Why Newsletters May No Longer Work for Indie Authors

 

As an author, it’s something we’ve heard from every author, marketing “guru”, and publishing company – you need a newsletter. When asked why you need one exactly, most likely the answer is something along the lines of “it’s the most effective marketing tool because people who subscribed want to year your news. Plus, unlike social media, your email is going to 100% of your audience versus just 5% of your social media platforms.”

According to these same “gurus”, you also need a social media platform, for pretty much the same reason as above – “it’s the most effective marketing tool because people who follow you on social media want to hear your news.”

Here’s the simple, cold-hard truth of the matter – newsletters are not any more effective than social media. As a matter of fact, most small time authors are reporting the exact opposite.

I know, I know, people have been hammering it into your head ever since you started writing that you need a newsletter. But let’s face it, most newsletters only have roughly a 10 to 15% open rate, and those who do open only have approximately a 1% click-through rate of actually clicking on whatever new book you are offering them. Based on these numbers, even if you were able to get a 15K subscriber list together, only about 2K of those subscribers are going to actually open the newsletter, and of those only about 20 are going to click-through. And the buy-through rate? It’s about 1% as well, meaning out of 15K subscribers you may have a whopping 2 to 10 people who may actually buy your book. And given that the market is super saturated and everyone is trying to entice readers into signing up, constantly trying to gain new subscribers to replace those you’ve lost – it’s a whole lot of work for not a whole lot of return.

So let’s break this down and discuss why people are no longer opting in, and staying opted in, to newsletters.

1 – Social media. Let’s face it, I’m a complete and total fanatic when it comes to Bret Michaels Band. Yes, I signed up for his newsletter, but guess what? I never open it. That’s right, despite me being the biggest BMB fanatic on the planet, I never open the newsletters. And you want to know why? Because of social media. Any time I want to know what is going on with the band, I surf on over to the band’s FB page or one of the band members’ pages to see what they are up to. If I want to know where they are playing I go to Bret’s website and check out tour dates. Bottom line, I don’t need to read his newsletter to find out all I want or need to know about the band and what is happening simply by following them on social media. Even when I’m not seeing their posts in my feed, I still know what is going on with them because I check out their pages and other social media on my own. So even though I am subscribed to a newsletter, I am one of many, many people who delete it without ever opening it.

2 – Organic vs inorganic. Because social media makes it super easy for everyone to stay connected despite FB’s algorithms, it’s getting harder and harder to get people to actually sign up for a newsletter. And if they are not opening it in the first place, getting them to subscribe is only part of the battle. Many times, authors are being forced to ‘entice’ readers by giving them free stuff – either a free book/short story for signing up, or trying to keep them signed up by sending out freebie shorts in subsequent newsletters. This is considered inorganic subscribers. These are subscribers who would not normally have signed up and only did so to capitalize on the free item you were offering. There are many FB groups and marketing companies who offer newsletter swaps etc. where a huge list of new subscribers are pulled in by the offer of free reading material. Unfortunately, many authors notice a huge unsubscribe rate once their first newsletter goes out after offering this freebie.

Another problem seen when offering free material in exchange for signing up for your newsletter are the “dead” leads. These are people who use alternate emails to sign up for the newsletter (read – just created email account for the sole intent of signing up for your newsletter), get the free content, and then never check the freshly made email address ever again. So while you have a subscriber, they never open the email, thus making them a “dead” lead.

The problem with offering free content in exchange for a subscription is twofold – first, you are getting someone who would not have normally signed up for the newsletter in the first place, and second, offering free content oftentimes just pulls in the freebie seekers who have no intentions of staying on your list once they have their free content. There are entire FB groups dedicated to helping readers find free books, including signing up for newsletters only to unsubscribe as soon as they have their freebie.

Doing newsletter swaps where you give other authors free advertising space in your newsletter in exchange for the same thing can backfire as well, oftentimes leading to unsubscribes from organic readers. Why? Because organic subscribers who signed up to hear about your news can be put off when they realize your newsletter just became a giant advertising platform to push other authors’ books onto them.

The ease of connecting on social media is often the reason why it is so hard to get organic subscribers in the first place. Unless you publish on a regular basis and send out newsletters with relevant updates every month, you will most likely also see huge unsubscribe rates from readers if it’s been a while since your last newsletter. This is because readers forget who you are or why they signed up for your newsletter in the first place. Others have so much spam and other junk coming in that they either delete the email after a while or unsubscribe in an attempt to weed out all the unnecessary emails they get every single day.

3 – Information overload. Devoted readers do not just read one genre or like one author. They devour books and oftentimes follow dozens of authors at once. Because of this, it’s pretty impossible for them to subscribe to everyone’s newsletters, especially when you have hundreds of thousands of new books and thousands of new authors hitting Amazon every day. They may sign up for a half-dozen newsletters at the most, and those lucky authors tend to be those who are already big names.

Think about how many emails you receive in a day. How many of them are newsletters that you actually open and read? Now think about all the different authors whose books you enjoy reading, all the different bands you like to listen to, all the different brands you like – and now imagine if you had signed up for a newsletter for every single one of those. How long before you went through unsubscribing to all but the ones you simply thought you could not live without? This is why thinking readers are going to subscribe to your newsletter and stay subscribed to it for any length of time is just plain silly, especially from a marketing perspective, and most especially if you are an unknown author. We are bombarded by advertisements all day every day. Signing up for newsletters is just another way of having pushy sales people trying to talk them into purchasing things they may or may not want.

4 – Money. But readers want to know about great deals and sales, right? Um, not exactly. Again, I use the same example from above. Would you really want to be notified by email every single time any author, band, or brand had a sale going on? There are far too many ways for readers to find out what is on sale than through newsletters, and most of those are already built right into Amazon.

