On Crown of Thorns

Front Cover of Crown of Thorns, available now on Amazon.com

No fancy quote this time, sadly. Just pure stream-of-consciousness here.


So, with the release of my second book, linked here, I wanted to review and analyze a bit of my first one. How’d I do with my first foray into the publishing world? What’d I learn? How could I aim to improve? These and more were important considerations in writing and editing my second novel, and they will remain important considerations for the remainder of my career, or so I suspect.

First up: Publishing. It’s easier than I had anticipated to self-publish. Big points to Amazon for that. Far easier than hunting down an agent and a formal publisher. However, I reached an impasse with this whole “Expanded Distribution” game. I was presented with the opportunity to publish in 13 nations with a 70% royalty, or somewhere north of 100 nations with a 35% royalty. I went with the 70% option, because every penny was going to count and I didn’t expect many potential sales beyond the 13 nations at that royalty tier. However, I have been in contact with many disappointed prospective customers that were unable to purchase my book, and I was faced with the question of whether me making slightly more money per sale actually justified this heightened selectivity.

Another problem I reached was one of size. My first book is 5.5”x8”. This is non-standard enough to run into other issues with Expanded Distribution meaning if I actually wanted to market to those 100+ nations at 35% royalty, I’d need to invest in resizing my cover and page setup to mold my first novel into something that is a standardized trim size. I kept this in consideration for the second novel, sizing it for 5.25”x8” which is a standard trim size and is therefore eligible out of the gate for Expanded Distribution.

Second topic: Marketing. I barely did any. Amazon does offer a means to run an advertising campaign but I simply never got around to it (partially because of issues connecting my bank account with the campaign systems). Most of my sales came from word-of-mouth. This remains the case. At the time of writing this blog post, I am planning to run an advertising campaign and a sale for the first book in advance of the sequel’s release. We’ll see how that goes.

I established this blog a few months after the release of the first book, and I’ve only recently built a social media existence (it’s a stretch to call it a “presence”) on Twitter. Perhaps these will have some influence on the propagation of my second novel into the hands of prospective readers. I suspect word-of-mouth will do most of the heavy lifting again, though.

Third topic: The contents of the first book itself. Oh boy.

This may come as a bit of a shock and will likely do me no marketing favors, but I don’t actually like my first book. There’s a very high chance that I’m being overly critical of myself, but I feel as though my issues with it are fairly genuine/realistic. For starters, the book feels “automatic” in the sense of the flow of the story. My protagonist’s existence does put some plot elements into motion, but I feel her actions themselves rarely change things. This was, to some extent, part of the design—I wanted to subvert notions of a “chosen one” protagonist, as well as the idea of “royal blood” (which some side characters discount the validity of too)—but I feel as though I may have overdone it. This is all a great irony for someone whose last blog post was all about character agency.

One of the criticisms I got from my first book was that following along with the progression of time felt a little difficult. Which is not to say that my first book is particularly temporally convoluted (because it’s entirely linear) but, rather, the gap in time between chapters was not narratively communicated well. Each of my chapters is led by a date associated with that chapter’s opening, but some readers wanted the narrative itself to relate that date to the period of time in the previous chapter; after all, it had been several pages and/or a different reading session that the prior chapter’s date had been acknowledged. I tried to offer solutions to this in the second book, including phrases like “A few weeks after <some event>” or something else to that effect. We’ll see how it’s received.

Another criticism I got was under-describing details/people. I do and I don’t agree with this criticism. I think there’s always room to squeeze in more descriptive details if one tries; however, I somewhat detest an overabundance of information. The latter is antithetical to my writing style—any details I include are there because they’re important to the story or characters. I intend to leave a reader’s imagination to fill in the rest, that they may form a better familiarity and bond with the story. When considering the opposite, I can’t help but reminisce about childhood English classes having their students debate the significance of the color of the curtains in a given scene. Sometimes, red curtains are just red curtains. With hopes of sparing unfortunate students who may for some reason be reviewing my works one day, I sought to only include that for which there was something worth discussing. I’m very minimalist in this sense, I suppose, but some readers are not so welcoming of this style. This is not to say that my first novel is devoid of any scene-building information at all, but some readers wanted more concreteness to the world and its inhabitants than I offered. I tried sneaking in some more superficial details about my world and its characters in the second novel while still generally maintaining my minimalist approach to writing. We’ll see if it tracks.

I loathe the ending of Chapter 5/the beginning of Chapter 6 in my first novel. At the time of writing these chapters, I had felt like this transition was a good way to inform the reader that this story was narratively ‘written’ in retrospect by the narrator and served as a means to thrust the subject matter into the main plot thread. But it’s a truly jarring, out-of-place experience. Were I to republish my first book, I’d scrap this idea entirely/rewrite the transition into something of greater substance.

All of these are somewhat small details to the big thing that annoys me with the first book, though: it’s overloaded on what it has to do. Not only is it the first book I’ve ever written, but it is also the first book in its own series. So that means it needs to establish an ongoing plot in a growing world while simultaneously also beginning and ending a tale of its own, all within the confines of its 457 (paperback) pages. It is a tall order and I have always felt (or feared) that it may be too condensed. Furthermore, I have found the “origin story” as a plot thread to be a bit overdone. Maybe it’s fine as a new story as was the case with my novel, but there’s a reason new renditions of Spider Man or Batman are skipping the uncle’s/parents’ (respectively) demise over and over—it’s been done too much. Audiences know, they (we) get it.

Finally, there’s a worry of mine that is much less for the first book as it is for later novels in the series—magic. Or, rather, where I’ve chosen to lean on it. There is some Vancian-style magic system somewhere in my world, but it’s very much in the background. It…may seem rather close to the foreground in the first book, though. An ongoing plot thread is the difference between raw magic and the system of willpower my books introduce; the second novel leans far heavier into the latter system while leaving the former a bit in the dust. I worry, at times, that it may come across as my simply having forgotten about the former system entirely. This isn’t the case—alas, the plot demands a different focus!

All that aside, though, readers generally seemed to quite enjoy my first novel. Not only has my first novel consistently sat at a cozy 5-star rating on Amazon for the past year (and not for lack of incoming reviews, though more are always welcome!) I’ve repeatedly been told in person (or digitally) that readers really liked what I wrote and wanted more. So, today, I’m happy to give them more. I’m also overwhelmingly enthused to move on to writing the next volume, too! But more on the what and why of that in another post.

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