The Flaming Wrath of Árelor, a book on which I have been working since 2008, was expected to be re-released this month as part of our marketing strategy. As most of my English speaking fans already know, the novel has gotten zero impact in practical terms. A poor marketing plan and a clumsy product presentation were considered to be at fault.
I recently got an email from Route 11 in which the chief publisher declared that they are not going to relaunch the book, nor take further actions for promoting it, until I have another novel to sell. We have talked about releasing a new title and using The Flaming Wrath of Árelor as a free hook for sucking readers into the new publication. In short, the publisher thinks The Flaming Wrath of Árelor is not able to stand by itself and it is worth nothing from the commertial point of view, out of being a support item for a real product.
Truth to be told, this seems to be the end of the road. I might soon follow up with an article detailing the economics of being a writer. Suffices to say that writting a book in Spanish and then translating it to English, while ensuring a high enough quality for the readers, is a daunting, expensive and time consuming task. You don't create a firm lightly, you don't publish a quality book lightly. Hence, the mere notion that I am expected to go over that work once again, knowing that the probabilities of doing better than with the first book, feels absurd. Which of course implies there is going to be no second book in the short term and no revival for The Flaming Wrath of Árelor on the horizon.
I should carefully consider what has leaded me to this situation.
When I published the first edition of The Flaming Wrath of Árelor in Spain, under the Spanish title “La Espada Vengadora”, I did so on a tight budget. Ebook distribution platforms in Spain were pretty much non-existent for authors and small publishing houses, so I had a small amount of cheap paperbacks printed using a non-digital press. The presentation was very bad, the paper was cheap, the text was badly organized within the pages and there was no cover illustration. I made a deal with the owner of my favourite bookstore in the city in order to have the copies for sale in his shop. It took a long time, but I ended up selling the whole lot of books I had printed.
I got some nice feedback from the readers, and once I finished writting my second book, I decided to publish both the first and the second again. This time, however, I wanted to do it the right way. I spent my money in professional cover illustrations, quality thick paper and so on. I think the result was a better edition for both books than what many traditionally published books get. Ebook publishing platforms were on the rise at the time, so I also learnt about ebook coding and carefully crafted copies for online distribution, and placed them in many popular platforms. I also started to show up in forums and social media in order to promote the books.
I shortly noticed that my marketing efforts were underperforming. People at the bookstore and in my social circles was less likely to buy the professional editions than the cheap version, despite the fact that the prices were roughly the same at the time. My forum threads were getting visitors, but those visits did not turn into visits to my website -much less visits to the sales platforms. I noticed that many other books in the same forums and social media were gathering lots of supporters and customers despite the fact they were doing nothing I was not doing myself. I am not going to give the boring details. Suffices to say that any random book in certain forum was generating more sales per unique visitor than me. Readers were arriving to my threads, having a look, deciding the book was uninteresting and moving on, just like that.
I bought the matter up in the forum I was more active in and I was suggested to replace the illustrations and backcover descriptions of the books. I had no resources to switch the illustrations at the time and changing the descriptions didn't help. Six months later it was obvious that the prefessionalized publication of the two books was a failure.
I was sure that the problem was not due to a lack of quality in the books. People was just ignoring them. Spain was having very bad credit crisis back then. Unemployment rates were very bad, and still are. I thought that maybe the problem was due to the fact I was trying to sell a product in a country in which people had no money to buy non-essentials. I decided to move on into new markets.
I made the worst mistake I have ever done in my career as an author. I translated La Espada Vengadora to English.
I did the translation myself. I am not a native English speaker, so I wanted to gather a team for proofreading and editing the translated manuscript and ensure it was at least as good as the original Spanish version. I started to recruit volunteers among users I knew from some IRC networks I was active in. Coordinating such a team of volunteers turnd out to be a hellish ordeal of epic proportions. People took up tasks that they never completed. Some volunteers took pieces of the book, promised to show up at a certain date with their suggestions and modifications and were never seen again. It took a whole year for me to get the manuscript ready after I had translated it.
Route 11 Publications had show interest in my efforts during the process, so it didn't take long for me to close a publicaition deal with them. Route 11 reused my illustrations and backcover descriptions. The book was proofread and edited by them once again and published through multiple popular ebook stores on the Internet. I switched my official online presence to English and started promoting my works again on social media and forums.
