exhilarating as it was to see my debut epic fantasy rank above A Game of Thrones on Amazon’s Epic Fantasy Bestseller list for a few hours, I’d happily settle for a more permanent spot a few dozen rungs down the ladder.

Here’s what today’s BookBub e-mail for Fantasy looks like on my iPhone:

 

Front and center is Masks and Shadows, today’s Featured Deal, a promo that cost the publisher $1,200 to hit the inboxes of 1.8 million subscribers interested in Fantasy (would cost about $700 if the book were 99c). Beneath all the platform links for that, you’ll see another ad for a different book from a different author. THIS chunk of real estate is the gold mine I’m talking about if you’re an author looking to earn a profit that actually makes a difference in your life consistently every month. It’s a spot you can grab not once every six months, but every single day.

The way the bidding system works, you can attach your ad to the bottom of a Featured Deal e-mail for around $6-8 per every 1,000 unique recipients, and do it on a large enough daily scale to spend easily $100 a day and see enough sales to make it worth that investment, if you target and pitch proficiently. I was surprised to see that this book advertised at the lower half is selling really well, because my data shows that such a vague pitch made to the entire Fantasy audience fares poorly. I doubt this ad could bring in a positive return on investment with just one or even two sequels to sell. This book is however the first in a series of five, and maybe the publisher’s got several other marketing avenues in play.

You’ll get the best results by being surgical in your audience targeting, and BookBub lets you do just that by providing the option to select fans of specific authors rather than broad genres. Find semi-popular authors of books comparable to yours, use Photoshop or canva.com to tailor your ads to convince those readers that if they love that writer, then your book is precisely their cup of tea, sell your book for 99c, and you’ll acquire dozens of new customers per day at a reasonable cost.

I don’t love selling a book I put my heart and soul into for 99c, but I’m ecstatic about the opportunity to make a grand or two a month off of my art, and this is the only approach I’ve found that allows for a meaningful profit margin from just two books to offer. Repeatedly seeing that no such margin remained after the cost of pitching my $5.99 Book 1 to those few willing to pay that (fair) price, I realized that if I could sell Book 1 at 99c for a customer acquisition cost around $2, and 65-70% of those people bought Book 2 for $4.99 or $5.99, then I was in the money.

Say I spent $100 on a day’s ads to sell 50 copies of Book 1 at 99c a pop. My cut of each sale is 35c, which amounts to $17.50. But then say 35 of those 50 customers go on to buy Book 2 for $5.99, for which my cut is $4.10. That amounts to $143.50, and added to $17.50 I’ve made $161 off of one day’s investment of $100. It sure as hell isn’t much, but I’d be over the moon to just press a few keys and collect $60 a day or $1,800 a month from two books that are done while I write the third.

On the cold, unforgiving landscape of GoodreadsBook 1’s 415 ratings show that 90% of readers at least “liked it,” and 70% either “really liked it” or “loved it,” so I don’t think it’s aiming too high to think that if Book 2 were available today, 70% of those buying Book 1 would eventually move on to the sequel. With that reasoning in mind, I found five popular authors with large fan bases on BookBub and was successful in making 1 99c sale for about every $2 spent, easily getting between 40 and 50 sales per day with extra gravy trickling in from subscribers to Kindle Unlimited (basically Netflix for books).

After focusing the better part of two years on building a well-oiled book-selling machine that I can run like clockwork every day while I write more books, I’m as close as I think I’ll ever get. I’ve tested it thoroughly enough to know that it’s reliable on any given day, and now all the equation needs to be complete is Book 2. I was just starting the final three chapters when I got my diagnosis, and trading a hospital bed for the writer’s chair feels a bit daunting, but good.

I spent my 20s turning away from several paths I was urged to take, ones that could have offered much-needed comfort and stability, trying instead to figure out how to build a life on work that shares the best and brightest of me with the world. I can’t believe how fast my 30s have come along, but if I can start them in that bright patch I always envisioned just over that next hill, maybe I won’t let them go by so quickly.

Indie Publishing Lessons I’ve Learned Since I Released My Debut Fantasy

I spent half my life writing one book. Got the idea for it at thirteen, published it at twenty-six. Sure, a couple distractions got in the way during that time: puberty, high school, a bit of college, a day job doing manual labor that put hair on my chest, an obsessive routine of HIGHLY amateur dumbbell curling, booze, 2 years spent querying literary agents, booze. And now after finally unleashing my debut Fantasy on the world, with the release of its sequel a few months out, I’m so glad that I broke my way into indie publishing and have seen data-based potential for the sustainable career I’ve always wanted. Here are some little nuggets of wisdom and experience I’ve gathered on my journey so far.

