Dungeons & Dragons on Discord!

I think I have officially thrown in the towel on board game design. With work days being longer than they were in Guelph, and not having my Guelph game design friends here in Saskatoon, I just don’t feel up to it anymore.

And I’ve found a really great group of people to play Dungeons and Dragons with, so we get together 1-2 times per month. I’ve been playing a gnomish wizard and enjoying the experience quite a bit! I don’t normally play spell casters, but had a fun idea for a cowardly wizard who only wants to have a store to sell magical items that he makes. He’s grown more brazen as he gains power, but still prefers it if other people do the heavy lifting. That said, one of the players called him the MVP of one of our previous games because he dished out serious amounts of pain with a lot of burning hands spells!

But I miss DMing. Our DM here in Saskatoon is good, but his game is pretty old-school. It’s been 100% dungeon crawls up to 4th level, and we got rail-roaded into staying there longer than we would have liked.

So I got to thinking that I want to run something as well. As often happens, it started with a map…

Kingdom of the Sun

Nothing fancy, just a small slice of a world, as is my usual way of starting out. When I thought about actually running the game, I got an idea for a split campaign… starting players out with level 15 heroes of the realm who are investigating something peculiar. The Forest of Woes sounded like a nice place to start, and I began generating ideas for NPCs in the Lordship of Invenny, and a kernel of a quest popped in my brain.

Here we are, a few weeks later, and this map is just one of several. The entire first adventure for the level 15 characters is planned out, and I’m happy with how it came along. The plan is that they’ll play one session as the heroes to learn about the setting and back story, and then think about what they want to do to create their own level 1 characters who will start off far to the north of this location. I’ve even got some ideas of how that second session will start out, but it will be much more free form. I prefer it when the players help me discover the world, rather than having a campaign on rails that they need to follow.

I popped the idea online, with the added idea that Patrons who support me at $3/month would get a guaranteed spot at the virtual table. I didn’t get any bites on that, but that’s okay. I’m just looking forward to DMing again! But if anyone ever does decide to back me, the funds will go back into my book writing.

There’s some debate about the DM-for-hire model, but I figure people used to pay $5 every two weeks to sit at my table when I ran a game in Guelph, so $3/month for a game wouldn’t be too much of an ask. Could be some people will decide to donate later, but even if no one does, I’m feeling energized and happy, forging another world in my universe! I’m going to ask the players if they’d be okay with recording the session as a podcast, so you might just be hearing about this some more later!

Beta Readers

I have completed three passes on A Queen’s Edict, and now feel comfortable having beta readers take a look at it, before sending the manuscript out for editing. The story currently stands at 100,000 words, and I would like feedback in a month, if possible.

If you are interested in reading it, please get in touch with me ASAP. I already have one beta reader lined up, but could use feedback from another one or two people.

When reading, I would ask you to keep track of things that worked for you, and things that didn’t. Don’t worry, I’m under no delusions that it’s a perfect story, and this is the best time to find things that need tweaking, before it heads off to the editor. Honesty is the best policy, so I’m not looking for someone who will read it and just say, “It’s great!”

If it had a movie rating, I’d probably say it’s PG-13, same as my other books. Some violence, sexual stuff is alluded to and not shown, LGBTQ+ themes. You don’t have to have read my first series to jump into this one. It’s 400 years in the future, so almost everything’s fresh.

You can either get in touch with me through social media (MeWe…I’m no longer on Facebook or Twitter), or with a comment on this post (unless I have to close it due to spam bots, like all my other posts).

Review: Monsters, by Steve Turnbull

Monsters, by Steve Turnbull
Genre: Near-Future Urban Fantasy
Rating: 4 stars

This is one of the longest books I’ve read in a while, and although it has a hefty word count, it never felt long. There were a lot of characters, but not so many that I couldn’t keep track of them. The pacing is excellent, with each character getting a short scene before moving on to the next. 

The evolution of the main character, Chloe Dark, was interesting to see unfold. Her motivations were clear and realistic, given the fantastic situation she found herself plunged into. 

It’s only too easy to see the world falling into this dark future, if the human race experienced a fracturing where some people mutated into “freaks.” 

The only part I had trouble with – and I understand the motivation – is that the ending was weak, leaving a lot of questions unanswered, and leaving it feeling like there definitely needs to be more. But it wasn’t as bad as when authors just end a book with no sense of climax, assuming you’ll continue reading. Usually with a first book in series, I prefer a clean ending, but in this case I enjoyed the first book enough that I’ll be looking for the sequel anyway. 

Amazon Ads

With three novels out, and the next one getting closer, I figured it was time to start advertising the fact that these books exist.

