Embers at Dawn is Perma Free!

Embers at Dawn (e-book) is perma-free and available everywhere! …or at least here: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble/Nook, iBooks, Google Books and Ebok.no

Amazon is a bit tardy about taking the hint – they’re still selling it for $0.99, but you can get the mobi file (for Kindle) at Smashwords for free too.

I have received my first Smashwords review. It is short and sweet: “Loved this book! The imagery is amazing and the mix between total crass and intelligence is just awesome! Great characters.” – Debby Rubino, Smashwords

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A Debut Novel’s First Year in Numbers

When I released my debut novel a year ago I had pretty much no idea what to expect. I found it frustrating that so few (or is it just me that haven’t found them?) were willing to share the actual results of their promotional efforts and overall sale when starting out. Vague words like “good” or “bad” was the norm of what little information I could find. So, this is me sharing what I would have loved to have read a year ago myself: An honest report of a self published debut novel’s first year in numbers.

My initial goal was to sell 1000 copies in a year. That goal changed pretty quickly, to have 1000 copies in circulation within a year – giveaways or sold – kindle or paperback. There are currently 1340 copies of Embers at Dawn (my debut novel) out and about. I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t gone completely overboard with marketing, but I have certainly made an effort.

I’ve spent a total of approximately $1420 on the circus that is publishing and promoting, which includes: Proofreading, submission fees to competitions, copies of paperbacks (for giveaways, the local store etc.), promotions and postage for giveaways. I’ve earned a total of $242. Needless to say: I ain’t quitting my day job yet.

Here’s what I’ve done to get those 1000+ copies in the hands of readers:

KDP SELECT

Embers at Dawn has only been available as paperback and Kindle edition during the year it’s been out. I started off pricing the book at $3.99 and lowered it, over time, to $0.99. I have sold a few at the $0.99 price point, but I don’t need more than two hands to count the sales.

I have used KDP Select’s Free Book Promotion as often as I could. The results have varied, but have generated more “sales” (can you call it that when you’re giving away something?) than varying the price. The results of my Free Book Promotions are as follows (unless otherwise stated the promotion have only been marketed via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and my blog):

  • Five days in December 2013 – Copies given away: 224
  • Two days in March 2014 – Copies given away: 73
  • One day in April 2014 – Copies given away: 24
  • Two days in May 2014 promoted via Digital Book Today – Copies given away: 107
  • Two days in September 2014- Copies given away: 73
  • Three days in September 2014 promoted via Digital Book Today, E-books Grow on Trees, FreeBooksy and It’s Write Now – Copies given away: 751

GOODREADS

I have tried two different approaches to promoting my debut novel on Goodreads. I have hosted two giveaways where I gave away nine copies of the book and advertisement. I can’t say that the advertisement did much else than rob me off $50, but the giveaways were a major success. I kept both giveaways open for a month, as recommended by Goodreads – one directly after the book was released and another about six months after. 1286 people requested the book during the first giveaway. 1130 during the second. There are currently 929 people who have marked it as “to read” and I have received 7 reviews and 13 ratings.

COMPETITIONS

I have only submitted Embers at Dawn to two competitions: One dedicated to western literature – I didn’t win anything, and to IndieReader’s discovery award – I didn’t win anything there either, but I got a professional review out of it and a IndieReader feature (that I had to pay extra for). Can’t say that I got anything out of it, besides something to put on Amazon while I wait for reviews from readers to appear there.

AMAZON

I don’t have a single review on Amazon, except a quote from the IndieReader review, but I haven’t done anything to get reviews there either, beside asking on my blog and offering the winners of my second Goodreads giveaway a free copy of the next book in the series if they give me a review on both Goodreads and Amazon… I asked nicely on a hand-written note.

SOCIAL MEDIA

My blog is also my author website, so I’m doing my darnedest to keep the content on point and of quality. It’s good to have a platform where I get to properly went the thoughts I have on the writing process and share what I’m up to creative-wise, both as an author and photographer. I have 35 followers as of right now.

My Facebook fans mainly consist of people I know. It doesn’t seem like it does much for marketing my work, except for giving friends a platform they can share content from when they feel like promoting what I do. I have 130 likes on my page.

I love Instagram. I don’t really get Twitter. I don’t think either has lead to much as far as sales and exposure goes. I have 98 followers on Instagram and 67 on Twitter. Too many cats, too little content, I guess.

I have also made a book trailer. It has had 134 views and received 4 likes on YouTube.

MERCHANDISE

With a background as a photographer I am, of course, a sucker for the visual. I enjoy building the world of Lee (the protagonist in my western series) both on the page and off. I have no illusions about getting rich and famous by selling T-shirts on Zazzle or bookmarks on Tictail, but why the hell not, right? I enjoy designing the stuff, and I hope that some of you enjoy it too. I have sold exactly two buttons, a mousepad and a coffee mug – the mousepad and coffee mug was bought by a good friend.

LOCAL EFFORTS

An independent bookstore in Oslo, Tronsmo, is selling my book. They bought five copies and have not asked for a re-up, so I can only assume that they’re not sold out. I have also been interviewed by local media: a newspaper and a magazine. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But I honestly can’t say that it’s done anything to boost the sale.

