In Response

I sat back, incredulous, believing only that my eyes deceived me. There was no way they were interpreting the light coming from my laptop correctly. Somewhere between that glowing screen and the synapses of my brain, the signal was jumbled. Maybe the problem lay deeper, I though, and clicked refresh. But there it was, plain as day.

Five stars.

Another one.

I dare you to review this book.

I dare you to review this book.

No. Way. Why? How? Who? Questions ran through my scrambled brain, trying to rectify the words I was reading to the apparent fact that they were about words I had written.

best things from Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and Firefly“*

A wonderful collection of characters and tales, seeded throughout with colorful snippets of “future history.”*

“skilled story-telling and imaginative world-building“*

“Humanities crowning achievement. A modern wonder of the world, surpassing the first seven.”**

They had to be talking about someone else. Not me. I had to know why. I gchatted my friend, Carey.

“You’ve been reading reviews again, haven’t you?”


“You’re an idiot,” she said, sending me a link to a ridiculous cat gif.

Really helpful. I pressed on in my righteous course. I had to find out who these people were and why they said these things. One of the reviews was from ‘Scott’, as if that would be his real name. I found him on Twitter, and from the looks of it, he likes sports (as if) and runs a blog where he gives thoughtful, balanced reviews to a lot of SciFi books. He even writes. Probably writing these nice reviews in order to get attention.

What a monster.

Maybe I’m crazy, I thought. Should I just leave it alone? But then- he lives not to far from here. An hours drive…

A couple minutes of Googling later, and I have his home and work address, phone numbers and a disturbingly descriptive account of an incident with a banana in grade school.

Obviously Carey was no help, so I tried Megan.


“Don’t do it, you moron.”

“I haven’t even said anything yet.”

“Carey told me.”


“Yes. Don’t. Do. It.” More links to gifs, this one from that show, with the guy giving the side eye. Apparently it’s funny because his name is Dean.

They don’t understand. Don’t they get it? These reviews could make me. If people read them, they might buy my book, and I might make enough to write full-time. So I have to meet him. I have to know.

Maybe I should call first. Yeah, I’ll do that. The phone rings, his ringback tone is that damn Happy song, because of course it is.


My blood is ice when he answers. What am I even going to say?

“Hi. Scott?”


The man’s nerve is not to be believed. He doesn’t even deny his online persona. Who does that? Monsters, that’s who.

“Hey, uh Scott. You write a book blog, right?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“What’s your review policy?”

He goes on about it for awhile, never even denying anything. He’s super pleasant the whole time.

The nerve of this guy.

“so, yeah, feel free to send it over. You have my email?”

Oh, I have your email, Scott.

The exchange rattles around in my brain for the next few days. I want more. I’m not satisfied. He needs to explain himself. I want him to say, “Yes, I’m Scott Whitmore and I gave your book five stars.”

I need to see him, face-to-face, man-to-man, and possibly several other arbitrary pairings. So it is, I am sitting in his driveway, holding my breath, ready for the exchange. I don’t know what I’m going to say, my mind is a cold London night in a fog as I walk up the drive. I exhale as my knuckles reach the door- the die is cast.

The door opens. It’s him.

“Hi, Scott,” I say.

“Do I know you?”

“It’s Dean.”

His face is blank. “You reviewed my book.”

“Oh! Hey! Yeah, man. I really liked it. What are you doing here?” I feel guilty for lying on the phone before. But I have to see it through,

“I… I wanted to know why.”

He looks puzzled. “I… I really liked it.”

Relief washes over me. “Oh. Cool.” What now? “How about the Mariners?”

“It was a fun season! Want a beer?”

Yeah, Scott. Yeah I do.

**NOTE: The people mentioned in this post are real, and are wonderful, and I don’t think Scott has a weird grade-school story involving a banana. Megan and Carey would send me gifs, tho**

*from real reviews of 3024AD.

**This one is not.

I Won a Thing

I really want to make Hugh Howey jokes.

But I won’t.

Instead, I will tell you a story. When I first started this adventure, not having a real clue as to what the hell I was doing, I made a list of place I wanted to target to get reviews from. I segregated it a bit, based on the size of it, readership, etc. One of the upper tier places was a blog called The Cult Den, which my friend Sara/Bella had written a guest post for once, so I figured I had an in. The twist was that the site had just been sold and, no, she didn’t know the new crew.


