Enter to Win a Signed Copy of Dark the Chains of Treason!

chains1Morning, ladies and gents!  This is your captain speaking.

Did you know that from now until August 24, you can enter to win a signed copy of my latest novel, Dark the Chains of Treason?

No?  Well, maybe that’s because I’m just telling you right now.

But it’s true!

The winner will receive his or her copy via overnight mail, so you actually get a few days’ head start on the rest of the pack.

And if you’re not sure it’s worth investing all that typing energy to enter a contest for the third book in a series you haven’t read yet, just remember: the first and second installments of The Paderborn Chronicles can be had for mere pennies on Amazon.

They’re really good.  I promise.

You’ve got one whole week to get those entries in, so let’s get started!

Music to Your Ears: The Soundtrack of My Fictional Worlds

Vector abstract background with open book and notes. EPS 10 file, contains transparencies.


Final edits are finished for Dark the Chains of Treason!  You can still pre-order your Kindle copy on Amazon, or you can snag a paperback on August 29.


There are two main types of writers in the world: those who need absolute silence when they are putting words on the page, and those who can’t create anything without a little bit of background noise, whether it’s coffee shop chatter or their favorite songs on repeat.

I say two main types, because I’ve actually been both.  Right now, I need a quiet environment to concentrate on my work.  But during my misbegotten youth, I couldn’t function without my carefully curated playlist.

When it came to writing creatively, I tended to listen to classical music – Beethoven and Mozart especially – or lose myself in the seamless, ethereal repetition of Gregorian chant.  I was a nerd, okay?  I’ve made my peace with it.

Music set the tone for my characters, inspired my landscapes, and soothed my anxieties when some bit of plot wouldn’t click into place.  Silence during the creative process seemed unnatural and unnerving in some way – like those moments in a movie when you realize the soundtrack has stopped, the only noise is the ragged breathing of the main character or the furtive footsteps of the serial killer, and something very bad is about to happen to someone you like.

The comparison to movies isn’t anything new, of course.  I know a lot of authors who listen to music while writing specifically because they view their novels like films that just happen to be printed on a page.

These authors would scribble song titles in the margins if they could – I’m sure some probably do in their rough drafts – and get frustrated when it becomes difficult to directly translate the sights, sounds, and unspoken gestures of a visual scene into a written one.

The difficulties of going the other way, from book to screen, are well-known to anyone who has been disappointed by a film adaptation of their favorite story.

The cinematic approach isn’t a bad thing at all.  It’s perfect for many types of stories.  Thrillers and romances, of course, rely on a film-like progression of actions and a sharply delineated character development arc that fits right in with what you would expect from the movies.  Certain sci-fi and fantasy styles also very episodic, and mesh well with visually-driven entertainment.

The serializable nature of many popular speculative fiction books and movies (and the many crossover content streams available from properties like the Star Wars and Star Trek universes, for example) shows just how must interplay there can be between media types.

Sure, many of the novelizations or TV pilots or seven-part film sagas are just about making money for the production company that owns the story rights.  I’m not saying it’s always a great thing.

But it speaks to the general cultural perception that many books could easily be movies, and movies are sometimes just visual books, and both types of stories often rely very heavily on similar conventions to highlight character traits, set up plot points, and prepare their readers/viewers for what’s going to happen next.

The point is that many popular fiction titles are very strongly informed by the way movies work, and that often includes the fact that authors tie particular songs to particular characters in order to paint a mood or capture a feeling.

I don’t think my novels are overly cinematic, but I do the soundtrack thing, too, even if I never meant to.

It wasn’t until I had written and published The Last Death of Tev Chrisini that I realized some of my new favorite songs fit in with certain characters so well that it was almost eerie.  I’m sure there was a subconscious thing going on, but it’s still weird to realize it.

After I wrote The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun, I came across a handful of songs that matched the plot and tone of the novel almost exactly, which further freaked me out.

By the time I got around to starting Dark the Night Descending, I had moved away from listening to music while writing, but also embraced the idea that collecting a soundtrack as I went on wasn’t such a bad idea.  After all, the title of the book was inspired by an Iron & Wine song, so it was only natural that music would play a role in the rest of it.