I’ve heard good things about Amazon Ads, so figured I’d start there. How it works is, you determine how much you’re willing to spend per day, and how many days. You select a “bid” for your ad to show up. If your ad shows up on a page with lower priced ads, you don’t necessarily pay the full bid price. If someone clicks your ad, you pay.

Attempt #1

Not knowing anything about advertising, I went with a $5 daily limit, and a bid price of 15 cents. Amazon recommended 13 cents, so I figured I’d try slightly higher.

Over the next few days the ad made “200 impressions” – not entirely sure how it’s measured if someone looked at the ad. Maybe they just stopped scrolling on the page while my ad was visible. Who knows? Anyway, I received 1 click, and paid 6 cents.

Attempt #2

I added a couple words to the ad: Action & Adventure! The ads are limited for number of characters, so I wanted to draw attention to the theme of the book straight away. I kept the same daily limit of $5, but upped the bid to 20 cents to see if it made a difference in how often it would be seen.

I was surprised that the ad only had 145 impressions, but realized it might have been because fewer people were shopping the week after all the Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals. Also, no clicks meant I didn’t spend any money on it, so no harm done.

Attempt #3

I tried something completely different this time. I dropped the brief blurb and put in star rankings along with snippets of reviews left on Amazon. I did a combination of 5- and 4-star ratings, since A Noble’s Quest is rated 4 stars. Didn’t want to overdo it with all 5-star reviews.

Unfortunately, the ad was refused! Since the snippets I used were fragments (again, not a lot of space) they didn’t like that.

Attempt #4

Christmas is coming soon, so I thought I’d go for that angle. I’ve had some success at conventions selling to people who have a family member who enjoys fantasy, so why not point out there’s a new series out there? I also liked the “Christmas is coming!” line, because it calls back to Game of Thrones’ “Winter is coming.” I upped the bid again to 25 cents, hoping that might get more impressions.

Advertising success was found and there was much rejoicing! I got a click, and that person not only bought A Noble’s Quest, but hunted down the rest of the trilogy to get all three books in paperback! Best 15 cents I ever spent in my life!

Attempt #5

I took one more swing at the Christmas angle, hoping for some last minute shoppers. I increased the bid to 30 cents, and it didn’t change much.

There were 195 impressions, and 2 clicks that cost 15 cents total, with no sales. But that’s okay. With the outstanding month I’ve had, it’s all good!

Conclusion

There are services out there that cost a lot of money for questionable returns. From Book Bub, which costs hundreds of dollars, to less expensive mailing list builders that hemorrhage people over time. I tried a mailing list builder for $40+ early this year, and although I jumped from 152 subscribers to 563, that number has dropped to less than 472 now. I also don’t see an increase in sales above what I used to get when I announce new releases through the mailing list. The only thing it seems to help with is when I have free promotions, so I won’t be doing mailing list builders anymore. If people are actually interested in me as an author, they can hunt down my mailing list on this website.

Amazon’s system of paying per click seems pretty amazing in comparison. With four clicks over four ad campaigns, I sold three books. I don’t expect to continue seeing those sorts of rates, but even if I get a lot of clicks with no sales for a while, those three sales have made it worthwhile for a long, long time.

I’m going to try increasing my daily limit, since I’ve never gotten anywhere close to $5/day, and see if that increases the number of impressions, which have remained fairly stable over time, even with the increase in bidding price.

If you’re struggling with being seen, and bring in enough for a coffee or two per month like I was, I suggest trying Amazon Ads. It’s low risk, and if you get some bites, it pays for itself very quickly. Keep in mind, this was for my paperback books, which give a slightly higher return. Not sure I would try this with e-books, since A Noble’s Quest is priced fairly low, and I’m not ready to do sales of the full Empire’s Foundation trilogy, since it’s a bargain at under $10 for all three books in one e-book, and I don’t have anything else for people to bounce to after that. Maybe once I have a second series out, I could see myself promoting the omnibus version, but for now I’ll continue advertising book 1.

Slowly getting back up to speed

Well, things are starting to settle down now. After the great Expo (see previous post), meeting a local group of writers, and applying for an independent artist grant, I feel like I’ve got almost everything out of the way to start making headway on A Queen’s Edict. Don’t get me wrong, I wrote some this month. Just not as much as I’m used to, when I’m writing at full speed.

There are still a couple things I need to do… I have a talk I’m giving to my daughter’s class coming up soon, which should be loads of fun! Apparently my daughter told her teacher that I write books, and so she approached me at “meet the teacher” night and asked if I’d talk to her class. Pretty exciting! Also, I need to get my books in the Saskatoon public library, and MacNally books. Finally, ACX is misbehaving and not letting me check my audiobook production of A Noble’s Quest, so I have no idea how that’s going.

