A Hero’s Birth, available now!

Title: A Hero’s Birth

Retailers: Amazon [Kindle] [Paperback]

Genre: Epic Fantasy

 


Blurb:

After more than four months abroad, Eliza, Thomas, and Sarentha return home in the face of dire warnings and sweeping changes in the empire. They go their separate ways to reflect on their lives and look for ways to move forward. New allies and enemies emerge, and grave challenges face the up-and-coming heroes. They will need to come together, combining their wits and strengths, to overcome ancient foes. In the balance is the world of Illuma: will it enter an age of light, or will it plunge into everlasting darkness, ruled by demons and the undead?


Reviews:

Jason Berry, reviewer at The Bone Breaker rated it 5 stars and said:

What I loved the most about this book is that our three heroes start off on three separate quests/journeys, making their ultimate reunion that much sweeter. You will see Thomas begin to fulfill his destiny, Sarentha’s becoming a dragon hunter, and Eliza’s growth as a leader. And the ending… Whoa! Man, it is difficult to write this review without giving anything away. I better just say this:

Toxopeus has certainly grown as an author. If you like your fantasy filled with intrigue, suspense, and mystery, then this book is for you!

Andy Goldman, author of The Only City Left rated it 4 stars and said:

There’s definitely fun to be had in seeing where the story takes them, as the trilogy has clearly been building up to this big finale. For my taste, this single book could have been a trilogy in its own right.

Bradley Rogers rated it 5 stars and said:

Fantastic read. Riveting from beginning to end. Characters developed beautifully in this book. The world that has been created is absolutely amazing. If you enjoyed the other books in the series this will be a most delightful read. Excelent conclusion to a series. Absolute must read.


I’m quite pleased with how this series has come along. Perhaps it’s not a surprise, but I feel like the books just get better, the deeper into the series I go. While A Noble’s Quest has a strong Dungeons & Dragons feel to it, the characters are more independent by A Hero’s Birth. There’s nothing wrong with the D&D feel, but it felt good having the characters off and doing their own things, allowing me to really focus in on each of them.

I do agree with Andy Goldman that I could’ve taken more time in some of the locations, but with the book already over twice the length of A Noble’s Quest, I felt some brevity was in order. And there’s a reason I’m calling the next set the “Strongblade Siblings series.” Calling this set of Empire’s Foundation books a trilogy from the outset sort of pinned me down to just three books, where it could have probably been 4. While I say there will be four books in the next series, it could easily grow to more, depending on how events unfold. I would very much like to keep each book closer to 100,000 words, so they don’t take as long to bring out as A Hero’s Birth. This book is a beast, at 160,000 words. But don’t worry – I’m not going to slow down too much! I do still enjoy a fast-paced story!

If you’d like to read all the stories in my recommended reading order, here’s the list (short stories are only available for e-readers):

A Noble’s Quest

1100 Before Gods’ War

Demon Invasion

A Wizard’s Gambit

Dawn: A dwarven creation story

A Hero’s Birth

All of these titles are also available through Kindle Unlimited if you have it. Enjoy!

Review: Black Magic

Black Magic (Black Records Book 1), by Mark Feenstra

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4 stars

Alex Black is a mage who, while capable of things that would impress an ordinary person, isn’t particularly powerful among her own kind. She does a bit of consulting work, but it’s hard to find jobs when you’re part of a secretive subset of the population. When she’s hired to find a magical murderer, she might have taken on a job that’s too much for her to handle.

Set in Vancouver, it was refreshing to read something set in Canada. The idea that fae (a term given to all magical creatures) live among us in not-small numbers is fun. Seeing how Alex interacts with them, and mundane humans, acting like a bridge between worlds adds to the complexity of her character. The pacing was excellent, with plenty of drama and action to keep my head in the story.

My only quibble (and it’s a small one) was that the magic seemed uneven. At the start of the book, a big deal is made of using magic. It has some unpleasant aftereffects, and can’t be used for long without draining the mage. Replenishing magical energy is not trivial for Alex, taking a very long time to re-energize without aids. She spends much of the book tired or even exhausted, yet continues to cast spells. By the end of the book, she’s casting quite a few more spells, and holding them for longer periods of time. Given that it was stated earlier in the book that it takes a great deal of studying to improve your control over magic, it felt like she was gaining strength at an unnaturally quick pace. Also, I can’t figure out why mages would use wards if they’re so easy to disable. Or maybe Alex is just very good at that sort of magic.

