Book News and Other Upcoming Developments

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Hello, everyone!  I don’t know about you, but I’m finally ready to leave this cold, miserable winter behind in favor of budding trees, daffodils, warm sunshine, and a little taste of what’s coming your way this summer.

As you all know, I’ve been plugging away at Dark the Dreamer’s Shadow, the second book recounting the adventures of Arran Swinn, and I’m happy to say that it’s close to being in good shape for publication.

General release will likely happen at some point during the early summer, possibly in June (if I can get my act together).  The grand cover reveal and teaser excerpts are on their way, of course.  I may also be in the market for a beta reader or two, and I suspect my volunteers already know who they are.

In addition, I will be making my very first convention appearance at the end of July.  The ninth annual Pi-Con will be taking place in Connecticut from July 31 to August 2, during which time I will be participating in a writer’s workshop, contributing to some panel discussions on writing and fantasy, and doing a reading from Dark the Night Descending (probably), signed copies of which will no doubt be available for purchase.

I’m pretty excited to be taking part in the program, and I hope some of you Northeasterners will try to join me for moral support.  It’s not a huge convention, but it seems like a great place to get my feet wet and meet some cool, local-ish nerd fans.

So please wish me luck as I work to stamp out all those nasty typos that seem to breed in every work-in-progress.  I’m very pleased with the book so far, and I know you guys will be, too.  Stay tuned for more updates!

Get a Kindle Copy of Dark the Night Descending Free!

Surprise!  For the next three days, April 8 to 10, you can pick up a Kindle copy of Dark the Night Descending for free.

Click here to order from Amazon!

Click here to download for Kindle!

That’s right!  If you live in the Northeast, you’re going to need something to keep you company during our latest little snowstorm.  If you live anywhere else…just keep it to yourself, okay?  Our soon-to-be-frozen crocuses and daffodils will thank you for it.

No matter where you call home, a good book should always be on the radar, so head on over to Amazon and see if mine takes your fancy.

For those of you who have already taken the plunge, now would be the perfect time to leave a review and use the mighty influence of your opinion to help other readers make the right life choices.

Please feel free to spread the word and share with your friends, too!

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Dark the Night Descending

Arran Swinn knows a thing or two about nightmares. After all, they killed his father. When the sun goes down, the Siheldi come out, and surviving the onslaught until daybreak can be little more than a gamble without the right protection.

Thanks to a dash of luck, a little daring, and an heirloom from his father, Arran can provide protection these days – for the right fee. Guiding seagoing merchants along the haunted trade routes is easy money…right up until he takes on a secretive passenger who proves to be almost as bad as the Siheldi themselves.

With the daylight fading and the ocean rising, Arran finds himself saddled with an illegal cargo, a bargain for his soul that he can’t hope to keep, and the unwelcome scrutiny of Megrithe Prinsthorpe, a tenacious trade inspector intent on seeing him hang for his misdeeds.

After uncovering a plot that could replace the Siheldi with something much worse, Arran must decide just how much he’s willing to sacrifice to the spirits that have had him marked out since the night his father’s death changed his life forever.

Where the Light Bends at the Cracks

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I’ve been quiet lately.  Usually when blogs go quiet, first for a few days here, then for a few weeks after an apologetic update, it means they’ve started down an irrevocable road to the dusty, inactive server rooms of purgatory.  The number of blogs that are eventually abandoned is staggering – up to 95 percent, some sources claim – and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t contributed to that number three, four, maybe even five times before.

But this is not one of them.

The thing about writer’s blogs is that you only really have three options.  One, you document the ups and downs of your process in painful, monotonous detail, and bore everyone to tears.  Two, you turn it into an angst-dump for everything but writing, laboring under the mistaken believe that anyone cares about the reasons you’re not working on your magnum opus.  Three, you make yourself into a resource by gathering news and information, interviewing authors, writing book reviews, making connections, and generally offering a place for people to get something back from your work.

I’ve done all three to various degrees (I’m doing number two right now), and I’ve learned that the only blogs that even have a chance of surviving the depressing rate of attrition are the ones that tackle option number three and truly take off.  I think I’ve had moderate success starting to build a resource for people, and I like doing that.

The problem is that it takes time and investment.  Plenty of it.  I know this because that’s what I do for my day job, and it’s a lot of work.  In the past, I’ve had the luxury of having a few spare minutes in the afternoon and evening to pound out a few hundred words of helpful self-publishing know-how, or brainstorm a short story just to keep my fiction muscles limber as I work on bigger things.

But as most of you know, this has been a hard winter for me.  I’ve been sick – and I’ve only recently acknowledged to myself that that’s what has been happening.  Sleeping poorly has always just been a fact of my life, and I never considered it anything other than an annoyance that I needed to push past and get over.

Starting in September, for whatever reason, it turned into a full-blown chronic illness that needs medical treatment (on top of all the other conditions that contribute to the problem and are hellishly difficult to manage), and the process of receiving help has been so slow and torturous that I’m still waiting to set up an initial appointment with a second specialist who may be able to help me at some point – if I can get my insurance in order.

The tale is not unique.  If it was, I wouldn’t have a day job writing about how to improve patient management in the healthcare system.  And my problems aren’t as bad as other people’s problems.  I’m generally healthy; I can walk, breathe, see, and hear; I have full use of most of my faculties; I am not suffering with anything that will kill me sooner rather than later.  I’m grateful for that.

But it’s hard to be wake up every day so fatigued that my brain doesn’t have a chance in hell to hold back the depression and anxiety constantly waiting to pounce, or so groggy that driving to work becomes impossible, or so shattered and drained that I can’t do anything other than stare at the TV and eat things that are bad for me and cry and wait for the day to be over so maybe I can try again next time to stop wasting precious hours of my life.

So if you want to know why I’ve been quiet, it’s because I am keenly aware that the only things I have to say are gloomy and frustrated, negative and off-putting, and I’d rather go dark than spend time broadcasting the fact that I’m just not feeling well enough to do anything else.

I don’t like making the things that are wrong with me into the central feature of who I am.  I don’t go on message boards and hang out with other sleepy people, and I don’t want an Insomniacs Anonymous badge to wear on my lapel so everyone will ask me about it.  Sickness is a transient state of being: a separate entity that sometimes latches on to you, and I prefer to remember that instead of making my entire life about one single that’s happening to me.

Luckily, being sick hasn’t entirely stopped me from getting things done.  I’m doing very well at my job, because I’m pouring all the energy I have into it.  I still go to archery every week, whether I feel too tired or not, because I need to relieve my stress.  I’m still working on my fiction, albeit a little slowly.

Dark the Dreamer’s Shadow is a book full of frustrated people facing obstacles much bigger than themselves, and I think that editing it while in such a mood is a benefit rather than otherwise.  I’m very nearly done with a major pass at it, and I’m pleased with how it’s coming along.  It’s going to be a great book, and since I never heard back from that agent who expressed interest in the first one, I will probably be self-publishing it at some point during this spring or summer.

So there are things to look forward to, and reasons to keep my blog alive.  I’m not giving up on self-publishing.  I’m not giving up on anything, really.  I’ve just got to break this siege before I can attack the next targets I’ve set for myself.  I’m going to keep chipping away at everything, because the problems I’m facing are solvable.  The time will pass.  The appointments will get made.  The answers are there.

For those of you who want to stick around, thank you.  For those of you who don’t…well, I doubt you’re even reading this right now.  But I hope you will all come back for my next book release, whenever that may be, and celebrate the fact that no matter what you’re facing, there’s always a way to get things done.

SFWA to Accept Self-Published Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors as Members

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Self-published fantasy and sci-fi authors who meet minimum income requirements will now be able to become members of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers America (SFWA), one of the biggest and most respected groups for speculative fiction authors in the industry.  Among other activities, SFWA is responsible for running the Nebula Awards, the Golden Globes to the Hugo Awards’ Oscars.

