KDP Select, Amazon, and the Value of Free

It seems like ever since Amazon launched this KDP ‘Select’ thing, where you can add your books to a ‘lending library’ for Prime members and make your book free – for up to 5 days! – that this is now the only way in which they believe in free.

My novelette The Corpse King has been free at all other outlets since I released it, but Amazon still wants $0.99 for it. Why? I have no idea. No matter how many ‘lower price’ notices they receive, it seems they are no longer price-matching to free.

Look – if I didn’t want my damn book to be given away, then why would I be doing it? Amazon.com is a distribution platform. My short story Dutiful Daughter was downloaded thousands of times after I made it free. That means thousands of people had the opportunity to read that story, simply by virtue of the fact that it was available for free on the largest e-book distribution platform known to man.

Do you know what that’s called?

MARKETING.

It’s freakin’ marketing, people! As an indie author, very few people are going to take a chance on spending money – even the impulse-buy $0.99 – unless they know for certain that they’re going to like the work! Instead of buying ads, because my pocket change is sparse, I want to spend the money that I would otherwise make selling that novelette on showing people that yes, I really can write and tell an engaging story!

There’s a reason I chose The Corpse King as the free one: it’s most representative of what I want the stories of Eisengoth to be like: dark swords & sorcery where the characters understand the bleakness of the world they live in, and still rise above that to make the best and most heroic choice available.

I realize that Amazon is not going to change their ways, but I think more people should understand that free does not mean free. If I choose to write a story and then offer it to the world for the low, low price of $0.00, I am doing it for a reason. This is why, despite the fact that its reach is limited, Smashwords is the superior distribution platform for ebooks. Unlike Amazon, they have an understanding about what it means to be an independent author, with no marketing machine and no massive funding behind you.

The only way to gain traction as an author is word-of-mouth. Someone must like your work well enough to recommend it to their friends. Some people still find their books randomly browsing in a bookstore, but those days are waning, and it’s not an option for the indies.

Here’s the thing: nobody’s going to recommend your work if nobody reads it to begin with. FREE is one way to unbalance that equation, and get people reading your work, even if no one’s ever heard of you.

Sadly, I cannot host downloads directly from this blog. In the future I plan to be hosting my blog on my own website, but as of now this is merely a wordpress.com special. So if you’d like to sample my work, Smashwords is the place to do it.

I hope you enjoy The Corpse King. If you do, check out Elegy at Amazon or Smashwords.

If not, come on back here, tell me why it sucks and what I can do to improve it!

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The Sword & The Sorcerer

So, when you hear the words swords and sorcery, what do you think of? What’s the first image that comes to your mind?

It’s a Frazetta painting, isn’t it? Or is it Boris Vallejo instead? Go on, you can say it. It won’t hurt my brain too much.

Okay, I lied. It will and it did hurt my brain.

Not that Frazetta wasn’t a talented artist or anything, and Boris Vallejo certainly knows his stuff, but this is why the swords and sorcery genre is on life-support! What started out in the 1930s with Kull (NOT Kevin Sorbo) and Conan (NOT Arnold Schwarzeneggar) and Solomon Kane degenerated into a mess of beefcake and T&A. The imagery became associated with it, mediocre writers clambered aboard like so many rats aboard a ship, and slowly eroded its legitimacy until the phrase swords and sorcery became synonymous with crap fiction that resides at the bottom of a used bookstore’s 50-cent bin.

I’m sure my view of history is skewed. Maybe the crap writers got on board first and the imagery came later, but there is an undeniable curl of the lip and sneer that comes on the faces of even the most geeky fantasy readers when you say those three words.

I like swords and sorcery. I love the old Conan stories (you can find Howard’s novel, Red Nails, for free on Project Gutenberg), Moorcock’s Elric stuff is good, and my absolute favorite is the Kane books written by Karl Edward Wagner, who was a true disciple of the genre.

What makes swords and sorcery different from other fantasy fiction? Epic fantasy suffers from ‘farm-boy’ syndrome, where the son of a blacksmith or some other ‘lowly’ profession turns out to be a great hero and grows up to save the world. (Read the backs of some fantasy books the next time you’re at a bookstore. It’s almost sort of revolting how many of Book 1-s carry this description.) It’s full of sprawling plots, monstrous casts, world-wide travels, and world-changing conclusions.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with epic fantasy. I happen to love it a lot – well, the good stuff at least. (There’s not nearly enough good stuff.) I’m just trying to draw a contrast here.

