Some free books for a long weekend

Hello, readers!  If you live in the United States, chances are you’re reading this right now because you want to kill a few extra moments of the last work day before Labor Day weekend.  I don’t blame you.  Here in the Northeast, the holiday is shaping up to be a fond farewell to a cool and pleasant summer that in no way indicates the imminent demise of our planet from catastrophic climate change.

Too depressing?  How about a little escapism to take your mind off things?  Here are a couple of pretty great options:

Right now through Tuesday, you can download the Kindle version of The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun for free!  Remember this book?  I’m extremely proud of it, yet absolutely no one has given it a read.  You can change that!  I promise you’ll enjoy it.

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Click here to download!

If world-shattering epics aren’t quite your style, there’s also some lighter fare on offer.  You can still download my new short story collection, Salt and Oil, Blood and Clay, for free from Smashwords.

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Click here to download!

Don’t forget that pre-orders for the eBook of Dark the Night Descending should be available by the end of next week!  Info on the paperback pre-orders will be posted soon.  Don’t worry.  I’ll remind you.

In any case, I hope all my fellow worker drones have a very happy holiday and make the most of the sunshine while it lasts.

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Shelf Unbound Writing Competition Winners!

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You’ve waited patiently for months to hear which books topped the list of the second annual Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Competition.  Wait no longer, people of Internetlandia!  The answer is before you in the brand new December/January edition.

Along with the grand prize winner, finalists, and a slew of notable books organized by category, you’ll find a short essay by me about the self-publishing industry and an excerpt from The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun for your perusal and delight.

All of the winners looks pretty darn fantastic, and I’m looking forward to checking them out.  I suggest you do the same, because you can never have enough good indie books taking up space in the attic and stuffed into the recesses of your Kindle.

The time has come, the author said…

Hey!  Hey, you!  Yeah, you, sitting at your computer.  Wanna read a book?  Wanna read a book that I’ve promised you for like, a whole year?  Wanna read it now?

Well, you’re in luck, because The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun is now available in paperback and for Kindle!

Ooooh, clicky, clicky!

Ooooh, clicky, clicky!

Yeah!  If you read the free preview over the weekend, you know this is some good stuff.  Politics and war and chaos and magic and sad, beautiful, heart-rending, exciting, bouncing-up-and-down-in-your-chair fantasy goodness.  I still recommend that you read The Last Death of Tev Chrisini first, so you’ll have a better idea of what’s happening, but here’s the good thing: now you can buy them both, read them back-to-back, and get seven hundred years of story in one long, seamless package.

I know it’ll probably take a while for most of you to get through the book, but I’ll start my begging early: please, please, please leave me a review when you’ve finished.  It’s really the most helpful thing you can do for an author, and I will love you forever and ever if you do.

But before we get there, you must buy and read!  And share!  And tell your friends!  I’m really very proud of the way this novel has turned out, and I sincerely hope that you enjoy the ride.

The Dirty Little Secret of Amazon Category Rankings

Pssst.  Hey, self-published authors.  I’ve got a secret for you.  Do you want to know how to get more exposure for your book on Amazon?  Are you confused about why a certain novel is on some ridiculously specific Top 100 list while you’re languishing in the #100,000’s for Fiction > Fantasy?  The Amazon KDP platform is generally pretty easy to navigate when you’re publishing a Kindle book, but there’s a hidden method to getting access to the more detailed category lists, which will expose you to a targeted audience and give you some ranking figures to boast about.

When you look up a listing for a book on Amazon, scroll down past the reviews to the section titled “Look for similar items by category”.  If you visit the page for The Last Death of Tev Chrisini, for example, you’ll see this:

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The book is listed under an increasingly specific series of categories, including epic fantasy and sword & sorcery.  But anyone who has gone through the KDP publishing process knows that sword & sorcery isn’t a BISAC category, and you can’t select it from the list that looks like this:

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You can select two BISAC categories, and they’re all relatively vague.  BISAC codes are assigned to help publishers and libraries make sense of book subjects for the purposes of developing metadata.  Amazon uses BISAC codes to some extent, but they also have their own internal ranking and categorization system that determines the all-important Top 100 lists.