Either way, the plot of the book was good, with a few surprises along the way. The characters were entertaining, with almost everyone you meet having a deeper background that unfolds over the course of the story.

I liked the eventual pairing of the two characters who work together at the end. While Alex says she couldn’t have succeeded without her partner, if you reverse the camera, there’s no way in hell he could have dealt with the problems. Non-magic people just aren’t a threat to mages at all. But her partner isn’t useless, either. It’s nice to see two characters who both have their virtues, instead of having one come off as useless while the other saves the day.

I’d recommend this book if you’re looking for something fun to read, and I’m looking forward to reading the next book in this series!

 

Promotion success

Success is one of those tricky concepts, where different people have different ideas. For some people it’s all about making money. I don’t understand those people. Money is okay, but aside from covering the basics, it doesn’t bring happiness. Look at Trump. That guy’s the most miserable douchebag I’ve ever seen.

I digress…

From Aug 3rd – 7th, my new novella Demon Invasion was free of charge. This coincided with a promotion through Patty Jansen’s website, where over 100 authors made their genre fiction books available for free.

I want to share with you how the promotion went, and this post is going to be long and full of pictures, because I want to dissect it and try to figure out what worked. This isn’t an entirely altruistic sharing, because I’d like to know what worked so I can duplicate this success in the future.

Day 1

If you’re not familiar with it, Amazon allows you to run promotions with their “Promote and advertise button” which is located in your “Bookshelf” (see Fig. 1).

promo1

Fig 1. Promote and advertise button shown beside each book listed in your Bookshelf.

On the next page, look in the Run a Price Promotion section and select the Free Book Promotion. You can choose a span of 5 days to make your book free, and Amazon will promote your free book for all to see on a page that is dedicated to books that are in the Free Book Promotion. Without any advertising, I got 18 downloads for Demon Invasion on the first day with JUST Amazon promoting the book, and one post from me on Google Plus, which got a handful of +1’s. The last I saw, it was rated #56. People would have to dig to find it, if they were looking at top downloads in the free section.

Day 2

Demon Invasion broke the Top 40, and found another 14 readers. Again, no advertising. One post on G+. At this point, I started really liking the Amazon promotion, so I decided to try using the same free promotion on my short story 1100 Before Gods’ War, and my short story collection Dawn: A dwarven creation story. It was too late to add them for that day, so I figured I’d run each one for three days, Friday – Sunday.

My reason for wanting to have all three of these free at the same time was to tease apart different effects, to see what makes a real difference in downloads. All three books look very different from each other:

The cover for 1100 Before Gods’ War is my favourite of the bunch. Harvey Bunda created it from scratch, and I love the detail. I’ve had several people comment that they love the art.

You can probably guess that I did the cover for Dawn myself. It looks amateurish (I’m seriously considering getting a “real” cover for it). I’ve had no sales on Amazon for this collection, which doesn’t surprise me, given the cover.

The flames for the Demon Invasion cover came from my cousin’s place, when she had us over for a bonfire. I snapped the photo, and Harvey manipulated it to accentuate the fiery horns on the top, define the lower face, and add eyes. I did the text myself. I’ve had both positive and negative feedback on this one.

So Friday would be the first day with all three available, with no promotion through Patty Jansen’s website.

Day 3

Downloads increased more than triple, but I confounded the test by being impulsive. I posted that all three were available on Google Plus and Facebook, and when I had over 100 views on the post on Facebook in short order, Facebook asked me to promote the post. For just $7 they would make sure 500+ people saw the post over three days. I figured that was low risk and went ahead with it. That first day, 113 people saw the post through the promotion.

What’s more, a friend on Google Plus saw my post about paying Facebook and wanted to prove that Google Plus was better. So he shared my pinned post about my writing, which got shared around a few times. How many of the 78 downloads were due to Facebook, Google Plus, or Amazon? I’m not sure. Assuming Amazon did the same 14-18, that leaves 60-64 downloads unaccounted for. Facebook tells you when someone clicks on a link in your post, and by the end of Sunday night, there were only 2 clicks. Did people Google the books because of the post, and not click through directly? Maybe … thus the confound. I just don’t know. But it’s possible that as Demon Invasion rose up in the ranks on Friday, it got into the top 20, and more people saw it when searching for free e-books to read.

