Skip to content

Archive for

Pro-Motion

Yeah, I know, promotion has no hyphen in it. It’s early, I’m pre-coffee, so bear with me. Pro, or for, and motion. Or perhaps it’s ‘in favor of’ and motion. Either way, there’s energy in that. We’re going places! And we’re asking you to come along with us, dear readers.

Here’s the thing. Mad Genius Club is a conglomerate (another fun mashup word) of authors and professionals who donate their time in an effort to give back to the community that has supported them. This is very much a work of love. But you know how we also love our coffee, and that costs money. Cold hard cash, in lieu of pretty words. I’ve yet to find a market that would accept a well-turned phrase or bit of trenchant humor in exchange for the brown beans of life.

Really, we’re not asking much. Since the store won’t take our words, perhaps you will. And thus, capitalism and the free market wins again! And I get my morning brew of warmth and caffeine. Buy two, and we could have mocha…

sword of arelionSword of Arelion 

by Amanda S Green

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.

Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.

Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

 

 

shadow handsShadow Hands 

By David Pascoe

Melody Devreux sees things that shouldn’t be there. Shadows cast by the setting sun reach out for her with abyssal claws. She sleeps with the lights on and never goes out after dark. When the monsters she sees come for her, she must harness the light inside her to prevail.

There are now six short stories in this series, collect them all!

 

here be dragons completeHere Be Dragons

by Sarah Hoyt

A wonderful collection of work that shows the true breadth of Hoyt’s imagination. Here you will find tales of humanity, monsters who are all-too human, and some who claim human while showing their true colors. From cute kittens that aren’t what they seem, to vampires, this is a selection of stories that will pull you in and onward. If you’re already a fan of her Darkship world, you will find stories that hold the keys to some of her characters and their motivations in those novels. If you likewry humor, then you will find it in the story of Heart’s Fire, where the young heroine is reading a paperback novel, the key to her downfall. Sarah and I share a love of reading, and furthermore, reading stuff that everyone tells us is trashy and why aren’t you reading works with great and lofty messages?

Because sometimes it’s not about the message that blinks and flashes like a giant neon light tearing the quiet night apart. Sometimes it’s about the little stories, the lives of people who work and love and live quietly, never thinking they could make a difference until they have no choice. Because that is a message in itself. Stories give us hope, which enables us to continue. Stories show us how heroism really works, and romance, and all the big things that make us human and keeps us going onward into the future which might hold magic in the form of technology. Or maybe not, it could be things we haven’t even dreamed of yet, writers nor readers.

 

Racers of the NightRacers of the Night

by Brad Torgersen

Flying at the Speed of Night . . . Following in the successful footsteps of his previous short fiction collection (“Lights in the Deep”) award-winning and award-nominated Science Fiction author Brad R. Torgersen is back with twelve new tales. From the edges of explored space, to the depths of the artificial soul. At once breaking the limits of human endurance, while also treading the tender landscapes of the human heart. Originally appearing in the pages of Analog magazine, Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show magazine, Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge magazine, and elsewhere, these stories are collected here for the first time; with commentary and anecdotes from the author. Introductions by bestsellers L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Kevin J. Anderson, and Dave Wolverton (Farland.)

 

Bolg and beautifulBolg PI: The Bolg and the Beautiful

by Dave Freer

A humorous, satirical noir detective urban fantasy, set in a small city in flyover country, which has an unusually high population of Trolls, werewolves, fairies and a dwarf.

Private Investigator Bolg, a Pictish gentleman who happens to be vertically challenging, a self-proclaimed dwarf and tattooed so heavily he appears blue, finds himself called on undertake paranormal cases: This time it’s a retired Fertility Goddess, and her daughter, who’ve been robbed by a con-man from their friendly neighborhood bank. They want a Norse berserker, with a two-handed axe loose in the banking hall. Instead they get Bolg trying to recover their money. The bank might prefer the berserker too.

 

 

 

forge a new blade cover for blog post v2Forge a New Blade 

By Peter Grant

The Laredo Resistance fought the Bactrian invaders to a standstill, but shattered itself in the process. Through battle, bloodshed and murder, Dave Carson became President of Laredo’s Government-in-Exile. Now he must dodge assassination attempts by his enemies while fighting the war on new fronts – with a little unorthodox help from Steve Maxwell of the Lancastrian Commonwealth Fleet.

Gloria Aldred, former head of the Resistance, has plans that run counter to everything Dave’s trying to achieve – and she’s not about to ask his permission to pursue them.

Satrap Rostam is trying to cut Bactria’s losses and rebuild his exhausted planet, but his generals and nobles have lots of guilty secrets to hide – and they don’t mind burying him right along with them if necessary.

 

conventConVent

by Kate Paulk

A vampire, a werewolf, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. Whoever picked this team to save the world wasn’t thinking of sending the very best. But then, since this particular threat to the universe and everything good is being staged in science fiction conventions, amid people in costume, misfits and creative geniuses, any convetional hero would have stood out. Now Jim, the vampire, and his unlikely sidekicks have to beat the clock to find out who’s sacrificing con goers before all hell breaks loose — literally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dragon Noir

The new book!

Dragon Noir 

by Cedar Sanderson

The pixie with the gun has come home to see his princess crowned a queen and live in peace. But nothing is ever easy for Lom. A gruesome discovery on his doorstep interrupts their plans and sends Lom off on a mission to save not one, but two worlds. It’s personal this time and the stakes are higher than ever before. With friends falling and the enemy gathering, Bella and Lom must conquer the worst fears and monsters Underhill can conjure. Failure is not on the agenda.

 

Earth gateEarth Gate

by Pam Uphoff

*17th* book in the Wine of the Gods Universe.
Dimensional travel had brought the Earth immense wealth, but also a cross-dimensional war with the Empire of the One.
Jaime Felis had been recruited by the United Earth Central Intelligence Agency and emplaced in the Army unit crossing the dimensions to a world that claimed to have magic. Magic created through genetic engineering, very like the genetic engineering of the One—and of Jaime’s home planet. They hoped that his faint abilities would give them some insights into the magic of both this low tech Comet Fall and the high tech Empire.
He hadn’t expected to be marooned. Nor for rescue to be so fraught with problems.

