Monday, December 30, 2013

Should An Author Host a Cyber Book Launch? by Lorilyn Roberts



Should An Author Host a Cyber Book Launch?

 by Lorilyn Roberts
 
 


Is it worth the financial cost, emotional energy, physical labor, and mental stress to host a cyber-book launch in today’s ever-changing, highly competitive book market world? If anyone were in a position to answer this question, I suppose it would be me. I lead a Christian book marketing network, the John 3:16 Marketing Network, and have been involved in many book launches over the past three years. In 2013, not counting the book launches I coordinated for other authors in the network, I hosted three book launches of my own:  One in March, one in August, and one in December.

For the most part, I conducted the launches using the same methodology with each, with one significant difference for the December launch which I will explain later. Some of this will be technical because I want to give hard facts and real data. If you want to be encouraged, inspired, or challenged, read another one of my blog posts. If you want the raw facts, keep reading.

What did I do that was similar for each launch?  First, for all three launches, I had at least twenty reviews of my book. Second, I advertised on similar sites, and I list some of those sites and point out the ones that were the most helpful below. Third, I was featured as a guest blogger on eight to twelve blogs for each launch. Fourth, I had a book trailer for each book. Fifth, I posted on Facebook and used Twitter extensively. My followers were roughly the same on both accounts for all three launches. I have over 11,000 twitter followers at @LorilynRoberts and 7,600 followers at @John316Network. I’m not sure how many fans I have on Facebook—the more accurate information would be the number of people who saw my posts, and that was proportional to the Facebook advertising I bought. I advertised at http://bit.ly/Lorilyn_Fan_Page  and http://bit.ly/John316FanPage. To be honest, the $800 I spent on Facebook advertising I could never correlate to a spike in sales on Amazon. (Please note the figures I am giving are for sales from Amazon U.S. Kindle).

I also used Rafflecopter to promote all three book launches.

The launches were all sponsored by the John 3:16 Marketing Network. Authors in the network sent out Facebook and twitter posts promoting the books. In each case, other books by authors were being launched at the same time as mine. The launches ran from the 1st of the month through the 16th. I am including figures for the whole month on each launch because some of the paid promotions I ran did not occur until after the 16th.. With the August launch, I will include the September figures because they were significant.

There are a lot of variables in terms of which books are more successful than others, not even based on content or quality. The books must meet certain criteria to be considered for a launch. Despite my experience and involvement in many launches, I realize now, painfully, that I can’t cookie cut a launch and tell an author, if you do A, B, and C, your launch will be successful. What works for one person may not work for someone else. In my case, all three launches yielded vastly different results. Let me give the figures, and then I will see if I can address some of the variables.

How many books did I sell with each book launch? I checked my KDP report from Amazon for the following figures.

The first book I launched in 2013 was a YA fantasy novel, Seventh Dimension – The Door. 
 
 
I sold 393 books for 99 cents in March. In April, one month after the launch, I sold 154 books. In May, I sold 104 books. In February, before my launch, I sold only 31 books. I did do some pre-launch promotions using KDP Select where I gave away several hundred Kindle copies of Seventh Dimension – The Door. Basically, as a result of my book launch, for 90 days following the launch I sold 651 books. Some of those books were priced at $2.99. I tend to raise the price after the launch to see if I can carry over the sales at a higher price point. Clearly, as a result of my March book launch, I was able to sell more copies of Seventh Dimension – The Door than I had previously.  Before February, my sales had been dismal, so I won’t go back and give you those paltry figures.

My sales of Seventh Dimension – The Door, continued to be around a hundred each month, until December. For December, I have only sold 34 copies. Actually, sales of all my books are down for December.

Let me go to the second book I launched, Children of Dreams, An Adoption Memoir.
 
I had given away about 20,000 copies on a couple of previous “free” promotions through KDP Select. But I had sold very few Kindle books at $2.99. I had never listed it at 99 cents. So for the August launch, I reduced the price to 99 cents. In August, using the same strategy I had used in March for Seventh Dimension – The Door, I sold 2,462 copies. In September I sold 1,694 copies, and in October I sold 856 copies.

