Daniel Arenson is a bestselling independent fantasy author. Known for his epic world building and distinctive covers, his novels have sold over 300,000 copies worldwide. He was an early adopter of price promotions, and featured his first discount with BookBub readers over two years ago. Our subscribers have since downloaded his titles over 15,000 times. We asked Daniel for his insights into self-publishing, ebook marketing, and the unique intricacies of the fantasy genre:
BookBub: When did you decide to become a full-time writer? Can you tell us a bit about your work and how you decided to focus on the fantasy genre?
Daniel Arenson: After several years of writing on the side, I became a full-time writer in January 2013. By then, I was earning more money from writing than from my old day job. So far things are still going well.
I write epic fantasy. Four of my trilogies are set in Requiem, a world where people can turn into dragons. I’m also the author of Moth, an ongoing series (six books are planned) about a world torn in two — one half always in sunlight, the other always dark.
When I was a kid, my family moved around a lot, sometimes between countries. I mostly lived overseas, and I often switched schools every year. Without much stability or long-term friends, that meant reading a lot — usually whatever I found at the nearest library. When I was 11, I found a new kind of book. It was part of the Dragonlance series, and it featured a dragon on its cover. It was the first fantasy novel I’d seen. After reading that book, I began to read all the fantasy I could find — Forgotten Realms, The Chronicles of Amber, The Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time, and anything I could get at whatever library or bookstore was nearby.
Fantasy literature does two seemingly conflicting things: it provides both escape from reality and tools for dealing with reality. Fantasy is about escaping to imaginary worlds, but when done well, it’s also about this world, about resilience and about facing your enemies, be they dragons or schoolyard bullies, trolls under the bridge or trolls online.
BB: Why did you decide to go the self-publishing route? What are the most exciting and challenging parts of marketing your own work?
DA: In 2007, I sold a book to a small traditional publisher. In 2010, I began self-publishing. Once frowned upon, self-publishing became a real option a few years ago, often the best option.
Self-publishing can often mean more money. I earn 70 percent royalties on my indie ebooks; I earned a lot less with a traditional publisher. This has made full-time writing possible for me. That said, I’m a “hybrid author;” I recently sold a series to Random House in Germany, and it’s possible that I’ll accept other traditional publishing offers in the future.
As for marketing my own work, that’s something most traditionally published authors have to do too! It’s challenging but I enjoy it. For me, it’s about creating brands. Right now I’m focused on both Requiem and Moth, two separate worlds. Each, I feel, is more than just a series of books — it’s the artwork, the maps, the music (you can find the Moth soundtrack on my website), and the overall creation of an imaginary world. When it comes to marketing, I’m not thinking so much about selling an individual book, rather about creating and expanding worlds people will want to visit. Each time I release a new Requiem or Moth book, that world grows a little larger. If I did a good job, readers will keep coming back.
BB: Many books on your backlist are part of various series. What do you think are the advantages (if any) of marketing books in a series as opposed to standalone titles?
DA: It’s been hard for me to promote my standalone titles. I started out writing standalones. The first six books I wrote were standalones. I released three of those, and I struggled to sell them.
Three years ago, I released Blood of Requiem. It was originally meant to be a standalone too, but I decided to expand it into a series. The difference was staggering. The book outsold my earlier standalones by a mile. I’ve been writing series since.
I think many fantasy readers naturally prefer series. Consider television. I’m more likely to watch an ongoing show than a one-time special. Series allow you to really delve deeply into the world and characters, more so than most single novels can do.
Another advantage to series: Whenever I release a new book, I’m also promoting the older books. People might hear about me releasing Moth IV and then check out the first book in the series. Promoting the backlist this way would be a lot harder with standalones.
BB: You’ve featured a number of box sets with BookBub in the past. How do box sets fit into your marketing strategy? Is there a certain time in the lifecycle of a series that you bundle the books?
I find that readers love the bundles. Even when I’m not promoting them on BookBub, the bundles often outsell the individual novels. It’s more affordable for the readers (my bundles are cheaper than buying all the books individually) and more convenient.
Readers seem to especially like bundle deals. Every couple months, I’ll discount one of my three-book bundles to $2.99, and those often outsell my $0.99 individual novel deals.
