Hard Versus Soft

When and/or if you try out indie publishing, it’s really useful to keep in mind the differences between a hard launch and a soft launch. For your peace of mind, if nothing else.

In the traditional publishing world, a book has approximately 6 weeks to make an impact before the brick-and-mortar booksellers return your books to the publisher to make room on the shelf. It used to be longer (and there used to be a chain store called Borders, too), but changes to the tax code 20 or so years ago treated books the same way it treated screwdrivers and wrenches and changed the taxation on warehoused retail products. This incentivized bookstores and publishers to churn books rather than keep them in a warehouse or on shelves.

The result of this is that from the day your book is launched (traditionally a Tuesday), the writer needs to hustle and sell in order to move as many books as possible for a 4-6 week period from launch. That’s why review copies needed to be to newspapers and review outlets 4 or 5 months ahead of launch and why your book signings etc were all so dramatically tied into the launch date. You were trying not just to make a big splash, but to convince booksellers that you were worth stocking, and as a result, your publisher (who was already probably making decisions on your next book based on pre-orders anyway).

This is more or less true of ebooks by traditional publishers although it’s probably much fuzzier, because of the simple nature of ebooks, i.e., they don’t go out of print and there’s no particular storage issue at warehouses.

Which is where a “soft launch” with ebooks comes in. I’d be delighted if I published a book and it sold thousands of copies on the first day (or ever, for that matter), but I do understand (intellectually, if not always emotionally) that ebooks just keep selling. I might sell a few dozen of the new book the first couple weeks, but unlike with traditional publishing where those numbers might peter out, ebooks SEEM to continue selling steadily month after month with occasional peaks and valleys tied into whatever promotion I’m doing or the phases of the moon or the launch of another book or another change in the phantom logarithms created by Amazon’s computer wizards.

Whether things will change remains to be seen. I recently applied to BookBub for a promotion slot and was turned down, so I will continue doing my drip-drip-drip Chinese Water Torture thing—I tend to link my free and sales promotions to the launch of a new book, but we’ll see, I’m a number of months from a new book.

I guess the point is to be aware that in the marketplace, ebook sales BEHAVE differently than traditional paper book sales. There are a lot of reasons for it. I’m sure one is simply that if I see a new book come out on ebook that is by someone I don’t know but looks interesting, I will download a free sample to remind me at a later date to check it out, rather than the oh-that-looks-cool-gotta-buy-it-now thing.


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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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