Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

Monthly Archives: February 2017

A Writer’s Life: my journal

Interesting re-blog today — seems it’s about a “digestion” issue :-)

Scarborough Mysteries

fjordjune16I’ve just spent two weeks exploring the delights of Oslo and Bergen in Norway. As always I had my trusty writing journal with me. When all around me cameras were clicking and ‘selfie’ sticks were out, I sat down with my journal and an oasis of calm would open up. In the frenetic rush of being a tourist, this act would force me to stop and focus. Focus on a detail within me and without and how the two interacted.

katesketchingjune16 Me with my journal

I enjoy sight-seeing as much as the next person, but sometimes it can all become over-whelming and, worse, almost a tick-box exercise. My journal is my guard against this. I am a great believer in free writing, and most often I write quickly without particular thought to why or where it may lead me. I pay attention to all my senses, to the seemingly insignificant, seek the narrative. I…

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Interviewing Authors and Sharing Interviews . . .

Regular readers probably read the most recent author interview, detailing efforts to promote and market books

Author Interviews

Image from Michal Zacharzewski, SXC

And, to prep for this post, I counted up all the Author Interviews on this blog (as of this date…)—and, it’s 80.

For various reasons, it’s taken me a bit over six years to gather-up those interviews.


I spend a bit of time on Twitter…

And, because my posts here get pushed out to the TweetVerse, I have folks following me and it only seems fair to consider following them (except for the people who only want to sell me Twitter Followers…).


Not so many days ago, I noticed I’d received a Follow from @ERHardcastle, who turned out to be the author, editor, and literary-innovator, E. Rachael Hardcastle.

It’s only been a few days since I followed back and exchanged a few Tweets with her…

I noticed she works hard at gathering author interviews.

I compared my 80 in 6 years; and, found out she’d gathered over 50 author interviews in 2016!

Plans are for us to swap interviews

E. Rachael Hardcastle But who is this author?

Here’s her Bio:

Hi, I’m Rachael.

I’m a dreamer, a deep thinker, a bookworm and grammar nerd.

I write poetry between imaginative high fantasy, post-apocalyptic and science fiction novels.

I believe that through writing we face our darkest fears, explore infinite new worlds and realize our true purpose. I write to entertain and share important morals and values with the world, but above all, I write to be a significant part of something incredible.

All my fantasy and post-apocalyptic books face our planet’s struggles because I believe that together we can build a stronger future for the human race.

I support independent publishing so all my stories are written, edited, formatted and published by me, offering a low-cost, epic adventure and a memorable escape from reality for my readers.

I also discovered she does writing workshops with kids—this is why I called her a literary-innovator up there…

Here’s what one of the teachers said to her:

“Many thanks for your inspirational work with our Year 6 children who have really enjoyed their time with you. You have made them believe that writing is fun and that anyone can be an author if they work hard enough – and made it possible for them to be published authors too! We are very proud of our book and have it in pride of place in the classroom at the moment. Thank you!”


And, here’s a video (cute, funny, engaging, revealing) about her preparation for the coverage she received on the Made In Leeds TV show (her segment,in the TV station video, begins at the 4:50 mark):

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Author Interview ~ Adrian G Hilder – Part Two

I met Adrian on Wattpad and had a real adventure reading his novel, General’s Legacy

Some readers may want to consider reading Adrian’s previous interview first.

This second interview has much valuable information on the way Adrian’s dealing with the marketing and promotion of his books.

In fact, it’s important enough that I’m leaving it up for two days…


Adrian G Hilder Adrian, your first interview here was October 8, 2016. That was just before you released your debut book, The General’s Legacy – Part One: Inheritance, at the end of November. Can you tell us a little about that book (a reminder for some) and how the launch went?

First, thank you for having me back Alexander.

