Category Archives for Writing

Vigil: First Draft Complete

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Time for a writing update, and the news is good! The biggest news is that I’ve completed the first draft of my next novella, tentatively entitled Vigil. That title is subject to change, and the text itself still needs to go through editing. Vigil picks up one of the two paths left hanging at the end of War Demons and runs with it. The working start of the book description:

There’s a demon in the church.

When Peter Bishop received the Sword of Saint Michael the Archangel he understood right away that dragonslaying would be part of the gig. After all, he first bonded with the blade while fighting a dragon back home in Georgia. And when there’s dragonslaying, saving damsels kind of comes with the territory. But he never expected he’d have to rescue a damsel from a dragon under an ancient medieval church in France. On Easter Sunday. During the Easter vigil mass.

Now Peter’s stuck eighty feet below ground with the damsel, a faithless priest, and a little girl to care for. Thankfully, the stray dog showed up to help.

The extraordinary mashup of Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files continues in Vigil.

Look for Vigil in December. It still needs a strong editing pass, a cover, and some other work before release.

Next on the agenda is Spirit Cooking – book two of The Prodigal Son series and the direct sequel to War Demons. The outline is about 80% done, so I’ll hit the ground running later this week or early next.

Amazon Should Share Its Data

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Unlike many other indie authors, I’m actually a fan of Kindle Unlimited. I think it’s generally a good thing for indie authors. Believe it or not, I think it’s especially good for indie authors that don’t sell very much. The downside is, KU is harsh. Unlike straight book sales, KU makes a clear and important distinction between two groups: buyers and readers.

Authors and publishers aren’t used to tracking those two groups separately. In the information era, this is a critical mistake. In the past, big name authors and publishers could get away with selling books nobody actually read. Today, you can’t do that. If nobody’s reading your books, it will ultimately be the kiss of death in the only market that matters: Amazon.

Because whether you track the data or not, I can assure you that Amazon tracks the data. They know who buys your book. They know who downloads it for free. Thanks to the Kindle’s wireless connectivity, they can tell you who has ever bothered to even crack it open (whether you’re in KU or not). They know how many pages that person read – and more importantly, what page they stopped reading. And if people aren’t reading your book all the way through, they know it.

If you’re not selling very well, you can know it, too. Got a five hundred page book? Did you just register 500ish page reads? I guarantee you that wasn’t 500 people trying one page of your book and giving up. Somebody just read the whole thing. On the other hand, if you’ve only got 15 page reads, that’s not good. Somebody tried it and didn’t like it. Unfortunately, this data gets lost as your book becomes more popular. It’s hard to tease this information out when your KU page read count is several multiples of your book’s length. You’re back to guesswork.

And that’s where I think Amazon has missed the boat. Releasing some of this data, in an anonymized way, would provide valuable feedback that would help authors – and Amazon – make more money.

Here are some things that I’d really like to know as an author and publisher:

  • How many people actually saw my book’s listing on Amazon.
  • What percentage of them bought the book?
  • What percentage downloaded it through KU?
  • Of those that downloaded it (free or purchased), what percentage actually read even a single page?
  • What percentage actually finished the book?
  • Of those that didn’t finish, where did they stop reading?

Each of these data points gives me a spot where I can improve my product – the book – or the marketing of it. If people aren’t actually seeing it, I can improve that end with external marketing. When people aren’t buying or downloading it, I know I have a presentation issue: my cover, title, description, or genre selection needs work. If people never open it, then I know I still have a presentation issue. When people stop reading it, then I know the book itself has problems. If I know where they stopped, then I know where it has problems.

In the digital age, I can actually update my books to fix these problems – but only if I can pinpoint and identify them! Amazon has this data. They could easily anonymize it enough to present it to authors and publishers, especially if they made you wait until you had enough sales before you could see it. I could live with that constraint.

But it’s frustrating as hell to know that data is out there and not be able to use it.

Congratulations 2017 Silver Empire Dragon Award Finalists!

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Three Silver Empire and Lyonesse authors managed to score an impressive four Dragon Award nominations between them. How’d they pull off this feet? Our own Declan Finn managed to score two all by himself!

Silver Empire authors who received nominations this year include:

Ms. Lamplighter also served as editor for my own upcoming novel, War Demons.

In addition, two future Silver Empire authors also received nominations this year.

Congratulations to all of these fine authors for their well-deserved nominations!

I’d also like to say congratulations to my personal friends and friends of Silver Empire who also received nominations this year: Richard Paolinelli, Brian Niemeier, Vox Day, and John C. Wright.

