Friday, January 30, 2015

Book Excerpt - Iced by M. Terry Green

Iced by M. Terry GreenLast Friday, we revealed the cover for Iced, the first book in the Chronicles of White World series from M. Terry Green. This week, Green has granted us permission to reveal a sample of the story. Enjoy!

Iced by M. Terry Green

It was perfect slaver weather: visibility a hundred clicks, temperature a few degrees below zero, wind out of the northwest. Thirteen kept an eye on the horizon and opened the vent another notch. She watched steam pour from the opening and bend severely into the frigid wind stream.

They’d have to be blind not to see that—blind or dumb.

Slavers weren’t the brightest. She let slack into the control line and dumped more wind. The perlon sail fluttered and flapped, and the rigging slapped along the mast, audible over the high wind of midday. Her speed dropped a notch. The ship already sailed so slowly the wing couldn’t generate enough lift. Under the skimmer’s three hulls, the blades sliced the ice with a scraping and rattling sound.

“Where are you?” she muttered, scanning the infinite white.

The bright gleam of the Pacifica Sheet stretched to the horizon in all directions. Where the pale blue sky met the planet, a hazy seam divided them. Few mountains and no volcanos were in sight. The huge crinkles, saw-toothed hills, and sculpted blocks that pocked the ice near volcanos were absent here. It was easy to make good speed, especially in this weather. High cirrus clouds covered the sun. The sextant shot would wait.

She saw it then, ten points off the stern—a speck.

But as it came closer and grew a little larger, she recognized it: a sloop, typical for this far out, likely a crew of four, so as to leave room for slaves. Although she’d done this countless times, her heart beat faster. She nudged the tiller, putting the ship into a slight skid that kicked up ice shavings in a high sparkling arc off the starboard outrigger. The slavers unfurled more sail.

She lightly touched the pendant through the fabric on her chest. Maybe this slaver ship would be the one. Maybe their captives would know something. Either way, the chase was on, such as it was. Her skimmer would make quite the prize for slavers. They’d be looking for a small family at least, but they weren’t going to find that—not even close.

No longer on the horizon, the sloop was taking shape. Though it wasn’t built for speed, it had three sails up now. It moved fast enough for the wing that connected the three hulls to lift the blades clear of the ice. Harpoons and shotguns were likely at the bow. Even in white, the ship was as plain as a rock. Though the shimmering ice reflected the sunlight, the hulls didn’t. Despite being the exact same color of white, it was like looking at a silhouette—growing larger. They were gaining fast.

In two quick bounds, Thirteen was out of the cockpit and up on the black deck. It was the only part of the skimmer that wasn’t white. Throughout the day it absorbed the heat of the sun and passed it to the cabin below. Thirteen gave the trigger on the winch a quick push and the rope under the railing a little tug. The switches were cocked. Everything was set. She glanced to stern.

Beyond the tall tail and stabilizer that were useless at this slow speed, the power turbine whirled. Via gears in the stern and deck and the belts that ran the length of the ship, it connected to the winch. When she needed power, it’d be ready. Beyond the turbine she watched the slavers. They ought to see her soon even without a scope. Time to give them something to see.

Thirteen raced back to the cockpit and jumped down. She grabbed the light gray jacket from the steps. It was nearly as form-fitting as the first two layers, but the color was like a beacon against the ice or her ship. The way it clung to her would leave no doubt as to whether they were really seeing a woman on deck. Her petite frame would be the clincher. She took the matching cap from the pocket and put it on. Carefully, she tucked every strand of long hair under the snug hat. Then she put on the goggles. Of course they only looked like goggles. They were fake. She needed to look right, and the large, yellow lenses were the most important part of that deception. Already the gray fabric was picking up some heat from the sun. As long as she didn’t sweat it’d be all right. Judging by how fast the slavers were closing, she wouldn’t have to wear it for long.

She stepped into the safety harness, pulled it up, and slipped her arms through. The back was already clipped to the tether that ran up the mast. Bending at the knees, she tested her weight on it. She heard the carabiner rattle in the metal ring behind her as she took the tiller.