The story just repeated itself once again. Visitors did not turn into sales. Conversion ratios were close to zero. People was not interested in having the books delivered even for free during my freebie promotions, they didn't show up during my book signing meetings. Readers were arriving to my threads and posts and websites, having a look, deciding the book must be bad and then moving on. Hence, the situation I am facing right now.
I strongly believe that The Flaming Wrath of Árelor is a good piece of literature and that its failure in the bookstores is not due to a lack of quality. It is safe to say that if the book was awfully written it would be obtaining the same results. Which leads us to the question: Why is it doing so badly?
I have zeroed on the following probable causes:
- The cover illustration is bad. Honesly, I like it very much, but it seems that Duncan Long and I are the only people who do. Since the cover is the main means the author has to set the mood in the mind of the buyer, a bad illustration is a catastrophic disaster. Multiple readers I have talked about the matter with think this is one of the big issues.
- The backcover description is bad. Almost the same idea as above. I think it is quite good but many people think it is very bad.
- My online promotion skills are bad. It is not a secret that, despite being a microchip head, I dislike conventional websites and social media a lot. The people at Route 11 is always complaining because I am not very active in social media. I must confess that the lack of results online has demotivated me and slowed my content posting ratio drastically.
- The fantasy market is saturated. Not a cause of failure by itself, but an aiding factor in the overall results. There are many writers and not readers for all of us.
The first three points could be solvable, but since my publisher has stepped aside from the plan of relaunching the book this month we won't see 1 and 2 solved anytime soon. I could get my hands dirty again and fix number 3, but there is a point in the life of an author where you get tired and wornt out of wasting time and money that would be better invested somewhere else, like growing potatoes in the backyard. I guess it it the time to move on. I have a job, I have a firm, I have a position at a political organitation and I have dogs and horses that apreciate my presence more than the ununderstanding Internet crowds.
What does the future hold?
Route 11 Publications and I will keep the books available for purchase, but I am stopping every online promotion effort I was carrying out on conventional social media. It is just not worth it. When the domain of my website expires I won’t bother to renew it.
I am going to continue working on my third book. However, an English version of said novel cannot be promised.
There is a trend among fantasy fans regarding the demand for deep, developed, fleshed out villains in fantasy fiction. Nowadays, many readers want writers to create villains with realistic motivations, solid backgrounds that explain why they perform their evil deeds, and relatable traits. According to this takeview on the subject, characters that are evil just because are a sign of lazy storytelling, are boring and are unrealistic.
Many fantasy or mythological creatures are bad just because it is in their nature. Demons and gods of darkness are expected to be evil because they would not be good even if they were given the opportunity to be. A demon is not a member of an oppressed class, he didn't have a rough childhood, he was not recruited by a gang at a young age. He was born from the fabric of pure darkness and darkness is all that he is. However, the human worshippers of these black forces are a different matter. There must be a reason why the Mean Wizard of the Week turned to the Dark Side. He was not born from pure darkness, so he must have been a member of an oppressed class, or had a rough childhood, or was forced to survive in a gang infested town, right? If the writer is not able to explain to the audience why the Mean Wizard of the Week chose to be so, it must be because he didn't want to think about it, and hence he is a lazy author, isn't he?
The truth is obviously not so simple.
Fact is that villains that have no realistic or developed motivations at all are extremely popular in entertaining media, but it is hard to demonstrate that their motivations are lacking because their creators were lazy. When you define a complex Bad Guy of the Month for a story, you need to provide him with goals and motivations, and it is very easy to make a mistake and alienate your readers because of this. I suspect many authors consciously use simple villians because of this.
Take, for example, the generic Alien Invader. He is inhuman, he is covered in nasty fluids, makes weird sounds and is ugly. He kidnaps people and uses human beings to lay eggs in them. He acts like that because that is what nasty aliens are supposed to do. Readers will automatically understand that and accept it. The valiant heroes have enough of a justification for beating the life out of him, his family and his whole civilisation.
