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Dragon Blood Contest [Winners Announced!] — Describe a couch, win signed paperbacks!

| Posted in News |

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If you’ve been following along with my Dragon Blood series (excerpt of Book 1 here if you haven’t tried the books yet!), then this contest is for you.

One of our heroes (who may or may not be alive) lost his infamously hideous couch when his house was blown up in Book 3. In Book 6, a new couch was incinerated by a dragon before it crossed the threshold of his home. In Book 7 (assuming he’s alive), he’ll be receiving a new couch, a gift from his squadron of pilots. It’s very possible these pilots don’t have the best taste in furnishings, but I shall leave that up to you. The winning couch will find its way into the end of Book 7.

If you wish to enter this contest, please describe the new/old/refurbished couch that you think our stalwart hero should receive. Pictures are acceptable. Please post your entry in the comments and make sure to use an email address you check, so I can contact you if you’re the winner.

The winner will receive signed paperbacks of the first five Dragon Blood books. 

Thanks for playing along!

Update 11/16/15: Thanks for the entries, everyone. I’ll be picking a winner in the next couple of days!

Winners Announced!

Thanks, everyone. We had some truly hideous recommendations (perfect!). I decided to go with a blend of Justin Sheard’s suggestion of a frame made from flier parts, and then I just had to use Derin Attwood’s line about, “the green you get when you squish caterpillars.” Sounds so perfectly awful!

Look for this couch in Soulblade, which is available for pre-order now and will be out on December 22nd.

Thanks!

KDP Select Titles Being Pirated and Distributed to Other Stores

| Posted in News |

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Do you have any titles in KDP Select? Titles that are supposed to be exclusive to Amazon? If so, you may want to check periodically to make sure they’re not on sale anywhere else.

I only have a couple of titles in KDP Select, or rather my pen name does, and one of them has had a rough year. Earlier this spring, I got an email from Amazon informing me that Stars Across Time (yes, the pen name writes science fiction romance), which was enrolled in KDP Select, was available at Kobo (it turns out it was up at Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc. too). Amazon said I had five business days to remove the title from the other stores, or I’d be kicked out of their program. Imagine my surprise, since this was a relatively new book, and I had never published it anywhere except for Amazon. Imagine my alarm, too, since I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to get it removed in five days.

I emailed Kobo, since, at the time, I didn’t know it was in other stores, as well. They said it had arrived via a distributor, so they couldn’t take it down. <insert panicking and flailing of arms>.

I was lucky enough to have Mark Lefebvre‘s email address (he’s the director of self-publishing and author relations at Kobo), so I sent him a note and got some more information. He told me it had come to them via Draft 2 Digital and that he would check into it.

I was still panicking a little, since I didn’t have a D2D account or any way to contact them other than the form on their site. I was also worried because this was a book published under a pen name. I was afraid it might be harder than usual to prove that I was the rightful author, if it came to that (the pirate was publishing it under my pen name, letter for letter). I figured this would get resolved eventually, but worried that it wouldn’t be in time to save me from getting booted out of KDP Select. At the time, the book was selling well and getting a lot of borrows, so that would have sucked.

I emailed D2D’s customer support. Fortunately, they got back to me later that same day, said the person publishing the title was a known pirate who’d made accounts and caused trouble there before. I didn’t have to prove anything (phew). They took the book down, and it disappeared from the other stores within 24 hours.

Ultimately, that was a speedbump in my week, but not a big deal. I was relieved and pleased that the D2D folks handled it so quickly. (Though it is pretty lame that people bought the book — yes, I checked, and it had sales rankings everywhere and even a couple of reviews — and I didn’t see any of the money from those sales.)

You would think this would be the end of the story…

Part 2

Last Friday, I was poking around in the Apple store, making affiliate links for the audiobook version of the same title, which recently came out and is available everywhere (did you know that being exclusive with Amazon for an ebook doesn’t preclude publishing an audiobook everywhere?)

And guess what I found? It’s happened again. Stars Across Time was up on all of those same stores again. I emailed D2D to ask them about it, but it was Friday night, so didn’t expect to hear back from them over the weekend. It’s late Monday as I write this, and I’m hoping to hear back from them soon.

