Tag Archives: Flamme und Harfe

On splitting up a big book: Turning Yseult into episodes

As many of you following this blog know, I started my career as an indie author after I got the rights back to the original English of my novel Yseult, which was published in German as Flamme und Harfe by Random House Germany in 2009.

Flamme und Harfe, Ruth Nestvold

I published the English original in January 2012 on my own with this cover from the talented Derek Murphy of CreativIndie Covers:

Yseult, Ruth Nestvold

Since the original publisher of Yseult / Flamme und Harfe, Random House Germany, told me they were interested in a sequel (which they decided they were not interested in after all), when I published Yseult, I already had the next doorstopper waiting in the wings, Shadow of Stone, which I published in June of 2012.

That too sold quite well, and I began to imagine that I was on my way to a wonderful career as an indie author.


Readers started wanting to know when the next “installment” would be available. Of books that were both close to 200,000 words, or over 500 pages long. Unfortunately, I don’t write fast enough to produce novels of that size every year, and I lost readers.

I started writing a prequel to The Pendragon Chronicles, Ygerna, hoping to make it free and attract more readers that way, but I soon noticed that the story of Arthur’s mother was too complicated for me to finish off in a couple ten thousand words, and it ended up on the back burner. I do have a free short story from the second novel available, Gawain and Ragnell, and that has helped my sales somewhat, giving potential readers a taste of the world of The Pendragon Chronicles. So I know for a fact that permafree can help your sales.

Then at some point I started noticing something new happening in ebook publishing: it seemed as if a lot of the most successful indie authors were publishing their ebooks in episodes or as serials, in chunks from between 50 to 200 pages. Like with a TV show, each episode might bring a single plot thread to a conclusion, but there was also often some kind of cliffhanger to make sure the reader came back for the next installment. An added advantage of the episode format is that the author can make the first “book” of the novel free in order to entice readers to give it a try.

Slowly an experiment started to take shape in my mind. I had these two Big Fat Fantasies, after all, together close to 400,000 words. But in the era of ebooks, when the reader can’t judge a book by how heavy it is in her hand, books seem to be getting shorter. And while the true short story has yet to make a comeback, readers appear to be increasingly accepting of novella-length books. (This is all totally subjective and unscientific, so don’t quote me on it.)

Anyway, as a result of these observations, I have decided to launch an experiment. I am going to take the four books of Yseult apart — which, btw, is how I organized the novel long before the advent of ebooks — and offer them separately. I will try to make the first book free on Amazon as quickly as possible. Here is the pricing structure I’m considering for the serial version:

Part I: FREE
Part II: 99c (my take, 30c)
Part III: 2.99 (my take $2)
Part IV: 2.99 (my take $2)

My goal is not to make more money than with the complete novel, although that is what would happen if readers were only to buy the individual parts. But when I do this, I do not intend to unpublish Yseult. That will still be available for 4.99 for anyone who is enjoying the series enough to want to buy the novel. Mostly I’m just hoping that with parts 1 & 2 at free and 99c respectively, a few more readers will try out the series.

So recently I’ve been working on a template for the covers of the individual episodes. I wanted to use the cover of Yseult as a basis, to make sure that no one bought any of the episodes thinking it was a new story in The Pendragon Chronicles. At the same time, the covers should be distinctive enough to stand out from each other. Given those considerations, here’s the template I came up with for the series:

Yseult template

And here’s my first attempt at a single title:


My thought is to use different colors beneath the “celtic fringe” *g* on the left / west side of the cover as a visual signal of the differences between the books. And now, as I write this, it occurs to me that the color for the first book, which takes place in Ireland / Eriu, should be a dark green rather than the dark purple I have now. *g*

Anyway, I welcome any thoughts / feedback you have in the comments below!

I might land flat on my face with this experiment, but I’m not out of much more than a couple days worth of work making the new covers, formatting the individual sections, and uploading them to the various venues. Wish me luck. 🙂 And do please let me know what you think!

Interview, guest lecture, and Shadow of Stone publication delay (sorry!)

There’s a new interview with me from Lisa Binion up at BellaOnline. Check it out!

Part 1

Part 2

The guest lecture at my old alma mater, the University of Stuttgart, was today, and it went well. Before the event, I only had one anxiety dream about arriving late, and the students seemed quite interested and asked a lot of questions. It was in a seminar in the German Medieval Studies department (Mediavistik), which to me was quite an honor. For my Masters, I double majored in English and German, with emphasis in German on medieval studies, but my Ph.D. is in English. Even though I’m not an expert, people in Germany are starting to notice that Gottfried von Strassburg was one of the primary inspirations for Yseult. Given how completely skewed my priorities are, I am really, really enjoying being treated with Gottfried in a university seminar. I wasn’t a mouse in the corner, so I don’t know how much I was found lacking, (luckily), but it’s still beyond anything I ever would have expected that I was compared to Gottfried in the session before I babbled at the students about the research methods of my buddies in the Codex Writing Workshop. I’m quite sure I flunked, but for those who are not familiar with German literature, Gottfried is one of the gods of the German literature hierarchy, perhaps a bit like Chaucer for medieval literature in English. It’s an honor to flunk when compared to Gottfried. 🙂