Invest in a high quality editor and cover designer to make the best possible first impression

No matter how long you spent finishing that first draft or how many dozens of times you’ve polished it on your own, front to back, IT’S NOT READY! Most of those rejections I accumulated occurred when my manuscript was 40,000 words heavier than the final product that I published. After doing a Writer’s Digest workshop with one literary agent, I realized I could substantially trim the book down and still keep it all intact. I went line by line to chisel the substance out of the murk, and after a few months had it down from 130,000 words to around 89,000, and still it was far from done.

Beta readers are an invaluable resource to help you make your work consumable, but that’s still not enough. After all those brave souls have sunk their teeth into your under-cooked work, hire a professional editor and a cover designer who can help you publish the best version of your work right from the start; don’t try to sell a salad of grammatical awkwardness wrapped in a middle school collage project. Even if you plan to publish a majorly improved 2nd Edition later on when you have more funds, you will have fed a sour apple to so many prospective fans that you’ll lose credibility and appeal. I found my editor, Karen Conlin, through some very well-respected indie authors on Google Plus writing communities. It turns out that she edits for a couple other authors who signed with the award-winning audiobook publisher that picked up my series, too. And the book designers at Damonza have produced beautiful covers for my series that have been worth every penny.

If you only have one book out, KDP Select is probably the way to go

Selling exclusively through Amazon has been much more profitable than my brief stint with wider distribution, because in addition to sales, subscribers to Kindle Unlimited have read more than half a million pages of my book over the last 6 months. What Amazon pays you for that varies a bit each month, but it usually appears close to half a cent per page.

Join online communities and enter your book in a few contests

It’s common for newbie authors to bombard every social media community they find with daily pleas to GET MY BOOK NOW. Free advertising is tempting for sure, but that kind of shameless self-promotion usually disgruntles A LOT more people than it attracts. I was certainly guilty of it for the first several months that my book was live, and sometimes I’ll do a scaled-down version of it if my book is free or highly discounted for a few days. There’s a lot more value in building a friendly relationship with the readers in those communities, and giving as much as you hope to get in return.

If you’re an Indie Fantasy author, check out Mark Lawrence’s annual Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. This year’s contest is near its end, and the link will take you to the 10 finalists that have gotten a lot of well-deserved publicity. Being involved in that contest was a great experience for me, and I got a nice review plus some badass author friends out of it. Get the announcement about this year’s winner and next year’s application period on Twitter: #SPFBO

Hiring “social media gurus” to plaster your book link all over Twitter/Facebook is like paying someone to hurl a basketball from the opposite end of the court

There are paid services that do the dirty work for you, and send out the same tweet ten times a day to their “hundred-thousand followers.” I blew a decent amount of money on one of those at first, and even though the staff were highly courteous and responsive, I’m convinced that I never came close to getting a return on my investment. A fraction of the people who see those social media posts are interested in your genre; a fraction of those in your genre will be motivated by your post to look at your book on Amazon, and a fraction of those that you’ve just spent money to attract will care enough to shell out their own cash. But if you’re advertising your book directly on Amazon, almost everyone who sees your ad is already looking to buy something; they’re not as “cold” as potential customers on Twitter or FB.

Amazon ads can be extremely effective, but can also drain your bank account with lightning speed if you’re not careful. Low Cost/High Yield is achievable through trial and error

I invested about $4,000 testing 4 different ad pitches against 5 audience targets over the course of a couple months, and was able to isolate several specific combinations of pitch and target that are profitable. It’s challenging enough just to create ads that break even, but through trial and error you can really elevate your sales and income with Amazon marketing. My Product Display ads with a Cost Per Click Bid of around 20c and a monthly budget of $400 often result in an actual Cost Per Click of 2c-5c and monthly expenditure of far less than the maximum I set. They’ve been way more successful for me than Sponsored ads, which have always been a competitive cash drain in my experience.

