This month Ryan and Essie is available for free as part of a giveaway of children’s and young adult books. You'll find lots of books about young people of all ages from preschool to high school. This is the first time in years that I’ve made Ryan and Essie free except for review copies—and it will be the last time for the foreseeable future. So now is your chance to get a rare free copy of this book. Follow this link to see it in addition to books by many other authors.
I have given away some books over the last few months because I have a specific goal in mind—to get readers who came because they were interested in these books that I made free. That sounds obvious, but it’s really important. I spoke once before about some of my books receiving disproportionate attention. You might think “well, weren’t those more popular, isn’t that good?” But actually, I felt the situation was a little trickier than that. I have only so much I plan to spend on marketing, so I need to know which books are likely to be smart investments. I didn't know for certain that the books receiving more attention were really the viable ones. Perhaps some of the smaller books had a quiet audience I wasn't hearing about. So while I of course wanted to sell my books, I also felt it was crucial to learn how big a draw each book would actually be if it was easily available (free, for instance) and presented to readers in a way that would draw attention (as free always does.)
I've gone through the majority of the books now using this method. There were no winners and losers, just truthfulness. I didn’t find a book to be inferior or less valid just because it drew smaller initial downloads, if it attracted more active subscribers and fewer freeloaders who never opened even one email. Some books with seemingly successful giveaway campaigns actually gave me a lot of unengaged readers who opened and then quickly stopped reading my messages, which left me with a guess as to how they were doing with the book they downloaded. Then there were promotions in the middle, with some of both. The numbers game wasn’t about aiming for lots of downloads. It was about trying to find a trajectory for both the more talked-about and the less-noticed books on my publication list. And I learned a lot of fantastic things.
Using various books as entry points helped my newsletter to become more balanced. I felt as if I had “voices” for most of my books now whereas that had been lacking before. And yes, some of the ones that had always received more attention continued to get it. But I certainly haven’t committed to free as a promotion strategy instead of sales. In fact, as I also ran paid promotions throughout last year, the books started to develop some interesting demographics based on both free and paid events that helped give me concepts like “people would download this for free, but not buy it,” “this has a small, but sincerely dedicated audience,” “this book is JUST small,” “this one is surprisingly popular,” and so on. I put Ryan and Essie through a sale last year, but haven’t cross-matched it with a free event, which is why I’m doing one now. It needs full representation on my list.
And there will be more updates.
Ryan and Essie is a children’s story that started with some drafts written when I was quite young. Of course, that original story got a substantial polish by the time I returned to the manuscript about twenty years later. But the idea of two children who are pushed together by a larger world that wants them to team up was what always defined the book, from the childish draft into the finished story that built itself around Ryan and Essie’s incompatibility. At times this space adventure and its world-building of the planet of Caricanus show evidence of a young mind learning to tell a story. But I wouldn’t be the first author to complete an idea that they discovered in early writing years and the two protagonists do have a vividness that tugged me back into finishing their story after putting it aside for so many years.
So for the Five Central Characters that bring focus to this weird, but special little story. Since Ryan and Essie are both critical to the book, I’ve foregone both of them so neither one gets favored. So these FCC characters explore the world that wants these kids to work together so badly.
Prince Alavtar is the son of a king who rules a hidden castle built out of diamonds. It is the only castle in the eastern and middle part of the planet that wasn’t wiped out by an ancient war and it remains a hidden sanctuary. Alavtar is Essie’s first friend in the planet, but he is a sensitive and at times emotional young man who becomes vehement and negative when her unfamiliarity with the planet causes his friend Crissy to die.
Lyssia is a dishonest, backstabbing girl who is going nowhere in her life. She works as a henchman for the villainous King Karpalff who rules most of the southern part of the planet, but she has one gift—she can shape-shift. Befriending Ryan immediately in the deserted caves around the ruined ruby castle, she takes advantage of his ignorance to rope him into Karpalff’s service. It’s only at the end that Ryan learns she’s not even human.
Princess Tarvelas is a brilliantly gifted young lady with wisdom that makes her seem far older. She lives in the emerald castle on the western side of the world and is deeply connected to the spiritual side of the Caricanus universe. They worship a deity called Trisagion and Tarvelas has rare direct access to him. A reclusive and intense person, she accepts death and betrayal from Ryan as she is trying to teach him about the planet, rather than ever let go of her ideals.
Viltan is a drifting scavenger who seems to pride himself on being disloyal to everyone. He comes from the galactic world outside of Caricanus—it’s one of many inhabited planets far from Earth—and assists confused Ryan with tasks from Karpalff. Self-absorbed and ostentatiously distant, Viltan refuses to adopt the thinking of the bickering Caricanan castle-states and shows that by trying to work for them all.
Princess Kalvarina is from the pearl castle. Her home is isolated and remote, locked in an endless war with a northern king who is loosely allied to Karpalff. A young warrior who keeps her feelings to herself, Kalvarina is Tarvelas’s cousin and shares a close bond with her. But her home life leaves her bitter and always hungry for affirmation and certainty, as her mother is unkind to her and favors her brother all the time.
And there will be more updates
Ryan and Essie, chronologically, was published between Victoria: A Tale of Spain and The Test of Devotion. And ordinarily I group the books in pairs based on when they were published. The two story collections; the first two Palladia Series books; and the two novels about American 20th-century life are all natural fits for each other and it also happens they were published in adjacent years.
But Ryan and Essie doesn’t match the feel of either Victoria or Devotion. In fact, it’s incompatible as a mystical fantasy story set in deep space. These two books, meanwhile, have much in common with each other and were published very close together. So I’ve paired them as a couple and moved Ryan and Essie farther down in the list towards more recent books in spite of its technical time of publication. This is because it’s now the only one that doesn’t have a partner. (You have 9 books and you’re working in pairs of two, this is bound to happen! 😊) A new book will probably have a lot of compatibility with Ryan and Essie, especially if it’s a fantasy story.
I’ve found it logical to work with the books in pairs because books written very close together usually have the same emotions from readers. It's certainly possible for characters to be part of little cross-connections throughout my books, but audiences tend to feel similarly about books written close in pairs. So usually I write two books that explore a set of related ideas and then move on to another pair of books. But over time I’ve noticed that Ryan and Essie has stood outside of any conversations about my other books. This makes sense if another book is needed to make a pairing--I've only explored half of the ideas around this story, so it's a bit out of context. So why was Ryan and Essie published when it was if it had nothing to do with stories published at that time?
Well, this is really one of my oldest books. I started working with the ideas when I was still a juvenile. And perhaps whatever book eventually pairs with it will also have been a hidden part of my writing world for a very long time.
And there will be more updates.
Pleasant Fiction in an Age of Noise
I write stories about human emotions--about the journey of life. Every step of it can be meaningfully great or simply terrible and you can only reach the end after experiencing many kinds of things that make you grow. Emotional travels are the travels of life and the road of living is not one planned out in notebooks or organized in Scrivener. It is felt in love, hope, and fear and developed through an understanding of why humans go through these. And, on top of that, my stories are adventure stories. History, fantasy, and daily modern situations are all adventures as long as you don't know for sure what's going to happen when you wake up each day. Because that would be like repeating the same day over and over again and who wants to do that?
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