Mark at Kobo answered my email right away this afternoon and quarantined the book in their store, so I’m hoping that means it can’t happen again until I’m ready to take the title out of Select and publish it there myself. I don’t know people at Apple and Barnes & Noble, so I’ll have to wait for D2D to handle the rest.

Update: about 20 minutes after I published this post, I got a note from D2D that they’re disabling the account and taking it down again. Thanks, guys!

Asking for a change

This blog post is in part cautionary — my KDP Select friends, you may want to regularly check your titles to make sure someone else isn’t publishing them behind your back — but I also feel that something needs to be done to make it so this doesn’t happen in the future. A quick check on Twitter revealed some other authors who have dealt with similar experiences.

Right now, it seems to be way too easy to make an account at a store or a distributor and publish ebooks without anyone checking if you have the rights to do so. It’s not just D2D. Amazon didn’t bat an eye when I started publishing Ruby Lionsdrake books from my Lindsay Buroker KDP account. Smashwords didn’t care, either, that the author name didn’t match the name on the tax forms.

I don’t know what the solution would be, because it would a pain to make everyone with a pen name jump through 99 hoops just because a few people are uploading pirated ebooks. At the least, I think distributors and stores need to ask some questions when the author listed on the book doesn’t match the name on the account. This would mean publishers having to provide documentation (but they should have contracts with authors on file, anyway), and might mean that those of us who write under pen names would have to get a DBA or some other kind of documentation. It would be an inconvenience, yes, but should it really be this easy to publish someone else’s books?

I would love to hear from you guys. Any thoughts on solutions to make it harder for pirates to do this? Should stores and distributors ask more questions?

 

Writing Humor, Writing Quickly, Well-Rounded Characters and Other Reader Questions Answered

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I was recently interviewed on the Upgrade Your Story podcast, and the host asked if I had any reader questions that people might like answered. Several people chimed in on Facebook with questions. We didn’t end up having time to bring them up in the interview (we mostly talked about marketing and self-publishing… yes, such an unlikely topic for me!), so I decided to answer them here. Thank you to those who submitted a question. I hope some of the answers are of interest.

Reader Questions: 

Doug asks, “How do you make your books have funny moments without allowing the humor to consume the book’s plot or character development?”

The funny moments come from the personalities of the characters themselves. When you’re constructing a protagonist or a side kick, if you give that character a few quirks or a distinctive personality, then you’ll probably find that jokes come naturally. Not every character needs to be over the top, or you run the risk of things getting a little ridiculous (which is fine, if you’re writing a parody, but you’ll need more balance for dramatic fiction), but some eccentric personalities can go a long way toward increasing the opportunities for humor. The straight-man/funny-man pairing is an old and effective standby in comedy, but you’ll also find tons of examples in dramatic fiction and on TV. Spock and McCoy, anyone?

In my stuff, Sicarius is the perfect straight man. You wouldn’t want to tease him too much, since he has all of those sharp, pointy knives, but if you’re Amaranthe, you can get away with a few jokes, and the fact that he never smiles and is always looming darkly gives her a lot to work with.

As far as not letting the humor overshadow the story, that can definitely be a challenge. I’ll be the first to admit that my characters often like to make jokes, even when the situation is supposed to be serious. I try to shut them up if they’re fighting for their lives, and it’s supposed to be a tense moment. Sometimes that works… and sometimes they rebel against me.

For a newer writer, I would say to let your heroes yammer however much they want in the rough draft. Then when you go through to edit, ask yourself, “Is this dialogue moving the plot forward?” Sure, you can get away with a couple of extraneous jokes here and there, but you don’t want characters bantering back and forth for two pages when the exchange doesn’t have anything to do with resolving the conflicts you’ve set up in the story. It’s tough to cut the dialogue when you love the humor in it, but you can always chop it and place it in a “cut scenes” file. Maybe you’ll be able to work it in later.

Oona says, “What I like so much about reading your books (outside of the stories themselves) is how, unlike so many other authors, you actually are continually putting out new books. I think that talking about what it takes to put out the amount of work you do in a year and how that helps as an independent author would be interesting. You are always updating, working on things, keeping contact. I feel that is such an important process and one that makes the fans even more loyal to you as a writer but also shows the amount of work you have to put into the career itself.”