Off the stern, the slaver ship was clearly visible. Beyond the sloop’s protruding sounding buoy, a brief glint at the bow let her know the captain had his scope out. She turned profile for his benefit, pretending to look up at the sloppy mainsail, raising one hand against the sun as if it were too bright. At this point, even a fool would see they were being chased by slavers, so she turned to them. Their heading was on an intercept course, still closing fast, not taking any chances. On deck, there were three men. One had to be below. The slaver at the bow wasn’t using his scope any more. He’d seen everything he needed: an unarmed ship with a woman in the cockpit who didn’t know any better than to let steam vent and couldn’t set a sail.

“Come and get it, Slaver,” she said, almost inaudible over the wind.

©2015 M. Terry Green

If you're already hooked, pre-order it! Ship date is February 10th.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Best of 2014

Each year, the reviewers here at the New Podler Review of Books pick the book (or books) which we feel are the very best independently published (or small press) works. The only other requirement we have is that the book was reviewed here on the blog during the calendar year.

Here are the winners for 2014:

Chained by Fear Rob: Jim Melvin's Chained by Fear gets my vote for "Best of 2014." It's book two of the Death Wizard Chronicles, which follows the adventures of Torg the Death-Knower in his quest to free the world of Triken from the mad sun sorcerer Invictus. It's adult fantasy on par with G.R.R. Martin, but with far more magic and monsters. Highly recommended.

Noise by Brett Garcia RoseDED: There were a few titles that I thought were very good this year. In order to narrow the list down I had to pick out the flaws in the choices, no matter how small. That got my list narrowed down to two. It was a tough decision, but ultimately, I chose Noise.

In my review, I wrote: "Noise is a revenge flick dressed up as art house mystery. Rose juxtaposes brutality with spirited, yet acerbic, prose. Meticulous attention to detail evokes noirish cinematic imagery."

Congratulations to the winners!

We reviewed 19 stories last year and rejected over 194. Roughly speaking, that means everyone who submitted a story to us had a 9% chance of being reviewed. I wish that number could be higher, but it's just not possible with the number of reviewers we have.

Unfortunately, Rob Steiner and S.B. Jung are deactivating themselves from our reviewer roster. Rob wants to devote more time to writing while S.B. will be starting nursing school soon. I want to thank them for their time and devotion to the blog over the years and wish them success. Come back when you can, guys!


Monday, January 26, 2015

Bastion Magazine - November 2014

Bastion November 2014 coverBastion is a science fiction magazine. Normally we don't review zines, but I don't see why not. They're similar to anthologies in that they contain multiple authors working around a central theme. In this case, that central theme is simple: science fiction. But as I look deeper, I see memory as a common thread.

Another important point is that this issue was not submitted to us. I saw that Rob Steiner was one of the authors in this issue, so I went out and bought it. I'm reviewing it on GoodReads so I may as well post it here too. Small press zines are like indie authors: Publicity is better than obscurity.

The issue opens with "Good Times" by Alexander Jones. Memories are the latest drug. Someone has created the technology where one can extract memories from one person and inject them into another. The experience is like living through them firsthand. Like all drugs, there's always the risk of overdose. I really liked this story. While the characters initially appeared to be just some random shmoes, Jones developed them as each explored a memory shared by the other.

"The Ticket-Taker" by CJ Menart is told to us from the perspective of a ticket-taker robot at a vaudeville show. But something's wrong with it. People are complaining about its behavior. They think it's malfunctioning, and so does the central factory computer, but there seems to be more going on. The robot is a bit of a smart aleck who rambles about its memories of shows past. But if you pay close attention, you just might be able to figure out what the author is trying to say.

A landing on an alien world has gone terribly wrong in "Us or Them". The protagonist in B. Brooks' story is the last person among her crew, pursued by the others and slowly succumbing to the sickness that claimed so many. She struggles to remember her training. And something wants to commandeer her starship and spread its infection to Earth. A nice edge of your seat story.

"The Vestal" is a story that takes place in Rob Steiner's Codex Antonius series. If you know the series, it's back in Kaeso's Umbra Corps days, long before Muses of Roma. But if you're not familiar with it, the story takes place in an alternate universe where Rome never fell. Kaeso works for the CIA equivalent of a free world trying to keep Roma from taking it down. It's an interstellar cold war. In "The Vestal", Kaeso is charged with helping a woman, one of the Vestal Virgins, defect to his world. Hands down, this was my favorite story in the issue. It had action and a solid protagonist. And Rob Steiner's world building is top notch.

