Monday, May 30, 2016

3 for 3: Three nerd-tastic trilogies to check out this summer

A post by Mary Fan
Hello again! Resident nerd blogger reporting for duty! And today, I'm nerding up this blog with
recommended sci-fi/fantasy reads, just in time for summer. Of course, these aren't your traditional beach reads, your chick lit and crime thrillers and such (not that there's anything wrong with those). But if you're a nerd like me and would rather bring swords and cyberspace to the Jersey Shore than such fare, then check these out.

They say the best things come in threes, and so here are three fabulous sci-fi/fantasy trilogies I'm recommending. Now, I have a serious case of Series ADD, where I have trouble reading past the first book in a series (even if I really liked that first book) because I'm just impatient for new worlds. So the fact that I read these trilogies all the way through means I really, really like them, so you should really, really check them out :-)

And now, gentlefolk of the web, the trilogies...

The Non-Compliance Trilogy by Paige Daniels

Sci-Fi (cyberpunk/dystopian)

Books in the trilogy: 
  1. Non-Compliance: The Sector
  2. Non-Compliance: The Transition
  3. Non-Compliance: Equilibrium

In the not-so-distant future, the government orders all citizens implanted with a chip that tracks them. Those who obey reap the benefits of a technologically advanced society. Those who refuse are herded into the lawless Non-Compliance Sectors, which are run by mob bosses and treated as second-class. Shea Kelly once had a brilliant career in technology, but, since refusing the chip, she now works as a barkeep in a Non-Compliance Sector and uses her computer skills to hack for goods on the black market. The trilogy follows Shea's efforts to both survive and fight for the little guy within the Wild Wild West the sector has become, facing off against ruthless thugs and government goons alike.

Why it's awesome:
  • The kick-ass, tough-as-nails heroine, Shea Kelly, is the type of underdog protagonist everyone loves to root for. The story is written in her blunt, often foul-mouthed voice, which gives the book a lot of personality and spunk. Yet she can also be vulnerable and sentimental, making her a brilliantly well-rounded character.
  • The world of the Non-Compliance Sector oozes from the page, its grittiness sharply contrasting the gleaming sci-fi technology of the compliant.
  • Fast-paced plot full of danger and action
  • A memorable supporting cast with some good folks, some bad folks, but mostly folks in between. Particularly noteworthy is Quinn, a tough-guy enforcer who turns out to be more than he appears.
  • Related: Moral complexity and ambiguity
  • Did I mention that the main character is a female engineer?
Disclaimer: Paige Daniels is my Brave New Girls co-editor/partner in crime. I was a fan of her books before we embarked on that venture. That being said, I cannot guarantee that there was not some bias involved here. THAT being said, this is a list of favorites, and all is fair in the game of favorites :-P

The Chaos Born Trilogy by Drew Karpyshyn


Fantasy (high fantasy/dark fantasy)

Books in the trilogy:
  1. Children of Fire
  2. The Scorched Earth
  3. Chaos Unleashed

Centuries ago, the gods chose a great warrior, Daemron, to protect the mortal world from the demonic spawn of Chaos, gifting him with three magical Talismans: the sword, the ring, and the crown. Corrupted by power, Daemron instead challenged the gods themselves and sided with the Chaos spawn in an epic battle against the gods. Though he was ultimately defeated and trapped behind a magical barrier called the Legacy, he vowed to return again someday.

Now, the Legacy is fading, and four children are born to embody one aspect of Daemron: wizard, warrior, prophet, and king. These four are destined to either save the world from Daemron or free him to wreak havoc upon the mortal world. The Chaos Born trilogy follows these four as their lives, which start out seemingly separate, are intertwined by fate, bringing them together in a joint destiny.

Why it's awesome:

  • Absolutely AMAZING world-building and mythology, where everything comes together in unexpected ways. Great depictions of the various cultures and civilizations living within this world.
  • The four main characters, the Children of Fire, are each fantastic and memorable in their own ways. My favorite was Scythe, a kickass street-urchin-turned-warrioress
  • Super engrossing writing style that had me flipping pages nonstop (I think I read the whole trilogy in a weekend)
  • Engaging plot that alternates between lush world-building and heart-pounding action without ever losing the pace
  • Multiple female and POC characters within this epic fantasy. WHAT!
  • Dark fantasy elements with touches of horror that give the whole thing a creeptastic feel
  • If you love Lord of the Rings-type stuff but get annoyed at outdated things like lack of diversity, dei ex machinae (did I Latin that right), and religious overtones, then this one will really hit the spot. Dare I say it? IT'S BETTER THAN TOLKIEN. *runs from the nerd rage*
The Reckoners Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson


Young Adult (sci-fi/superhero)

Books in the trilogy:

  1. Steelheart
  2. Firefight
  3. Calamity

There are no superheroes--only supervillians. In the not-so-distant future, a star called Calamity appears in the sky, granting superpowers to a select few. But these few, known as Epics, are invariably evil--arrogant and power-hungry individuals who wreak havoc upon the world, killing millions and millions without a thought. Only a few dare stand up to them: a scrappy band of rebels called the Reckoners. David Charleston was only a kid when he witnessed his father's death at the hands of an Epic. Now 18, he's dedicated his life to studying Epics and finding ways to defeat them. Soon, he finds and joins the Reckoners, joining their foolhardy quest to free humanity from the tyranny of those with superpowers.

Why it's awesome:

  • An exciting new take on superheroes within a really well-drawn world
  • Fascinating characters with interesting backstories
  • Main character, David, is a charming nerd with a wry sense of humor, which makes the narration fun to read
  • Lots of unexpected twists and turns in the plot
  • Related: Stuff that gets set up in Book 1 is perfectly resolved by the end of the trilogy
  • Ending was a great payoff to 3 books of build-up

P.S. I'd be a terrible marketer (not that I'm a great one, but hey, I'm trying!) if I didn't at least attempt a shameless plug here. There's one more nerdy trilogy I'd like to point your eyeballs to...

The Jane Colt Trilogy by Yours Truly


Sci-Fi (space opera/cyberpunk)

Books in the trilogy:

  1. Artificial Absolutes
  2. Synthetic Illusions
  3. Virtual Shadows


Firefly meets The Matrix in this interstellar adventure through the lawless corners of space and the depths of the cyberworld. Jane Colt's once-ordinary life is upended when her best friend, Adam, is kidnapped--a crime she witnesses but is unable to stop. Furthermore, only her brother, Devin, believes her account. The next day, she learns that someone shot her father--and Devin is the prime suspect. Her trust in the authorities shaken, Jane races to find answers herself. Her quest for the truth takes her on galaxy-spanning adventures that unearth more than she bargained for - conspiracies surrounding artificial intelligence, secrets from the past, and dangers her once-ordinary life could never have prepared her for.

Why it's awesome:
  • Because I wrote it? *sheepish grin*

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The series finale blues

What up, y'all. How goes it?

I'm writing to you today from my perch on my couch where I've been chilling for awhile, not writing. I was composing a pretty shitty first draft of a sequel for all of April and now I'm half-way through. But then I stopped. I got caught up in finishing a YA series (The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater, fyi) and then I had to re-read the entire series because I could not part with it. I've never not been able to say goodbye. Even after Potter ended, I was able to say, "Well, it's over. On to something else." But now, I'm clinging to the fandom.

At first, I thought this was weird and was admittedly embarrassed to mention it to any of my friends. It's not normal for a 30-cough-something to spend hours reading fanfiction and watching fanmade YouTube videos of my OTP (Adam and Ronan!) instead of writing. Right? Well, it is normal. Maybe, not healthy after awhile. But then I realized I need to use these feeeeeeeelings in my writing.

Maggie Stiefvater is the model to follow when it comes to developing characters. If she wasn't, I wouldn't be so effed up in the head wondering how Adam and Ronan are getting along post The Raven King. Neither would the thousands of fans writing of their domestic bliss. Also, I've decided I want to explore a male/male romance in my next book. I've written LGBTQ characters in all my books, but I have yet to make a gay couple the focus of the book.

After finishing The Raven Cycle, I'm inspired to challenge myself and my writing. At first, I was feeling an existential crisis. I write paranormal mysteries. People seem to enjoy them. Can I switch it up? Can I write darker, contemporary crime fiction? Will it dilute my brand? But then a lovely friend said, "You're indie. You can do whatever you want." And you know what? She's right. I want to write what I want to write, when I'm inspired, even when I'm not, and try new things. That's what will keep me going.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Turning my Summer Hiatus into a Writing Oasis

Since I left my ‘day job’ three years ago, I’ve done most of my writing in the hours that my daughter is at school. Spending time with her is my priority, so I have from the time I shower after the gym in the morning until the bus rolls back by in the afternoon. Well, my daughter officially has three days left in this school year. That means time for me will be nearly nonexistent. In previous summers, she was in gymnastics 9 hours a week. While that didn’t give me much time to write, it did give me time to get the grocery shopping done and all those other errands she deemed too boring to (willingly) participate in. She’s decided to leave competitive gymnastics, so now I don’t even have that time to adult.

I think I need a new plan. One that will transform my summer from a hiatus into an oasis.

Theoretically, I could write while she’s home. She’s old enough to entertain herself and even make herself lunch on occasion. But her idea of entertainment is constantly streaming episodes on Netflix and gorging out on candy. That means I actually have to plan things for us to do if I don’t want her to turn into a zombie strung out on sugar. And there is the whole thing about me actually wanting to spend time with her. I mean, in three years she’ll be a teenager and won’t want me around anymore. I need to take advantage while I can!

The past few years my writing basically stopped over the summer, with the exception of a few blog posts. It worked out OK since was able to get my books published before summer arrived. This is the first summer since I decided to remain home full-time where I’m working on a novel. I can’t afford to take an entire summer off writing.

I decided the best approach would be to find ways to integrate some important aspects of my writing life with my mommy life.

Any author will tell you how important reading is when it comes to improving our craft. I love to read, and thankfully so does my daughter. This summer, we decided to do a buddy read instead of only reading books from our individual shelves. Our plan is to read The Chronicles of Narnia together. I’ve actually never read the series, so I’m super excited to finally make the time for them. I also can’t wait to finally have a chance to discuss books with my daughter.

I’m actually writing the perfect book to have my daughter help me find inspiration for various parts of the story. It’s about a teenage boy who’s angry for various reasons, but mainly because his parents got divorced. He meets a girl one day when he climbs a tree, and she helps him see his situation from a different perspective. My daughter and I have already made plans to take walks/hikes this summer to look at trees and take pictures. There’s also a little girl in the story who loves sprites (fairies, pixies, and other mythical creatures). I’m hoping my daughter can help me research some facts about sprites and maybe even help me imagine how the little girl’s fairy garden would look. Finally, the grandfather in my novel owns a roller skating rink. Just this weekend my daughter attended a birthday party at the skating rink here in town. Had I not taken her, I never would have been inspired to add in the ‘dancing skater’ :) Looks like I need to take her a few more times over the summer. Maybe even put a pair of skates on my feet again. It’s been at least 20 years since I skated—hopefully it’s just like riding a bike!

I know I will need to do some actual writing this summer. My daughter’s computer sits right behind mine, and she is also working on a story. This means we can have a few hours a week dedicated to writing together. I also let her choose the music we listen to, so that’s an added bonus on her end. Of course, when we do this I don’t get much writing done since she is always sharing her Google Doc with me so I can see the five new sentences she added—but it’s still fun! And I love that she enjoys writing as much as I do.

I hate to admit that I slacked a bit on promotion last year. I know it’s an important aspect of my writing, but I had a lot of other things going on at the time and something had to give a bit. Regardless of my poor excuses (I’m a marketing gal after all, I should know better), I have vowed to start doing better again this year. I have this idea of doing some sort of photo puzzle promotion where I will take a zoomed in section of a picture that has something to do with my new book. I’ll then post that to social media and have people guess what it might be. I don’t plan to run it until I get a little farther along so I can build up interest near launch time, but it will take some time and effort to plan so I want to get started. My daughter can help me select (or take) the photos and then help me crop them for the promotion.

I’m hoping other ways to include my daughter in my writing life will pop up over the summer, but for now I have a plan I’m pretty excited about.

One of my guest blog posts for indieBRAG at the end of the summer is a recap of a 30-day photo project. I decided to make the photo project about how I incorporate all these elements into my time with my daughter this summer. I plan to post them on my Instagram account, so you can follow me there if you want to check in on our progress!

How do you all incorporate your writing into the other aspects of your life?


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Back Jacket Hack-Job #10: Tony Robbins, Off The Deep End

A Post By Jonathan

I humbly present a Back Jacket Hack-Job, a reoccurring segment here at Across The Board. Please check out our introductory post to see how this all came about.

Photo credit to

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Value of Free

As an author who a) doesn't write fast, and b) has had lots of jobs and actually gotten PAID for them, it's taken me a long time to come around to the whole idea of offering my books for free. To be honest, it goes one hundred percent against my instincts. I don't make much money as a writer to begin with, and to give away this thing I've spent months agonizing over doesn't feel right.

And yet.

At the recommendation of a few (more) successful author friends, I signed up Nick Stephenson's Your First 10K Readers program. I'd recommend this program in an instant, although I will say it's probably more well-suited to indie or hybrid authors who are able to control their own pricing because one of the main strategies of the program is the perma-free book. (There are lots of other strategies, too, and I'll happily wax on about them if you're curious. Just let me know.) According to Stephenson, perma-free helps gain readers, newsletter subscribers and fans -- all which help with sell-through to other books. My books weren't exactly flying off the online shelves, so why not?

I'm going to talk numbers and specific examples here in the interest of providing real-life examples. Yep numbers and more numbers.

Step one -- Give away the first book in my 2-book series to newsletter subscribers, but keep it priced at $3.99 on retail sites.

I released book 2 of my series in December 2015. From the release of book 2 to January 15, when I made book 1 free, I sold 270 books across all Amazon stores. This included a $0.99 promo of book 1 and a $1.99 promo of book 2 for release week. Not too shabby.

On January 15, I changed my website and started offering book 1 free for newsletter subscribers and supported this with intermittent Facebook ads for a month. I gained 150 new newsletter subscribers, but I looked at my sales for Feb and topped out at a whopping 16 sales, including 8 sales of book 1 at full price.

I gave it until March 15 and ran another Facebook ad. This time I gained another 20 subscribers over the course of a week, but I didn't feel like I was getting the ROI I wanted, so I stopped the ad and had a think about my goals. I've got 3 books out, but I'm relatively unknown. To build sales, I have to gain readers. The end.

Which led me pretty quickly to Step 2. One March 26, I made book 2 free across all retailers.

In the last 5 days of March, I had 608 downloads of book 1 and sold 11 copies of book 2. I did no promotion or advertising.

But, I sure did in April! I did one free cross-promo with other romance authors and a paid promo through Fiverr and had 6162 downloads of book 1! My book hit the Top 20 in Free Romance on Amazon US and hit #78 overall in the Free store. However, it was in full-price sales that I really saw a jump! I sold 137 copies of book 2 -- which is more than it sold in the first two months it was out.

I've seen good numbers on iBooks and noticed less impact on Nook and Kobo.

May has been lighter, in terms of both sales and downloads, but I've scheduled my paid promo for later this week and am looking forward to seeing a jump.

Does free work for everyone? Probably not. Do readers question the "value" of free? Everything points to yes -- from my unofficial polling of readers to my own experience as a reader. But, is free worth considering as part of your marketing plan? In my experience, I'd have to give it a resounding yes!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Farewell, Tara!

Hey, everyone! Steve here.

This is a bittersweet post. Unfortunately, our resident reader Tara has asked to bow out of the blog. She can't devote the time to it she'd like, and doesn't want the blog to suffer for it, which is hard to admit and admirable to do.

Here at Across the Board we came together as strangers, but over time I've started to think of my fellow bloggers as family. And it's always hard to separate from family members, but sometimes, as with kids leaving for college, it's a necessary part of life.

So, it's sad to see Tara go but it's not like she won't still be around to cheer us on and, of course, we'll never lose the good time we spent with her. So, with that in mind, I'm going to share some of my favorite posts from Tara. (And if, like me, you're feeling maudlin, you can play some Sarah McLachlan music as you remember the good times.)

Tara's first post
Tara's predictions for summer 2015 (she was sure right about THE MARTIAN, huh?)
Tara's guide to scary books for wimps
Tara's look at Banned Book Week
Tara's suggestions for the holidays
Tara's look at our favorite classic characters

Best of luck, Tara! You'll be missed!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Fangirling: Maggie Stiefvater

I really should have posted this yesterday, but I was feeling under the weather and spent the day resting. In any case, I am feeling better today and I'm ready to make up for lost time!

According to Urban Dictionary, the definition of fangirling is as follows:

v. the reaction a fangirl has to any mention or sighting of the object of her "affection". These reactions include shortness of breath, fainting, highpitched noises, shaking, fierce head shaking as if in the midst of a seizure, wet panties, endless blog posts, etc. 

As a reader, I fangirl a lot. Over books I have cherished, memes related to favorite characters, and news of a new book or tour by a beloved author. Insert Maggie Stiefvater here.

I have been a fan of Maggie Stiefvater since I first read Shiver (which, according to Goodreads, was back in December of 2010). I have since picked up and read/listened to most of her other books (I say most because I'm rereading my Raven Boys ARC before continuing through the series). There's a certain lyrical and poetic quality to Maggie's word choice that just blows my mind and drags me deeper into her stories. In fact, she is one of the biggest inspirations behind my desire to write.

Recently, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and saw one of those sponsored ads that I usually skip over. Only I paused because Maggie's name was attached to it. In an exciting moment that fits the above definition, I learned that my favorite author will be on a release tour for The Raven King, the last book in the series I'm working through, and SHE WILL BE STOPPING NEAR ME. [Insert more fangirling after typing that.]

I have never been to a book signing, book con, or author event before because my schedule hasn't really allowed for it. However, this is one of those events where I'm already searching for work coverage and would gladly drive to a town I'm allergic to just to meet this woman. Because, really...

What author(s) do you fangirl over? Do you go to author events?

--Brianna Lebrecht

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Blurbs, Synopses, and Back Jacket Copy (Pt. II)

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey everybody!  Last month I talked about the (admittedly wishy-washy) difference between blurbs, synopses, and back jacket copy but that ran so long I didn't even really get into the meaty part, which is:

How to write a decent query letter

There are four things you'll need before you start sending out query letters:

1.  A two-page synopsis
2.  A one-page synopsis
3.  Back jacket copy
4.  An elevator pitch

The first step (IMHO) is to write a decent synopsis.  So let's talk about that.

Agents and small publishers will sometimes ask you for a synopsis along with your query letter.  If the agent does not specify how long they want the synopsis to be, you should assume no longer than two pages. 

Each time you introduce the name of a new character in your synopsis, it is common practice to capitalize it.  Not every time - just the first time.  Your synopsis should then describe your entire book, including the ending.

It's as simple - and hard - as that.  It's a struggle to strip your 100,000 word novel down to a page or two, but really it must be done.  Some tips I would offer are:

- concentrate only on your main character
- concentrate only on your main plotline
- strip out ancillary characters and subplots
- only introduce secondary characters if you must to understand the main plotline
- use economy of language (think about the shortest way to get the most information across)

Economy of language is going to be key in much of this.  Have you ever had a clever joke or bon mot and had to tweet it?  I find that working within Twitter's 140 character structure teaches you to strip paragraphs and sentences down to their bare bones.  It's an art, certainly, and it must be learned, but it's not impossible.

Once you have a two-page synopsis, I would recommend taking a hatchet to it a second time and stripping it down to one-page.  Again, I have no magic trick for this, except to utilize economy of language.  The first paragraph should be the set-up and the last paragraph should be the ending.  If you thought jamming an entire novel into two pages was hard, wait until you have to jam it into one.  But once you have your two-page, it becomes geometrically easier to strip out those last lingering "extraneous" bits.

Now that you've stripped your novel down to one precious page, guess what we're going to do next?  That's right, we're going to (somehow, gulp!) strip it down even further.

Back jacket copy should be about 250 words, tops.  The nice thing about the back jacket copy is that you 100% should not be including the ending of your story.  In 250 words you just need to set up the story and entice the reader to buy the book...and not incidentally the agent or publisher to want to represent or publish it. 

Here are a couple of points:

- you should be using your flashiest, sexiest language.  Have you ever felt a shiver down your spine when reading the back of a book?  That's what you're going for here.
- you need to establish the stakes.  Jim's hanging out on a beach in France.  Um...okay.  Who cares?  Oh, did I mention Jim is there because he has to save the world from fascism because it's Normandy 1944?  Okay, now we've got stakes.  Remember, stakes can be emotional, physical, and even political.  Ideally it's all three.  Think about Luke's trench run against the Death Star.  His life is at stake, his belief in the Force is at stake, and the galaxy is at stake.
- again, you should only concentrate on your main character.  Maybe your antagonist.  Maybe an ancillary character or two if it's necessary to understand the stakes.  But if you start getting into how Harry's best friend is Hermione but his other best friend is Ron and his mentor is Dumbledore and his (sort-of) antagonist is Snape but his real antagonist is Voldemort and Ron has all these brothers...well, this is what we call character soup and it's utter query kryptonite.
- play around.  Whenever I write back jacket copy I write dozens of versions.  Reword things.  Strip things out mercilessly.  Jazz up your language.  Make sure every sentence is absolutely vital, and scintillating, too.
- if you're completely lost, read the backs of books you've enjoyed to see what format they use.  Odds are if you bought it, the back jacket copy sucked you in.  Try another version of yours using the structure of one of your favorite books.
- avoid rhetorical questions.  Things like, "What would you do if you could fly?" used to be the norm in the publishing industry.  In fact, so much so, that it is now a cliché and many agents will reject you outright for using them.  The general rule of thumb is, "If I can think of a smartass answer to your question, I will, and then I'll immediately stop taking the rest of what you wrote seriously."

Now, if you do it right, your publisher should be able to just slap what you wrote on the back of the book when it comes out - possibly along with some review quotes and maybe even a blurb as we discussed last time.

And now we come to the final, most brutal part thing you will need for your query letter: the elevator pitch.  Imagine you're at a convention and you step into an elevator with the chief acquisitions editor of MacMillan.  You have until you reach her floor to convince her to buy your book.  So you have two options.

"Say, I have a book you might like.  It's about a teenage wizard, well, I guess he doesn't know he's a wizard at first but he lives under his aunt and uncle's stairwell and he's got this wicked awesome scar on his head but he wears glasses and, oh, hey, wait, where are you going?"


"Say, I have a book you might like.  It's about an ordinary boy who learns he's a wizard and has to go to a special high school to learn to use his powers."

See the difference?  Another way to think of it is to picture the movie announcer guy going, "In a world..."  Obviously you don't want to use something as clichéd as "in a world..." but the film industry has mastered the elevator pitch.  Think about it: in a thirty second commercial, or a single glance at a poster, or, at the outside, a two-minute trailer, they have to grab the attention of millions of people and make them want to see "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Fucking 7" or whatever.

So, once you have all four of these tools, how do you assemble a query letter?  Simple.  Use this format:

Dear Agent/Publisher,

Elevator Pitch.  I hope you'll consider representing/publishing my (genre) novel (TITLE), complete at (number) words.

Back jacket copy.

(Brief author bio and previous works if applicable.)

Per your submission guidelines I have included a one- or two-page synopsis and (whatever other crap they asked for) below.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best Regards,

(Address Line 1)
(Address Line 2)
(Phone Number)

What's that?  You want to see it in action?  Well, all right, here is my actual, genuine query letter for my latest release, EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED.

Dear Slappy,

After the 2nd American Revolution, a loyal Blue citizen must save his lover by venturing into the heart of darkness itself: The Red States. I hope you'll consider representing my sci-fi novel EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED, complete at 82,000 words.

Jack Pasternak, a laid-back California doctor, receives a garbled distress call from his fiancée in Maryland before her transmissions stop altogether. Unfortunately for Jack, citizens of the Blue States are no longer allowed to cross Red America. He is faced with an impossible choice: ignore his lover's peril or risk his own life and sanity by venturing into the dark heart of The Red States. When the armies of the Mexican reconquista come marching into Los Angeles, Jack's hand is forced and he heads east in an old-fashioned petroleum-fueled automobile.

The journey is a minefield of dangers, as Jack faces partisan warbands, feral Wal-Mart dwellers, and missionaries from the Mormon State of Deseret. He is soon joined by Haley Daniels, a fellow traveler who turns out to be the Red president's daughter. Jack's quixotic quest transforms into a deadly crucible when the president unleashes the full might of the Red military to track Haley down and save her from the Blue Menace. The final showdown between the politicized armies of the Former United States with Jack stuck in the middle takes place in Harrisburg, PA, within spitting distance of his lost love.

