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Click here to download Dark the Night Descending for free!

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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.

Hello, Goodbye: A Recap of My First and Last Pi-Con

so-long-9pi-smallerAs many of you know, this past weekend I attended my first fantasy/sci-fi/fandom convention in over a decade.  Yes, it has been that long since a bunch of my high school friends piled into someone’s car and drove out to Stony Book University for I-CON, a much bigger event with a much different flavor.

Despite sharing most of the same letters in their names, Pi-Con was a very different experience for me, mostly because I got take on a dual role as both attendee and panelist.

I spent the weekend running back and forth between meeting rooms, listening to fellow authors and experts talk about magic and marketing, fighting and food, publishing and perseverance when everything seems to be heading down the tubes.

I spoke about my enduring love of Tolkien and the importance of developing robust cultures and economies while constructing the details of one’s own worlds.  I moderated a lively roundtable discussion about what a book is really worth to a reader, and took turns telling silly, improvised stories with a group of smart and funny colleagues.

I suffered through this ignoble defeat during my scheduled reading from Dark the Night Descending:

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And this while attending the afternoon Steampunk Tea:

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And I even won a couple of costuming prizes for this (shown during a previous outing last year because I didn’t take that many selfies over the weekend):

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And I only sold one book.

It was a long and kind of exhausting event, if only because I had to do so much talking that my throat was getting raw by the end of it, but I’m very glad I went.  I met a lot of new people (some of whom, I have to confess, operated somewhat outside of my comfort zone), and heard any number of vigorously defended opinions, both popular and otherwise.

Everyone was friendly and engaging and willing to talk.  Everyone listened when I had something to say (usually).  Everyone wanted to be there, and everyone saw the opportunity to indulge in their passions during a safe and communal celebration of the fact that we’re all kind of really weird.

That’s the main reason people go to conventions and fandom events and whatnot, and I think that’s great.  Even for someone with a relatively significant degree of social anxiety, which definitely started to drag on me by the third day, I never really felt out of place, unwelcome, or not geeky enough to take part in something.  The atmosphere was very comfortable, and while I’m not sure how much con-going I’ll be doing in the future, I’m glad I got to experience this one.

ribbonI’m doubly glad to have been invited this year because this was the last Pi-Con.  After nine years, the event’s organizers have decided to go their separate ways, and the sense of finality and nostalgia was everywhere.  Even though I only attended this one event, it made me keenly aware of just how much effort goes into planning and executing these local gatherings, and I’m very pleased to have been able to help fill out the impressive program in whatever small way I could.

So thank you, 9Pi-Con, for giving me an invaluable experience to remember.  It was a great weekend, and you should all be proud of yourselves for a poignant send off to what was clearly a very successful near-decade in bringing people together.

And because I came back with a whole big box of unsold novels, I’m going to be doing a few Goodreads giveaways over the next couple of weeks leading up to the launch of Dark the Dreamer’s Shadow.  Stay tuned for more details!

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A happy Oliver welcomes me home

Come to 9Pi-Con!

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Do you like fantasy, sci-fi, gaming, and costuming?  Do you like Connecticut?  Have you always wanted to watch me talk about things while looking slightly dazed as a room full of strangers stare at me?  If so, I think you should come to 9Pi-Con in Windsor Locks between July 31 and August 2nd!

This little conference promises to be a whole lot of fun, and there’s a lot of innovative and interesting programming (I am already planning to bring multiple costumes for the Time Traveler’s Ball and the Steampunk Tea).

I will be moderating a panel on world building during Friday’s Writer’s Workshop, and participating in several events throughout the weekend, including a Tolkien discussion and a round-robin improv storytelling group.

Friday night, I’ll be holding a reading of Dark the Night Descending – and if you’re a blog reader who shows up with a copy of Dark the Night in hand, you MIGHT just get an advance copy of something you’ve all been waiting for.

So if you’re in the area or want to spring for the hotel, I would really suggest that you come on down.  I will have books to sign and sell, and plenty of time to sit down and chat about books or writing or what-have-you with anyone who can be persuaded to sit still for long enough.

If you can’t make it, I will probably be doing a lot of tweeting while I’m there, so you can always follow me to get the latest scoop.  I’m really excited about participating in my first ever con, and I think it’ll be a great experience.  I’d love to see you there!

Target Practice

 

Hello, readers!  I hope you all had a lovely long weekend (or at least a tolerable one, for those of you condemned to work), and had a chance to enjoy some of the wonderful weather we’ve been having here in the Northeast.  After the hideous winter we just endured, it’s nice to have a good, long taste of sunshine and greenery.

I’m going to tell you all about my springtime adventures – but first, I want to assure you that I haven’t been sparse with the blogging due to excessive frolicking or anything like that.  I have been working very hard on getting Dark the Dreamer’s Shadow into shape for publication, and I’m happy to say that I will be ordering my very first printed proof copy in just a few days.

I like to use the paperback for my last few major editing tasks (including my always-unsuccessful attempt at total typo extermination), which means that general release is imminent.

How imminent?  Well, it’s going to be a bit of a busy summer for me, so I’m going to tentatively say that launch day will be sometime in early-to-mid August.  It depends, right now, on how much work I still have left to do in regards to design and formatting and whatnot.

I will certainly be sharing more of the details and reveals and fun pre-launch activities as I zero in on a realistic release date.

In the meantime, how about some pictures?

I was here this weekend:

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That’s one of the overlooks at Tower Hill Botanical Gardens, a really beautiful spot to take in some flowers.

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You can also walk a few miles of forest trails, and meet local residents like this little fellow…

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…and this vigilant winged friend.

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It’s a good thing they’re both on the lookout for danger, because I’ve been working on my archery lately, and took to the woods (in a completely different part of the state) for the first time ever to snag me some tasty Styrofoam.