I’ll usually release the bundle pretty quickly — maybe two or three weeks after the last book in the series is released. I like giving readers a choice between the individual books and the set.
BB: You were one of BookBub’s earliest partners, which means you’ve been running price promotions for awhile now. How have the results of your price promotions changed over the past few years? Are they still an effective marketing tool?
DA: Along with regular new releases, price promotions on BookBub are the most effective marketing tool I have. That was true in the early days and it’s still true now.
BB: Can you tell us about one of your more recent BookBub promotions? How did you decide to feature the title you did, and what were the results of the promotion?
DA: In December last year, BookBub featured my fantasy novel Moth — the first in The Moth Saga — discounted from $2.99 to $0.99. The book sold over 3,000 copies following the promo, cresting at a sales rank of #62 on Amazon. Last month, BookBub featured my Dragon War omnibus discounted from $6.99 to $2.99; it went on to sell over 1,500 copies.
BB: What kinds of long-term results have you seen from price promotions you’ve run in the past?
DA: Every promotion on BookBub has a long-term effect.
First of all, it launches me onto bestsellers and “also bought” lists on Amazon, providing extra visibility. Readers browsing those lists will see my book, so there’s definitely exposure there beyond just readers clicking on BookBub’s links.
In addition, BookBub readers will often go on to buy other books I’ve written — either sequels or books in other series. At the end of each ebook I feature on BookBub are links to everything else I’ve written. If readers liked what they read from BookBub, they’ll buy more of my work, even at full price.
Finally, BookBub leads readers to my mailing list — there’s a link to sign up at the end of each book — which helps me promote new releases. My mailing list would probably be quite a bit smaller without BookBub.
BB: Three of your trilogies are set in the same world (Requiem). Do you find that you have distinct fan bases for each series, or do you write for the same audience with each of these collections?
DA: It’s largely the same readers. The Requiem trilogies can stand alone; they each feature a unique cast of characters in a separate historical era. But the main character is really Requiem itself, and each trilogy tells of another struggle the kingdom faces. Most readers who email me have read or plan to read all of the trilogies. When I write a new Requiem series, I’m writing both for old fans (each series includes references to the others) and new readers.
BB: How do your marketing efforts differ between the Requiem trilogies and titles in your more recent universe (Moth)?
DA: Requiem is a lot darker and for an older audience. It’s a violent, gritty world; the stories are often as much horror as fantasy. I recommend those books to fans of darker, intense, visceral fantasy.
Moth is more sweeping and epic, a story of light and darkness, of wondrous locations, of romance and tragedy and war and adventure. It’s a series that, I think, appeals to a much wider audience — both kids and adults, both fans of fantasy and casual readers of the genre. I think of Moth as a crossover series, books that you can enjoy even if you don’t normally read fantasy.
To use a James Cameron analogy, the Requiem books are Aliens, and the Moth books are Avatar. One is dark and scary and intense, and the other is colorful, larger than life, and appealing to lots of different people. When I market Requiem, I’m trying to reach fans of dark, adult-oriented fantasy such as A Game of Thrones. With Moth, I’m trying to cast a wider net.
BB: Lastly, our editors are dying for us to ask about your covers. They’re beautiful! Do you design them yourself or do you work with an illustrator? How do you maintain cohesive cover designs for each series?
DA: I work with several different illustrators who create the artwork. I add the lettering to the covers myself. For Requiem, especially since it’s spread across several series, it’s very important to me to maintain a consistent look. That’s why each book, regardless of the trilogy, features a dragon portrait and the same font/layout for the lettering.
With Moth, I wanted something different. This series features a large cast of characters in a massive, varied setting. Each Moth cover shows a different character or two exploring a different location in the world.
In my opinion, artwork is an integral part of the fantasy genre. Since I’ve begun to read fantasy, I’ve also been a fan of fantasy illustrators. I grew up admiring the works of Jeff Easley, Larry Elmore, Fred Fields, John Howe, Alan Lee, Keith Parkinson, Robh Ruppel, Michael Whelan, and many others. Great artwork first attracted me to fantasy, and I think it’s a key component in making the fantasy world seem real. Today we live in the era of thumbnails, but fantasy artwork is still important to me, and I’m glad that I’m able to offer some artwork along with my books.
To find out more about Daniel Arenson, you can visit his website at www.danielarenson.com.
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