My published novels include BRAINEATER JONES (2013, Red Adept Publishing), THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO (2013, Severed Press), and BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS (2014, Severed Press.)  I served as an officer in the U.S. Army and earned the Bronze Star Medal for service in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Below, per your submission guidelines, I have included a synopsis and the first three chapters of my manuscript.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Stephen Kozeniewski
123 Wherever St.
Whereversville, Wherever 12345
(123) 456-7890

What do you think?  Any tips, tricks, or best practices?  Did I completely bolo it?  Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Interview with Steve Vernon: Kindle Scout winner and Canadian

Today on the blog, we welcome Steve Vernon. Steve's novel, Kelpie Dreams, won a Kindle Scout contract! He's here to talk about his experience running, not one, but two Kindle Scout campaigns and what mythical creature he'd take on in a fight.
ATB: Congrats on Kelpie Dreams winning a Kindle Press contract. This book was your second novel submitted to Kindle Scout, but your first win. What advice would you give authors considering Kindle Scout as a means to publication?

Write a good book. An awful lot of fuss has been made about the way that Kindle Scout is kind of like American Idol for books - but at the end of the day the good folk at Kindle Scout are looking for a good book. That is the best way to think about it. Those gods of Kindle Scout, those folk who have the powers of life and death over every single Kindle Scout book campaign - at the end of the day they are nothing more than a room full of readers looking for a darn good book.

Find some characters that readers can relate to. Keep the pacing peppy. Don’t fart around having your main character take thirty-eight days to get up out of bed. Give them a problem that they need to solve. That is the heart of any story ever told. Get your character into a tree and then throw rocks at him.

ATB: Summarize Kelpie Dreams in one or two sentences?

Meet Lady Macbeth—a high school librarian, ex-assassin, and part-time kelpie, whose mother wanted to name her Hemorrhoid at birth. Now she has to take on a Sea Hag—eight legs of Godzilla-ugly poured into a bucket full of meanness—with the help of a one-woman army named Rhonda, a 200-year-old Sea Captain, and a hunky lighthouse keeper who won't admit that he's dead as well. KELPIE DREAMS is a funny, action-packed, shoot-em-up paranormal romance novel for folks who HATE to read romance novels.

ATB: What’s your favorite lines from Kelpie Dreams?

I hate picking favorites. That just feels way too much like picking kids out of a line-up back in public school for the baseball team - and I was always the last one picked which really hurt my feelings because I hated the idea that everyone thought that I was a total klutz and to make matters worse I totally KNEW that they were right about me being a total freaking klutz when it came to anything remotely athletic, unless you count me coming first place in that St. Patrick’s Day green pancake eating contest - so yes, I absolutely HATE picking favorites.

But here goes. Mild-mannered and easily-offended folks might want to close their eyes while they are reading this brief excerpt. This is a short scene from early on in the first chapter when Lady Macbeth (the main character) is in the middle of explaining just how she came to be NAMED Lady Macbeth.

“Hemorrhoid isn’t really any kind of a name,” the delivery doctor had argued with my mother, after she had quietly confided her choice of a name for her firstborn child to approximately half of the hospital’s five and a half floors’ worth of patients and staff in one long lungful of a screaming shout: “Jesus dying nail-palmed Christ almighty, Margaret Hemorrhoid Sally Anne Macbeth—will you just hurry the Hell up and get born!”

“Hemorrhoid really isn’t a name at all,” the delivery doctor told her. “It is more along the lines of a somewhat irritating medical manifestation.”

“I have an Aunt Hermione,” my mother tartly informed the delivery doctor. “That’s close enough to Hemorrhoid, isn’t it?”

Jazz hands, Mom, big-time jazz hands.

“I want to name the child Hemorrhoid,” my mother insisted. “I have the right to, if I want to do so.”

And yes, indeed—that was most definitely the single biggest jazz hands, hallelujah, and please-pass–the caramel-coated-popcorn moment in my entire lifetime.

(I would like to take a brief moment to apologize for my protagonist’s chronic potty mouth. She is a high school librarian when she isn’t busy wrestling Sea Hags - and there is just no telling at all what will come out of the mouth of a high school librarian.)

ATB: You have quite a backlist. How would you describe your writing/publishing career?

I guess that I would have to describe my writing career as a long rambling road trip through about forty years or so of writing experience - with a broken compass and a seriously out-of-date road map.

I got started back in the early 1980’s, peddling short genre fiction to the North American small press. One of my first short stories, “The Bridge” was sold to a biker magazine with more breasts, beards and bug-ridden grins than you could shake a Harley Davidson at. I also had the good fortune to place a short story in the pages of Cemetery Magazine, a well-established magazine of horror fiction that was just getting off the ground back when I was also getting started.

Over the years I sold poetry, book reviews, interviews and stories. I also sold a dozen or so novels and novellas to various small press publishers. Then, in 2006 I took part in a local pitch session - the first of its kind here in Halifax - and sold a collection of Nova Scotia ghost stories (HAUNTED HARBOURS) that was picked up and published by a local regional publisher (Nimbus Publishing). Since then I have published seven books through Nimbus - including a young children’s picture book (MARITIME MONSTERS) and a young adult novel (SINKING DEEPER: MY QUESTIONABLE AND SOMETIMES HEROIC DECISION TO INVENT A SEA MONSTER).

