Kevin J. Anderson’s Terra Incognita, an Experiment in Cross-Promotion

The Edge of the World by Kevin J. AndersonThe author Kevin J. Anderson has done an interesting experiment to help promote his latest series of fantasy novels: he’s collaborated with some musicians to produce an album full of music based on his novel. He and his writer wife Rebecca Moesta wrote the lyrics and the music was written by Erik Norlander, a keyboardist and composer who has worked with many progressive rock outfits over the years.

The books part of a trilogy called Terra Incognita, set in a sort of Age of Discovery type setting. The three books are The Edge of the World, The Map of All Things, and The Key to Creation.

The album is called Terra Incognita: Beyond the Horizon. It features an impressive array of musicians, including vocalists James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Michael Sadler (ex-Saga), John Payne (Asia Featuring John Payne), and Lana Lane (the Queen of Symphonic Rock). Performers include David Ragsdale (Kansas), Gary Wehrkamp (Shadow Gallery), Kurt Barabas (Amaran’s Plight), Chris Brown (Ghost Circus), Chris Quirarte (Prymary), and Mike Alvarez. There are a lot of big names in that list. You can find info about the album on the same page as the books via the link in the previous paragraph.

I first heard about this in a writing class where we were talking about marketing and promotion. This experiment is a good example of cross-promotion, where you try to catch people who might easily cross over into new markets. Kevin J. Anderson reasoned that many fantasy fans are also fans of progressive rock, which is true in my experience. It’s certainly true of me, and I was really intrigued by both the books and the album.

Terra Incognita: Beyond the HorizonI haven’t read the books yet or listened to the whole album, but I’m not sure I ever will. I looked into them and didn’t see anything that excited me right off the bat. I listened to clips from the music tracks, and unfortunately it’s just not my thing. One of the difficulties of progressive rock is that it actually encompasses a very wide range of styles—that’s part of what makes it progressive. It’s been several months—heck, maybe a year—since I listened, but I seem to remember a lot of synthesizers, which almost always turns me off. But maybe that’s your thing; I’ll leave it up to you to investigate and decide. [Edit: I listened to the whole album on MOG the other day, and it confirmed my initial opinion. It’s definitely not my thing. In fact, I found it quite awful, but that’s my own bias speaking.]

I also looked at the book reviews on Amazon and checked out the reviews. What I saw was very surprising—the first book in the series has one of the worst ratings I’ve ever seen on Amazon.

Bear with me for a moment while I talk about Amazon ratings. In general, Amazon ratings follow a very standard curve. I’m just guessing here, but in my experience about 75% of the ratings are 5 stars, 10% are 4 stars, 5% are 3 stars, 1% or less are 2 stars, and about 10% are 1 stars. The average rating is generally about four stars. In other words, the rating system is basically worthless, since almost all products end up with the same distribution of stars and the same average score, within a very small range. (OK, I actually just looked this up to see if there was any legitimate information on this, and apparently I’m right, according to this scientific study.) There are only two times you can learn something useful from Amazon ratings. One is by reading the content of the reviews for trends—common complaints, information about features you wouldn’t otherwise know, and things like that. The other is when you find a statistical anomaly that actually has less than 75% of the ratings in the 5-star category. That’s when you know something probably sucks.

Pardon my little rant on Amazon, but it helps put the rating of these books into perspective. The Edge of the World, first book in the Terra Incognito series, has a mere 28% in the 5-star category. That’s practically unheard-of for a product on Amazon. To be fair, the average is still 3 1/2 stars, and there may be several good reasons for the odd distribution. First, there are only 25 total reviews, so the sample size is small. Second, Anderson is mainly known for his science fiction, and some of his SF fans may simply be biased against his fantasy work. There’s also the fact that Anderson has written over 100 novels, 47 of which have been on some kind of bestseller list, and has won numerous awards. So there is a chance these books actually are good, but I haven’t yet seen any direct evidence that is convincing enough to make me spend my money and my time on them.

So these last three long-winded paragraphs have just been my way of saying I’m not planning to read them despite the interesting cross-promotion.

It’s a great idea, though.

[Edit: I just found out that Kevin J. Anderson has been picked to write a novelization of Rush’s new album Clockwork Angels. Read my blog post about it here.]

6 comments so far

  1. Ing | Tuesday, 13 March 2012, 11:32 am |

    Hmmm… Interesting. I like the idea of it — a concept album with a novel as its base and a novel with an entire album of new music as its soundtrack.

