Welcome to my Front Parlor, where I hope to engage you in some stimulating conversations about my journey as an indie author, the lessons learned about marketing, and the joys of writing fiction. The past five years have been enormously rewarding, with the publication of four novels in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, Bloody Lessons, and Deadly Proof, a short story collection, Victorian San Francisco Stories, and the forthcoming publication of my first science fiction novel, Between Mountain and Sea. Do come in, look around, comment, and before you go, please leave a visiting card (url, twitter, fb address, etc) so I can return the courtesy and visit you next time.
I am excited and proud to have 2 of my books as part of a Historical Fiction StoryBundle that is available, November 4-26.
In case you don’t know, StoryBundles offer readers a chance to discover quality books by independent authors in a particular theme. These bundles are put together and are available for a limited time. The reader can look at the basic bundle and decide how much they would like to pay, whether they would like to also obtain the bonus books, and whether they would like to donate some of the money raised to charity.
The Historical Fiction StoryBundle comprises a total of ten terrific titles by top-notch authors, together representing a breadth and variety of experience. These stories blend real-world historical settings with romance, adventure, fantasy and mystery to bring you whole worlds of fun! You’ll visit ancient Egypt, the Americas, the Caribbean, Great Britain and Japan; you’ll meet pirates and warriors, witches and princesses, detectives, time-travellers and more.
For my participation in the Historical Fiction StoreBundle, Maids of Misfortune, the first book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series has been made available to those people who subscribe to the StoryBundle Newsletter, while the second book in the series, Uneasy Spirits, is part of the basic bundle.
My Victorian San Francisco Mystery series features Annie Fuller, a young widow who supports herself by running a boarding house and supplements this income by giving business and domestic advice as the clairvoyant, Madam Sibyl. While no one would think twice about Annie Fuller’s occupation as boarding house keeper (one of the most common jobs held by married or widowed women in this period), her second occupation, as the clairvoyant, Madam Sibyl, was not so ordinary.
However, in 1880, spiritualism was very popular, and on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle were listed at least a dozen clairvoyants of one type or another, mostly women. In fact, in the 1870s a famous woman, Victoria Woodhull, had gained national notice when she and her sister set up the first known female brokerage firm. Like Madam Sibyl, they suggested that they got their stock tips through supernatural means.
Spiritualism, as a religious movement, took off in the United States in 1848 when the young Fox sisters began to communicate with the dead through a series of mysterious rapping sounds. Spiritualists believed in universal salvation and that spirits could communicate with the living. Mediums began to appear throughout the United States, and they professed to have the ability to speak with the dead through a variety of mechanisms, including spirit guides, celestial music, alphabetical codes, and slate writing. These mediums went into trances and spoke before large audiences in public halls, and they held séances and private “sittings” where the spirits gave advice and foretold the future.
Women found Spiritualism a particularly welcoming movement. Based on the belief that the individual could communicate directly with the divine through spirits, Spiritualism challenged the authority of established churches and permitted women an unprecedented degree of power. As Spiritualists, women spoke in public, formed and led organizations, wrote newspaper articles, and made money as mediums.
However, this movement also became a perfect haven for fraudulent activities as men and women used rigged tables, tricks with the new medium of photography, and the general gullibility of human beings to extract money…often from grieving individuals who desperately wanted to contact a departed love one.
In Maids of Misfortune, one of Madam Sibyl’s clients dies in mysterious circumstance, and Annie goes undercover as a domestic servant to discover what really happened. In Uneasy Spirits, one of her boarders decides that because of her experience as a pretend clairvoyant that she would be the perfect person to investigate and expose a fraudulent trance medium. Her investigation takes Annie into the intriguing world of 19th century spiritualism, encountering true believers and naïve dupes, clever frauds and unexplained supernatural phenomena.
But the historical Fiction StoryBundle doesn’t just offer you my two books, but you will also be able to take a walk through ancient Egypt with Libbie Hawker’s House of Rejoicing, the first part of a captivating series featuring the famous Nefertiti. Travis Heermann will spirit you away to 13th-century Japan in Sword of the Ronin, an intricate novel blending the tale of a lone warrior with myth and fantasy. You’ll go on a thrilling pirate adventure with Helen Hollick in Sea Witch! Here be pirates! And magic, and romance, and combat upon the high seas! And I’ll introduce you to a re-imagined Regency England in Miss Landon and Aubranael, which mixes a refined tale of life among the gentry with fairytales, magic and folklore.