If readers are price conscious they can simply use Amazon’s pricing filters to find what they want, and if they are on a budget it doesn’t matter when a book goes on sale. If they don’t have the money to buy it they are simply not going to purchase it. Sending them a newsletter reminding them your book is on sale for this week only isn’t going to matter to someone who has to wait until their next payday two weeks from now before they can treat themselves. Books aren’t like concert tickets. They are already relatively cheap even when full price, and since most indies do not sell their books for more than $5, discounting that already cheap book by a few bucks isn’t really going to matter to those who want to buy it in the first place. It might push someone who had already planning to buy the book to buy it a bit sooner, but all you’ve really done is crew yourself out of a better royalty rate.

To sum things up, newsletters only really work for authors who already have a huge fan base, and even those with huge subscriber lists are seeing lower and lower open and click-through rates. Most readers who are devoted fans are going to follow the author on social media and find out about new releases and sales that way. Many other authors have more success posting about their books and sales on their website or blog.

This isn’t to say that having a newsletter isn’t helpful. I still have one, but I do not depend on it as the sure-fired way to target marketing that everyone wants to hail it as. I do not advertise free content when people sign up, thus the few subscribers I get are organic, and I have less than a 1% unsubscribe rate. I send out a newsletter only once every three months, which is about how often I publish. I still find my most valuable marketing tools are still social media and my website. I use a newsletter as an enhancement tool, but I do not depend on it solely as a means to reach my audience. With so many ways to connect with readers, anyone who has been in this business for any length of time will tell you to utilize all the tools available to you, but do not expect or depend on any single one of them to work magic for book sales. After all, if it were that easy, we would all be bestsellers.

Coming to Patreon

Beginning August 1st, I will be moving all of my exclusive content over to my Patreon account. Becoming a patron is quick, easy, and allows me the chance to offer exclusive content to my most devoted readers. I have 4 tier options available which start out at only $2/each. The more you pledge, the more exclusive content you have access to, including sneak peeks of my current WIP, short stories which will be published exclusively through Patreon, access to & input into my current WIP, special patrons-only episodes of the FULL ON INSANITY podcast, live chats, Q&A sessions, and much more.

 

Kindle Corruption: My Take on the “How To” Marketing Manuals

If you’ve ever gotten ‘serious’ about becoming a best-selling author or making any type of substantial money off of your fictional writing endeavors, you have no doubt went to Amazon to peruse the “how-to” manuals when it comes to writing, marketing, and promoting your latest works. You probably joined no less than a few dozen “marketing” FB groups, and possibly became so overwhelmed with the sea of information and misinformation that you began to question whether or not you should even try to make a living as a fictional writer.

Looking at all the “how-to” books out there that promise everything from telling you the secrets to gaming Amazon’s algorithms and teaching you how to write books which will sell hundreds of thousands of copies to how to master Amazon product ads and Facebook ads, it all just seems to be a bit too good to be true.

 

 

Am I seriously the only one who looks at these types of books and wonders if anyone actually believes this shit? I mean, does anyone actually stop and think about what these books are promising on an intellectual level. It has to at least make a person question the validity of the promises, not to mention the sanity of one who would openly share such “top-secret” knowledge. If nothing else, these books should make a person ask two very important things – if it’s really so easy to become a best-selling author, then everyone should be able to become one, right? But in all honesty, we all know that simply isn’t true. So, of course, these books couldn’t possibly promise to make you a better author or that your books will suddenly become the next big thing. So that leaves the final question which seems to be such a no-brainer that it even makes me wonder how anyone pushing these types of books off on newbies could even rank on Amazon, much less sell actual copies – if you had really discovered the ‘secret-sauce’ to making a shit-ton of money selling fictional books, why on God’s green earth would you then write about it in a book and try to sell it to others?

 

 

This last part literally makes no sense to me. Let’s say I figure out how to completely master Amazon ads and get them to work for me no matter what pathetic piece of fiction I had just farted out. Why on earth would I then want to tell others about it? That is literally counter-productive. All I did was empower my competition thus making it even harder to make a living for myself in a market already saturated with way too many books. So exactly why would I be inclined to tell others about it? Sure, I might make a few quick bucks, but if what I was saying within the pages of that “how-to” manual actually worked, why wouldn’t I just write more fiction books and apply what I had learned to make an unending stream of income? Why would I want to tell anyone my secrets?

 

 

It’s like the whole “feed a man a fish” versus “teach a man to fish” type thing. I once had a friend who tried desperately to convince me to start a bunch of how-to videos on how to format books and then sell those videos despite the fact I also had a book formatting business on the side. My first thought was, if I teach them how to do it themselves then they won’t come to me to buy my services. It’s the same principle. If I actually knew how to make any book into a bestseller, I’d be cranking out books left and right, hire myself a huge ghostwriter team, and use that knowledge to propel my own books and name into bestseller status. I would hold on to that ‘secret sauce’ formula for as long as possible. The furthest thing from my mind would be to write a book outlining all my ‘secrets’ and then sell it. At the very least, I might start my own PR firm to put my ‘magic’ to work for others, but selling the secret? Yeah, I don’t think so.

So, I have to once again ask why on earth anyone who actually knew how to catapult any fiction novel into bestseller status or actually understood and could get Amazon ads to work for them would bother sharing that information? I honestly feel like these books are less likely to help the average author and more inclined to believe they were written solely to make the author of those books into bestsellers rather than help the people who actually bought them.

PS – if you actually manage to find someone who knows what they are talking about and is willing to share it, please, for the love of everything which is holy, buy that person a beer!