About three years ago I was approached by the folks at Crossroads Press who asked me if I had ever considered releasing some of my back catalogue in e-book format. I tried that for a while with them and then I got the bug, but bad, for indie publishing and I went through my back catalogue and released everything that I could possibly lay my hands upon. Then I began writing new work for immediate indie publication.

Then came Kindle Scout.

So, in a way, my writing career has been a little bit like the politics of a country. For a few years the independents were running things. Then came the Republicans. Then the Democrats. Right now I think the fellow in charge isn’t quite right in the end but I like the look of his grin and I voted for the son of a bear anyway.

ATB: If you could come face-to-face with any mythical creature, what would it be?

I think it would have to be Bigfoot. With my rambling frame and easy-going physique and totally uncombable hair I have often thought of myself as a bit of a Bigfoot.

What’s it like to live in Nova Scotia?

Steve: The best way to think about it is to remember that I came here to Nova Scotia to visit - about forty years back. In between I have hitchhiked from end of Canada to the other - and I still call Nova Scotia my home stomping grounds. It’s been a forty year visit - and considering that’s four decades long it has been pretty darn good to me.

Pick up KELPIE DREAMS on Kindle today and find out what Steve Vernon is REALLY like.
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Monday, May 2, 2016

Revisions Checklist

A post by Mary Fan
Writing is hard. There's a lot of advice out there about how to buckle down and just get that damn book written. Can't edit a blank page, first draft is supposed to be crappy, don't worry about it and just get it done, etc. etc. etc. Which is all true. But what do you do once you have your SFD (that's Shitty First Draft) banged out? How do you de-shittify it into something you can be proud of, something you can have confidence in? (Step one: remove made-up words like de-shittify).

This is where revisions come in. No one gets their book right on the first try, but it can be hard to see the way forward after emerging bleary-eyed from the Fog of First Drafts. So, to help you out a bit, I've created a handy dandy Revisions Checklist!

[] Make a list of things that are bugging you about your book

Sometimes, even as you're writing a book, you know there are things you're going to want to change later. Placeholder dialogue. Awkward transitions. Skeletal descriptions. I know an author who admits that her first drafts are little more than detailed outlines, and who goes back and fleshes out entire scenes, dialogues, descriptions, etc immediately after finishing Draft 1 (she's a pantser, so she's doing in her first draft what a lot of plotters do when outlining).

Sometimes, in the frenzy to just get that damn thing written, you'll cut corners. And that's perfectly fine! Just keep a list (or mark with comments) spots that you know you're going to want to fix up later.

If you didn't do this while writing (which is understandable, since it can break up your flow), then do it right after you finish the first draft. Give the whole thing a quick once-over and mark down which bits bug you.

[]  Incorporate the easy changes

Just a little trim here and there :-)
Sometimes, the things that bug you about your own book are relatively easy fixes, like "I don't like the dialogue between these two characters when they first meet" or "this action scene probably happens too quickly/easily." Sometimes, they're more complicated, like "I'm not sure if my villain's motivations make sense" or "I'm not sure if this sequence of events makes sense."

The things that bug you about your own book will be somewhere on a scale from "Oh, that's just a matter of find/replace, no problem" to "Dammit, that thing doesn't work and therefore this whole book needs to be rewritten!" Where any given problem falls on that scale can be measured in how many curse words spin through your head when you think about it (ranging from "*shrug* no need to curse, that one's easy" to your entire arsenal of F-bombs and assorted forms).

Go ahead and incorporate the little things, the quick fixes. But resist the temptation to start ripping your book apart at the seams to make the bigger edits right away. You're still in the First Draft Fog, so it can be hard to tell the good ideas from the bad, the changes that make sense from the changes that are just different. Write down your Big Picture Changes so you don't forget them, but don't worry about it just yet.

[]  Step away from the book
Let it goooooooo...
Different people have different reactions to having a Shiny New Manuscript in hand. Some are convinced the whole thing is perfect-perfect-perfect and others are sure that the whole thing is worthless and can't be saved. Most fall somewhere in the middle (or flicker between the two, depending on mood and caffeine intake). Those on either extreme are probably wrong.

In order to revise well, you need perspective, and the only thing that can give you perspective is time. Your manuscript is never going to be perfect, so at a certain point, just put the damn thing down and leave it alone for a spell.

[] Enlist beta readers

Hopefully, your beta reader will be as focused as this cat
One of the best ways to get yourself to stop futzing is to make it so that the manuscript is out of your hands. Plus, feedback is crucial to making a manuscript good. It's easy to get caught up in your own story, and what you write isn't always what gets read (something that might make perfect sense to you might confuse a reader who is Not You, or a dialogue you find funny might seem merely awkward to Other Person).

This is where beta readers come in! Beta readers don't have to be professional editors or anything... all you're looking for at this point is a fellow human being to read your book and give their gut reaction. So this could be your mom, your friend, your local critique group... anyone! If you don't already have a critique group or partner, or personal contacts willing to give your book a go, offer up a beta swap--you beta read my book, I'll beta read yours. Put the call out on social media or an author forum--you'll likely find plenty of fellow writers willing to trade perspective for perspective. Try to find a beta reader in your own genre if possible, since they'll have more of a sense of what you're going for. For instance, asking a women's fiction writer who has a hard time relating to speculative fiction to beta read your out-of-this-world science fantasy novel probably isn't a good idea. Neither is asking an epic adventure-loving science fantasy author to beta read a quiet, literary women's fiction novel.