The Magic Words To Get To the Top of the Slush Pile

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As a publisher, I get asked a lot of questions by a lot of writers. One of the most common is, “what are you looking for in a book?” There are a lot of answers to that – but most of those answers really vary from publisher to publisher. Yes, we all want a book that’s “good.” But good is largely a matter of taste. So exact details of what I’m looking for won’t match what any other publisher is looking for.

I can’t give you a magic formula that will generate a book I’d agree to publish. But I can give you a few magic words that will put your book on the top of the slush pile, and automatically ensure that I’ll look at it quickly. I can’t say definitively that this would work with every other publisher. It would surprise me, however, if this didn’t help you. Are you ready? Here are your magic words:

It’s a series, and I have two more books already written.

If you’ve read any of my marketing posts, you’ll immediately understand why this is so important. The thing is, the decision of which books to publish is a business decision. It’s not about which books I like. It’s about which books I can sell. And the simple fact of the matter is that a series makes far more economic sense than a standalone book.

The short version is this: if I have 3-5 books in a series, I already know how to use conventional marketing techniques to ensure that I have a very high probability of recouping my investment in your books. I can’t guarantee them blockbuster status. I can’t even guarantee them high sales. But I can probably make my money back, especially since we operate on a lean structure and keep our costs low.

That means there’s very little risk to me for taking a chance on your book. It’s still not zero-risk. Any book can totally bomb. And the books still have to be good enough. If the books suck so much that nobody will read the second or third, then having a series just means I’m losing money on three books instead of one. But if we’ve got three books, with more on the way, and the books are good… we can probably make something work.

This doesn’t mean your odds are zero with me – or any other publisher – if you’ve only written the one.  It doesn’t mean we won’t look at your book. It also doesn’t guarantee we’ll accept your work. But for us, business logic dictates that an author with multiple finished books goes straight to the top.

Writing a Page Turner – Part 4

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Most of the early readers of Post Traumatic Stress have called it a real page turner. Page turners are good. They’re fun to read. It’s a great complement from your readers.

But most of all, page turners sell.

People enjoy books that they don’t want to put down. And – here’s the real magic – page turners make them want to buy the sequel, too. This is how binge readers are born, and binge readers are where the money is.

One thing to keep in mind is that no one of these techniques is essential. You can write page turning novels by breaking any (and maybe even all) of these “rules.” This is just one approach, but it’s an approach that works pretty well.

Believe it or not, the “page turner” aspect of Post Traumatic Stress is mostly intentional. It’s technique that you can learn, and today I want to teach some of that to you.

I’ve already mentioned that chapters are a key element of page turners, and shown two different techniques that you can use to make your chapters more captivating. I’ve also talked about story structure and how it relates to page turners. Today I want to share my final – and best – secret.

Secret #4 – Learn the Art of Verbal Storytelling

You became a writer because you’re an introvert, I get it. Get over it. If you really want to learn how to get people hanging on what you write, learn the old fashioned kind of storytelling: the verbal kind.

Verbal storytelling is a different beast than writing. It’s baser and more primal. Your average person is not a reader (the average American reads less than one book per year). Most people don’t have the patience for it. When you’re telling stories verbally, you’re fighting non-readers and their attention span. Readers are far more forgiving.

On the other hand, you have a lot of tools at your disposal that you don’t have when writing. Body language, tone of voice, cadence, pitch, and rhythm all play into verbal storytelling. If you fail on those scores, you’ll lose your listeners just as surely as if you fail to tell a good story. But those things don’t translate into writing.

Or do they?

I argue that they do, if imperfectly, and here’s one example.

If you’re telling a suspenseful story, verbally, you want to keep building the tension. How do you keep building the tension? You withhold as much information as possible while still keeping the story moving. Great – this is a standard storytelling technique, right? Except verbal storytellers quickly learn that this technique applies at the micro level, not just the macro level. You learn to slow down sentences when you want to build tension, then to speed them back up when you want the release. You learn the value of a well timed pause. You learn the value of subtle emphasis on one particular word. You learn to end a sentence on one word instead of another – and then to let that word hang out there.

All of those skills translate directly into writing.

Bonus tip: One other nice thing about verbal storytelling is that you get immediate feedback from your audience. If something is working, you know it right away. Likewise if something doesn’t work. It’s excellent because it lets you fine tune things far faster than writing does.