My Take on Scammers Breaking The Kindle Store

 

Forword: please note this is an opinion piece.

A recent blog post entitled “Scammers Break the Kindle Store” has now been shared on FB more than 5 thousand times in just three days. If you haven’t read the article, I highly recommend it. You can CLICK HERE to read it in its entirety. It’s very interesting, to say the least. I suppose what bothers me the most about this article is it accuses this author of using black hat tactics to gain a #1 spot on Amazon’s paid list with no other proof than the author not having any type of social media presence and had not used any of the “traditional” marketing ploys most indies use – lack of self-promotion via social media platforms and no Bookbub ads, in conjunction with the fact this author is “unknown” to the writer of this article. (As a side note, I’m pretty sure Amanda Hocking did not have a social media platform nor did she use Bookbub before she became one of the first authors to successfully sell a million copies of her own self-published books prior to being offered a 7-figure publishing deal. Oh, and Anne Rice hit the big leagues long before social media was even a thing.)

As I was saying, I would like to point out the Amazon ranking system routinely catapults “unknown” authors into bestseller status. I can’t even begin to describe how many times I’ve seen the words “NYT Bestselling Author” or “USA TODAY Bestselling Author” on the front of book covers on Amazon and have absolutely no clue who these authors are. I would also like to point out an incredibly wild notion – there are other ways to promote books outside of the internet. I know, crazy concept. I’m sure the author of the article actually has very good reasons for thinking this book hit this status with less than ethical practices, just as I know why he chose not to lay out the proof so other people can’t use the tactics to scam the system further. Unfortunately, by not giving a play-by-play and no other proof other than his gut, the entire article has become nothing more than an opinion piece, just like mine.

With that said, I’m about to voice a very unpopular opinion about this, but I’m hoping you will bear with me and read through to the end. At the very least, I hope this will get you thinking, because I honestly do not believe the thousands of indie authors who have been sharing this article fully understands how the publishing world works – and by “publishing world” I mean not just the indie scene, but the trade publishers as well. As I’ve stated many times, I’ve spent the last twenty-six some years in the publishing business, either trying to break into the trade pub scene, learning from it, interacting with both NYT and indie best-selling authors, being an active publisher and indie author, as well as having friends in both the modeling and music industries. To say I’ve learned a lot is a vast understatement. But I digress.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why indie authors are so upset over this. Well, I actually do get why, but it goes back to the reason they are so upset is they fail to see the broader scope of publishing from a business aspect. It’s like the authors who never once think about how their own business practices affect the industry as a whole, so long as they are making money right now.

Let’s look at this from a business standpoint. This type of “black hat” operations happens all the time with traditional publishers. The only difference is they are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to “underground” marketing and PR firms to do the very same thing and are pretty much keeping how they operate their business a closely guarded secret shared only among other big-boy publishers. While this is going on every single day with bestseller books in the trade world, with millions of dollars being invested and earned off of Amazon, we have indies who want to crucify the indie authors who are following in the big boy’s footsteps using the resources at their disposal – which would be Fiverr and the like. It’s not pretty, and we have fewer “underground” resources at our disposal simply because we are not rubbing elbows with the big boy publishers enough to be “in the know” when it comes to which “secret” firms we should be hiring. We have to ask around, and doing so means our business becomes everyone else’s business. Remember, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and to be honest, as indies, even if we did have access to the same resources as the big boy publishing houses, most of us simply do not have the money required to hire these people.

So let’s look at a few case studies. Hugh Howey admitted he used his own money, one of these underground market PR firms, and a whole lot of Fiverr people to buy his way onto the NYT bestsellers list and pad his serialized book with fake reviews. He openly admitted this on his own website and did an in-depth interview outlining how he went about achieving his letters. And yet no one went raging to Amazon demanding his account be revoked, nor did Amazon demand his royalty payments be paid back. So pray tell how this is any different?

Purchasing dozens of “fake” reviews through businesses like Fiverr is no different than the author who band together all their family, friends, and fellow readers/authors to create huge review/reader teams and then not only enlist these huge review teams to leave reviews but oftentimes pay them as well to leave dozens upon dozens of reviews of a book which was just released. You ever see a book that literally has only been live for two hours with two hundred plus glowing 5-star reviews on it and wonder how they managed it? That’s how they did. Is doing that any more ethical than paying a bunch of random strangers to do the same thing? Does knowing the reviewers somehow make it okay as opposed to finding a complete stranger to do it for you? The only difference is Amazon’s ToS says you can’t “pay” for reviews, but they do not specify what “payment” is specifically. We all just assume they mean we can’t spend money but giving someone a book in exchange for a review is okay. In my eyes, it’s still payment. Just because Amazon lets us get away with it in their world does not make it an ethical business practice.

I’ve seen authors gather together these large teams and then pay them to pre-order their book so when it hits, it shoots up the Amazon ranking with the potential to earn bestseller letters. Yet authors are okay with this because so many of them do it. How is enlisting these large review teams any different than someone buying the same exact services through places like Fiverr? Just because it is not technically against Amazon’s ToS does not necessarily make it ethical business practices.  Yes, large trade publishers hire people to leave reviews yet indie authors seem okay with that, but are quick to crucify an indie who pads their reviews through Fiverr. Either way, the ToS are being broken no matter how much you want to justify it, the only difference is one of them everyone is doing, and the other one is being done just as often, authors just don’t talk about it.