I released 3024AD, and figured I’d shoot an email over at some point. First order of business was a simple tweet of “Anyone want a review copy?” The new editor, Steve replied.

So, that was easy.

He wrote a glowing review, which was incredibly flattering at that early stage, and doubly so since he ran a blog I really liked, and wanted a review from.

Super rad, right? But that’s not the end.

Fast forward to now, and Steve emails me to tell me 3024AD is The Cult Den pick for self-published book of 2013.

This is the part where words fail me.

Not that I am particularly well-known, but, man, adjusting to having fans is surreal- to say nothing of having anyone say “This is the best in the field” is… again, no words.

You’d think I’d have them, what with being a writer and all.

So, to The Cult Den, and all you dear readers who have made this a success, thank you. Thank you for reading and enjoying what I do, and I hope you stick around for the rest of the ride.


Why You Should Self-Publish

In case you missed it yesterday (which my stats tell me you didn’t), I listed several reasons not to self-publish. The received the predicable response- I’m full of it, the ‘I sell a bunch of books’ (I never said you couldn’t, and to be fair, the person who said that knows what she’s about) and of course the ‘you-might-learn-something’ one.

Let your hate flow through you. Give in to the dark side.

In any case, here are the reasons I decided to self-publish. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments.

Money. I mean, really? This is what it boils down to, when you’re selling a book and not writing one. 70% is a better cut than it is ever possible to get through any traditional publisher. Even if you sell less books, you can still make more money. Pretty good motivation.

Control. It is a chore, as I said yesterday. You have to decide on editors, artists, etc. But, on the flip side, you get to- you don’t get handed a cover, or an editor that you just have to live with.

Time. If you go the traditional route, you’re submitting to agents for a minimum of six months, who in turn submit to publishing houses for at least that long, who in turn go through the whole editing process, cover art, etc, which is (at least) months. Oh, and if your book is not the next 50 Shade of Grey, in that it’s actually an intelligent piece of literature, or doesn’t feature cookie cutter heroes & villains, good luck even getting it published (how’s that, people who said I sounded bitter about self-publishing?). If you self-publish, your book will be out months- if not years- sooner.

Accountability. It’s no secret that there is a lot of crap out there, and I’ve said before that it’s unfair to ask readers to read through slush. But with self-publishing, you are directly accountable to readers- and readers only. They like your book, or they don’t. It’s not governed by what’s hot, if it has White People Kissing on the cover, or whatever safe standard trainload publishers hold writers too. The reader gets to decide if it is good or not.

And there is this… (via Bo’s Cafe Life)

You Define Success. You want to be a best seller? Work your ass off, and you can get there. You want to have a book out and don’t care how many copies you sell or how much you make? Bam, done. You just want to share your work with the world? There you go. Traditional publishing isn’t going to do anything for you unless it can make money off you. That’s not wrong, it’s just the way business works. But if you self-publish, you get to decide what your goals are, and work towards them- no matter what they are.


Why You Shouldn’t Self-Publish

It’s been noted that I can be somewhat negative. I’m not a negative person, but I play one on the internet. I write a lot about publishing in general, and self-publishing specifically, so I thought I’d be really negative about it for this post. So are you thinking about self-publishing? Here’s why you shouldn’t (edit: and here’s why you should, lest you think I am one sided):

You’re not writing, you’re publishing. All that skill you have as a writer? It means exactly jack when it comes to publishing. Publishing is a business, and business is about money. Artists are notoriously bad at business. You want to get your art, your story, out there? Good for you. But if that’s your object, you probably shouldn’t self-publish because it probably won’t get out there.

You have to do everything. Find an editor, cover artist, proofreaders, everyone. You have to market it, and sift through the litany of snake oil that is out there about how you should market your book (mostly in the form of “BUY THIS BOOK AND YOU WILL SELL A MILLION BOOKS”). Like point No. 1 up there, you have way less time to write because you have to do all that crap and/or pay someone else to do it for you. All the stuff you hear (and say) about having full editorial and artistic control becomes a giant chore.