I expect and accept that building an audience and platform as an author will take time, patience, a lot of hard work and a fair amount of money. I look at my Flickr account and take heart. I became a member in 2006 and was very active for a few years. When my efforts turned to writing, more than photography, I stopped uploading new work at a regular interval. But before I quit Flickr (at a regular basis) I had already uploaded a considerable body of work. In my absence, my followers have grown from some 3-400 (if I remember correctly) when I left it in 2010-2011ish to a whooping 1262 in my absence. I like to believe that if you work hard and make something worthwhile people will take notice… Sooner or later.

IndieReader Review of Embers at Dawn

Charles Baker has reviewed Embers at Dawn for IndieReader. Here’s what he’s got to say about it:

Crazy Cat, also known as Lee, also known as Lily, is one of the toughest and baddest outlaws around, and she seems to be wanted everywhere she goes. Unfortunately, at this current stop, she finds that the marshal already recognizes her from the wanted posters. But she has one thing on her side: he’s a crooked marshal, brutal and violent and extremely hated by the townsfolk. So as it is with outlaws and crooked law men, there are some serious shoot-outs. If you like your Westerns dark and morally ambiguous, J.C. Loen’s EMBERS AT DAWN is plenty of both.

The protagonist of EMBERS AT DAWN is, quite frankly, a frustrating, brilliant and brilliantly frustrating character. In the few Westerns, or similar types of stories, that actually feature female outlaws, often the point of the story is this hidden sensitive side she has, or alternately what a cold and heartless she-devil she is. Lee is neither. While she does occasionally show her vulnerabilities in the story, it’s hardly the point of the narrative, and most of what she reveals in these moments is how little vulnerability she seems to feel. But she’s still a well-rounded character, seemingly at times so self-aware and at other times oblivious. She sort of falls in love, but not in a way that betrays her character.

Like a lot of historical fiction, EMBERS AT DAWN is meant to be an immersive experience, and generally the dialect of the book is one thing that really transports, with its Western-style mixture of roughness and elegance: “’Shut up, Stub. We best get this situation sorted and done with afore they come trying to torch up this place again.’ ‘Yous been saying so since afore Christmas. All I’ve heard is a lot of talk. I ain’t seen any doings,’ Cal said.” The first-person narration, strangely enough, doesn’t always match Lee’s dialect, but it often achieves a terrible poetry that sings out quite well: “Three strangers rode into town, trailing a fourth horse that had two lifeless bodies dangling about its flanks,” though more rarely it gets caught up in its own purpleness: “The sun kept rising, glowing through the branches, setting the dead tree alight with an incandescent hue.” But overall, the writing is good, more matching the quality of the former sentence than the latter.

EMBERS AT DAWN is a fairly earthy vision of the American Old West, never shying away from violence and vulgarity, but also not quite as nihilistic as it first seems.

Happy Birthday, Lee!

In the world of the outlaw known as Crazy Cat, it’ s Lee’s birthday today! Huzzah! Had she been alive (not that I’m saying that she ain’t!) she would have been 167 years old. She would no doubt have celebrated with drinking whiskey and shooting guns. Both fine activities I fully endorse, although not necessarily combined.

T-Shirt, tote bag, button and postcard featuring the sketch of Lee is available here: http://www.zazzle.com/crazycatdrygoods.

In the event of Lee’s birthday, I’m giving away Embers at Dawn (kindle edition) for free today and tomorrow. Get yours here: US or here: UK

Reviews… Please and Thank You

I’ve gotten a few very nice reviews from winners of my Goodreads’ giveaway.

Here’s an excerpt from what Lynda has to say about Embers at Dawn: “The first paragraph grabbed my attention quickly and by the end of the first chapter the lead female character’s qualities became known. Lee was a multi-faceted woman surrounded with softness and harshness giving her great depth and an uncommon attraction. The author created a strong commanding character unlike any female character I have ever read…my curiosity was piqued to learn more about her. Not a perfect heroine but heroine-like in many ways – very interesting character development.” Her review of my novel is the review I dreamed of receiving, but wouldn’t dare to hope for. Read the full review here.

Duskofdoubt writes: “The main female character, Lee, is strong and spunky, and so amazingly likeable. Don’t expect the run-of-the-mill damsel-in-distress you’d so commonly find in similar stories, because Lee wields knives, holsters guns, and uh twists the testicles of her enemies (like I said, spunky!), and it’s most certainly refreshing to see such a strong female character once in every while.” She sums up her review with: “Overall, a pretty darn good book!” Read the full review here.

I’d like to extend a heartfelt THANK YOU! to those first few of you who have taken the time to read my debut novel and given it a rating or review. I don’t mean to sound greedy, but the fact of the matter is that Embers at Dawn needs more ratings and reviews to get noticed. I would be extremely grateful for any and all feedback on both Goodreads and Amazon.

Would you buy a book written by an unknown author solely based on its blurb? Well, I guess it depends… But would you pick up one for free? Get Embers at Dawn for FREE TOMORROW on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Shooting Irons

These are my Uberti Cattleman revolvers. I use them for CAS.