Writing a Page Turner – Part 3

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Most of the early readers of Post Traumatic Stress have called it a real page turner. Page turners are good. They’re fun to read. It’s a great complement from your readers.

But most of all, page turners sell.

People enjoy books that they don’t want to put down. And – here’s the real magic – page turners make them want to buy the sequel, too. This is how binge readers are born, and binge readers are where the money is.

One thing to keep in mind is that no one of these techniques is essential. You can write page turning novels by breaking any (and maybe even all) of these “rules.” This is just one approach, but it’s an approach that works pretty well.

Believe it or not, the “page turner” aspect of Post Traumatic Stress is mostly intentional. It’s technique that you can learn, and today I want to teach some of that to you.

I’ve already mentioned that chapters are a key element of page turners, and shown two different techniques that you can use to make your chapters more captivating. Today I’d like to take a step back from the trees and look at the forest as a whole.

Secret #3 – Plot Structure

Your plot structure will have a huge influence on how well your story reads. Good plot structure is intentional, not accidental. Throwing a mishmash of a plot together will usually yield very poor results.

Now, I’m not one to get hung up on rules. However, I do believe very strongly in a few things.

  1. Before you break the rules, you should understand what the rules are and why they work.
  2. The rules describe what your target audience is used to. If you break them, you need a good reason.

If you read this blog, I assume that you write for western audiences, as I do. At the very highest level, there are really only two story structures that western audiences will accept.

  1. A single act. You can really only get away with this in short fiction. For anything longer than about 10,000 words, your audience will expect more than this. Even above 6,000 words, you’re pushing it. And frankly, even most short fiction does better if you stick with one of the other structures.
  2. The classic three-act structure. This is by far the most common structure in western fiction. You have a beginning, or introductory period. You have the second act, where all the fun stuff happens. And then act three presents the climax, resolution, and wraps everything up. This is, generally, what your audience will expect.

This is basically it. You’ll see people out there describing two-act structures, but they’re not common. And you’ll see a few variations, such as four-act structures (which are usually just the three-act structure with act two split in half). Shakespeare, of course, is famous for his five-act plays. From a modern standpoint, however, these can largely be viewed as a three-act structure with act two broken into three.

Don’t get me wrong – there are big benefits to breaking act two apart. Most writers find act two to be the big stumbling block. In a traditional breakdown, it’s half or more of the story, all in one act. Breaking it down into smaller pieces is an excellent tool for getting you through it.

If you want to write a page turner, though, I highly recommend looking at two plot “formulas” that will help you keep things going.

First, I recommend a somewhat famous book on screenwriting called Save the Cat. It presents a finer grade plot structure with 15 plot “beats” for breaking down a story. Now, I will put a few caveats on this:

  • The book focuses on screenplays, not novels. You’ll have to adjust a bit to fit the formula to something of novel length.
  • The author is a bit anal, bordering on autistic, about putting the plot beats in exact places. He even puts exact page numbers on them. I think this is slightly too strict.

With that said, I find this to be a very useful framework to hang the skeleton of an outline on. I’ve also used it as a tool to drastically improve pacing issues, both on my own works and on those of authors I’ve published.

The last thing I would add on this book is that the “beat sheet” is useful, and the chapter on the ten basic story archetypes is useful, but the rest of the book is basically boilerplate.

Second, I also recommend looking at Lester Dent’s Master Formula. Dent is most famous for his Doc Savage stories, but he wrote extremely prolifically in the pulp era. His “master formula” is explicitly written for 6,000 word short stories. However, it’s easy to translate the concepts of the formula into longer works. The formula also dovetails nicely with the Save the Cat beat sheet. You don’t have to choose between them.

Bonus tip: The items above lay out “the rules.” But as I noted above, you should also know when to break them. To that end, I’m definitely looking forward to Drown the Cat by Dario Cirello, due out (amusingly enough) this Independence Day. I have not yet read it myself, but my friend Jon Del Arroz recommends it highly.


This Is What A Complete Leadership Failure Looks Like

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Sarah Hoyt’s leadership of the Sad Puppies V campaign is a classic case study in leadership failure. If you ever want the absolute pitch perfect example of what not to do in a leadership position, look no further. This tale has everything: incompetence, insanity, bullying, harassment, technical difficulties, lack of vision, and just plain bitchiness. If I tried to create an example of bad leadership from scratch, I couldn’t make one this complete. If she were trying to destroy the Sad Puppies campaign and help the other side, she couldn’t have done a better job of it.

This, my friends, is a tail of abject, utter fail.