Everyone keeps saying what this author did was not “ethical” and it displaces “legitimate, hardworking authors” right out of the ranking. “Hardworking”? You mean “hardworking” like erotica authors who have used a few friends with blogs to amass a huge army of rabid fans who not only cause his books to shoot up the Amazon charts, but an author who then turns a blind eye to said fans attacking other authors and leaving bad reviews on their books? You mean “hardworking” like those authors who gather up the large review teams, pay them to preorder their books, and have them leave glowing reviews on their work as soon as it goes live? You mean “hardworking” like those authors who spent thousands upon thousands of dollars using private PR firms to buy their way onto these bestseller lists? Or “hardworking” like the authors who join boxed sets and then spend thousands of dollars gifting the anthology right onto the USA Today’s bestsellers list? Or “hardworking” like the ring leaders of these anthologies who not only learned how to game the system, but who then instruct their 30+ authors to do less than ethical marketing and break a huge chunk of Amazon’s TOS just so they can say they earned their letters? No matter how much indies or trade publishers try to justify it, black hat tactics are black hat tactics, even when they do not go against Amazon’s ToS. So I will once again ask, how is any of that different from what this author is accused of?

I’ve had Anne Rice herself tell me on more than one occasion that I should use all the tools at my disposal, which means calling in every “favor” I’m owed by family and friends and have them leave me a nice review on my books. It flies in the face of Amazon’s TOS yet trade publishers do the exact same thing. They pay other big-name authors to write some small, glowing review to pop on the front cover or include in the blurb of a new release. And you know how movie trailers are quick to boast how the NY Times, USA Today, and other critics are calling this new movie “The must-see movie of the year”? Yeah, you bet your sweet ass they were paid to write those reviews. It’s extremely commonplace with the big trade publishers, yet no one is demanding Stephen King or EL James’ heads on a platter because their publisher engaged in questionable business practices to try to launch a new book into bestseller status. It’s being done en mass, yet indies either seem oblivious to it or just choose to ignore it. Just because they are large publishers does not make it any more ethical than an indie doing the same thing. So if trade publishers get to do it, then why not indies?

It concerns me greatly that indie authors are quick to bring out the pitchforks against this one author, yet they are more than willing to turn a blind eye to the authors who are gathering up huge review teams to leave stunning reviews on their new releases, or the authors who allow their fans to openly attack any other author they deem a ‘threat’ to their own success. They are quick to join the author who can launch their own books into bestseller status knowing they are doing things against Amazon’s TOS and then only get upset when they lose all the money they invested into the scheme without hitting those coveted lists. Again, just because Amazon is allowing it doesn’t make it ethical.

I do not quite understand why indies seem to think it is okay for publishers to hire these firms who then hire third parties to purchase these books en mass, thus skyrocketing the books into bestseller status, or think it is perfectly fine for them to use marketing and promotion techniques to create a grassroots movement thus tricking the general population into believing a certain book is just the most wonderful book on the planet. We all know which book I’m referring to, yet no one is demanding she be stripped of her bestseller title or give back the millions of dollars she earned when her publisher used the bit of momentum she had already started on her own to catapult a poorly written piece of literature into the history books.

So why are authors okay with turning a blind eye to the indies who have huge review teams pre-order these books and leave dozens of shiny 5-star reviews on these books within a few hours of release? Why are they okay with joining boxed sets where authors are gifting copies of the set to people, knowing these gifted copies count toward their sales numbers. Regardless of whether you are gifting 3% or 99% of your total sales numbers, regardless of whether you are giving away copies to get a few hundred reviews, regardless of whether you are hiring people off of Fiverr to buy your book, pad your reviews, or “paying” your review team by gifting them swag, paperbacks, or other “rewards” for being a part of your team, ultimately all these tactics still do the one thing which goes against Amazon’s ToS- these practices ultimately manipulate the sales ranking.

People seem to forget while Amazon may allow you to gift copies of books, it doesn’t mean you should do it to the point where it is actively affecting your sales numbers. While Amazon may allow you to give a book away in exchange for a review, it does not mean authors should be doing it to the point where they have so many reviews in such a short amount of time it is actively affecting their visibility, ranking, and preferential treatment by Amazon to give those books with more reviews more exposure. Yet this is happening on a regular basis with both trade and indie books. So why are indies so quick to lynch one of their own over something like what this article talks about but are perfectly happy to turn a blind eye to everything else that is going on? Saying it is unfair to other, legitimate and “hardworking” authors is a total crock of bullshit to be honest. Trade publishers enlist underhanded practices to skew the rankings and both the NYT and USA Today bestsellers lists are highly vetted. The only difference between indies and trade publishers is Amazon is willing to turn a blind eye to anyone who is making them money.

While it certainly sucks this guy probably made a good $100K or more through this practice, how much did he pay out of his own pocket to get that ranking? I’ve seen my own books go from the 2 MILLION ranking mark to breaking the top 50K overall paid with only 3 sales. I’ve had authors tell me they had a book go from total obscurity to cracking the top 50 overall paid on less than a hundred total sales. And yet I myself have sold nearly one thousand copies of a single book in just under twelve hours and not have my overall ranking move more than a few places. The bottom line is, we don’t know how many sales or page reads it took for this guy to hit that bestselling status. It could have been tens of thousands of sales or it could have only been a few dozen. He could have easily spent a quarter of a million dollars to make a few thousand bucks or he could have spent $50 to make a few hundred thousand. Because of the way Amazon’s ranking system works, we simply have no idea what was actually gained off of this other than a bestselling ranking. It’s all purely speculation.

While it would be nice if everyone were playing on a level field, that simply is not the case nor will it ever be. So long as trade publishers are left to apply the same black hat techniques then indies are always going to be at a disadvantage. Even if Amazon began banning, removing, and revoking accounts and books of indies who engage in such behavior, there are still the trade publishers who are using questionable means to launch books into bestseller status, a practice which is always going to put indie authors at the bottom of the totem pole as far as both Amazon and readers are concerned.

