Tag Archives: independent author

Schade of Night Book Review

Schade of Night by JP Wilder
Schade of Night by JP Wilder

I read JP Wilder’s Schade of Night this past weekend and I wanted to share my review of that.  Here’s the book description below:

Schade Lee, ex-FBI agent turned PI, is on a mission to prove her dreams wrong. While on a case to find runaway Kylie Berson, Schade follows a gruesome path where she learns Kylie is in love with a serial killer with animalistic instincts. But what she does not know is that the killer is of supernatural origins, that she will inherit a demonic bloodline on her thirty-third birthday, and that she has had a guardian since birth.

After the killer lures her to a frozen town, Schade meets her guardian, Kenan Quicke, who tells her they are allies with the same goal. But Schade, who has never made a habit of trusting strangers, decides to continue on her mission—just as she learns the killer has set his sights on her. His plan is to recover an ancient artifact and use it to steal her budding power at the height of her soul’s transition. Now, with help from Kenan, she must not only defeat the killer and destroy the artifact, but also face the Sentinels, a shadowy organization that intends to enslave her for their own purposes.

I’ll start this off by saying Schade of Night is very dark contemporary fantasy.  The characters live in a twisted, shadowy world where people’s souls are stripped from them, characters lives are taken, and where being a seemingly main character is no guarantee for survival.  JP Wilder does a great job of showing that, as every page gives the reader a level of concern about not just how the book might end, but whether this or that character is even going to make it to the next paragraph.

Wilder ratchets up the tension with each encounter and his attention to detail is such that the universe is encompassing and solid, even if, as blood spatters everywhere, you might not wish to be so immersed just then.  The violence comes quick and often, and the characters are in the unenviable positions of knowing exactly what they need to do… and knowing they haven’t a hope in hell of doing it on their own.

Schade of Night is a book that embraces the darkness of its own story and comes out the other side giving the reader a sense that, while the world may be a dark place, there are still those who will face that darkness and fight it until the end.  It is not a story of happy endings but of calamities averted at great cost.  You don’t need to read Schade of Night, but you should.

 

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Independent Author’s Toolbag: Alpha and Beta Readers

One of the biggest fears that I face as an author is the dread of wondering what people will think. The reaction of family and friends is one thing… but what about people you don’t know who are going to pick up the book in a store or glance at it on kindle? For that matter, how do you go through and make certain that the plot, characters, and other issues are iron-tight?

My solution, and what many authors do, is make use of alpha and beta readers. It’s a common use in the gaming industry, though I’m certain authors have used the technique long before they borrowed (okay, stole) the term from the gamers.

Basically, your first readable copy (or maybe second or third, depends on how you feel about it) goes to your alpha readers. This is normally a small number of people. These people should be picked from people you know as filling several key catagories: Critical Thinking/Reading Skills, Honesty, and Timeliness. You may laugh at some of them… until you’re trying to get that nerdy friend of yours to explain why the opening scene feels ‘a little funky’ after they’ve had the book in their hands for over a year. Critical Thinking/Reading is essential in an Alpha, they have to understand what you wrote and they have to be able to think about what you’re doing and then tell you what they thought about it. If you’re interested in Independent Publishing, time is a serious factor here. Traditional Authors have years to get books out, independent authors need to feed the voracious appetite of their readers… else be forgotten as those readers go elsewhere. You don’t need an alpha reader who sugarcoats their opinions or, worse, is too afraid to hurt your feelings to tell you the truth. One of my favorite alpha readers has straight up told me before when he thought what I wrote was crap. I disagreed, but I’ll admit he had good points and his comments made me reevaluate what I was doing as a writer. I’m grateful that I have alphas like him who can tell me when they don’t like something.

After I get all my feedback from the alphas, that’s when I go back through and do the serious edits. Often I’ll spend hours discussing some of the changes I’ve thought about… sometimes I’ll be talked out of some of those edits, other times, I’ll do them in spite of what the feedback says. There have been times where I’ll write two or three versions of a scene and run them past certain readers trying to get it just right.

Beta readers are the next step. Once you have the final draft, you send it out to a larger audience. These, for me, are often friends or acquaintances that I trust to give me overall opinions on the work as a whole and maybe some more focused opinions on individual items or characters. If I’m featuring some science/technical aspect that I’m not certain about and one of my betas is an expert (or at least knows more than me) I’ll run it past them during the alpha stage. Beta readers are a spectrum of a general audience. They can include genre readers, but also out-of-genre readers. If I’ve written something with a target audience, those beta readers from that audience are the main voices I want to hear. The responses from all my beta readers are often used to make final tweaks. If a scene didn’t have the emotional draw that I wanted or if a character wasn’t memorable enough, then I go back and tweak a bit more.

