Ty Johnston: life on the written page

Home to fantasy, horror and literary fiction author Ty Johnston

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Educational YouTube channels for Fantasy writers

First off, let me point out that by the term "fantasy" I tend to look at the genre as more of the old-fashioned (by today's standards) sword and swashbuckling. Big swords, big monsters, that kind of thing. It's not necessarily my preference, but it's how I usually think of the fantasy genre. I tell you all this so you will know my influences for my choices of YouTube channels below.

Secondly, with a few exceptions most of these channels do not focus specifically upon the fantasy or speculative genres, and they're not even channels by writers. The majority of YouTube channels below are, I believe, informative, often entertaining and well worth the time of any fantasy writer. Also, this list is not meant to be exhaustive, but is merely made of channels I personally have found useful and interesting. The videos shown are only a sampling, and should not be considered representative of everything available at the individual channel.

Scholagladiatoria

The host here is Matt Easton, who has more than a dozen years experience teaching Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA). Of all the YouTube channels pertaining to European sword fighting, I personally feel this one is the most knowledgeable. Even if you think you know your stuff when it comes to swords, I bet you will find some surprises here and learn a few things. Also, swords aren't the only subject matter here, as Matt gets into other period weapons.



Skallagrim

I might be a bit biased when it comes to Skall's channel because I mailed him (and his girlfriend, Cara) a package a while back and it was featured on the channel. Still, I think this is one of the best sites for learning about European historical swordsmanship, other historical weapons, armor, etc. Though not as experienced as someone like Matt Easton (Skall often calls himself a beginner), there is still much to pick up here. For one thing, most viewers also are likely to be beginners, or only armchair swordsmen (waving my hand here), and it can help them to study the basics along with another beginner. But swords and training aren't all that appear on this channel. If you are interested, Skall sometimes has a firearms video or a more philosophical video or even a fun, entertaining video featuring a bit of role playing.



Lindybeige

Of all the channels mentioned here, this one is the most entertaining and the most funny, at least in my opinion. Lindybeige himself has some experience concerning European historical arms, and most of his videos make specific points about weaponry and the like while bringing out some humor. Occasionally he will include a travel video or simply an entertaining video, and sometimes he will dissect historical or fantasy movies or movie scenes, all with some chuckles.



ThegnThrand

At first glance, this channel looks like it's run by a couple of good-ole-boys who like to stab things in their back yard. Then you find out they're in Texas, so they really are a couple of good-ole-boys who like to stab things in their back yard. And when I say "things," I don't mean they're serial killers knocking off their latest victims for the world to see, but that they are testing historical weapons against the likes of cardboard boxes, wooden targets, dummies, etc. One of the nice things about this channel is you get to see historical weapons, mostly sharp, pointy things, used in a practical format. You get to see the weapons used properly, and you get to watch of what the weapons are capable. Also, the two guys behind this channel, Thrand and Eldgrimr, do a good job of debunking some of the nonsense you might find on "historical" television and movies and the like. And they are more than willing to work through any debates or conversations concerning the different uses of arms historically, all from a practical viewpoint. Fans of historical Vikings should be more than pleased with this channel.



Honorable mentions


Nerdarchy: This channel focuses upon tabletop role playing games, usually Dungeons and Dragons, but quite often the information discussed can be of interest to fantasy fiction writers. The regular crew here are Ryan, Ted, Dave and Nate, but friends of theirs show up from time to time, as well. There are videos here of actual gameplay, so you can learn about tabletop RPGs if you're not in the know, but this channel tends to focus upon group conversations about aspects of the game, many of which can also be related to writing. Storytelling, character arcs, world building and more are common topics of conversation. As the gang often says, "for nerds, by nerds."



hickok45: Perhaps a little less useful to the fantasy writer, this channel focuses upon firearms of all sorts from history up to modern day. The emphasis is upon modern and semi-modern firearms, but occasionally there is a video about black powder weapons and the like. Still, to some extent or other the information here should be of interest and worth study for most fiction writers. Besides, the host, hickok45 (and sometimes his son, John), is pretty entertaining and offers plenty of hands-on knowledge and experience.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 9 -- A Game of Thrones

by George R.R. Martin

Started: Feb. 4
Finished: Feb. 25

Notes: I'm well aware of the importance of this book and its series to modern fantasy, second only to Tolkien's works in popularity. I've been putting off this series because I wanted it to be finished, but that doesn't seem to be happening any time soon, so here we are. I did watch a few episodes of the TV show, so I am familiar with some of the characters and events, but to be honest I don't remember a whole lot and maybe it won't be ruined for me.