It’s just another example of anyone who has the resources and money will always come out on top of this game, just like with any other business. It’s why I can’t exactly whine about not “making” it as an author when I know full well it takes a lot of money to hire professionals who know how to get me to where I need to be in order to make a name for myself. I simply do not have the money, and while I’d love to see those who do have the money be punished for doing what I cannot even though I may be a better writer, until Amazon starts enforcing that throughout their publishing platform and holding trade publishers to the same standards, I hardly see anything changing other than to make it even more difficult for indie authors to get a decent chunk of the publishing pie. And in all honesty, whining about such authors who do somehow manage to play with the “big boys” isn’t going to help any of us out. If anything, it just makes it that much more difficult for us to be seen.

First it’s this guy, but then what? They are already taking down reviews if the writer of the review is thought to somehow “know” the author. What happens when we are no longer able to have any type of social media platform with our readers because Amazon is removing all of our reviews? What happens when unverified reviews are no longer allowed because authors start complaining that giving away ARCs in exchange for a review is “unfair” to those who can’t find a huge review team? It certainly is unfair, but what if authors start complaining about it to such an extent that Amazon bans those types of reviews? What happens when boxed sets are banned because of all the shady tactics that are used to launch those into bestseller status?

The point, dear authors, is –  be careful what you wish for. Nothing about the publishing game is fair, least of all to indies. We have to be smarter, more cunning, and somehow manage to dance toe-to-toe with the big boys with a whole hell of a lot less money and nowhere near the connections. The more you complain about authors using the resources at their disposal, the harder it becomes for all of us to make it in the industry. I’d hate to know gifting copies no longer counted toward sales, that Amazon no longer allowed unverified purchase reviews, that giving out ARCs for reviews was no longer an option, and that the small readership I have thanks to social media was all for nothing because Amazon would no longer let anyone who was following me on social media review my books, even if they purchased them through Amazon on their own. It’s a slippery slope, and once one person starts screaming “unfair”, it’s just a matter of time before people start pointing out the tactics which are at the very core of being indie as being “unfair” practices as well.

 

 

 

 

The War Within – Chapter 3: The King’s Council

~~ 3 ~~

The King’s Council

 

“Your Grace, there have been rumors of Derkelyngs growing increasingly closer to our borders. Our people are frightened, and it is making all our men nervous,” Victor said as he sat around the advisers’ table. Alexander sat at the head of the table, surrounded by all the men he trusted with not only with matters of his kingdom, but with his very life.

Victor was not only the head of his arm, but he was the king’s right hand. Arthur, the elder adviser who had been his own father’s right hand, sat to his left. The older man had been Alexander’s teacher and guard growing up, and he held Arthur’s advice in high regard. Mandorth, an exiled donchen who had more than proven himself over the years sat at the other end of the table, the man’s silvery-blue eyes staring at all of them with the heaviness that only came from a creature who had known nothing but hardships most of his life. Beside him sat Isaac, a man who had once been Victor’s own right hand during battle. After a blade to the back had nearly killed him, the now nearly crippled man sat upon his advising council, keeping record of everything they had learned about their kingdom and its enemies.

Alexander sat quietly listening to the four men speaking amongst themselves, debating as to the kingdom’s next move. After hearing them go round and round about sending me to the outer boundaries of Aziza, Alexander had heard enough.

“Gentlemen,” he said as the four men quieted down and turned to him. “I will hear no more speak of sending troops we do not have to defend against something which could very well be nothing more than idle gossip by the shepherds and the farmers.” He picked up his glass of wine and took a long swallow, eyeing his advisers over the rim of his glass. “The Naferia will come looking for their jewel, of that we can be certain. They are desperate to see their kingdom and that of Shondross united under one coat of arms. If they discover her here then there will be war here. We cannot risk sending soldiers to chase after spirits and Jinn. They are needed here.”

His four advisers sat quietly, their eyes darting about as they glanced at each other uncomfortably. Several seconds passed before Victor cleared his throat. “Your Grace, our noblemen to the north swear the Derkelyngs have crossed into their lands. Just this past week Sir Gregory’s household lost every farm animal they owned. Slaughtered, huge chunks of meat taken from their bodies. His lands were practically awash in the blood of horses and sheep.”

Alexander held up his hand. “I will hear no more of this, understand?”

“Alexander,” Victor said as he rose from his seat, slamming his hands down upon the wooden table. “I understand what you are trying to accomplish, and I understand we need to be on the ready. But we cannot very well expect our men to fight if we cannot take all threats to their livelihood seriously. They are frightened. To ignore their concerns would be much more consequential than sending a few hundred men to the outer realm to ensure our borders are properly secure, I’m sure you would agree.”

The king sat staring hard at his right hand. As much as he hated sending more of his men out knowing a potential war loomed on the horizon, he couldn’t afford to have any of his people doubting his sanity or ability to rule the kingdoms. Finally he nodded. “You are right as always, Victor. I will leave the matter in your capable hands.”

Victor bowed his head. “Thank you, Your Grace. I will see to it immediately.”

The king’s eyes shifted to the rest of his council. “Now, can we get back to the matter at hand?” he asked as he leveled his gaze upon them all.

“Your Grace, exactly what are your intentions for the young jewel of Naferia?” Mandorth asked, his silvery-blue eyes moving back to his king.

“I’m afraid you are going to have to be more specific in your questions, Mandorth.”

The donchen straightened up in his chair, his fingers tinkering with the glass of wine to his left. “I am asking what you plan to do with the woman, Your Grace. Is she to be killed, ransomed, maybe use her as a bargaining chip? Are you to take her safely back to Naferia as a conquering hero, putting them forever in your debt for returning their missing jewel?”