And that’s just the basic bundle! You’ll get all of that for just $3. For $12 or more, you’ll receive four more terrific titles including the second part to Libbie Hawker’s saga of pharaohs and queens, Storm in the Sky. The further adventures of Helen Hollick’s pirate hero Jesamiah Acorne will also be yours in Pirate Code. In Mercenary, David Gaughran tells the thrilling (and true!) story of Lee Christmas, an American embroiled in revolution in nineteenth-century Latin America. And on top of all of that, Sarah Woodbury will take you time-travelling back to medieval Wales in Footsteps in Time, an enthralling tale of romance, fantasy and adventure.
To find out how to buy the Historical Fiction StoryBundle, just click here and enter a world of romance, mystery, fantasy, and adventure all in an historical setting.
“The feast of All Saints, which was ushered in Friday evening by the old-fashioned games of ‘All Hallows’ E’en, was yesterday celebrated in the Catholic and Episcopal Churches.” San Francisco Chronicle, 1879
“It’s barmbrack cake. Beatrice has baked a ring in it, and tradition has it that the girl who gets the slice with the ring will marry within the year.” Annie Fuller, Uneasy Spirits.
The first quote above is from a real person, who was reporting for the San Francisco Chronicle about real events. The second quote is by Annie Fuller, a fictional person and my protagonist, from the second book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, Uneasy Spirits, which is set in 1879 San Francisco. As we approach Halloween, I thought it would be fitting to discuss how I used factual data from the past to provide historical context for a work of fiction.
As I was plotting Uneasy Spirits, I knew that I wanted the story to start only a few months after Maids of Misfortune, the first book in the series, ended, which was the last week of August, 1879. I also knew the basic plot was going to revolve around Annie Fuller trying to expose the shenanigans of a trance medium who claimed to commune with the spirits of the dead. So, placing the action of Uneasy Spirits around October 31 and the celebration of Halloween seemed a fairly obvious choice.
I got a calendar for October 1879 (one of the wonders of the internet is being able to find this sort of thing so easily), made a list of the main scenes I had outlined for the book, and then decided to make Halloween (which was a Friday that year) the day when several of the semi-climatic scenes in the story occurred. I then literally counted back from October 31, and determined that the opening scenes of the book should happen about 3 weeks from this date. In the final version of the book, the first chapter opens on October 11.
But then I was faced with a real problem. Despite being a professional historian and having written a dissertation that focused primarily on women who worked in San Francisco in 1880, I had no clue how people in 1879 San Francisco would have celebrated Halloween. Did they trick or treat? Wear costumes? Have Jack o Lanterns? I had some vague idea that young boys in small towns went around tipping over outhouses on this night in “earlier days,” but beyond that, I didn’t even know if anyone would actually celebrate this night at all, much less how, in a larger city like San Francisco.
A little research was in order. The first clue came with the mention in the San Francisco Chronicle of “old-fashioned games of All Hallows’ E’en.” I now knew to look for what someone in 1879 would consider “old fashioned games,” which led me to several internet sites that reported on Halloween, including an article in Harpers Magazine for 1886. In addition there were a good number of contemporary articles detailing the history of this holiday.
All these articles agreed that, while Halloween’s roots can be traced back to a number of ancient cultures and religious beliefs, in the 19th century it was the Celtic peoples, particularly the Irish, who had the strongest influence on the development of Halloween as a night of celebration. It was the Irish who seemed responsible for turning October 31 into a night of fun and games, and Irish immigrants brought their traditions with them to America, profoundly influencing how this country celebrated this holiday.
I couldn’t have been more pleased with this information because the Irish were an enormously important ethnic group in San Francisco in 1879. They not only made up a substantial percentage of the working class of the city, they also were represented among some of the economic and political leaders of San Francisco (men like James Flood and William O’Brian, the Silver Kings, and Frank McCoppin, a former mayor.)
Not coincidentally, two of the most important people in Annie Fuller’s life are her cook, Beatrice O’Rourke, and her maid-of-all-work, Kathleen Hennessey, both Irish. Once I knew about the prominence of parties as the way to celebrate Halloween in this time period, it was easy to decide that Annie Fuller would host a party at the boarding house she owned, with Beatrice and Kathleen inviting their friends and family. A perfect setting for one of the main climatic scenes of the book.