Hugh Howey lucked into success and it will piss you off: Seriously. Him and every other story you hear about how someone makes like six figures a month because of their book that really isn’t that good and they did dick for marketing. You will pull your hair out and scream “that guy is a HACK how is he selling at all, my book is way better why isn’t it selling” over and over.

You’re doing it wrong. Even if you’re doing it right. “Tweet about your book over and over! Don’t forget hashtags!” “Don’t spam your followers, they will get annoyed and leave!” “You have to be always on!” “SEO!” “Social Media!” “Word of mouth!” “Keep writing!” “Offer it for free!”

Everyone else on the planet has a book out. A third grader self-published a book. This is your competition. Not the third grader per se, but every other jackass who has written a string of words in the last ten years. Somehow (this assumes you are a serious writer and don’t just have some half-assed MS*) readers have to find your book(s) among that pile, read it, love it and tell someone else to read it. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack**.

You are now a self-published author. This is conversational shorthand for ‘not a real author’. Even if you are making six figures a month at it.

(if this sounds super bitter, I will follow up with why you should self-publish)


*If you had to look up what MS stood for, I have some bad news for you.

**Good for the little girl and all, but seriously?

15 Books Every Young Adult Should Read

Young Adult fiction has become this sort of thing, to the point where it’s broken up even farther into young adult and new adult, whatever the hell that means. Recently, there was an article about the 15 Young Adult Books Every Adult Should Read, and I have a couple issues with it, namely: it’s not really all that good of a list, as there is not a book on there older than ten years and the issue with YA in general is that it has become shorthand for ‘poorly written, limited vocabulary and trite plot’ so adults can read it without challenging themselves. Not that this is true of every YA book, obviously- but it is certainly true of a lot of them.

I think Young Adults would be better served by reading good books that maybe aren’t directed at them. So without furthur ado, here are 15 Books Every Young Adult Should Read.

1. Kidnapped, Robert Lewis Stevenson. I have frequently cited this book as a major inspiration for me to write, because it is one of- in my opinion, anyway- the best pure adventures out there. That is something which transcends age.

2. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley. If nothing else, so people will stop calling Frankenstein’s Monster Frankenstein. But truly, because it is one of the best books ever written and says more about the dark side of humanity than any book on that YA list ever will.

3. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte. One of the most beautiful books ever written, with profound statements about integrity and doing the right thing, even when it’s uncomfortable and unpopular. I’ve read it many times, and it is powerful every time.

4. The Count of Monte Christo, Alexandre Dumas. Another pure adventure and revenge tale- but the ultimate moral is that revenge is futile. Oh, and unlike every damn movie made out of it, this story doesn’t have a storybook ending.

5. Dracula, Bram Stoker If you’re going to read ONE vampire book this summer… Seriously. Read it.

6. Foundation, Isaac Asimov. The original Star Wars, except deeper and without the space wizard cop out. It will ruin enjoyment of a lot of science fiction, but open eyes to quality.

7. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. If I was going to tell a young person (I sound old) to read one book on this list, this is it. You will be hard pressed to find a book that makes a more profound statement- or one that provides more profound lessons- than this. Bonus points for the movie being equally powerful (DIGRESSION ALERT: this is why the YA list annoys me. The first book on the list aims for the same thing, but uses this as a lesson: “Good guys don’t do bad things”. Mockingbird shows us that it is wrong to harm or discriminate, particularly against the innocent and those less powerful than ourselves, and that we all bear a social burden)

8. 1984, George Orwell. Still the original and definitive dystopian novel, plus political lessons I’m guessing get left out of a lot of YA literature.

9. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens. And not the version with the happy ending. It’s not a happy story, and it doesn’t have a happy ending. Might as well learn that now.

10. Firestarter, Stephen King (as suggested by Rebecca Parks). I’m not a huge King fan (horror in general, really), but King is a master of it in ways most horror writers just can’t  approach. The depth of his characters, their issues and the suspense he weaves is unparallelled.

11. The Scarlet Letter, Nathanial Hawthorne. A deep look at the divide between private and public selves, plus the first heroine in American fiction.

12. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith (as suggested by Betsy Langowski). A sobering look at life in the early 20th century, immigration and ‘the American Dream’, with important lessons about perseverance woven throughout.

13. Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Another book (series of books and short stories, really) which should be read in order to remove the misconceptions around it and the titular character. Plus, it’s the foundation for nearly every mystery since.

14. The Mysterious Island, Jules Verne. It’s kind of like Swiss Family Robinson, except not all huggy and boring (this book is on here because everyone should read the entire Verne catalog)

15. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien. It’s the Hobbit.

Those are my fifteen- feel free to add books you’d recommend to young adults in the comments!


The Real Issue Facing Self-Published Authors

Yesterday I went on a little bit of a rant regarding how some people talk endlessly about self-publishing, with little or no actual information such as how to tell a good story, how to edit or market or anything else that might actually be useful to the author. This is frustrating to no end, because it creates division where there should be none, this line in the sand between self and traditional publishing that simply should not exist.

Exactly what we do not need

The largest problem is not that you can make money self-publishing- everyone knows that- but recognition. If you’re self-published and looking to get people to review your book, how often do you see some variant of “we do not review self-published works at this time“. And you rage and think why not?! My book is every bit as good as any traditional book, and certainly better than Twilight. Maybe it is. But the book on the digital shelf next to yours probably isn’t- because it’s all one giant slush pile, and readers are supposed to sort through that.

Now, that’s certainly possible, and I have made the argument that it’s a good thing- the cream will rise to the top via more reader involvement, but for the vast majority who just want to grab a book and steal a few moments from real life to read, is that the best thing in the world? To be agitated and annoyed that you grabbed what is billed as the next Lord of the Rings only to find that the author doesn’t know what an apostrophe is for?

If you really care about self-publishing as a viable and sustainable method of publishing, work to make it better, not bigger. Help improve the quality of the works that are distributed that way. If you want to hitch your wagon to it at the exclusion of everything else, that’s your deal. But don’t hail it as a get-rich-quick method that requires no real effort beyond simply writing a manuscript. Make it better and address the issues that are actually issues.


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Self-Publishing is not the Story

Another day, another Salon article whining about failing at self-publishing. What’s that, it’s not? It’s God’s gift to self-publishing, Hugh Howey himself and he says that you can get filthy stinking rich off self-publishing?

What’s your story?

Now, look, I get what he’s trying to do. But the fact that you can make money- and good money- self-publishing is news to exactly no one. There aren’t many authors who need to know that self-publishing is a viable option. In fact, fewer do, so the slush pile he refers to will shrink a little bit. To hear him tell it, everyone should just publish whatever they have. There isn’t word one about editing to be found from him. Nor is there any advice on how to market and promote your book once it is out, which leads to articles like this.

Because that’s the advice Howey gives, to borrow from Chuck Wendig: leave your book in a grassy field and hope someone walks by and picks it up. Maybe they will. Probably not. Either way, that information is useless. Do you know why? Self-publishing is not the story. Hugh really wants it to be. Amazon really wants Hugh to tell it that way (ever notice he never talks about anyone but Amazon? Of course, they’re the cool guy next door who married his mom. Or maybe they’re his mom?), because it helps their cut and helps Hugh sell books because he’s indie, not because he produced a quality work.

In the end, the things that make each self-published author successful (or not) are the same things that have made traditional publishers successful (or not) for the last 100 years- the ability to sell books. That’s it. Talking about how self-publishing can make you money is like saying you can make money being published by Random House. Everyone knows that. And it’s not like you’d do worse if Penguin published you. Again; I get what he’s trying to do, but he’s splitting a very irrelevant hair. You want to help self-publishers? Tell them to hire an editor and cover artist. Tell them how to market well and get their book in front of people. Use your reach to champion the quality books that are yet under the radar, not the people who have already made it.

Tell the story that matters.


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Imagery in Writing

I (re)watched The Third Man the other night, and was struck (as most are) by the imagery in it. Lime, fleeing through the Vienna sewers, silhouetted, is film noir legend. Anna walking slowly, slowly up the lane only to… Well, I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it. But you have to.

Can you create this with just words?