The king eyed them all closely. “I honestly have not made a decision on what to do with her. I admit, I had thought of sending her head back to her father and fiancé in a wooden box, but I believe she is much more valuable alive than dead. I could return her, but once she is wed to Monduro, Naferia and Shondross will be united. No matter how grateful they are to me for returning their jewel, their combined armies could still very well destroy Aziza and all who lay within it. I cannot risk it.”

“You will kill her then?” a soft voice asked. Alexander turned to look at Arthur who had been sitting silent the whole time.

Alexander paused. “Nonsense,” he finally said after several moments.

“Then you shall send her back to her family? Demand a spot of land for your port as your reward?”

Alexander watched Arthur’s hands as he continued to fidget with his glass of wine. “No, I do not believe I will.”

“And why not?” Mandorth asked.

The king rubbed his hand against his chin. “Let’s say for a moment that I do give her back, and by some miracle she does not tell them it was I who had her stolen. Let’s say Antiguiss and his queen are so happy to have her back he agrees to reward me. And let’s further say, for the sake of argument, he agrees to my proposition to give me the piece of land I require to create a port. What is to stop him from forbidding me passage to the land? What is to stop him from attacking a year from now, five years from now?”

“So force him to sign a treaty,” Victor said as he helped himself to another glass of wine.

“Another treaty?” Alexander asked as he shifted his weight in his chair to stare at his right hand. “He already refuses to sign the one I asked which would allow me to buy the land and give us safe passage through his kingdom. I hardly see how having his jewel back would stop him from attacking us the first chance he gets.” He paused again. “All of this would be for naught.”

“Then exactly would Your Grace suggest?” Isaac asked, feeling himself growing weary of the entire conversation. “Kill her or trade her. That seems to be the only two logical conclusions. Make a decision and let’s be done with it.”

Alexander was silent for several minutes as his council grew restless in their seats. “No. No, I do not believe those are the only choices.” He raised his head, his dark eyes looking to Victor.

“Then pray tell, Your Grace, what is it you are proposing?” Victor asked.

“Exactly,” Alexander said as he raised an eyebrow. “I will wed the jewel of Naferia.”

The council of advisers became still, the silence so heavy within the room it was nearly tangible. Suddenly the silent room erupted into chatter as everyone began speaking at once.

“Are you mad?” Victor asked, his jaw practically on the table beside his glass.

“Surely you are not saying what I feel you are implying, son. This is madness!” Isaac said, his face equally shocked and disgusted.

“It is unheard of in Aziza!” Mandorth bellowed above them all.

They continued on for a few seconds, each one’s voice growing louder as their discord intensified. Finally Alexander slammed his fist down onto the table. “Enough!” Everyone settled down, Victor taking his seat again as Alexander eyed them all. “I have few choices here, My Lords. I cannot kill her for that will surely evoke a war. As much as I love a good battle, I am not so eager to rip my kingdom apart unless I have absolutely no choice. Sending her back and claiming myself as the hero has no guarantees of a reward, a treaty, or the adherence to the old treaty or a new one. But marriage,” he said as he got up from his chair and began pacing the floor. “Now, marriage is an entirely different contract. Antiguiss would not dare raise an army against his daughter’s husband if she were the Queen.”

“How can you be so sure, Alex?” Victor asked as he watched his young sovereign moving around the room. “King Antiguiss betrothed his only daughter to a goblin just to unite their kingdoms in the event he needs an ally against you. I hardly think he would rush to congratulate you. I’d rather think both he and the kingdom of Shondross would be so outraged they would fall upon us like the Hounds of Hell.”

Alexander halted in his spin around the room, staring unseeing at a painting across from the table. He appeared to inspect the work of art with great interest, but in reality his mind was a churning whirlwind, going down the various outcomes of each avenue should he pursue it. “No, I don’t think so. Killing her is certainly not on the table. That would definitely have both kingdoms atop us in a matter of weeks. I can’t risk sending her back and having her tell them it was actually I who kidnapped her in the first place. But if I were to make her my queen and offer her dowry to Shondross, have her claim to have fallen in love with me, then there is no way her father would raise an army against me. Goblins only care for wealth, expanding their empire and hoarding more gold. It was my understanding Calista’s dowry was worth over one hundred pounds of gold and silver.”

He turned suddenly, his dark eyes scanning the room. “The answer is quite simple, really. The goblins are loyal to whichever kingdom can give them the most wealth. While Naferia is most certainly wealthy, Antiguiss has slowly depleted his supplies over the years to Shondross, his whole reason behind bargaining his one and only daughter to the prince of that realm. Her betrothal guarantees Shondross will fight for them from now until the end of time, even if Naferia can no longer pay them to do so. Losing Calista means Shondross no longer owes any loyalty to them.”

“And you think giving them the jewel’s dowry will buy their loyalty?” Victor asked, feeling his own mind churning with all the implications his young king was bringing to light.

Alexander turned to him. “Yes, and why not? Her dowry is enough to buy this kingdom three times over. I shall give the goblin king a tenth of the dowry each year, for the next decade, and the same amount for an additional two years. I will also agree to a betrothal between our first born and whichever prince or princess of Shondross of the king’s choosing. This will bind our kingdoms together just as it would have Naferia and Shondross.”

“And what about Naferia?” Victor asked. “How do you intend to keep them from forming some sort of alliance with Shondross? They still Monduro’s little sister, and the queen is pregnant yet again.”

“I shall promise my first eligible daughter to Calliander, thus uniting all our kingdoms.”

“Your Grace, are you sure this is wise?” Isaac asked, his eyes troubled.