In "Playing in the Skeleton on Riot Day", Jedd Cole tells the story of Sheila, a ten-year old girl recounting the days of the occupation of Earth by aliens. Her brother and his friends enjoy watching people protest the occupation. And sometimes it gets ugly. There's an obvious parallel that can be drawn to human armies from one nation that occupy another, where the cultural differences make the other seem alien. But Cole doesn't preach. He's just offering a different POV. Food for thought as it will. A good story.

The editor thought that Michael Andre-Driussi's "Mayhem at Manville" was going to be controversial. I suppose it was because of the S&M, homosexuality, and violent world portrayed in the story. But I didn't find any of it offensive or gratuitous. Human, androids, and aliens mix together in a piece that's part Philip K. Dick, part William S. Burroughs, and all puzzle. I read it twice to try to make sense of it and a chain of memories to see if I could piece together the clues.

In Spencer Wightman's "Shenzhen Blues", video games have become high stakes affairs, like back room poker games are today. But the video games are far more intense than anything we have today. And biotechnology has advanced to the point where implants and organs can be considered collateral on bets. It's the dark underbelly of cyberpunk. The protagonist, Sam, seems hellbent on blazing through life to burn a memory from her past. But at the rate she's blazing, she just might wind up dead.

All in all, I think that this was a good collection of stories and worthy of further investigation. For more information on their current and past issues, visit Bastion's website.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Cover Reveal: Iced by M. Terry Green

M. Terry Green, author of the Olivia Lawson Techno-Shaman series, is putting the finishing touches on the first book of a new series, Chronicles of White World. She has graciously let us reveal the cover ahead of the book's release in February. The cover was created by Tom Edwards. So, without further ado...

Iced by M. Terry Green

In the weeks ahead, we'll have a story sample and an interview with Terry. Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

New Feature: Author News

I may be opening up a can of worms here, but I want to try something new.

If you're an author whose work has been reviewed by us, we'd like to do a little more for you. Typically, our relationship with authors ends after we review their work. Some authors like our reviews and stay in touch with us, even if there is little reason beyond hoping we'll review their next book.

We want to do something more. Promoting indie authors is tough. Very few get the recognition they deserve. Some get more than they deserve, but that's another topic entirely. So let's work on that author promotion stuff. If you have something newsworthy to share, let us know. What do I mean by newsworthy? Yeah, I'd better clarify that. What might seem important to you might not be important to us. So I'm going to list what we do consider newsworthy.

Here's what you can share with us:
  • Awards and nominations for awards. Real ones. Not those awards that you can buy: "Send us $20 to be entered in our contest! Surprise! You won!" While it doesn't have to be a prestigious as a Philip K Dick Award, it should be legit. Yes, we consider unsolicited "book of the month" (or year) nods from bloggers acceptable. Include a link with this news.

  • Author Appearances. These should be of the in-person variety. Blog tours don't count. If you're going to be somewhere (book signing, book fair, etc.) with the intention of having your book signed or you're guest lecturing or answering questions, let us know. Be sure to include the where and when. No, hanging out at Starbucks doesn't count. It has to be official. We'll need a link or a picture of a flyer. For example, "Abigail Author will be at the Arkham Library signing copies of her latest release: Sleeping With Pomegranates."

  • New Releases. Publishing something new? Let us know. This is separate from the submission process. We might be closed. You might not want us to review another book of yours. We might not be interested, or the reviewer who read your book might not be available. We can pass the information along to interested readers even if we can't take you up on the opportunity to review your next book. Send us a short blurb along with the release date and where readers can go for more information.
We DON'T want routine stuff like sales, new versions of old books, free giveaways, personal news, sales milestones, a list of your blog posts, links to other reviews, website updates, marketing hype, and so on. This is targeted towards promoting authors, not publishers. We don't want publishers telling us about all the books their promoting each month. The only exceptions are for those authors whose work we've actually reviewed. If XYZ publishing sent us a book from Abigail Author, we'll accept news from them on her behalf. That goes for PR firms too.

We reserve the right to reject anything that we deem sketchy or doesn't fit in with our idea of the above definitions.

The plan is to promote author news once a month. But we'll change the frequency as we see fit. Plan your announcements accordingly. If you have something coming up on February 1st and you send it to us January 31st, you'll have to wait until we get around to it. Put Author News in the subject line so that we can filter it accordingly.