But once those final pieces fall into place, I should be able to finish this first draft. It’s taken me so long to write, with the long break this summer for the move, that I think I should be able to go through it straight away because most of the book will be fresh to my eyes.

Finally, friends in Guelph have launched their first Kickstarter under the name “Broken Things” and it’s doing really well! The game, Builders!, is a deck builder where the idea is to hire workers to construct skyscrapers while also sabotaging your opponents. It’s loads of fun, and even though my wife never plays those sorts of games, she tried it one night and loved it. It’s great fun for everyone, and if you’re into games at all, you owe it to yourself to check this one out!

A Queen’s Edict art, Empire’s Foundation trilogy volume

This month I revealed the sketch for the cover art for A Queen’s Edict! Harvey Bunda has once again done a wonderful job of capturing the character and has brought Grace Strongblade to life. Patrons got the first look, and a few days later I did a public reveal on MeWe.

“But Ryan! What about Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, etc?”

Glad you asked. With all the privacy and data scraping concerns going on across social media, I’ve deleted both my Facebook and Twitter accounts. While Google Plus hasn’t been caught doing anything, the fact that we don’t see how they monetize their site made me feel pretty certain that they’re using our data somehow… but I guess they wanted to jump on top of the problem before it blew up, because they put together a video talking about how they use the data to target ads on sites like YouTube, but they don’t actually give the data to any third parties. So the advertisers have no idea, it’s just Google handling it all internally. So I might share stuff on Google Plus still, but as for Facebook and Twitter, I’m not going back. Honestly, I shared the promo video to show off the cover art on Google Plus, and no one even saw it. For whatever reason, despite people showing interest in the reveal, the actual reveal was swallowed up by the Google algorithm monster. So what’s the point of posting there if posts people want to see never make it to their page?

Honestly, I really like MeWe. I feel a lot happier knowing that anything my friends post comes across my Home page. Certainly, there are fewer people there right now, but I feel like there’s room for growth. G+ has been stagnant for years.. all the followers I found, I found shortly after starting, when people could share circles of people with similar interests. Since then, it’s been flat. Yes, I still have interesting conversations with people there, but I want a platform where I can easily find people, and other people can easily find me. For instance, the Genre Fiction group I started for writers and fans has been adding people steadily. At the start of the month, we were under 70 people, and now we’re up to 89. Not staggering numbers, I know, but it’s growth. And there have been a few people taking part in our weekly writing event, where we share snippets of our writing based on a theme that people vote on. So I’m happy with it!

Anyway, back to the art… half way through the month Harvey sent me a sneak peek video, showcasing the cover art with some filler text. I’m so, so happy with how it turned out. I gave him some lines from the first draft to put into the video, and he sent it to me so I could post it to my own YouTube account.

If you just want to see the art all on its own without the flashy video, that’ll be posted to my Patreon account.


In other news, work continues on Wizards’ War. I’ve nearly got a finished 2’x2′ board, and I’ve been teaching a group of friends the game, so they can teach others when they go to Origins and GenCon this summer! If you’re at either one, look for Broken Things and say ‘hi.’ They’ve got some great games they’re working on! (I really like their deck building game)


Finally, I’ve released the full Empire’s Foundation trilogy as a single volume on Amazon for the low, low price of $9.99! The books in the series have all come down in price, too.

Why?

Because I got some great news! If you’d like to find out that great news, you know where to follow me. It’s not being posted publicly, so if you’d like to know, I’ll tell you in private. But I’ve received some fantastic personal news, and am sharing my good mood by dropping prices across the board.

Coffee, art, work, MeWe

This month I tried out a new fundraising platform that a friend pointed me towards. Ko-fi is a site that lets people give small one-time donations to someone. If you really want, you can even buy someone multiple cups of coffee at a time. There’s no fees for using the site itself, from either the person giving the donation, or those receiving, although PayPal does take a bit. I chipped in a coffee to the makers of the site after receiving 8 coffees in two days, because it’s nice to give back, especially when they don’t demand anything in return.

Now, the “buying me a coffee” thing is a bit of a ruse, because of course that money isn’t being used for coffee. I state right on my page that I’m saving up for the art for A Queen’s Edict. And I’m really close to getting there, already! The majority of the money I’ve saved has come from book sales, with donations from Patreon and Ko-fi helping, too!

I’ve added a little button on the right side of the screen, so if you ever feel like kicking in a one-time donation, it’s right there. As an added perk (?) I take a selfie thanking you for the coffee to share with you and show the world how awesome you are. Don’t believe me? 

So there you have it. Donate a coffee, get a picture of me thanking you. You can forget you ever saw it, doodle obscenities on it, print it out and burn it… the choice is yours!