But perhaps the most telling evidence for success came from …

Day 4

Patty’s Promo started on Saturday, and that’s when things went bananas (see Fig. 2).

promo2

Fig 2. Bananas

130+ e-books got marked down to “Free” and all the authors blitzed the Internet. To participate in one of Patty’s Promos, you’re expected to hit all the avenues you have access to: social media (Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc), mailing lists, blog posts, Thunderclaps, carrier pigeons, smoke signals …

When I took part in one of these free promos back in January, 1100 Before Gods’ War hit #1… with 52 downloads on one day. So you can see why I was getting excited with the 78 downloads on Friday. I can’t begin to tell you how my brain exploded on Saturday when I saw the downloads climbing. I would update the graph, go type a message, come back, and have 5+ more downloads. It was insane. I didn’t hit #1 in my category for Demon Invasion (Fantasy Adventure Fiction), but it hovered around #2 for a long time. If it did hit #1, I missed it, as I wasn’t available to check compulsively like I might normally do. Even so, I don’t really care. With 750+ downloads (some people getting 2 or 3 ebooks – more on that in a second), I’m ecstatic. And from the sounds of it, other authors in the promotion are experiencing the same sorts of numbers.

That is extremely telling. If left to my own devices, I never would have hit that spike on Saturday. I think the free promotion through Amazon, social media sharing, and the Facebook ad might have continued to keep my numbers up a bit, but nothing like what kind of traffic I got thanks to Patty’s Promo.

It’s ‘uge! (Sorry. Last Trump reference. I swear.)

Day 5

At this point, I didn’t care what happened. I knew there was no way I could compete with Saturday’s numbers. Demon Invasion was sitting at #4, 1100 Before Gods’ War was #7, and Dawn was somewhere in the 30’s. Even with the smaller number of downloads, Demon Invasion continued to be around #400 OVERALL in the free Kindle category. As another author pointed out, that’s amazing when considering I’m a self-pub author going up against all the other authors in the world, pro and otherwise.

I did a bunch of work around the house, and just let the promotion do what it had to do.

It still did great (see Fig 3).

Wow. Much download.

Fig 3. Wow. Much download.

Facebook Ad Breakdown

I experienced “buyers remorse” the instant I accepted to pay for a Facebook ad. I’ve heard over and over again that ads don’t work for unknown authors. However, the $7 cost sounded low risk, and I’ll try just about anything once.

Fig. 4. What I got for $7.

Fig. 4. What I got for $7.

So what exactly did I receive for my small risk? Small returns (see Fig. 4). Two people clicked links in the post, one person liked my writing page because of the post, and some people who saw it liked it, but apparently not enough to click the links, for a total of 16 engagements. The “People Reached” number looks impressive, but that just means that people saw it and continued to scroll on by without paying it too much attention.

But then, how many ads do you click on in FB? For me, the answer is None. I think most people are the same, not trusting FB security features.

Verdict: I won’t use Facebook ads again. I get way more page likes by signing up with Claudette Melanson’s seasonal giveaways, which only costs $3. By having two people who enter the contest win my ebooks, that’s the equivalent number of clicks.

Fun Facts

  1. Overall, I had 830 free downloads over a 5-day period. I’ll bet that’s more downloads than I’ve had in my entire 5 years of being self-published.
  2. 777 of those (93.6%) were for Demon Invasion.
  3. 87.8% of downloads came through Amazon.com.
  4. I had downloads from co.uk, .de, .fr, .in, .ca, .com.br, and .com.au. The ones in bold I had never had downloads from before. I hope the German, French, Indian, and Brazilian readers enjoy my work! (and the rest of you, too, of course)

Take home messages

Fig 4. a) Pretty even number of downloads for 1100 BGW and Dawn. b) A sale post-promo!

Fig 5. a) Pretty even number of downloads for 1100 BGW and Dawn. b) A sale post-promo!