So how do you further specify your genre?  It’s actually pretty simple.  Go back to your book listing and click on Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy.  You’ll get a page that’s dominated by George R.R. Martin, unsurprisingly, since he’s the hottest name in the genre at the moment:

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But look on the side, where those convenient red arrows are.  Look at all those options!  Broad things like epic, historical, and paranormal are there, as determined by BISAC, but check out those other ones!  Arthurian!  Fairy tales!  Superhero!  And better yet, look at the relatively small number of books in each of those categories, as compared to a broader BISAC designation.  If you write an Arthurian fantasy, you’ve only got 400 other competitors for a spot on the Top 100, as compared to 12,000 epic fantasy novels.  Much better odds of making it to the front page, right?  That makes you much easier to find when readers who just want to hear about Camelot come looking for a new story.

Now, here’s what you do.  When you’re publishing your Kindle book, and you’ve filled out your BISAC options, you’ll see an unassuming little box for seven keywords right underneath:

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The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun is basically about a young man navigating a world of chaos, and learning the meaning of responsibility, courage, honor, and duty along the way.  So I chose “coming of age” as one of my targeted categories.  I put “coming of age” as one of my keywords for the free Kindle preview of The Spoil, and look at this:

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Bam!  Easy as pie.  All you need to do is make sure that your keywords match a category on that extended meta-list, and you’re good to go.  I only had to give away seven copies of my preview in order to make it onto this list, and anyone looking for a coming of age story will see it right there in front of them.

I hope this little walk-through helps you in your quest to find the right audience.  I urge you to use some of your keywords for this very simple way to get your book in front of the right readers.  After all, that’s what keywords are for!  I don’t know why Amazon doesn’t explain this better during the process, but it’s fine with me that it’s still relatively under the radar.  Yay for search optimization!

First Look: The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun

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Ladies and gentlemen!  Children of suitable ages with parental approval!  I present to you the very first sneak peek of The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun!

While the official release date is Monday, July 15, I thought I’d give my extra special blog readers a chance to get a head start on this hefty chronicle.

You can download the prologue and first chapter as a Word document, PDF, or Kindle file (readable by any tablet, smartphone, or computer with the Kindle app) by clicking on the appropriate links below.  I promise you that the only virus in these files is the infectious need to read the rest of the story.

Download the preview as a WORD DOCUMENT

Download the preview as a PDF

Download the preview for KINDLE from Amazon

Thank you all so much for your interest and support thus far.  I really hope you enjoy the first chapter, and that you consider purchasing the book on Monday.  Links to Amazon, Smashwords, and CreateSpace will be made available then.

If you haven’t yet read the first book set in this universe, The Last Death of Tev Chrisini is available in print and digital formats.  I highly suggest you read it first, as many of the people, places, and things in The Spoil are predicated on the notion that you have previous knowledge of Tev’s world.

Five things you’d rather not know about self-publishing

1017380_792927345185_1158397228_nWhen I published The Last Death of Tev Chrisini in March of 2012, I was a helpless neophyte when it came to the world of self-publishing.  I made a series of awful cover art decisions, went through about twelve new versions of my text after its initial release, didn’t do any marketing, and generally thought that my novel would somehow automatically become a shooting star without any actual effort on my part to hoist it above the crowd.

After a year and a half of trial-and-error in the self-pubbing world, The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun is ready for its debut (stay tuned for a free preview of Chapter One on Thursday!).  In honor of this momentous occasion, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned, even if I wish they weren’t true.  Here are the top five things I kind of hate about self-publishing, but that I feel are necessary to understand, accept, and act upon if you want to make your mark in an increasingly crowded, competitive industry.

You’re an author, not a marketer?  Then get out of the game

You’ve read this in every Writer’s Digest advice column, every PR magician’s blog post, and every agent’s frustrated tweet about the self-pubbing world.  You have to be both.  You just have to be.  Authors and marketers often seem like polar opposites, since writers tend to be internal people, and marketing is about charming the external world.  It’s difficult, it’s tedious, it’s frustrating, and it sucks.

But unless you’ve got the big bucks to hire a publicist, it’s a necessary evil.  Whether you’re talking to book review bloggers, trying to get your book into the local shop, using Twitter and Facebook effectively, or going door to door and asking readers one by one to give you a chance, marketing isn’t optional.  If you don’t grin and bear it, and don’t acknowledge that this is a hat you must learn to wear, no one is even going to know your book exists.

You need to get down to each nitty-gritty pixel

I don’t have a graphic designer.  I don’t have an editor, and I don’t have a manuscript formatter.  Even though the covers for The Last Death and The Spoil were created by a professional, I ended up doing a lot of personalization (The Spoil cover is largely a product of my own efforts), not to mention wrestling it through the CreateSpace cover process, which is a saga for another time.

A lot of people don’t have the technical skills to produce an attractive and intriguing cover, or to format their manuscript in a way that’s easy to read and adheres to industry conventions.  If you’re not one of those savvy people, skip to the next section.   If you are (or you think you are), then you’re going to end up spending a couple of hours at 400% magnification with a 1 pixel brush, and that’s not a step you can skip.  Your audience sees your cover first.  Make it a damn good one.

You will need to make some financial investment

I happen to possess many of the skills necessary to produce a book from start to finish.  If you don’t, and you’re really serious about trying to make a career in self-publishing, you’re going to have to invest in professional services.  Self-pub companies like Lulu and CreateSpace offer their own pros, but you can also tap into the freelance market with sites like Odesk, which are a better option for the cash-strapped.

And even if you shepherd your book through the process on your own, there’s money involved.  Buying copies to keep on hand, giveaways, fees for contests, purchasing ISBNs, and proof copies are all things that add up, trickle by trickle.  The publishing process might technically be free, but this is a game that requires some initial outlay before you can even hope to make a profit. And don’t hope too hard about that part.  If you’re in this for the money, prepare for a rude awakening.

Self-publishing is a lot like online dating

Don’t ask me how I know, okay?  All I’m saying is that you’re going to send out a lot of pleas for attention, and you’re rarely going to get any positive responses – or responses at all.  Readers are bombarded by blind entreaties for their time and money, from countless authors who have unremarkable presentations or simply don’t match what that reader is looking for.  Don’t be offended when someone ignores you.  You ignore other authors (or potential suitors) all the time, too.

Finding your audience – or your new favorite author – is about making that magical connection with someone who speaks to you.  You’re going to start a lot of novels or explore a lot of markets that seem promising, but end up explaining their last colonoscopy appointment in great detail while you pick at your salad.  Being angry or bitter when you get a bad review, get dismissed by a blogger or agent, or get snubbed by a PR opportunity is the same as writing a nasty Facebook status about your boring dinner companion.  It doesn’t do any good, and it just ends up making you look petty and foolish.

Sometimes “no” will be the answer, and you just gotta deal

Because rejection is going to happen.  People are going to hate your work.  They’re going to say unflattering things, or misinterpret your favorite character, or even return the $2.99 e-book they just bought, which has always kind of puzzled me.  “No” is the answer a lot more often than “yes” is.  “I didn’t care for it” is a lot more common response to a book than “this is the best thing ever.”  Those three-star reviews can sour your day, but they aren’t a death knell unless you freak out about every single one.

Writing is hard.  Publishing is harder.  Self-publishing is a thankless, Sisyphean task.  You’re not going to sell a million copies your first month.  You might not even sell one.

But you’ve written a book.  You’ve finished it.  You have enough courage to expose its marvelous, flawed, creative, joyful beauty to a hostile world.  Be proud of yourself, enjoy the experience, and push as hard as you can to get that boulder up the hill.  Because all the “no” in the world can’t match the feeling of holding your bound, printed, published work in your hands for the first time.  If I’ve learned anything during all of this, it’s that all the trouble is so totally worth it.

It’s here, it’s here!

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My lords, ladies, and gentlemen, here it is!  The very first physical evidence that The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun exists, and that it’s very nearly ready for its debut.

While I haven’t quite put the finishing touches on it yet, and my beta readers still have plenty of time to get their comments in, I wanted to order a proof copy so I could see how the cover was going to look and make sure the formatting was all spiffy.

It’s not as bulky and cumbersome as I thought it would be, at a slim and svelte 563 pages, so any talk about splitting it into multiple volumes is now over.

It looks beautiful.  You can’t quite tell from the cell phone pic, but the colors are rich and clear, the inside is elegant and readable, and the content isn’t half bad, if I do say so myself.

My tentative release date is July 15, depending on when I hear back from my various copy editors.  I will certainly update you if that happens to change.  I’m really very, very excited about the way this has turned out, and I sincerely hope y’all will end up feeling the same way.