Unfortunately, a nearly direct result of the guest lecture is that I’m going to have to push back the publication date for Shadow of Stone. No surprise — I underestimated how much time I would need for preparation, which is not exactly new. Besides, my Wonderful Hubbie ™ is totally overworked this week, and before I send Shadow of Stone out into the cold, cruel world, I want him to at least spot check the manuscript I got back from the copy editor I hired. I’m working through it one more time myself, but I know my eyes are not enough. I spent several years working on the thing, after all. It’s a lot harder for me to see the mistakes. Which is why one hires outside help. 🙂

“Yseult” featured on Addicted to Ebooks today – #1 in Arthurian Fantasy!

I’m pretty busy at the moment, so only a short update: my novel Yseult is being featured on Addicted to Ebooks today. And it has climbed back up to the #1 slot in Arthurian Fantasy! (Thanks, Vicki!)

After May 21, it will drop down in the list on Addicted to Ebooks, but you can access the listing here.

Still not much time for writing these days. My guest lecture at the University of Stuttgart is on Wednesday, and I only finished it yesterday. I will probably use my notes as the basis for a blog post on my sadly neglected German language blog. Today I went through the handout and sent it to the professor (odd to think I used to be one of those folks). After that, I spent the rest of my free time today on various tasks needed to get Shadow of Stone ready for publication.

Not sure if I’m going to make my self-set Friday deadline, but I’m doing my best!

“Yseult” is off to Amazon – now what???

I didn’t make it before the new year, but today I finally got Yseult up to Amazon as an ebook! It’s still in the review process, so I don’t have a link for it yet, but it’s a huge relief to have that done. I’ve opted for KDP Select, so I can’t put it up on Smashwords for another three months, but I’ve heard a lot of success stories regarding KDP Select, and my Smashwords sales with my novella and story collections have been more than modest. Seems I don’t have much to lose making Yseult temporarily a Kindle exclusive.

And now I have to start redefining my goals. Perfect thing to do at the beginning of the year. 🙂

In this context, I wanted to link to Kait Nolan’s great post about the test “mile” and goals, but it’s not being found on the Internets, unfortunately. I’ve been working with a very similar test mile to hers for some time now without having the lovely metaphor — the place you can push to no matter what without pain; but also the place where, on a good “running” day, you might well sail past the goal. For many years now, mine has been 500 words a day, or (with two days off, not necessarily weekends) 2500 words a week. Last year, I was shooting for a lot more, but right now I have the big challenge of figuring out how to promote my Big Fat Fantasy once it has passed the review process on Amazon — and knowing how difficult it is for me to tackle the whole self-promotion gig, I think I’m going to stick with my standard “test mile” as a writing goal for now.

Once I can figure out what else I might still be able to tackle when I’ve hit my stride, I can hopefully define a few more specific writing and marketing goals. I want to get a lot more of my previously published short stories up as ebooks, but it’s a huge timesink for me, and I have to figure out what I can realistically do.

Which I guess is also one of my goals for this year. 🙂

Happy New Year, everyone!

Yseult cover update: We’re just about there!

I got a new version of the “winning” cover for Yseult back from the artist today, Derek Murphy of Creativindie Covers:

Yseult Cover

This is probably very close to final, if I can’t think of anything that still needs to be done. 🙂 I like the sword being more central in this version, and the wall keeps her from looking like a mermaid, I think. I had a bit of a weakness for the warrior chick, but those who already read the book and voted were strongly in favor of this cover. I’m pretty happy with it now. What about you? If it were a physical book, would you pick it up in the store?

Interestingly enough, here’s the quote prefacing the chapter I’m presently editing:

Love left me like a coal upon the floor,
Like a half-burned sod that is never put out.
Worse than the cough, worse than the fever itself,
Worse than any curse at all under the sun,
Worse than the great poverty
Is the devil that is called “Love” by the people.
And if I were in my young youth again
I would not take, or give, or ask for a kiss.

“He Cries out Against Love,” translated from the Irish by Lady Gregory

Seems to me it fits very well with the cover. 🙂

Things are moving forward, and I’m excited. Maybe I really will still get this novel up before the end of the year!

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Monkey

That’s the name of a story that just sold to Daily Science Fiction — one of the pieces I mentioned submitting in my last blog entry. Which means less than a week between submission and acceptance. Woo hoo!

Apparently it’s a good thing that I added “getting my stories out on the market again” to my list of goals. I haven’t sold a short story for months now, but neither have I been writing or submitting much short fiction, as evidenced by the backlog accumulated that I mentioned in my last post. After selling my novel Yseult / Flamme und Harfe to Random House Germany, I thought my future was in novels, so that’s what I concentrated on, neglecting stories.