And what fun that party was to write. There were indeed jack-o’lanterns at that time (in Ireland the tradition was to use turnips!), and I was able to work a pumpkin into the plot in what I thought was an unusual way. In addition, there were games like “snap the apple,” dancing, and special foods, like the barmbrack cake, which was one of several elements of Halloween activities that revolved around trying to foretell the romantic futures of participants.
I now had a way to provide a new and different setting in which my characters could interact. The detail I had gleaned from my research would make my portrayal of the past more authentic. And finally I was able to leaven what could have been a series of very “heavy” scenes with a light, humorous scene, which is one of my goals as a writer. And I learned something, which was much fun for me as I hope it is for the reader.
Oh, and click here to find a recipe for that barmbrack cake, in case you want to make it for Halloween!
I am also part of a Halloween Giveaway Hop…Just go on over to my FaceBook Page and learn how to participate!
Like the character quoted in this picture, I feel like I have embarked on a rather perilous but exciting adventure with the publication today of my two works in the Paradisi Chronicles series. My coming of age adventure, Between Mountain and Sea, and the short story I co-authored with my daughter, Butler’s Brother, are both now available on Amazon–and there is no turning back!
The experience of collaborating with six other independent authors to create an open-source, science fiction universe was an adventure all its own, (see the background on the Paradisi Chronicles here), but I hadn’t anticipated how nervous I would be about actually publishing my own novel in this new universe.
I always wondered why other authors said they were writing new series outside their regular genre under secret pen names. But now I think I understand…because for the first time I have found myself asking questions like: What if no one buys my new novel? Worse yet, what if the people who do buy it don’t like it? And what if they say (as I am sure some will) “Locke should stick to writing historical mysteries”?
When I published my first historical mystery, Maids of Misfortune, and my first short story, Dandy Detects, I felt I had nothing to lose. It was early 2010, I had no expectations of success. I would not have been surprised if these works simply disappeared without a trace. Even a negative review pleased me because it meant someone had actually read what I’d written.
But then, once both the novel and the short story were met with positive responses, a preponderance of good reviews, and sales that were beyond my wildest dreams, my confidence in my ability to write historical mysteries solidified. (Not that I still don’t get a bit nervous each time a new book comes out, but I already know that many readers like my main characters, my mix of history, romance, and mystery and that helps.)
This time, however, the nerves have been worse. Because I don’t know yet if my existing fans will enjoy my foray into a new genre (both science fiction and young adult) and I don’t know if this work will attract new fans. So, last night, I suddenly had the thought that maybe I should have used a completely different pen name (instead of just dropping the M. and using Louisa Locke).
But then I reassured myself.
Because I always write for my own pleasure–trusting that if I enjoy the characters and stories and settings I create that someone out there will enjoy them as well. And I thoroughly enjoyed writing Between Mountain and Sea. In fact I fell in love with my main characters: Mabel, the young girl who set out with her family to colonize a new planet, Mei Lin, her great, great, granddaughter who never felt she fit in, Tesni, the Ddaeran girl with psychic powers, and Eurig, the charming sentient New Eden primate. So I have faith that some readers, if not all, will find as much pleasure reading Between Mountain and Sea as I had writing it.
However, not just my novel, but the six other works in the Paradisi Chronicles launched today, Do check them out at Paradisi Chronicles.com or click on the covers below and I am sure you will find something to your liking,
Two weeks ago, I was contacted by author Hank Garner who does interviews for his Author Stories Podcast, and the interview just went live today. Hank is a great interviewer (so check out his site), and I was particularly happy that we not only got to talk about my Victorian San Francisco Mystery Series but that I was also able to introduce his listeners to the history behind the Paradisi Chronicles–the open source science fiction universe I have been working on with six other authors for the past year.
In fact, the reason Hank had heard of me was that, even though the first round of works written for the Paradisi Chronicles aren’t going to be out until September 1, our whole enterprise was now the subject of a good deal of buzz among the science fiction/fantasy world of indies. I explained today how this happened in this blog post on the Paradisi Chronicles blog, so if you want to know the details–go on over. Suffice it to say, once again Hugh Howey played a role. The outcome of that buzz is that we already have nearly 30 published indie authors who have expressed interest in writing in our universe. So stay tuned!
Meanwhile, remember you can pre-order Between Mountain and Sea, my coming of age science fiction novel and Butler’s Brother, the short story I collaborated on with my daughter, Ashley Angelly–both set in the Paradisi Chronicles universe.