I decided early on that I wanted to be able to write full time, so I was very serious about publishing often enough that this could be feasible. When you’re always working on something, you have more tidbits that you can share on your social media sites. I can’t even imagine what authors talk about with readers when they only publish a book every year or two, but I would guess that’s why their updates are less frequent.

One of the cool things about self-publishing is that you can monitor your sales numbers real time, and most of the retailers pay you within 60 days of the end of any given month.  This makes it a lot easier to see the fruits of your labor. Compare this to being in traditional publishing and getting a royalty check twice a year. I would have a harder time staying excited about writing and marketing in that situation, where reports on how you’re doing are infrequent and less transparent. Money isn’t the only thing that motivates a writer (we hope), but getting paid every month and having it correlate to the amount of work you do is wonderful for discipline. If you don’t publish anything for a few months, sales tend to drop off, and you’re earning less. That’s a pretty powerful motivator to keep going!

Since I do treat this like any other job, I feel pretty lazy if I’m not working on something every week and if I’m not getting X number of words written or X chapters edited. If you plug along like that every day, it’s natural that you’ll finish novels regularly and have new work to share with readers. And yes, publishing regularly (even if you’re doing novellas and short stories between novels) can help you remain in your readers’ minds, and it also helps make the income more reliable and predictable. We all hope for best sellers, but it’s saner to treat this like the pulp writers of old did, sitting at the keyboard and writing stories day in and day out, knowing they only brought home the bacon if they sold one that week.

Rebekah asks, Your characters are always so well rounded. How do you develop all of them to have such interesting personalities?”

Thank you, Rebekah. I think part of the character formula is to make sure your hero and side characters all want something (and then set up the story to make it hard for them to get that thing). If we can relate to what they want, it’s even better, but even if we can’t, we can all relate to the feeling of wanting something elusive. A lot of times when characters feel flat, it’s because they were dragged off on some adventure and never get a chance to be proactive.

Beyond that, as I mentioned up above, I’ll try to give characters a few quirks that make them memorable, because most people do have some idiosyncrasies that others find a touch odd. EE fans will know Amaranthe is a neat freak and has to keep a tidy lair/hideout/subterranean tunnel. It was on the second pass of Balanced on the Blade’s Edge when I decided Ridge would be a little superstitious and have that dragon carving that he rubs for luck. Even though the carving only appears a few times in the novels, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of it.

When it comes to designing the adventuring party that’s so often a part of fantasy, it’s worth remembering that not everyone needs to be likable. You probably want your protagonist to be likable and relatable, but having a group of people that are all nice and all get along makes for boring reading. If you’re a Firefly fan, think of all the conflicts that existed between the crew. Mal and Inara were always sniping at each other, Wash was jealous that his wife argued with him but followed Mal’s orders without hesitation, and you were never positive that Jayne wasn’t going to sell everyone out. That made for interesting viewing.

Linda asks, Being a professional author requires a lot of discipline. If you have a “typical” writing day, what is it like? Do you plot out your books, do you start writing and see where you end up, or is it a combination?”

On a typical writing day, I’ll take the dogs out for a hike in the mornings (I live in the mountains and have a young and high energy pup, so these outings tend to be a couple of hours long) or I’ll go play tennis. I’ve never been a perky morning person, so I like starting the day with some fun exercise before the work starts. That said, I’ll often plot out a few scenes on my phone while I’m out with the dogs.

Somewhere between 11 and 12, I’ll get serious about work and spend most of the afternoon writing or editing, depending on where I am in the current project. I’ll usually work for an hour, take a fifteen or twenty minute break to do laundry or dishes or something around the house, then do another hour and so on. Sometimes I’ll have something social going on in the evening, but more often, I just keep working until I finish the day’s goal. The afternoon is my best time, and I try to get the majority of my words down there. I might write 8,000 words between 12 and 5, then break for a class or to go to the gym, and it’ll end up taking me four hours when I get home to get those last 2k down, because I’m more apt to screw around online at that point in the day.