It took about 4 months to recoup my investment and start making a profit, and even though it was a long haul I now have a handful of ads that consistently bring in more revenue than they consume. I go more in depth about my advertising experiments in a couple other posts that you’ll see in the margin, but here are a few pro tips that could have saved me a lot of dough when I was starting out:

  • Create several pitches that concisely capture the essence of your book’s appeal so that you can test them on relevant audience targets
  • Pick just 1 audience target per ad to determine which specific pairings of pitch and target are most successful, and weed out the ones that attract people who are interested enough to click (at your expense) but won’t close the deal
  • Start with a CPC bid of 20c and a monthly budget of $200-$400 per ad, and be sure to select the “Spread Campaign Evenly” option instead of “Run As Quickly As Possible.” This approach I’ve found spends less per day than the max you allow
  • Check your stats and Billing History every day so you know how much you’re spending, but remember that it often takes several days for stats to start showing up. While your spreadsheet may look bleak, your ads are likely running and your Billing History will show your accumulating tab. I’ve terminated ads and then kicked myself hard after seeing great sales stats show up a week later, which is why you should always Pause instead of Terminate if you’re nervous

I recently did a free giveaway and didn’t have any ads running for several weeks, and my sales took a dive as a result. Now I’ve just started a new set of ads that promote my ebook and audiobook with one pitch that mentions three of the bestselling Fantasy titles by the same audio publisher. The pitch is essentially:

Hey, you know these three Fantasy books that everyone and their mother are reading? Well my book got picked up by the same audiobook publisher that picked those up. It’s the hottest new thing! 

The most promising of those ads is one that only appears on the Amazon pages of the other Fantasy titles that my audiobook publisher picked up. It brought in 2 sales with just the first 3 clicks, which I’ve never seen before. With my most successful ads before now, the ratio of click to buy was about 40 or 50 to 1, so I’m hoping that trend continues past Week 1.

Beware of Data Pollution

I first heard that term in a great interview that author Chris Fox gave on the Self Publishing Podcastanother wonderful resource for authors, and he warned that shouting about your new book from the rooftops and getting all your friends and family to buy it right away might actually hurt you more than it helps. Amazon analyzes all your customers to find what other purchases they have in common, so that it can then recommend your book to lots of other people who also bought those same titles. But if all your customers have nothing in common but you, then Amazon gets confused and leaves you stranded to find customers on your own. This is why specifically targeted advertising is so valuable, because it can gain you hundreds of customers who buy many of the same books and give Amazon the data it needs to help more of the right people discover your work.

Your sales might skyrocket unexpectedly. It will be confusing and awesome, and can be soul-crushingly temporary

After several months of increasing success with Amazon ads, my sales abruptly shot through the roof in mid January of this year, and the marketing on my end accounted for less than half of that. For the ensuing three weeks, my one book was bringing in more than enough money for me to live on, and I was planning which city I should relocate to so my new life as a full time author could begin. Then, after those 3 glorious weeks, sales dipped down to their normal level and left me scratching my head about just what the hell had happened.

All the people who got new Kindles for Christmas could have contributed a bit to that surge, and perhaps Amazon in all its wisdom threw my book into one of its popular mailers. Though it definitely stung to find out that it wasn’t a long term situation, the fact that it happened at all and could happen again is very encouraging. The most important thing I can do is continue my well-targeted, low cost/high yield advertising, build a mailing list (yeah, that cool box that popped up and asked for your e-mail address gets you a front row seat to all the wonders I have in store for the reading public), and of course…

Take some key advice from the great publishing minds at Sterling and Stone: WRITE, PUBLISH, REPEAT

I’ll be releasing the sequel to A Facet for the Gem this September, and if just my two books bring in the average amount of revenue that Book 1 has made over the last few months, I’ll be earning as much from them as I’ve ever made at my day job. Then I can support myself doing what brings out the best I have to offer, which has been the dream all along. And all the kind readers who continue to come forward help me keep that dream alive.

Say Hi on My FB Pg + Cancer & Book 2 Updates

Have you connected yet on My Official FB Page?

Lots of other people have. It’s a great place to just say hi, ask a question, and get my latest updates.

Here’s today’s bit of news:

Last week’s scans show cancer below the neck is damn near invisible, and brain tumors are on their way to being history as well, probably without the need for surgery.

Will be doing another 3 weeks in the hospital over Xmas for (hopefully) final high-dose chemo and stem cell transplant, to really make sure we get rid of this bastard.