 

 

dead babylonThe Dead Of Babylon

by Jason Cordova

Campbell Award nominated author takes on zombies in this short tale.

 

 

Which reminds me, don´t forget to cast your ballot today in the Hugo Awards, this is the last day of voting! 

pour l´encourager, here´s a picture of a large part of the ELOE. Hear the evil laughter, and despair!  giggle along with us!

Science Fiction Authors

A large part of the ELOE at LibertyCon 28. Left to right is Kate Paulk, John C Wright (seated), Sarah Hoyt, Michael Z Williamson, and Cedar Sanderson

 

 

 

Kate the Impaler and the Convention of Liberty

Part the Fifth

Kate the Impaler has survived the first day of LibertyCon. But the con isn’t over…

It came to pass that as the night did give way unto the day, the warrior maiden Kate the Impaler did awaken and roundly curse the miscreant who had – so she swore – crept in to her room while she slept and implanted a razor blade in her throat. Said miscreant must remain unpunished, alas, for there was much to do ere the first session of the day.

The parlous programming of the Beautiful But Evil Space Princess and her beloved Dread Mathematician ensured that Kate the Impaler would be busy the entire day, assisting her dear friends through this torture – for torture indeed it was, and the Lady Sarah was not the only one desiring the head (or other suitable appendage) of the Master of Programming in payment for his sins.

The programming did fall thusly:

Saturday

10 AM Alien Minds: Portrayal in Science Fiction

11 AM The Hoyt Collective Reading (Sarah, Dan, and Robert)

12 PM How to Write Workshop (a two hour session)

2 PM The Baen Travelling Slideshow and Prize Patrol (another 2 hour session)

4 PM Indie: Is your book ready for prime time

5 PM Autograph Session

Lest it be thought they might rest after this, be it known the Beautiful But Evil Space Princess was required by Empress of Baen to attend an intimate dinner of some seventy close friends upon the finish of her autographing session, and as such, she would be working without break from ten of the morning until late that night – though at least the Empress of Baen would indeed ensure that her dear friend the Lady Sarah would not go without sustenance.

Thus did Kate the Impaler sip of hot water and lemon to ease her throat while breaking her fast, upon completion of which necessity she did locate the nearest merchant of medicinal goods and purchase a quantity of throat lozenges to ward herself against further soreness of throat (though in truth, the pain did not desist, merely reduced to a level at which the warrior maiden might endure it without complaint).

And so, she did assist by guiding the Lady Sarah from place to place, that the Mathematician might worry only about ensuring that all materials needed be present and not concern himself with his lady’s… unique grasp of navigation.

The workshop, Kate the Impaler had wished to attend that she might observe the workings of the Redheads of Doom, but alas! Matters beyond the control of mere mortals had prevented the Lady Amanda, the Redhead of Doom (or the Other Redhead of Doom) from journeying to the land of Choo Choo. And so it came to pass that Kate the Impaler did get dragged unto the presenting table wherein the most un-workshoppy workshop did take place – for one cannot work, much less shop, in a room bereft of tables upon which to work (and shop), with no places where posters or other such helpful items might be displayed, and too many attendees to suggest the more limber be seated upon the floor and use their chairs as impromptu tables.

Thus, the workshop became a discussion with all offering suggestions and comments and much enjoyment had by all.

It must be said that by the autographing session, Kate the Impaler did be in worse state than the Beautiful But Evil Space Princess, and with far less reason, so though she had greatly enjoyed all the panels she had attended and wished she were able to continue the evening, she was thankful the Empress of Baen did not require her presence. Such a mighty personage was far beyond a mere warrior maiden’s notice, and the warrior did make her weary way first to the Convention Place of Repast, wherein she did satisfy her hunger, and thence to her suite, where she was soon once more asleep, with hopes that the Dread Con Crud would be less severe come the morning.

To be continued (almost there…)

Why Give Indie a Try

I didn’t forget my post day. I forgot what day today is.  This is partly because I’m still feeling like “every day is Sunday” after we finished the heavy part of the house, and partly because today is a wee bit crazy.  We just took a load of hazardous waste (paint, mostly) to the local facility, and we’re now getting ready to go to the eye doctor (which is actually a good thing.  I think we’ll all agree it will be better if I can write without squinting at the screen and confusing os and es.) Also, I have the Hugo voting to do, I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it; I’m swamped.

So, what can I do that is useful to you on short notice?

Well, recently I had the opportunity to discuss indie versus traditional with someone I hope is becoming a friend.  So i sort of know the questions on your mind, and will try to answer them.  If I don’t cover them, ping me in comments and I’ll try to answer.

Things you wanted to know about indie publishing, but were afraid to ask:

1- Isn’t it a danger to do indie publishing?  Won’t it wreck my career?  I mean, publishers won’t take me seriously after that.

A- No.  No.  And also forget about it.  Not only Larry Correia, but a lot of other people whom I can’t be bothered to look up right now, start out indie, do well, then get picked up by a house.

2- Won’t having published indie first set off alarm bells at a traditional house?

Um… maybe.  But there’s alarm bells and alarm bells.  For ten years I’ve watched this kind of pick-up do better than traditionally submitted books.  From a business point of view, it makes sense: this person has proven that they can publish and sell, so if you give them a little push, who knows where they’ll end up?  But maybe it’s not a bad idea that a publisher also knows you have other options.  As Laurell K. Hamilton once told me “publishers are like men.  If you only have one, they’ll abuse the privilege.”  Now I’m not sure what that means about her relationships, but I know she’s right about publishers (except possibly Baen.)

3- So, what about Baen?  Why can’t I just go with them?

Well, Baen is ONE house.  And they publish rather specific stuff: sf/f and sf/f of a certain bend.  For instance, I thought they wouldn’t do well with Witchfinder because it’s so weird.  They might accept it because I’m their author, but it would be a bit odd with their very distinctive fan base (who read it anyway, but because it’s Goldport they know what to expect.)  And if you’re not already their author and are doing something like mystery or thriller with no supernatural elements (or even if you ARE their author) they’ll not be able to pick it up.

Also, Baen has a long reply time.  Also, Baen might prefer to not pick up a totally untried writer when indie successes would like to publish with them.  Or at least they’d prefer tried properties.  Can you blame them?

4- But there’s no money in indie!

Well, for the last two years, when I have been almost completely sidelined traditionally, I’ve been making better than my average before I went indie.  From Amazon.  I’m not getting rich or anything, but those are the reprints, and they’re still nothing to sneeze at.  (Around 15k a year, or a little more.)  My first indie published novel got me the same I got from traditional in the first three months out.  BUT more than that, my friends with no publishing track record are making about the same or just a little less from their books.

5- But what if my book isn’t good enough?

Good enough according to whom?  Given their rate of flops, the fact a traditional publisher wants to publish it doesn’t mean it’s “good enough” for the public.  At best it means someone else took the responsibility for it if it’s a flop.  But not really, since if it’s a flop it’s ALWAYS the writer’s fault.

By all means make sure that you spelled everything right, and that you didn’t completely forget one of the subplots resolution (which sometimes happens traditional, too.)

But in the end what counts is if the book finds an audience.  And you can’t decide that.  As my husband is finding out, some people out there ARE waiting for a book just like his.

Put the book out and find out.  If you’re really afraid it sucks, (to quote Kris Rusch) use I.M.N. Idiot as a pen name.  But be prepared for Mr. or Ms. Idiot to be a ROARING success.

Go on, do it.

There’s gold in them there hills.

Murphy, please go home

When I was young and it seemed like one thing after another broke at the house, my parents would talk about how they wished the gremlin would go find someone else’s house to play in. After one particularly bad stretch of luck — the refrigerator door handle came off, the air conditioner broke and the sink backed up  and all on the same day — my mother actually made grabbing motions in the middle of the kitchen and marched out to the back fence and tossed her imaginary gremlin over the fence. If that wasn’t odd enough for a tween to watch, hearing her usually level-headed mother yell at the gremlin not to come back certainly was. Of course, when the neighbor whose yard she had tossed the “gremlin” into started complaining about things breaking down all of a sudden, we just looked at one another and tried not to burst out laughing.

That gremlin was Murphy, he of the bad luck fame. It is clear he has decided to track us down again. It doesn’t matter that years have passed since he last wreaked such havoc on the family. It certainly doesn’t appear to matter that we have moved — heck, I’ve moved at least four times since then. No, with the tracking ability of the best trained drug dog, he has taken up residency again and I am ready for him to leave. Bad enough he broke the garbage disposal (and man have those gone up in price since the last time I replaced one). Then it was my 13 month old iPad. Firmly and carefully encased in the best protective case I could find, it dropped three feet and the screen shattered in a zillion pieces.

Color me not happy but I could live. I used the iPad mainly to research while writing. I could transfer that over to the Kindle Fire or the Surface Pro 3. At least when I wasn’t at my desk and could simply hook the laptop up to multiple monitors. Noooo problem. Right?

Wrong.

Last week, the Fire HDX, 121/2 months after purchase but still under extended warranty, started acting up. Upon waking it would sometimes give me a blank screen or only half a screen. Sometimes everything would be all right. A soft reboot would send my saves in my e-books back two to three days minimum. But only on the Fire. If I checked on the laptop or the Surface Pro 3, the e-book would open to exactly where I’d left off. And then there was the wonderful overlay screen that would come up and tell me I was in full screen mode. Sometimes I could dismiss it and sometimes I couldn’t.

So, multiple phone calls to Amazon on Saturday and then they call me Sunday. They have the solution. There is the wonderful new software update that will “solve all the problems they are having with their Fire HDXs.” I kid you not. That is what the tech who called me said. Only one problem. Murphy’s cousin was visiting Amazon at the time and the webpage I had to go to in order to download the new update came up with an error message. Let me tell you, the tech really went into a tailspin then.

Fast forward to yesterday and the main reason for this rambling post. The update was finally available for download. Like a good customer, and because I was making copious notes and mad enough to call if anything went wrong, I downloaded the update and side-loaded it into my Fire HDX. Then I waited as it installed. So far, so good. Installation completed and I opened up the book I’d been reading.

And that is when things went downhill fast.

Murphy has now become a frigging programmer for Amazon. Worse, he is one who did not think about the impact of what he has done. You see, with the new update, there is a “feature” that is added to the Kindle app that “helps” you by offering to let you buy the next book in the series or buy the Audible version of the book so “you can listen along while you read”. I kid you not.

They have now put ads into their app and, glory of glories — not!, when you happen to activate the ad, it drops down from the top of the page and will cover up to 4 lines of text. Talk about throwing you out of the book. Oh, and it doesn’t disappear until you tap the page again and dismiss it.

So, yes, your Mad Genius, one of the Redheads of Doom, once again called Amazon. No, this is not something that can be turned off. It is a “feature”. No, it doesn’t cover the text. Oooh, sorry, it does. But we can’t do anything about it. No, we can’t roll your kindle back to the previous OS.

Head, meet desk.

As a reader, this pisses me off to no end. For one thing, I don’t want narration AS I’M READING. For another, if I accidentally tap the middle of the page, I don’t want an ad popping up to throw me out of the plot. But there is another issue that really bothers me. I paid to remove the “special offers” from my Fire. Why? Because I didn’t want ads. Now, even though I paid, I am getting ad. But, according to Amazon, these aren’t ads but are “additional features”.

GAAAAH!

From and author standpoint, it bothers me even more. I don’t want readers to think that I’ve authorized this sort of ad. I didn’t. I wasn’t consulted and, to the best of my knowledge, I’m not going to get any additional monies for purchases made through this new “feature”. It isn’t like clicking on an Amazon Associates link and making a purchase which will give me a very small percentage of the sales price. This is pure profit for Amazon.

More on that in a moment.

But it still not only violates the spirit of asking customers to pay to remove the special offers but, worse, it will upset our readers who, very possibly, blame us for this unwanted distraction. I don’t know about you but I’min the business of trying to keep my readers happy, not to upset them.

I don’t mind Amazon making a profit. It’s a huge corporation and it has to make money in order to continue doing what it does best. I appreciate all it has done to help indie authors and I have never been one to jump onto the Amazon Hater Bandwagon. But this is one of Amazon’s most boneheaded decisions in a very long time. I get wanting to direct customers to the next book in the series. But guess what, Amazon already does that with the page that pops up at the end of any e-book directing customers to where they can rate the book they’ve just finished and where they can see what else the author has for sale. The same sort of thing could be done for the Audible links. Heck, Amazon could include that information in what it gives in the popup that appears when you first open a book. It isn’t something that has to appear each and every time you happen to tap a page, whether by accident, to check your progress in the book or to be able to look up a word in the dictionary.

Add in a tear in my Achilles tendon and related problems that had caused and, well, Murphy the Gremlin can go visit someone else. I have books to write and it is hard to do when my tech keeps breaking and my body decides it needs to scream in pain.

So, does anyone know a good Gremlin extermination service they’d be willing to recommend?

On stereotypes

On stereotypes

It’s a word you’ll hear a lot of in the writing trade.
I believe it has something to do with Bang and Olufsen, or Bose, or dogs and birds (tweeters and woofers as they are colloquially known among the hoi polloi, like moi).

It must, like, be the opposite of monotype, because, like, a stereo’s got, like, two speakers and mono means one. And a monotype isn’t just hitting one key… it is the only one of its kind, absolutely unique, just like all of us.

Which of course is why modern litteratchewer sneers at it. It’s important to sneer in unison with modern Litteratchewer, or you will never be a unique voice in modern litteratchewer, you know. If you’re going to be ‘daring and innovative’ there are very strict rules! Do not dream of stepping outside of these boundaries or you will instantly be transformed into an evil reactionary, and no one in modern litteratchewer will have sex with you, or put you never-read novel on their coffee-table, before it begins its long sad journey to the thrift shop.

Of course… outside the dreams of the modern litterati, things are a little more complicated, and yet more comprehensible. Stereotypes – a word I believe derived from the Greek ‘stereos’ (and no, it’s not multiple recordings of slightly out of phase EU members complaining about austerity. That’s the Greek tragedy.) meaning ‘firm or solid’ and type – are both a blessing and curse in writing.

Stereotypes exist. “He was a stereotypical Greek”, “she was a stereotypical modern literary writer.” You know precisely what that is in your head (although it may not be the same in mine). Some fantasy authors have made a great success out of using the stereotype, as a kind of foundation onto which they build the character. David Eddings springs to mind. You may or may not like his books, but they worked for hundreds of thousands of people.

The word has (in some uses, usually when complaining about someone’s writing) come to mean formulaic, predictable. So for example you could predict in the last ten years out of Trad publishing, that the hero would be a kick-ass strong independent woman. The gay character – her sidekick and confidante — would be good, kind, supportive. The [insert POC flavor of the month] would be noble, strong, mentally acute friend of the hero/s. If the any of the above had to be American, they’d be hyphenated-American. The villain would of course be American (de-hyphenated for his sins) male, middle-aged, conservative, Christian, white and a mouth-breather. Naturally – because they all are in purely in the imagination of modern literati, where working men drink gin — misogynists, rapists, probably pedophiles and insane. Oh and they like guns, weapons, fighting, which oddly enough, they are defeated in the use of by the vegan heroes who abhor violence.

Now, I think it is pretty obvious that these stereotypes exist as ‘real’ or ‘firm’ only in the head of the writer and those of similar beliefs. It’s got almost zero probability of being accurate. It’s predicable, formulaic, but not accurate. It’s a world of difference from the stereotype ‘all Latins have darker skins, and typically black hair and brown eyes, get very voluble and use a lot of hand gestures, and eat garlic.’ That’s not universally true either, but has at least a reasonable probability of being right at least on several points, and is not necessarily derogatory (I love garlic).

However, even wildly inaccurate to downright stupid formulaic predictable (since when have these last two indicated writing failure?) types of stereotypes work for writers too. At least, they work well with the UK and it seems NY acquiring editors, and their ‘client’ literati inner circle. They work for the simple reason that they’re saying precisely what those readers WANT to hear. They confirm their own biases and bigotry. Although in practice they don’t actually KNOW any of the kind of people they want to believe this about… and it is logically impossible to support their beliefs, they believe it emphatically. As Prof Jonathan Haidt demonstrated so well, the Left wing – which is almost all of Traditional publishing, are much more ignorant of the Right (or anyone outside their circle) than vice versa.

The problem starts when the book goes beyond this circle. If you’re only trying to sell to that circle: go for it. It’ll be beloved, and the same as much to a book stereotyping any group, Right, Left, off somewhere in third dimension… they will enjoy relaxing into their familiar dislikes and likes. Unfortunately, for sf/fantasy/horror to be a major success, the book HAS to sell outside ANY major division, and indeed to people who don’t buy a lot of any of those genres. Probably, to people who don’t buy a lot of books.

When your stereotypes are likely to offend those outside your ‘circle of fellow believers’ … it had better be a great, great story. That happens, but not often.

I don’t flatter myself as that great a writer, that I venture into this territory. Besides, while stereotypes – at least if they’re accurate and not just your biases, exist, at most they should be a foundation to help a writer to build more on. If I say a character has Latin looks and temperament, I don’t have to explain that and certain actions flow logically from that. I’m inclined to write about and build real people from people I have met and details I’ve picked up… and while someone may have all the stereotypical characteristics, Mr or Mrs or Ms Average is actually a rare bird, and quite boring.

What brought this up BTW was yet another stereotypical Guardian UK Puppy kicking. I’m not going to bother to provide the link because it was just the usual: Make shit up, because fact checking is too hard, and straw puppies are much easier to demolish than trying the real thing. Make snide implications about Puppies being Nazis (we are storm troopers) and cheat. You’ve read it all before, it’s been fisked to death. What caught my attention was something about the writer’s voice or style. It seemed oddly familiar, and not quite the same as the usual contributor (cats make contributions to cat-boxes too). So I bothered to look at the name: Sarah Lotz. It took a while for the penny to drop – sorry, slow-brained monkey. A month or so ago I got given her breakout novel, by a friend with one of those carefully neutral expressions on his ugly mug.

He said “Here. This is by another South African.”

I said, as I always do… “I’m Australian, mate.”

He laughed a lot, but granted I was trying a damn sight harder than most people born here.

It’s true enough. I understand Algis Budrys’s comment from a different age (1950’s), in his ‘Rouge Moon’ about “the fierce patriotism of the new American” of an escapee from the Soviet Union – Budrys, himself from Lithuania understood this too well (except I am a new Australian, but I understand that gratitude and feeling I owe my new country a debt of it I can never entirely repay).

I read… well read a bit and then skim-waded to see if it ever reached a worthwhile resolution (not IMO). It was not to my taste, an appeared to be taking a ghoul-like advantage of the sadness and sorrow, and car-wreck fascination with passenger plane crashes. It was sort of somewhere on the line of Sclazi’s Lock in – more a psychological thriller than horror or sf, and in a style cloned from some successful Zombie book, using bits of made up media. (snark on/ I guess that made her shoo-in for writing in the Guardian. Snark off/). But what I remember most about the book – she got vast support from her UK publisher including sending her to the US on a book tour, and media support and promotion in all the usual suspects of the client circle – EW (I think it was the same author who did the hit piece on the pups – incestuous bunch), I09, Tor.com, the Guardian… was that I found she ticked all the stereotype boxes so perfectly. Her grasp of – and antipathy towards — Americans is so very typically upper-middle class South African white, particularly in the Arts and left of SA politics. Like the PC of the story it was bad enough to make my teeth hurt… because I actually know an American or two, from across the spectrum, and know how complex the country and people are. Well, that was me. It’s obviously very appealing to a probably very similar class in London. Maybe even in the US.

Curiously, the very Australian friend who gave it to me, did not like it. Neither did I. Different people like different things, I suppose.

Despite the hype, the push (and her poorly concealed fury that her chance at a crony-in-crowd Hugo is hurt by the puppies)… I’d never heard of her or the book that they all reckoned was going to be the next big thing. It was on the coat-tails of two air disasters, about air disasters. It had tons of expensive push, loads of media support.

So why didn’t it fly? (Well, besides being afraid to?)

It could be that the style is just too confusing or that there are too many POVs.

Or it could be the stereotyping that many readers found offensive. Stereotyping’s a tool, like a rifle. It can be used well, and in the right place. Or not.

Something to keep in mind when write your next book.

Marketing and support services for authors – a survey

Dorothy and I have been talking at some length about her plans to set up a consultancy service for writers in relation to marketing and author support. Unfortunately, based on market research she’s done so far, it seems that many authors aren’t clear about what assistance they want, don’t know how they want it to be delivered, and aren’t sure whether (and/or how much) they’re willing to pay for it. Accordingly, we decided it would probably be best to lay out the problems here, and ask all our members and readers to respond with their ideas. If we all put our heads together, we might come up with something workable.

Many authors complain that their books don’t achieve the sales success they’d expected or hoped for. The reasons for this often are not clear. In many cases it’s simply because the books are poorly positioned and/or poorly publicized – which is where marketing comes in. Let me give you some examples from my own experience.

  • I took a SWAG as to what keywords to use for my first two or three books (essential to help potential readers find them when searching for books in their areas of interest). They sold reasonably well, but could have done much better. This was proved when Dorothy (who understands search engines and optimization very well) analyzed the keywords I was using and pointed out that books on similar subjects were using keywords more closely tailored to the book and to potential readers’ tastes. After she modified my keyword selections, my sales went up by over 25% across the board.
  • I was mainly publicizing my books through my blog and through asking friends to mention them on their social media accounts. This had some success, but again, not as much as I would have liked. Dorothy investigated the major marketing services available (e.g. BookBub, etc.) and Amazon’s internal marketing offerings (Kindle Countdown Deals, Free Book Promotions and Advertising for KDP Select). She then used several of these tools and services to publicize my more recent releases, with greatly improved results.

Those are only a couple of the areas in which Dorothy and I have worked together to investigate and analyze options for improved market penetration.

The trouble is, many authors don’t analyze such factors at all – or, if they do, they regard it as a burden on their time compared to the job of writing the books and getting them out there. I’ve seen a lot of advice on the Internet along the lines of “If your latest book doesn’t sell, perseverance is the key! Get stuck into writing the next one!” Unfortunately, while that may be a good creative strategy, it’s a very poor business strategy – and we’re in the business of writing. If we don’t analyze where and how we’re going wrong, marketing-wise, how will we ever put things right? Furthermore, actually conducting that analysis involves giving someone a fair amount of information about what you’re doing – either gathering it ourselves (which may take a fair amount of effort), or giving others access to our Amazon account and/or other outlets’ accounts so that they can gather it for us (which is a security risk if we don’t know the person involved). Many authors don’t want to ‘give away their secrets’, even if that’s the only way to get an objective analysis of where they are and how they can improve their marketing.

So, dear fellow authors – what do you want? We really need your honest, in-depth answers to the following questions.

  1. What author services and marketing assistance do you, personally, need?
  2. What author services and marketing assistance are you, personally, willing to pay for?
  3. How much are you willing to pay? (Think in terms of either an hourly rate, or a ‘package price’ for a marketing support deal for a single book – input on cover design, genre and keyword selection, marketing and publicity, etc.)
  4. What do you not want in the way of author services and marketing assistance? Are there things you simply insist on doing for yourself, or in which you want to retain a right of veto? (It’s no good paying someone to come up with an idea that you will then reject – neither of you will be satisfied.)