S&S, on the other hand, is tightly-focused. The cast is smaller, the stage is smaller. If epic fantasy is a Broadway show, S&S is a quiet municipal theater putting on some stunning drama with actors you wouldn’t know from anyone else on the street. S&S focuses (usually) on one central character, the hero, who undergoes his trials and suffers but comes out on top because he’s the hero, dammit. Conan of Cimmeria became King of Aquilonia but quit when it got too boring. He killed dinosaurs, discovered the ruins of ancient civilizations, met disadvantaged deities and more. Wagner’s Kane, on the other hand, was cursed by an insane god to live forever, and live forever he did among forgotten civilizations, brewing wars and fighting the machinations of dark gods, all for his own gain in the end. Kane was a Chessmaster (WARNING! WARNING! THAT LINK GOES TO TVTROPES.COM – if you don’t know what it is, do NOT CLICK unless you’re prepared to spend several hours not accomplishing anything) in the most basic sense, twisting everything and everyone toward his own ultimate goals.

In the past year or two, I have seen the tiniest hints of a revival of the S&S genre. I read Andy Remic’s Clockwork Vampire Chronicles and those definitely have the flavor, and a few other books have been described that way as well, though I’ve yet to have the chance to read them. I hope to see more of it, because I see fiction drifting away from the hero. With the success of George Martin’s Ice & Fire we’re starting to see more muddled, political fantasy which doesn’t really have a hero. Now, I like Mr. Martin’s work a lot, but it still makes me long for a real hero. Unfortunately (SPOILERS, SPECULATION) I believe that hero was Rhaegar Targaryen, and he died at the Trident.

Now, to tie it all back to me like any good narcissistic blogger: The Arbiter Codex is not strictly swords & sorcery. Elegy could be classified as such, because it is solely D’Arden’s story. Others may not possess all of the necessary qualifiers, but one thing’s for sure, that heart of adventure – strange places, strange things, and the struggle of a hero against impossible odds – will continue to be there.

Writing Update

After my unsuccessful attempts at writing a worthy sequel to Elegy earlier this year, I took November off to work on a science fiction NaNo project and sort of clear my head. During that time, it became clear to me – for a number of reasons – that in order to be successful this time, I was going to have to do some outlining.

Normally, I do not outline. I just start with an idea and see where the story carries me. However, after spending nearly 75,000 words chasing an idea that simply didn’t pan out, I realized that another effort of similar magnitude that went nowhere was going to put me off writing for a long time.

Outlining is a strange beast, but I found that Scrivener is really helping me to keep everything in order. I have a folder which is full of nothing but short scene lines on the “index cards” on the corkboard, with short names that remind me what they are. They’re in the order I decided on, and they’re really only brief highlights of plot points. The story itself is expanding between them – I’m right now writing a sub-plot that was nowhere on my outline, but will serve to both get the story rolling and provide an obstacle right off the bat.

If I’m not too much mistaken, this version of Arbiter Codex 2 is going to be long. I’m standing at 7600 words in two and a half chapters, I’m excited about the plot that I’ve devised, and there’s still a lot of highlights left to go. Like… almost all of them.

My intent is to get it right this time. It’s going to take longer than I expected, but it’s going to be good, and I’m going to be proud of it at the end. That’s the goal, and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with everyone when it’s completed.

Who knows… maybe now that I’ve figured out an outlining process that actually seems to work for me, I’ll get more reliable output! That would sure be nice.

On a side note, I am now reading Once We Were Like Wolves by M. Todd Gallowglas, and there will be a review up once I’ve finished it!

 

Eisengoth: The Arbiter (4)

Murderous. Relentless. All-consuming. Implacable. Merciless. This is the enemy we face. Not the daemon, nor the man, but corruption itself is our enemy; all others are merely manifestations.

Our enemy is perfect in a way which can never be imagined. It is perfect evil: seductive, cunning, ruthless in its perfection. It is a force of nature. Would a man stand against a typhoon and will the rain to stop? Would he put his strength against the base of the mountain to move it?

This is the task given to the Arbiter. Corruption has no morals, no thought, no mortality. It simply is, and it is the Arbiter who must prevent it from devouring our world.

If the enemy is perfect, so too must we be perfect. We must defeat relentless corruption by being more relentless, defeat implacable corruption with implacable wills, overcome deadly cunning with our own. We must be a wall of iron against the seduction of the shadows. Our minds and purpose must be clear.

Our sole advantage is reason, which disappears in those touched by the crimson light of corruption. That deadly darkness eats away at sanity, at thought, existing only in its purest form in the daemon. In men, we may defeat corruption by being more thoughtful, more rational, and more intelligent, but all of those will serve nothing against the daemon.

