It’s been a little over a year since I announced the The Queen of Crows debut, so I thought it’d be a good time to take a look back and share with you some of the highlights and low points from releasing it.
The full color edition was first published on DriveThruHorror.com in early March 2010. Released as an e-book, we designed it in a PDF format because that allowed us the flexibility to provide a full color illustration from Leanne Buckley, period artwork, and a magazine-style layout. We did not release a low-res version for the Kindle or the Nook, in part because we had to reformat the entire piece and strip out all the images. That heavily influenced where the book was going to be available for purchase; DriveThru simply allowed me the opportunity to do what no other site would.
The Price of Innovation
I went back and forth about pursuing the black-and-white, low-res edition, but at the time it felt like an afterthought, so I waited until this Fall to put it out. The novelty of the book, which was a selling point for a few reviewers, decreased significantly when I eventually formatted it for the Nook and the Kindle. The Queen of Crows at Amazon.com fared better than the version of The Queen of Crows at Barnes and Noble, but not by much.
Combined, I feel that the release of The Queen of Crows pre-dated “what e-books can do” in both the minds of readers and leveraging new technology by a year, maybe even two or three. Remember, at the time the iPad and the Nook Color wasn’t even out yet. So people weren’t thinking about enhanced e-books at the time, not until highly experimental things like the Alice in Wonderland iPad app came out. The lesson I learned was that while e-books and e-book readers continue to evolve, what can be done with an e-book far exceeds the technology at this time. e-book publishing still, even with what’s available now, has a long ways to go.
The Importance of Reviews
Reviews and interviews did help out tremendously getting the word out about The Queen of Crows. I’ve included a list of what’s out there at the moment at the bottom of this post so you can see the evolution. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten many reviews on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, which I know has affected the sales.
Reviews are becoming more and more crucial from a reader’s perspective because it helps get the word out about a book and ensures them that a product — in this case creator-owned — is a quality one. I’ve had several people tell me that this past weekend at OddCon. Which was bizarre, because some readers were saying that authors can just bypass a publisher directly and sell a thousand copies (not exaggerating on that number, by the way). Even if that were the case, priced at $4.99, an author would only make roughly $3,500 off of a book that sold that many copies. Remember, retailers get their cut, too, which right now teeters around the thirty percent mark. So in order to break poverty level, which is around $18,000 a year, an author would have to publish–not just write–six novels a year and expect they’ll sell that many copies. I know a lot of authors talk about word count and whatnot as a way of measuring scale, but remember authors aren’t robots. While we continue to write, it’s impossible for every author to maintain that frenetic pace and not have their work suffer as a result. Some authors are more prolific than others; some, like myself, don’t write the same word count every day. We’re all different and the answer to the publishing industry changes shouldn’t be to work harder and add marketing acumen on top of all of that, too.
Other readers were way more realistic and understanding, advocating that the publishing industry as a whole is still important to readers because of its ability to ensure a baseline of quality. With creator-owned publishing, there’s no guarantee the book won’t be rife with typos, grammatical errors and other issues.
Emotion Trumps “Buy My Book”
What fascinated me about these discussions, and I’ll talk about this more in an upcoming post, was that the readers were less likely to try any creator-owned product if they had a couple of bad experiences with self-publishing. I feel this dovetails into what I’ve been saying about book marketing all along; you can tell someone until you’re blue in the face how awesome your book is, but it’s not as powerful as when another reader shares their connection to the book in some way.
That emotional connection is what I had hoped to achieve with the book trailer for The Queen of Crows. The music was composed by James Semple, a professional in the entertainment industry who has scored movies and games. For example, James has composed soundtracks perfect for gaming including Four Shadows: Music for Trail of Cthulhu and Dissonance: Music for Esoterrorists through Pelgrane Press. In the video, which falls at the bottom of this post, I scripted the trailer to create that sense of identification with the main character, Tse. James breathed life into his plight with music.
Niche Product, Unique Genre
Mind you, the e-book incorporates the Native American Navajo from the 1860s, which is a niche for storytelling. It’s also one of the reasons why Lori Devoti recommended that I create an alternate cover for The Queen of Crows so that people aren’t turned off by the Native American theme before they open the book.
I knew that this project was going to be unique when I wrote it. To a point, I’m a big believer in market research. Here, I specifically created this e-book for a reason. The Queen of Crows is the origin story for Mahochepi, who is a central character in my modern urban fantasy novel, and it’s a preview of things to (hopefully) come. Yes, I have been revising my urban fantasy novel for a while now. Here’s why. First, I knew I was writing on spec, so I prioritized my life and career accordingly. Then, day job didn’t get in the way, but emotional mojo did. Now, I’m saying “Screw you, Mojo Jojo” and working on it regardless of what I’m doing and what schedule I have. I want, very much, to give an agent or editor the best story I possibly can. I want to pen a tale many people will love.