Alexander slowly nodded his head as he sat back at the head of the table. “Aye. It is the only choice the kingdom has right now. I cannot risk freeing Calista, and killing her would bring the wrath of both kingdoms upon our heads. There is no other choice but to unit our kingdoms, once and for all.”

Victor poured himself another glass of wine. “Well, then, it has been settled. It looks like we shall be having a royal wedding this fall.” He raised his glass. “To the King and his new bride. May you be fruitful and multiply.”

“Long live the King and Queen,” Isaac said as he raised his glass.

One by one, the rest of the King’s Council raised their glasses. “To the King and Queen!” they all shouted.

“To my bride-to-be,” Alexander said as he raised his own glass. “May this union be blessed by the Transcenders and all the gods they hold dear.”

The War Within – Chapter 2: The Jewel of Naferia

 

 

 

The War Within

Nicola C. Matthews

~~ 2 ~~

The Jewel of Naferia

 

copyright 2017 Nicola C. Matthews All Rights Reserved

Calista Vasco hissed around the soggy scrap of cloth still lodged in her mouth. One of the guards hit her between her shoulder blades with the handle of his energy sword, nearly knocking the small fairy off her feet. She stumbled, unable to right herself with the canvas bag still obstructing her view.

Angus, the older of the two guards, grabbed hold of her arm, steading her on her feet as his counterpart shackled her right leg to a ten-foot length of iron chain. Instantly her former screams of frustration became shrieks of pain, her body jerking violently. The two men stared at her in bewildered concern, not quite sure if something was actually wrong with her or if it were all merely an act, a desperate attempt at escape.

She began stomping her feet, frantically trying to rid herself of the chain. Her actions caused the two men to take notice of the angry red burn marks popping up everywhere the chain touched her fragile, ivory-colored skin.

Angus smacked the younger man in the back of his head. “You were supposed to wrap her ankle before you put the chains on her. Don’t you know anything about fairies, you simpleton?”

The younger man, Thomas, hunched his shoulders as he squatted down, cowering in fear. “I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t realize.”

“Aren’t they teaching you anything these days?” Angus asked as he held onto the screaming girl. “Fairies are allergic to iron. See how’s it burning her skin?”

Thomas nodded his head fiercely, but did not move.

“Take the chain off of her, you fool!” Angus bellowed, causing Thomas to flinch before he threw himself onto the floor.

The door to the room swung open, admitting Alexander into the fray. He took one look at Calista screaming in pain before his temper immediately flared. “For the love of the Transcenders, why is that woman screaming?” he asked as his long legs took him across the room in just a few short seconds.

“Sorry, Your Grace, but Thomas here didn’t wrap her ankle before applying the shackle. He’ll have her fixed up in no time,” Angus said as he bowed before his king.

Thomas made no move to help the woman or to move from his spot from the floor. Alexander grabbed hold of the screaming fairy and jerked her away from Angus. “Just take the shackle off of her already, Angus. She’s giving me a splitting headache with all this screaming,” he said as Calista’s screams became high-pitched wails which were like daggers to the inside of his skull.

Angus immediately set to doing his king’s bidding, removing the shackle from the woman whose screams slowly subsided to a mere whimper as soon as the iron was removed from her skin. The mottled, angry-looking burns slowly healed right before them, sending the fairy’s health level shooting from a steady decreasing 65% back to 90%. Angus then took a length of cloth and wrapped it around the fairy’s ankle, replacing the shackle and ensuring it was secured to the metal ring embedded in the stone floor.

Alexander made certain her hands were still bound securely behind her back before he finally ventured to remove the rough sack still enshrouding her head. Having never seen Calista before, Alexander’s eyes drank in the sight of her once the bag was removed.

He had always been told fairies were beautiful creatures, but the photos he had seen in his story books as a child did not compare to the creature in his arms. Her hair was long, a deep shade of mahogany in stark contrast against her alabaster skin. Even with it tangled and matted around her head and shoulders, it was still softer than the softest silk and glittered in the late afternoon sun streaming through the nearby small oval-shaped window. Her eyes were almond shaped and bluer than the ocean, fringed in long, reddish-brown lashes.

Alexander’s eyes roamed freely over the woman, takin in her slender, delicate build, the small, slightly flared hips and rounded cleavage barely visible in the stained green gown she wore. She had given his men quite the chase, leading them through thick underbrush and across savage rocks before they were finally able to subdue her. Calista’s dress was streaked with mud, leaves clinging to the frayed edges, twigs stuck in her tangled hair, and her bare feet bore the marks of multiple scratches from the briars she had lead them all through. There was no denying she was a lovely creature, but her beauty served him no purpose. He was only interested in what having her as a hostage could do in terms of increasing his land holdings throughout the Naferia kingdom.

He released her suddenly, his too-thin lips pulled down in a frown as he moved quickly away from the woman. She stumbled back, her arms still behind her back and her mouth still stuffed with the soggy rag. She tried speaking around the gag, but her words were completely incoherent.

“Sire, does she really need that gag in her mouth at all times?” Angus asked, eyeing the woman warily before he took a few steps away from her. Something about the woman made his skin crawl. Maybe it was the fact she could easily level their entire castle if she wanted to. Or at least that’s what he had been told as a child.

Alexander turned back to stare thoughtfully at the fairy for a few seconds. “For now –yes. I need to speak with the Drucynd Councilmen, and I will mention this. We’ve all been told stories about fairies and how they can use their magic, but I fear it is just stories told to children to frighten us. I want hard facts as to what she can and cannot do before I remove her gag or her restraints,” he said before turning sharply on his heel. “Get her fresh bedding, make sure she’s comfortable. Until I can consult with the Councilmen, that gag is not to be removed, not even to eat, understand?”