Now consider the second example. The Agorist Gunrunner. He was framed by a crime he didn't commit and lost his faith in law. His wife left him, and when he went out of jail there was no family waiting for him. He was never given a job. He then tried to open a gun factory, but he could not sell guns enough in the white market to sustain the business, so he started making hyper-technological weapons and selling them in the black market. He now sells weapons to radical constitutionalist militia groups, and exports weapons to countries were there are no gun licenses for civilians. It is clear that the heroes must destroy his business of weaponry... Our glorious Interpol heroes will take care of him!
What is the problem with the second example? Well, the problem is that the following readers now hate you for writing "such rubbish":
- Left-wing Agorists and other market anarchists.
- American right-wing constitutionalists.
- Militia members of different ideological signs.
- Gun manufacturers.
I highly dislike books in which I like the villain more than I do like the heroes... when you think the villain is right and the heroes are wrong, the book is upside down. The story turns around and is not about brave heroes chasing a dangerous evil mastermind. It is about a bunch of thugs that think they are right chasing a person you agree with. When the inevitable end happens and the thugs defeat this character you like and know to be in the right side, you feel cheated and think the book and its author are unfair and should burn in the Hell of Árelor.
The underlaying issue is that once you start giving evil characters complex goals, personalities and motivations, you have a chance of alienating your audience against you if they agree with the villain and not with the heroes. This does not happen with simplistic enemies like the Alien Invader. This alone is enough justification for opting for such Bad Guys in certain circumstances, even if you could come up with something more fleshed out.
My recommendation is to create villains that are evil just because they like being evil, but to give them distinct personalities and traits that are realistic and relatable. This allows to have the best of both worlds: an enemy that will be identified as such universally by every member of the audience, and a deep character to please the readers that don't want a cardboard villain.
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A Social Justice Warrior ate my Corebook - (or how to turn the fantasy fandom into a political battlefield)
Imagine for a minute that the National Rifle Association decided that "assault rifle" was too aggressive a name, and decided that absolutely nobody should use that denomination ever, for the sake of public relations. They come up with some euphemism, like "pacification device", and insist that everybody use that euphemism instead of the "wrong" naming. As usually happens with language designed by subcultures or small communities, that term ends up being used exclusively by the people within that community, and the rest of the world is largely unaware of this event.
Six months later, you buy some roleplaying game manual. Some extremely serious game about space marines exploring dungeons and blasting eight legged alien monsters away, for example. You start reading it and it looks like a fine system, but when you arrive to the section with the weapon charts, you scratch your head because there are lots of references to different versions of a weapon called "pacification device" and you don't know what that means. A few pages later, you find a sidebar in which it explains you what a pacification device is, and why it should never ever be called "assault rifle", and why your 2nd amendment rights are important.
At this point, you know that the RPG you just bought is including a political advertisement, that the publisher has taken sides, and whose side it has taken. The message the publisher is sending is: if you don't like assault rifles (pardon, pacification devices), we don't want you here.
The next afternoon, you browse the Web for downloadable material for the game because you want to run a session with your friends. You enter the forum of the publisher, and you notice there is a discussion going on. Somebody has started a thread, complaining because people are complaining because the book contains political propaganda. The thread quickly turns into a flamewar, with people defending 2nd amendment rights and the inclusion of the propaganda, people arguing that it is not propaganda, people claiming that they defend 2nd amendment rights but don't want propaganda in their games... The defendants of the propaganda say that the games should be inclusive and try to appeal to gun owners, and the detractors say that such opinion is non-sense, because gun owners are not prevented from enjoying the game at all if the propaganda is absent.
The moderators, appointed by the publisher for taking care of rule enforcement in the forum, arrive and try to clean the mess. What do they do? Do they close the thread, like every moderator does when a discussion is running amok? No. The moderators come and ban off the people who does not agree with the publisher's political stance.
At this point, you know that the publisher is not even trying to conceal their political agenda.
The sad part of the story? It is as real as it gets.
I recently purchased a thick RPG corebook from Onyx Path Publishing. It was a premium expensive book that was shipped via international premium mail. The book makes use of certain language forms which belong to gay, lesbian, transsexual and intersexual circles... much like our fictional pacification device belongs just to the NRA. It has some sidebar explaining those non-standard language terms and why it is important that they are used.