This made me think of non-visual art, namely writing, and how to create such striking, such poignant imagery. It’s all-too-oft said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but is the reverse true? Must a thousand words be spent to paint a picture?

Sometimes, more frequently not. Words have advantages that pictures- and movies- do not. Those are also chasms, pitfalls for the unwary writer or their editor. I am frequently admonished to “Show, not tell”- words can lead the reader down the path, but there is the hidden danger of simply narrating everything to the reader. Worse still, this has become acceptable in modern “literature”- Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey and their ilk all simply tell the reader what they are supposed to be feeling, and the pulp-minded weaklings read such follow blindly along (not that I have any opinions on the matter).

But the serious writer, like the serious reader, wants to be shown and decide for themselves what they should feel. Well-chosen words are your armor; brevity your sword in the literary battlefield. Let the poets have their thousand words; do not gush about the scene, paint it and move on. Concentrate on what your characters are feeling and why they are feeling it. If they are hollow, one-dimisenional dolls such as in the “books” mentioned above, certainly you can dress them up as you please and change them as you see fit. The well-created character will have the emotional response they must have. Sometimes it’s the wrong one- in fact, it should be. Or the right one, after far too long has past.

She stops, right? She HAS to stop. Right? (she doesn’t stop)

Think now of one of the most memorable moments recorded on film. Scarlett has finally realized Rhett loved her and she scorned him- a time too many. He does what he should have done long before- leaves. She, for her part, does what she should have done long before- follows him. In the realization of her life crashing down around her, she asks desperately where she will go. He turns to her and says… You know the rest. You spend nearly four hours begging her to love him or him to move on from her until that’s the only way that story can end, and the ending is no worse for the foreshadowing.

Or imagine the end (OK, I will spoil it) of The Third Man. Anna taking the long walk, reproduced from the first funeral, this time with Holly waiting. You sit and watch. Imagine the words. What is going through Holly’s mind? Is he thinking of Lime’s last assurance- “You’ll find she’s worth it, Holly“? Or is he dreaming of the future when she reaches him? Or..?

What goes through his mind when she doesn’t stop, doesn’t look at him? What does he hear, hear footsteps fading on the Vienna road? Does he cry? Does he shrug?

As in that last shot, what is omitted is frequently as critical as what is included- particularly for purposes of gripping the reader. It can get them to turn the page, or keep talking about what happened or what might have happened. When showing something, let them fill in some blanks- give the reader what they need, but don’t force everything on them. In this way, they take ownership of it. It’s not a moving picture where they’re forced to acquiesce to exactly what is being shown to them, but rather, they enliven the scene by adding in details that are their own.

The list goes on, and I am quite sure you can name a hundred other examples off the top of your head. It’s good, I find, to reflect on other mediums, how it is executed there, then try to figure out how to apply that to the written form.


Writing as a Business

Without beating a dead horse (or beating a horse I beat a lot anyway) (why are we beating horses?), it’s a pretty exciting time to be involved in publishing. It’s moving from a model that has worked OK  for quite a while, into a new, fast-paced digital realm where creators have more control than ever before. In fact, you- yes, you– can whip up your manuscript, have your graphic designer friend put together a cover, hit F7 and upload a file and bam, you’re a published author. Sit back at watch the money roll in.

Except, not. The notion of an overnight success is a lie, and you aren’t the exception to the rule and neither am I. I see author after author approach it like it’s just gonna work, like somehow their art is going to carry them and they’ll blow up or whatever. I honestly don’t know what they want, because it is dreadfully apparent that they have no concrete goals and no business model whatsoever.

What you and I, as authors, need to realize, is that writing is an art. Telling stories is an art. Selling books is a business. This is why ‘traditional publishing’ works. You write a book; they handle the business. So if you want to be an indie author and eschew traditional publishing, the truth is that you have to become a traditional publisher.

Allow me to illustrate: Let’s say you want to open a cupcake shop. There are some definite steps you have to take in order to be successful.

Yes, I do

Yes, I do

You have to spend money to make money: If you’re selling cupcakes from a cart, the mall, or a cute shop, it costs money. Likewise, you can’t expect to have zero outlay before your book is successful. Quality editing, artwork and formatting cost money. So does advertising. There are ways to save money on all these things, but don’t expect it to be free.