The Paderborn Chronicles are a little darker and grittier than my first books.  I started the series after a very rough period in my life, wherein I lost some of my illusions about the fundamental goodness of the human spirit and gained some new perspectives on what purpose novels should serve in the grand scheme of things.

These books address some difficult themes for me, and there is plenty of brutality to go around, both given and received.  It’s a very dangerous world filled with selfish, cruel, ruthless people (and not-quite-people), and happily-ever-afters are not easy to come by.  That isn’t to say no one can find redemption, but it’s a little harder than in some of my earlier works.

The music is a little sharper, too.  So as I get ready to release Dark the Chains of Treason, I thought it would be fun to share a few of the songs that have shaped the series so far.

In no particular order, here are a few of my favorites:

Bilgewater – Brown Bird (Salt for Salt)

Freedom Hangs Like Heaven – Iron & Wine (Woman King)

Beat the Devil’s Tattoo – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

It’s Only – ODESZA (In Return)

Whistles the Wind – Flogging Molly (Within a Mile of Home)

Wake Up – Arcade Fire (Funeral)

All these links will take you to Amazon’s music service, which will only let you hear a preview (unless you’re a Prime member) instead of the whole song.  As an independent artist myself, I like to make sure people get paid for their works, please do buy them legitimately from Amazon, iTunes, or elsewhere if you decide that one of them strikes a chord.

Happy listening/reading/watching!

Pre-Order Dark the Chains of Treason for Kindle!

Hello there, guys, gals, and other individuals!  I may have been very quiet so far this summer, but it’s only because I’ve been working hard.  No, really.  I have proof.

preorder

Yes, that’s right.  You can now pre-order a Kindle copy of Dark the Chains of Treason before it becomes generally available on August 29.  Paperbacks will be available for sale on the release date, as well.

So why should you pre-order?  First of all, it’s literally only one click, so that’s easy.  Second of all, it’ll make sure you don’t forget.   You’ll simply wake up on the 29th with the book in hand, feeling all magical and powerful.

And third of all, it’ll give me and my Amazon book ranking lots of warm, fuzzy feelings without actually costing you anything extra.  If those aren’t good enough reasons, then I don’t know what are.

This is, of course, the third book in the Paderborn Chronicles, and so you may not be feeling particularly excited or interested if you haven’t read the first two yet.

But you’re in luck!  Dark the Night Descending and Dark the Dreamer’s Shadow are both free through the Kindle Unlimited program, and just 99 cents and $2.99 respectively to purchase if you’re not a member.

Paperback copies are also available for $12.99, which is pretty darn economical for all the heart-stopping action and explosive thrills of following a hopelessly unlucky character who has absolutely no idea what the hell he’s doing at any point in time.

I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s pretty much just like looking in the mirror.

If you’re still on the fence, you might want to stay tuned for the next week or two so you can enter my next Goodreads giveaway.  There may be extra super prizes involved, too!

Alert, Alert! Imminent Kindle Book Giveaway!

Tired of reading about how quickly the world as we know it is coming to the end?

Want to regain a sense of perspective by reading some escapist literature about a universe that is definitely much closer to collapsing under the weight of impending doom than our own?

Click here to download for Kindle

Well, you’re in luck!  Because next week the first two books of The Paderborn Chronicles will be available for free on Kindle!

That’s right.  From Monday, June 27 until Friday, July 1, you can snag Dark the Night Descending and Dark the Dreamer’s Shadow for free on Amazon.

It’s the perfect chance to dive into the series for the first time or refresh your memory before Dark the Chains of Treason hits the virtual shelves this August.

If you can’t wait that long, you can always read any of my novels for free with a Kindle Unlimited subscription or pay just 99 cents to get your hands on the first volume of Arran Swinn’s five-star adventures.

Click here to download for Kindle

No matter how you acquire your copy, I will once again do what all authors must do and beg you, abjectly and on my knees, to leave a review when you’re done reading.

Honest feedback is worth more to me than the royalties I might get from a full-price purchase, so don’t feel awkward about writing a review if you get the books for free next week.

There will be more reminders forthcoming on my Facebook page and Twitter account in case it slips your mind over the weekend.

Download!  Read!  Have fun!  Do it for free!  Write a sentence or two in a review on Goodreads or Amazon and I will be eternally yours.