Some days later, I found a thread in Onyx Path's forums in which people was tearing each other apart because of the inclusion of such elements in the book. Some people defended that Onyx Path should be inclusive and attempt to appeal to members of the LGBTI community, and some others defended that political propaganda does not belong in such game. At some point it turned into a discussion about the nature of homosexuality and if it was normal or not. The Onyx Path forum moderators arrived at the scene and banned most of the people who disliked the propaganda, alleging hate speech rules.
The line that separates responsible free speech from harmful hate speech is thin and blurry at best, but to be honest, it felt a lot like a demonstration of power from moderation rather than a legit act of housekeeping. A legit act of housekeeping would have been to lock the thread because it was straying into dangerous territory, not to take sides.
Onyx Path Publishing is sending the following message: If you don't like the LGBTI movement in the way we do, we don't want you here.
I find it ironic that, in an attempt to make the game more socially inclusive, the publisher is kicking off people who disagrees with their views... which is, of course, actually the stance of a hypocrite.
Books are entertaining devices that are easy to subvert into political tools of indoctrination, and I am sad to say that certain RPG publishers are including lots of political content that is completely uncalled for in their games. It is ok to have mature games that deal with the problems of capitalism and socialism in mature and neutral ways. However, some authors of these games can go as far as to pass moral judgements on certain philosophers or ideologies, rendering the game not neutral anymore.
I think the authors have the right to write the game the way they want. However, once you stop being neutral and start kicking dissenting voices out of your social media, you'd better stop saying that none of the members of the company has a political agenda and that you want your games to be socially inclusive and for everybody. Because it is obviously false.
Advertisements don't belong to a book that is worth over a hundred USD plus shipping. I don't want advertisements in a premium product. I don't want to buy a special edition of a game and find advertisements from Burger King or Telepizza in it, nor advertisements of a political party, nor advertisements of a certain politicized way of talking and writing.
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It is my pleasure to announce that Route 11 has scheduled the re-release of The Flaming Wrath of Árelor for this September. The reason for this move is that the book has turned into a complete failure in the English speaking market. We think this fact is completely unrelated to the quality of the book - which is highlighted by the few loyal fans I have - and is a marketing problem instead.
Sadly, after considering the number of visits to pages and forums in which The Flaming Wrath of Árelor is being talked about, it is obvious that it is not interesting to the readers. The percentage of visitors who leave comments in related forum threads is outstandingly lower than the percentage obtained by other books in the same environments. I brought this subject up with some people in the Internet and with the people at Route 11, and the consensus is that both the cover and the backcover text of the book are ill-conceived. People are discarding the book as a piece of cheap pulp hack 'n' slash because of presentation alone, which is extremely disappointing.
I hope that a new cover and a refreshing book description will help people take the novel for what it is instead of a Conan the Barbarian knock-off.
Failure is just a step towards success, and it should not be given more thought than it deserves. This being so, I also announce that I have started working on a third novel. This book will be independent from my first two books. This one will be a low fantasy story - low fantasy being a genre in which the action happens in a world where fantastic or supernatural events are uncommon or not expected to take place. As always, the novel will be written in Spanish and then translated if resources allow. There is no publishing deal for this book yet.
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Route 11 is getting ready for reorganizing the marketing of The Flaming Wrath or Árelor. This will include a new cover illustration that will be more related to the genre of the book.
Apparently, news regarding my software projects make this website unfriendly for fantasy fans, so I am doing away with them all. This means that products such as the Deduper File Deduplicator or services such as the OpenBSD man page database have no longer a place here.
Things that are being shutdown include:
- The gopher site with all its services. The contents that are still worth it will be managed by the Crypto For Liberty association from now on.
- The OpenBSD man page database.
- The Deduper File Deduplicator.
- Non-standard means of contact.
- My OpenPGP key is over.
- The Bitmessage address is over.
- The i2p-bote address is over.
It is important to understand that I am not withdrawing my support from any of these tools. It is just that all the technocruft is a burden when it comes to talking about fantasy books.
Remember that you can still find me, read about me, follow my latest activities, discuss my articles and show your support at these more conventional places: