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!

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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.

How to Make a Linked Table of Contents for Kindle eBooks

Note: The Kindle edition of Dark the Dreamer’s Shadow is now available for pre-order!  Paperbacks can be had on August 17.  Keep an eye out for fun, exclusive Launch Day stuff by liking my page on Facebook!


In this golden age of digital self-publishing, there’s only one thing harder than writing a good book: selling it.  Whether you’re going it alone or delegating some of the buzz-building to a paid PR team, marketing a self-published novel is a tough gig.  A lot of authors make it even harder by failing to develop their product to its fullest potential before sending it out into the world.

An attractive cover is a good place to start, and targeting your audience appropriately can get the right eyeballs onto your work.  But eBooks have additional mechanics that can make or break a reader’s good opinion.

While Amazon KDP, Smashwords, and other self-publishing platforms have started to do a lot of the formatting work automatically when authors upload their content, there are a few things that still have to be done manually.

One of the most important is the table of contents (TOC).  Most eBook apps will hold a user’s place between sessions, but the absence of page numbers can make it very difficult for readers to flip back and forth between chapters without tabbing endlessly through the parts they’ve already read.

It’s easy to see why that’s a problem for non-fiction books that cover distinct subject matter in each chapter, but it can also be an issue for readers who want to review or clarify a convoluted family history or new technology that you introduced three hundred pages ago.

Creating a linked table of contents is not as complicated as it seems.  If you have access to pretty much any version of Microsoft Word, the process can take just a few minutes.  Here is a simple step-by-step guide to formatting your TOC in both Word 2003 and 2013, because some of us haven’t actually updated our software in the past decade and oh boy do I really need a new computer.

Make a table of contents page

The best thing to do is keep your eBook TOC pages pretty simple.  A lot of fancy text formatting gets stripped out of your document when you upload it, so don’t worry too much about having all your chapter names or page numbers perfectly aligned or using a long string of ellipses for spacing or anything like that.  Every electronic device will render it differently, and it’ll be very frustrating to the reader.  Just do something like this:

contents

This page is going to be the first thing that your readers see when they flip past the title page and front matter, so you want it to be clean and easy to navigate.  Make sure you include every point that you want a reader to be able to find easily.  If you have fifteen chapters divided into three parts, be sure to include the “Part 1, 2, and 3” divisions so readers don’t have to guess which chapters fall under which acts.

Bookmark your chapter headings

There are two main technical tasks for creating a table of contents.  The first is to bookmark your chapter headings.

Step one: go to Chapter One in your manuscript and highlight the words that you want to use as your navigation point.

chapterone

Next, in both old and new versions of Word, you must navigate to the “insert” tab or menu.  In Word 2003, you will see a “bookmarks” option towards the bottom of the drop-down.  In Word 2013, you will also have to click on the “links” tab and choose “bookmarks” from the little pull-out menu.

bookmarksnew

That will open a dialogue box that looks very similar in both versions of Word:

bookmarks new word

Name your bookmark something really creative like “ChapterOne”.  It will have to be a single word with no spaces, but I believe underscores are okay.

Scroll through the rest of your document and repeat the same process for each navigation point.

chapter bookmark oldword

Be sure to highlight the right section of text as you move through!

Link the bookmarks to the TOC page

When you have a nice long list of bookmarks, one for each chapter or text division, you can go back to your TOC page.

I’m sure you’ve all added hyperlinks to something at some point in your lives, so this isn’t going to be that complicated.  To link Chapter One to its bookmark in the text, highlight “Chapter One” in your table of contents:

highlightnew

Right click and choose “hyperlink” from the menu (or use whatever shortcut gets you to the hyperlink menu).  Here’s where things get different depending on what version of software you’re using.  Let’s do Word 2003 first.

The hyperlink dialogue looks like this:

hyperlink

Instead of the “web page” tab in the middle there, move over to “document”

On the bottom, where it says “anchor,” you’re going to hit “locate,” which won’t be grayed out like that.  Trust me.

That’s going to bring up this new box:

bookmarks

Just choose the corresponding bookmark and hit OK.  The text on the table of contents page will turn blue and underlined, just like any other hyperlink you’ve ever seen.  Job done!  Repeat for the rest of your navigation points.

In newer versions of Word, the process is pretty much the same, but it just looks a little different.

hyperlinknew

Highlight the appropriate text and go to the hyperlink menu.  Instead of the “existing file or webpage” tab on the left-hand side, move down to the “place in this document” option.  Choose your bookmark and hit OK.  Now you’re done, too!

Profit!

You can test out your handiwork by clicking the links on the TOC page.  You should jump right to the proper chapter heading or other navigation point.  This formatting will carry over through the scraping and squishing process that most eBook uploaders use, so you shouldn’t have a problem with weird broken markup or anything like that.

Other fun things to do with this technique?  Create a choose-your-own-adventure novel!  Link unique or confusing terms to a glossary!  Create a jump to a footnote (that then links back to the place where the reader left off)!  I think you can probably even link to external webpages, but don’t quote me on that!

The possibilities for increased reader engagement and interactivity are endless, and using this simple trick can add a new dimension of polish and professionalism to your work.  Readers are starting to expect this kind of pizazz, so it’s a good skill to master.  Try it out in your next eBook and see what happens!

Should Self-Published Authors Get Paid by How Much You Read?

The Internet, that great and glorious money-making venture, has done some amazing things for the humble self-published author.  As a marketing platform, it is unparalleled in scope – and with the help of e-commerce giants like Amazon, self-published authors have gained the ability to publish, promote, and sell their properties with ease and professional finesse.

But as we are all aware, the Internet comes with a darker side…and I’m not just talking about that weird subreddit you came across late last night.  You know which one I mean.  The World Wide Web has allowed online companies to come up with some really creative ways of squeezing dollars and cents out of their customers, and our old friend Amazon is trying a new tactic that may or may not be good for the self-published among us.

Amazon makes a lot of money off its independent authors.  We provide it with its milk and meat: it gets its products from us by selling our work through the KDP marketplace, and it gives us back between 35 and 70 percent of the royalties for the privilege.

On the other side of the equation, Amazon book-buyers tend to get a good deal out of the whole Kindle thing.  They get a wide choice of content along with the instant gratification of beaming novels right to their smartphones or tablets.  And self-published authors often underprice their works or offer them for free to get noticed, which book readers love.

Amazon doesn’t love that kind of underpricing quite so much, despite spending a lot of time expanding its free Kindle offerings.  Authors can enroll their books in KDP Select, which offers a five-day free promotional period and Kindle Countdown Deals in exchange for 90 days of exclusivity to Amazon.  It also provides automatic inclusion in the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) programs, unless you opt out.

KOLL promises authors a piece of a monthly global fund based on how many readers download and read a portion of the book.

“We base the calculation of your share of the KDP Select Global Fund by how often Kindle Unlimited customers choose and read more than 10% of your book, and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library customers download your book,” Amazon says on its FAQ site.

“We compare these numbers to how often all participating KDP Select titles were chosen. For example, if the monthly global fund amount is $1,000,000, all participating KDP titles were read 300,000 times, and customers read your book 1,500 times, you will earn 0.5% (1,500/300,000 = 0.5%), or $5,000 for that month.”

That sounds great, right?  Sounds like a good reason to swallow the 90-day exclusivity contract in hopes of making some serious cash.  In April of 2015, the global fund was a whopping $3 million, and that’s a nice pie – if you can grab a piece of it.

The problem is that free books are often downloaded, but very rarely read.  That doesn’t do much good for anyone.  So in “response to author feedback from authors who asked us to better align payout with the length of books and how much customers read,” Amazon is ditching the ten percent metric for Kindle downloads and changing the system a bit.