“Writers write. Professional writers get paid a decent amount for what they write,” said SFWA President Steven Gould. “For the past five years, it’s been apparent that there are ways to earn that decent amount that were not being covered by our previous qualification standards. Though these changes took a substantial amount of time, I’m grateful to everyone who worked toward this end.”

Vice President Cat Rambo said the move would help SFWA “[adapt] itself to the changing face of modern publishing,” which sounds really nice for an organization that has been trying to rehabilitate itself after fierce allegations of sexism that took out its previous president and sparked ongoing debates about the role and representation of women and minorities in a genre traditionally dominated by improbably muscled shirtless white dragon-slayers saving blonde sexpot damsels in distress.

So while this gesture at inclusion is super cool for self-published authors who have made at least $3000 off a single novel or those who have sold at least 10,000 total words of short fiction for six cents per word, it’s not clear exactly how many self-pubbers are going to qualify.  My guess is that there won’t be many.

Recent data suggests that the majority of self-pub authors earn between $1 and $4,999 per year, but that’s a pretty big range, and it’s likely that most of the authors fall close to the bottom of it.  The data also doesn’t indicate whether those authors have published one book or one hundred, so it’s hard to tell if there will be an influx of Active members.  To nab an Associate membership, authors have only to sell a single story of at least 1000 words at the same six-cent rate.

“We are using existing levels of income but are now allowing a combination of advances and income earned in a 12 month period to rise to the qualifying amounts,” the announcement says, which may help self-publishers that rely on momentum instead of pre-sales to work their way into the target zone.  But it’ll be hard to tell the real impact of the decision until indie authors start to put in their applications.

Having more or less followed the inclusiveness flame-war over the past few years, I can’t say I’m a big fan of the SFWA or how they handled themselves.  They have some big problems that need to be worked out in the long term, and I’m not sure that I would join even if I could manage to approach the financial requirements.

But I do think this is an important signal to the speculative fiction industry, and the traditional publishing machine at large, that powerhouses like the Big Five only make up one lane on a road that’s broadening as we speak.  I like to see anything that shows self-publishing gaining acceptance in meaningful ways, and I think it’s a good gesture.  Only time will tell if it’s a meaningful one.

Snowed Under, Bowled Over

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As some of you may have heard, the Northeast has been experiencing a spot of weather over the past few weeks. A handful of blizzards and a couple of feet of snow might not seem like much to any of you who may live along or over the Canadian border, but for the Boston area, this winter has been one long ice cream headache.

We’ve been setting and breaking records this month, but the charm of being the best at everything (including that football thing, suckers) has left us with nearly 100 inches of snowfall to contend with. That means a lot of disruptions to my usual routine. Working from home, shoveling out my car, white-knuckle driving to the grocery store, continuing to lose sleep, and missing medical appointments has left me a little confused and agitated. Oh, yeah…let’s not forget that I spent an entire week curled up in bed with a knock-out bout of food poisoning.

For Inkless, that has meant another one of those pesky silences for which I have to issue my standard apology. Oddly enough, however, this whole snow globe shakeup has left me in a pretty good place, writing-wise. I’ve picked up the process of editing Dark the Dreamer’s Shadow, the second book in the Arran Swinn series, thanks in part to the little bits of extra rest I can get on a snow day.

I also have to thank the fact that I received a little bit of encouragement from the publishing industry last week. After indulging in a whim by submitting Dark the Night Descending to an agent pleading for queries over Twitter, I had my first ever request for a partial. This is awesome because a) it’s always nice to feel wanted, and b) the fact that the book was self-published already didn’t deter this agent from being interested in reading a bit more. I consider that a bit of a victory for all of us, regardless of the outcome.

I don’t know when or if I’ll hear back, or what the verdict will be, but the request was a much-needed shot in the arm for me. The dark and cold and endless digging with frozen fingers and fogged up glasses has left me feeling more than a little under the weather (literally), and it’s been a tough few months trying to keep my chin up. And when you’re so focused on trying to slog through each day without breaking down in the middle, you tend to forget that good things can happen in the world outside your ski goggles.

