Survey Results: Your Preferred Retailer Platform

In last month’s newsletter I asked my subscribers to vote on their preferred retailer platform. I’ve not had a very good response – only 89 people completed the survey, but at least the results have given me some idea of where my readers buy their e-books.

Since the Mythical Menagerie series 1 is almost complete, my main concern (apart from actually finishing the book!) is to try to determine where to make it available. I asked my newsletter subscribers to vote between Kindle Unlimited and other large retailers, with the option to select “Other” and let me know which retailer I’m neglecting. The main feedback for this category was Google Play – huge oversight! I use Draft 2 Digital as my distributor, and unfortunately Google Play is still only in beta with them. Hopefully by the time the novel is ready for release, this will have been rectified. There is always the option to go direct – but life’s too short and I’d rather do other things (such as writing!) than log into every retailer manually whenever I need to update something.

So here are the results of the survey:

As you can see, 15% voted Kindle Unlimited, 54% prefer Amazon but are not in KU, and 31% in total make use of other retailers. So clearly, Amazon is the way to go.

However, I subscribe to the motto of not having all your eggs in one basket, and I definitely don’t want to disappoint any subscribers on my list who have been waiting patiently for years (!) for this novel to be released. I’d like to go wide with it.

So here is my plan to have the best of both: when the novel releases I will enroll it in KU for the required minimum period of 3 months. This will allow the first batch of readers to get their hands on it. When that time is up, I’ll take it out of KU and release it wide across all of the retailers available via Draft 2 Digital. That should give everyone a chance to read it and maximise my distribution potential.

I’ve worked really hard on this novel and I can’t wait to share the finished product with the world. Hopefully this tactic should satisfy everyone.

What is your preferred online retailer? Do you think my distribution plan will keep long-time subscribers happy and would you be willing to wait for the 3 months exclusivity period if you don’t use Kindle Unlimited?

Announcement: Strawberry Moon Press

I consider myself to be an independent author, which means not only am I responsible for writing the books, I also need to ensure their quality in terms of editing, cover design and layout, as well as marketing them to the right readers who would enjoy my stories. In other words, pretty much everything that a traditional publisher would have done for me (and then some) had I decided to try that route.

Therefor, it’s only fair that I make all my hard work official and set myself up as a publishing imprint.

So, with lots of fanfare, drum rolls and flag waving, I’d like to officially announce the name of my publishing imprint: Strawberry Moon Press.

Those of you who read last week’s post about full moon names will know where the inspiration for this name came from. The logo design was done by the incredibly talented Tallulah from Covers by Tallulah, and I just love it. I’m still deciding whether or not I want to create a web presence for the imprint – I might get round to a Facebook page at some point, but it’s not high on my list of priorities right now (finishing the book is!).

What does that mean for you as the reader? Just that you’ll see all my stories published from now on under one publisher’s name, rather than whichever distributor I’m using to push them to all the online e-book stores. Does it affect you? Nope! But I hope it will contribute to the professional image I’m trying to convey and stress how important I take the quality of my work.

Do you agree that a publishing imprint looks more professional for independently published books? Do you take notice of indie book publishers? What do you think of my chosen name and the logo?

Research Discovery: Full Moon Names

In Part 4 of the Mythical Menagerie series, Ambrose is up against the clock as he races to stop something bad from happening on the next Blood Moon. Now, I picked a blood moon because it’s a memorable event – it’s not every day that you see a red moon hanging in the sky – and because it happens fairly infrequently, and yet frequently enough that people should know what a blood moon is.

Blood moon – ominous or just dust particles? | Pixabay

It occurred to me that there might be some mythological background or legends concerning a blood moon, so I delved a little deeper to find out more. As it turns out, blood moons are not that frequent at all (the previous one was in 2015 and the next one will only be in 2032) and they’re most frequently associated with the Hunter’s Moon that takes place in October.