As an example, let me tell you what assistance I’m willing to pay for in terms of author support and marketing:

  • Manuscript pre-publication preparation and formatting;
  • Cover image selection, layout and design;
  • Composition of blurb, selection of cover reviews and advertising copy;
  • Genre and keyword positioning;
  • Publicity (selection of channels and tools for marketing and advertising);
  • Analysis of sales and fine-tuning of market positioning based on performance;
  • Ongoing analysis of the genres and markets in which I operate, so as to revisit earlier books and modify their marketing elements as necessary to accommodate changing trends.

To do all that, I’ll happily pay $500 to $1,000 per book, in advance, and regard it as cheap at the price. It’ll pay for itself before long, and my overall sales will be all the greater thanks to such assistance. For the lower figure, I’ll have to deal with some of those areas myself; for the higher sum, I’ll generally expect all of them to be covered by the consultant. In either case I’ll have regular discussions with the person(s) doing the work, including the right to veto elements that I don’t like; but I must, in my turn, respect their professional expertise, and acknowledge that they may know more than I do about what works, or doesn’t work, in particular areas. Therefore, selecting the right person is critical. (I selected the best . . . in fact, I married her!)

What say you? What areas would you like to hand off to a consultant or assistant? How would you prefer to handle market research, positioning, etc.? Please let us know your perspective in Comments.

Thanks!

Of Magickanica and Machination, Part 2

Part, the Second

“Truly? Two ambushes?” Art demanded of the universe at large. “It defies reason!”

“To speak nothing of probability,” Nelline sounded as though she might swoon.

Heavy, clanking footsteps scraped across the stone floor toward them.

“Magae Comelissa will be returning with me to Mekeigos, there to answer to Annemnos Aesymnetes for her crimes. You will turn over to me the formulae, and then you and Trank will likely remain undiscovered until Master Namboro has occasion to check this warehouse for rats.” The clanking stopped just in front of Art, and the lights in front of them died, revealing a magichanical suit of armor more sophisticated than the Victus they’d left behind.

A suit with the face of a man.

A face time had not loved. Art knew the man to be a handful of years his junior, but a lifetime of harsh work and bitterness showed in the lines carved deep into his skin, in the taut stretch of skin over bone, and in the fanatic’s eyes blazing out of his skull.

His suit was an odd creation fashioned to imitate a cuirassier’s steel coat of centuries previous. If, perhaps, such a warrior were nearly seven feet tall with clawed hands and feet.
The metaphor needed work, perhaps.

Interestingly, the suit looked incomplete: Art could see his boots and the cuffs of his trousers through the shining rods and linkages. In the same way, his shirtsleeved arms thrust into a bizarre marriage of blacksmith gloves and the contents of a mechanist’s toolbox. Art was nearly certain he could see a drill bit in the mess. Vapor puffed quietly from a small, hooded tube jutting from the massive assembly on the man’s back.

At a word from the suited man, two more similarly attired men dropped from the shadows to land behind them. These two had more the look of thugs than zealots, and their suits weren’t nearly as sophisticated as the first man’s.

“Well-a-day,” Art said, keeping the fury and, yes, fear he felt, out of his voice. “Mallar, see you: it’s our old friend, Markos Antarkos, here to greet us. Unfortunate in that whole rhyming name thing, old boy,” Art slowed his usual speaking tone to a low drawl and was rewarded when his adversary ground his teeth. He sensed Mallar tightening in preparation for action. “By the by, Markos, what formulae? The lovely Nelline mentioned something of the sort earlier, but for the life of me I don’t have the first clue what you’re mouthing about.”

Tool ends folded back, leaving a bare – if armored – glove, as Markos took another hissing, heavy step forward. The glove shot out, and Art braced himself for the blow. Instead of impacting on his chest, the thing closed over the front of his coat and jerked him into the air.

“You stole revolutionary magical formulae from the office of Dottore Atrianni, unbeliever,” Markos grated out. Even at arm-length, Art could smell the remnants of the Mekeigan’s lunch, which had been heavy on garlic. “You then slunk away and stole Don Marrenti’s favorite-”

“He’s got others, he shouldn’t miss one.”

The over-powered agent shook Art, rattling his teeth.

“-favorite auto-carriage, created great mayhem in the Doge’s city, and finally conspired with an Enemy of Mekeigos-”

“I am not!” Indignation flared in Nelline’s voice.

“You are now, Serra!” Markos glared at her past Art’s shoulder.

“It’s not what it looks like?” Insouciance dripped from Art’s words, and he was gratified at the fury burning in the Mekeigan’s dark eyes. “Besides, dear fellow, you still haven’t told me what I’m supposed to have stolen. Mallar and I simply had a bit of a chat with the Dottore – old friends: you know how it is – and then departed. The only thing taken, the tea in our bellies.”
“I took a pastry for later,” Mallar confessed.

“And you will be beaten for it, foul villein, within an inch of your life,” Art retorted, “but later, as these fine gentlemen are of delicate constitution, and the blood might well send them earth-ward in a faint.”

“Blood!” Nelline’s blurted word drew all eyes.

“That’s hardly the sort of language a lady should be using, don’t you think?” Art quipped. “Despite our rather desperate straits.”

Ignoring him, she pointed at a device on Markos’ left gauntlet. An inward curving blade rode alongside the Mekeigan’s forearm, mounted to his suit by a set of curving rails and shining rods. It reminded Art of nothing so much as a claw from some monstrous, steel cat. It was also smeared with dried blood. Markos’ eyes flicked a glance at the cruelly sharp weapon.
“The Dottore had to be persuaded to recant his lies that he’d freely given this filthy-”

“I bathe,” Art protested, and was shaken for his pains.

“-thief a lockbox containing the formulae. This filth-”

“You’re repeating yourself,” Art interjected. Mallar grunted a laugh, and Art was shaken. Again.

“-does murder and worse and thinks he can get away with it because he’s clever. I will not have it!”

At such a close vantage, Art saw the veins pounding in Markos’ temples. Flecks of foam dotted his fury-reddened face around his generous lips, and Art smiled inwardly.

“Not just because I’m clever, old man,” he said in his most urbane tone, relishing the moment. “I’m also quite charming, you know.”

For an instant, he though he’d gone too far. Markos’ left eye twitched in a manner most disturbing, and the wicked claw on his free hand slid in and out of its cage seemingly independent of conscious control. Art wondered distantly if his blood was to shortly join the Dottore’s.

“But- but you couldn’t have been there! I watched them leave the Dottore’s apartments, and nobody went in until I did.”

At Nelline’s confused interjection the berserker madness faded from Markos’ eyes. Art thanked the gods as a few of the knots in his gut untied themselves.

“Magae,” scorn weighted Markos’ rough voice, “you of all people should know of what magichanica is capable. Ascending the wall to Atrianni’s window is simple when you rely not upon your own strength, but upon that of forged steel and magical formulae.” He drove his free hand into the side of the crate next to him with the sound of rending wood and a shower of splinters. He withdrew it with another crack and held it up before him. Slivers clung to the congealing blood along the claw and caught the light.

“You, you killed the Dottore? Because he gave formulae to Captain Caelish?”

A note in Nelline’s voice set alarm bells ringing in Art’s mind. Whomever the good Dottore had been to Markos, he’d obviously been someone else entirely to Nelline Comelissa, Magae of Mekeigos. The skin between Art’s shoulder-blades crawled, and he wished he could see the petite woman’s face. Unfortunately, the grip Markos maintained on his coat prevented him from turning his head that far.

Markos turned a surprised expression on Nelline.

“Why, no, Magae. The Dottore killed himself. When he chose to betray the will of Annemnos Aesymnetes, Atrianni proclaimed the necessity of his death to the universe.” The Mekeigan agent sounded genuinely perplexed by Nelline’s surprise. “That I was chosen to be the instrument of that will is an accident of circumstances, though I’d never shirk my duty.” He glared at Art, who assayed an insolent shrug.

Inwardly, Art was stunned. When they’d left Atrianni, the man had been calm, even relaxed. When Nelline informed them of his death, he’d been shocked. When Markos had admitted to wielding the knife, and then in the same breath absolved himself of any culpability in the gruesome death of a man not even a citizen of his own city, Art’s slow temper had started to burn. Even now he found himself looking over his enemy for a weakness to exploit.

It was truly a pity the magichanical suit came with a steel codpiece.

“You killed Dottore Atrianni because he sold formulae to the Republic.” Nelline’s calm – almost serene – tone set Art’s guts to knotting in a way Markos’ threats never could. A soft scuff of a shoe told him Mallar was trying to put as much distance between himself and the rest of them as he could.

Markos blinked.

“Magae,” he explained slowly, as though to a child, “the man killed himself when he chose against Mekeigos. Much like this fool. That it is my duty to be the tool in both their deaths is not my doing, but neither will I go against the requirements laid upon me. In the same way, you will return to face the punishment for your crimes.”

“Menigarius was still a young man,” Nelline’s voice sank nearly to a whisper, and every instinct honed over years of reading marks told Art he needed to be far away. “There was every reason to expect great advances from him for years to come. There were even noises he’d been invited to study at Kortas Ruhk.”

“Serra,” Impatience rippled through Markos’ tone. “When an individual acts against the demands of Mekeigos as the epitome of true governance, that individual must be held up as an example. We do not belong to ourselves, but exist for the furtherance of all. You don’t seem to understand-”

“No! You don’t understand!”

The actinic flash gave Markos no time to prepare; Nelline’s Power cracked, sending the Mekeigan fanatic flying backward to crash into and through one of the pillars holding up the ceiling, despite his massive suit. Fortunately for Art, the magae’s tame lightning jolted Markos hands open, dropping the Welfraian to the floor with no more injury than some distressing tears in his favorite coat.

Art blinked to focus his much-abused eyes and snaked his hand inside his coat for his repeater. As he spun, he heard a grunt from Mallar, and a more muted crack of Power from Nelline, accompanied by a slightly less-blinding flash of light.

As his vision cleared, Art took in the chaos before him. One suited thug lay crumpled in the shattered wreckage of yet another crate. The foot-long splinter standing out of one eye suggested he wasn’t likely to be interfering further. Nelline stared at him in horror, oblivious to the rest of the world.

Mallar knelt on hands and knees, blood dripping from his face matching that on the gauntlet of the remaining henchman. The henchman, face a mask of battle-rage and fear, swung one claw-suited foot back and aimed a kick at the kneeling man’s head.

Art’s arm swung up without conscious volition, and his repeater bucked in his grip without him registering the bark as it fired. Sparks flew as his bullet spanged off the thug’s steel hat, snapping his head to one side and replacing his furious expression with one of shock. The inches-long claws on his suited foot whistled as they whipped just past Mallar’s groggy face.
“Hah,” Art crowed.

The suited thug crouched and extended one arm in front of him. Steam hissed, gears whined and metal slats fanned out to snap into a circular shield of overlapping blades, which he held in front of his head. Art snapped off another pair of shots, and his heart sank as the heavy slugs ricocheted off the barrier.

The thug, emboldened by Art’s impotence, rose to his feet and extended a blade from his other arm nearly identical to the one Markos had used on Atrianni. He advanced again on Mallar, blade cocked back to strike, shield interposed between himself and Art.

A vision of the immediate future flashed in front of Art’s eyes. With Trank dead and unable to provide timely antidote, the quiet poison flowing through Art’s veins would awaken, and life would become truly hellish. He had no desire to experience that again.

Art cursed and dropped his trusty pistol. A quick stride and a lunge sent him careening into Trank. He wrapped his arms around his still-dazed partner and rolled, pulling the two of them out of range of the cruel blade, albeit momentarily.

An inconveniently placed crate met Art’s skull with a sound impressively like a leather-wrapped stone hitting a hollow log. The sound carried on for a goodly while somewhere between Art’s ears as he disinterestedly watched Markos’ remaining associate move toward them.