If this unleashes a tsunami of email, we'll shut it down. There's only so much we can do.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Blog It and They Will Come

Clark Stanley's Snake Oil LinimentLast week I received an email from a reputable indie publishing blogger inviting me to a webinar where I could learn how to double my sales from a successful indie author. It sounded too good to be true, but since this was a reputable indie publishing blogger, I decided to give it a shot.

The webinar was packed full of writers, and many went around introducing themselves and where they were from. Judging from the introductions, many were either new writers working on their first book or veterans struggling with limited sales of their first book or two. You can put me in the latter category.

The successful indie author hosted the webinar and (surprise) primarily spent his time plugging his new book, which featured ways that indie authors everywhere could double their sales. He started off relating what he did and gave case studies demonstrating how so-and-so applied the techniques from the book and saw their sales blossom. But every example he gave involved a non-fiction author. And our successful host was a non-fiction author as well. I complained in the audience chat that all we were seeing were non-fiction examples. Anyone with a clue about publishing knows that selling non-fiction is completely different from selling fiction. Several other attendees agreed with me.

People buy non-fiction for a very specific purpose, and it can be anything. You can look up books on shade gardening in New England, building websites for mobile devices, Theodore Roosevelt's childhood years at Oyster Bay, or meatball recipes. People buy fiction just to be entertained, but the specifics are limited. It typically isn't anything more than "alien invasion sci-fi", assuming that "sci-fi" isn't as far down the genre tree as one can go. Nobody looks for "alien invaders from Barnard's Star with trilateral symmetry who choose Africa as ground zero". And even if they wanted to, they couldn't as that level of detail in sub-categories doesn't exist.

I'm not sure how much of the webinar I can relate here without trampling on someone's copyright, but I'll try anyway. One major suggestion was to convert readers into fans. The thinking was to sell product to the fans like how projects on Kickstarter offer tiers of rewards to people who donate more money to their projects. It's an interesting idea, provided you already have a readership, and someone willing to spend $50 on your 3D printed figurine of the half-elf heroine from your epic fantasy.

Fortunately for successful non-fiction indie author, he already had a readership when he applied this method. I consider that an unfair advantage. Indie fiction authors want to know what they can do to make their first paranormal romance novel, for example, stand out from the thousands of other paranormal romance novels. How does one build that initial readership?

The suggestions for fiction authors were limited. We're supposed to give away short stories for free on our website, and we should blog about the writing process.

That was it.

Don't sell your short stories to zines, give them away for free on your website. But the real kicker was: Blog it and they will come. Because people looking for books to read really want to just read the random thoughts of some random person.

Now blogging has been incredibly successful for some people, though they tend to be journalists and pundits. John Scalzi sold his first book to Tor because one of its editors read his blog (He didn't even have to bother with the indie scene). But how many of these success stories are out there? And why was that gentleman reading that blog in the first place? There has to be some sort of connection to the blogger and his/her readership. But if I had a dollar for every blogger that fizzled out, or never got past a dozen readers (like my old blog), I could pay off my mortgage (and then some).

I don't have an answer for you. I'm certainly not a best-selling author. I'd say keep trying your hand at social media. Make sure your work has been edited and hire a professional to create your cover. Whether you view it as art or product, it's important that you produce your best work. One option to try is to keep writing. Maybe if you have enough books out there, someone will stumble into one and it'll start a chain reaction.

Anyone who's found a technique that works should feel free to share it in the comments. Please, share it. Though we've hoped and tried, book reviews aren't enough to help your fellow indie authors (there might be a couple exceptions). We don't mind you plugging your success, so long as you don't try to sell us a book claiming that it will make us successful, cure baldness, have us waking up every day feeling rejuvenated, or help us lose ten pounds without dieting or exercise.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Shared Nightmares, an anthology from Cold Fusion Media

Cover for Shared NightmaresShared Nightmares is a collection of short stories whose central theme revolves around dreams, but more accurately, nightmares. That's about the only thing these stories have in common as the authors tell us tales that span all matter of genres. While horror is the overriding element, some authors make use of other elements: science fiction, historical fiction, and urban fantasy. Some stories rely on visceral action, while others suspense. Fortunately, none of these stories wander down Elm Street, and for that, I'm grateful.

Please indulge me as I offer brief comments about each story.

The anthology opens with “Father’s Day” by Larry Correia. Aliens have invaded Earth and are attacking us through our dreams. And we're losing. Correia does a stand up job with his protagonist, as he fights a bureaucracy in order to protect his daughter.

In “Dreamcatcher”, Sarah Hoyt warns us that things in the dream-world wants to become real. There are guardians who keep the nightmares at bay, and it helps to keep an ax—a very sharp ax—close at hand.

The message I got from D.J. Butler's “Incubation” is that regret is a nightmare that you can't wake up from. It takes some time before we learn what the unreliable narrator has done, but Butler drops us enough clues along the way to piece together this crime scene.

The devil has Adam's number in Tom Lloyd's “The Devil On My Shoulder”. Every time Adam wakes up, whether from actual sleep or blackouts, he discovers that he's been up to no good. Pity him, but pray you never meet him. Lloyd does a great job bringing the reader along on Adam's senseless ride through misery and then rewards Adam (and the reader) by revealing his purpose.

The first of the historical fiction pieces is “Onnen” by Paul Genesse. Having visited the Kyoto imperial palace, he was inspired by its strange, bleak history to write this story. It's an excellent tale of a woman's scorn and her unquenchable thirst for revenge.

In “To Dream Awake, to Sleep the Real” by Michaelbrent Collings, Booker Nyx talks about the dream-like bliss of the early days of marriage: "Existing with one foot in dream, and the other in a place where the world was seen as it truly was: a place of magic, and wonder, and light, and infinite possibility." But then children come along, and the responsibility of parenthood kills the dream. Booker yearns to return to that dream. Collins does a solid job with his sad yet familiar portrayal of Booker's life.

“What Hellhounds Dream” is an action-packed urban fantasy story from Steven Diamond, who's also one of the editors. It was a fun story that seemed like it could be expanded to novel length.

“The Damnation of St. Teresa of Ávila” by Marie Brennan is the other historical fiction piece. The titular character died right at the time when Spain transitioned from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, whereupon ten days were lost. In Brennan's story, St. Teresa's death lasted for those ten days. Drawing from St. Teresa's life and writings, Brennan skillfully paints an all too real picture of the woman as she hovered between life and death.

“Man in the Middle” by Max Gladstone was another fun piece. It appears to be something out of his Craft Sequence series. If you're like me and haven't read anything about it, there's a bit of dead gods and scientific sounding magic (which reminded me of Stross's Laundry) that keeps the world—at least an alternate version of ours—running. This story concerns a trip into a nightmare where Tara discovers a remnant from the God Wars. After reading this story, I feel compelled to dive into this series.

A video game that you play in your sleep is the subject of “U.I.” by Howard Tayler. The game is still in beta as the protagonist is testing it for the developer. Rather than just lamely showing the game action, Tayler presents their conversations, which shows the protagonist's progress in getting caught up in the game.

“The Quality of Light is Not Strain’d” by Peter Orullian was a difficult read due to the subject matter. That's not to say it wasn't a good story. It was well-written, and the difficult parts were tastefully composed. I find that the most disturbing horror stories are not the ones with visceral gore, but rather the mundane acts that are carried out by good people in desperate situations. This is one of those stories.

The anthology concludes with “Health and Wellness” by Dan Wells. It follows a pair of Indian immigrants who are here on work visas and take these special vitamins generously provided by the U.S. government. It's a delightful tale of paranoia and the paranormal.

Editors Steven Diamond and Nathan Shumate have done a fantastic job corralling these disparate tales into a cohesive collection. If you prefer your horror to be on the literary end of the spectrum, without the usual tired clichés, then check out Shared Nightmares. For more info and reading samples, visit the publisher's website.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Athame by Morgan Alreth

I hate to admit it, but I sometimes avoid the local library’s fantasy section because I’m not up for the intellectual investment in a fictional world’s historical and political minutiae, simply to understand the conflict at hand. I don’t always want to spend page after page hearing about all the factions, which dale or fell they inhabit, and which one slew the other’s thane. If you share these sentiments, Morgan Alreth’s Athame may be of interest. This charming novel falls squarely on the more playful, less overwrought end of the fantasy literature continuum.

Athame begins with a chance meeting in the forest between Jess, a woodsrunner and witch, and Peteros, the youngest son of King Jansen and Queen Lora. Pete, as Jess immediately begins calling him, is lost and without provisions after a werewolf attacked his group, killing all his companions and their horses. Because of his privileged upbringing, Pete lacks wilderness survival skills and is ignorant about the creatures that threaten travelers in that part of the world. Jess conducts him safely back to her family’s cabin and then agrees to escort him to a nearby town, where he can find transport back to his home city of Kulhn.