The key thing you get from your beta readers is an overall evaluation of the quality of your work. Ideally, your work is publishable by the time it gets to them, but their reactions to it are the key to understanding how ready it really is… and how great a story it is. If you get frantic phone calls at 2 AM because a reader couldn’t put it down, that’s a good sign. If you have to prod, nudge, and heckle your beta readers to get so much as a thumbs up or down, that’s a bad sign.  I’ve had both happen (on the same novel no less).  The big thing is to get an honest appreciation of your story and to adapt it and improve it as a result.

Independent Author’s Toolbag: Publishing an Audiobook pt 3

This is the final post I’ll have as far as building an audiobook with Amazon’s ACX system.   In the first two installments, I talked about the process, first enrolling/selecting your book, then choosing a narrator and finally proofing the narrated sections.  You can see those two sections here and here.

It was a time-consuming process.  It was also fairly exhausting for someone who works full time, writes, is married, and has something of a social life.  I would estimate that it was at least forty hours of work even after selecting a narrator.  There were multiple edits that had to take place to meet ACX’s guidelines on things like the pauses between chapters (too long, who knew?) and the silence during a pause (apparently it has to be very quiet).  All that aside, this post is going to look at the end results: the royalty process and profits.

Now, going into this, I had the option to split royalties or pay the narrator in a lump sum.  I’m not a split royalties type of person.  For one thing, I put tens of thousands of hours in writing.  Why do I want to share that much effort with someone else if I don’t have to?  For another, long term, I figured it would pay better to do a lump sum.  This meant instead of 25% of the profits as royalties I’d receive 50%.  Roughly twice as much.

Now the ACX program has a couple issues that I’ll comment on.  For one, they’re not like Kindle Direct Publishing with hourly updates on sales and a running estimate of royalties earned.  With ACX, you get a tracker updated around midnight PST with total sales by type.  These types roughly tell you how much you’ll earn, but only roughly, because, remember, you don’t set the price, Audible, Amazon, and iTunes set the price of your audiobook.  That price also varies by method of purchase.  From initial reading through my royalty statement, it looks like subscribers using their Audible credits paid roughly $12 a copy, subscribers purchasing paid around $15, and everyone else paid around $25 for my book The Fallen Race.  That daily update shows the breakdown between the three types of purchasers.  It doesn’t show the royalty rate or the price paid or any of that, just the number of sales in each category.  Where this becomes an issue, is, if you’re like me and you paid out of your own pocket to fund the narration.  You’re biting your nails hoping that this thing will pay for itself.  There’s a mortgage to pay and food to put on the table, and it’s very hard to estimate earnings when you don’t have all the information.

When you get the information is very similar to KDP.  Thirty days after the last calendar day of the month, they send you a royalty statement.  Unlike KDP, ACX mails it to you (at least for those in the US, for elsewhere, I understand it is every quarter rather than every month).  That’s right, you have to check your mail.  On the other hand, checking the mail is rather exciting when you’re expecting your royalty check in it.  This is where ACX really shines, though.  They break down royalty percentage, sales of each type and all the information you could really want in a readable format.  Plus, they give you the matching check with whole package, which really gives you a nice feeling of completeness.

The other issue that I’m on the fence about is transparency with iTunes.  Amazon and Audible are owned by the same company, so the sales are pretty similar.  The iTunes sales of my book, however, I have no earthly idea how to monitor or even really how I’ll receive royalties.  They could be rolled up in my other sales or it could be a separate royalty statement entirely.  That leads me to my last complaint about  the process.  The FAQ’s and information provided by ACX without going directly to their customer support is either inaccurate or very thin, particularly on the things that really matter once the audiobook is completed.  The royalties are listed as 40% there on their information, but I receive 50%, according to my statement (I’ll gladly accept more, but it was something of a surprise, is all).  They say they’ll mail royalty statements every month.  They don’t mention it will be 30 days after each month.  That’s what I expected, but still, they need to get in there and clarify.  Those are the ones that mattered to me, but there’s a lot of other inaccuracies in there or just places where you can’t find the information you want without sending an email.

On the positive side, I’m very pleased with how the system as a whole works.  Publishing my books in audio format allows me to reach a much broader audience.  That in turn means more money and reaching a larger reader/listener base.  For that matter, from a moderately risky endeavor it has proven itself as a method which I’ll definitely use in the future.  I’m already planning on doing two more audiobooks: Renegades: Origins and the upcoming epic fantasy Echo of the High Kings.  I also plan to do an audiobook of The Shattered Empire when it’s finished.  In the first month of sales I already earned back my initial investment and it looks to be a solid method of sales for independent authors… just a large up front investment of time and money.