    It doesn’t make me more likely to buy either one, but it is cool.

    Although maybe if the music was better… I gave the album a listen (via Amazon’s 30-second samples), and it was pretty good, but didn’t quite float my boat either. It didn’t seem as keyboard-heavy as I thought it might be (which is good), but it also didn’t rock as much as I would have liked. Mostly it reminded me of the kind of progressive metal I prefer not to listen to (which is most of it). But then I didn’t hear the full songs, so I might not have got the full effect.

    If I ever finish a novel that’s worthy, I’m going to hunt down somebody like the Tipton twins from Zero Hour, or Myke Terry — somebody that can bring melody, musicianship, and brutality together — and see if I can bribe them into writing a soundtrack for it. It might not help me sell more copies, but it would be objectively awesome.

  2. Ben | Tuesday, 13 March 2012, 3:07 pm |

    I failed to fulfill the promise I made to listen to the full album on MOG. The trouble is, I already know it’s not my thing, and I have found a couple new bands that are freaking awesome that I’ve been listening to all day—We Are The Fallen and Fireflight. I just don’t have the motivation to listen to the whole thing. I’m anticipating it to be about as awful as Ayreon’s Universal Migrator album, which is one of the most horribly cheesy progressive rock albums of all time.

    Since we’re fantasizing about the future, I think for my novel I’d actually put together something more like a real movie soundtrack, like E.S. Posthumus, or something that mixes orchestral music with metal, like Nightwish. Their latest album is serving as the soundtrack for a movie they are producing. I’ll have to do another blog post on that. It’s another cool example of cross-promotion, although it wasn’t done for the purpose of promotion.

  3. Ing | Friday, 16 March 2012, 12:39 pm |

    Well, the snippets I heard didn’t sound *too* cheesy — at least not any cheesier than most prog metal.

    I actually ran across We Are The Fallen a few weeks ago (can’t remember how) and listened to a couple of songs on YouTube. They sounded pretty good. Not something I’d come back to or try to buy, but only because their style isn’t quite my thing. I looked up Fireflight just now and saw that they’re Christian metal…ack. Dealbreaker.

    Speaking of which, if you’re not averse to Christian metal, you might want to check out Times of Grace. I bought it on the strength of one song, which turned out to be the only non-overtly religious one on the whole album. The music is killer (the guitarist and vocalist are from Killswitch Engage, so that tells you a lot about their ability and musical style), but the religious themes ruin it for me. Maybe I’ll just keep a copy of that song and mail you the CD. :)

  4. Ben | Friday, 16 March 2012, 12:53 pm |

    I’ve heard of Times of Grace and I’m pretty sure I’ve listened to some of their music without particularly liking it. I think one reason I like We Are The Fallen and Fireflight is because of the female singers. I’m really into that these days.

    I found out that Fireflight is a Christian band after listening to the album once or twice. It is a bit of a downer. I don’t have anything against Christian music in particular, but I don’t like any music that has an agenda. That’s one thing that soured System of a Down’s music for me. Too political. I still like several of Fireflight’s songs enough to keep them in my music rotation on occasion, but some of them are just too overt for my tastes, now that I know what they’re talking about. Music that exists to convince people of some political or religious idea really aggravates me.

    I’m still digging We Are The Fallen. They sound a lot like Evanescence, another band I like a lot. Here’s some trivia for you. Evanescence was started by Amy Lee (vocals) and Ben Moody (guitars). They split after the first album, apparently because of personality conflicts. Ben Moody felt Amy Lee was too controlling. Amy Lee got to keep Evanescence and hired a whole new band to bow to her wishes, while Ben Moody floated around for another decade before founding We Are The Fallen with former American Idol contestant Carly Smithson based partly on the strength of her performance of an Evanescence song during the show. Her voice reminds me a lot of Amy Lee. It’s no wonder the two bands sound so similar.

  5. Ben | Friday, 16 March 2012, 12:53 pm |

    Here’s another band I’ve been digging lately: Katra. They are another Finnish symphonic metal band.

  6. Ing | Monday, 19 March 2012, 1:37 pm |

    Hmmm… Katra isn’t bad. Pretty good, actually. I like it.

    I’d heard that about We Are the Fallen — not the part where she sang an Evanescence song on Idol, but that it’s Carly Smithson with the former Evanescence guy. (And people are hacking on them because the guy who co-founded Evanescence actually writes music that sounds like…gasp!…Evanescence. And everyone knows Amy Lee is the only female metal vocalist in America).

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