Starting on July 1, “we’ll switch from paying Kindle Unlimited (KU) and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) royalties based on qualified borrows, to paying based on the number of pages read,” the website says.  “As with our current approach, we’ll continue to set a KDP Select Global Fund each month. Under the new payment method, the amount an author earns will be determined by their share of total pages read instead of their share of total qualified borrows.”

Here’s how Amazon explains it in its own words:

If the fund was $10M and 100,000,000 total pages were read in the month:

The author of a 100 page book that was borrowed and read completely 100 times would earn $1,000 ($10 million multiplied by 10,000 pages for this author divided by 100,000,000 total pages).

The author of a 200 page book that was borrowed and read completely 100 times would earn $2,000 ($10 million multiplied by 20,000 pages for this author divided by 100,000,000 total pages).

The author of a 200 page book that was borrowed 100 times but only read halfway through on average would earn $1,000 ($10 million multiplied by 10,000 pages for this author divided by 100,000,000 total pages).

Now, first thing you have to remember is that the monthly fund isn’t anywhere near $10 million at the moment.  It was $3 million just a few months ago, right?  So let’s not forget to cut all these numbers by a third.  Second of all, these download numbers are for superstars only.  Very, very few self-published authors earn that much money off of their Kindle products.  I certainly don’t.

The good thing, I think, is that Amazon does not mention any new threshold for payment to replace the 10 percent mark.  It appears that you can get a (tiny) share of the money if a reader browses just one page, which means the change might actually put a few fractions of a penny into the pockets of more writers.  But it’s probably only going to benefit people who write really long books.

What do I mean?  Let’s take…oh, I dunno.  Me?  I’m less likely to hit a 10 percent threshold with my typical fare, such as a 580-page opus like The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun, than I am with Salt and Oil, Blood and Clay, a short story collection that only clocks in at 65 pages.

For The Spoil, I would want to get paid for each download and by the individual page without the burden of meeting the 10 percent threshold.  Fifty-six pages is a lot to slog through if you’re not committed, and even if the book was downloaded a lot more often than it is, my readers rarely hit the ten percent finish line.  For Salt and Oil, where ten percent of the book is only 6 and a half pages, I wouldn’t benefit much from the new per-page system at all.  I might even make less, depending on how the calculations work out.

For more on the actual numbers, you should read this great post by C.E. Kilgore, who’s done all the calculations for us.

amazon-kdp-grTo alleviate concerns over variable formatting affecting page count, Amazon is introducing a standardized system called the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC v1.0).  But it seems to indicate that only consecutive pages starting with Chapter 1, as determined by the Start Reading Location, will count towards pages read.  That begs the question: are you out of luck if you’ve written a non-fiction book or academic text and your reader is only interested in one or two chapters somewhere in the middle?  I’m not really sure how the Start Reading Location thing works on a technical level, so I don’t have an answer for that one.

For my own part, I don’t really see a lot of benefit from KDP Select, and I’m letting my last few titles age out of the program in July.  I don’t plan to enroll any of my works again, since I’m looking into selling some international rights (a topic for another blog post), and I’m hoping to get a lot more out of that adventure than I do out of KDP Select.  I generally don’t like the idea of exclusivity, either, just on principle.

I think in general, the changes won’t massively affect the majority of low-earning, low-expectation authors, and I’m not sure that I’m really all that put out about it.  Do I like the idea of getting paid based on how much my readers get through?  Yes and no.  On one hand, books are no longer exclusively physical objects, so why should we sell them as such?  If I write boring books, I shouldn’t get paid for making my readers drool on their keyboards when they fall asleep after page three.

On the other hand, Amazon isn’t charging book-buying customers any less for only reading half the book.  They still pay the same flat fee, on top of their Prime subscription fee, and it’s only the authors who are getting the (potentially) raw deal.  Amazon may end up keeping more of the profits – probably otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it.  And that doesn’t seem right.

Do you think Amazon is being fair about this?  Do you think it will hurt self-published authors?  Do you think it requires an advance degree in mathematics to figure it out?  Let me know in the comments, because I’m truly undecided!

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!

***

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.