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Don’t worry, hunting real animals is not on my agenda.  This is called 3D shooting, which lets you practice some of the same skills you might use (unmarked distances, variable targets, uneven footing, branches and brush in the way) without actually hurting anything.

It’s especially difficult if you’re like me and shoot a recurve without any sights, stabilizers, or extra fancy equipment, because every shot is essentially a guess.  That’s actually a pretty good group of arrows, under the circumstances, even if they’re not directly on the orange spot.  And I didn’t lose any in the woods, which is even better.

For someone who has only ever shot indoors at a single distance without the interference of the sun or wind or anything else, it was really a whole lot of fun to challenge myself, especially since I am admittedly not really an outdoorsy person.  For a very short period of time, in a very safe and controlled environment where the only threat to life and limb is a bit of poison ivy and a few stray sticks, I get to feel a bit like one of my characters – and I get to understand exactly how quickly I would collapse and die in any of the situations I put them in.  Let’s hope I don’t get magically transported back in time until I’ve been able to improve my woodcraft a bit more.

So that’s been the deal at Jen Central for the past few weeks.  Editing, archery, more editing, more archery.  It’s not always easy for me to hit my targets with either of them, but I have been working hard, and things are starting to pay off.  I hope you are all seeing similar fruits of your labors, whatever they may be, as the summer rolls around.

Stay tuned to Inkless for more information about Dark the Dreamer’s Shadow in the coming weeks.  I assure you, it’ll be worth the wait.

Goodreads Ratings and the Curse of the One-Star Review

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For those returning visitors who may be finding yourselves a bit disoriented, welcome to the new Inkless, fresh from a facelift and chemical peel.  Feel free to poke around and explore!

Book reviews.  Authors love to have them.  Perspective buyers love to peruse them.  Readers can sometimes be successfully cajoled into leaving them if there is some kind of valuable bribe involved.  Those five little stars are so critically important to making sales and hitting goals that authors will bludgeon all their friends, acquaintances, Twitter followers, and blog browsers into leaving just a few kind words and a rating that might push them an inch or two higher up the best-sellers list.  We agonize over every criticism and nod our heads in agreement at every minor piece of praise, soaking up admiration like particularly snooty sponges each time a reader sees it our way.

A good review is one of the best things that can happen to a writer whose self-esteem hangs by a thread, and getting panned can sting so badly that it wipes out weeks of potential productivity as wounds are nursed and fragile egos rebuilt with the aid of cookies, kitty cuddles, and hard drugs.

But what’s worse than a bad review from a reader who didn’t like a character or felt cheated by an ending?  An unintentionally bad review, left completely by accident, that is still displayed prominently and drags down a book’s average rating.

Anyone who has browsed Goodreads has probably come across this painful phenomenon.  Books that haven’t been released yet have user ratings down in the two-and-a-halfs, or novels that have received nearly universal acclaim still have a smattering of one-star reviews next to random readers’ names.  These one-star users never leave a comment explaining their decision.  They may give four and five stars to everything else on their book list.  They appear callous, heartless, and careless: the enemy of all that is good about exchanging opinions with fellow readers; the bane of authors everywhere.

Why do they do this?  Because, most of the time, they have absolutely no idea that they are causing the author so much unwarranted angst.

In my experience, one-star reviews on Goodreads are nearly always the product of mistaken identity.  The user hasn’t the faintest recollection of having rated the book.

Before Dark the Night Descending was available for purchase, I had at least three one-star reviews on my record, and the first impression was terrible.  I was tearing my hair out.  How could anyone hate something so much when they hadn’t even read it?  No one was going to take a chance on the first book of a new, self-published series if it was already being condemned by the all-important stars.  It wasn’t fair, and it spurred me to action.

I messaged each of the users.   “It was just a stray click.  I was trying to add it to my reading list,” one said. “I had no idea – I’m so sorry,” said the others.  They were looking for an excerpt, or trying to click away, or perform some other harmless action that tripped them up.  All of the users involved retracted their reviews immediately and promised they would review my book again after they had actually read it.  Everyone was very nice, and I thanked them all profusely, but the experience wasn’t just embarrassing for both sides of the equation.  It should be totally unnecessary.

Readers trust Goodreads for advice from their peers about what to pick up during their next trip to the bookstore, and authors count on Goodreads for the publicity that keeps everyone in business.  So why is it so easy for readers to accidently mislead their fellows, hurting authors and the reputation of Goodreads in the process?  Why do we have to experience so much grief over something that seems so easy to fix?

One solution would be to require, as Amazon does, a minimum amount of text before posting a review.  But I can see why Goodreads wouldn’t want to change their dual-review system quite that much.  I like the fact that you can just leave a star without thinking of some pithy comment to put with it.  Leaving a star is easy, and encourages readers to rate more books more quickly, which is generally a good thing.

Another solution would be to ask a reader, “Are you sure you meant to leave one star?” before allowing them to submit the entry.  I suppose that might run the risk of artificially inflating the rankings of books that really are total stinkers – a snap review is often a more honest one, and I think that usually works in everyone’s favor.  You don’t want someone second-guessing themselves if they actually did hate something.

So here’s my answer: just make the reader aware of what they did.  Add a little pop-up to the review process that says, “You just gave a one-star rating to Dark the Night Descending.”  If they meant to do it, they’ll ignore the prompt.  If they didn’t mean it, maybe they’ll go back and change their mistake.  Everyone wins.  Authors won’t suffer, readers won’t be unduly inconvenienced, and the integrity of the Goodreads empire will remain whole.

Readers, does that sound fair?  Authors, wouldn’t you like to see a little more quality control?  Let’s make sure that what we’re doing matters, and that our opinions are properly counted.  That seems like a five-star idea to me.

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!