We are learning a lot about being self-published authors. ‘Diaries of a Dwarven Rifleman’ is not our first venture into self-publishing; a few years back we published a non-fiction book about medieval European swords, “The Medieval Sword in the Modern World,” published first as an eBook and then as a Print-On-Demand book.
I actually had two publishers express and interest in this book, but realizing that this was very much a niche book and there were literally tens of dollars to be made we self-published. The book was wildly successful as such things go, actually paying for my investment in time within the first three months that it was available. It is now in it’s second edition and continues to do well. But because I am well-known as a sword-maker and have been active on the sword-related websites and forums for many years this book had and has a built-in audience. Reaching that audience was easy because they already knew me.
With ‘Diaries of a Dwarven Rifleman‘ we’re learning a whole new set of lessons, mostly about how hard it is for ‘unknown’ authors who self-publish to reach a broad audience. While there is some cross-over with the ‘Sword’ community, many of whom are fans of fantasy fiction when all is said and done this community is the proverbial ‘drop-in-the-bucket’ in terms of the overall market. The question of how to reach more readers is a sticky one. So far on average we’ve sold about one eBook per day since we released on 26 Febuary of this year. We’ve given away copies to reviewers, and offered three days of free promotion, giving away over five-hundred free copies. So far all of this effort has yielded up eleven reviews and had no visible effect on sales. Pleas to ‘like’ and ‘share’ have had small effect. We’ve had a number of excellent suggestions from other authors about reliable and effective ‘paid’ promotion services, but as modestly priced as they are we cannot afford them. Admittedly the quest for readers is a marathon, not a sprint but we’re open to suggestions.
Enough whining about that, though. What reviews we have gotten have been excellent and have revealed something that we never suspected we might accomplish. We’ve written what is effectively a military fantasy novel that appeals to women as well as men, and we’re mighty pleased about that! One of the goals when writing the book was to make sure that it didn’t fall into the trap that a lot of military fantasy does of becoming a’military procedural’ book. I like books of that sort, but their appeal is frankly limited.
That being said we didn’t write DoaDR aimed at a specific market or demographic. We had a story to tell and we told it, let the chips fall where they may. Ultimately an author is writing for their own pleasure and from that perspective it’s been a roaring success; we’ve written a book that we enjoy reading. We certainly enjoyed writing it.
One part that I had a love-hate relationship with was all the bloody math that went into the writing. That and admitting that my long ago teachers were right… this stuff really is useful in real life. One of the goals in writing this was to make the world and situations feel real. To impart a sense that this world makes sense. The technology had to be genuinely workable and practical. There had to be a sense that even the magic was sensible and followed reasonable rules. The creatures that inhabit the world have to ‘fit’ into a functional ecology. It always hurts immersion and distracts from the story when the reader stops, blinks to themselves and says, “huh? How the hell could that work?” Yes, this is a fantasy world, but the world is a back-ground character and as such it needs to support the main characters and the story without getting in the way by grabbing attention.
Where my lovely wife and co-author has been of inestimable value was in keeping all these details out of the book. Initially I would launch into extensive bouts of geekstatic explanations, which she would then assure me would cause readers eyes to roll back in their heads. Eventually we learned to balance these in the storytelling, giving the reader enough information to feel the ‘reality’ of the world without over-informing them. We’re very happy with the balance that we’ve achieved. Judging from the reviews we’re not alone in that.
When you are trying to maintain a seamless reality in book you find yourself researching unexpected things, and finding applications for your previous research. We ‘cheated’ by basing a lot of our world in Nordic culture. We’d already researched this extensively so it made sense to do so. The religion of the dwarves is based on Norse religion with a seasoning of celtic and general indo-european paganism adapted to their circumstances and history. We know about the clothes that they wear because we’ve worn Viking-Era clothes. I know about their shoes because I have made and worn them. We know about sax-knives and swords and such because we are familiar with their historic counterparts and I actually make and use these as well. I know a lot about their tech because I have long been fascinated with historic technology and it’s development.
Things that we didn’t know that required research included information about cavalry- specifics like how fast they cover ground under different conditions, maintenance, support and equipage, how they are well employed and the mistakes that can be made employing them and what the effects of those errors are. Another thing that needed more concrete research (and lots of math) was what can be done by riflemen in military terms, how their numbers,training, experience, rate of fire etc. How many casualties they will produce in given circumstances. What their effect is on the enemy in terms of physical and psychological effects.
Having done all 0f this lovely, geeky research and calculation we then had to show, rather than explain, these effects in the course of the story.
Speaking of such things, one of the more fun things for me was the weapons, specifically the air guns. I’ve long been a ‘fan ‘ of historic large-bore air guns. I probably spent more time, effort and math on these than any other part of the background tech of the story and yes, they are completely plausible. They will work in real life. As the money becomes available we intend to prove this, too. Eventually we are going to make them. I want a Dwarven Infantry Long-Rifle just because it would be cool. If any of you out there have a spare milling-machine your not using I’ll be happy to provide you with my address…
Last in this rambling post we have decided to ‘adjust’ the price of DoaDR to $2.99 for the Kindle eBook. There are a lot of reasons to do this and without getting into them let’s just say, “It seems like a good idea.’ Sadly the costs of POD printing mean that we can’t do much about the Trade Paperback’s price.