Look Back to See Ahead
And we’re back to the retrospective. One question that continues to come up from readers is: “I love the short story, could you please write a sequel?” I’ve thought about this a lot, because in my mind readers are the kings and queens of ages past. The short answer is that I want to, but I’m not sure if writing a trilogy of tales — which is what it would have to be — would be best for me right now. The bulk of the marketing has been on me for this project, and I’ve done a lot to spread the word, but now I need to scale back a bit. I have to focus on readers, not marketing, and to do that I need to write like hell, have fun, and hope something comes out of it. Offering another creator-owned property for me right now may not be the best route to go, but I’m not sure. For something like that, Kickstarter might come into play.
A sequel isn’t out of the picture, it’s just not something I plan on doing right now — unless a large portion of you storm this post and demand one. The funny thing is, the “Will there be a sequel?” question tends to pop up with a lot of my short stories. It certainly did with Pie in Buried Tales of Pinebox, Texas and it just did with Tomorrow’s Precious Lambs in The Zombie Feed, Volume 1. Um, yeah…and I expect that’ll happen with Fangs and Formaldehyde, too. These requests are awesome, because it tells me a reader wants more, more, more. Well, I’d like to fulfill that request. Plenty of new stories in the old noggin, so we shall see.
The Queen of Crows has taught me a lot. Timing is important, but so is a self-awareness of where you are as an author. Readers are royalty, no matter what anyone else says. Market research is crucial to understanding what your expectations should be. Collaboration, when done well, can turn out awesome and amazing things. New marketing campaigns for new books work better than existing ones, because people want the shiny.
And, of course, this experience has reaffirmed my faith in my own work. I’m a pragmatist by nature, but I have to tell you, I have dreams. Big dreams. No idea how or when or what or where, but it doesn’t matter. One day I believe I’ll get to where I want to go, even if it takes me a lifetime to do it.
Here’s hoping it doesn’t take that long.
A Word of Thanks
Before I leave you all, I would like to say a few words of “Thanks.” For everyone who purchased, reviewed, spread the word or interviewed one of us for The Queen of Crows, thank you. Thank you from the bottom of Mahochepi’s ancient and crusty heart. Your support is deeply appreciated.
Leanne, James, and Shari if you’re reading this post, know that I never forget a kindness. Ever. Hopefully I’ve made some headway in that regard. Matt? Thank you for helping me to continually move forward. It is your encouragement and faith in me that has allowed me to be who I am today and dig deep into my storytelling.
The PR Round-Up
Now that that’s over with, I leave you with a round-up of interviews, design notes, reviews and the trailer. Thanks for reading my one-year retrospective on The Queen of Crows. For those of you who haven’t picked it up, I hope you’ll do me the honor of reading it some day.
Interviews and Design Notes
- Interview with author Paul Jessup
- Interview with Suvudu.com
- Interview with composer James Semple on FlamesRising.com
- Design notes by Monica Valentinelli on FlamesRising.com
- On Writing a Historically-Accurate Paranormal Short Story
- Setting Music to The Queen of Crows e-book trailer
- Review of THE QUEEN OF CROWS by Janette Dalgliesh – “Valentinelli gives us a lyrical yet chilling encounter at a crucial point of America’s history.”
- Review of THE QUEEN OF CROWS by Jason Thorson – “Valentinelli’s writing is well-researched and vividly executed. Her world pulls itself from the pages of history books and comes to life, fully realized and described in concrete detail.”
- Review of THE QUEEN OF CROWS by Steven Dawes – “Anyone who purchases the Queen of Crows should be arrested for piracy. For all you get in this book, the measly price tag of five clams is plain stealing in my eyes!”
- Review of THE QUEEN OF CROWS by Charlie Von Eschen – “I have spent a lot more money for stories that were much much less enjoyable. I recommend the Queen of Crows. And now I have to pay attention to the Violet War too.”
- Review of THE QUEEN OF CROWS by Jess Hartley – “I’d recommend The Queen of Crows for anyone who has a soft spot for hard topics, who likes their historic fiction a bit on the dark-and-yet-beautiful side or who is looking for a glimpse into the creation process of a darned-good read.”
- Review of THE QUEEN OF CROWS by Bill Bodden – “Buy this ebook for the story; you won’t be disappointed. Consider the additional features a very large bonus, making the pittance paid for this work seem trivial indeed.”
- Review of THE QUEEN OF CROWS by Preston DuBose – “Having read the final (much different) original story, some readers will be fascinated to read the original and see how much has changed, while others will undoubtedly wonder why they’d be expected to read anything other than the final, most polished version. In other words, if you’re the kind of person who eagerly consumes all the bonus content on a DVD then you’re likely to enjoy this book. If not, you’ll still enjoy the short story but you’ll likely skim over the extra content.”
- Review of THE QUEEN OF CROWS by Stephen Jarjoura – “This just screams “fearless author” to me, someone who’s not afraid to say “here’s my story, here’s my inspiration, here’s some character notes, and here’s an early draft so you can see how far it’s come.”
Watch the promotional trailer for THE QUEEN OF CROWS e-book. Music was composed by James Semple.