Once the book is in your beta reader's (or readers') hands, DO NOT TOUCH. Resist the urge to change one thing, then email your beta going, "Actually, read this version. No wait... Fixed one thing. Use this version. No wait..."

It's hard to say how many beta readers is a good number. If you have a really great critique partner, maybe one is all you need. If you're a member of a local writers group, you could have literally dozens of eyes on your manuscript. In any case, it's not a numbers game.

If you have Big Picture things that are bugging you about your book, ask your betas to focus on those and see what they think.

[] Read over the comments, but don't incorporate them immediately

What receiving feedback can feel like
Receiving feedback can feel overwhelming, especially if you have numerous beta readers (not all of whom agree). And it can often feel like a huge wave of criticism-criticism-criticism burying you and your book into the crushing depths.

Here's the thing, though: Most readers only point out the stuff that bugs them. When they're reading stuff that works for them, they're into the story and don't notice the pages flipping. When something bugs them, they'll flag it and say "hey, you might want to fix this bit that doesn't make sense." So just because you see piles and piles of comments doesn't mean there's nothing good about the book. In fact, everything not commented on is probably just fine.

Read over the comments, but don't incorporate them right away. Because once again, you need perspective, and being on the receiving end of a barrage of comments will send you into Criticisms Shock (which is similar to the First Draft Fog, but not as fun). Your gut reaction will range from "YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND MY VISION, YOU FOOL!" to "Holy crap, you're right, and my book is completely unsalvageable!" You will likely go through the phases of grief... Denial (no, there's nothing wrong with my book!), Anger (how dare you say there's something wrong with my book!), Bargaining (but if I just explained it to you, you'd see it my way!), Depression (ugh, my book is awful and nothing can fix it), and then, finally, Acceptance (okay, you may have a point).

[] Consolidate the comments into a list

Depending on who your beta readers are, they might have a million suggestions for how to fix the issues they identified, or they might just say "this isn't working for me." Either way, only you can be the judge of the best way to incorporate their comments. Sometimes, the beta reader will be right to flag something, but their suggestion for how to fix it doesn't feel right. And then it's up to you to find a way that fixes the problem and works for your book.

Consolidate these comments--as well as the Big Picture items that were bugging you when you finished your first draft--into a list. This is the part where you decide what comments to take and what comments to disregard (Sometimes, if you fix one part of a manuscript, then a reader's comment on a later part won't be relevant. Or your betas will disagree, and it's up to you to decide which one, if either, to listen to). And this will help you keep track of all the stuff you want to do and see how the changes work in relation to each other (and make sure that one change doesn't contradict another).

Think of it as a To Do list for your manuscript.
Jotting down all those Things To Do

[] Start with the small stuff

Start by revising the things that are easy to fix--the nitpicky details your betas flagged (typos, small inconsistencies, etc). That'll help ease you into the revising groove. Jump around and get these things done first--and cross them off your list.
Just a few more trims...
[] Tackle the big picture stuff in chronological order

Now, you're ready to take on the heavy lifting. This is the part where you rearrange entire chapters, add or subtract characters, modify worldbuilding, etc. These Big Picture items are best done in chronological order, since what you change toward the beginning will probably affect the way a later scene turns out.

Keep in mind that sometimes, a comment that seems like it'll take a huge rewrite can be solved more easily than it seems (for instance, a few sentences of back story and/or internal dialogue can clear up a character's motivations, rather than you having to rewrite the entire character)

Mine that SFD for the gems!
[] Step away from the revised book

At this point, you have a whole new draft, which may feel like a whole new book that's worlds away from what you started with. And it probably feels a bit like you've got a Frankenbook on your hands--that is, a creature made up of bits and piece of other creatures that somehow developed a life of its own. All that chopping and sewing has probably put you in the Revisions Daze, which can be even more confusing than both the First Draft Fog and Criticisms Shock because you'll probably have bits of both lingering in your system in addition to this new stupor (rereading your own words can sometimes send you back into the First Draft Fog even after you've been away from the manuscript the first time, and Criticisms Shock can be triggered anew when you come across a particularly sticky issue you have to address).

So step away again. Give yourself a bit of time and distance from this new draft.

Hopefully your new draft will feel more like this...
...than like this

[] Read through the whole book

Come back and look at the new draft with fresh eyes. You'll probably notice a few vestiges from the old draft hanging out... a mention of a character you cut, a line of dialogue that mades no sense with the new scene, etc. Maybe a few nitpicky spots that could use some smoothing out. This is the part where you fix those little things, but otherwise, you're golden! For now, at least...

There's no way to tell when a book is DONE done (really, it never is). But at this point, if you've edited the book to your satisfaction and incorporated outsider feedback, you're probably well on your way.

May you feel this satisfied reading over your revised draft

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