This launch had one significant difference from my other launches. I was able to feature Children of Dreams on BookBub, but it wasn’t until after the official launch, so that meant the high number of copies I sold spilled over into October. The September 20th advertisement forced me to keep Children of Dreams at 99 cents through September. To increase my chances of BookBub featuring my book, I reduced the price of Children of Dreams on Smashwords to 99 cents. Their distribution system reduced it to that same price on other sites as well. After BookBub featured Children of Dreams, however, when I raised the price back to $2.99 on Smashwords, the websites they distributed to wouldn’t, despite Smashwords and I both contacting the noncompliant sites. I ended up having to unpublish Children of Dreams from Smashwords to get the price back to $2.99 on all sites. Amazon wouldn’t increase the price, insisting they wanted to price match it to everyone else’s. 

The bottom line is I lost control of the price of my own book. I doubt that I will ever reduce the price of Children of Dreams to 99 cents again on Smashwords.  But I did sell about 1,500 books through Smashwords as a result of the BookBub promotion. On Amazon, during that three-month period, I sold 3,012 books (again, I’m not including Amazon sales through Canada, England, et cetera).

For December, however, I haven’t even sold a hundred copies of Children of Dreams, so whatever spike I had in August from the book launch and BookBub promotion has run its course.

Now, this brings me to my third book launch for 2013. I launched a children’s picture book, The Donkey and the King.

 

The launch ran from December 1 through December 16. A couple of my promotions ran after Thanksgiving, so I am including those numbers in the total. I am currently running a free promotion on this book that started the day after Christmas, so my official book launch numbers on The Donkey and the King run from about November 26 through December 25. I sold 74 books at 99 cents.

I also spent more money on the December launch. With it being a children’s book at Christmastime, I thought I would probably sell more books and recoup my costs.  In reality, my December launch was a big disappointment compared to my previous two launches.

Where have I advertised on my book launches?  I will give all the places I advertised for The Donkey and the King because I paid for more advertising with this book than with the previous two books:

 
















 http://tracker.kindlenationdaily.com/tracked-books (promotions at bookgorilla.com)

 
The Donkey and the King was featured on all the above sites. I submitted it to Ereader News Today and BookBub but both declined to advertise it. 

BookBub also declined to feature Seventh Dimension – The Door, but they did feature Children of Dreams. That significantly impacted my total book sales.

If you can advertise your book on BookBub I would recommend it.  While the fee was around $300, I made close to $2,000 in sales, so I covered my cost in advertising. The problem is BookBub is very selective about which books they choose. If they accept your book, you are almost guaranteed to sell a lot of books. You aren’t just buying exposure, which is what I tell myself when I spend money for advertising that produces no measurable sales.

Ereadernewstoday.com did advertise Children of Dreams and Seventh Dimension – The Door. They take 25 percent of the profits, so I am sure they keep track of those books that sell well and those that don’t. They aren’t going to feature a book if they don’t think they can make money off of it. In each case, I did sell some copies as a result of advertising with them, but I don’t know what those numbers were. I only know I sold copies because they sent me a bill for their 25 percent fee afterwards.

Which sites out of the ones I listed above do I recommend besides Ereader News Today and BookBub?  The site I recommend as the best is http://www.fkbooksandtips.com/for-authors/. I have advertised on this site with six different books in six different genres at different times of the year and have always seen a significant spike in sales that I can directly correlate to the advertisement. Which other sites would I recommend?  Based on my most recent experience, none.

The fact is, since I lead a network of authors that promote book launches, right now I am reluctant to direct any launches for others or host my own launch. If I can’t come close to guaranteeing that an author will hit best-seller status in his main subcategory, then I can’t in all fairness recommend a book launch, must less charge for it.  And while the charge is not high, any amount seems unethical.

Now, that brings up one more variable. We have used Rafflecopter for all the launches since April. Everyone had a free opportunity to win the grand prize (by law this is required), and all a participant had to do was give me his email. That way, I could contact the person who won. I also used the Rafflecopter to build my opt-in list. For full disclosure (also legally required), I used the business model of Rafflecopter so that people knew they were opting in for my very infrequent e-zine. For each launch until December, I picked up about a hundred new subscribers. I also included a few options, like follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and garnered a few more fans.  But if you bought the books being launched, you would get ten chances to win whatever prize we were offering, which varied. One month it was a Kindle Fire. Another month it was a $100 Amazon gift certificate. 

