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.

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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!

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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.

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.

Deep Freeze

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Hey there, everybody.  It’s me.  You remember me, don’t you?  No?  Uh, well, this is still my blog, the last time I checked.  The last time I checked was two months ago?  Wow.  Okay.  Maybe you have a point.

I’ve been pretty gosh darn busy this winter, and every time I think about putting up another post, I somehow find myself distracted by a million other things.  See, I’ve moved up the ladder at my day job since the beginning of the year, and I’ve been so run off my feet with things to do that I don’t have much time left to squeeze in a good article or two on a regular basis.

That’s a pretty sorry excuse, and one I’ve used plenty of times before.  But here’s the thing: just because I’m not actively posting on Inkless doesn’t mean I’m ignoring you.  I read all your comments and value each one of your follows and likes.  You guys always make my day.

It’s true that I have less time to focus on my writing career, such as it is.  I’m trying to use those moments well.  So I’ve decided that it makes more sense to put my novels first and my blog second. I’m using my time to edit, rewrite, create, and brainstorm, which has always been one of my greatest joys in life.

For those of you who enjoy Inkless but don’t read my books, that’s probably not much consolation, and I do apologize.  But for the few of you who are looking forward to Dark the Chains of Treason, the next installment in the Paderborn Chronicles, that’s pretty good news.

I’m hoping – hoping – to be able to publish it by the late spring or early summer.  It’s in really good shape so far, and I think it’s going to be a firecracker.  I’m just going to have to ask for your patience while I get used to my new responsibilities and work out a new pattern for getting things done.

This whole process is not necessarily being helped by the fact that I’m heading out to Las Vegas in a couple of weeks, mostly for a major work-related conference but also for a mini photography tour of the Southwest.  I’ll be hitting Zion National Park and Antelope Canyon, among other things, and I’m really looking forward to it.  I can’t wait to share my pictures and adventures.

So that’s where we stand for the moment.  Please be assured that I am making progress.  It’s not ideal to be so scatterbrained about it, but I can only do my best.  Thank you for being so understanding – it really means a lot to me as I slog through the daily grind.

If you’re really dying to stay up-to-date on the latest trials and tribulations in the Life of Jen, you can always follow me on Twitter.  There are a lot of cat pictures.

Home is Behind; the World Ahead

IS5eqngy07rd5k0000000000I visited New York this weekend, for a short but multi-purpose trip back to my ancestral homeland.  As many of you know, I spent the first 17 years of my life on Long Island, in a bustling yet somewhat brutal suburb of the great City itself.

New Yorkers are generally very proud of where they live, and remain proud of where they come from if they happen to move away.  They retain their stereotypical attitude (which is, if anything, underplayed in the media) and their propensity for tailgating on the highway.

They can never eat a bagel or slice of pizza without loudly proclaiming its inferiority to the cuisine of their youth (it’s the water, don’t you know), and they will forever be shocked that businesses, restaurants, and public transportation options close before midnight in towns that approach life at a slower pace.

While I’m certainly guilty of maintaining some of these traits, despite my eight years as a Massachusetts resident, I’ve never been as enamored with New York as many of my compatriots.  It’s a fascinating place, and there is something to be said for growing up in such a cosmopolitan atmosphere, with world-class museums and attractions and beaches being such a routine part of my childhood.

There’s something to be said for leaving it behind, too.  I was never a very good New Yorker.  I didn’t really like the city; I didn’t care for our sports teams, or take pride in being mouthy and brash.  I didn’t frequent the salons and the tanning parlors, or the bars and the clubs.  I don’t like stucco on houses.  I don’t flat-iron my hair and I’ve never been to the Jersey Shore.  I don’t wear yoga pants or velour sweat suits, and I prefer not to have rhinestone logos associated with my rear end.

As a teenager, I felt this disconnect very strongly, and I fled to Massachusetts almost as soon as I had the choice.  As a college student, I fell in love with its expansive woodlands and winding roads and 18th century villages.  I don’t mind that everything closes at 8:00 at night, because I like to be in bed just an hour or so later.  I like the quiet, and the comparative friendliness (yes, even in Boston proper), and the progressively liberal bent to our politics.

I chose to live in Massachusetts, to settle here and make a life for myself.  It has become home, but no matter how many years I end up living here, I don’t know that it will ever be where I’m from.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that distinction, because my family is facing a big change in the coming months.  We are selling the house I grew up in.

That might not seem like a momentous thing for people who have moved around a lot during their lives, but it’s the only house I have ever lived in.  It was the place I ran to when I was feeling overwhelmed by people I didn’t understand; it’s where I could shut myself away with a book and a cat (or two or three) and pretend like I was in control of my world.  Its old-fashioned character shaped my aesthetic senses with rich cherry wood moldings and glass knobs on the rickety doors.

In contrast to the open floor plans and master suites of my friends’ houses, our 1923 American four-square organized its living spaces in smaller, more dedicated ways.  Having only one full bathroom for three kids and two parents required everyone to invest in some serious negotiating tactics in the mornings.  The bedrooms are small and the kitchen never had enough counter space, but high ceilings made everything feel bigger.  There’s a basement my dad finished himself.  A screened-in back room gave us a little more space to spread out, and let us spend leisurely summer dinners as a family overlooking a grassy yard large enough to be the envy of our carefully subdivided neighbors.

I spent a lot of time in the house as a child – I was homeschooled for several years, and even when I returned to public school, I did not waste a lot of my scarce energy on after-school activities or late evenings with friends.  I just went home.

I went home to my books, which never made me feel anxious or out of place.  I went home to my cats, who would listen to my secrets without judgement or comment.  I went home to the internet, and the ability to interact with the world from the safety of my own private castle.  When my parents divorced, I went home to the only place that seemed solid in a foreign and confusing new reality.