Someone else thought of it already: Everyone likes cupcakes. They’re one of the greatest things on earth. People like books, too, and there’s a pretty darn good chance someone out there has something similar. You have to compete with them- especially in the crowded indie field, since you’re playing from behind the traditional crowd as it is- so make damn sure you stand out.  If all you do is put your book up on KDP and tweet/facebook about it, it will quickly blend in with the background noise of all the people doing the same damn thing.

You might have to adjust your recipe: This could take a variety of forms. Maybe your marketing isn’t working, or one aspect of it is and others aren’t. Adjust accordingly. This, of course, opens up the whole ‘selling out’ debate, which I don’t care about in the least. Again: it’s a business. If your book doesn’t sell, what needs to change to make it more appealing? Dickens changed the ending of Great Expectations so it would be more appealing. You might have to do the same.

Some people don’t like cupcakes: Those people are idiots. Some people might not like your book, and they might not be idiots. But it doesn’t mean your book is horrible. Follow the golden rule of the internet: Don’t read the comments. Don’t let a few bad reviews trouble you. If there are good points in them, learn from them. But some people just aren’t going to like your book. Screw ’em. Move on.

Have definite, attainable goals: And do your homework in setting them. Sales numbers, review copies distributed, reach of ads, the release of your next book, the list goes on. Write those goals down. Look at them every day. Check them off and set new ones. Evaluate why you didn’t reach goals and revise your plan accordingly.

Go forth and sell cupcakes. I mean write.


Honesty in Publishing

You’ve done it! You wrote a book. No longer will you be that person who always meant to write a book- you poured your heart into it for years, you even went through and fixed every typo and your husband/wife/mom/dog read it and LOVED it and they are SO proud of you and they JUST KNOW you’ll make it big. And thanks to KDP, it’s easier than EVER to publish your book and EVERYONE will read it and they will ALL LOVE IT.

Guess what? Probably not.

Chuck Wendig tackles 25 hard truths about publishing in one of the better blog posts you will ever read (and will make you want to quit writing forever). If you’re an ‘indie’ author (and I’ll let you decide exactly where in that very broad camp you reside), it’s doubly hard- as Chuck touches on, there’s not a lot of respect out there for indie authors, and quite frankly, rightly so. There is a lot of really poorly written, designed and edited books out there. So the odds of someone– the right someone- stumbling across your book and turning you into an overnight sensation are very, very low.

The first thing you need to be is honest. Not, like, Lance Armstrong honest, but honest with yourself. Sit back, look at your manuscript and ask yourself, “Would I pay five bucks to read this?” Don’t get me wrong, finishing a book is an accomplishment. But it doesn’t mean you should sell said book. If you don’t believe me, find your absolute favorite author on twitter and ask them how many manuscripts get thrown away or re-worked until they have changed entirely. So be honest with yourself- if you wouldn’t spend five bucks on it, don’t ask other people to.

As I write this, I see a tweet that says “Self-published e-book author: ‘Most of my months are six-figure months'”. I express cynicism as I click the link to a September 2012 article. Somewhat predictably, the author in question is Hugh Howely, who wrote the fantastic and best-selling Wool series.

He didn’t get there overnight, and he didn’t get there by luck. Well, maybe a little bit of luck. He also is not representative. The article points out that a survey of 1,007 self-published authors show that they make an average of $10,000 a year, and half make less than $500. So if you’re expecting to click submit, sit back and watch the money roll in as you top best seller lists, you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment.

That same article also uses the example of Kathryn Stockett, author of the best-selling and not-as-edgy-as-everyone-thinks-it-is novel The Help where she asks “…how many authors did stop after 40 rejections? How many great manuscripts are sitting in a drawer somewhere?” To which I counter, “How many should be?” In the traditional model, there is at least some quality control (somehow her novel slipped through). With self-publishing, that filter is removed.

Does that mean great works that may have been rejected by traditional publishers will now be published? Absolutely.

Does it mean they will be recognized for the fantastic works they are? Not necessarily.

Does this mean that there will be many, many, many manuscripts that should never see the light of day will be published and saturate the market to the point where it is nearly impossible to find those quality works? Absolutely.