So whether or not spring is ever going to make an appearance, and whether or not I have a shot at traditional publishing, I’m going to keep pursing the things that make it worthwhile to dust off the car every day. My day job is going really well, archery continues to bring me much happiness while improving steadily, and Oliver has been beside himself with joy now that the snow has kept me home so much. And my birthday is next week, which brings with it all the artificial pleasantries the Internet has to offer.

The goal will be to stay warm, stay motivated, and work on my release, because follow-through is everything no matter what target you have in your sights.

A Publisher’s Weekly and ABNA Reviewer Responds to Disappointment

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Note: Yes, fellow blizzard friends and horrible, mean, dry, warm people elsewhere in the country, I am writing this from under about 30 inches of snow. So far the power and the heat have both stayed on, and the enforced solitude will be tons of fun right up until I have to get out the shovel.


A couple of days ago, I wrote about the cancellation of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and how my experience in the contest was too great a disappointment for me to mourn its passing. I wrote about the unsatisfactory results of the quarterfinal round, where I received my review from Publisher’s Weekly, and accused the powers-that-be of sloppiness, inattention, and general negligence when skimming through Dark the Night Descending on their way to tossing it in the trash bin.

I stand by pretty much everything I’ve said about the contest, but I was fortunate enough to receive an unsolicited email from a long-time ABNA judge and regular PW reviewer, Thriller Guy, who had a couple of salient points about what happens on the receiving end of the process.

Here is part of the very long letter, which I am reproducing here mostly just to put it on the record in the interest of fairness. I do encourage you to read the whole thing:

I’m always reading a book for review. I’ve done reviews for every genre, though I’m now primarily reviewing Thrillers. So it wasn’t me who reviewed your book last year! I always forget about the ABNA until PW asks if I’ll do it again, I say yes and forget about it again until the stack of books rolls in a few months later and I realize I’ve got to read them and review them on top of my regularly scheduled reviews. All this is to point out that I’m not exactly a bored PW intern.

I’ve never been entirely clear on what the books I’m judging have gone through before they get to me, mostly because I’ve never asked. There’s probably an intern involved somewhere, though I can assure you that by the time it gets to me — the quarter-finals, I guess — the reviewers are “professionals” who are pretty much donating their time, even though, as you say, they toss a couple of hundred dollars at us.

Since I deal with writers who are, many of them, just starting out, I can assure you that if I had to read every submission in its entirety from the earliest stages of the contest I would go insane. You’d be amazed how many folks out there can’t follow the simplest directions for submitting their books, and, I’m sorry to say, how many really, really terrible books do make it onto desks to be evaluated before being moved along or rejected. I mean terrible in that some of them look like they’ve been “written” by little children who are trying to operate in a grown-up arena.

So I consider the people who are on the front line of this book assault to be saintly in their patience at even undertaking the task. Maybe they’re interns, I don’t know, but I doubt they’re bored. Frustrated, driven mad, overworked, and unappreciated is probably more like it.

In addition to simply reading, when I write the review, PW has me note every character name in the book, reference every major plot development, quote (if used in the review), every major geographical location shift, and back up any negative impressions about the writing with references to pages. Then my saintly editor checks every one of those references to make sure I haven’t screwed up, and then his editor checks his rewrites (at which point they may ask questions to clarify what I’ve written, which I answer) and then the review goes into the magazine.

So when I write a review for the ABNA books, I have done all that same work. I don’t know who’s only reading four chapters, but it must be the folks who read the books before I get them, because I read every word of every book and make notes before I write my review. 

I suppose there are others who do less, but there are always people who do less, though I think probably it makes little difference in the long run. It’s just not my ethic to not give every book the same due diligence, and I have a feeling I am the norm rather than the exception. 