M. Louisa Locke, August 4, 2015
In a post entitled Time for a Pivot? I detailed a shift in my marketing strategy for 2015. In 2014, all my books were in Amazon’s KDP Select (which requires exclusivity) and I used the 99 cent Kindle Countdown KDP Select tool as my primarily form of promotion. In December 2014 I took all my books off of KDP Select in order to sell them in a variety of bookstores (Apple, Nook, Kobo, GooglePlay), and for these first six months of 2015 I have been using the perma free strategy (making Maids of Misfortune, the first book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, permanently free) as my major promotional tool. I also committed to writing more short stories, getting audiobook editions out for the next two novels in my series, and writing a short story for a new science fiction collaborative project called the Paradisi Chronicles.
While the table below demonstrates that this shift in strategy worked—in terms of maintaining my monthly income—the unintended consequence and perhaps the most important positive outcome from my shift in strategies is revealed in the last row of the table. My writing productivity quadrupled.
|January to June 2014||January to June 2015|
|1||4 books on sale all in Select||5 books not in KDP Select 1 perma free|
|2||Total Sales and Borrows||21,200||13,626|
|3||Ave per month||3,500||2,200|
|5||Ave per month||$6000||$6000|
|7||Promotions||5 KC (including 2 BookBub) and 1 Free promotion||1 BookBub of permafree book|
|8||Words written||2 short stories 18,000 words||Draft of novel 85,000 words|
How did this happen?
First of all, let’s look at the numbers. In the first six months of 2014, I had three novels for sale as ebooks (Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, and Bloody Lessons) and a boxed set of those books, with print editions for the novels, and an audible edition of Maids of Misfortune.
In the first six months of 2015, I had three novels for sale (Uneasy Sprits, Bloody Lessons and Deadly Proof––the 4th book in my series), Victorian San Francisco Stories (a collection of short stories) and my boxed set. I also now had audio book editions of Uneasy Spirits, Bloody Lessons, and Victorian San Francisco Stories. This meant that even with the loss of the ebook version of Maids of Misfortune as a source of paid income, I had two more ebooks available for sale and several more audio books as a source of income.
Second, while I had lost the income I was getting in 2014 from borrows from KOLL (Kindle Online Lending Library) because none of these books were in KDP Select in 2015, I had picked up sales from Apple, Nook, Kobo, and GooglePlay that made up for that loss of income. For example, January thru June 2014 (before the Kindle Unlimited subscription service was started by Amazon) I averaged 370 borrows a month from KOLL — about $700 a month in income. For 2015, with none of my books making money from borrows, I made on average $1000 a month (which included sales in the Apple, Nook, Kobo, and GooglePlay stores as well as the Kindle store).
Third, while I sold more books in the first six months of 2014 than in 2015 (see rows 2 & 3), a lot of those books were discounted to 99 cents as part of Kindle Countdown promotions (my main promotional tool in 2014). This explains why I was getting the same income for selling fewer books (averaging 1,300 fewer a month in 2015; see rows 3, 4 & 5). In 2015, I was giving away a lot more of copies of one title (see row 6), but I was also selling all my other titles at full price.
Which leads to the fourth and main point. Those Kindle Countdowns took time. As you can see from row 7, in 2014 I did a promotion every single month. And while this strategy produced more book sales, promotions took a lot of my time — which I could have used for writing. I had to schedule each promotion a month in advance, often with multiple promotional sites. The week the book was on sale, I engaged in daily activity on social media to further the promotions, and in order to determine the profitability of each sale, I spent additional time in record keeping to track average sales before, during, and after the sale.
While the time I spent in 2014 yielded income, it also meant that I only got two short stories written during that six-month month period (a total of only 18,000 words). In contrast, in 2015 I spent much less time on promotions. I had a one-day Book Bub promotion of my perma free book, Maids of Misfortune in January and I ran several Facebook ads for that book whenever the number of downloads per day fell. That’s all.
And the short story in the Paradisi Chronicles I said I wanted to write? It became Between Mountain and Sea, a full-length novel (85,000 words) that I wrote between February and June of this year. A much higher rate of productivity and an unexpected bonus from my shift to the perma-free strategy for my series.
So, have any of you authors noticed perma-free freeing up your writing time? If so let me know.
And for the rest of you, why don’t you go and check out Between Mountain and Sea, the fruits of my greater productivity, which is now available for pre-order. You will notice this book is in KDP Select because I am anxious to see how the new “payment by pages finished” process of Kindle Unlimited works. Stay tuned!
M. Louisa Locke, July 21, 2015