So I thought, great, this moon might be linked to Artemis the Huntress or something similar, but as it turns out, it has a much more practical history. Apparently, ancient cultures gave their full moons (i.e. every month) a specific name to indicate what time of the year it is. The Hunter’s Moon is so called because October is the month in which Northern Hemisphere people used to hunt, collect and preserve meat for the coming winter. I was born in June, the Strawberry Moon, named after those yummy berries ripening at this time of year. You can read more about full moon names here.

For the purposes of my story, the Hunter’s Moon won’t work, because it is set in March, known as the Worm Moon (or as I prefer, the Crow Moon). The Blood Moon also needs to be a more frequent occurrence, maybe every six months or so. And it has to be a little more ominous than stretched out light waves or dust particles in the air.

I guess this is where poetic license comes in.

And just how much fun is it to invent my own lore around a Blood Moon? A whole helluva lot, I can tell you. If you see me staring off into the distance, you’ll know I’m dreaming up my own myths and legends that might just become as mainstream as sparkling vampires one day…

Do you know of any cool myths and legends surrounding blood moons? What is your full moon called?

What Happened to Naia?

Last week I sent out my regular flash fiction story to newsletter subscribers and, as always happens, people responded with: What happens next? Give us some closure. You’re killing me!

So this story has been on my mind since then. The elevator pitch: Naia, priestess of Poseidon, prophesies the fall of Atlantis and then sees an enormous wave rolling in towards the doomed island.

Atlantis | Pixabay

Sunday afternoon I found myself with some rare free time: the little one was visiting his grandfather, the husband was in his workshop. I wanted to continue with my WIP edits, but it was cold and the duvet and the couch called me. So instead, in the name of research, I binge watched a series I had recorded on the PVR months ago called “Legends of the Lost” presented by Megan Fox.

Okay, we won’t go into her presentation skills, scientific method or the validity of her conclusions, but I found the series entertaining nonetheless, and offering some interesting ideas. However, when I got to the episode entitled “America’s Lost Civilization”, I had to sit up and take notice.

My arms were covered with goose bumps when the scientist told the story of a girl they had found drowned deep at the bottom of the Yucatan peninsula. Her remains suggested that she was over 12 000 years old, and that she stems from humans that are genetically distinct but share some commonalities with the most ancient civilizations of our modern world, such as Native Americans, early Central Asians and the indigenous people of South America.

They named her Naia.

And I couldn’t help but wonder at the coincidence of a girl named Naia who stemmed from an ancient culture that genetically links First Nation peoples throughout the world, who had died in Mexican waters just off the Atlantic.

If you know anything about the stories surrounding legendary Atlantis, and about how survivors were dispersed all across the world, and you think about the twist of fate that made me choose that specific name for my character – then your mind should be blown right now too.

Do you believe the legends of Atlantis? What are some of your favourite myths and legends of lost civilizations?

Research Discovery: Scorpion Bombs

While editing Part 4 of the Mythical Menagerie series, I found myself googling for “Roman era projectile missile gas bombs”. Okay wait, I may just have every country scouring the Internet for keywords hot on my tail right now, but bear with me.

There’s a scene where Ambrose is attacked with a hand grenade-like bomb that spews out some kind of sleeping gas. Aren’t first drafts fun? Anyway. So I thought it might be more interesting if the bomb tossed at him actually stemmed from ancient times – hence the dodgy search string.

Did you know that the Romans and Persians were already engaging in chemical warfare way back in the early ADs? Neither did I, and it fits in nicely with my plans for that scene. But, what really caught my interest was mention of a thing called “scorpion bombs”.

Picture this: clay pots raining down from the sky, and when they break open, a bunch of deadly scorpions are deposited all over you, stinging and pinching and generally causing havoc. I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s the stuff of nightmares. If you’re so inclined, you can read more here.

Scorpion – not to be lobbed at people’s heads, thank you very much | Pixabay

Ambrose (probably) won’t have creepy crawlies lobbed at him, but life’s definitely going to get a little harder for him after this particular discovery.


Back From the Balkans

It’s been just over a week since we’ve returned from our three-week campervanning trip through the Balkans. Technically I shouldn’t be calling it a Balkans trips anymore, since we only travelled through two of the four countries we planned to visit – Slovenia and Croatia. But wow, did those two deliver!

