Thursday, May 31, 2018

Paid promotions

Last month, I mentioned that I was trying out one or two paid promotions, a new approach for me. Now I’m coming to the end of my planned stint I thought I’d give an update on my experience.

General strategy

For the last couple of years I’ve priced e-books at $3.99. With the release of The Ashes of Home, I decided to drop the price of Ghosts of Innocence to $0.99 for two months. My hope is that people who are tempted to buy the first book at a reduced price might be enticed to move on to the second.

Note: All prices here are given in US $

During these two months I ran several paid promotions on Ghosts to reach a wider audience.


In each case, Ghosts of Innocence was advertised in an email to subscribers on the specified day. There was an immediate spike in sales on that day, with a small number the following day, then zero. Any further sales after that I’ve regarded as normal business rather than a direct result of the promotion.

Promotion #1: Bargain Booksy, April 22, cost $35.
Sales of Ghosts: 22
Sales of other titles: 2

Promotion #2: Book Gorilla, May 6, cost $50.
Sales of Ghosts: 13
Sales of other titles:  1

Promotion #3: Bargain Booksy, May 27, cost $35.
Sales of Ghosts: 17
Sales of other titles: 0

I also submitted twice to Ereader News Today but was rejected both times.


These kinds of sales come nowhere near to paying for the promotion, but at this stage of the game that isn’t the point. I’m happy to be getting my books into more hands, and even a few sales now and again helps lift my author rank in the arcane Amazon algorithm. This is a long game of patience and persistence.

BTW - Ghosts of Innocence is still at the reduced price for another couple of weeks. After that, I will likely try a slightly higher price point of $4.99 for Ghosts and Ashes.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Building a battleship - general arrangements

When you design a seagoing warship, especially a WWI/WWII battleship, you pretty much have to start off with the general arrangement of big chunks of machinery. Main and secondary armament with their associated shell rooms and magazines demand large unbroken slices of real estate, as do the propulsion units. Together, these largely dictate the overall profile of the ship.

With a traditional ship, you are always working within the constraints of a hull, along with rules of buoyancy and center of gravity.

When it comes to a spaceship, two obvious differences spring to mind immediately.

First, you can abandon the need for streamlining. Depending on how things work in your story world you may have other unique constraints to think about, but spacecraft generally don’t have a dense medium like water to plow through, or depend on aerodynamics for lift. So you can think beyond the ship’s hull or aircraft’s fuselage and go for different shapes - blocky and angular, spindly and fragile - and you essentially have complete freedom over basic body plan. Who else remembers the shock of the first appearance of the starship Enterprise, making a break from sleek Buck Rogers-style rocket ships?

To me, that freedom actually makes it all the more important to start off with some overall concept to work within, otherwise you risk ending up with a mess (unless, of course, a disordered mess is what you actually want)

Second, a seagoing warship is typically designed to afford its main armament as broad an arc of fire as possible. With superimposed turrets fore and aft, the entire main armament can usually be brought to bear on a target broadside on (and for maybe 15 degrees either side of perpendicular.)

Classic big gun broadside

Outside of that arc, you can bring no more than half your guns to bear, either the forward or aft batteries. But you only have to think about coverage over a two-dimensional surface. In space, this problem extends to three dimensions, posing new challenges and compromises.

In the case of my Imperial Swords, I chose to compromise. The ships are designed to attack ground targets, to terrorize rebelling planets into submission, so the primary weapon doesn’t need a broad arc of fire.

     With almost leisurely movements, Hammer rolled away from George Leonard. With a sick feeling in her gut Shayla knew this was no act of submission. The Sword’s primary weapon, her city-wrecking plasma cannon, occupied the full two-thousand-foot height of the battleship from the bulbous upper pod containing hangars and the main battle platform down through the height of the hull to project from her underbelly. She was taking up an attack posture, lining up a kill shot.