Inheritance is a story about a young Prince inheriting his grandfather’s enchanted sword, his world of warriors and magic, his role as the general, and the war he could never end. Forced to go beyond his training and experience, Cory must take command when his kingdom’s enemy strikes again in a horrifying and tragic way. Other aspects of the old general’s legacy are shown beyond the sword, and the war—the effect he had on others—as Cory and his older brothers are plunged into personal and national crisis.

I set out to deliver a fast-paced fantasy story that does not sacrifice the immersive experience that fantasy readers love. There are a lot of heavy going fantasy books in the market. Planning the story the way movies and thriller books are structured was key to this aim. I’m amazed to find that a couple of reviewers have likened Inheritance to Tolkien and a UK reviewer to Dan Brown and Michael Crichton (the last two are thriller writers of course). I never saw a Tolkien comparison coming, and I would say Inheritance moves at a much faster pace than The Lord of the Rings. One thing that does come up more than any other point is that readers love the characters in the story and how real they feel.

There are a lot of ways you could describe Inheritance, and I’m fascinated by how different reviewers pick on different aspects of the story. The General's Legacy - Part One: Inheritance

Yes, the eternal right of the reader to have their own interpretation… How did the book launch go?

Well, it happened… Considering my audience reach was limited to around 600 Goodreads friends in addition to friends, family, and work colleagues, I sold more than I expected. It was less than 30 copies, and within a week sales were down to one a week. No one knows the book exists in a world where thousands of books a day are released. I now know allowing pre-orders on Amazon was counterproductive to making the book more visible—a mistake.

Why is allowing pre-orders on Amazon a mistake?

Amazon pre-orders and book ranking works differently compared to the other sales sites. Pre-orders count for ranking when the order is placed and not on release day, so you cannot spike a book in the charts with all pre-orders counting as sales on day one as with the other book sales sites. My book’s ranking peaked mid-November and fell out of sight by release day. Some other authors argue that making a book available early allows “also boughts” to start forming for your book before release day, although that can only happen if people know it exists, so it tends to work better for well-known authors wanting to build a buzz in the market around their next book.

I see you have 10+ reviews for Inheritance and reviews are something many new authors struggle to get—would you explain your efforts to get reviews?

I did get one review from a reader on the story sharing and social networking site Wattpad, where you and I first connected. Sadly, the other eleven readers on Wattpad that originally agreed to leave a review for me just don’t appear to be active anymore; and, I don’t think they saw my private messages to them. I was aiming for at least three reviews on release day as that is what the promotion company I had lined up required before they would take my money. They know advertising does not work for a book without some good reviews. The book promotion company I want to try next requires ten reviews, so I should be able to try them around April to May when their schedule opens up again.

I started getting reviews when I finally succeeded in growing my email list subscribers and invited them to join my review team for free copies of my future books in exchange for a review. I offer Inheritance as a gift for signing up to my mailing list—no point in having it sit on Amazon servers undiscovered and not read. The combination of distributing the book via a company called instaFreebie, that has an audience that trusts them, and participating in group giveaway events with other fantasy authors allows my book to be promoted to the existing mailing list subscribers of those other authors. An ad for a twenty-six book giveaway is also more compelling than a one book giveaway. I’ve rapidly connected with hundreds of new readers this way, and in time I should be able to connect with thousands more. Email is still far more effective than any other form of Internet communication.

instaFreebie helps with promotion too as new readers for you means new subscribers for them—subscribers also join instaFreebies’ mailing list that your giveaway events are advertised to if you request it.

I’ve twenty-seven people on my review team now, and they’re awesome! It’s been a lot of fun conversing with them over email. One member of the team is a retired copy editor from Australia who gave me a little more proofreading feedback at 3:30 am her time! She is dedicated and determined in her support for the authors she discovers and likes and lives in a fairly remote part of central Australia by the sound of it. Obtaining an Internet connection seems to require putting her iPhone in the refrigerator to cool it down so it’ll work—it’s seriously hot in that part of the world, and Apple clearly didn’t have such high temperatures in mind when they designed the iPhone!