I am in love with Slovenia.

This unassuming little country checks all three of my happiness must-haves (mountains, forests and lakes) and even added a fourth one to the mix (church bells). The mountains are tall and snow-capped, the forests are dense green swathes that cover most of the country and the lakes really are that unbelievable shade of turquoise you see on Pinterest. Picture in your mind’s eye the forest in which Hansel and Gretel got lost – I’ll bet you just imagined Slovenia.

Croatia was almost as amazing.

To be honest, I think our enchantment with Slovenia doesn’t do Croatia any favours. Had we visited Croatia first, we might have liked it a little more, but now it almost feels like Slovenia’s ugly red-headed stepsister (sorry red-heads, it’s just an expression!). Croatia is anything but ugly. Think red-tiled roofs, fortress cities the colour of dark sandstone, and an ocean so deep blue your heart aches for it. I can understand why Dubrovnik captured the imagination of the location scout who picked it to be King’s Landing.

Did this trip fill the creative well? Indeed! I have at least three new story ideas and a wealth of beautiful settings for them to take place in. I am always inspired by travel, and while I don’t write any words while I’m on the road, my imagination is sparked by the places I visit.

So now we’re back home and everything is that dull shade of grey that overlays a mundane life. Sure, I’m happy to sleep in my own bed again, and not to have to share my bathroom with twenty-odd strangers anymore, but I’d rather be exploring a winding mountain road, or letting my imagination wander through the twists and turns of a medieval castle, or eat cream cake for breakfast (seriously people, why is this not a staple food?).

Slovenian cream cake – yum!

To combat this dour state of mind, I’ll be diving straight back into Ambrose’s adventures at every possible opportunity I get. My life may not be as exciting as his is, but at least I get to live vicariously through him. I hope you’ll join me on one of his adventures very soon.

Have you been to Slovenia or Croatia? Did you love it? Do you get post-holiday blues too? Where is your favourite fictional setting in real life?

Filling the Creative Well

I’m a big fan of Joanna Penn from the Creative Penn, and lately Books and Travel, and she often talks about filling the creative well. Joanna lives my best life – an escapee from the corporate IT world, now a full-time author who resides in Bath in the UK, she often goes on research trips to Europe, Asia and the US, and takes frequent days off to visit art galleries, museums and Gothic graveyards. Joanna says it’s important to do things that inspire you.

I’m inspired by travel. All my urban fantasy stories are set in places that I’ve been to or like to visit someday, and even my fantasy settings are informed in some way by places in the real world. Each installment of my Mythical Menagerie series is set in one of Europe’s great cities – so far London, Paris, Cardiff and Rome, with more coming – and even its prequel, Keeper of Exotic Animals, which is set in an undisclosed mountainous location, reminds a little of Alpine country.

My husband and I used to travel quite a lot before our little one arrived. Living in South Africa, overseas travel is an expensive luxury that most people can’t afford, but we decided from the start that it would be a priority for us, and so we set our Rands aside and we do without fancy cars, a grand house or designer clothes, and we take our lunch to work in Tupperware boxes and drink coffee from the office supply. But once a year, we get to go somewhere exciting.

When the baby arrived, all of that went out the window. I’m not brave enough to endure a 12-hour flight with a toddler, so for four years we stayed put, biding our time, scratching our itchy feet by watching the Travel Channel or reading books set in exotic locations. And writing them too, in my case.

But now my son is 3.5 years old, my 40th birthday is a couple of weeks away and it’s time to fill that creative well again.

In a few days’ time, we’re hopping on a plane that will take us to Zagreb. We’re hiring a campervan and doing a three-week tour of the Balkans; starting off in Slovenia, winding our way down the coast of Croatia, exploring the mountains of Montenegro and discovering the history of Bosnia & Herzegovina. It’s a part of the world that I know very little about, but I expect it will be an amazing experience.

Will I come back inspired with new ideas and new stories? Probably. But most importantly, I’ll have filled the creative well again, one that has been running on empty for quite some time now, and I couldn’t be more excited about that.

