Friday, 23 March 2012

A cold-eyed review of my own books

Life as an author is simple when you have only one published book to your name. It finds your ideal readers (quickly or slowly depending how it has been marketed), and if they like your book then they'll look out for your next one. So you publish a second book, and your ideal readers can now compare it to your first. Hopefully they will like the second book too, and look out eagerly for your third, meanwhile spreading the word about the first two. At this stage, the unicorn would count that reader a fan.... am I right?

For writers of adult fiction, this works well enough no matter how long the author takes (within reason) to write and publish their next book. A gap of a few years might even create greater desire among the fanbase for the next one. But for a children's author, things are rather harder.

Young readers grow up faster than an author can write. So if a children's author has a publishing gap of several years, like my five-year gap between publication of "I am the Great Horse" (2007) and publication of "Sword of Light" (2012), most of those original fans will have grown up and moved on. This means it is surprisingly difficult for a children's author to build a fan base and keep it, unless they write the sort of books that still appeal to their original young fans after they have grown up, i.e. young adult/crossover titles.

Since I am still experimenting with my writing to find my ideal readership, here's a quick review of my published books in suggested reading age order that might help if you are coming to them fresh, or have read some of my older titles and are wondering if you'll enjoy my new one.

very young readers start here...
MAGICAL HORSES (Carlton, out of print.)
An illustrated interactive pop-up book of short stories. I guess you'll outgrow this one at around age 7, unless you're like me and still giggle when you open the cover and a winged Pegasus pops out to say hello! It's got a sparkly cover, so perfect for little girls.

"Merlin" fans should enjoy my new Arthurian series...
PENDRAGON LEGACY: SWORD OF LIGHT (Templar hardcover, £9-99)
My new one!!! If by any chance you haven't heard about this book, it's the first in a new series of four books about King Arthur's daughter Rhianna Pendragon and her friends Prince Elphin, Cai and Arianrhod. There are battles, knights, dragons, and a sword or two - though you won't find yourself sliding about in gore on every page. There's also a telepathic horse called Alba, a talking merlin, and quite a bit of magic.
You could probably ask someone to read this to you as a bedtime story from about age 6, and tackle it alone aged 8 or 9. It's a bit difficult to put an upper reading age on a book that's only just come out, but you might outgrow it at around 13... unless you enjoy fantasy books and/or are an Arthurian fan, of course.
Don't be put off by its thickness. It looks like a long book, but that's because the print is spaced out to make the pages easier to read. It's only about 50,000 words.

a series for young historians who like a bit of magic...
SEVEN FABULOUS WONDERS (HarperCollins, now available as ebooks £1-99 / $2-99)
There are seven of these, each a separate story with different characters set around one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. You can read them in any order. There's a bit of gore and magic, and the historical adventure plots give these titles boy appeal - but don't dismiss them if you're a girl, since some have heroines. These books are around 60,000 words each and have fairly complex plots, so probably best for readers 10 and over who can cope with the historical settings.
Best for Olympic atmosphere: THE OLYMPIC CONSPIRACY

a fantasy book with a real world connection...
SPELLFALL (Chicken House, now an ebook £1-99 / $2-99)

This is a stand-alone thriller that spans two worlds, beginning in a supermarket carpark and ending in Earthaven, a parallel world where unicorns live... yay! Since it's got unicorns in its pages, I'd recommend it for anyone aged 10 or over who likes fantasy. But it's got a real world connection, including alcohol abuse and boy gangs and a kidnapping, so it also appeals to an older readership. Going by past reviews, I don't think you'd be too old for this one at 14 or 15. It's quite a long book at nearly 80,000 words.

award-winning genre fantasy...
THE ECHORIUM SEQUENCE (Chicken House, out of print):
SONG QUEST (Catnip reissue, paperback £6-99), CRYSTAL MASK, DARK QUETZAL.
This fantasy trilogy was originally published on the same shelf as the others, but has been enjoyed by an older readership, average age 14... perhaps not surprising when you consider the original version of "Song Quest" was written for adult fantasy fans, and not too much was taken out to make it suitable for a children's publisher. They are longer books at around 70,000 words each title.

Greek edition
and something different for all generations...
I AM THE GREAT HORSE (Chicken House, out of print, ebook coming soon.)
Last, but by no means least... since I'll probably get trampled if I dare say anything bad about this book! This is the epic story of Alexander the Great told through the eyes of his warhorse Bucephalas, a big, black, bold stallion with attitude. This book is the longest of the lot at 150,000 words. It too went on the 9-11 shelf in bookshops, but the unicorn can report it has crossed over in the horse world, so some adults have read it for their own enjoyment. I think you'd start enjoying this at around age 12 if you're keen, but there isn't really an upper age limit, especially if you are interested in Alexander the Great. Boys, don't be put off by the horse on the cover! This book is of the same genre as Michael Morpurgo's "Warhorse" and should appeal to the same readership.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you would recommend reading these books in a different order... the unicorn is not always right.


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