Guns are an integral part of the western genre. They also play an important role in my western series The 9 Lives of the Outlaw known as Crazy Cat. Lee, the protagonist of the series, refers at one point to her shooting irons as her “precious pieces.”

Lee’s shooting irons are important to her for several reasons. Being a woman, she doesn’t possess the brute force of the men she’s commanding, or the villains she’s facing. Being able to wield her weapons quicker and more accurately than those she’s up against, and the men who follow her lead, is paramount to her success in claiming respect, causing fear and staying alive. She usually carries four revolvers. It makes her a dangerous adversary, who doesn’t have to cower and hide when she’s emptied one gun. Beside the practical aspect of this, I like the aesthetic of four guns on her person; it prompts an intimidating figure. There are certainly additional elements to Lee’s character that makes her stay in charge, but I’m gonna aim to stay on target here – we’re talking about shooting irons, after all.

It was important to me to show the reader that Lee is an authority on shooting irons. I did research, asked for assistance and learned to shoot, in order to transfer the knowledge and know-how I figured the protagonist of my series needed, to be representable as a know-it-all gunslinger. In short: I had to become an authority on shooting irons myself to make Lee one.

In the first draft of Embers at Dawn I had equipped Lee with two Colt Peacemakers. This was about three years ago, before I had much of a grasp on weapons. A friend of mine got me in touch with an avid CAS (Cowboy Action Shooting) practitioner, who possess a vast knowledge of firearms of the Old West. The Peacemakers were subsequently replaced with something more interesting upon his advice: A pair of Remingtons and Merwin & Hulberts. Lee’s Whitworth rifle was integrated in the story from the first draft – and remained in the story with the gun-savvy Cowboy’s blessing.

I believe that the weapons a character carries, and how she wields them, can say a great deal about her personality. The making of the piece and the condition it’s in might suggest a preference regarding practical concerns or a sense of style. It may also emphasize a character’s history, social status or indicate a certain profession.

In time, I will dedicate a post to each shooting iron from The 9 Lives of the Outlaw known as Crazy Cat series.

Yellow Highlighters & Black Powder

For me, research spans from poring over books to saddling up horses and loading guns.

IMG_4132I hadn’t ridden a horse since I was eleven years old when I mounted one three years ago. I joined a riding class for beginners. I trotted, no: walked around in circles during my first lessons. The riding instructor was the only one there who was anywhere near my own age, except a few of the parents accompanying their 6-12 year olds. And yes, I’m talking about three years ago.

The riding instructor just so happened to be a returning customer at the video rental store I was working at back then. We got to talking, and when I told her that I could hardly wait to go trail riding; she immediately picked up on it. From then on I had most my riding lessons on trails in the woods. It was challenging, fun and inspiring. We’d cross rivers, climb steep paths, gallop across fields and cuss at cyclists who’d come zooming past us – startling both us and the horses.

I believe that being new to horses made me notice things about them that I would have otherwise ignored if I’d been a seasoned rider, details that I’ve integrated in my writing. I can say pretty much the same thing about being a tyro gunslinger.

IMG_2595I handled a firearm for the first time about a year and a half ago at a gun safety course. I had done some research about guns of the Old West, but felt like I was grasping at straws without hands-on experience. I needed answers to questions that no book could truly answer.

My questions have pretty much been answered, and more so: I have found a sport I’m serious about. As far as horses go, I greatly enjoy getting to know their nature and pursue to become a better rider, but horses remain a hobby for me. I have no intention of winning a derby. Shooting, on the other hand, has made my competitive instinct surface. I compete in local ISFF competitions and train several days a week. My love for shooting and the Old West has also brought me to CAS (Cowboy Action Shooting). What better way to live the dream, than to dress up in cowboy attire and shoot guns (replicas) from the Old West era?

But research isn’t all about guns and horses, I’ve spent my share of hours with my nose stuck in a book, or scrolling through websites in search of what truly was. It’s a never-ending search…

IMG_5778In response to the phrase :”Write what you know,” I’m stuck between saying: “Hells yeah!” and: “That’s BS!” I have read countless interpretations of the phrase in writer’s guides that explain it as simply a way to make it easy on yourself: Set the story in your home town, in the present, construct the characters around yourself and people you know, and voila: you don’t have to do any tedious and time consuming research. Obviously, this doesn’t work when writing historical fiction.

Another tip I’ve come across more than once is: If you have to do research, don’t do any until you’ve completed your first draft. That way you’ll only have to do a minimum of research because you’ll have pinpointed exactly what you need to learn. I can see the logic in this, but I find this piece of advice flawed.

I’d like to expand the phrase “write what you know” into: “know what you write – write what you know.” By “know what you write,” I mean: Do your research and know your characters. Having a firm grasp on the what-fors of the period your story is set in will help you from stumbling into the pitfall of assumption. What use is it to do research post writing if you find out that half of what you thought you knew turns out to be plain wrong?

The ultimate kind of research would be to travel to the places I describe in my writing, but until the opportunity to do that arises: I pretty much live the dream anyway.