Mini review: It's a good book, with some of the clearest and cleanest prose I've found in a modern novel. Still, I'm not sure it deserves all the attention it's received. Maybe my thoughts here are biased because I had seen some of the TV episodes. Either way, though never bored, I also never felt overly excited reading this novel. I also rarely felt attachment to the characters, though a couple came close (Arya and Tyrion, for those interested). Concerning modern fantasy authors, I believe I prefer Brent Weeks for action writing and intrigue, and I prefer Steven Erikson for epic story and much more. All of this isn't to say Martin is not a good writer, because he most definitely is, but I didn't find this to be the great big be-all, end-all of fantasy literature that so many seem to think it is. Will I read further? Maybe, but probably not, at least not until the series is completed, which doesn't appear to be anytime soon.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 8 -- Veil of the Dragon (Book I of The Prophecy of the Evarun)

by Tom Barczak

Started: Jan. 28
Finished: Feb. 4

Notes: This fantasy e-book caught my attention because of its cover. Simple, somewhat dark, elegant. I like fantasy covers like that. In fact, I tend to prefer them over the ones that have lots of extravagant artwork. Just my preference, though. This is my first time to read this author, so now I'll see if his prose matches his cover.

Mini review: Great story, intriguing characters, interesting background, solid prose (though perhaps too flowery in places), but a couple of downfalls for me. First, practically nothing happens in the first half of this novel; after a smart beginning, two characters walk through some woods while occasionally having chats with strange figures. Second, and more importantly for me, there is such a mix here of visions and dreams and prophecies that more than a few times it is impossible to tell what is happening. Related to this, character deaths mean practically nothing here because of all these visions and prophecies; the reader can never trust for sure if a character is actually dead or has had some kind of metaphorical death and will pop back up in a few pages. Still, there's a lot here that's quite good, and the setting definitely lends itself to further tales.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

My mad, mad, mad e-book sales experiment

Before you think I'm crazy, hear me out ...

For the last 6 months, give or take, I've noticed a trend over at Amazon, a trend that cuts across genres. Multi-author collections of novels are selling really well, often at cheap, cheap prices. For instance, Epic: Fourteen Books of Fantasy has been selling at 99 cents for quite a while now and it has consistently been ranking well at Amazon, appearing tops on several sales charts.

At first I thought I would like to take part in something similar. My plan was to work together with some other fantasy authors, each of us to go in with a novel, then to see how things go.

But then I started thinking of all the headaches this would involve, the accounting problems, the trust issues, etc. And being the greedy huckster that I am, I thought, "Why not do it all myself, avoid the headaches, and keep all the money?"

So that's what I did, in mid-December.

I collected all the novels from my Kobalos Trilogy and my Horrors of Bond Trilogy, then combined them into The Darkbow Collection: Six Epic Fantasy Novels. Each of these novels features my Kron Darkbow character, so it made sense.

What might not seem to make sense is me selling six full novels for only 99 cents. It might even sound a little on the insane side.

But experimentation is key to success, and if things hadn't worked out well after a few weeks, I would have pulled the plug.

However, I've been pleasantly surprised by my sales. In January alone I have sold more than 2,600 copies of The Darkbow Collection, and there's still one day left in the month as I write this. Still, that's not a whole lot of money for six novels, and wouldn't it cut into my regular sales?

No.

In fact, my UK sales are nearly double what they were the month before, and I've actually sold books in several countries where I've never sold before. My U.S. sales are about average compared to the last few months.

As might be expected, my returns are higher than usual, but they are still well below 1 percent. I can live with that.

Also, I haven't really done any marketing. I think I mentioned the collection once on Twitter, and I've intentionally not mentioned it elsewhere.