For December, however, the Rafflecopter was handled differently. We had seven books launched and offered a $200 Amazon gift e-card. We used a mommy blogger service that featured our Rafflecopter prize on 25 mommy bloggers, all of whom had to have at least 2,000 followers. We did not feature buying the books on the Rafflecotper as an option. The options were for people to follower the mommy bloggers on Facebook, twitter, and blogs, and in return, the mommy bloggers featured our books.



 

We had thousands of readers who saw our books on the mommy blogs. I had a few options I included for the network but I did not include any option as mandatory; e.g., that you had to sign up for my opt-in list.  My options were basically to follow the John 3:16 blog and my personal blog. And the coordinator for the mommy bloggers set up a link on Facebook so that prospective readers could follow us on Facebook.

The numbers were mindboggling on the social networking sites. Basically, we doubled our numbers on both blogs. I wished I had written down the exact figures before and after, but I didn’t think the result would be so dramatic. The followers on my blog at http://LorilynRoberts.blogspot.com were about 180 before the launch and they are now at 399.  On the John 3:16 blog at http://John316mn.blogspot.com, we have 500 followers. We had about 250 before the launch, and we picked up about 500 fans on Facebook. We also had more than 21,000 entries on the Rafflecopter, four times higher than the next highest number of entries on a previous launch.

I paid $100 for the coordinator’s fee. Based on the fans and followers we picked up, the cost was well worth it.  But how many books did we sell with all that exposure?  Well, I don’t know.  But my sales were dismal and only one author out of seven reached best-seller status. Her book was for young adults, and I can’t make the correlation that her success was tied to the mommy bloggers. I have a feeling her boost came from the promotion I sent out to my opt-in list on the last day when she reached best-seller status. My readership includes a lot of YA readers since I write in that genre also, but it’s hard to say. I am thankful that for all the work put into the launch by myself, Joseph Young—who handles the landing page—and the many authors in the network who contributed their time and effort into hosting and tweeting the December multi-author book launch, that one author reached her goal.

Who is the coordinator for the mommy bloggers that can work magic with social networking, even if all that tweeting and Facebooking doesn’t translate into book sales?  She is Bobby Anne. You can find her at www.BlogWithMom.com
and www.AdvertiseWithBloggers.com

I have asked myself many times, what can we do to make the launches more successful?  How can we guarantee success?  After all, that’s what the John 3:16 Marketing Network does. We launch Christian books.



We already have certain criteria in place after three years’ experience hosting book launches. An author has to have ten good reviews for starters. He has to have a good book cover and a well-edited book. I also make sure an author is ready to launch—does he have his book categorized properly on Amazon? Did she include relevant search words when she uploaded her Kindle book on Amazon? Is the Author Central page filled out with a bio, twitter feed, blog feed, and book trailer? Does the author even have a book trailer?  Hosting a launch is intense and requires a lot of preparation.

After my experience with the December book launch, I can’t guarantee even with a great book, advertising on professional websites, being hosted on many blogs by John 3:16 members, lowering the book price to 99 cents, having fifteen or more rave reviews, being featured on multiple blogs with large followers, and tweeting to thousands of twitter and Facebook users, that an author can sell enough books to cover his cost. And no businessman worth his reputation would recommend someone spend money on something with doubtful profits. Is it worth it?  The way the book market is now, I don’t think so. I know others will disagree with me, but I don’t come to this conclusion in a mindless vacuum. I have data to support it.

Today I can’t tell you how to have a successful book launch at a price most of us can afford. So I am not coordinating any launches until I do know. That means members in the John 3:16 Marketing Network can host their own launch if they are risk takers, try different approaches, and see what works for them.  I do recommend this:  You must individualize your launch.  I don’t think you can use a “one size fits all” style launch anymore.  I get emails in my inbox all the time, listen to how this author sold thousands of books and if you do what he did, you can, too, and you pay some exorbitant price to see how X author sold 10,000 copies of some obscure book of which I’ve never heard.