Independent Author’s Toolbag: Economics of Writing

This is going to be one of those boring articles where I go into one of the important professional aspects of writing. This is both from my personal perspective as well as from talking with other authors and going through some internet research. There’s lots of information out there on the subject, because it’s near and dear to any author who isn’t a trust fund baby, retiree with a good pension, or someone who is idly rich.

The question at hand: Should you take that leap to quitting the day job and writing full time? More, how do I write full time and still do those fun things like eating and having a roof over my head? It’s an important question, because without being able to pay the utilities, it becomes rather difficult to power up the old computer and write. Sure, you can emulate the writers of yore and click away at your typewriter, but seeing as most agents, publishers, and even indie platforms require digital submission, you’re going to have issues.

There’s a variety of metrics to consider. A single person with aesthetic tastes can live off considerably less than a married writer with several kids. For the importance of renting versus owning versus a mortgage, the author may have a fixed chunk of money that has to go out. Then there are the unexpected expenses: car repairs, medical expenses, etc. How can you judge whether you can afford to write full time?

It’s an economic decision. Part of it is dependent upon your method of publishing. If you’re traditional publishing, how much of an advance will you get, do you have a contract, how much of a cut does your agent get (if you have one)? Then you have to track your royalties, project your sales trends and decide for yourself if this would pay for itself. For most of us, it can be a fairly easy decision: I have a contract to do Y books, each with an advance of X dollars. X times Y equals Z, and my expenses are A. Z minus A is negative, well, then I need to keep my day job. Z minus A is slightly positive, I might want to keep my day job. Z minus A leaves me lots of money, well, get writing.

It can be a lot more difficult as an independent author. You’ve got to study your sales trends, make sense of what you’re seeing, and really make some hard decisions about expenses and savings. There are no advances to judge your initial income. You’ll be a couple months (or more) into sales before you really start to see any kind of trends… and even then, sales can change overnight.

At its roots, it’s the same perspective with either method of publishing. The important thing to remember is that your book sales and your royalties are your income. That cut of income is the deciding factor between working a day job and writing full time. For independent authors, we get a bigger cut of the royalties (as much as 70% dependent upon the platform), but we reach a smaller pool of readers than many who go the traditional publishing route. Depending upon your audience, that can be the difference between working and not needing to.

My own personal experience is rather mixed. I’ve had very good initial sales with the release of The Fallen Race. Assuming I see a similar spike with the release of it’s sequel, The Shattered Empire, I should continue the trend. However, my novella series sells moderately, with most sales driven by people who read The Fallen Race and want to read more of my stuff. The issue, there, is that my novellas sell for less and also give me a smaller royalty cut. Why is that important? Well, the novellas, all told, are somewhere over 200,000 words, which is a hefty writing challenge. Because I priced them at $0.99 I get only 35% royalties with Amazon, so if a reader buys all five, I get: $1.75. If a reader buys my novel The Fallen Race, I get 70% of the royalties, or around $3.50. So I’d need to sell twice as many of the novellas as I do novels to make as much off of them.

The issue there: people like novels more than novellas. This is a sales trend I’d heard, but I didn’t really understand it until I saw it in action. It becomes all the more important when I’ve got expenses like a mortgage and such. Writing full time will require publishing novels, more than that, publishing series of novels. The reason publishers and authors like selling series is that it builds a fan base and is a good way to maintain interest and grow additional readers. In action, as readers become attached to the characters, they tell others about the book series. Since it’s not just one book, but several, it means a higher overall income off of the ideas presented. Why does that matter? Well, authors like Robert Jordan, David Weber, and George R.R. Martin show that there is a good money in writing a long series, one which can continue to capture fans and make money over not just years, but decades.

Making money as an author is made more perilous by taxes. Authors, whether independent or traditional, are considered self employed. Which doesn’t seem too bad, right? You make your own hours, work from home, and can set your dress as casual or formal as you want. The issue is, more money comes out of your earnings at the end of the year than if you had an employer. You’ve got to pay the self-employment tax. Also, your royalties don’t automatically have deductions. So you’ve got to work through your taxes yourself and set aside enough money to account for your earnings. If you’re earning enough to quit the day job, you’re probably earning enough to bump yourself into a higher tax bracket (unless writing is a step down for you). This can be especially difficult in your transition from working a day job to writing full time. If you find yourself successful while still working that day job, then you might just find yourself giving lots more of your hard earned money to the tax man than you expected.