Very optimistic I’ll publish Book 2 by 12/24. Chapter 1 of Book 3 is coming along quite nicely as well. Thanks to everyone for your support!

Home from Hospital. Book 2 Pushed Back to 12/24

My month-long hospital treatment ended successfully a couple weeks ago, and I’ve been recovering well at home. Unexpected side effects laid me low for a few weeks though, so I’ve pushed Book 2’s release back to Christmas Eve.

If you haven’t already gotten an early PDF of Book 2 to read and review by launch day, feel free to contact me at news@authorclmurray.com.

Big thanks to everyone for your patience and understanding!

C. L.

Book 2 Pre-Order & Cancer Update

Tomorrow (9/20/19) I’ll be admitted to the hospital for a full month of cancer treatments that pose serious risks, complicated by my blood clots and brain tumors. I’m having my stem cells extracted, then given high-dose chemo that destroys my bone marrow, then having my stem cells re-administered to slowly rebuild my system.

But! Book 2 is written (Pre-Order On Amazon Now), on track for a Thanksgiving release, and my beta readers are giving very positive feedback. In the words of Walter H. White, nothing stops this train.

Thank you to everyone for your kind support. The thought of you reading the next adventure soon is making this all easier.

You Knew Books Had Soundtracks Too, Right?

Back during the slog of my old day job, which I’ve happily left behind to write full time, I was struck by the extreme fortune to hear Lord Huron’s “Meet Me In The Woods” pop on the radio while driving to the gas station for a snack. It absolutely transported me beyond my confined state of the time, and when I devoured the entire Strange Trails album as well as Lonesome Dreams, I became immersed in a sound that captured the wonderment and adventure I pour into my books better than almost any other. Then of course Of Monsters and Men lifted me in a very similar, enchanting fashion.

Presented for your listening enjoyment: my arranged soundtracks for A Facet for the Gem and Eaglebreaker.

A New Glimpse at EAGLEBREAKER

I again want to thank the readers out there so much for all your patience as I finish the final 3 chapters of Eaglebreaker. A surprise cancer diagnosis on Nov 1 along with ensuing complications and chemo slowed down my progress a bit, but after a month of treatment I’m thrilled to say that my cancer is on the run and the prognosis is excellent. I’m back in the writer’s chair now, and it feels great.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 14 – Vethros, which finds the Eaglemasters in more dangerous territory than they realize, facing an enemy they can’t see…

 

Valeine and the Eaglemasters soared ten miles deep into the Wildland mountains, which extended about forty miles more to the southwestern coast. They had taken great care to never set down on even the safest-looking peak in the long weeks since they’d begun their assault on this teeming range. An electricity in the air grew more abrasive the farther they dared fly over the heart of their elusive enemy’s power, and they could not help but suspect it would leap out from the rock and wrap tightly around them like a paralyzing snake if they descended too close.

Messengers from the capital had recently brought word that Queen Elleth was expected to give birth in the immediate weeks, which bolstered the army’s spirit even as they spent every minute of daylight scouring heights that felt farther from the sun than the deepest valley. She wanted dearly for her brother to be present for the birth of his first child, and could often see that same sore yearning in his eyes behind a mask of bravado.

No word had come of the twenty-five Eaglemasters deployed to the Mountains of the Lost, and the prospect of their returning report was the one glimmer of solace she clung to when thinking of Morlen’s condition and whereabouts. But if that crushing, legendary net of obscure hostiles could hold him for all this time, she had no illusions that even her most seasoned countrymen would escape any sooner.

“To the Wildlands long ago he flew, Veleseus the Bold,” the Eaglemasters sang their battle song around her, waiting for their targets to emerge. “The fiercest king we ever knew, for his wrath is widely told.”

Captain Craed led one hundred men south of her position and dropped cascades of flaming oil pots to wall off nearly a thousand ferotaurs. He flooded every escape route with fire and smoke to herd them along widespread meandering channels, all of which flowed toward the canyon that she and her battalion flew ready to bombard.

“Together with his eldest son the Bold King felt no fear, and side by side, many battles they won with the mighty Crystal Spear.”

Like blood pumped through jagged veins, the ferotaurs had no choice but to follow the fatal course they imposed, pooling in the atrium from which they would never emerge.

“Alas, one returned, a prince no more, who to his sorry people said, ‘My father could not win his war; your beloved king is dead.’”