To be honest, sometimes I am tempted. Maybe they know something I don’t know. Hopefully I have become wiser—wise enough to know that whatever they did most likely won’t work for me, and there are no shortcuts or magic formulas to make my book fly off the shelf. If they sold so many books and made so much money, why do they want to charge for the information anyway? The reality is, I think the best way to sell a lot of books is to write a lot of books. And when I say a lot, I mean like twenty or more. And that means I need to write more and market less, and quit worrying about launching books. If I couldn’t achieve best-seller status on one of my books, how can I help anyone else anyway?

In the meantime, book marketing is changing every week. What works today may not work tomorrow. Advertising sites come and go. They are a dime a dozen now, it seems, and even if they aren’t expensive individually, you can spend a lot of nickels. I never set out to spend $800 on Facebook advertising. You get caught up in the moment, hoping that this time something magical will happen and those dollars will produce sales. While I can say I have never gone into debt advertising or selling books, I do regret some of my foolish choices and hope by being transparent and open, I can save you a few bucks by not repeating some of my mistakes.

My intent has never been to make money off marketing. I am not a marketing guru, but I do care about Christian authors. My goal with the John 3:16 Marketing Network has always been to provide an environment for authors to help each other—by being informed and sharing what works and what doesn’t. My advice right now is to save your marketing dollars and focus on writing.

I also don’t think it’s sufficient to be featured on a blog to promote your book. You need to be featured on a blog with followers interested in your type of book. And that takes research—a lot of research. If the blogger writes books, you might need to read one of his books before approaching him to host you on his blog. It has gotten that competitive.

If I sound too negative, I don’t mean to be. I am excited about the future as I have several books rattling around in my head that I can’t wait to write.  And once I am ready to market them, there will be new ideas to embrace and fresh paths to discover. And that makes marketing exciting and new all over again. As a person who gets easily bored with the status quo, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

*~*~*~* 
 
 

Lorilyn Roberts is a multi-published author who leads the John 3:16 Marketing Network. For more information about joining, visit http://john316mn.blogspot.com/p/welcome-to-john-316-marketing-network.html.

To learn more about Lorilyn Roberts’ books, visit her website at http://LorilynRoberts.com

 


 
 


 

    This book is free and that is wonderful! I have not finished reading it yet but wanted to quickly say what a wonderful way to know how to make decisions on how to spend the Christmas money you received as gifts or to know how to spend that Amazon gift card! I am going to read each and every first chapter and make a "gotta have" list! Thank you John 3:16 for making this anthology! Loving it. – Carol A. Brown

 

 

 

 

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Taste of Friday with Michael Webb and Infernal Gates

Infernal Gates
by Michael J. Webb
 
 

With impetuous recoil and jarring sound
Th’ infernal doors, and on their hinges grate
Harsh thunder, that the lowest bottom shook
Of Erebus.  She opened, but to shut
Excelled her power; the gates wide open stood
 