Sad Puppies V (SPV from here out) failed in literally every conceivable way, so this may take a bit. Bear with me.

Failure #1 – Stupid, Pointless Goals

Step one in leadership is setting goals that are actually a) worth achieving and b) achievable. SPVs supposed goals are neither.

To be fair, Sad Puppies IV dropped the ball pretty badly and started the descent. The Hugo Awards allow five nominees per category, and the nature of the old rules meant that an organized campaign around exactly five titles per category could achieve useful results. So what did they do with Sad Puppies IV?

They nominated ten works per category, completely diffusing all of their voting power. As a result, they completely failed to get anything nominated for a Hugo that wasn’t also on Vox Day’s Rabid Puppies list.

GG guys. GG.

Think that’s bad? SPV got even stupider. Rather than promoting a confined ballot of books that could focus their firepower, they diffused it further. What is SPV? “Oh, we’ll just create a list of indefinite size of recommended books. For any award, not just the Hugos.”

Epic. Fail.

Look, guys, this is a core martial arts principal:

If I apply a given amount of force over a small area, I create more pressure than if I apply the same amount of force over a large area.

This is easily expressed in a simple and common law of physics: Pressure = Force / Area (P = F / A).

By diffusing the force of SPV basically infinitely, Hoyt doomed the campaign to epic failure before she even began.

But that’s just the beginning.

Failure #2 – Doing nothing to achieve your stupid, pointless goals

After defining some dumbass goals that she could never possibly achieve, Hoyt went on to… do nothing.

Literally nothing.

Hugo Award nominations were due on January 31st. Hoyt made a Hugo post announcing her leadership stupidity… er, I mean, “plan,” in September. And then posted nothing – literally nothing – on the topic again until January 7, less than four weeks before ballots were due.

Of course, she made noisy, stupid excuses pretended that this was the plan all along, because SPV wasn’t about the Hugos anymore. Because nobody would see through that bullshit. And how they had a web site coming real soon now, guys, really, I just haven’t had time to do it.

Look, I run five separate web sites. All of them use WordPress. You can set up a WordPress site in three minutes. You can make it look acceptable and flesh out some basic content in about ten. I know. I’ve done it a dozen times.

But, of course, she’s behind on her paying writing. Well, of course she is. Because she’s moved on to…

Failure #3 – Shooting at your own team

Did I mention that she wrote a post about SPV on January 7? Did I also mention that the post didn’t do anything to actually advance SPV? Ok, let’s talk about that. Because instead of doing anything useful, Hoyt decided to make a very personal attack on one of my authors.

Of course, she’s used to playing by Mean Girls rules, so she wouldn’t actually name Declan Finn. That and she’s a fucking coward. Call him out by name or STFU, Sarah.

Finn’s crime, of course, was volunteering to help but not being cool enough to actually be leadership. It’s horrible, I know.

Meanwhile, Finn had actually managed to, you know, actually get a recommendation list up. Which is still more than Hoyt has managed.

Failure #4 – Not stepping down when her failure became clear

Apparently Hoyt has had some serious health issues for a while. For that, I am truly sorry. I don’t wish that on anyone.

But do you know what an actual leader does when it becomes clear that she’s too sick to, you know, lead?

She steps down and finds a new leader. She would’ve had plenty of volunteers.

Failure #5 – Projecting her own failures onto others

Meanwhile, while she’s going about abject failure at every level, she’s projecting all of her own incompetence, greed, and narcissistic attention whoring onto other people. She accused Mr. Finn of volunteering for Sad Puppies just to help market his book, and went on at length about how much it didn’t help and he should let it go.

Meanwhile, of course, the sole reason she’s holding onto “leadership” of SPV, despite running the Titanic straight into the iceberg, is so that she can use it to market her books. The reason it hasn’t helped her isn’t because it’s a bad marketing tool. It’s because she’s totally incompetent at it.

There is no question that earlier Sad Puppies rounds resulted in beneficial publicity for Larry Correia, Brad Torgersen, and Vox Day. None. Larry and Brad kind of rode the wave a little bit. Vox Day masterfully turned the whole thing into a publicity coup d’etat.

Sarah Hoyt crashed the wave into a brick wall. A wet noodle could’ve reaped more benefit from it than she has. But due to her own narcissism, she refuses to let go of it.

Failure #6 – Refusing to let it go

Given all of this, you’d think that somebody who spent months literally doing nothing would have an easy time just… letting it go. But now, that play would require at least some competence, and Hoyt has demonstrated that she has absolutely none. So instead, she’s penning more posts about the subject as recently as yesterday.