She launched her arrow, striking a creature through its left eye while the hundreds around her unleashed their clay projectiles with burning wicks to smash and explode on their trapped enemies below. The rancid sea of horns boiled and burst while molten waves crashed upon one another, finally flattening to a calm that baked beneath a charred, brittle crust.

“But in the Wildlands he still flies, Veleseus the bold. The king whose memory never dies while we stand in his stronghold!”

The Eaglemasters proudly beat their chest plates with hardened fists, taunting the shattered rabble beneath them for their next adversaries to hear. But they cut their cheers short when the surrounding mountains offered no echo, as if they were mere ghosts wailing over a land that had swallowed their dust in ages past.

Craed circled back to boast, and to check that she wasn’t straining herself as he often annoyingly did. “As mindless and easy to manipulate as they were on our very shores, and you expect me to fear some concealed power that guards them here!”

“Despite all your bluster, I’ve yet to see you disembark and prove our caution foolish,” she replied. “I’d have wagered you would relish being renowned as the first Eaglemaster to set foot in this range.”

Never one to back away from a challenge, Craed looked down with a playful expression that held clear regret for his bluff that she’d now called. Seeming about to follow through and demonstrate more than empty talk, he could not hide his relief when the king saved him from accepting the dare.

“There will be no disembarking here until I give the order,” Verald called out from behind her. “And rest assured that I will be the first of us to set foot here, but not because I crave the recognition. Let’s continue to maximize the effect of our projectiles, and delay that momentous occasion for as long as possible.”

“Aye, Sire,” Craed answered with a grateful smile. “I’ve got plenty more heads of cattle to drive for the slaughter.” He and his carrier rode the wind past them toward his battalion, and they proceeded deeper through the barren slopes that relentlessly tempted them to descend for just a moment’s recuperation.

Their southernmost city had faded to a tiny glimmer in the army’s wake, reflecting bright rays that seemed to evade this place entirely. Though Craed led his men only a stone’s throw out in front, it became increasingly difficult to see all of them, to the point that she had to squint even to make out his stout, muscular outline. She considered calling out for him to slow his advance, but a growing density in the atmosphere felt like a feather pillow crushing against her face to stifle every sound.

Then, suddenly, the sky began to stir in a broad confluence of colors, where blood red flowed through fiery orange, blue, and yellow, melding into a hypnotizing purple that intruded past her unblinking eyelids until it became all she could see. It enveloped and immobilized her completely, yet she felt no sinking feeling that would accompany a fatal plummet to the rocks. Totally vulnerable, held tightly in the grip of whatever sinister force lurked below, she could only brace for its wicked voice that had beckoned her here before.

But… just as no form or shape entered her blinding trance, no sound penetrated either, no urgent calls from the men around her, nor any touch from their overprotective hands. Perhaps they too were bound helplessly by the arms that had patiently waited for them to stray close enough for a final embrace. There was no way to know what course they were held prisoner to now, whether they were being swiftly delivered to thousands of slobbering mouths that stretched agape at their unwitting descent, or thrown into the open sea.

Her desperate urge to cry out in anguish began to course through the frigid numbness seizing her, slowly eroding the ice that choked her veins. One by one, she could feel her fingers wiggle feebly, and they became ten subtle points of light streaking across the dark canvas that saturated her vision. A furnace slowly boiled within her center, sending out a white-hot radiation that illuminated her hands, and as they clawed at the enchanted fabric they began to rip a thin sliver through which she could glimpse the outside world.

Wedging both hands together into this narrow rift with palms pressed tightly against its sides, she tremored violently in an effort to push her arms apart and pry it wider. Like opening lead curtains with dislocated shoulders, she moved them an inch, and then another, hearing her own frantic groans that seemed to reverberate in from the free air she tried to reach. The glowing heat pulsated at her fingertips, revealing her path forward, and with one last scream from the depths of her gut she poured it out copiously through the splintering gap until its walls finally cracked, collapsed, and melted away. A bright wave rippled through the open sky before her, restoring its dull color, and she breathed a joyous gasp while folding upon Lielle’s back.

“The darkness is potent here,” said Lielle under her weary head. “I felt as though indiscernible strings drew me forth against my will, until they were burned away.”