                                                                        Paradise Lost, John Milton
 
Chapter 1
 Less than ten minutes before we’re all dead, thought Ethan Freeman, and there is nothing I can do about it!
The stricken A320 Airbus--originally bound for St. Thomas and now limping back to Charlotte, North Carolina—shuddered like a bird suffering a mortal wound, then shook violently.  Shouting and screaming from the rear of the plane drowned out the prayer of the older couple seated in front of them, “Our Father, Who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy kingdom come—”
Lisa, Ethan’s wife, sobbed beside him.  Across the aisle his eighteen year-old son, Josh, yelled, “Dad--are we going to crash?”
“No, son,” he lied.  “We-are-not-going-to-crash.”
Megan, his sixteen year-old daughter, seated next to her brother, screamed, “The engine is on FIRE!”
Lisa clung to the seat arms so hard her fingers turned white and whimpered, “We’re all going to die--just like Greg,” then moaned, “I don’t want to die—”
Ethan reached for his wife’s hand as a thunderous explosion shook the plane and slammed him against the window, knocking breath out of him.  He cried out in agony as the palm of his right hand was sliced open by a jagged metal clasp sticking up on the arm rest between him and Lisa.  Blood gushed out of the ugly-looking wound and splattered the back of the seat in front of him.
The plane banked hard to the right and the nose suddenly pointed toward the ground, six miles below, as if the commercial airliner was being plucked from the cloudless, crystal blue heavens by a giant unseen hand.  Ethan glanced toward the rear of the aircraft.  A gaping hole replaced the emergency exit.  Loose debris disappeared violently out of the plane—and there were at least two rows of seats missing!
Swinging his gaze back to the First Class Cabin, Ethan noticed that ice crystals now clung to the windows.  His ears popped as oxygen masks dropped from overhead.  Shivering, he reached for the oxygen mask dangling in front of him like a puppet on a string and struggled to place it over his mouth and nose.  He took several deep breaths, ignoring his bleeding hand, then yelled out to his family, “Put your masks on!” 
In the next instant, he was pressed so hard into his seat it seemed as if he weighed four to five times his normal weight.  Black spots danced before his eyes and he fought for breath. 
All he could think about was that he had failed his family—that he had not been able to save them.  He cried out in desperation, “GOD HELP US—” 
Moments later, a flash of blinding white light enveloped him as a blast of fiery heat washed over him.
Then everything went black.
Sam Weaver, lying on a towel in the hot sand, thirty feet from the edge of the blue-green ocean, daydreamed about what it might be like to lead a normal life, when her pager went off. 
She opened her eyes and fought rising resentment. 
It was her first vacation in over eighteen months.  Her boss, E. “Mac” Macready--the Chief of the Major Investigations Division of the National Transportation Safety Board, or the AS-10 in Board nomenclature had promised he’d page her only if it was absolutely necessary. 
She stared at her bright pink beach bag, one that matched her swimsuit, for several
seconds, tempted to ignore the pager.  Then she remembered that when she’d signed up to be an investigator for the NTSB she’d literally signed the rights to her life away.  She sat up, brushed several errant strands of thick black hair from off her face, and reached inside the bag.
Her heart beat rapidly as she read the text:  Call Mac immediately.  Major accident involving Quest Airways A320 your neck of the woods.  Go Team notified. 
No matter how frustrated she got with the government bureaucracy, her pulse always quickened whenever she received a message like this.  Some of her friends back in DC found her reaction a bit gruesome, but her dad understood.  “The thrill of figuring out complex problems
others find too challenging, or too painful, to deal with is in your blood, Sam,” he’d told her on more than one occasion.  “You can’t help yourself.  You love Gordian knots.” 
She found her cell phone.  When she reached Mac he said, “Sorry to interrupt your down-time.  I know I promised not to call, but this one is big--and bad.” 
“Tell me—”
He did, and then finished by saying, “I’ve already spoken with Ted, Marissa, Tony--and Frank.  All of them but Frank are on their way to Hanger Six at Reagan International.”
Ted Anson was the human performance specialist, while Marissa Chen was highly regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on cockpit and flight data recorders.  Tony North was a top notch metallurgist.  Frank Bacon had two Ph.D.’s and was the NTSB’s expert on the A320. 
Frank was obsessed with planes manufactured by the French consortium.  He blamed Airbus for the downsizing that cost him his high-paying job at Boeing.  It was widely known he’d compiled a detailed and extensive computerized list of all suspicious incidents resulting in the crash of planes manufactured by Boeing’s chief competitor.  When it came to fatal crashes involving Airbus, Frank was like a detective tracking down a serial killer he’d pursued for years in his spare time.
“Frank is in Dallas,” continued Mac.  “He’ll meet you and the rest of the Team at the Command Center later this afternoon.  You’ll have to call him and let him know where that’s going to be.”
“Me?”  Was it finally time?
“Yeah--you.”
“But--but,” she stammered.
“Well, well, well.  I’ve always wondered what it would take for the unflappable Sam Weaver to be at a loss for words.”
“I want it official--on the record.”
“Okay.  You’re the Investigator-in-Charge.  After five years of working with you, I know you don’t care about the title, or need the pay raise.  You just want to be in control of your own investigations.  I know the feeling.” 
Sam took two deep breaths and pulled a notepad out of her bag.  “Who’s the Regional on the ground in Georgia?”
“Ed Landers.  He’s the senior IIC out of Atlanta, but he’ll answer to you.  He’s a first-rate investigator, has a calm head on him, and if he has any kind of agenda, I’ve never heard about it.”
“Which translates, he’s smart, soft-spoken, and doesn’t play politics.” 
“Not everyone in government service subscribes to the ‘dog-eat-dog’ mentality, Sam.”
“You could have fooled me.”
Mac snorted and continued.  “Ed is already on his way.  He’ll set up a perimeter, establish security, and get the investigation started.  He’ll also coordinate with local authorities, including police and firefighters, and inform the media the investigation is under our jurisdiction.”
Sam scribbled on her notepad as Mac talked.  “Am I flying on one of the Board’s planes?
Or going commercial?”
“The Citation is in Fort Lauderdale.  The pilot can land at Patrick in an hour.”
“I’ll be ready.”
“One more thing, Sam.  Watch your back.  Frank has been looking for an excuse to make life miserable for you--” 
“I can handle Frank,” she retorted.  Her male counterparts at the safety board tended to behave with the macho air of men in a locker room.  Frank was one of the biggest proponents of the pervasive attitude.
“I know you can, Sam.  Frank has more time with the Board, but you have the kind of moxie, and the people skills, it takes to handle all the egos involved.  You’ve worked hard for this slot--you deserve it.”
Mac was in rare form.  He’d given her both a promotion and a compliment within a couple of minutes.  “What about the ‘flyaway’?”  She referred to one of two large standby suitcases used by the Board for investigations.  Each contained a video camera and tape, a laptop computer, a printer, a variety of charging devices, film, administrative supplies, as well as several copies of the ubiquitous investigator’s manual.  Both of the flyaways also had programmable combination locks.
            “You’ll have everything you need by nine a.m. tomorrow.”  He gave her the combination he’d programmed in.
            “Thanks, Mac.  For everything--” she said as she stood up, grabbed her towel and her bag, then headed at a run for her car.

