One of the most remarkable aspects of this author is that in many ways she runs against the current received wisdom of independent writers. Not that the ever-evolving rules are consistent.
Some swear by constant PR and self-plugging on Facebook, Twitter, and personal blogs; they join blog tours, they constantly fiddle with price pulsing, and so on.
Some say you have to run the first book of your series as a freebie, or 99 cents at most, in order to get attention; others point out that there appears to be a culture of the Kindle freebie, i.e. people who gobble up free or cheap books because they are free, but then never get around to reading them, much less reviewing them or passing on word of mouth. And then there are those who insist that any or all of those things are a waste of time.
The one thing most indies agree on is that a dynamite cover is a must. And yet Buroker, whose popularity is growing steadily, chose covers for her main series that look pretty generic.
A further rule for the more savvy marketers is the category-keywords game: if you choose a sufficiently small pool, you can show up as a best seller, but what if the small pool suggests a completely different kind of book than the one you are writing?
On Amazon, Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge series category is horror, with dark fantasy as a sub-category—something that would have guaranteed my skipping over, if I had been searching Amazon for books under categories.
So what are they?
I suspect that the best way of describing the Emperor’s Edge series is to call them steampunk, which has become an increasingly large umbrella. When I first heard of steampunk, it fit the hip retrofitting of Jules Vernesque tales, with an emphasis on clocks and zeppelins. Later that extended a decade or two in either direction, to mid-Victorian, to fin de siecle, roughly up to WW I, and all took place in a more or less recognizable Europe. But over the past, oh, fifteen or twenty years, steampunk has broadened out to include other times and places, including other worlds; it seems to cover any adventure story in which mechanics and magic meet.
Buroker gives the reader ‘kitchen sink’ world building: trains and coal-boiler run trucks and even robots, magic and alien technology. In the afterword to one of the books she blithely admits that she threw in any and all tropes she liked for the story purposes.
Normally I am one of those who likes what Tolkien called internal consistency. In fact, I have trouble sticking to steampunk set in the mid-Victorian era in which the characters talk in Georgette Heyer idiom, and wear evening clothes in the morning, forget their hats and gloves, in the same way that I’d put down a book that had contemporary teens wearing Zoot Suits, exclaiming “Twenty-three skidoo!” and driving jalopies. Even though I know this is alternate history. The problem is my being visual: if a place or a time that I have read about a lot is evoked, I need the images and the sounds to match before I can sink into the reading experience.
Buroker is wise to create another world, where it’s easier for readers like me to accept that all the fun stuff can and will be jumbled together. There are no historical expectations elbowing in between me and the story. And the characters are so strong, the action so fast-faced, the humor so exuberant that I am happy splashing in this world painted with such broad strokes.
Anyway, I never went looking for these books, so the horror category, the dull covers, were never an issue. It was pure word of mouth that got me to try The Emperor’s Edge, the first book, which is offered as a freebie.
I opened it late one night, gulped it down in a couple of days, then went straight to my computer to buy the second one, Dark Currents. And I also bought Encrypted, which is a kind of parallel series, concerning a geeky female professor who encounters one of the bad and bold warrior-culture Turgonians, and sparks fly. At that point I was off and running.
The Emperor’s Edge series is one of my favorite types of adventure stories, with double crosses, quick thinking, great action scenes, and a good deal of creative problem solving. One of the best things about the series is the main character, Amaranthe. She begins as a cop, the first female included in the hitherto exclusively male enforcer corps. She’s not gorgeous, or fantastically skilled. She’s . . . likable. And curious. And manages to get herself into a whole lot of trouble without meaning to.
Which leads to the second great thing, the crackling interaction between Amaranthe and her crew of (at first) guys, each very different from the others. Amaranthe is so reasonable, she clearly likes people, and she strives to find compromises and to solve problems without using violence. And yet she manages to leave a trail of smoking ruin, especially for the bad guys.
Her enthusiasm and friendliness creates a nice tension when one of her allies, the hard-edged, lethally trained assassin Sicarius always chooses the violent option as the quickest and most efficient. Nobody trusts or likes Sicarius . . . except Amaranthe, though she never loses sight of what he is. She begins to understand, at first in a limited way, the emotional cost of becoming what he is. Being around one another changes them both, and I love the fact that this relationship is developed across several books. No insta-love, or grand misunderstanding-then-sudden-resolution-with-a-passionate kiss. Time is taken between, around, and because of all the extreme action to develop not only the characters but their relationships.
From the first book, her band of outlaws ends up on the wrong side of the law, though (mostly) meaning well, which flings them into a wild roller coaster of action sequences that often border on horror. Some readers might consider the creative solutions as improbable as the world building; the reader who loves these books knows going in that the world is a kitchen sink sort of construction, painted in very broad strokes, wherein magic, paper money, trains, zeppelins, and alien technology all exist side by side.
As for some of the action sequences and their consequences seeming realistically improbable, I think they fit straight and true into the heroic tale tradition. And binding everything together is the delightful humor. I am a sucker for a humorous voice, especially one that is motivated by an unquenchable optimism.
Back to the issue of indies, marketing, and sales. The author is upfront about sharing her successes and failures with getting up and running as an indie author. On her site there are several posts and podcasts relating her thoughts and experiences with marketing.
Are there any other fans of her work out there? Feel free to talk about them here—and others whose taste run in similar paths to my own, I hope you give them a try.