Soaked in sweat, and only beginning to grasp how taxed she was, she shivered in an effort to sit upright again, and noticed immediately that the sun had traversed a great distance in what had felt like a short time that the confounding spell was cast upon her. Evening had already fallen, though it was not yet noon when they’d carried out their latest attack. They would have to turn back immediately to reach their lightly-guarded camp before night. But, soon, she realized a far graver peril, one from which they could not turn away.

Captain Craed and his one hundred men were all gone, leaving no trace that could be seen for miles all around. And her brother, who had been behind her within the fold of his men, now flew alone far ahead. She knew it was him by the sight of the Crystal Spear, which barely gleamed in his hand.

Turning to the Eaglemasters around her, she found the burning torches they’d held to light their combustibles were all extinguished and cold. Each man shared the same stunned and disoriented expression as though waking from a drunken slumber, and she rattled her weapon vigorously against her armor to rouse them. “Protect the king!” she cried, ushering Lielle to dart forward while the men echoed her call and made haste.

Verald flew dangerously low, well within shooting range of several ferotaur packs that gladly held their fire and let him pass into the center of their domain. She and the army bellowed together in a frightful chorus to make him rise and turn around, but their loudest pleas only fell on deaf ears. He merely led them farther from any safe haven while the sun dipped beneath the horizon, about to strand them in the most hostile terrain they’d ever faced.

A Glimpse at EAGLEBREAKER. The Eaglemasters’ Greatest Battle!

I’m very grateful for everyone’s patience as I get closer to completing Eaglebreaker. As a token of my gratitude, and to build a little hype, here’s the opening of the chapter in which the Eaglemasters begin their greatest campaign ever. No longer spread along two battlefronts, they launch a full-scale invasion of the Ferotaur Wildlands to finally wipe out their ancient enemies once and for all.

But, as the months go on, the great war they’ve long imagined doesn’t transpire exactly as planned…

Chapter Five – To the Wildlands

 

Valeine sat mounted on her eagle, Lielle, atop Veleseor’s walls as she peered northeast, where the Mountains of the Lost barely peaked over the horizon. A month had now passed since Morlen set out alone, and despite all the frightening stories her brothers had told her of that place when she was a child, and the more reliable accounts she’d heard as a Lady, she knew he was still alive. Perhaps malnourished, cold, and one hundred miles from Roftome, but alive. And any enemy foolish enough to attack him alone would fare poorly.

She had no illusions that they would soon be reunited, nor did she take for granted that he would escape at all. But hope was the brightest star that guided him now, and she would let her own burn just as fully every day. Then maybe, when their memories of shared happiness were buried under ones of battle and death after years apart, their paths might meet again.

Her gaze turned toward the capital and the thousands of Eaglemasters flying southward from it, and she only now began to wonder how prudent it was to leave all five cities of the realm with merely a few dozen defenders. True, their greatest and most present threat had always sprung from the territory they would soon invade, and eliminating it could forever bring security and prosperity. But if their war with the Tyrant Prince had taught them anything, it was that new and devastating foes could always strike unexpectedly.

The king eventually descended to the north walls beside her with the Crystal Spear in his grip and his banner men flying the red and silver flags of Veldere. Throngs of the city’s people celebrated his arrival from below, and he sat on his perched eagle to address them while the full army of Eaglemasters landed outside the city’s perimeter.

“My people,” Verald called out while their applause subsided, “I bring you many good tidings. The first, and most joyous for me to share not only with you, but also with my sister and loyal battalions, is that…” He paused to let their suspense grow, and waited until the city became utterly silent before finally announcing, “Your queen is with child!”

A burst of cheers rose from the enthralled crowd, and Valeine smiled broadly at her brother on hearing the news for the first time. Such fortunate events had been scarce indeed, lately. But still her misgivings about their impending departure grew when she pictured his first child learning to walk in the castle halls while he was off fighting battles in a distant land.

“How I wish my father and brothers had lived to see this day,” he continued. “They were the strongest champions of our realm, and would rejoice at the new light that shines upon us now after such a long darkness. By their sacrifices, and those of so many heroes whose valor may never be equaled, we have defeated the shriekers in the East and freed all lands from the scourge of the Tyrant Prince. Yet our war, which has raged since the birth of our kingdom, is far from over. But never have our enemies across the river felt the full force of the Eaglemasters deep within their own wretched lands, until today. And so, I have come to you to say farewell.”