 **********
 
Michael J. Webb graduated summa cum laude from the University of Florida and obtained his J. D. at the same university.  Over the past forty years he has travelled the world in search of adventure.
 

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Taste of Friday, with Martin Roth and The Maria Kannon


Welcome, Martin Roth!
By Martin Roth




Prologue

Yamagata, Japan 

Anjiro knew what they did to Christians, and he was not going to let it happen to him. But first he had to evade the two samurai who had been tracking him for the past four days.

“Move it, you old sack of beans.” He urged on his steed, but in the driving rain and the mud she was rapidly tiring. His lead over his pursuers, once half a day at least, was probably now no more than half an hour.

Since the shogun Tokugawa began the great persecution, militias had been hunting down Christians mercilessly. Now the shogun’s bloodthirsty grandson Iemitsu was in charge, and he had shown himself to be even more ruthless in his determination to eradicate the foreign religion of Christianity from Japanese soil. Already many hundreds of believers had been tortured and executed. Thousands more were in hiding. 

The downpour was cutting through Anjiro’s straw cloak, biting him to the bone, as finally he reached the grassy incline and the forest of towering pines. It was the foot of the mountains. Not much further to go now.

“Won’t need you any more,” he muttered. The stolen mare had served him well, despite her age. But from now it would be on foot all the way, through the trees and up the steep slope.

He dismounted. His bag of possessions - cooked rice, a few pickles, a water bottle and his precious holy cross, carved from wood and costing him a month’s wages - were in a cotton bag that he had slung over his shoulder.

He slapped the horse. “Get out of here.” But the animal was fatigued and clearly wished to rest. She bent her neck to chew at some grass.

“I know how you feel,” growled the youth. “But you can’t stay here. They’ll find you. And me.”
Over to one side stood a grove of maples. He suspected a stream might be there. He led the horse forwards, and then moved behind and shoved her on the rump. Then he slapped her again, hard. This time the beast kept walking.

He turned and tried to peer through the rainstorm for any sign of the enemy, but little was visible.

