Monday, May 26, 2014

Order of Assassins

In my fantasy series, The Queen’s Blade, the assassin Blade is a member of an assassins’ guild. It’s the stuff of fiction, right? Wrong.

Between 1090 and 1273, the Order of Assassins was a very real entity in the Middle East. The order’s few members were Shiite Muslims who were considered heretics by not only the Sunni Muslims, but also other Shiites. Due to the efforts of the leader, Hasan-i Sabbah, by the end of the 11th century the order had become one of the deadliest terrorist groups in today’s recorded history.

The Order of Assassins’ members often spent months or years following or infiltrating the targets, who they considered political or religious enemies. The killings were up close and personal, mostly in public places such as mosques. One ‘infiltrated’ assassination was that of Conrad of Montferrat, who was to be the Kingdom of Acre’s next ruler. In 1192, two assassins who were posing as Christian Arab monks killed him.

The assassins never killed innocents like today’s terrorists, only targeting prominent figures. They never tried to flee the scene either, apparently not fearing death.

By the middle of the 12th century, Sunni leaders left the Order of Assassins alone, realising it wasn’t good for their longevity.

Ultimately, the invading Mongols, under the rule of Genghis Khan, destroyed the Order of Assassins to guarantee their own safety after hearing of the order’s reputation.

The above illustration depicts an Order of Assassins member (left) stabbing Nizam al-Mulk, a Seljuk vizier. (Source:; originally from a 14th century manuscript)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Defining Assassins

Since we’ll be discussing assassins and The Queen’s Blade, I thought it fitting to talk about what an assassin is, exactly. Let’s first take a look at the dictionary definitions:

Oxford Dictionaries: “A person who murders an important person for political or religious reasons.”

Merriam-Webster: “A person who commits murder; especially:  one who murders a politically important person either for hire or from fanatical motives.”

As far as I’m concerned, the word ‘assassin’ refers to anyone who is paid to kill another person. However, most of history’s famous assassins were not, in fact, paid to kill, but committed murder for personal reasons, be they political or otherwise. This confuses me – surely if you are not paid to kill, you are nothing but a common murderer? Yet these people go down in history, romanticised as assassins. For example, why is JW Booth an assassin just because he killed a president rather than Joe Soap on the street? It makes no sense to me.

In my opinion, someone who is paid to kill someone else is an assassin. If you are not paid to kill, you’re a murderer. Real assassins don’t have a personal agenda or anything to gain from the kill either, other than the payment. Blade, the master assassin in my fantasy series, The Queen’s Blade, would certainly agree with my definition. In fact, assassins in the series undergo intensive training and have strict rules to adhere to.

What do you think the dictionary and accepted definition of an assassin should be?

Monday, May 12, 2014 – My Overview

Disclaimer: I have researched this topic to ensure all my information is correct. However, in this ever-changing industry, it’s possible that some of my facts may be outdated. If you spot anything that is, please let me know so I can correct this post.

I mentioned in a previous post that Amazon is one of the distributors with which I publish. However, this does not mean that I’m particularly fond of the company. To me, it seems very much as if Amazon deliberately sabotages many of its authors.

Why would I publish with a company I don’t like all that much? To put it simply, I was forced to publish at Amazon or have my books pirated there. People were pirating my free books – selling the complete books (with my author name still on them) on Amazon – and the company refused to remove those books when requested to do so. Amazon wanted me to prove that I’m the author, but how to do that? I didn’t exactly record myself writing, and having published the work elsewhere didn’t seem to mean much to the company. I also couldn’t publish those five free books at Amazon because they had already been published there! I mentioned this problem to some fans, who kicked up such a stink Amazon was forced to remove the pirated books. Then I published all my books at Amazon to avoid them being pirated there again.

One of the things that irk me the most about Amazon is the high royalty fee the company takes – a whopping 70% of your royalties! Basically, they take almost as much as places like Smashwords give authors. For example, if I sell a book for $4, I see less than $1 profit for that book. What’s next? Asking for our rights, too?

Amazon also puts its own prices on your books quite often. If you object to your books being sold at a higher price than they are elsewhere, the only thing you can do about it is go onto your book page on Amazon and click ‘report lower price’. The price is then lowered – but only for a time. You have to do this continuously. Just imagine: you’re a reader and purchase a book on Amazon, only to discover afterwards that it’s half the price (or free) somewhere else. That would seriously pee me off! Yet authors have little or no control over this.

For authors who opt in for Amazon’s KDP Select programme, Amazon offers a host of perks. This means that you have to release your books exclusively on Amazon for the first 90 days, at least. For me, this would be publishing suicide, because I make more money with other distributors. Other authors, however, swear that this pushed up their sales quite drastically.

Authors who have permanently free books (or free for a limited time) on offer lose out with Amazon, because the company tries to discourage free books, going as far as to penalise affiliate websites if they send too much traffic to free books on Amazon. Most authors know that making your books free (whether permanently or for a limited time) can increase sales quite drastically. If a reader enjoys the free Book 1 in a series, for example, he or she is likely to purchase the rest of the series, but may not have read the first book if it hadn’t been free.