A romance ensues, and Jess travels with Pete to Kulhn. Numerous conflicts erupt after they reach the city. Confronted with the nobles’ disdain for her as a commoner, Jess must decide whether she and Pete can overcome the differences in their backgrounds and build a life together. They also face hostility from Pete’s father and brothers, who will go to any lengths to cut Pete out of the succession. The priests of Hohdwan, who persecute witches, arrive on the scene, determined to take custody of Jess. She and Pete also struggle to understand why their movements are dogged by ghaunts, which are deadly, nocturnal creatures of unknown origin.

Because these obstacles are relatively straightforward, Athame has no need for exhaustive world-building. Relationship woes, family drama, and class conflict don’t require a lot of context-setting to make them understandable. When Jess and Pete make their first appearance at court, its denizens’ antipathy toward Jess is obvious. We don’t need to know who is in the sneering crowd or why they hate Jess. It’s the age-old contempt of the haves toward the have-nots:

The jewel encrusted mob of satin-choked humans in front of Jess made Marge’s bird collection look drab and subdued. They stood crammed together, rib to rib and ankle to ankle, whispering and staring at Pete while he walked the length of the carpet toward the platform. Then some of them, mainly the women, started sizing her up and snickering. Jess tightened her jaws and straightened. She took a grip on her belt with both hands and lifted her chin.

In spite of Pete’s advantages as a prince, he and Jess are equals in their adventures. When they meet trouble, they rely on Jess’s magic and woodlore along with Pete’s swordplay. As they prepare to spend a night in a dilapidated fort, Jess detects signs that something nasty already occupies the structure. She instructs Pete to prepare by making torches and smearing garlic on their weapons. When they encounter the vampire Selvana inside the fort, Pete draws first blood, but Jess makes sure that the vampire is permanently out of commission.

…Pete lunged and buried the point of his sword in her belly.

Selvana’s form began to twist and morph as the edges of her body faded into mist. Jess took one step, drew back her arm and snapped it forward. The belt ax flew spinning across the room and chopped its way through undead breastbone, directly into the heart beneath. A stinking corpse hit the floor, already falling in on itself.

“Take the head, Pete. Quick.” He obeyed promptly. Jess grabbed it by the hair and ran for the fading sunlight outside. She called over her shoulder, “Grab my ax and put the stick through her heart.”

There was still enough sunlight for the head to start fuming when she emerged. Jess tossed it onto a pile of nearby trash and lit the disgusting thing with her torch. Pete came pounding up behind her and watched in wonder as the head crumbled into ashes.

“The old ones like her are hard to put down,” Jess said. “Gotta finish them in the sunlight or they might heal up. But that should take care of her.”

Jess exhibits strength, intelligence, and confidence when dealing with assorted natural and supernatural threats, and a well-developed sense of humor adds to her appeal as a main character. As she and Pete approach the vampire’s lair, he asks, “Shouldn’t we have some kind of holy symbol?” “Only if the vampire goes to church regular” is her response.

Although the character of Jess is one of Athame’s strongest points, she is also the source of its main shortcoming, which is the dearth of information about Jess’s life up to the point at which the story opens. The novel provides much more insight into Pete’s background. But the reader is left to wonder how Jess honed her magical abilities, what kind of relationships she had with family and friends, and what her prospects were before she met Pete. Clocking in at slightly more than 200 pages, the novel could easily have accommodated more backstory on Jess. Athame is the first book in The Unfortunate Woods trilogy, so perhaps this missing detail will be provided in subsequent volumes. Wrath, which I have not read, is already available, and Recompense is in progress, according to the author’s blog.

On the whole, the novel has much going for it. The two main characters’ experiences are easy to relate to – struggling to adapt to new circumstances, compromising in order to make a relationship work, and trying to figure out where you belong and what will make you happy. The pace is just right, striking a good balance between action and introspection. And the unresolved dilemmas are intriguing enough to leave the reader with a sense of anticipation for the trilogy’s remaining installments.