Precious Jesus have mercy on my soul, he prayed inwardly as he began making his way up the steep hillside. Holy Mary, protect your servant.A flash of lightning flared above him and once again he was filled with a chill dread. He did not relish trekking up through the towering pines in the middle of a thunderstorm. But he knew this was his only chance.

The samurai were charged with capturing him, and they would fight to the death - his or theirs - to achieve this. Failure was not an option for them. They might even be required to commit seppuku - harakiri, ritual self-disembowelment - should they not return with his head.

Anjiro was a powerful swordsman. But he was a commoner, and was only permitted to own a shikomizue, a cane with a hidden blade. This would be no match for the steel katana of the samurai, forged by the finest swordsmiths of the land. He knew that despite his skills they would eventually prevail, and would surely cut him to ribbons.

Water was rushing down the hillside in rivulets, and he cursed as he stepped into a stream of mud that sent him skidding face forward to the ground. He grabbed a low-hanging branch and pulled himself to his feet, then resumed his odyssey.

What if he surrendered? Gave himself up without a fight? The samurai might choose to keep him alive, in order to carry him back with them to Edo. Torturing the Christians, forcing them to recant their beliefs, was a spectator sport there, as it was throughout Japan. Their reward for bringing him back alive might be more than simply returning with his head.

And if that happened, could he withstand the torture? Might he too eventually give in and tell the Buddhist interrogators that he no longer believed?

Father Lopez, the gentle Spanish missionary priest with the white beard and red face, had whispered to him the horror stories.

“You need to know, Anjiro-san,” he had said. “You must prepare yourself. But my son, you are blessed with youth and strength, and you are single. You can escape.”

Father Lopez told him about the first martyrs, twenty-six of them, way down south in Nagasaki, who had been roughly crucified on makeshift crosses. One of them was a twelve-year-old boy, Ibaragi Kun. An official urged him to recant his faith. Instead the youngster replied that it would be better for the official to become a Christian, so he too could go to heaven. Then looking the man in the eye he asked, “Sir, which is my cross?”

When directed to the smallest of the crosses on the hill the young man knelt in front of it and embraced it. He sang praises to God as the jeering soldiers trussed him to the cross and then lanced him to death.

As he continued his climb, Anjiro silently prayed that he too might have strength to be a powerful witness to God’s love.

He knew that, if captured alive, he would be ordered to undertake fumie - demonstrate his apostasy by stepping onto a picture of Jesus or Mary.

But once he refused, as surely he would - well, then the torture would commence. He knew that the torture methods had become increasingly refined.

Simple crucifixion was no longer enough. Sometimes the soldiers would crucify people upside-down, or at sea, where the rising tide steadily engulfed the martyrs over many hours. Others were chopped into pieces, or slowly burned - the fire deliberately lit some distance away so it engulfed them only slowly - or scalded to death in one of Japan’s many hot springs.

Worst of all, according to Father Lopez, was being left to dangle upside-down over a pit filled with excrement. For those who were strong and healthy, like Anjiro, blessed death might take a week to arrive.

His thoughts were interrupted as suddenly Anjiro found himself in a clearing, a small plateau with bushes and some red and yellow mountain flowers, and with a view through the downpour, down the mountainside. He was weary from the pursuit and from the climb, but when he peered down he realized to his shock that the two samurai had already arrived. They had tethered their steeds with his, and were surely even now climbing up after him. He could not afford to pause for a rest.

He had memorized his route, and his arrival at this plateau told him he was on the right path. Now he veered off to the right, along a narrow track of soggy pine needles that led to a stream. He jumped over, and then the path once more headed straight up the mountain.

For at least another thirty minutes he trudged upwards, the rain pounding down on him in an unrelenting torrent, as if trying to crush him like an ant. And then, once more, he emerged at some kind of plateau.
It was like entering another world. Perhaps this was heaven. The rain still thundered down. But instead of the darkness of the forest he was now standing on the edge of an idyllic landscape. Over to one side stood a minka, a large wooden homestead with a high thatched roof, capable of housing several families. Land had been cleared around it and crops planted. A small lake over to the other side ran into a rice paddy.

He had arrived.

A couple of children playing under a covered verandah at the front of the minka had spotted him, and cried out. Quickly two men appeared. Anjiro approached.