Work continues on book 4! There’s more departures from the original D&D campaign, with added scenes to tie everything together better and ramp up the pressure on the characters. I’m trying out a new format with this one that’s worked out pretty nicely thus far. The three protagonists get their scenes in the same order, every chapter. Grace starts it out, Sardo is in the middle, and Trai wraps it up… it’s in their birth order. I don’t know if I’ll stick to that through the whole series. There will probably be times when I want one character at a particular point in time, and it won’t make sense to keep that ordering. In fact, I hadn’t expected it to work out as well as it has throughout 85% of this book. It might fall apart at some point, but I’m hoping to make it through the whole book with it.

I think my biggest worry was that it would feel clunky. For instance, in previous books, sometimes I’d end a chapter with a character, and want to continue on with that character straight away for the pacing of the novel. Some chapters a character wouldn’t have their POV come into play at all. So I like this because it forces me to sit down with each character and not play favourites. Everyone has a voice, solving that main criticism of A Noble’s Quest that the characters felt a little flat (although I like to think they come alive more in A Wizard’s Gambit and A Hero’s Birth… I’m just starting this new series out on the right foot).


There’s a new social media platform called MeWe. It’s pretty good! I’m thinking about switching over to it as my main social media site. I’ve already set up a Genre Fiction writing and reading group, a personal writing group, and a personal game design group. Quite a few people are checking it out, so I’ve dropped Facebook and am limiting Google Plus to mostly sharing posts about writing and game design, like what I used Facebook for. If you want the more personal side of my posts, you’ll have to follow me on MeWe.


Work on the audiobook for A Noble’s Quest continues! I’ve been listening to the chapters as the voice actor finishes them, and I’m really happy with his work. This is his first audiobook, and he’s really knocking it out of the park.


Lastly, I’ve been working on Wizards’ War. The playing cards came in, and they look great! I’ll be using them at SkyCon Light on April 28th in Kitchener. Additionally, I’ve been working on revamping some things for the game, and have printed off a new poster for the latest board, and some additional pieces. I didn’t have time to get the new board set up fully for SkyCon, but that’s okay. I’ll get it done in lots of time for both Origins and GenCon. Thanks again to my friends who are bringing it with them to let people try it!

 

Toxophiles

So this month was pretty awesome. Not only has my writing started making money for the first time since I started writing, but a fan group appeared on Facebook.

Seriously.

When I was invited to join my own fan group… no words seem adequate. It was surreal seeing “Toxophiles United” and watching the group grow. At the time of publishing, it’s up to 15 likes.


On top of that, Adriel Wiggins blasted through 4 of my titles and reviewed them all on her website at the same time as she posted an interview I did with her. It was fun, and I recommend reading it if you haven’t yet! If you don’t want to go through all the reviews, here’s the short version:

A Noble’s Quest: 5 stars

1100 Before Gods’ War: 5 stars (and her favourite love story)

Demon Invasion: 4 stars (-1 star for awful demon names… seriously. Who writes a story with that many named demons? I knew this was a bad idea from the start, even if I like the story :P)

A Wizard’s Gambit: 5 stars

All of that? That’s pure author fuel! If you’ve read my books and haven’t left a review yet, those things keep me going. Plus they help other people find my stories. So head on over to Amazon and/or Goodreads and let people know what you think!


New business cards! I gave away so many of them at the first two conventions of the year that I had to get more. I’m not 100% sure they’re worth having. For the amount that you spend on them (I only pick them up when I get a good deal through VistaPrint), and the number you give out with no bites, it sometimes feels like they’re not a wise investment. But at Kitchener Comic Con, one person who took a card checked out book 1 through Amazon, and liked it enough to get the sequel. I’m sure other people have used the cards, too, but maybe just enough to break even.

After giving out all those A Noble’s Quest cards, I thought I’d move on to the next book in the series. Once they’re gone, A Hero’s Birth is next. I can’t imagine going through 250 business cards faster than I can publish books, so this strategy might just continue on for the rest of my writing career. Gotta catch ’em all, or something.


I received payment from Amazon for January, and I have to say… I’m really happy with it. See, I made as much in one month as I did all last year through Amazon sales! Now, before you think, “Whoa! You must be rolling in it!” let me just say I didn’t make a heck of a lot last year… just $40. But still, I’m competing against myself, and only myself, so I’m really excited about this, especially seeing that I’ve continued to have some sales through February and March.


Work continues on both A Queen’s Edict and Wizards’ War

The book is closing in on 85,000 words. I’m really happy with how it’s progressing.

And I’m almost done the cards for the game. I’ll be bringing it to SkyCon Light in Kitchener on April 28th, so I need to get those cards ordered soon!

SkyCon 2017