For more information, please visit the author's website.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Expanding Your Brand: A Guest Post by John Vorhaus

Normally I'm a sci-fi and horror guy. While I do venture outside of these genres from time to time, a story has to have something that grabs my attention. We didn't receive any sample chapters for Poole's Paradise and the blurb didn't have a firm grip on me, so I was on the verge of passing on it. But before I did, I checked out its author, John Vorhaus. I was impressed by what I saw on Amazon and his website. It was there that I got hooked. He had so much going on with novels, poker guides, Twitter, and videos that I was sold on reading Poole's Paradise. And I'm glad I did.

In the publishing world, an indie author has to find a good editor for their manuscript and make sure it has a professional looking cover. But even with those two things set, there's still the matter of marketing. There are some rudimentary things an indie author can do to self-promote, but sometimes that's not enough. Recognizing that John sold himself more than the book, I asked him if he would write a blog post on self-promotion.

Without further ado, here's John offering advice on "Expanding Your Brand".

I understand my problem exactly.

On one hand, I have a lot of how-to books (on writing and on poker) which sell their asses off because they have just exactly the information that certain people need, just exactly when they need it. On the other hand, I have all these terrific novels that struggle to find their audience, because reading a novel is a recreational activity; in other words, it’s a want to, not a need to proposition. How-to books sell because they meet the needs of a specific need-to proposition. Novels compete against other forms of recreation because they don’t have that urgent gravitational pull. And they face fierce competition, not from other novels but from other forms of recreation. I, for example, read books quite happily and enthusiastically on my iPhone—once I can get past my email and twitter and the baseball scores and all the dang games. I know I’m not alone in this. Never in human history has the act of picking up a book had to compete so hard against the act of picking up something else.

the little book of sitcom book coverOkay, so that’s where we are: need-to books sell easily; want-to books sell hard. How should we, as cottage-industry entrepreneurs, respond to this? One thing we could do is write a lot of need-to books. This is simply a matter of looking around, saying, “What am I good at?” and knocking out 15,000 words on that subject. Did I say 15,000? Yes, 15,000. That’s not much, nowhere near the 70,000 words, minimum, that you need to call a novel a novel. Is 15,000 words enough for a how-to book? I can tell you from personal experience that the answer is an emphatic yes. Because, you see, a function of all those short attention spans out there, and a function of the competition of all those games, websites, downloads, videos, and social media, is that people would rather spend less – less time and less money – even for information they know they really need. My two small reads—the little book of SITCOM and How To Write Good—routinely outsell my whole novel catalog combined. How to Write Good book coverThey earn. They earn consistently and reliably, month after month, year after year, and they (and titles like them) allow me to call myself a working writer—a consummation devoutly to be wished.

So why don’t I write how-to books exclusively? I sure could if I wanted to. I know enough about enough things that I could write how-to books till I die and never run out of subjects. But I wouldn’t be satisfied, because my heart lies in my fiction. Perhaps yours does, too. And even as I’m here saying “expand your brand through non-fiction,” you may be thinking, Nah, not so much. That’s really not for me. I feel ya, dawg. I do.

But here’s the thing: these books cross-sell. Someone discovers my poker books or writing books. They drop me a line to say how much they enjoy my writing style. I write them back and say, well, if you like my style, you’ll love my novels. Having already become fans of my way with non-fiction words, they’re ready to love my fiction words as well. I’ve reached them. I’ve used my non-fiction works as a bridge between my novels and my audience. That’s the argument for expanding your brand: The more people who approach you—from whatever direction and for whatever reason—the bigger your audience will be for the stuff you really want to sell.

A Million Random Words book coverSo where, in this pantheon of titles, do we put such odd frivolities as my book, A Million Random Words? It contains, as the title promises, exactly a million random words, arranged in random order, and offered either as a one-note joke or as a sneaky-useful random reference book for writers or other creative types looking for new ways to trigger new thoughts. But what exactly is this book? It’s not fiction, certainly. It’s not non-fiction, certainly. It’s something altogether else. It doesn’t fit within my brand.

Which means that it expands my brand.

It brings other people to my work from a wholly different direction. Vorhaus? Isn’t he the guy with the wacky random words project? Indeed he is. And if you got the joke of that, you’ll probably like some of the other items in his catalog as well. This is how I think of cross-selling. I want my brand to be broad and deep and interesting, with many points of entrance for many different kinds of readers or users. I want to welcome them into my world, and once they’re there, I want to have many intriguing things to show them. And that’s everything from a million random words to the latest novel I have so lovingly birthed.