  1. Free promotions through Amazon will get you some downloads, all by themselves. If your numbers are flat, maybe this will get you some “exposure.” Don’t count on it. Some people only read what they can find for free.
  2. Free trumps cover art (see Fig 5, a). Across all markets, there were roughly equal downloads of 1100 BGW and Dawn. The only reason Dawn didn’t rise higher up in the charts is because it was in a tougher category (1100 BGW’s main category is Greek & Roman Mythology, Dawn’s is Teen & Young Adult (Not sure why. Maybe because I set the age range from 14 – 18+? None of my other books have an age range on them. I’ve deleted that to see if it changes.)). These two weren’t in any promos, so the only way people were finding them were through Amazon’s free promotion website and social media. As you can see, their download numbers are much, much lower than Demon Invasion.
  3. Multi-author sales are the fastest way to find people. Now, bear in mind that other authors were reporting the same numbers as me. This means that some people were downloading a lot of free material. They might never even get to reading Demon Invasion. That’s not helpful. But some people WILL read it. And with 830 downloads, I think it’s fair to say that I’ll reach a fair number of new readers, and that’s exciting!
  4. I had zero sales during the promotion, but it looks like one person paid for Demon Invasion after the promotion ended (see Fig. 5, b). My novels, A Noble’s Quest (The Empire’s Foundation Book 1), and A Wizard’s Gambit (Empire’s Foundation Book 2), haven’t seen any movement yet after the promo. But like I mentioned in the previous point, people are going to have a lot of reading to work through, so I might not see any upward movement on my books for a while. I only hope that people enjoy the freebies enough to look for my other stuff.

If you think multi-author sales are the way to go, I highly recommend trying out Patty Jansen’s Promo. She alternates between 99 cents and Free, from month to month. The Free does FAR better than the 99 cents, in terms of downloads, but even the 99 cents ones are okay. If I find 10 readers for a book, that’s still 10 more people than I would have found on my own.

What do you think?

Are there other similar promotions out there that you’ve used? What sort of success did you find with them?

Thanks for reading, and I hope this has helped some of you!

 

Demons and minotaurs are invading e-readers everywhere!

DemonInvasion

 

It’s my last promo for a while. I think I’ve done one for all my books this year (maybe A Noble’s Quest (The Empire’s Foundation Book 1) twice), so I think it’s time to cool off for a while, and wait for the release of my third novel, A Hero’s Birth. I gave away so many copies of Demon Invasion that I’ve been shocked at how many more have found readers over the last few days through Patty’s Promo.

And then I went kind of crazy, about mid-week. Seeing downloads starting on Demon Invasion with only the free Amazon promotion going, I thought, “Why not make a weekend of it?” So all of a sudden 1100 BGW (Before Gods’ War) and Dawn: A dwarven creation story are free to download this weekend, too.

And while I’m giving away short stories and novellas, why not pay for the privilege of doing so? I’d posted the three links on my Facebook fan page and it shot up to over 100 views pretty fast. Facebook asked me to promote it for just $7, and I said, “Why the hell not? $7 is affordable!” and downloads started coming in at an accelerated pace.


And then John Lewis over on G+ says, “Don’t advertise with FB! G+ is better!” and shares my pinned post about my writing.

I’ve got this feeling like it’s all snowballing out of control, as the free downloads pile up. Will one of the stories hit #1 on Amazon’s free category again? I don’t know. But it’s fun just throwing a bunch of stuff together and seeing how it takes on a life of its own. Who knows? Maybe people will read these freebies and give the novels a try, so the ad will pay for itself.

Demon Invasion has been sitting around #2 for Fantasy Adventure Fiction all day, and I’m so amazed to see the downloads continuing to come in at a steady and alarming pace.

Thank you everyone who’s shared my posts. You guys are awesome, and this wouldn’t happen without you.


I signed up for Amazon Associates, so I’ll be adding a code to my links to my own books, and books I review on my website. If people purchase anything through my website, I’ll get a very small kickback, which may or may not pay for this website. I have no idea if people actually buy books from the links I provide, but just in case, why not make a few cents off it (at no additional cost to you, of course!).

I’ve also set up an aStore with my books, and links to other indie author books that I’ve really enjoyed (rated 4 or 5 stars). I set up a widget on the side that shows the books with help from my website provider, Brian Racey.


 Cover art!

Macimanito Môswa

Click to enlarge

Once again, Harvey has created some wonderful art for me. I’ve submitted Macimanito Môswa (Cree for Demon Moose) to a literary festival in an attempt to win a contest (and add $250 CDN to my editing/cover art fund), and also submitted it to a magazine to see if I can find a traditional publishing home for it. I’ll hear back from both some time in the next couple months, but after I hear back, I plan to self-publish the title, since neither group has an exclusivity clause.

The cover captures perfectly the spooky nature of the story.


 And finally (these weekly diary entries have been getting awfully long, lately), I hit my 3000 word goal for new writing on A King’s Decree. It’s coming along nicely, and I’m really happy with how much I’m screwing with the characters’ heads already. I’ve only just finished Chapter 3! So many more mind games to play.