If you want to follow along on our travels, follow me on Instagram where I’ll share daily photos of our time in the Balkans, or read along on my blog, which I’ll start updating once we get home again.

Are you inspired by travel? What is your ultimate bucket list destination?

On Changing Mailing Service Providers

I received an email from Mailchimp last week that stated that their terms of service would be changing. As I normally do, I just deleted the email, assuming that it would probably be something minor that would hardly affect me. I’m happy with Mailchimp – they have been my mailing service provider from the day I realised I needed to have a list of subscribers and send them email on a regular basis.

Much to my dismay however, the indie author community immediately erupted over the changes being implemented. Read David Gaughran’s very comprehensive post here.

The most notable change for me is that the Chimp has moved over from list subscribers to list audiences – meaning where I once would have paid only for the people subscribed to my list and not for those who choose to unsubscribe and no longer want to hear from me, I now have to pay for the size of the entire audience, both subscribers and unsubscribed. Mailchimp’s reasoning behind this is that they keep the details of people who have unsubscribed in their database and it can be used for target marketing. My argument is that I do not want to market to people who have already indicated that they are not interested. It seems spammy to me and I’m pretty sure it also goes against the GDPR regulations. Either way, from a practical point of view, if someone has unsubscribed from my mailing list, then I don’t want to bother them anymore and I most certainly do not want to pay for them being in my supposed audience.

This is particularly pertinent to newbie authors such as myself who have to first gain an audience by making a free book available to anyone willing to give me their email address in exchange for it. Inevitably I get lots of bargain hunters subscribing and then unsubscribing (sometimes almost immediately, before even reading said book and deciding whether or not it would be worth staying on my list to learn more about me and my books). It’s bad enough that I’m giving my hard work away for free, it’s absolutely unacceptable that I now have to pay for these email addresses who don’t ever want to hear from me again.

As someone who is currently still within their previously free plan (less than 2000 active subscribers), there are even more changes that affect me too:

  • I now have to pay extra for my automation sequence (the most important part of the list building toolkit)
  • email templates and custom branding are out the door
  • segmentation is on the highest paid plan
  • no more audience insights
  • no more dedicated customer support
  • only 1 audience (so no more multiple lists for my multiple small businesses)
  • I now have a cap on the amount of emails I get to send per month (i.e. 10k emails, which is used up quickly if you are a weekly mailer, even with a small list)

There are probably a few smaller things that I’m unaware of right now too, but which will inevitably trip me up just when I want to use them.

I am quite disappointed. I’ve been using Mailchimp since 2017 and have become comfortable and knowledgeable with its interface and features.

Although I am still on the free plan, my first full-length novel is coming out at the latter end of the year and I was hoping to increase my number of subscribed users to a significant amount before then. With these kinds of changes, Mailchimp has made it practically impossible and a lot more expensive to do so.

Please note that I’m not opposed to paying for a service – I just want to get my money’s worth when I do. Especially since I earn ZAR and have to spend USD. The more I have to spend, the longer I have to stick with the (soul-destroying) day job.

I have one more mail going out with Mailchimp at the end of the month. After that, it will be time to move to a new service provider.

Are you adversely affected by Mailchimp’s changes? Are you planning to change service providers? Who would you recommend instead?

What I’m Currently Working On: Yep, You Guessed It

Hi! My name’s Suneé and I’m a slow writer.

And when I say slow, apparently I mean glacially. Dinosaurs have lived and gone extinct in the time it takes me to write the first draft of a novelette.

Dinosaurs watching a meteorite passing by | The Good Dinosaur | Disney Pixar

So yeah, I am (still) busy writing Part 4 of my Mythical Menagerie series. All sorts of things have conspired towards making my attempts to catch up on my self-imposed deadline almost impossible. I’m not making excuses – I know I should get my lazy ass up out of bed at 4 AM in the mornings because writing should be that important to me, and yet I don’t – I’m just stating the facts. I’m behind my schedule. I’m trying to catch up. But if I miss that deadline – oh well. I’d rather have a quality product than a rushed one. I want to be proud of my work, and if it takes a little longer than expected, I’m sorry, but there it is. Maybe it would go quicker if I were still writing full-time, but unfortunately you need to be a prolific writer with a big backlist to make a living from writing and I am neither of those things. Yet.