The Albuquerque Turkey book coverIf you choose to adopt this model of go off in all directions at once, there are a couple of mental adjustments that will help you. First, be willing to try anything. Don’t worry about how esoteric or random or silly your book idea seems. Get it out there. Put it up on Amazon where any conceivable buyer could conceivably buy it. Second, think strategically about your brand, and about expanding it. You may now be known as that yodeling-cowboy-mystery guy. Could you be known as that and also as that history-of-yodeling-cowboys guy? Of course you could. And if you walk that road, you’ll be making a broader invitation to a broader audience. You will be expanding your brand. Third, yep, you’re going to have to put in the marketing time, and that’s everything from social media to the promo cards you hand out on the bus. Fourth, don’t be too precious. Yes, it would be great if we could all be the Oprah-guest novelists of our wildest dreams, but if you don’t have that luxury then you have to do the work. That’s the bad news. The good news is you get to do the work, and I don’t care what that work is, if it involves putting words on the page, it’s bound to teach you something about something.

I’m a wacky guy. I have a wacky brand. It now extends to the fringes of rationality (or beyond—some people who hear about A Million Random Words do think I’m quite demented). But that’s my approach. It’s working for me and I’m striving to make it work better still. So how about you? What steps can you take, now, today, to expand your brand? Think strategically, and think long-term. If your goal is to be a working writer, the conversation certainly doesn’t begin and end with the novels you might write.

One final thing: Many writers find self-promotion distasteful at best or odious at worst. I used to think that way. I used to regard it as a necessary evil. But then I decided, hey, my work has value—why should I be shy about saying so? If you stand behind your work, there’s no shame in self-promotion. Feel good about it. After all, what’s the point of writing if no one’s going to read?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Poole's Paradise by John Vorhaus

Poole's ParadiseWhen you’re Alexander Poole, everyone’s your teacher: a skeevy stereo salesman, master of the bait and switch; a flaky folk singer and his dog that reads Tolkien; a drug dealer loan shark with a passion for trees; a ballsy townie chick who turns you on to Springsteen; your wiseass roommate whose favorite pastime is smoking your dope; even your one true love. Together they point you to paradise — Poole’s Paradise – but what will it cost to get in?

Poole's Paradise is set in 1974 in the "wilds of Western Connecticut", among the Berkshires to be more specific. It's the story of Alexander Poole, a Cort College sophomore in the fictional town of Greenville. As the blurb implies, Poole is trying to assemble a personal code of ethics, or philosophy for life, from the interactions he has with several people in his life. There's a certain level of naïveté to his demeanor. He's too trusting and deals with the world in an open and honest way that, while admirable, is dangerous—the cover features the tarot card of "The Fool" for a reason. As Poole is willing to apply this approach to everyone, he inevitably winds up in a serious predicament involving a sizable stash of drugs and cash. Ultimately, he has to choose between abandoning this philosophy or figuring out how to make it work in order to save himself and his friends.

In the first third of the book, Poole's Paradise seems like it's going to be Zen and the pursuit of the perfect stereo. Poole engages in several discussions about stereo equipment, and it serves as a great introduction to those characters. My father is something of an audiophile, and I grew up listening to him expound upon the merits of music media (vinyl vs tape) and the constant refinement of his stereo gear: turntables, amplifiers, speakers, and more. Reading the exchange between the characters on this subject had me fondly recalling those days.

There are also other conversations that ring true in the story, particularly between Poole and his roommate, Dawkins. Whether they're talking about music, weed, or women, the dialogue is dead on for the 70's. The college kid vs. townie dynamic is accurate, having witnessed it myself in the small towns of Western Connecticut. Vorhaus knows people and how they interact. Each character, major and minor, is finely crafted. He has a mastery of dialogue and characterization that strikes me as effortless.

The one problem I had was with the ending. At first, I was shocked and confused. It took a couple read throughs and some thought before it clicked. It wasn't the ending I was expecting, but as I reflected on the course Poole took, it made sense.

Poole's Paradise is a solid coming of age story set in the 70's. With a well-rounded cast of characters and accurate dialogue, Vorhaus places the reader smack dab in the middle of the most important days of Alexander Poole's life. Whether you fondly recall vinyl, want to know what college life was like for your parents, or just enjoy stories with realistic characters, Poole's Paradise is for you.

For more information about Poole's Paradise, check out the author's website.