Many dispirited voices rang out in response to this declaration, and he held up a hand to ease their sadness. “But it is not goodbye. Queen Elleth will rule in my stead while she carries your new prince or princess, with my trusted counselors to guide her forward and contingents of Eaglemasters to look after each of our five cities. My army will launch from this seat of strength founded by King Veleseus the Bold to finish the conquest for which he gave his life generations ago. The Eaglemasters will shroud the Wildlands and destroy every ferotaur from the river to their cavernous mountains, and the plague that they have brought to this border for so many centuries will be eradicated! And our future will be brighter for ages to come!”

All gathered citizens made a thunderous clamor, and Verald looked to Valeine in respect. “It’s your city; you lead the way, Sister.”

She took one final look at the many families that she had protected with her life and the lives of her men for the last year, and could only resolve to fight so fiercely in this new campaign that they would be safer upon her return than they were now. Lielle took her skyward with a powerful lunge as she had her bow in hand and her spear strapped over her shoulder, and the king joined her with his banner men and trumpeters on either side. As the entire army ascended, the people of Veleseor honored them by singing the victory song of their city, and the Eaglemasters too began to sing each verse as they passed over the Silver River that divided their realm from the Ferotaur Wildlands.

“To the Wildlands long ago he flew
Veleseus the Bold
The fiercest king we ever knew
For his wrath is widely told
The tens of thousands that he slew
At the river he patrolled
Piled higher than the walls that grew
At his newly built stronghold
He spurned safe ground and pressed ahead
Into the open skies
O’er lands that filled most men with dread
But were pleasing to his eyes
Together with his eldest son
The Bold King felt no fear
And side by side, many battles they won
With the mighty Crystal Spear
Alas, one returned, a prince no more
Who to his sorry people said,
‘My father could not win his war;
Your beloved king is dead.’
But in the Wildlands he still flies
Veleseus the bold
The king whose memory never dies
While we stand in his stronghold.”

Their formation of nearly three thousand crossed swiftly over enemy shores and cast a widespread shadow on clusters of ferotaurs that frantically scattered at their approach. The nearest packs had been pushing skiffs on wooden-wheeled frames toward the river, but abandoned their vessels in a futile effort as flaming pots of oil bombarded the entire area and set them all ablaze.

“Give them a river of fire!” belted Verald as they swept northwest along the border incinerating entire swaths of land wherever the ferotaurs were dense, and a serpent of engulfed terrain meandered in their wake…

 

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Adventures in Amazon Ads Pt 2: From 8 Bestseller Lists to 9+

Last 3 Months

Important Note: About 1 month since beginning this experiment with expanding my advertising portfolio, I’ve still spent about 2 1/2 times what I’ve generated in sales. My book has climbed up 14 Amazon Bestseller lists, and paid sales can lead to organic sales by word of mouth, but always be careful not to create so many ads that you exceed your budget.

Let me start this end-of-week followup with the postscript to last Friday’s report that some may have missed: As of 10/12, my Amazon ads have been directly responsible for at least 95% of all sales. My trial run with Facebook ads just happened to coincide with the unprecedented surge on 10/28, and it’s important not to assume correlation equals causation. I’ve ended all Facebook ads and am creating more in Amazon.

As the above graph shows, 10/20 was the first time my “Paid Units” cracked 5 in one day over the last 3 months, except during a cute little 99c promo I ran at the end of August. So, when I saw that my one and only book’s full-price sales had more than quadrupled from the norm last Friday (10/28), I naturally hoped it was due to clear actions that I could analyze and perpetually maintain with consistent results. The following day (10/29) showed great promise of that with a record 21 sales, and 1,000 more Kindle Unlimited pages read than on 10/28. The 2 days leading into Halloween showed an understandable drop, since a large portion of my target audience was likely engrossed in the hedonistic festivities, but still they surpassed what I’d seen in the 3 months prior. Kindle Unlimited pages also shot to higher levels than ever on those 2 days, amounting to more than 20 copies read.

Then, what the hell happened on Tuesday and Wednesday? 8 sales, and then 4? Going back to those familiarly mediocre levels felt comparable to returning to a dietary routine of microwaved TV dinners after a brief, luxurious getaway. The same ads were up and running, minus a few disappointing ones that I’d paused, and I’d even created duplicates to test new genre targets (which I’ll get to shortly). I think one contributing factor may be that my audiobook became available for Pre-Order on 10/31. Because of that recent development, customers who go to my book’s Amazon page now have the option to pay $ for the Kindle book and paperback, or get the audiobook in exchange for a monthly credit that Audible allots its members. So it’s possible that some thrifty buyers opted to forgo shelling out cash and instead traded in a “use it or lose it” credit for the audiobook, which is officially out on Nov 22 (and is beautifully done, I might add, thanks to Podium and James Foster).