The man’s clanking steps echoed mutedly somewhere in the distance as Art tried with detached desperation to flog his thoughts into a semblance of coherence. The Mekeigan agent’s eyes assumed a killer’s disinterest as he raised his bladed gauntlet and inspected the single claw.

Art’s stunned mind watched with absent horror as a fiery gleam limned the suited agent with an orange glow. The low hum of his suit’s compact boiler rose into a demon’s hellish shriek, and the calm detachment in the agent’s face turned to horror as he began to claw at his back.

A split-second later, the agent’s scream joined that of his suit in hideous dissonance. The suit’s howl rose until it was a barely audible whine that set Art’s teeth buzzing in his skull. The stink of hot metal mixed with burning wool and pork assaulted his nostrils, and Art had just enough presence of mind to turn his head away. A thunderous roar deafened him and he felt a hand of force push him against the floor.

When Art returned to himself, he looked up to see what was assuredly a portion of the Mekeigan thug’s suited foot embedded by the claws in the crate near his head. Impressed by the violence, and a little nauseated, he rolled over to see a scorched spot on the stone floor and no sign of Nelline.

Art rolled to hands and knees and heaved himself to his feet. After hauling Mallar up to join him, he looked around for the missing magae and his dropped pistol. The latter he discovered a few steps away. He sighed as he examined it; the fall had bent the front sight out of alignment. He growled in irritation, even as his hands went through the automatic routine of reloading and holstering the weapon.

A sharp oath and the smell of wood smoke jerked Art’s head up. Fragments of exploded magichanica sent flames licking over seasoned wood crates throughout the expansive warehouse. Art’s pulse pounded in time to the thudding pain in his head.

“Cap’n, we’ve got no more’n a few ticks before this whole place is a giant bonfire.”

“Inferno, Mallar,” Art corrected. “Or conflagration. But giant bonfire? What shall I do with you?”

“Survive more fights, I expect, sir.” No sign of the pain he must be feeling showed on Trank’s face. Art shrugged, unwilling to concede the point, despite the obvious truth of it.

“Where’s the magae,” he asked instead.

“Here,” came the thready reply from behind him.

Nelline tottered out from behind a large crate. Exhaustion etched deep lines in her too-pale face, adding years to her appearance. The fracas had completely disheveled her dark hair, and her hands shook as she approached them on unsteady feet.

“Serra Comelissa,” Mallar said, bowing deeply. When she looked at him in stunned surprise, he explained. “You saved all our lives with your Power.”

“Oh.” Surprise, horror and pride mingled in her countenance. “Thank you?”

“No, Nelline,” Art said. “Thank you. I doubt we could have overcome the Mekeigan agents on our own. Truly, we’re more simple messengers than stalwart warriors. Without your astonishing abilities, we’d undoubtedly have died here today.”

“Which we still might,” Mallar muttered.

“Oh,” Nelline repeated, responding to Art. “I, I suppose I’ve killed three men today. The hardest part was adapting the formulae to avoid scorching the flesh from my hands. I can see how there may be some changes in applied magichanical metallurgy in the days to come. I’m not certain whether I’m horrified by my actions, or by the thought that I’m glad such horrible people are dead.”

She patted her sides, as though looking for something. Her bright tone and absent expression concerned Art. “I really do need to write these changes down before I forget them.”

At the last word, Nelline’s green eyes rolled up in her head and she pitched forward in a faint. Art lunged forward to catch her before she could fall to the hard stone floor, and swept her small form up into his arms.

“Thought she’d never shut up,” Mallar’s concerned tone belied his harsh words. He looked about at the no-longer-minor flames chewing through the well-seasoned wood. “Time to go, Cap’n?”
“Time and long since, rapscallion.”

The two men headed back the way they’d entered, and arrived at the parked Victus in short order. Art nodded, and Mallar leaned in to hit the starter button on the magnificent contraption. The low hum of the boiler rose in a howl unpleasantly similar to the exploded suit’s, and the two Andrine agents jerked back in alarm. A muffled cough sounded under the Victus’ engine hood, and dark smoke rose from the vents.

Mallar swore.

“On foot, then, it seems,” Art wasn’t as nonplussed as he sounded. He admitted to himself he was having enormous fun.

The third of the doors leading from the room opened onto a lobby and then to the street. A few seconds with his set of tools, and Mallar had the door open. Art charged into the street, delighted to see a pair of the Doge’s guards walking along the other side of the road.

“Fire!” Art’s shout had the desired effect of drawing all eyes to himself. “Fire in the warehouse! Namboro and Sons promises a month’s wage to all who extinguish it!”

The lie, couched in fear with a touch of desperation and projected in an upper-class Altierestan accent, spread through the crowd much like the fire in the building behind them. Soon, a special chaos ruled the street, and Art was pleased to see the Doge’s men scamper off in search of reinforcements.

“And now, my dearly detested comrade,” he told Mallar, “we simply walk away.”

The two agents strolled down a convenient alley.

“What about the magae, Cap’n?” Mallar indicated the unconscious woman in Art’s arms. His tone left no doubt that he was concerned about Nelline’s fate. “Don’t seem right to leave her in the street.”

“And no more shall we. The safe-house should have an easily alterable cover identity for her. I imagine a Mekeigan magae deemed an Enemy of the State could find employment nearly anywhere else. We can make the offer when she wakes up. Until then, we go to the safe-house. We’ll pick up our new covers, a change of clothes, and airship tickets home. When we reach the aerodrome, we can purchase one for her, if she’s amenable.”

“And if she’s not?”

“Burn that bridge when we come to it, I expect.”

Mallar looked over his shoulder at the rising pall of smoke from the warehouse.

“Bit unfortunate turn of phrase, there, Cap’n. Namboro may not want to help us in the future.”

Art looked over his shoulder as a squad the Doge’s guards thundered past. He shrugged.

“Who knows? Perhaps they’ll manage to put out the fire.”

*I know I’m supposed to put links up. I don’t have time this morning, as Saturday mornings are actually pretty busy around the Dave household.*