Also, ALSO, I’ve received the e-book cover for the complete novel from my incredibly talented cover designer, Tallulah, and IT IS AMAZING! I just want to show the world! But I’ll keep my enthusiasm contained for a proper cover reveal when the time is ready. For anyone who’s forgotten – I am no longer releasing individual installments of the novelette series (for reasons), but am holding it all back until the entire series is complete, after which it will be published as a full novel. Only 1.5 installments to go.

Plus, my friend Schalk, who is the most amazing composer you’ll meet this century, sent me the final version of the music he composed for my book trailer! It makes me squeal like a toddler finding a hidden Easter egg whenever I listen to it. You guys, I don’t know how he managed it, but this music is perfect for the tone of the book! So… I am about to start the process of creating a book trailer. Yay! (Listen to the music he made for me for the book trailer for my short story, Spirit Caller.)

On a more personal side, my birthday is looming and we are now counting the days until we jump on a plane and head for the Balkans for a three-week jaunt in a campervan. I’ve been in a spin trying to sort all the visas and things out (the joy of travelling on a South African passport), but most of the admin is now done and we basically just have to pack our bags and set off. I lie awake at nights thinking about this holiday – it’s been way too long since we’ve gone anywhere remotely interesting. If you’re into travel, follow me on Instagram where I’ll be sharing the pictures of our trip from mid-June to early July, and you can check out my (somewhat neglected) travel blog if you like to live vicariously through others. If you’ve read Beginner’s Luck (and the other two installments while they were still available), then you’ll know I’m inspired by travel. Who knows what will come from this trip?

Otherwise, I’ve been reading good books (I seriously recommend Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer, go check it out), watched the end of a Marvel era unfold and tried my hand at mosaic art.

Enough about me! What have you been up to lately? Did you watch Avengers: Endgame? Are you as traumatised as I am? Are you a travel junkie? Where are you heading to next? What good books have you read recently and want to recommend? Let me know in the comments below.

Tears for Notre Dame

Imagine my distress when I logged into social media late night on 15 April, only to be confronted by a slew of images of the Notre Dame on fire. I’m not embarrassed to say that I was in tears. I spent the rest of the evening in a shell-shocked state, watching footage of the fire raging, of the enormous cloud of smoke billowing into the sky, and finally the spire tumbling to the ground.

I was devastated.

I first set foot in its hallowed halls when I was 18 years old. It was my first visit to Europe and I was awestruck and wide-eyed the entire time, but never more so than inside that glorious Gothic cathedral. I gaped at the intricate carvings of saints and sinners, at the beautiful woodwork and stonemasonry. I admired the vaulted ceiling high above, the pillars that lead the eye up to Heaven. I stood in dappled light as the sun fell in through the Rose window.

And then something amazing happened. A voice – pure, angelic – lifted in song. The words of Ave Maria echoed through that vast space.

Everyone stopped and stared at the young woman, her eyes cast upwards, her face beatific.

Goosebumps raised on my arms then, and now, while I’m recalling it again.

The girl finished her song, the last notes drifting through the air. Her mother hugged her tightly. We all wiped away tears, before the subdued bustle of hundreds of tourists continued again.

That is how I remember the Notre Dame. It holds a special place in my memories.

Suneé in front of the Notre Dame, many years ago…

I’ve been back once since then, and I’ve wanted to go again for a long time, but now it lies in ruins. I’m incredibly thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to see it in its full glory. There are surely millions of others out there, some in Paris right now for the first time, who are not so lucky as I have been.

If this is not a lesson in living your best life now, while you can, then I don’t know what is.

It took 200 years to build this magnificent cathedral.

It stood for 850 years.

It will stand again.

Join Ambrose Davids, Freelance Procurement Specialist, as he travels to the City of Love to forget about love, and instead finds illumination beneath the shadows of the Notre Dame.

Banshee’s Wail, part 2 of the Mythical Menagerie series. Complete novel coming soon.