I’m still working on a good system for email. I like to prioritize the writing and publishing, so I tend to put off email if it’s something that will take more than a minute to answer, and sometimes those messages that require longer responses pile up and don’t get answered in a timely manner. I may simply need to start making a policy of giving shorter replies. I seem to remember that some bigwig out there has a rule of never spending more than five sentences on an answer. That might be tough for me. I’ve only answered four questions, and we’re already 1600 words into this blog post…

On the plotting question, yes, I sit down before I start writing and sketch out a 2- or 3,000-word outline for the manuscript. I didn’t always do that, but I’ve found that it’s much easier to get more words down each day and finish a novel more quickly if I outline. I deviate from the outline sometimes (usually), but having the general framework laid out ahead of time does help.

Heidi asks, What are your grammar pet peeves?”

I’m not sure if I have any peeves. I’ve never been in the grammar nazi camp (honestly, grammar is not something I ever had in school, so outside of the basics, my understanding of the rules is more intuitive than anything else), but at the same time, I can’t read a book where the basic sentence construction is off, which you do sometimes run into when picking up random titles by indie authors. I’m always shocked when something like that is selling well and has tons of 5-star reviews. Commas in the wrong places, incorrect subject/verb agreement, dangling participles… These are things I can’t get past, no matter how good the story may be.

Okay, I have more questions in the queue here, but I’m going to split the post and answer the rest next week, because I have a manuscript to edit! Thanks for reading!

 

Yes, I’m Podcasting on Self-Publishing/Writing and Marketing Science Fiction & Fantasy

| Posted in News, Videos & Podcasts |

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Hello, everyone! I’ve got my nose buried in a new novel for the pen name (12,000 words written yesterday, and I’m shooting for 10k more today, pant, pant), so the blog is getting neglected, but for those who enjoy the self-publishing/marketing information, I wanted to point out that I’m a part of two podcasts right now, both of use to writers (I hope they’re of use anyway… I’d like to think so!).

If you need something to listen to while you’re walking the dog, working out at the gym, or perfecting your spaghetti sauce in the kitchen, here are the links to the shows:

The Writing Podcast — (iTunes subscription link)

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast — (iTunes link | YouTube Channel Link)

In writing news, look for Warrior Mage, the first book in the Nuria-based Chains of Honor series, in February. (The manuscript is done, but it’s still going to be a few weeks before the cover art is ready to go.)

Summer Projects and Will There Be More “Emperor’s Edge” After Republic?

| Posted in News |

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If you’ve been following my Emperor’s Edge series, you probably already know I published the eighth book with Amaranthe, Sicarius, and the others last month. Republic was a big story and a bit of a departure for me (six point-of-view characters and over 200,000 words), but so far the reception from long-time readers has been positive. And the question has come up…

Will there be more adventures with these characters?

Probably, maybe, I think so. How’s that for a definitive answer?

Right now, my focus is on writing the first few novels in what I never planned to be a series (I wrote Balanced on the Blade’s Edge as a stand-alone fantasy romance novel, but, thanks to your reviews and support, it’s done well at Amazon — it hung out in the #1 steampunk position for over a month, and it’s still selling nicely. In addition, I realized I wanted to explore the world more thoroughly and add some more characters to the mix) as well as writing the long-neglected sequel to Torrent. I’d like to do a series there too. Getting these series off the ground is the summer project. (I’m also doing my final edits on the fourth Flash Gold novella — that’ll be ready to go before summer.)

After that, I’ll look to the Emperor’s Edge world again. As I’ve mentioned before, I have plans for a Nuria trilogy that stars Yanko from the Swords & Salt novellas, as well as Dak, who you might know now from Republic.

As for Amaranthe, Sicarius, and the rest of the EE crew, I’m mulling over how I might do some more adventures with them that could possibly appeal to brand new readers as well as regulars. I’m not sure yet whether Am & Sic would be the focus of a new series or if they would be side characters in it with someone else taking the role of narrator and main protagonist. Some of the other characters have some more growing to do (poor Maldynado is still trying to figure out his life), whereas Am & Sic are pretty well fleshed out at this point. Nothing is set in stone yet though. If you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

Anyway, that’s what I’m working on this summer. The next thing out will either be Claimed (FG4) or Deathmaker (the next book in the Blade’s Edge world). Thanks for reading!

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