I’ve also obtained some reviews on Goodreads where I’ve made a few good connections over the last couple of years. Just today, someone who is now #16 reviewer on Goodreads posted his review. Now, there is some interest from other reviewers and book bloggers in reviewing Inheritance and some others that might agree now that someone they know and trust has reviewed it. The review attracted about 60 people that “liked” his review in around 12 hours—more exposure that cost only time.

So, Adrian, what’s your strategy for your Wattpad presence now?

I’ve a real soft spot for Wattpad. It’s where I first published to strangers and learned I could write a story people love. It can be a great place to nurture a new story, but (except for the lighting-strike lucky few who win a movie deal) Wattpad doesn’t seem to have much impact on the world of paying readers. Wattpad feels like pushing on a locked door to get movement, and I cannot afford to spend more time trying to do anything about it. I’ve provided feedback to Wattpad on what issues I face and asked them to think about how they could encourage their readers to review authors’ work in places where there are buyers or follow authors they like in a more tangible way and buy their books. When I mention Wattpad to other authors in the online communities I’m in, the response is “I’ve wasted too much time on Wattpad already.” It’s too hard to identify the right people and bring your story to their attention, and if you do, they’re after a free read and don’t seem to engage with you.

Well, I can certainly understand why you’d feel that way about Wattpad—it does appear to respond differently to different authors… Yet, since you’re obviously aiming to make serious money with your writing, talk a bit more about that, ok?

I didn’t begin writing to make money; but, here’s a saying I’ve started to use – “Editors, cover designers, mailing list operators, and other operators of IT and advertising services need to be paid, even if I do not.”  My first ambition for the book publishing business is to see enough sales to cover these costs, hopefully within a couple of years. Can I write books fast enough to make that happen? Watch this space. Some costs keep rolling in regardless of whether you have more books to sell or not. The truly successful self-published authors are producing 3 to 5 books a year and build an email list of tens of thousands of subscribers; and, it requires the investment of time and money to do this.

On Wattpad I recently assisted around a hundred writers from Amazon’s WriteOn community to relocate to Wattpad. Amazon is closing down WriteOn on March 22nd, 2017 and this great community needs a new home. I created a Wattpad user account called Wattpad WriteOn Writers and a retired gentleman by the name of Michael Walsh (@ZonderZorg), who has the time to do it, has set up all the reading lists and forum threads to give the ”WriteOn refugees” a focal point to gather. This community has been pretty good at reviewing each other’s work.

For me, my presence on Wattpad is parked and still attracting new readers all the time that do seem to be responding to my request to follow me to access Whiteland King. I’m not sure how long I can afford to leave Whiteland King up on Wattpad in its unedited form—I cannot afford to lose paying readers… I will always have something on Wattpad if only a two-chapter sample.

The General's Legacy - Part Two: Whiteland King The release of  The General’s Legacy – Part Two: Whiteland King is February 28th. What are your launch sales predictions?

I should get more reviews in the first few weeks from my review team and maybe more sales than last time but my “platform“—the number of people engaged with what I’m producing—is still small. I have around 800 mailing list subscribers, but that’s not 800 sales. I will do well to get as many as 3% to 4% buying, which may mean double the sales of last time around. The mailing list is a good launch pad, but you need to connect with readers in other ways, too. I’ve been present on Goodreads for a couple of years and made contact with a couple of great reviewers who have quite a following. Now that one, in particular, has posted a positive review, it is possible some other high profile reviewers and bloggers may try my book. I could end up with more reach and sales through this route than my email list right now. So my prediction is 2 to 3 times more sales than last time in the first week, and a better chance of follow-on sales ongoing as people on places like Goodreads are starting to discover my books in a small but still viral way.

What’s your strategy going forward?