I can assure you that no book reviewer opens a book, or turns on a Kindle, looking for a bad book or a way to say that a book is bad. Every time the hope is, “OK, maybe I’ve got a prizewinner, this is going to be great, grab me by the neck and pull me into the pages.” If it doesn’t happen, the reviewer does his job and tries to explain what went wrong. And open the next book on the pile.

I had a nice discussion about all this with Thriller Guy, who seemed genuinely passionate about what he does and how he does it. While it was heartening to hear that at least some ABNA competitors probably received a thoughtful review, we both came to the conclusion that I, and pretty much everyone on this thread, probably just succumbed to the luck of the draw.

Thriller Guy seemed to think that PW was probably unaware of the vitriol sparked by the disproportionate number of inaccurate and hasty write-ups, and offered to pass it on our comments to someone in the office who might be interested to hear it. Since the contest is now kaput, there’s little to be done about it. But it’ll be nice to know that we’re being heard in some small way, regardless. I’m glad to give at least one of the judges the same courtesy.

Amazon Scraps Breakthrough Novel Award in Favor of Kindle Scout

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Well, it looks like I got my (very irritating) ABNA experience on the books just in time.  The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is officially kaput, according to an announcement on the ABNA forums, and will be kinda-sorta-not-really replaced by the new Kindle Scout program.

Anonymous ABNA Administrator has this to say about the switch:

This fall we opened Kindle Scout as a reader-powered publishing platform that offers authors an opportunity to earn a guaranteed advance, a decision on publication in 45 days or less, the ability to retain print rights, and Amazon marketing for published books. Since launch, more than 20,000 readers have nominated the stories they want to see published and we have selected 16 original novels to be released early this year, with more chosen every week. In 2015 instead of hosting the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in its current form we will be using our new Kindle Scout program to discover and publish even more breakthrough novels throughout the year. Over time, we look forward to adding features to Kindle Scout and opening the program to even more authors and genres.

Lots and lots of angry ABNA hopefuls have this to say:

Are you freakin’ kidding me?

Now, I’m no fan of the ABNA slaughterhouse, which starts with a lottery, moves on to the fickle finger of whimsical fancy, and ends with a bored Publisher’s Weekly intern slitting open your thorax and frying up your heart for supper.  But for tens of thousands of people, the international contest is a yearly source of hope in a world that is mostly about crushing your dreams.  ABNA cost nothing, was open to anyone in the world, promised big rewards, and perhaps most importantly, accepted novels that had already been self-published.

Kindle Scout, Amazon’s new show-and-tell that looks primarily geared towards romance writers (but accepts a smattering of other genre fiction), still costs nothing.  But it’s only open to Americans with American bank accounts, which has gotten a lot of foreigners up in arms.  And most importantly, will only accept entirely unpublished manuscripts for consideration.

This seems silly to me, considering what a huge player Kindle has become in the self-publishing world.  Everyone uses KDP.  Everyone is trying to grab a piece of the Amazon publicity pie.  Everyone knows you really can’t get anywhere without Amazon’s blessing…yet books published through Amazon’s own self-publishing system are ineligible for Amazon’s own cash prizes?

Step one: upload soul.  Step two: cry.

Step one: upload soul. Step two: cry.

That’s why this Kindle Scout thing isn’t a direct replacement for ABNA.  It’s also much, much more geared towards friend-farming than ABNA ever was.  Kindle Scout relies on public votes to push books towards the finish line.  So if you’ve got a massive Twitter following or a rabid Facebook hoard on your hands, you’re a million times more likely to succeed than someone who has written a damn good book but doesn’t have the social media savvy to get enough votes in 30 days to launch your submission into the top ranks (ahem…me).

In general, I think it’s another one of those things that’s good news for Amazon and bad news for everyone else.  Are we surprised?  No, probably not.  I wasn’t planning to enter the contest again, so it’s not too big of a disappointment for me.

But what about you guys?  Are you annoyed by this?  Does Kindle Scout look interesting to you?  Is it just another hollow promise on the part of a publishing goliath that chews up and spits out hard-working authors for fun?  Are you going to submit stuff anyway?  Let me know in the comments…even if you’re not American.