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I'm a fan of not only Robert E. Howard's Conan, but the various "iron-thewed barbarians" that came much later, mostly in the late 60's through the 80's, created by authors who'd grown up reading Conan stories and wanted to pen stories of a similar vein. Of course, as well by this time Tolkien's Lord of the Rings was published, and while Hyboria is about as far from Middle Earth as you can get, I'm sure publishers were desperate to find anything they could slap a "fantasy" label on and throw at readers. As well, after 1974 the Dungeons and Dragons phenomenon began to take off, and in the early 80's Marvel comics also begain publishing Conan comics, and of course, there was the Schwarzenegger Conan movies, which although often reviled by Howard purists, were some of the better 80's fantasy fare, if you ask me.
So, this whole heterogeneous, multimedia soup stock of books, comics, games, artwork, movies, and hell, even barbarian-themed metal music helped me to brew up a short story that eventually became Nanok and the Tower of Sorrows. The premise is pretty simple: Midar, the Wizard King of the city-state of Urgh, hires Nanok - thief and barbarian swordsman of the Iron Wastes - to steal the Sunsword from Draaa'kon the Bleak, evil sorcerer and ruler of a dark citadel known as the Tower of Sorrows. Nanok steals the magical blade, only to be chased by Draaa'kon and his horde of vat-grown mutants. A battle ensues, and Nanok is apparently slain by Draaa'kon's dark magic, but he is saved by the power of the Sunsword. Nanok washes ashore miles away and with the help of a mysterious hermit, Nanok eventually returns to the Tower, and battles his way up through the citadel until he at last confronts Draaa'kon at the top of the Tower, just as the sorcerer conjures his deadliest ally...
Over the last eighteen months, Nanok has sold a whopping 41 copies at $0.99 cents apiece. I've probably given away a couple hundred copies in KDP Select promotions, but compared to my other works, even my other short stories, it seems like I can barely give the story away. In fact, after the first month, I had a three month period of time when I didn't sell a single copy of the story, period. I've sold maybe half a dozen print copies, which is a little surprising, but I don't know how many of those were purchases made because the buyer didn't realize how short the story actually was.
It's hard to pin down where exactly I went wrong with Nanok. My original cover was no gem, but it could have been worse, and sales certainly haven't spiked since I began selling the title with its new cover. I've had almost no returns, so I'm not sure if people are just reading the sample and not liking what they see, or if they even get that far. I've played around with the product description copy several times as well, but there doesn't seem to be anything that really sells the story.
And yet, those folks who read Nanok, seem to like it. There've been ample opportunities to tear it to shreds on Amazon, yet all my reviews are pretty solid. The worst review of the story I received on Goodreads, which said it was okay but "was a little like an SNL skit that went on too long", which I suppose is a fair criticism if the sense of humor in the story doesn't completely align with your own. Poking around the internet, I even found a short but positive review on a German-language Conan forum. I'm using Google to translate this page, but here goes:
This little volume contains just 51 pages and was therefore in one go by. Nanok and the Tower of Sorrows is a barbarian story in the tradition of the 60s and 70s. You get evil magician, disgusting mutants and demons. Everything you need for a good Sword and Sorcery cocktail. This story comes with no frills and are therefore of the first pages of full throttle. Light fare in between, but with a high entertainment potential. Both thumbs up!I primarily put the failure to sell this story on two factors. The first is the over-saturation of fantasy fiction through KDP, especially short, often campy (and really badly written) fantasy stories. Shortly after I published Nanok I went around Amazon and read a bunch of stuff similar to my story, and the vast majority of it was just awful - not just the plots of the stories themselves, but the writing was often extremely amateurish, and perhaps an even greater sin, the books were usually very badly edited and formatted. I feel like a lot of people dusted off high-school era submissions to various fantasy fiction magazines and simply threw them up on Amazon. Because of this, I felt that people who'd run into one of these turds became gun shy of trying my own story, especially when they got a whiff of the "humorous" aspects of the story.
This, of course, leads to the second problem; the comedy/pastiche nature of the story. Writing comedy is hard - really hard - and trying to hit a broad swath of people's tastes in comedy just right is even harder. What one person finds to be a perfectly entertaining pastiche, another reader will find boorish or even insulting. To write a barbarian sword and sorcery story - a genre of fantasy that's almost a cliche unto itself these days - and then weave in a tone of lighthearted homage comedy and some "Easter Eggs" referencing various movies (there's a Commando reference in there, although many people miss it entirely) means that there's just too many land mines that are going to cause someone to take a hard pass on the story.
One day, I hope to return to Nanok's world and write another story. I actually have one outlined in my head, a story that doesn't involve Nanok at all but instead is a sort of Frankenstein's Monster meets Spartacus. It'll be much more serious, without any of the humorous gimmicks of Nanok. Only time will tell if it'll also sink to the bottom of the lake...