I recognise now that running a mailing list and building it is essential, but it costs, per month; and, it costs to add more people to it, most of whom have a vast number of other free books to choose from, with more are appearing by the day. Most self-published authors who succeed in today’s market produce 3 to 5 shorter (45K to 85K words) books per year selling at $2.99 to $4.99 (once past the introductory $0.99 price point). It takes me too long to produce my longer books for this formula to work well enough to cover the expenses anytime soon—being paid for my writing time is a distant dream… I don’t give books away for free for mailing list subscribers—in effect, I pay to give them away!

I’m considering writing a new prequel novella to The General’s Legacy as my mailing list sign-up gift and adding another curiosity to try; and, put things on a less costly footing with Inheritance moving to paid only. This is the reverse of what other authors do—the more books they have, the more they give away for free to tempt in new subscribers. I’m going to try and raise the reputation of my books instead of giving more away for free; but, keep the prices keen and at the sweet spot of $2.99 to $4.99. It is harder to sell above this price. The curious thing is, since starting to give away Inheritance as a mailing list sign up gift, the sales of this book have almost doubled (9 in January). Obscurity is the enemy, not free books; so, maybe my strategy is wrong and the prequel novella should be used to make signing up to my mailing list even more appealing. I can try out different options and change things if I have to…

It’s incredibly hard to get this venture to cover its costs.  Editing is the killer—$2,400 to recover for The General’s Legacy—that needs a couple of thousand sales at full price once you count in the advertising and everything else. I do wonder how long I can keep going with these costs if I can’t increase the sales enough and produce more books fast enough…

What are this novella and “curiosity” you mention?

I’ve always felt that there is more story for the character General Garon—the old general whose legacy the main story is all about. He seems to command a lot of respect from readers even though he is only alive for the earliest part of the book. I was trying to generate a sense of loss when he passed away so characters in the story would talk about him and still feel his influence. The trouble is, I feel that loss and want to write more about him.  Maybe one day I’ll write a whole prequel series about his younger days. Until then, I’m interested in a short story about the lead up to The Battle of Beldon Valley (the prologue to Inheritance), so we get some time on the page between five-year-old Cory, Garon, and Cory’s older brother Pragius. Showing the bond between Cory and Pragius is something I’m interested in doing. I think Cory is going to have an idea that inspires an action that helps tip the balance in the Battle of Beldon Valley that has never been revealed before.

The curiosity—I thought it would be fun to produce a scout (spy) report written by the enemy, captured by the Scout Commander of Valendo (the good guys) about Prince Cory and his habits. Something to foreshadow that Cory is a target in the enemy’s plans. I’ve written the text for this, but my plan is to write it with a fountain pen and scan it, so it looks like a handwritten scroll.

I think the novella and scout report are marvellous ideas for promotion—they both can stir interest in the main story; but, Adrian, do tell us a bit about General’s Legacy – Part Two: Whiteland King.

Inheritance is where Cory and the heroes are forced to confront a new challenge set by their long-time enemy. Whiteland King is the story about what Cory and his comrades do about it. Here is the book description text as it will appear on Amazon and other sales sites:

Dendra Castle is under siege by an army that never sleeps and time is running out.

Prince Cory resolves to lead a black operation right to King Klonag’s throne to do what was forbidden for his grandfather—end the reign of the Whiteland King.

To conquer a Kingdom, Cory leads just thirty Special Operators, the Silver Warrior, the Archmage of Valendo, his daughter (with questionable battle magic ability), and the Scout Commander who is rarely in sight. Is it a desperate fool’s quest? Or, has Zeivite truly come up with a plan to defeat Magnar and the ‘dead mage’ with his limitless magic?

Even Cory does not know.

One way or another, the decades-long war between Valendo and Nearhon must end. Klonag has more pieces to move in this game of war, and Princess Julia is one them. And if she does not cooperate? There are worse fates than death when dealing with Klonag and Magnar, and more than one way to ensure her… unfailing obedience.