Their secondary armament forms a ring around a broad pod spreading above the main hull. This gives almost complete field of view, but there are gaps ...

     Icy fury flooded Shayla. She blinked her eyes clear and brought herself even closer in. From past experience she knew these ships had many blind spots up close, the most extensive being right on top of that upper pod.
     Hammer maneuvered away. Her captain was also aware of those blind spots and determined to bring his weapons to bear.

Unlike the ground-assault Swords, battleship Admiral George Leonard is intended for general ship-to-ship combat so all-round cover is vital.

I started with an image in mind of a fairly slender body, with paired pods of weapons down either side. The pods jut out from the sides and give relatively clear all-round cover, with roughly half the main weapons able to target any given point of space. The feel I was going for was of a narrow and cramped interior surrounded by machinery. As it happens, some of that thinking went by the wayside as I’ll explain in a later post, but this gave me the conceptual framework to build from. What you can see here is a plan view of the frame.

The weapons are mounted in separate modules that dock in the bays on either side.

     Once aboard, the going should be easier. Enforcer-class ships were huge, second only to Imperial Swords, and the mainstay of the Firenzi navy for the last five millennia. A bulky hull contained machinery and accommodation, but farsighted architects had designed them with pairs of vast docking points to mount weapons or more specialized payloads. This flexibility, and the ability to upgrade weapon systems over the years without a massive overhaul, was the secret of the ancient ships’ longevity.
     If Admiral George Leonard was typical of her class, she’d be packing six batteries of beam weapons at those docking points. Shayla hoped to identify the source of the blinding shot that had vaporized the scout. From her stint aboard a similar ship, she had the glimmer of a plan to avoid arousing suspicion.

The main engineering spaces lie between the pairs of docking points, with main crew accommodation forward, and hangars aft.

More of that in future posts ...

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Building a battleship - look and feel

In both Ghosts of Innocence and The Ashes of Home, Shayla spends quite some time on board warships of one sort or another.

When writing scenes, I find it important to have a firm idea of the look and feel of the setting, the kind of atmosphere I am trying to evoke. For warships, I have always avoided the clean, shiny ultra-modern feel of Star Trek or Star Wars interiors. One possible exception is the vast Imperial Sword-class which are big enough to hide messy machinery out of the way. Apart from that, though, there are few sops to creature comforts.

Everywhere is certainly clean in the sense of not dirty - navy standards are strict - but definitely not clean in the sense of uncluttered. Everywhere, there are hard surfaces, painted metal, and pipes and machinery are exposed. Living and working spaces are cramped. Function comes first. The needs of people have to fit in and around the workings of the ship.

This is particularly true of the Admiral George Leonard. This ship is five thousand years old. Although well-maintained, it is ancient and I wanted to convey some of that sense of antiquity and solidity.

My main influences were twentieth century large warships. These have always held a fascination for me anyway, so it’s only natural that I should want to recreate some of this atmosphere in my writing. Hey! I’m the author! I get to decide things like that :)

So a typical corridor is likely to look more like this ...
than this ...
She headed aft, to where she knew another near-vertical highway connected the ship’s decks. Shiny gray walls reflected yellow-white light. Battleship gray. In her time in the navy nobody had ever been able to explain why this particular shade of gray should be associated with battleships. Tradition, they said, as if that explained everything.

She ducked through an open blast door into another corridor. Pale green decking gave way to dark blue. Refreshed by her brief rest, she bolted up the last three flights to ‘A’ deck.

Crew sleeping accommodation is similar to this ...
Down a couple more decks, the cramped warren of the crew’s mess was a marked contrast to the hubbub upstairs. In between ranks of kit lockers, mess tables lay mostly vacant. A few off-duty crew members lounged, read, played cards. Shayla avoided these oases of light, tuned to the artificial day/night cycle, and scurried through the permanent twilight of the dormitory areas. Past rows of curtained sleeping racks, she counted until she found the rack she’d assigned herself, the lowest of three. Low level racks, inches off the deck, were least favored but also least likely to attract notice. She crawled silently in and drew the curtain.