Five Questions to Ask Yourself before Committing to Self-Publishing

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As some of my long-time readers might know, I started my self-publishing journey on a whim in 2012.  I had written a book two years before, a few friends who were interested in reading it, and I had a vague remembrance of reading something about a new-fangled publishing platform from Amazon that would let you share content easily.

The first time I uploaded a (pretty rough draft) of The Last Death of Tev Chrisini, my heart almost stopped when I saw my name on a real Amazon page.

The cover image was garbage, the PDF sloppily formatted, and the metadata clumsy, but it was my name on Amazon – the biggest bookseller in the world! – and strangers could now find and read something that I had written: a world I had created, inhabited, and loved.

It was thrilling, frightening, and frustrating in equal measure.  Sure, the book was there, but no one other than those few close friends had purchased it.  Sure, I had a weighty CreateSpace paperback in my hands, but my design abilities were rubbish, I couldn’t get the formatting just right, and I kept finding typos.

I had published a book, which is certainly a milestone.  But in the early days of the publish-on-demand industry, I was among thousands of curious new authors who had a lot to learn.

Had I planned my entry into this strange new world a little better, I might have implemented a different strategy.  I might have been more successful right off the bat…or I might have been so overwhelmed with the prospect of committing to this massive undertaking that I may never have gone through with it.

After several years of experience, including some notable high points and more than a few disappointments, I think I have a better idea of how new authors might want to approach their own first taste of self-publishing.

Any commitment should start with a cost/benefit analysis, and these are the top five questions I would ask myself if I could go back in time and do it all over again.

1. What do I hope to get out of this?

What are my goals when it comes to self-publishing?  Do I want to share a particular skill or knowledge base?  Do I want to create a revenue stream I can live on?  Do I have a unique perspective that I must share with the world?  Do I want to use self-publishing as a springboard to a traditional publishing career?  Do I just want to write for my own fulfillment?

ThinkstockPhotos-490243498Everyone has a different reason for wanting to self-publish, and I don’t think there are any invalid motivations.  Some want to write the books they wanted to read when they were kids.  Some are aiming for the money or the fame; some just like the idea of sharing fanfic stories with their chosen fandom.

It doesn’t matter what the reason is.  You just have to know why you’re doing it.  When you establish a clear idea of what you hope to accomplish, it will help you set up a platform, focus your outreach efforts, and ensure that you are not wasting your precious time and energy on activities that won’t get you to your chosen outcome.

2. What skills do I have and what do I need from others?

Let’s face it.  We’re not all experts at everything.  Yeah, that includes you, okay?  We all need a little outside help to fill the holes in our game.

Self-publishing requires a lot of specialized skills, and a lot of back-end production work.  Editing is a different competency than writing.  Web design isn’t easy.  Cover art creation isn’t for everyone.  Putting together a perfect template for publication?  Man, that still trips me up sometimes.  And when it comes to marketing…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t mind a little help in that department.

In order to bring a high quality product to market, you might have to enlist the skills of people who have expertise in one or more of these areas.  And in order to know who you need to ask for help, you need to honestly assess where you might fall short.

Understanding your strengths and recognizing your own limitations before you begin will save you a lot of frustration in the long run!  Trust me on this one.

3. Do I understand my market and the options available to me?

Market research isn’t just for smarmy guys at big corporations who try to get you to buy stuff you don’t really need.  It’s an essential part of any sales gig, and it’s vital for self-publishers.

Not only do you need to understand what the different available publishing platforms offer their authors, how to manage your rights and permissions, and how to navigate each company’s unique process for bringing a book to life, but you also need to have a clear strategy for selling the finished product.

You wouldn’t try to sell a cookbook to the same audience as a memoir or a young adult sci-fi thriller.  You wouldn’t use the same strategies to appeal to middle grade readers as you would use for erotica aficionados (I hope).

And even within your chosen genre, there are nuances and subdivisions that no outsider could ever comprehend, let alone leverage.  Vampire lovers may get miffed if they’re being offered a zombie tale in disguise.  Space opera junkies don’t want to read about…whatever the opposite of space operas are.  You get the point.