But is she actually accomplishing anything? Nope, she’s just out playing Mean Girls again. She’s hitting hard on Mr. Finn (while still lacking any courage and refusing to name him out loud), and also hitting on everyone around him.

In a word, an author of mediocre success is trying to bully a less successful author in order to feel better about her own failure. She’s admitted herself that she’s several books behind, and no wonder. She’s too busy writing several-thousand-word-long insanity-fests.

Here’s a tip, Sarah: lay off my authors and get back to work, before your publishers call and demand their advances back – as they have every legal and moral right to do if you’re that far behind.

Writing a Page Turner – Part 2

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Most of the early readers of Post Traumatic Stress have called it a real page turner. Page turners are good. They’re fun to read. It’s a great complement from your readers.

But most of all, page turners sell.

People enjoy books that they don’t want to put down. And – here’s the real magic – page turners make them want to buy the sequel, too. This is how binge readers are born, and binge readers are where the money is.

One thing to keep in mind is that no one of these techniques is essential. You can write page turning novels by breaking any (and maybe even all) of these “rules.” This is just one approach, but it’s an approach that works pretty well.

Believe it or not, the “page turner” aspect of Post Traumatic Stress is mostly intentional. It’s technique that you can learn, and today I want to teach some of that to you.

Yesterday I mentioned that chapters are a key element of page turners. This should be pretty obvious. After all, chapters form one of the foundational building blocks of any novel. We’ve already discussed that short chapters can be helpful. Today, we’ll move on to a second chapter-related technique.

Secret #2 – End Each Chapter On A Hook

Having short chapters helps keep someone from deciding not to read the next one. But you also want to hit them on the other side. Give your readers a reason to keep reading.

The best way to do this is with a “hook” at the end of each chapter. A good hook consists of the following elements:

  • A hint of what’s coming next. Think about what’s next for the characters in the chapter you just finished. Provide a taste – but just a taste – of that, right at the end of the chapter.
  • A little bit of mystery. Don’t tell them everything. People like mysteries (indeed, its one of the better selling fiction genres).
  • A touch of danger, scandal, or intrigue. There’s a reason cliffhangers are called cliffhangers. You want to get the adrenaline going a bit here. In an action or horror oriented story, this can be easy. Just provide a bit of a hint about the next opponent your heroes will face. But you can pull this off in a drama just as well. Think more of obstacles rather than opponents, and give a clue about what challenge is coming next.
  • Make sure each challenge is successively harder than the previous one. That’s how you keep ramping up the intensity. Don’t blow all your big guns early. Save them for the climax.

Here are a few examples of final sentences from chapters of Post Traumatic Stress.

  • Then the dream came again. Note that at this point in the book, one nightmare has already been vividly recounted for the reader. That leaves a good impression that the dream coming is bad. This sentence leaves unresolved tension. The reader doesn’t want to end here, because it’s not a good feeling. He wants to keep reading until he can release that tension. Of course, you’re not going to let that happen.
  • “Heya, Mikey!” His nose glowed yellow as he growled, “can I come in and play?” This is an example of moving the first line of the next chapter to be the ending of the current chapter. A “new” opponent arrives. In this case, he’s actually already known to the hero, which increases the tension. The next chapter begins the true altercation.
  • But tonight he’d have to deal with something far worse: politicians, lawyers, and bureaucrats. This ending takes the dramatic route rather than foreshadowing action. Note that the previous paragraph gives a quick recap of life challenges the protagonist has already faced – rather serious challenges. This single sentence accomplishes several things at once. It provides a tantalizing hint of what’s coming next. The reader gets just a taste of scandal thanks to the job descriptions. It provides a character point – our hero clearly doesn’t like dealing with these kinds of people. It’s highly relatable – most of the rest of us don’t like it, either. And it’s a little funny. We all know that those things aren’t actually worse than fighting in a war (one of the challenges listed in the recap; our hero is an ex-soldier).
  • The lights went out. Then all hell broke loose. This one, on the other hand, is very action oriented. The chapter that follows is one of the truly major action set pieces of the book. In this case, it’s also pretty unexpected. The prior scene has built a decent amount of dramatic tension in a very different direction. Now, bam, the reader gets hit from the other side with physical tension. Standing on its own, this line seems moderately interesting. Together with the misdirection, it’s far more effective.

Bonus tip: One easy way to end your chapter on a hook is to take the first sentence of your next chapter and move it to the end of your current chapter.


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