This could easily be a corner of the kitchens where Shayla works undercover ...

And this could definitely be a model for the officers’ wardroom where she overhears useful information ...

And finally, there’s the place that Shayla always seems to end up in. The brig ...
She woke, head pounding, on a hard metal bench and thought for a moment that she was still on Eloon. Her surroundings came back into focus: white-painted metal walls, a steel toilet and basin in one corner, a sliding metal grille for a door. The door and floor were painted a fetching blood red. The heavy omnipresent thrum of the warship enveloped her. The air was warm and dry, but pricked with a whiff of disinfectant.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Building a battleship

Worldbuilding is an essential part of speculative fiction, and it’s something I enjoy at least as much as the actual writing. In fact, there’s a visual part of worldbuilding that I’ve come to regard as a natural extension of the visual arts that have always been a part of my life long before I started writing.

While I’ve been writing The Ashes of Home some of my time has been devoted to a massive drawing project. The project is a detailed deck plan of the ancient battlewagon Admiral George Leonard that forms the backdrop to about a quarter of the story.

Because Shayla spends so much time on board this vast battleship I needed a clear idea of the general layout, and enough detail of specific locations to be able to write scenes effectively. I’ve previously posted about the importance to me of visualizing the physical setting as a way of avoiding the dreaded writer’s block.

Of course, I fleshed out enough detail for story purposes ages ago, and I could easily have stopped there. But this project has gained a life of its own, and is close to completion.

Over the next few weeks I plan to talk a bit more about the parallel processes - conceptualizing the ship itself, the influences and thinking that went into its design, and the challenges of converting this into drawing, keeping track of a wealth of detail across two thousand feet in length and thirteen decks.

And in case you are wondering, yes, this is the ship depicted on the book cover.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Weekend Writing Warriors May 6

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.

Concluding a scene from my first book, Ghosts of Innocence.

Shayla has stolen the identity of a newly-appointed senior public servant, and infiltrated the Palace in disguise. She has previously fallen foul of her new boss, Mabbwendig ap Terlion, Master of the Emperor’s Domestic Household, and is confronting her again in the cavernous staff dining hall.

Mabb has been tormenting a series of unfortunate individuals among the hundreds of people crowding the hall. Shayla rescued one of them from humiliation but in turn is expected to provide entertainment. She performed a knife dance, and finished by flinging the knives into the table in front of Mabb. As she catches her breath, a slow handclap starts behind her.


"Bravo!" She recognized Kurt's voice behind her. Other pairs of hands joined in, growing, filling the air with a thunderous cadence. In this culture, a slow handclap is a sign of respect. Shayla's mission preparation reasserted itself. All the cultural differences she'd absorbed settled once more into the forefront of her awareness. She breathed again and lifted her head.

As Shayla leaned forward to retrieve the blades, Mabbwendig murmured, "You full of surprises, Master of Circuses."

"The Knife Dance is a holy and private meditation," Shayla whispered. "You know traditions, you must know that to commission it for public spectacle commands a blood price."


That’s it! This is my last WeWriWa post for now but I’m sure I’ll be back at some point.

It’s been a busy and very tiring couple of weeks. The week before last, I was in Ottawa for a project workshop. Traveling to and from there from Victoria is pretty much an all-day affair. Luckily I missed the ice storms before and the wind storm since. Last week my work calendar was full, just catching up.

On top of regular stuff I organized a Smoothie Day at work, and gave a talk at the Victoria library, which I think went well. I just have one more talk to give next Thursday which I still have to prepare for this weekend.

But the sun is out and I might find time to sit on the deck as well. We’ll see.

Reminder: Ghosts of Innocence is still on special offer, down from $3.99 to just $0.99 in all major e-book formats. And if you enjoy that story, the sequel, The Ashes of Home, was also published last month.

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