As with most things, having a plan and keeping track of how things are going is a vital part. You may be one of those self motivating types who can write all day without any deadline pressures, but even so, you’ll need to monitor your finances. For those of you who are procrastinators like me, deadlines (and bills) can go a long way into ensuring you write hard for your supper. And though you may find initial success, you have to be ready to dig in and do what you don’t want to do: go back to working a day job. It sucks, especially with that first taste of freedom, but it’s far better to suffer a little and still maintain yourself and your family than it is to end up out in the streets. While the starving artist is a trope, it can be painfully accurate if you aren’t careful. Remember, lots of those starving artists die young, miserable, and alone. Don’t be like them. Make a plan, map out your route to success, and look before you leap.

Independent Author’s Toolbag: Editing

If you’re an independent author like me, when you get to the point where you’ve finished your manuscript, you need to start editing. This really gives you three options: self editing, getting someone to help, or hiring a professional. Each of these has some positive and negative aspects, and I’ll do a rundown of my own experiences therein. I cannot overstate the importance of editing, both for formatting and for appearance. Nothing turns off readers faster than poor grammar and misspellings.

First off, self editing. Self Editing is just what it sounds like, going through your manuscript and doing a line edit for grammar, punctuation, and flow. Most of this is simple stuff, but sometimes, you may have to stop and look up specifics on how the mechanisms work and to make sure you’re using things correctly. There are a couple major issues with self editing. The first one is that you, as the author, are probably not the best person to do this. A tendency for most people is to see what they expect to see. What that means is when you look at something you wrote, you know what you wrote and therefore might miss a typo or will understand something that will be confusing for someone else. The second issue with self editing, especially if this is your only method of editing, is that without outside influence, issues with the flow or structure of your work will not receive outside attention. It is difficult to improve these kinds of problems when you may not even realize that they are there. In the positive, self editing allows you to improve your writing through discovering issues with word use and other bad habits. In addition, self editing is cheap. For those looking to save money, this is one place where that can serve as a trade-off. However, you may find you’ll have to do multiple series of edits to make sure you clean up your manuscript. There are a few tools to mitigate some of the issues and maximize the positives. The first is reading your text aloud as you go through. This will often allow you to notice issues with grammar and word choice. Why this works is complicated, but basically you use a different part of your brain when reading aloud. It’s also a great method to see if your dialog is wooden. Another method is, oddly enough, reading sections of your book in reverse order. Note, I don’t say read the sentence backwards, but start at the end and read paragraphs out of order. This disjoints the experience and allows your brain to focus on the individual sections rather than putting the whole into a story.

The second method is getting a friend or someone else to help out. Note, if your ‘someone’ is a professional editor, that’s a different can of worms which I’ll address later. This method is great if you have a friend or family member (or even a fan) who has a mind for nitpicking details. This method is good for a few reasons. First off, a fresh set of eyes may catch details that you would miss. Also, if the person finds some section confusing, then you probably need to go do some edits. It is also a great method for seeing if the story flows well and if it hooks the reader. If your friend can’t put it down and finishes it quickly, that’s a great sign. On the downsides this method is rarely foolproof. No matter how helpful the person might feel, this will probably not be their priority. You may have to wait weeks or even months for them to finish their review. Also, depending on their background, your friend may miss certain issues, especially the kind of things such a pacing and scene tones which can change a good book into a great book. Lastly, sometimes these kinds of arrangements can go sour or can strain a friendship. There are a couple of methods to improve your results in this style of editing your manuscript. The first is to take a step back and realize that any criticisms are not attacks on you… they’re attempts to help you improve your story. Unless of course, they are attacks on you, in which case you should politely tell your editor that their assistance is no longer required. The next method, is to be sure you find the right kind of help. Writing groups are good places for authors to network, and some authors are more than willing to exchange manuscripts. Editing someone else’s manuscript is also a great way to learn about your own writing issues and can give you a different perspective on the editing process.

The last method is to hire a professional editor. This is often a task that can seem daunting, but can have the biggest payoff. There are a number of freelance copyeditors and editors who will look your manuscript over for reasonable rates. The first issue here is cost. If you don’t have the money to pay an editor, then this probably won’t work out for you. However, I view this as an investment. Find a good editor and they are professionally inclined to clean up the issues… because it’s not just your work at that point… they put their professional name behind it as well. The other issue here is making certain you find the right editor. Talk with other independent authors. Many times they have experiences with various editors and can give you info on the ones they liked to work with.

Hopefully this helps you in editing your manuscript. Remember, editing is an investment (of time or money) to make your story better and more palatable to readers.