My German publisher rejected the novel they requested I write on spec. I won’t go into all the mistakes I made at that point in my writing career; but one of the things I realized is that I cannot allow myself to concentrate so much on a novel project to the extent that I totally neglect short fiction. Stories don’t make a lot of money, but they can be written in a week or three (depending on the length and the amount of research involved); they don’t require the same investment in time and emotional commitment; they can be sent out and accepted (or rejected) in a week.

Besides, my batting average with short fiction is way higher than with novels. I’ve only sold one novel of the four I’ve sent out onto the market. (We will not go into the novels I never finished … also a lot more than the short stories I never finished …) Short fiction: my database tells me I’ve sold 46 short stories, and I have a total of 24 either “ready to send” or “on the market” (not including those I don’t consider ready for submission). I have five stories marked as “trunked” in my database.

Another thing to consider, however, is that in the brave new world of ebooks, I might be able to do something with those rejected novels, whereas short stories, both singles and collections, are notoriously poor sellers in ebook format.

Nonetheless, there is something in me that enjoys those story acceptances so much that I have to figure out a way to balance work on novels and short fiction. I have to learn to allow myself to take breaks from whichever project seems most pressing — or relearn. That used to be the way I worked when writing a novel. If I was stuck or bored, I would take a break to write short fiction. But then the pressure started feeling like what I have when I’m working on a translation project. I couldn’t take breaks for any extraneous monkeys.

But now I’m allowing the monkeys to come back. I hope.

John Locke and the Rest of Us: Defining a Target Audience and Getting Them to Come to You, Part I

While we were cruising the fjords of Norway, one of the books I read on my Kindle was John Locke’s How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Since one of my current goals is to get my novel Yseult up as an ebook before Christmas, I figure I can use all the advice I can get. At least I know that Yseult can cut it as a novel — it’s been through the editorial process and has sold over 10,000 copies in German translation. (I don’t have any numbers for the Italian and Dutch.) For Yseult, I don’t have to worry about things like hiring an editor for the monster historical fantasy and wondering if I will ever earn out the expenses.

What I do have to worry about is figuring out how to get Yseult to the audiences who would be interested in reading it. Which is what Locke’s book is all about. The problem is, he’s writing a book for authors writing a series character who can put out short novels similar in tone and plot on a regular basis (that’s where the million comes in — lots of publications selling to a regular fan base). Ok, so that doesn’t apply to Yseult, since it’s a retelling of the legend of Tristan and Isolde, but one that starts with the story of the female character rather than the male. But as most people know, the story ends tragically — no series there. It’s a Big Fat Fantasy of almost 200,000 words, and I have to admit, I really don’t want to give it away for 99 cents.

So is there anything I can learn from Locke?

He says the first thing a writer has to do to is define her target audience and then write posts that will draw potential readers to her blog — and the links to her ebooks on her sidebar. The mistake of most authors is that they write their blogs for other writers. Fair enough, guilty as charged. I have the sidebar with links to my books, but my posts are mostly about writing.

Then let’s tackle the next step, defining my target audience. As far as Yseult is concerned, I have a bit of an advantage here, since I have lots of reader feedback to help me try to figure it out. I know who my ideal reader is — her name is Valentina Coluccelli, and she wrote a review of Yseult when it came out in Italian. I hate reading reviews, but with this one, every step of the way, I was thinking – omigod, she got it! she knew exactly what I wanted to do, why I fiddled with the sources here and chose that version there! Finally, someone understands me! She even got some of the details that I thought of Easter eggs. 🙂

But how do I extrapolate from my ideal reader Valentina to define my target audience? That’s a tough one, and I fear it means I am destined not to sell a million ebooks in five months, sigh. My audience for Yseult is very specific, and while I have a follow-up novel also set in Sub-Roman Britain, the other novels I want to bring out as ebooks are all over the place as far as genre and target readers are concerned. About the only thing they have in common is that they share a certain feminist sensibility in the subject matter in that they touch on ways women have been disadvantaged over the centuries or (for my SF) try to illuminate “common sense” ways of thinking are biased against women.

And here I am, in the middle of the night, with way more words than I intended and no conclusion. So I think for the first time in my blog career, I’m going to have to make this a two-parter.

Otherwise on the writing front I’ve been fairly successful in repressing my frittering gene and have reached my word count goals. Haven’t started tackling any of the other goals yet, however. But at least I’m thinking about my target audience. 🙂

Italian review of my novel

I got a very nice review today of the Italian translation of Yseult, La Fiamma e l’Arpa:


My command of Italian doesn’t go much beyond ordering a meal in a restaurant, but Google translate did a good enough job on the review that it’s at least somewhat understandable. I got a big kick out of this passage:

The book is so rich that it is impossible to recount every nuance, every emotion transmitted, each author’s choice to depart from tradition or to the material, even manipulating them to the economy … It tells the story of the war with rawness and realism, love with feeling and sensuality, magic and fascination with natural …

The last sentence got pretty mangled: “Racconta la guerra con crudezza e realismo, l’amore con sentimento e sensualità, la magia con naturalezza e fascinazione…” At least I can decipher it myself. 🙂