Before jumping into your first en masse Twitter following spree or joining a million reader forums, take some time to identify your perfect reader.  Find out where those people hang out, what they’re looking for, and what strategies appeal to them.  That’s going to be important for deciding how to deal with the next question.

4. How much am I willing to invest when it comes to time, money, and effort?

Self-publishing can be hard on the wallet, and it can be even harder on your initial bubbling enthusiasm.  Building an audience takes lots of time and dedication.  It can require weekends at conferences, or hours in front of the computer writing blog posts (ahem), replying to conversations in communities, and creating a presence on social media.

Buying ads, web domain names, subscriptions, contest entries, and a box of books to have on hand can easily run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars before you know it.  And there’s no guarantee that you will receive a return on your investment.

But there are some steps you can take to minimize waste and maximize your potential for seeing some fruits from your labors.

First, create a budget and stick to it.  Make a list of your possible expenses, prioritize the essentials, tailor your spending to your targeted audience, and do not spend a single penny on any product, service, or offering without reading the fine print.  Twice.

Do not sign any of your creative rights or content rights away without being 150,000% sure you understand what you’re doing.  There are unscrupulous people out there who are more than happy to promise you the impossible.  Be careful.

Second, be flexible and be willing to make changes.  If the Facebook ads aren’t generating returns or the dealer’s table at LocalCon was a bust last year, then screw ‘em.  Find something else to spend your budget on.  There’s no set path for success in self-publishing, so remember that the strategy that works for your friends may not work for you.

Third, be mindful of your limitations, obligations, and expectations.  Ambition is a fine thing, but maybe you can’t spend every Saturday and Sunday traveling around the country to every writer’s convention without stretching your bank account or your relationships to the limit.  Maybe you’re an introvert who hates networking in person, so you shouldn’t spend $500 on a ticket to that fundraising brunch.  Maybe you’re better off putting that money into a blog redesign or a copyeditor instead.

5. How good am I at dealing with disappointment?

This is a downer of a question, but it’s something you absolutely have to think about before embarking on your self-publishing career.  There simply isn’t room for everyone at the tippy-top of the charts, and chances are that the vast majority of people will not make it as far in real life as they do in their daydreams.

ThinkstockPhotos-504860101It’s okay to acknowledge that.  It’s good to understand that life is hard, and things don’t always work out the way you hoped without some struggle, some pain, and some determination.  Realistic expectations are healthy.  They keep you from overextending yourself, and they allow you to look at too-good-to-be-true possibilities with a critical, rational eye.

The publishing industry is especially good at forcing you to practice these skills.  It’s an industry based on luck, chance, preconceived notions, and first impressions.  At times, its capriciousness can seem downright cruel.

You need to be able to handle losing that big contest or never getting that phone call.  You need to have the strength to accept the fact that not everyone is going to like everything you write.  That doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer.  That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.  It just means that you have to try again next time.

If you accept that disappointment is going to be a part of this process from the get-go, you’re going to be better equipped with the fortitude to take your knocks and shake them off.  It’s hard.  It sucks.  It happens to everyone.  But you need to ask yourself if you’re going to be able to pick yourself up out of the dirt and keep swinging.

Yes?  Then welcome to the club, self-publisher.  You’re going to do fine.

Smashwords Shares 5 Ways to Succeed with Self-Publishing in 2016

Self-publishing is a pretty tough game for most authors, but as the industry matures and best practices start to emerge, we’re starting to learn more about what makes a self-published title sell.

Each year, Smashwords parses its sales data to give the rest of the world a little glimpse into what works for its best-selling authors. To absolutely nobody’s surprise, the fifth annual survey revealed that romance, erotica, and young adult fiction are the top sellers for the digital self-publishing platform.

These categories are so popular, in fact, that romance titles (adult and young adult combined) make up more than seventy percent of the top 200 best-selling titles, Smashwords CEO Mark Coker said.  Seventy percent.  That’s a pretty steady paycheck for the seamstresses that have to repair all those ripped bodices.