My room now...a little different than it was when I still lived there.

My room now…a little different (cleaner) than it was when I still lived there.

I went home and cried myself into exhaustion after I failed my first driver’s test, too embarrassed to tell any of my friends.  I went home while putting college on hold after a truly heinous semester at Boston University, and stared at the ceiling all night as I lay sleepless in my familiar bed, convinced I had ruined my life.

I stayed home when I was too sick or just too tired to go to high school; I came home almost every weekend for months as my cat Solomon started to come to the end of his days, just to spend as much time with him as I could.

Home has always been there for me, and home has always been that house.  I know that makes me lucky.  That sense of permanence has been a gift that kept me going through a tumultuous youth that left me feeling isolated, frustrated, and poorly understood more often than not.

When I visit these days, I feel those negative memories first.  I feel the pain of my slowly splintering family, and the resonating anger of so many heated disagreements over our fundamental differences.  I feel like a lost child again, rooting around helplessly in my overwhelming sadness, searching for some sense of self I could hardly define, let alone capture.

I feel all the missteps I made when I didn’t know better, and all the mistakes that other people didn’t even know they were making with me.  I feel the heartbreak of wishing so hard that things could be different, and the defeat of recognizing how many things are still the same, no matter how much older I get.

It’s in my nature, perhaps, to think about the bad things first, but they certainly don’t reflect the sum total of my life there.  There are so many good memories that made that house the sanctuary it will always remain in my mind.

There were sunlit mornings in the kitchen, eating breakfast while my mother washed the dishes, and winter afternoons charting new trails through the unbroken snow of the backyard grass.  There was my dogwood tree to climb, and a pool for a while, and the chaise in the screen room where I would fall asleep in the dappled shade.

There was the grill on the deck for steaks and chicken, and the terror of discovering a hornet’s nest under the eaves.  There was the ill-fated garden behind the garage, where we planted sickly tomatoes next to the sandy pit where I pretended to be an archaeologist.

There was the crawl space in the basement, where the original builders had left mysterious bottles and jugs, and the swing set, and the basketball hoop that was too tall for me, and the wooden playhouse that had more spiders than I quite liked.

There was chocolate milk on Sunday, and visits from my grandmother, and running to the corner to meet my dad when he came home on the train.  There were bike rides up and down the driveway along chalk-drawn streets, and camping in a pop-up tent we never really put together properly.

There were bedtime stories and silly dances and the day my mom spilled half her yogurt down the sink.  The ritual recital of Passover seders; the smells of Thanksgiving and latkes and snuffed out Hanukkah candles so the cats wouldn’t burn their whiskers.

Every corner has a story for me.  Every creak of the stairs is as familiar as my own name.  So much of my life has happened there, and even though I know it’s time to let that house become home for some other family with their future ahead of them, my heart aches when I think about never being in those rooms again.

We still have a month or two before we have to be out of there completely, and we’ve all planned to come down again for another weekend – the last time we will all be in the house together.  The finality of that is frightening.  So is the inevitability.  The sense of detachment may, in time, become liberating, but right now it just feels like I’m losing something very important to the way I have always seen myself.

Change is good, and this change is necessary on many levels, but it is hard to leave behind so much of myself in a place that is so strongly ingrained in my consciousness.

I don’t know how this is going to affect my family and the independent lives we are now living.  I don’t know where we’ll have our Thanksgivings and Passovers – or if those will be a thing of the past, as well.  I don’t know how the world will feel without a home like that to go back to.

I’m hoping that finally making the break from an idea that has slowly been fading over time anyway will just help me feel more settled and comfortable in the life I’ve built for myself.  I hope to have my own permanent house someday, with a yard and brick steps and dogwood trees for my theoretical children to climb.

I don’t know if I will ever feel as secure as I used to when I was a child in my fortress of books and bedding, before I became old enough and jaded enough to think about the bad things first.  But I hope I can build upon my treasured memories of happy times, and let the other ones drift away.

Home may be behind, but the world is ahead, and that will have to be the thought that sustains me as I watch one long chapter of my life come to a close and another begins.

Dark the Dreamer’s Shadow: Happy (Belated) Launch Day!

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Click here to order from Amazon!

So!  Yesterday was technically Launch Day for Dark the Dreamer’s Shadow, but since I had a truly awful and rotten 24 hours, which included spilling an entire 16oz iced tea on the kitchen floor moments after running out of paper towels (the day after doing exactly the same thing on the living room carpet with coffee), I’m just going to pretend that today is Launch Day instead.

Happy Launch Day!

Those of you who pre-ordered your Kindle copies should have received them already.  A very big thank you to everyone who pre-ordered!  It was a nice thing for you to do.

Those of you who wish to order a paperback can now do so from Amazon or directly from the CreateSpace store (which gives me a slightly larger slice of the profits).

I realize that the launch of the second book in a series is kind of a weird thing.  If you haven’t read the first one, then this entire exercise is meaningless to you, and my next two launches as I finish up the set will grow even more meaningless still.  Sorry about that.

But now is a really great time to start reading Dark the Night Descending if you want to catch up!  It’s very good, I promise.  There are ships and evil spirits and shapeshifting sea creatures, plus enough snarky sarcasm to keep you entertained if none of that really does it for you.

Thank you very much for bearing with me during my brief bursts of self-promotion.  For those of you who have read Dark the Night Descending and/or are planning to read Dark the Dreamer’s Shadow, I will conclude with my usual plea to please, please leave book reviews on Amazon or Goodreads.   They are priceless and wonderful and amazing, so do it!