The General’s Legacy – Part Two: Whiteland King is the second book in The General of Valendo series that concludes the enthralling story of The General’s Legacy – Part One: Inheritance. The stakes escalate, revelations come, and even the souls of the ancestors gather over the Whitelands to witness the epic conclusion that is sure to thrill.

If you want your fantasy action-packed, laced with mystery, and running at a pace that refuses to let you put it down, The General’s Legacy delivers.

Ultimately, the full weight of the old general’s influence on past events and the people left behind is shown as Cory’s relentless determination collides with their enemy’s obsession with conquest.

Grab your copy of Whiteland King and start reading today!

As a final question, Adrian: You describe Inheritance and Whiteland King as the first two books in The General of Valendo series. What comes next?

The name of the next book and a short teaser description is in the back of Whiteland King. I don’t want to spoil any surprises. There are subtle things sprinkled into The General’s Legacy that will be picked up and used in future stories. The General’s Legacy is the story of how Prince Cory becomes the General of Valendo. Now, the story of him being the general can be told—if he lives through Whiteland King! After all, The General of Valendo is a job title, not a character ;-)

I’m looking at the scale of the achievements of historical generals such as Alexander the Great for inspiration—more fantasy tropes that I’ll give a twist to; and then, frame it all in the nature and consequences of man’s free will. Not everyone uses their free will wisely!



Why not visit Adrian’s blog

And, this would be a great time to ask Adrian a few questions in the Comments :-)
If you don’t see a way to comment (or, “reply”) after this post, try up there at the top right…
Read Some Strange Fantasies
Grab A Free Novel…
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For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

Friday Story Bazaar ~ Tale Thirty-Two

My Worldly Education

Alexander M Zoltai


“…to indulge their appetites they have done away with their own selves.”   *


I was raised in the bosom of wealth and privilege.

It gave me a cushioning—a buffer between me and the nastiness of the world.

I think I learned a few “higher” ideas because I wasn’t wallowing in the muck…

I wasn’t planning on breaking with my family; but, some of my views were radically opposed by my father—I fought back—I was disinherited…


I found a job with a Movement that needed constant funding—I appreciated what they were doing (helping folks…)—I knew people—I found them their money (and, made quite a bit for myself in commissions).

I wasn’t planning on being issued an injunction; but, my overzealousness raised alarms—people who knew my father made complaints…

I was forced to find less productive work…


I became a salesman—selling whatever promised high commissions.

Taste and ethics didn’t matter—high commissions did.

My small group of friends disappeared—well, I wasn’t able to be there to entertain them, which made them reconstruct their social patterns….


I became richer than my father.

I paid to obtain new friends.

I formed many Movements—“Foundations” that earned me more than what all the beneficiaries of the Foundations got.

I only worked for “certain”, very private people…

I eventually became a recluse…

I, eventually, lost all hope…

My worldly education is over.

My next act will be to erase my existence…



* quote from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá


Read More Story Bazaar Tales

If you don’t see a way to comment (or, “reply”) after this post, try up there at the top right…
Read Some Strange Fantasies
Grab A Free Novel…
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For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

5 Picture Books That Have Influenced My Teaching of Social Justice Issues by Vanessa Capaldo

Even though “picture books” may seem the province of only children (or, adults reading to children), perhaps you might enjoy some of these… in a suitable hideaway? :-)

Nerdy Book Club

I am a voracious reader and a devoted middle school English teacher. Every year, my focus has been to teach my students about being kind to others and being an upstander who stands for doing what is right and taking care of those who need it. Here are 5 picture books that have influenced my teaching of social justice issues in my classroom. (They are also good for sharing with our own children.)


Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

(social justice issue – bullying)

I had the chance of hearing Woodson speak last January at a teaching conference and I was struck by how eloquent and endearing she is. This certainly bleeds into the stories she writes. This book is about a young girl at a new school who is not accepted by her peers. Rejected, Maya eventually stops coming to school. Chloe, one of the girls who did not accept…

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