“I am a believer,” he panted. “Father Lopez has sent me.” He pulled out the tiny metallic crucifix that he wore around his neck and held it up.

The men both appeared to be in their thirties, and were almost certainly brothers. They looked at him. More kids had appeared, and they too were staring.

“I am being followed,” said Anjiro. “Two of them. Tell me if you want me to keep running.”

“Come inside, brother,” said one of the men. “You are safe with us.”

He beckoned for the youth to follow him inside. “Take off your clothes.”

Anjiro stripped to his cotton undergarment. The man shouted to a lady, who came with a quilted gown. She helped him into it.

Then they led him across tatami mats to a large central room. At least a dozen people were sitting around the irori, a hearth in the center of the room with a soft-burning fire. Smoke rose to a makeshift vent, high up in the roof. The room was dark and hazy.

The people around the room nodded their heads in greeting at Anjiro, almost as if they were responding to the return of a family member, rather than the abrupt arrival of a bedraggled and exhausted fugitive.

“You are safe with us,” said an old lady. She took a worn pottery cup, and from an iron kettle she poured him a hot drink.

Anjiro spoke. “What if the men try to enter the house? What if they bring reinforcements?”

“We have many hiding places,” said one of the men.

“But you are believers too. They will find evidence.”

“We are a simple family who worship the Kannon,” replied the man, a grin on his face. He pointed to one side of the room. A carved wooden statue of the Kannon - the Buddhist goddess of mercy - rested against a wall. She was standing, dressed in flowing Japanese robes and wearing an ornate, jeweled headdress. Her soft eyes were almost closed and her thin lips were curved in a beatific smile. In her arms she cradled a small baby.

Now Anjiro also smiled. He recognized this. “Maria Kannon,” he murmured.

 It was at this moment that loud shouting could be heard from outside. Anjiro stood and walked to the side of the room, near the Kannon. A hole in the wall allowed him to spy on the scene outside.

It was his first close look at his pursuers. They were young men, both drenched. One was tall and skinny, and he was doing the talking.

“We are looking for a runaway,” he said. “A Christian. He came this way. You must have seen him.”

“We have not seen anyone. But please come inside. We will serve you a hot meal.”

“There is only one path. He must have come this way. You are lying.”

“There are many paths on this mountain. We have not seen anyone.”

“You are lying. You are trying to help him. We are going to search this house.”

“We are farmers. We…”

“You are lying,” screamed the man, and he drew his sword. His companion did the same. “Are you Christians too? Bring forward this man now.”

Now a woman spoke. “We are just farmers,” she said. “Please let us serve you dinner. You are so wet. You can sleep here tonight.”

“You are Christians,” shouted one of the men, thrusting his sword forward. “You know what happens to Christians. We are going to search this house and then we shall put you all to the sword.”

Anjiro felt the first pangs of alarm. He had brought this upon the household. Father Lopez had told him he would find sanctuary here. But he should not have come until he knew that he had thrown off his pursuers. Now they were all in danger.

His hand reached out to the Maria Kannon beside him and he said a silent prayer. Mother Mary, save me. Save us. Protect this home. I beg it of you. In the name of the Holy Father.

Outside, the shouting continued, the words drowned by the roar of thunder. One of the samurai was pointing his sword at the throat of a man from the house.

Mother Mary protect us. Anjiro maintained his silent prayer, watching with horror as the men advanced.

“We shall destroy this house and we shall kill everyone inside,” shouted the skinny man.

It was at that instant that another loud thunderclap rent the sky, rocking the house. At the same instant a blinding flare of lightning illuminated the entire plateau in a vivid white glow.

Then came another noise, an eerie grating sound like the rasping babble of a thousand angry ghosts, and without warning one of the giant pines toppled downwards.

The two men realized too late what was happening. They did not even have time to scream before the tree crushed them both.

Anjiro still had his hand on the wooden statue

Now he looked at it. His eyes were teary. He stroked the head of the statue.

“Maria Kannon. You have saved me.”




 About the Author:

Martin Roth is a veteran journalist and foreign correspondent whose reports from Asia have appeared in leading publications around the world. He is the author of many books.