The Arbiter’s only hope is to expect nothing less than perfection from himself, his peers, and his students. Any flaw in his iron will, any misstep in his sword technique will result in a lingering, painful death, and perhaps that of his fellows.

For a man to err is a consequence of life. For the Arbiter, it is death.

– “Demanding Perfection”, Master Nurem Frejar (1121-1198). The Arbiter’s Codex, pp. 40-41

Eisengoth: The Arbiter (3)

To walk within the world, and yet remain above it: such is the destiny of the Arbiter.

We have been chosen, whether by chance, by fate, or by design, to be the vanguard against the darkest things, in the darkest places, in the darkest times. We are of humanity, but we are both more, and we are less. No longer are we sons and daughters, but warriors against an implacable foe.

A daemon will not spare a squalling child, nor an aged woman with great wisdom; it consumes both with the same voracity. Likewise, it consumes both the patriot and the coward, regardless of their heritage.

Mortals fall like wheat beneath the scything daemon’s fangs, and neither wealth, nor status of birth, nor courage nor any other virtue held in great esteem changes it.

A wise man once said: to defeat the enemy, we must first understand him. As the daemon makes no distinction between men, so too must the Arbiter make no distinction. Whether it be in mortal affairs, or the horrors of corruption, the Arbiter must stand apart and make his judgment based on the facts alone.

– “Above the World”, Master Nurem Frejar (1121-1198). The Arbiter’s Codex, pp. 14-15 (one of the oldest surviving texts, preserved for more than 4,000 years)

Eisengoth: The Arbiter (2)

Men are unjust.

Power, wealth, greed, lust – all of these are the failings most commonly and vigorously pursued into death by men. All of these are impediments to justice. Is it any wonder, then, that men are unjust?

The Arbiter’s work is above any law created by men, for without the Arbiter’s tireless efforts, no law of men – indeed, no men at all – would even exist. The Arbiter moves among the realms of mortals but does not interfere with those laws, for his is a higher calling.

There will come a time, however, when the Arbiter will encounter those resistant to his calling. They will impede him, hinder him, bring his work to a halt with their laws and rules and their abuses of power. When this time comes, the Arbiter’s mind must be always on justice.​

Each confluence of events has many facets. At times, there are those who are in the wrong. For those, justice requires swift action to right the wrong and punish the transgressers. This is perhaps the simplest determination of justice.

But what, you may ask, of those events when no one is clearly in the wrong? ​Men can be misled, lied to, manipulated or misinformed by other men, with no true evil or corruption which would require the Arbiter’s intervention. When these men hinder the Arbiter’s true work, what is to be done?​

For the Arbiter, justice must be derived from agreement. When he is in conflict with another, justice can be found only in balance, and mutual concessions that bring about the desired result.

It must be noted, however, that when the laws of men are in conflict with one another or with the Arbiter’s true purpose, the Arbiter must be willing to discard them in favor of the work. If no agreement can be reached, the Arbiter must consider his own work as the highest good, overriding all others; for without the Arbiter, no men would exist to create conflicting laws or refuse to come to agreement.

Should the law of men prevent the Arbiter from his task, laws must be considered null and void. Should any man refuse to come to mutual agreement when faced first with reason, and then with the power of the Arbiter, they must be assumed to be at least irrational, or at worst dangerous. The Arbiter should be certain to examine closely for corruption, for though men can be foolhardy, they are rarely true fools.

– “The Problem of Justice”, Master Myriana Drayk (3980-4124). The Arbiter’s Codex, pp. 90-93

Eisengoth: The Arbiter (1)

Neutrality

From whence came the Arbiter? What countryman declares that their pursuit must be in the right, for none less than the Arbiter himself makes their land his home? Such power could stand against legions of the dark things which bring death to the greatest of men, and so their cause must always be the right.

In darkness, in danger, men rule through fear and power. These are the tools of the warlord, the despot and the dictator. Threats of harm carried out with no more thought or care than the crushing of an insect quickly bring even the man of great strength to heel.

An Arbiter claims no home, no land, no family. Their ties are to the Order, to one another; to defend the bastion of purity against the tireless assault of corruption. To pronounce that one of such power defers to one ruler, instead of all rulers; bows at the feet of a false god, rather than standing in defiance against the dark gods; declares that one realm is stronger or better suited to rule than another is to bring all one’s personal power to bear for the evil of corruption.

Only by standing apart from the world may the Arbiter truly influence it.

– “On Neutrality”, Grand Master Igram Korva (4312-4499). The Arbiter’s Codex, pp. 189-190