Angus opened his mouth to argue, but thought better of it. He personally felt better knowing she couldn’t conjure up some evil Earth demon to eat them all while they slept. “Yes, Sire,” he said instead, holding the door open as his king exited the room.

“You two listen to me, and listen well,” Alexander said as he turned to face his two men as they locked the door. “No one is to know she is here. The fewer people who know of her existence the better it is for all. She does not leave, she is not to be seen under any circumstances. Lanett will be bringing food for her each day. No one is allowed inside this room aside from myself and my advisers. Do you understand?”

Angus and Thomas nodded their heads, answering quickly, “Yes, Your Grace.”

Alexander stared at the two of them for a second, his dark brown eyes boring into theirs to make certain they understood how important it was. Satisfied they would not speak a word of their captive under any circumstances, he left the two of them to guard the door, leaving the jewel of Naferia under their careful watch.

All Kindle – All the Time

If you have a KU subscription, I have great news! I have enrolled all of my books into the KU program for the summer. That’s right, for the next three months you can enjoy any and all of your Nicola favorites on Kindle for FREE with the KU program. What will be your first read?

The War Within: ~ 1 ~ The Warring Kingdoms

TWW ebook Mock 1

 

The War Within

by Nicola C. Matthews

~~ 1 ~~ :

The Warring Kingdoms

a foreword:

This novel is being posted without any edits or rewrites. The final product will most likely deviate slightly from the words and storyline on this website.

***

“Sire, are you sure you want to do this? If this plan backfires then both Naferia and Shondross could come after us, rather than fighting each other.”

King Alexander Argent of the Aziza realm glanced over at the head of his guards, Victor, the man he had known since he was a toddler and trusted above all others. The older man was standing a few feet away, his aging and slightly wrinkled face looking haggard and drawn. Alexander’s dark brown eyes flickered to the small, writhing figure on the ground, trussed up by the hands and feet, a canvas bag over her head and a gag wrapped securely around her mouth. She was thrashing madly about on straw covered floor, her screams muffled by the wadded piece of rag stuffed into her mouth.

“I fully understand what it is I’m doing, old friend,” Alexander said. “I accepted King Antiguiss’ rejections of the extended treaty between Aziza and Naferia with the utmost of grace. I sent him gifts in thanks for meeting with me as is the custom. As far as he is concerned, I still do not know he bargained off his own daughter to Prince Monduro of Shondross in order to seal the alliance between their realms. It will look like Antiguiss has changed his mind about the arranged marriage, nothing more. It’s a clear slap to the face of Monduro and his family. It will be viewed as such, and it is enough to bring friction between the two kingdoms. And with the two of them at each other’s throats, I will finally have the upper hand.”

The small figure on the floor began thrashing around again, screaming around her gag, no doubt trying to cast some type of spell which would render all of them into slimy toads. The guard standing directly behind the young fairy kicked her hard in the back with the toe of his boot. The fairy let out a stifled moan of pain before growing still.

“Take her to the tower,” Alexander said as he turned to leave the stables. “Make certain her hands are always kept bound behind her, in iron. Never let your guard down around her, understand? The last thing you want is to allow her to cast a spell upon your person. We have more than enough garden slugs as it is.”

The two guards bowed to him as he passed, giving a curt, “Yes, Sire!” as they did so. Alexander quickly left the stables, intent upon getting some food into his stomach before his health levels reached critical levels.

He pulled out his magic scroll, checking the stats of his kingdom. Their food stores were holding steady at nearly 100%, the treasury at one million cren, the army closer to 85%. It was cause for concern. He would need to consult with the Drucynd Council soon to see if the Transcenders would favor him on his quest. He was sure there must be some way to trade out the food stores or cren to strengthen and expand his slowly dwindling army.

He nearly stumbled into one of his valets as he entered his quarters, the man hastily getting out of his way before bowing and apologizing. Alexander paid him no attention as he studied the scroll. With winter coming up, he would need to send more workers to the fields to increase their food stores, especially if he were able to come to some sort of agreement with the Transcenders to extend and grow his army.

“Sire, would you like us to prepare a hot bath before you dine?” Henry, his personal valet, asked him as he sat upon a nearby chair. Alexander merely nodded as he lifted his leg, his eyes still glued to his scroll as Henry removed the king’s heavy boots.

Alexander mumbled a half-hearted thanks to the maid who brought in a tray heavily laden with meats, cheeses, fruit, and a pitcher of wine. He continued to study his scroll, mentally going through all the calculations and steps required to bring his kingdom back to 100% across the board.

He reached out mindlessly and speared a piece of fruit, chewing it slowly as he studied. Within a few short minutes he had consumed everything on the tray, feeling his own strength and vitality immediately restored. Feeling much better, he placed his scroll back into his desk before moving to the bathing room, a bronze tub of steaming hot water awaiting him. His mind was a flurry of activity as he went over his plan, step-by-step, going over every possible scenario to find weaknesses in his plot and fix them before his enemies had a chance to exploit it for their own gain.

The War Within – a High Fantasy novel

TWW ebook Mock 1.jpg

In the coming months, I’ve decided to try my hand at something new. I’ve written one minor high-fantasy novel, Vindictus The Dark Lord. To date, it remains my best seller. I’ve always loved reading high fantasy novels, and have decided to dip my toes back into a mashup genre that I really love. I will be posting my upcoming release (tentatively) titled The War Within chapter by chapter right here on my website. I am mixing high-fantasy, possibly steampunk, romance, RPG (think WOW and D&D), and some action/adventure to the pot to see what I can come up with over the coming weeks. I’m not really sure what the future holds for this novel, but I do hope you will follow me on my journey into this exciting new realm.