April Writing Update

Now that Renegades: Origins and Renegades: A Murder of Crowes are out on schedule (more or less), I have to move on to the next projects. I say projects, because I’m working on multiple tasks and I’m going to be really busy over the next few months. My writing goals for the next four months are to write the sequel to The Fallen Race, write a YA novel, and to edit a couple other novels and . That’s a lot to work on and really not much time to do it.

My preference, honestly, is to work on new stuff. The sequel is something I’ve wanted to write for the past seven years, ever since I originally finished The Fallen Race. I finished the novel in a place that still left the human race in dire straits. The sequel, which I’m currently titling as The Shattered Empire, takes place only a few weeks after the Third Battle of Faraday. I’ve had it outlined and even partially started for over seven years. Understandably, I want to finish it.

The YA novel is somewhat harder to explain. It is set in a wholly different universe from The Renegades and Shadow Space Chronicles. I’ve already written a novel in that universe, though it isn’t YA. I’m currently dissatisfied with a lot of the YA Science Fiction and Fantasy that is available. Much of it is more fantasy than science, and a lot of it is post-apocalyptic in a fashion that implies that the good times are over… that young adults have little or nothing to look forward to in the future. My goal is to write something a little inspirational and exciting and something that shows that science, exploration, and the future are all things that can be great… with a little hard work.

Editing is something that I’m more hesitant to work on. On the one hand, I really want to get more of my novels out there. On the other… some of them will require a lot of work. More than that, editing is a multi-step process where I revise and deliver to my alpha and beta readers… and then they have to find time to read. For some, that’s a quick turn around. For others, well, it can take a few months (or years). I want to get my backlist out and available… but I want them done right. And really, sometimes it is easier for me to start over from scratch and write something new rather than going back and editing, revising, editing, revising, and tweaking until it is almost but not quite where I want it to be. That said, the novels Fenris Unchained and Echo of the High Kings are both on my list for getting to a publishable state.  I’d expect EHK out soonest, but probably not before the end of summer 14.  Fenris Unchained requires less edits, overall, but is a lower priority.

I’ve got a lot on my plate. But, ideally, you should see something new from me in the next couple months. Also, if you don’t yet follow me on Facebook, I’ll begin posting my writing progress there, both as something of a guide stick and a way to encourage myself. Assuming that all you fine digital people like that sort of thing, I might even post some samples there.

Writing Progress & Update

I thought it best that I update my readers (or at least those of you who check here for inf0) on my current work and progress.

Right now I’m done writing Renegades: A Murder of Crowes, the fifth novella in the series.  That will be posted singly.  I’m currently working on Lab Notes, a short story from Run the Chxor’s perspective.  That story, along with Runner, Fool’s Gold, XXX, and Refugee will be included with all five Renegades novellas into one omnibus called Renegades: Origins.  While I know that many people have already purchased some or all of the novellas, this will be your chance to get all five as well as five short stories, four of which are all new.

Once Renegades: Orgins is completed, I’ll go to work on my next project: The Shattered Empire.  The second book of the Shadow Space Chronicles follows the events of The Fallen Race.  It takes place a short time after the Third Battle of Faraday, and it covers Baron Giovanni and the UC taking the offensive, not just in a raid or battle over a minor world, but engaging the Chxor at vital systems and trying to turn the tide of the war.

While writing that, I’m going to try to balance attendence at various conventions, editing and releasing some of my other finished works, and plotting out the YA science fiction book I’ve been wanting to write.  So I’m pretty busy.

I’ve been asked where some of these series are going and whether there will be series.  As a short answer… yes and no.  The Renegades novellas are something I love writing, but to be honest, they don’t earn back nearly as much effort as I’ve put into them.  I’ll still write them and I plan that series to be a long-running one.  The Fallen Race has left some (very big) loose ends, which I plan to tie up in another two or three novels.  After that I’ve got another series planned that ties in, though it is set a few years later, with new characters and a new storyline.

I do have a few stand-alone books, both written and plotted.  The issue I face with that is as an independent author, there are some readers that I can’t reach without an estabilished series.  That said, I’m not the type to run a character through ten or even twenty books of action.  At a certain point an author runs the risk that the character’s arc is spent, either they’ve culminated and grown to the point that they can handle whatever follows or the story becomes repetitive.  Don’t get me wrong, some authors can do it, and do it brilliantly.  But that’s not where my current novels are headed.  Eventually Lucius Giovanni’s part in The Shadow Space Chronicles will come to an end.  I know who will take up the fight after him.  I know where the story will go from there.  But, it will be a different series, new characters, and a new story arc.

All that said, any comments or questions from me?  I don’t mind taking time to answer questions.  Also, I’ll be attending Starfest at Denver on 2-4 May, 2014, so if you have questions, want a book signed, or just want to talk, feel free to find me there!