The way I see it, Amazon is shooting itself in the foot by not wanting to promote free books, because Amazon, too, would make money (more than me, in fact) from increased sales of my other books. I suspect that Amazon works this way because too many traditional publishers are complaining about the competition they’re now faced with in this age of digital publishing, where anyone can publish and sell a book.

Another thing Amazon does that ‘sabotages’ authors is that it no longer allows authors to post reviews on other authors’ books. To me, this is incredibly unfair. Authors are readers too, and, if I read a book and want to post a review, I am just as entitled to do so as the next reader (but not according to Amazon). In fact, peer reviews often mean more to sales than normal reader reviews. I can understand if an author posts a flame review, but if it’s a positive review, what’s the harm? Readers are not idiots and they will notice if your author friends are posting rave reviews on rubbish books, so those reviews will not do the author in question any favours.

The problem isn’t just with peer reviews either. One author last year had a 5-star review on one of his books removed by Amazon, for no apparent reason. The review had been up for weeks and contained nothing that could be seen as offensive. When the author asked Amazon for an explanation, the company flatly refused to give one. What’s scary for authors is that this isn’t the only author to experience this. It could happen to you, ‘just because’.

However, authors are not the only ones losing out. Readers, too, are experiencing problems downloading and reading books bought on Amazon. One reader purchased a book from Amazon, but was unable to open the book to read it. After trying various ways to read the ebook, the reader contacted Amazon. As with many large corporations, the helpdesk reply was useless, filled with generic information that had nothing to do with his problem.

The reader in question says that Amazon’s DRM (Digital Rights Management) app is to blame for the fact that he purchased a book he cannot read on his tablet. DRM refers to technology used to control the use of digital devices and content after purchase.

Some people and companies insist that this app is vital to prevent digital copyright infringements, but others say there is no evidence of this. What there is evidence of, however, is that DRM protection is often a huge inconvenience to legitimate purchasers, and, some say, puts smaller businesses at a disadvantage.

Most importantly, if the DRM service is discontinued or the scheme changed, ebooks and other digital content could become permanently unavailable to those who purchased them. The choice of whether or not to use it is mine, but I do choose to use the added DRM protection, since pirating is so rife these days.

I’d love to hear your opinions on anything Amazon-related, even if they differ to mine.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Union of Renegades Book Blast

Indie Fantasy for People Who Don’t Do What They’re Told

Union of Renegades: The Rys Chronicles Book I is a free fantasy ebook worldwide. This week fantasy fans can sign up to receive a coupon to get The Goddess Queen: The Rys Chronicles Book II ebook for free. See details below.

About Union of Renegades: The Rys Chronicles Book I

The epic begins as Dreibrand Veta and the conquering Horde of the Atrophane Empire reach a mythic Wilderness that beckons with a magical call to glory. But Onja, Queen of the rys, a race far more powerful than the greatest human state, guards this land. She has the power to imprison souls and her genocidal rage is legendary. Everything is at risk for her desperate enemies, the union of renegades.

Meet the Players – Insights into the Main Characters in Union of Renegades by Tracy Falbe

Dreibrand Veta is in his early 20s when the saga begins. He’s been fighting with the conquering horde of the Atrophane Empire for two years. He is a character born of my disgust with following rules and not getting what you want. He’s an ambitious person but he’s done some things he’s not proud of. When he finds out he’s not going to earn what he expects for his efforts, he makes a decision that will change his life and ultimately influence the history of his world.

Miranda represents a woman at the bottom deciding she’s not going to take it anymore. When I developed the heroine for Union of Renegades I very much did not want her to be an innocent young female. She came from the place inside me that weeps for the suffering and oppression faced by so many women in the world. When the story opens she is kept as a slave by an abusive master. She’s also the mother of two young children. Although she is a compassionate person there is an edge inside her sharpened by hard use.

Shan is a rys with immense magical powers. All rys possess magic but the elite among them are capable of battle magic, mind reading, healing, and even enslaving the souls of the dying. Shan is a young rys who wants to overthrow Onja who rules their race and the humans of the western tribal kingdoms. He abhors her wicked tyranny but to challenge her he must use his magic to kill, something his good heart has never allowed him to do before.

Onja is the Queen of the rys and the Goddess of the people. She has ruled for over two thousand years. Her character represents the status quo, the all-powerful always-been. She believes she has the right to rule because she made the world as it is. During her long reign she closed off her realm from the east with a haunted wilderness, but when a curious whim prompts her to let people through everything will change.

You can download this novel and enter the world of The Rys Chronicles for free.

How to get The Goddess Queen: The Rys Chronicles Book II for free ($4.99 value)

It’s easy. Join my email list and I’ll email you a Smashwords coupon to get The Goddess Queen in your choice of ebook format. Smashwords serves readers worldwide. Fill out the form at this link and I’ll email everyone the coupon code on May 10th. (Form link will expire on May 10th.)

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