I’ve also suspected the audiobook will boost Kindle sales, since experienced customers might anticipate being able to get the audible narration for a substantial discount after purchasing the e-book (assuming Audible enables the Whispersync feature, which is up to them, not me). Because of this theory, and to promote the audiobook itself, I ran 2 versions of the same ad that reads:

Epic Fantasy Adventure Audiobook now for Pre-Order from Podium Publishing (King’s Dark Tidings, Dawn of Wonder, Cycle of Arawn) Narrator: James Foster.

One is a Sponsored Ad that uses Podium’s other Fantasy titles and authors as search engine keywords, as well as “audio book,” and the 4 main keywords that have led to sales in my other Sponsored Ads: “fantasy, fantasy fiction, fantasy books, fantasy fiction books.” The other is a Display Ad that I targeted by specific products instead of genres, using the same Fantasy titles that Podium has published.

The problem with this is that because customers can order the audiobook without a cash transaction, my ad data can’t show me whether any clicks on these ads are leading to sales. When someone clicks one of my ads and then pays for the Kindle book or paperback, I see their respective prices in the “Total Sales” column for that specific ad. The only way this would happen for the audiobook ad is if someone clicks on it and buys the Kindle or paperback version, or pays the full audible price instead of exchanging a credit. Anyway, it’s too soon to halt that campaign, and some unknown individual(s) have already Pre-Ordered the audiobook, so I’ll keep the ad running a bit longer.

Back to my moneymaking ads, limited to 150 characters each. A few authors asked me for specifics about the unique pitches I’ve been using, so I’ll list them in order of greatest sales to least:

  1. “Superb Fantasy Tale! Writing that soars & inspires” Hero’s Sword & Sorcery quest with epic battles, one-on-one duels, & friendship with a giant eagle
  2. A hero’s adventure leads him to the sky with eagle-riding knights, into the scorching breath of a dragon, and side-by-side with a fierce lady warrior
  3. A hero gains the loyalty of a giant eagle that would not carry any other man, and flies in an epic showdown against swords, fangs, and his worst fear
  4. An eagle-riding hero holds the Goldshard which makes invincibility just a whisper away. But it soon becomes a worse enemy than the monsters he battles

In last week’s post I listed the 5 genre subsets that I targeted with each of these, creating an experimental pool of 20. Here are those targets in order of greatest sales to least:

  • Teen & YA>Sci/Fi & Fantasy
  • Sci/Fi & Fantasy>Adventure
  • Sci/Fi & Fantasy>Superheroes
  • Sci/Fi & Fantasy>Sword & Sorcery
  • Sci/Fi & Fantasy>Fantasy

It’s important to note that my KU Pages read have also skyrocketed with these ads, and unlike sales, you can’t be sure which ad leads a KU subscriber to start reading, so that makes it a bit difficult to decide which ads to scrap. That’s why I always pause the ones that look weak, so if my figures start to dip I can immediately switch them back on and see if there’s a noticeable improvement.

This week I’m also having success with 3 additional genre targets that I’m testing with Pitches 1-3 and an improved version of #4. That’s 12 new ads divided into 3 groups, each of which has already produced 4 sales. The new genre targets, which may prove to be more lucrative than the aforementioned 5, are:

  • Sci/Fi & Fantasy>Myths & Legends
  • Literature & Fiction>Action & Adventure
  • Literature & Fiction>Genre Fiction

I’m still gradually eliminating ads that are bringing in too little return on investment, while increasing the budgets of the proven “winners.” I was relieved when yesterday (11/3) turned out to be more profitable than last Friday, the day when everything changed for the better, and today’s sales are so far consistent with the best my book has performed so far. I’d say I’m satisfactorily on my way to having a shortened system of highly efficient ad pitches and targets that I can leave alone to maximize my income from Book 1, while I continue to plug away at Book 2.

I’m really looking forward to Nov 22 when the audiobook becomes available, and am very confident that listeners will be almost as moved by it as I was.