Admittedly, all of this might have been a fluke. In fact, two things outside of my hands probably had an effect upon my January sales. First off, near the end of December some gifts I sent to Skallagrim were featured on his YouTube channel (which is worth checking out if you are into historical fencing, combat, etc.). Second, on December 31 my Spaghetti Western screenplay Day of the Dollar got a shout out as among the favorite books of 2014 for Charles Gramlich, and that screenplay has sold better than usual this past month.

Either way, to my way of thinking, this experiment has paid off. How long will I keep the collection at 99 cents? I'm not sure. The sales are slowing a little after having averaged more than 100 a day the first couple weeks of January, but I'll ride things out at least a couple weeks in February just to see how things go. Eventually I might raise the price to $2.99, or maybe even higher. It all depends upon how I think things are going.

Am I crazy? I don't think so. I made a little more money than usual, sold a bunch of cheap books, and hopefully have reached some new readers.

And that's what it's really all about, the readers.

Addendum: I didn't think of these two things until after posting, but wanted to let others know:

1.) No, The Darkbow Collection was not part of the Kindle Select program.

2.) Yes, The Darkbow Collection was for sale at other venues besides Amazon (Nook, Smashwords, Apple, etc.), but no, the sales price there did not seem to help any at all. In fact, my sales at the other sites have gone down quite a bit of late.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 7 -- The Big Bad City

by Ed McBain

Started: Jan. 25
Finished: Jan. 28

Notes: I've a stack of 87th Precinct novels, and they're not going to read themselves. From reading the back copy, this looks as if it's going to be one of those 87th novels in which the detectives are hit with many unrelated crimes at once. I've read at least a couple of other 87th books along those lines, and they always bring various resolutions to the different crimes and criminals. As always, looking forward to it.

Mini review: This one wasn't quite as convoluted as I had expected it to be, though there were still three or four crimes needing solved. There was a mystery involving a strangled nun who had once been a rock musician, a burglar who left behind plates of cookies for his victims, a killer out to slay a cop before the cop found him, and plenty of other odds and ends. As sometimes happens, this one ended on quite the personal note, especially for Detective Steve Carella. As an added surprise, Matthew Hope, McBain's lawyer character from another series, made a cameo appearance. I love these books.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 6 -- Arctic Wargame

by Ethan Jones

Started: Jan. 20
Finished: Jan. 24

Notes: I interviewed this author on my blog a few years ago, and I read a short by him, but since then I've been meaning to read a longer work. In this, the first of his Justin Hall novels, the Canadian secret agent tackles some foreign weapons cached away in the Arctic.

Mini review: After a booming start, I felt this one slowed down for quite a long while, but then it kicked in with a massive, action-filled wind down that leaves the reader feeling pretty satisfied. Some of the plot seems fairly unbelievable, but that's not all that uncommon for thriller novels, and at least there were justifications made. I might have to check out this writer again.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 5 -- SERPICO

by Peter Maas

Started: Jan. 15
Finished: Jan. 19

Notes: This non-fiction book is about a New York who fought corruption in the 1960s and early '70s. This book and I have a long history going back about 35 years, though I've never read it until now. When my mom and step-dad divorced when I was a kid, this was one of the books he left behind, which naturally fell to me because I was the reader in the family. I held onto that paperback through high school and into my college days, but then I lost it when I first moved away from home. Soon after I found another copy in a used book store, bought it, took it home, and never read it. About four years ago, during another move, I lost the book yet again. Then recently I once more found another of these old paperbacks at a used book store. I decided it was time to read it before I lose it again.

Mini review: This is a pretty good book. It's written in a style I kind of think of as '70s magazine style, quite breezy for the time but somewhat thick by today's standards. Yes, Frank Serpico fought corruption, and for it he took a bullet to the face. Yes, he survived, and as of a magazine interview I read with him a few years ago, he is still alive. The events of this book end more than 40 years ago, and Serpico has said (in the interview I read) that he plans on writing his own book. One of the things I found humorous about this book was that I was already familiar with all the police lingo from having read Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels, which first started coming out in the 1950s, when Frank Serpico first became a cop in New York City (note: the 87the Precinct novels take place in Isola, a fictionalized version of NYC). Writers interested in police procedurals of the the 1960s and early '70s should read this book.