Fantasy clocked in as the fourth most popular fiction category in 2016, which I can only assume is due to the fact that we’re the only other genre that talks about bodices a lot.  Fantasy novels made up 4.22 percent of the best sellers this year.  Meanwhile, Sci-Fi titles only scooped up a measly one percent of the marketplace.

best sellers

Source: Smashwords 2016 Survey

This may seem kind of depressing for those of us who are not big fans of the romance genre, but there are some concrete reasons why these authors have such huge success.  And, as Coker points out, it’s possible that the wild success of these authors can teach us some lessons about how they garner such legions of loyal fans.

“Romance writers are typically ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting new best practices,” he said, “and certainly this is underscored by their early adoption of series writing, free series starters and preorder usage.”

So what are some of the key tactics that best-selling writers employ, and how well do they work?

Racking up sales before release day

Preorders are especially important for boosting a book’s chances of success, the survey found.  Average earnings for books that were available for preorder were 6.7 times greater than books that only banked on a big release day.  More than half of the top 200 books in 2016 were available for pre-order.  Of the top 200 pre-order books, 78 percent were romance titles.

“Every preorder gains you incremental benefit in terms of expanded readership, and over the course of years this incremental benefit compounds upon itself like a great investment.  This is because the more readers you gain, the easier it becomes to gain even more readers because fans breed more fans through word of mouth,” said Coker.

That’s also why social media is so important.  Unsurprisingly, the top 100 authors were much more likely than others to have a good website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account.

social media

Source: Smashwords 2016 Survey

But this may be more of a correlation-not-causation scenario.  I know plenty of authors who tweet like crazy and constantly post to their Facebook pages but remain unsuccessful – and that’s probably because they don’t know how to use social media wisely.  Spamming your Twitter followers with cringe-worthy self-promotion tactics won’t get you anywhere.

Balancing price and length

When it comes to generating sales, pricing is probably even more important than Facebook likes, says the survey.  The data uncovered this shocking fact: if you want to get your book in front of lots and lots of eyeballs, don’t charge anything for it.

On average, readers downloaded free books 41 times more often than priced titles.  That’s a lot of books.

Just like in previous years, the “sweet spot” for sales seems to be around the $2.00 to $3.99 mark.  While a 99 cent book might seem suspiciously cheap, readers aren’t willing to spend more than 4 bucks to experiment with a new fiction title.

If they do spend their pennies on your book, however, they’re expecting to get their money’s worth.  Lengthier books still sell better than shorter titles.  The average top 100 seller is around 112,000 words – but again, be careful here.  Writing a 400,000-word epic isn’t going to make you the next Stephen King if the story is incoherent and the writing quality is low.

A series of fortunate events

 If you want to gain fans and sell books, don’t stop your stories, Coker says.  Even though literary agents are constantly asking for more stand-alone titles to sell, a series is still the best bet for self-publishers.  The majority of top performing authors bank on series to give them long-term sales, and it seems to be a good bet.

The top 1000 series titles show an average 195 percent sales increase over the top 1000 stand-alone books.  And if you want to get your readers hooked, you should consider offering your first book for free.

series

Source: Smashwords 2016 Survey

Series with free starters earn an average of 83 percent more than series with priced first entries, the survey shows.  More than half of the top 200 best selling series offered their first installments for free, including 80 percent of the top 10.

Putting the data into action

So should we all start writing paranormal romance series with ten books’ worth of teenaged angst?  Please, God, no.

Romance is always going to dominate everything, because it’s romance.  And there will always be a market for stories about impossibly beautiful and mature teenagers doing impossibly world-altering things, because…well, I’m not really sure why those have such appeal, but apparently they do.  Someone will have to explain that one to me some day.

The most important takeaways from the survey probably aren’t about genre, but are more about strategically positioning your book, whatever it may be, to generate the maximum number of sales.

Regardless of your subject matter, you can try to implement the five strategies that seem to work for the majority of best selling authors:

  1. Establish a strong but savvy social media presence
  2. Consider the $2.00 to $3.99 bracket for pricing
  3. Think about offering pre-orders
  4. Invest the time and effort into creating series that capture reader attention
  5. Hook readers with a free first installment

While Smashwords – and life in general – make no guarantees that these techniques will launch you into the rarified air of the best-selling self-publisher, it can’t hurt to experiment with some of the things that have been proven to produce sales.

Have you had success (or abject failure) with adopting some of these tactics?  Let me know in the comments!